Paris of the East

Hungary’s capital city Budapest is often called the Paris of the East. Eager to discover it for myself, I booked a ticket and got ready to explore this beautiful city so rich in history and culture. My travel savvy step-sister joined for the adventure and we planned our short visit strategically. After a festive evening of Christmas markets and mulled wine, our morning was spent crossing from Pest to Buda. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the first permanent bridge to connect both sides of the city via the Danube river.

From the end of Chain Bridge we rode the Buda Hill Funicular, in service since 1870 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  All the way up to Buda Castle Hill we enjoyed stunning views of the city, with plenty of photo ops.

Views of Budapest are even better seen from 100 year old Fishermen’s Bastion. With a fish market nearby, this bastion was built to commemorate the fishermen who protected this part of the city. Each of the seven tent-like turrets symbolizes one of the seven Hungarian tribes that arrived to the Carpathian Basin in 896.

Nearby Neo-Gothic Matthias Church is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Budapest, as well as the most unique in Europe. Built in 1015 and inspired by orientalism, it’s colorful  interior is breathtaking!

Back on the Pest side of the city, we stopped by the memorial ‘Shoes on the Danube River’ to pay our respects to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is without a doubt one of the most regal buildings in Budapest, also the third largest Parliament building in the world. We took a tour of the interior as well, worth the visit.

That night we booked a tour of Budapest by night and enjoyed a history lesson as the city lit up before our eyes.

Day two was dedicated to bath houses and spas, beginning with Budapest’s most famous Széchenyi thermal bath. The largest medicinal bath in Europe, its water is supplied by two thermal springs, with temperatures of 74 °C and 77 °C.  What an experience, bathing with tourists and locals alike.

Our next stop was to Gellért, an art noveau thermal bath opened in 1918. Another must do in “the city of spas”. Here we soaked in indoor hot springs and I braved a few dips in the cold pool and indulged in the steam room.

Our last visit was to the Harmony Spa at Aria Hotel located in the city center. Where music is the theme throughout the hotel, we relaxed at the hands of skilled masseuses, the perfect ending to a day of wellness.

I couldn’t very well leave Budapest without a visit to the elegant New York Café. Often considered the “most beautiful coffee house in the world”, this is where writers and editors would meet to drink and dine. In 2006 it was restored to its original splendor, offering some of Budapest’s best cakes. Another top address for homemade cakes and chocolate is Gerbeaud, opened in 1858. The perfect spot to pick up a few sweet souvenirs. As for dining, our favorite gourmet restaurant was 10 year old family run Mák Bistro. Michelin star level!

Thank you Budapest, for the many memories of this Paris of the East! Aside from some of the taxi drivers who try to take you for a ride (not just in the literal sense), best to order a taxi online, it was a trip to remember!

Theatre in Paris

I love a good theatre performance and have had the pleasure of enjoying quite a few during my years in New York. But in Paris? Preferring the ease of my native tongue, I had only seen one show since moving to Paris. That is, until I discovered Theatre in Paris. What is it exactly? French plays with English subtitles. Brilliant!

Paris is famous for its theatre, and now fellow Anglophones can join in the local culture. Theatre in English seeks out the best performances in the city of lights, set within a number of theatres throughout Paris. “From the spectacular architecture of a listed historical monument commissioned by Queen Marie-Antoinette to the glamour of an old Parisian ‘café théâtre’, to the charm of a small oak-panelled neighborhood theatre.” What’s more, they offer over 100 performances to choose from every month. Without compromising the show, English subtitles are viewed on a screen only for those who need them. And seats will always offer a prime view.

One of France’s greatest stars is cabaret singer, songwriter and actress Édith Piaf, often referred to as “The Little Sparrow”. Being a fan of her music, when I discovered the performance “I Love Piaf”, I booked tickets for my Italian and I and we made a French night of it. The play took place in a late 19th century Théâtre Trévise in the 9th district, nearby to the famed Folies Bergère. The performers were impressive as they told the story of the singer’s life. Award-winning accordionist Aurélien Noël was once the best in the world, and singer Caroline Rose captivated us all with her voice. The screenwriter was both engaging and humorous. It was certainly an experience in living la vie en rose!

I’m already looking forward to the next performance and might soon become a regular Parisian theatre-goer.

 

 

experiences

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In 2008, living locally while traveling was made possible with the launch of Airbnb. Since then it’s grown to include cities around the world, from Mexico City to Melbourne, with Paris being its largest market. In recent years Airbnb has realized the value of local experiences in its top destinations, and today it launches Airbnb Experiences starting in 12 cities, of which I’m very excited to be a part of! What is this exactly? It’s a way for a traveler to meet locals and get to know their city on a more personal and ‘expert’ level over one or three days.

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In my case, I’m a handbag designer living in the North Marais with a vast knowledge of local fashion and fellow artisans, most of whom like myself, manufacture in Paris. On my fashion tour I will introduce visitors to these fashion, jewelry and shoe designers, and they will learn about local design and French style, while visiting Parisian ateliers. I’ll also be teaching these visitors how to design their own custom tote bag in my bag painting workshop. As a traveler myself, I’m looking forward to meeting others from around the world in the months ahead.

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These are the beautiful bags that were created during our video shoot. You can view the video and my profile online at Airbnb, here. Wishing you all many memorable experiences, in Paris and beyond!

Le Negresco

My last trip to the Côte d’Azur was in March. I spent a little time in Nice but was eager to become better acquainted with this, the region’s capital. Aside from its Mediterranean climate, it’s a city of art and culture, another reason to fall in love with it. To properly immerse myself in the world of French art, where better to stay than at the historic hotel Le Negresco. Centrally located between Cannes and Monaco, it sits on the famous Promenade de Anglais. It is here in this National Historic Monument, that the French works of art from Louis XIII to modern art, have a home. I knew I would be in good company.

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Upon entering, the grandeur of this hotel is hard to describe. I’ve stayed in many beautiful hotels around the world, but Le Negresco is in a class of its own. The Versailles Lounge alone takes your breath away, with Louis XIV’s portrait, marble floors, hand-painted ceiling, and elegant furnishings. The fireplace too, is original. I could imagine the decadent events having taken place in this salon since Henri Negresco opened the hotel in 1913, now over 100 years old.

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Next I entered the Royal Lounge, centrally situated beneath a large glass dome. This is Negresco’s soul, and you can certainly feel it. Once an elegant ballroom, it’s now an elaborate event space, displaying portraits of French royalty, including Napoleon III. A stunning Baccarat chandelier provides the centerpiece. Fittingly, the hotel’s 93 year old owner Jeanne Augier’s portrait also has a place on the wall. After all, it is she who welcomes each guest to her home, which she has taken great pride in decorating. She lives on the top floor with her cat, and ensures that this private, family run hotel remains at the highest 5-star level in comfort and cuisine.

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A good friend from Nice had often spoken about the restaurants at Le Negresco, particularly the vibrant and colorful La Rotonde. It’s in fact an 18th century carousel with wooden horses circling the restaurant. My eyes opened wide in amazement as I entered this space and understood immediately why it’s such a warm and welcoming place dedicated to families. The terrace opens up to the sea and this is where I chose to have lunch, accompanied by the sun. Breakfast would be enjoyed in the carousel.

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Le Negresco is also known for its haute cuisine. Le Chantecler is Nice’s finest restaurant, with two stars in the Michelin Guide under the culinary expertise of chef Jean-Denis Rieubland. He defines his cuisine and style as “inspired by Provence, with the respect of its products and traditions”. This is THE place for French gastronomy, boasting a wine cellar of over 15,000 bottles, with woodwork dating back to 1751. After dinner you can unwind at the neighboring bar with live music and a good digestif.

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With each of the 96 rooms and 21 suites uniquely decorated with period furniture, I was eager to take a closer look. Mrs Augier being an art connoisseur and collector, walking through the hotel and up the four floors feels much like being in a museum, with artwork from Salvador Dali and Sonia Delaunay, tapestries from Raymond Moratti and sculptures from Niki de Saint Phalle, to name a few. And the rooms? Timeless perfection.

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I felt very much at home in my room overlooking the Bay of Angels and knew I would return to this Art Hotel called Le Negresco.

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a taste of Beaune

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Last spring I discovered Dijon and became enamored with the Burgundy region. This year it was time to visit the smaller town of Beaune. Our first stop was Hotel Le Cep, a historic mansion where King Louis XIV once slept. This family run 4-star hotel boasts 16th century courtyards with rooms and suites decorated in endless charm. My Italian and I immediately felt at home as we were warmly welcomed by gracious owner Jean-Claude Bernard, who spoke of his family hotel’s rich history. Just outside Le Cep’s doors, Beaune awaited to be explored. Where to go first? We headed directly to the Tourism Office to consult the experts.

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Our main objective being to discover and taste the local specialties, we headed straight to the prestigious wine cellars of Bouchard Père & Fils, once the ancient castle of Beaune. Touring their cave, we found select wines aged over 100 years! Needless to say, those we tasted were quite a bit younger. Here began a weekend of tasting some of the best wines in France.

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Saturday morning the sun shone brightly and we met our new neighbors at the local market. I’ve been to many markets all over the country, but this one appeared to be straight out of a film set. Were we the extras?

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Our next stop was mustard factory Fallot, the last independent family mustard mill in Burgundy. We were met by Marc Désarménien whose family had started producing Fallot mustard in 1840. The mustard making process is a fascinating one as we learned, being led through the factory, chewing on mustard seeds along the way. Afterwards, tasting the dozens of flavors of Fallot mustard was an experience! My favorites being the classic grainy variety with white wine, followed by walnut, and honey and fig.

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Wine and mustard aren’t the only gastronomic delicacies that have put Beaune on the map. This town too is a haven for haute cuisine. Where did we choose among the many options? Here’s my short list:

La Bussionière: Charming husband and wife run restaurant that recently moved into the center of Beaune. Selection of fresh local produce, creating delicious regional dishes.

Loiseau des Vignes: One of highly regarded Loiseau family restaurants, awarded a Michelin star in 2010 under chef Mourad Haddouche, adjacent to Hotel Le Cep. A gastronomic paradise, with 70 wines served by the glass.

Le P’tit Paradis: An intimate restaurant in the heart of the town for over 20 years, where seasonal tastes mingle with inventive dishes. Outdoor terrace for spring and summer dining.

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When not wine tasting or dining, we were educating ourselves to the history of Beaune. It was in a walking tour with history buff and wine expert Kim Gagné that we learned the most. She brought us to the famous Hospices de Beaune, also called Hôtel-Dieu. Built in the 15th century and once a hospital mainly for the poor, it’s now a museum. Every November, an important charity wine auction is held within this historic building.

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Before heading back to Paris, we decided a tour of the vineyards would prove the best lesson of all in wine culture. Our lovely guide Brigitte from Vineatours picked us up at Le Cep and into the villages and vineyards we drove, passing Pommard and Volnay along the way. We stopped at a private vineyard and tasted a small production of premier and grand cru, increasing our home collection of Bourgogne wines.

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This charming town had won my heart. Filled with the sensations of Beaune, and plenty of mustard and wine, we boarded the train back to Paris, a quick 2 hour ride. Next time we vowed, we’ll return for a biking tour.

36 Hours in Florence

Last week I had a meeting with bespoke travel company Bella Vita Travels at their home base on the Italian Riviera. Since it fell just before Valentine’s Day, my Italian and I decided to head to Florence for a quick stop. Having recently fallen back in love with Rome after over ten years, it was now Florence’s turn. With only 36 hours to spare, here are the highlights on where to sleep, eat, visit and shop. Feel free to follow in our footsteps!

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SLEEP : Just steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio, in the very heart of Florence sits Gallery Hotel Art, a modern boutique hotel, part of the four luxurious Lungarno Collection hotels by fashion icon Ferragamo.

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EAT : Italy is all about the food, isn’t it? Recommendations are always welcome as not to get stuck in a tourist trap. Luckily, we met local artist and friend Kevin Berlin, known in Firenze as Giovanni Rossi, who directed us to traditional Florentine spot Osteria del Porcellino. Delicious! A more gastronomic favorite was Il Santo Bevitore, a tip from local expat Georgette, aka Girl in Florence. She also pointed us towards new hotspot Gurdulù where we enjoyed an after dinner drink.

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DRINK : The aperitivo is taken very seriously in Italy, much like the apéritif in France. Thankfully, Giovanni knew just the spot next door to his home in Piazza della Signoria. Rivoire is the oldest bar in Florence, and almost where the negroni originated (that bar unfortunately no longer exists). If barman Luca is there ask him to mix you a Negroni while you peruse the book he wrote on this very cocktail. Incidentally, some of the best chocolate and sweets can also be found here!

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SEE : With little time and much to see, we made a plan. Having already been to the Uffizi years ago, we paid a quick visit to Florence’s Cathedral, also known as the Duomo with it’s majestic dome, and set out to explore the city. We passed by Dante’s home (photo above) and south of the river Arno to the Oltrarno neighborhood. One afternoon was spent at the Basilica di Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, featuring sixteen chapels. Here is the final resting place of Italian greats including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini. The three cloisters too are worth a visit (photo below).

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SHOP : On my last visit to Florence I bought a leather jacket in one of the local leather markets. (I still wear it.) This time, I wasn’t looking for any souvenirs but did stumble upon the most beautiful perfumerie Aqua Flor, with scents unique to their shop. I couldn’t resist!

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After a last negroni we ran to catch our train, enroute to the riviera, while dreaming of the next visit to Florence.

 

Mont Saint-Michel

Last week I decided it was time to venture to Brittany. Having heard so much about the charming walled port city of Saint-Malo, I boarded the train headed west, and three hours later was welcomed by gray skies and sea. And so began my scenic sojourn in the land of crêpes, cider, oysters from neighboring Cancale, and rising tides.

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The historically independent Saint-Malo, known in the past for privateering (a privateer was often considered a pirate), is still referred to as “cité corsaire”. During World War II 80% of the city was destroyed and rebuilt between 1948-1960. With few tourists in sight, I was happy to explore this walled hideaway. But what I was most eager to discover was Mont Saint-Michel in nearby Normandy. As soon as the sun rose, that’s where I headed.

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At first sight of Mont Saint-Michel I was in complete awe. This wonder of the Western world truly takes your breath away. How did this Abbey come to be, perched atop a rock? At the request of the Archangel Michel, Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. Here is more history and information about Mont Saint-Michel.

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Join me in this scenic journey as I climb up the steps leading to this UNESCO world heritage site.

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The views from the top are simply stunning! Where does sky end and sea begin?

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Not to mention what lies on the inside.

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I will certainly return, and next time stay the night. I hear it’s particularly stunning at sunset…

Roman Holiday

The last time I was in Rome was the first time I was in Italy, 13 years ago. A good friend and I took a trip to visit this historic land. Little did either of us know that we would both marry Italian men years later. Foreshadowing? I had not been to Rome since, and those who read this blog know I travel to Italy quite often, so my Italian and I decided it was time to return to the roots of Italian history. Our Roman Holiday began in the charming neighborhood of Trastevere, with a view of the Tiber river. With only a few days to explore the city, and endless sights to fall back in love with, we hit the streets, guided by blue skies and our trusted Lonely Planet.

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Just steps away on the other side of the Tiber we found the sunlit and flower-filled Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, one of the most enchanting of Rome’s many squares. I immediately fell in love with the vibrant colors, illuminated by the sun, a stark contrast to the neutral tones of Paris. Kasia Dietz handbags Rome collection?

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From one majestic fountain to another, we stopped to admire them all. Just don’t drink the water they say…

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The Fountain of the Four Rivers, one of Bernini’s masterpieces, depicts Gods of the four great rivers in the four continents as  were then recognized by the Renaissance geographers, including the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata in America.

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The Pantheon, a Greek adjective meaning “honor all Gods”, built and dedicated between A.D 118 and 125, is one of the most preserved and influential buildings in Rome. Not to mention majestic!

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Newly restored and sparkling, I was tempted to jump into the Trevi Fountain La Dolce Vita style. I resisted.

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On one of our exploratory walks, we climbed to the top of the Altar of the Fatherland, also known as National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II in honor of the first King of a unified Italy.

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The views from the top were impressive, to say the least. Rome glowed in the late afternoon sun. I swooned.

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One day was spent with friends, a Roman power couple you could say. Erica being a travel journalist and Rome expert, and Darius an archaeologist who digs on this very land. Who better to explore the Roman Forum with?

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Once the center of Roman public life, we tried to imagine the events that took place here many centuries ago.

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By chance, we gained access to sights that haven’t been made public yet. For my (and your) eyes only…

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We walked from the Roman Forum up 40 meters to Palatine Hill… Our expert guide Darius Arya leading the way.

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From there we saw the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater ever built. An engineering & architectural marvel.

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I stood for a while admiring the Colosseum before we went inside, in complete awe. To the right of it is the apartment from film La Grande Bellezza, not a bad view…

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Enamored with sculptor Bernini, we spent an afternoon at the Villa Borghese. I’ve learned to always look down.

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Our last stop was at Saint Peter’s Basilica which will leave even an atheist marveling at this Renaissance structure, both inside and out. Already, we couldn’t wait to return. Rome had captured our hearts.

Hôtel de Ville

Often I walk past Hôtel de Ville, Paris’ City Hall since 1357, and always I wonder what the interior looks like. This neo-renaissance building houses the local administration, and since 1977, the Mayor of Paris. Rebuilt after the original burnt down during the Paris Commune in 1871, it sits close to the Seine, bordering the famed Marais and attracting all who pass by its regal structure. Very often an art exhibition takes place within or outside its walls.

IMG_2045Every September, Les Journées du Patrimoine or Heritage Days, envelop Paris. For these 2 days it’s possible to visit monuments & sites usually not accessible to the public, for free, if you don’t mind standing in line, sometimes for hours.

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the roaring twenties

Back from adventures in Turkey and Greece to a Paris filled with life. (More on the travels later.) La rentrée brings with it a city full of openings and events. I had the privilege to attend an evening of cocktails and entertainment at Le Bar du Bristol, one of the chicest addresses in Paris. Le Bristol Paris is celebrating 90 years, having opened in 1925, in the midst of the roaring twenties. Who better to join me than my fashionable mom who’s now in town. Here’s a taste of what the roaring twenties looks like…

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FullSizeRender(2) copyFullSizeRender_4FullSizeRender_3 It was certainly a night to remember! Find my full story on Bonjour Paris.

discovering Dijon

Not long ago I was invited to join Rendez-vous en France, the official site for France Tourism, as a select few traveled the country to create their new campaign Fall For France. Considering there were several regions of France I hadn’t yet explored, I eagerly accepted the adventure and boarded the train with Rail Europe. In under two hours I arrived to Dijon.

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Dijon being the capital of the Burgundy region, naturally day one was spent wine tasting.

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Bourgogne being my top choice in wine, I discovered new reds and even a few whites.

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Being in the expert hands of the Dijon Tourism Office, our next stop was a special one.

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The Clos de Vougeot vineyard was created by Cistercian monks of Cîteaux Abbey in 1336. This medieval wine farm was highly recognized for centuries. The Château de Clos de Vougeot, sitting regally within the stone wall, was added in 1551.

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Since 1945, it is the seat of the Order for the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.

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Wine is no longer produced, but this historic Château holds many stories within it’s walls.

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It was now time to enjoy the city, and why not from the 46m high La Tour Philippe de Bon?

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The sunlit views were stunning, and I was eager to explore by foot down below.

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I spent countless hours walking, looking up, admiring the architecture, the historic details.

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I discovered a new love for a city and it’s neighboring landscapes. With local products in hand, including a few bottles of Bourgogne, Dijon mustard (I couldn’t leave without a tasting), and gingerbread (another specialty), I vowed to return when the vines are filled with leaves. Maybe even with a certain someone. There is much more to see… and taste.

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My next adventure is taking me to Italy…feel free to follow along on Instagram + Facebook!

 

through the looking glass

As I return to the art world of Paris, with so many must-see exhibitions going on, I reflect on an expo my mom and I recently saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. China : Through the Looking Glass was the most impressive show I had seen in a while.

IMG_3315What is it exactly? As stated by the MET, This exhibition explores the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries. In this collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, high fashion is juxtaposed with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains, and other art, including films, to reveal enchanting reflections of Chinese imagery. Perhaps better if I explain visually what I saw through the looking glass…

IMG_3292Following are a few favorites, both the traditional costumes and their modern counterparts.

IMG_3281Semiformal Robe for Qianlong Emperor, 1736-95 + Yves Saint Laurent / Tom Ford 2004-5

IMG_3282Yves Saint Laurent / Tom Ford 2004-5 + Woman’s Semiformal Robe, 19th Century

IMG_3286Formal Robe for Guangxu Emperor 1875-1908

IMG_3289The three floors of the exhibition, including artifacts & films, transported us to another era.

IMG_3293Portobello Wallpaper / Alexander McQueen 2006-7

IMG_3299With more than 140 pieces of haute couture, including this gown by Guo Pei (2010) and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art, there was much to be inspired by. We left with eyes filled with visions hard to recount. Best to experience the richness of Chinese history for yourself, before it ends on August 16th.

around the world in a day

One week after the opening of the World Expo 2015, Feeding the Planet, we traveled to Milan to see what all the talk was about, the expo being a topic of much controversy.

In brief, Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, hosts from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan becomes a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries show the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo also involves international organizations, and expects to welcome over 20 million visitors to its 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area.

Both my Italian and I were curious to see, learn, and taste, starting with the Sudan pavilion.

IMG_0817IMG_1070I felt at home in Poland, watching a film about my country’s history, and meeting a local.

IMG_0934_2IMG_1065 IMG_1060 IMG_1049One of the most impressive pavilions was Oman, a place I hadn’t experienced, until now.

IMG_1026 IMG_1017 IMG_1016_2Turkmenistan was elaborately designed, as was Turkey, unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit either pavilion. One day was simply not enough to take it all in.

IMG_1008_2IMG_1067_2IMG_1006Loyal to the US & France, we visited both pavilions, the latter filled with wine and cheese.

IMG_0965_2IMG_0883_2We were most impressed with China, where we feasted on peking duck and dumplings.

IMG_0904 IMG_0884 IMG_0871IMG_1108_2In Italy we tasted fine wines and caroused Eataly, exhibiting foods from all twenty regions.

IMG_0849 IMG_1113IMG_1084Our day ended with the Tree of Life, agreeing that the experience was one to remember.

art of the hammam

On my recent trip to Istanbul, my friend and I decided to indulge in the Turkish bath culture, the hammam. In the tradition of physical and spiritual purification, the body is cleansed and purified from toxins, blood circulation increases and the immune system is stimulated. I had tried a few hammams in my day, but this one, the Ayasofya built in 1556, was special.IMG_6259Historically, hammams were social centers where special occasions were often celebrated.

IMG_6238Most hammams had spiritual components, and in many cases, washing was an essential part of worship. Through religious influence, hammams became a part of everyday life.

IMG_6240The sicaklik (also known as the hararet, caldarium or hot room) is a large marble-tiled room with a Göbek tasi (marble slab called a belly or navel stone). Here the soaping takes place.

IMG_6244I lay on the heated surface post scrubbing, and experienced my first bubble massage.

IMG_6254We had the hammam to ourselves, and I could have spent hours dreaming beneath the ancient starry ceiling, intoxicated by the warmth of the marble and the heavenly massage.

IMG_6255Alas, it was time to go as I was abruptly woken from the dream. Next stop, Grand Bazaar.

Adventures in Andalucia : Tarifa + Cádiz

Our first stop was Setenil de las Bodegas, a small town once famous for it’s vineyards and unique in it’s position. While most of the pueblos blancos were built on protective bluffs, Setenil grew out of caves dwellings in the cliffs above the rio Trejo, north-west of Ronda.

IMG_4458 IMG_4461For lunch we drove up to Zahara de la Sierra, a charming village nestled in the mountains.

IMG_4544Once a moorish outpost, Zahara’s Arab and Christian history is evident in it’s architecture.

IMG_4535Our next destination was Tarifa on the southernmost coast of Spain, the Costa de la Luz. We were tempted to board the ferry to Morocco, but saved that for another adventure.

IMG_4626This became home for a few days, as we explored the coast by foot, and on horseback.

IMG_4748Not wanting the pueblos blancos tour to end, we discovered Vejer de la Frontera. This quickly became my favorite of the villages with it’s unassuming charm and maze of streets.

IMG_4773 IMG_4781Our last stop was one of the oldest cities in western Europe, Cádiz. We became happily lost in the myriad of historic sights, the uplifting sounds of flamenco, and the local tapas.

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IMG_5118Beneath an Andalucian sunset, we ended one year and began another. In love & gratitude.

art into fashion

Artist Sonia Delaunay is one of the inspirations behind my handbags. Arriving to Paris in 1905, Sonia believed “modernity could be expressed through the primacy of color in art and the dynamic interplay of its dissonances and harmonies”. Due in large part to her beliefs and the quality of her work, Delaunay is responsible for bringing art into daily life.

IMG_2309I was overjoyed to spend an afternoon with my muse at her Musée d’Art Moderne retrospective in Paris, what was once her home. ( I often visit her paintings at Pompidou’s permanent collection.) Over 400 works were on display, including paintings, wall decorations, gouaches, prints, fashion items and textiles. A designer’s paradise!

IMG_2318Bringing together the fine and applied arts, Sonia Delaunay desired to liberate color, without restricting it to surface. Her art was brought into life, and into fashion.

IMG_2325Art and life became one. “It was my life and I worked the whole time, but I wasn’t working – I was living – and that is the difference.”

IMG_2336Delaunay’s textiles varied greatly from the naturalistic designs popular in the early 1920s. Her fabrics incorporated geometric shapes, often with strong, bold colors.

IMG_2347I often look at paintings and see them as fabric. That is after all, how I came up with my wearable art designs. For me, there is no better example of this than the work of Delaunay.

IMG_2348“For me there is no gap between my painting and my so-called ‘decorative’ work. I never considered the ‘minor arts’ to be artistically frustrating; on the contrary, it was an extension of my art.”
IMG_2349            Sonia’s vision was uniquely vibrant. For her “color is the skin of the world”.

Sonia Delaunay retrospective ends February 22

 

scenes from Sicily

Last weekend my Italian and I ventured to Italy’s most southern region, Sicily. This was my first trip and his second. I had no idea what to expect in this island rich in culture and cuisine. After taking a swim in the still warm waters of the Mediterranean, we headed to our first destination, the island of Ortygia in Syracuse. This charming city reveals baroque facades with Greek,  Roman and Arab influences in it’s centuries old architecture. With Sicilian hospitality, we immediately felt at home.

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One morning we spent at the archeological park where a massive Greek theater from 5th-century BC awaits it’s visitors. During the summer season it’s brought to life with classical concerts.

IMG_9897Being adventure seekers, we decided to drive to Noto. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, it was rebuilt to become the grandest baroque town in Sicily. Noto was recently added to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, certainly worth a visit! And did I  mention that Noto is known for it’s gelato? More on that later…

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IMG_9790The next stop on our Sicilian adventures was Modica. This multi-layered medieval town is uniquely atmospheric with it’s high and low levels, allowing for an incredible view. Here too, you find the most delicious chocolate and confections. How could I resist?

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Our last stop was Taormina, the chic, sophisticated town that seduced many an artist and writer in it’s day. Here was the capitol of  Byzantine Sicily in the 9th century, and today it remains an international hotspot boasting views of a still active Mount Etna.

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Four days spent beneath the Sicilian sun, learning about ancient history, discovering hidden beaches… dining on fresh pasta, fish and local sweets (the latter of which I’m devoting the next blog post to). A perfect holiday.

The King and I

When I was ten, my mom took me to see the Broadway musical Annie. That was the beginning. From Phantom of the Opera in NYC to Les Miserables in London… any chance I could get, I would lose myself in a magical, musical setting. Theatre, opera and ballet quickly followed. When I learned that The King and I was on in Paris (and in English) at the Théâtre du Châtelet, I didn’t think twice. This famed production by Rodgers and Hammerstein is based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, taking place in Siam in the early 1860s. A love story ensues.

king 053king 079 king 111 king 214 king 240 king 363 king 382 king 417 king 426 With powerful performances by Susan Graham and Lambert Wilson, and breathtaking set designs and costumes, not to mention the musical score and choreography, I was completely enchanted! Following a standing ovation, we left the theatre smiling and filled with melody. Encore!

Dîner en Blanc

This year I finally made it to the annual Dîner en Blanc. This invite-only secret dinner party began 25 years ago by a man named François Pasquier. He invited a few friends to the Bois de Boulogne on an evening in June, and asked that everyone bring another friend. All the attendees wore white in order to find one another more easily. (My friend Delphine’s parents were among the first dinner guests!) The event was a grand success and each successive year friends invited friends and it grew into a 10,000+ dinner party. I’ve always loved the idea of it, even given all the preparation ahead of time. Everyone attending must provide their own food, drink, even tables and chairs, and all must be white! Considering it’s not exactly legal, the prestigious location is disclosed just before the dinner actually begins. This year the grand event took place along 6 bridges. Our designated spot was close to Pont Alexandre III, with gorgeous views of the Grand Palais and Eiffel Tower.

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IMG_2563 IMG_2575 IMG_2586It was one of those magical nights spent with friends both old and new, wrapped in warm summer air and the setting sun, surrounded by the grandeur of Paris, that remains with you forever.

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Could there have been a more perfect setting? We’ll see where next year finds us.

Lights Out

June 6th marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the day on which Allied forces invaded northern France via beach landings in Normandy. In commemoration of this day I joined a new Context Tour, Lights Out, Paris Under the Occupation, accompanied by my Italian and a few friends. Following are several of the relevant spots, including bullet holes I had never noticed, along our 3 hour walk, led by a well-schooled historian. These images and the stories behind them will stay with me forever.

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To learn more about Paris history, art, food… join a Context tour. You might even find me there.

USA à Paris

In mid 2013, I met a French journalist who had in 2011 spent 6 months living in New York City. This experience changed her life. Upon returning to Paris she was filled with new ideas and dreams, having gained the “we can do it” attitude from life in the big apple. In September 2011, Noélie Viallet joined forces with Kamal Ben Saïd and together they launched  www.paris-newyork.tv, for their shared love of New York and America. Following the success of that project, Noélie spent the next few years working on a book, expressing her affections for all things American, in Paris.

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We met to speak about my handbags, as a New York designer now living in Paris, and our conversations quickly led to life between here and there. I enjoyed speaking with Noélie and was impressed with her ambitious projects! Needless to say, I’m honored to be included in Le Guide des USA à Paris, which was recently published and can now be found in bookstores all over Paris and on Amazon.com. All photos by photographer Pierre Olivier Signe.

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Included within the pages are many fabulous addresses for all things USA, including food, fashion, culture… Among them fellow New Yorkers and friends Suzanne Flenard of Square Modern, Daisy de Plume of THATLou (and now THATRue) and Kristen Beddard Heimann of The Kale Project.USA a Paris-Kasia DietzThank you Noélie, for the courage to experience my country & culture and to share it with yours!

wine on the Seine

 What better place to sample French wines than in a boat on the Seine?

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On a recent overcast afternoon I experienced Wine Tasting in Paris, started by wine connoisseur Thierry Givone. Admittedly, I didn’t know too much about the many wine regions of Paris, other than which regions produce my favorite wines, namely Bourgogne and Bordeaux. And the Champagne region of course! This was the perfect occasion, not to mention setting, in which to educate myself.

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I was joined by friend Amy Feezer. Following a glass of bubbly we all became better acquainted.

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One glass of wine followed another, from the Loire to Bourgogne to the Côtes du Rhône. And with each glass a thorough description of the grapes, the notes, the tastes… even a lesson in the way wine should be savoured. Thierry has a particular affinity towards Bourgogne, that region being his home, but he is an expert on all regions of France and certainly has developed a nose for wine! I was pleased to taste wines I would otherwise not have thought to try, and was impressed with Thierry’s expertise and attention to detail when it came to French wines.

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After over 3 hours of tastings and conversation, with a view of the sun setting over the Seine in the distance, Amy and I left the boat a little bit tipsy and a lot more knowledgeable. Santé!

For more information: www.wine-tasting-in-paris.com and Facebook and Twitter

 

curating inspiration

As anyone in Paris is well aware, given the amount of fashion forward (and fashion faux pas) walking the streets of Paris these days, it’s Fashion Week. Rather than attending crowded shows to catch a glimpse of new trends that are often only seen on the catwalk, I chose a more inspired path. Friday night was the opening of the Dries Van Noten exhibition at Musée des Arts Décoratifs. I was lucky enough to join Anne of Ritournelle Blog, along with the who’s who of fashion, including Dries himself! This is the Belgian fashion icon’s first solo exhibition, aptly titled Inspirations. Not merely a fashion exhibition, but a look into the mind of a designer through art, imagination and creativity.

IMG_7217The starting point of a collection can be either very literal or abstract, a painting, a certain colour, a thought, a gesture, a smell, a flower, anything really. What matters to me is the journey from that first flash of inspiration to the final destination, the individual garments, the collection.

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I was impressed and inspired by this in-depth look into the mind of an artist. Here’s what Suzy Menkes of the International New York Times had to say, along with a video tour with Dries himself. This exhibition, which took 2 years to mount, will be on display until August 31st. Well worth a visit for anyone with creative sensibilities and a love for fashion, art & travel. Worth even a trip to Paris!

year of the horse

This is the year of the horse. In the Chinese zodiac, that is. The spirit of the horse is recognized to be the Chinese people’s ethos – making unremitting efforts to improve themselves. It is energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able. Returning to Paris just in time enjoy the local celebrations, living close by to one of the cities Chinese neighborhoods. In NYC I lived not far from Chinatown and reveled in the yearly parade that wound it’s way through the streets. This felt much like those days, living amidst an ethnic people and sharing in their traditions.

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IMG_6156The traditional costumes were elaborate and impressive!

IMG_6097The parade took place near Arts & Metiers, close to the Marais. There lives a small population of the Wenzhounese from the Zhejiang province of China. The majority have settled in Belleville, which along with the 13eme arrondissement, is considered Paris’ Chinatown, the largest in Europe.

My quest this year of the horse, in addition to improving myself,  is to find a dim sum restaurant!

escape to Japan

Who says Florida only offers palm trees, sandy beaches and shopping malls? On our recent trip to visit my mom, we discovered a little piece of paradise, Japanese style. And we LOVE Japan!

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George S. Morikami arrived to the United States from Japan in 1906, to work as a pineapple farmer. He was one of the last surviving members of the Yamato Colony that settled west of Delray Beach at the turn of the century. It is thanks to Mr. Morikami, for his donation of 140 acres of land to the state of Florida, that the memory of him and his people lives on. Visiting the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens gracefully transports you to another world.

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Upon these grounds you feel free.

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With rock gardens in which to ponder life’s mysteries.

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And a museum in which to transport yourself to Japan.

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Or perhaps best to sit and contemplate.

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Surrounded by bonsai trees.

IMG_5055 And a Buddha.

fit for a king

A few weeks ago a dear family friend was in town. Since she’s already seen much of Paris, I planned a day of historic elegance in a landscape not too far away. We boarded a bus on an overcast morning, and soon arrived to the legendary, and now private estate, Château de Vaux le Vicomte.

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Here began our adventure into the life of Nicolas Fouquet, who created this 17th century castle.

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This majestic masterpiece was a collaboration between architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. A ‘home and garden’ to be admired by all.

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Yet the story behind Monsieur Fouquet and his château is a unique and tragic one.

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In brief, after throwing a lavish party in his new home, Fouquet was arrested by Louis XIV (who had plotted against him out of jealousy), and spent his remaining days behind bars, unlawfully so.

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In the famous words of Voltaire, “On 17 August at 6 in the evening, Fouquet was King of France; at 2 in the morning, he was nobody”.

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As we wandered the château and landscape, the gray sky set a sobering mood. At once in awe and aghast at the history lesson upon us. Certainly a castle fit for a king, perhaps even too much so.

hidden romanticism

Clandestinely situated down a long alleyway on an unassuming street in the 9eme arrondissement, sits the house of painter Ary Scheffer, also known as the Musée de la Vie Romantique (Museum of the Romantics). How did I not know about this earlier? I decided to venture there on a sunny morning, with friend and fellow romantic Jacquelyn, to explore this artist’s home, dedicated to the arts and literature of the first half of the XIXth century. Truly a hidden gem!

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It is here that much of writer George Sand‘s memorabilia are displayed including portraits, pens, jewelry… even her hair! An impressive collection. Incidentally, this famous writer and mistress of Chopin, once lived on my street in the Marais!

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After touring the house’s many chambers, filled with landscape paintings by George Sand and portraits by Ary Scheffer, we took our romantic musings to the garden.

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A memorable morning spent with the romantics… and a new favorite hideaway in Paris.

Musée de la Vie Romantique
16 rue Chaptal 75009

Château de Chantilly

During my mom’s recent visit to Paris, we decided to take her for a day trip. Where else but to a château? Less than 30 minutes by train lies the town of Chantilly, home to a spectacular château spanning the 14th to 19th centuries, not to mention chantilly cream, which in itself is worth the trip!

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Our first stop was the Grand Stables. Yes, horses do still live within this admirable structure!

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At first sight the Château de Chantilly exhibits an air of serene magnificence.

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The Musée Condé boasts the grandest collection of paintings in France, after the Louvre of course.

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I could not stop admiring (and photographing) the château from every angle, both near and far.

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Chantilly

A idyllically regal day spent beneath blue skies and the historic charm of France.

diner à la française

IMG_4463For those living outside of France, or even for many of those on the inside, what does it really feel like to dine with the vrai français? How do the French dine, what do they serve and with which formalities, what do their homes look like? Personally, I’m lucky to have a few dear French friends who have graciously opened their homes to me. But I still often wonder what secrets are discovered at these French dinners.

By the clever collaboration of Renaud Maigne who often traveled for work and was tired of dining alone, “The thing we remember the most is the personal exchange we’ve had with the locals who tell you about their country and traditions.”, and Matthieu Heslouin who wanted to make the foreign dining experience accessible to all, “Thematic dinners are as numerous as the passions of the hosts. To each his own dinner! Or in French, à chacun son dîner!” Thus VoulezVousDîner was born! Dinner parties for all to attend, all around the world.

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I was eager to attend one of these Paris dinners, and chose Diner Concert Chez Sacha. Gourmet dinner followed by a piano concert? Yes please! My Italian and I arrived first, how very un-French of us, and we became acquainted with our lovely host Sasha and her friend Carl, who generously poured the champagne. Another French couple arrived and we were seated at a table set with plates designed by Sacha herself. Before the food was even served, I was impressed!

Once dinner began we all became well acquainted and shared various musings on life in Paris, both from the perspective of locals and foreigners, while Sacha told us all about her history with cooking and her passion for pottery. Each course was creatively inspired, delicious and plentiful, paired with select wines and ending with dessert… and cheese bien sûr!

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To end the evening, Sacha performed a few piano pieces as we sipped on a digestif. It was certainly a night to remember! Looking forward to my next VoulezVousDîner, in Paris or elsewhere.

love in the city of spices

If I moved to Istanbul, this is what I would call my blog, love in the city of spices. Or perhaps love of the city of spices, as this is a city that I have a great fondness for,  and cannot even begin to describe exactly why. Istanbul is a place that must be experienced from the inside, with it’s rich history and rapid modernization. Certainly a cultural mecca. But alas, my story is being written in Paris, and it is my dear friend Karen (with whom I have shared many an adventure in our 20 years of friendship) that is living beneath the minarets.

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My first visit to Istanbul had been during my year of travel, I ran around the city in a daze, completely taken with the sights, sounds and tastes. On that trip I woke up in Asia and spent my days in Europe. This transcontinental life can only be possible in Istanbul.

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On this trip, my Italian’s first to Istanbul, we were lucky to be in the company of Karen and her husband (and two darling Turkish-American daughters). Emre, being a part-time professional tour guide, gave us a tour to remember. From the Blue Mosque to the Hagia Sophia, to the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Market, with many secret stops along the way.  What better introduction?

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The interior of the Hagia Sophia is a sight to behold, with a ceiling of gold.

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On my last visit, I barely stepped foot in the Topkapi Palace. On this trip we spent hours exploring this, the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years. Enchanting!

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But it was the time with friends that provided the most memories. Many a night was spent over dinner with a view, catching up on our lives in two very unique and contrasting cities.

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And it was with Karen and Emre that we traveled from Europe to Asia.

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Dinner with a view.

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So much more to see, feel and taste! Already we are looking forward to the next visit…

giving thanks

No better day than today, Thanksgiving to those of us from America, to give thanks. What exactly am I grateful for? Where to begin… When I think back to my first year in Paris, feasting at a faux American restaurant in the rive gauche with people I barely knew, feeling lost and less than grateful to be dining on what tasted like a microwave turkey meal. Three years later I am dining in style with close friends, as I do many nights. Thus begins my list of gratitude. Something we should all be mindful of, all year long.

1. good friends (I’ve even made a few French girlfriends, not an easy feat!)

2. a doting and darling Italian (even with my moods… perhaps this should be #1)

3. my ever supportive and loving mom (what would I do without her!)

4. the ability to communicate in foreign tongues (particularly the French one!)

5. a creative mind (which has allowed me to create my life, via blogging, designing, doing)

6. limitless supplies of culture in many forms (THIS is what makes me thrive in Paris)

7. travel (forever grateful to see the world!)

8. the ability (and courage) to follow my dreams

9. good health (the older I get the more I value well-being)

10. optimism (something I brought with me from the USA)

And so much more. I will remind myself of this list and continue to add to it, in moments of doubt or difficulty. Now time to celebrate life and friendship with a grand feast, American style!

Happy Thanksgiving tout le monde!

sweet harvest

This time of year I look forward to the grape harvest in Italy. My first real experience paying homage to the grape was two years ago, and still I drink the wine in memory of those days. This year the harvest was not as plentiful, but my Italian and I set to work and picked every grape we could find.

We decided we would make the local sweet wine, Sciacchetrà, made of select, dried grapes. A real delicacy, and my favorite domestic wine from the Cinque Terre region.

The views alone were reason alone to tangle my way through the vines.

We set the 50 kilos of grapes to dry on a metal net and covered them. In six weeks time the dried grapes would be pressed, natural fermentation would take place, the wine would be filtered, and voilà! Ready to be savoured during the Christmas holidays, to compliment a good dessert.

Cheers to the best Sciacchetrà of Cinque Terre!

open air history

During my recent trip to Sanok, the town where my mother grew up and where I spent many childhood summers, we took a trip to one of the largest open air museums. Skansen museum, established in 1958, recreates 19th and early 20th century life in this region of Poland. You begin to understand the simplicity and often the hardship of life so many years ago. Along with our tour guide, and my mom who herself studied ethnography, we explored this long forgotten world.

The tour begins with a replica of a Galician town square from the second half of the 19th century.

A historic tailor shop and pharmacy…

Even a horologist, with quite a sense of humor.

Each section features an ethnic group who lived in the region prior to the post-WWII resettlements.

As I walked in and around these dwellings, I imagined the lives that once inhabited them.

Amidst the homes and churches we discovered elaborately sculpted bee urns.

There too was an exhibition of long lost Jewish treasures, some of the few that remain.

Within the stillness of Skansen, I better understood the history of this part of the world.

Paris, My Sweet

“Fantasies do come true. Despite my moments of uncertainty and pangs of loneliness, I was loving life in Paris. I was so smitten with the Gallic city’s grand, plane-tree-lined boulevards and ever-so-slightly crooked side streets, its countless café terraces and the ritual of lingering on them with a single café crème or coupe de champagne.” – Amy Thomas in Paris, My Sweet

photo by Lindsey Tramuta

Amy Thomas. A writer, ad girl and francophile from New York City with a highly refined palate (and appetite) for sweets. A woman after my own heart! As fate would have it, our paths were meant to cross in Paris, where she auspiciously found herself writing ad copy for prestigious client Louis Vuitton. Pas mal! Upon meeting Amy, I immediately sensed an authenticity in her character, natural warmth, and a passion for life. Yes, we would have been friends in New York. Getting to know Amy through our shared experience of Paris, only proved that my instincts were correct. On one of these occasions, during her Croissant Smackdown (a tasting of Paris’ best buttery delicacies), Amy mentioned that she was just awarded a book deal on a project she had been working on. Sweet! I couldn’t wait to read her memoir, as only a true New Yorker in Paris could tell it.

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) is here! In bookstores, on amazon.com and in my personal prized book collection. February 1st Amy Thomas became a published author, not only in the New York Times, but in the world. How proud I am of mon amie!

Needless to say, I inhaled the book, much like I would a box of macarons. Pierre Hermé or Laduree. It felt as though Amy were telling me her story in person, over a chocolat chaud. From nesting in her ‘tree house’ near rue Montorgueil to her many adventures sampling the best of Paris’ pâtisseries, via vélib’ bien sûr, to her endless attempts at finding her way into the core of a fascinating (and often challenging) city and the mind of its people. The tales are both sweet and savory, and worthy of being told, in a language and manner uniquely Amy. A lot of English, a bit of French, and all heart.

Though her experiences of Paris and New York, and often finding herself torn between the two (something I well understand) Amy has proven that you need not choose pleasure or success, beauty or energy, the macaron or the cupcake. You can indeed have it all, or at least taste it all, on either side of the Atlantic. Now then, where to find the best cupcake in Paris and macaron in New York? I believe the answer lies somewhere between chapters two and five…

If you are a fellow sweet freak, or simply adore Paris (who doesn’t?), you too will savor the pages of Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate).

You can also follow Amy via facebook, twitter and on her blogs God, I Love Paris and Sweet Freak.

 

confetti confessions

Planning a wedding in Italy I have been learning many of the traditions. Aside from the fact that you don’t dance at Italian weddings (a tradition I plan on breaking), I am looking forward to our ‘traditional’ Italian wedding and all the customs that come with it, with a few nuances of our own.

One particular tradition I am very fond of is Confetti. (Not at all the paper confetti we are accustomed to in the US.) Italian wedding confetti are white candied almonds bundled into personalized little sachets of five almonds, representing the qualities that must always be part of the new couples life: Health, Fertility, Longevity, Happiness and Wealth.

I had the sweet privilege of tasting the many flavours of these candied almonds. A few of my favorites included white chocolate, toasted hazelnut & pistachio. Is it possible to overdose on these sweet treats? Yes! In the end we opted for the traditional almonds.

Each of these little bags are then distributed to anyone that the family, in this case the groom, has known throughout their life. And in a small village like Monterosso, that means nearly everyone! In turn, those people (roughly 300) often give a small gift or gather at the church to admire the bride and groom. I too gave a few away to those I knew would appreciate this custom.

Confetti is also distributed at other momentous occasions, varying in color depending on the celebration. White for the Wedding, the First Holy Communion and Confirmation, pink or blue for Baptism, green for Engagement, red for Graduation, silver for 25th wedding anniversaries and gold for 50th year of marriage. (Many more almonds to be tasted and shared in the years ahead…)

Where did the Confetti tradition originate? We can thank the  Ancient Romans.

 

Pasquetta

One of my favorite holidays growing up was Easter. Not simply for the American tradition of the ‘Easter Bunny’ and a basket filled with chocolates and jelly beans. (My mother being Polish I rarely received these goodies and took to making my own candy-filled basket.) In addition to blessing a basket filled with eggs, sausage and a lamb made of butter, my Easter celebration consisted of sitting around a table with elderly Polish ladies, taking mental notes on their life stories, and painting eggs, called pisanki. My mom’s always being the most beautiful and elaborate. These eggs, symbolizing the revival of nature,  were meant to be proudly displayed in your basket and shared with friends and family. (In our case, we used them to raise money for the Polish school which I attended.) I grew to love this tradition.

Since my life is now heavily influenced by Italian customs, my Easter celebrations have become even more tasty and varied. Last year we celebrated with my family in the US, along with a blessed basket of Polish delicacies, and a dove-shaped Colomba from Italy, a sweet bread that you can spend all day nibbling on. This year we spent Pasqua with the Italians, in Monterosso. I was lucky enough to share in the chocolate egg tradition, a huge festively wrapped dark chocolate egg revealing a surprise.

Being both a fan of chocolate and surprises I unwrapped the egg with the anticipation of a child. Following tradition, I ‘cracked’ open the egg, found my hand-painted trinket inside, and the chocolate feast began! (And could very well continue for many days…)

The Monday following Pasqua is called Pasquetta, “Little Easter”. A day in which people venture out, plan picnics, visit friends… and of course, eat! I tend to believe this day is reserved for finishing the chocolate egg…

sharing the {blog} love

It is almost one year since I began a life of love in Paris, and Love in the City of Lights was born. What a journey it has been! Little did I know what I would learn and who I would encounter along the way, and all the friends I would make in between.

Through the experience of sharing my life with fellow expats and even a few hopeful romantics, I have come to know Paris, its culture and its people more intimately. I still struggle to understand (and accept) the many French cultural nuances, but I feel much more at home and much less an outsider. For these fellow bloggers (and many others not mentioned), and my dear readers, I am very grateful. I share this love with fellow bloggers, francophiles around the world, and Paris expats.

One of my first virtual friendships was with Andi of Misadventures with Andi, who blogs about many of my favorite subjects including travel, culture, love and of course Paris, always keeping the conversation varied and interesting. I hope to meet in person on her next trip to Paris! 

On the topic of life in Paris, so many I love! Beth Arnold I have come to know and admire for her sophisticated and unprecedented Letter From Paris. Lindsey, of Lost in Cheeseland shares many an anecdote on life as an expat, often with humor and always with candor. For the latest in goings on in the City of Lights, Kim inspires with I Heart Paris. Many secrets and cultural happenings are revealed by Heather in Secrets of Paris. The stories and visual poetry by Nichole of little brown pen, living between Paris and NJ, always cause me to feel lucky to live surrounded by so much beauty. Though many don’t realize it until living here, Paris is indeed imperfect and Sion brings this to light in Paris (Im)perfect. Marjorie, who is neither French nor has ever lived in France, writes my inner French girl, describing the French art of living. That undeniable je ne sais quoi that is so inherently French!

Of the mommy club which I am not yet a part, but have several expat friends who are, Barbara writes a very real and witty blog about the experience of living and raising children in a foreign country in International Mama. As a super Mama and freelance writer, she also writes The Expat Freelancer to help expat writers find their voice and use it. Another saavy American mama with many a story to tell to aspiring expat mothers is La Mom.

On the topic of food, everyone knows (or should know) David Lebovitz for his appetizing site about all things food related and author of The Sweet Life. I met David at a sexy book signing and hope to cross paths again over crepes at Breizh Cafe. For those with a sweet tooth, Cat, otherwise known as Little Miss Cupcake, creates the most delectable cupcakes! About where and what to eat (as the amount of dining options can be daunting) a wonderful new site recently launched, aptly titled Paris By Mouth. Food porn anyone? Through a good friend I met Cynthia, a writer and adventurous foodie from LA who writes about exactly that in Adventure Eating. All that eating but where to drink? Forest keeps a detailed account of the tastiest cocktails and happiest happy hours in 52 Martinis

On the topic of travel, one of my favorites, there’s a blog I simply love which bridges the gap between France and Italy, both of which I now consider my homes. Robin, a travel consultant and writer with great travel taste, captures the essence of two of the most beautiful countries in My Melange. I am also a fervent follower of the travels of  Granturismo, Lara and Terence, as they travel for 12 months in 24 destinations. Instant nostalgia for my 2007 travels, 13 months in 32 destinations.

New York City will always remain home to me (considering I now have 3, and counting). To keep myself connected to this dynamic city I begin my mornings with a café creme and a cup of Jo, much loved blog by fashionista and new mommy, Joanna Goddard. There are many more NYC blogs I read, including the inspiring and design saavy my turtleneck by Catherine Mangosing of Brooklyn.

I’m looking forward to discovering many more blogs, meeting many more bloggers and fellow expats, and continued adventures and musings on life and love in Paris in year two!

art on the canal

I’ve been feeling a bit homesick lately, missing the cultural activities of NYC and most of all my creative-minded accomplices to indulge in them with. Not that Paris lacks in art, music or film festivals, particularly in the summertime. I simply need to dig a little deeper to find them, and often that means translating. (In other words: intimidating)

When I found out that NYC friend and photographer Casey Kelbaugh, was bringing his Slideluck Potshow event to Paris as part of his European tour, I was thrilled! It has taken him four years to present to a French audience (we won’t get into those details) but finally he made it happen. Slideluck Potshow is a non-profit organization dedicated to building and strengthening the community through art and food. Hence the mixing of Slideshow and Potluck. Casey is one example of  a creative visionary who planted a seed (in his hometown of Seattle to be precise) by gathering friends and artists together in his backyard, and has in the last 10 years watched it blossom and grow throughout the USA and Europe. Much due to it’s success in NYC in the last 6 years. 

I felt at home within this atmosphere of familiarity with a French twist, as did over 400 others. A night of meeting and mingling with artists and art aficionados, eating a mix of foods as is the SLPS theme, and watching a carefully curated slideshow presentation of 40 chosen photographers, organized around a theme, each show accompanied by it’s own soundtrack. Well done! 

To add to the appeal, the event could not have been better located than on Canal Saint-Martin. Le Comptoir Général in the 10th arrondissement, is now my new favorite venue for all things creative. 

This all leads me to question, are the grounds of NYC more fertile than those in Paris? Can creative visionaries find a home here too? To be continued…

the sounds of summer

The summer sun has finally reached Paris. It took a while, with chilly temperatures until just last week. To celebrate the summer solstice on June 21st, Paris holds an annual event in which music fills the air. This musical celebration began in Paris 28 years ago and now takes place around the world.

I first experienced the sounds of Fête de la Musique last year on a visit to Paris, just before jetting off to the Isle of Skye for work. It remains one of favorite nights, as every corner of Paris is filled with song from 7pm until early morning. Classical orchestras, jazz bands, rock musicians, or simply a man standing on the street performing his best rendition of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’. Quite a number of characters, as well as large scale talent find their way into this festival of music and it’s a sensation to weave in and out of the streets with tunes of one performer melting into the next. Personally, I love the ‘organized chaos’ of it all and wish it lasted longer than one night.

In the midst of the melodies as we caroused the right bank, we stopped for dinner at a little bistro, and much to my delight the jazz band featured a tap dancer, tapping to many old American favorites.

One of the most impressive and certainly most passionate performers we heard was Buika, a Spanish singer who filled the air with a unique mix of flamenco and jazz. The jardin du Palais-Royal was the perfect setting for such a diva.

As we biked from the vicinity of the Louvre, too impatient to wait two hours on line to hear the Orchestra de Paris, and much more eager to wander in the direction our ears chose to take us, we biked back to the Marais. Here was quite a scene! The streets were filled with dancing and drinking…and yes, a lot of singing. Though not sure who was part of the line-up. Trying to avoid the madness, we took a few narrower paths and came upon a small crowd of people at the door of the Bibliotheque Historique. Like three small birds, these women’s operatic voices filled the air. We were instantly mesmerized. The perfect notes upon which to end the night.

My mom once said, the greatest talent is the gift of song. Maybe in my next life.

the sexy city

I lived in NYC for 12 years, though barely can I consider the life I led to be that of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda or Samantha of Sex and the City, contrary to what anyone might believe, my Italian included. Perhaps a mix of Carrie and Charlotte on the best of days? Though Miranda, with her pioneering spirit lived only a block away from me in the Lower East Side, in the film that is. And don’t we all fantasize about  Samantha’s escapades, even just a little? I must admit, I did enjoy living vicariously through these stories while living my own more tame versions, all the while never succumbing to carousing the NYC streets in a pair of Louboutins. I’m proud of that, I might add.

Where Carrie’s love story concluded in the first film, my story began. Thus, Love in the City of Lights was born. 

Now, as Sex and the City 2 is due to premiere in Paris, I am curious to follow these ladies on their adventures continue. I cannot even begin to imagine how the story unfolds, this uniquely tangled web of love, lust and laughter, perhaps proving yet again that friendship (if nothing else) is forever. It appears that the entire world is curious as well. Here in Paris the ‘hot-spot’ Café Etienne Marcel (34 rue Etienne Marcel, in the 2nd) has been transformed into an even more sultry ‘Café Sex and the City’I could hardly believe it! Are Parisians such die-hard fans of this fab four? And do they really believe that is how we women live in NYC? Perhaps that’s why most Parisian girls (or any girls for that matter) swoon when I mention NYC. Ah yes, the stories I could tell…

What really provoked my interest to venture to this cafe was not the NYC-style cosmopolitans and the trendy ambiance, but three of my favorite ex-pat authors. WH Smith, the English language bookstore in Paris, haven to many fellow ex-pats, was recently hosting an event as part of the launch of Sex and the City 2, creating their own ‘Foodies in Naughty Paris’ event. 

I was excited and honored to meet this trio, David Lebovitz, Alexander Lobrano, and Heather Stimmler-Hall, all in one room, with books to sign and stories to tell, and at such a ‘sexy’ venue! Ex-pat writers who followed their own unique paths, stars of their own Parisian dramas, in David Lebovitz’s case, often a comedy. I was hesitant to buy any more guide books on Paris as I regularly read these authors websites, and still have many Paris themed books at home yet to peruse, but I could not resist. Especially after speaking with each author and getting to know them on a more personal level. 

My growing collection of books now includes David’s heartfelt and humorous tales in The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City, Alexander’s thorough guide to tastefully eating his way through this delicious city in Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants, and a ‘reference’ book every woman must own, Heather’s Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City. 

As soon as I can put the books down and take a break from my own romantic escapades, I will venture to the cinema for a rendezvous with the NYC gals.

melancholic air

I often feel like an optimist living in a world of pessimists. In other words, an ex-pat living in Paris. At first, and even second glance, Parisians do not appear a happy bunch. They rarely smile or laugh and formality is evident in their manner of speech and body language. Is this attitude contagious? Will I become more serious and less smiley in time?

What is the reason behind this seemingly grim outlook on life? Perhaps this pensive look is a facade, meant to imply depth and intelligence. The French highly value knowledge and like to question almost anything. And anyone, for that matter. This is all in high contrast to the ‘light and happy’ approach to life Americans are known to possess. (I tend to live somewhere inbetween.)

The French are lucky, given the expansive healthcare system and 35-hour work week, not to mention the haute cuisine, enchanting landscapes…I could go on. France is a country often rated number one in terms of ‘Quality of Life’. There is no reason not to feel the joie de vivre. Unless there is a secret I have not been privy to. 

Perhaps we can blame the weather for this ‘melancholic air’. It’s currently Spring and the temperature rarely exceeds 60 degrees fahrenheit. More often than not, the sky is filled with clouds releasing torrents of rain. I can sulk beneath the varying shades of gray, spend late afternoons at a local cafe plotting a protest, or debating Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s socio-political role in French affairs. Or any number of philosophical musings.

Or I can continue to search for that and those which make me smile. And simply enjoy what is. Aware that after the rain the sun will shine, and I might even catch a glimpse of a rainbow.


living a language

I have decided to take a break from studying French the traditional way (also known as taking classes), given that I can almost speak naturally in the present tense, delving occasionally into the past and future, excluding certain irregular verbs. I am doing my best to find ways to immerse myself in the culture and learn through speaking, observing, doing…in other words, learn by the act of ‘living’. So far it’s been quite a sensory adventure!

Listen. It’s interesting how much we actually do understand when we need to. I recently had my coffee read by a Turkish woman, an apparent expert in such matters. When someone is speaking to you about your life and relative ‘pursuits of happiness’ you listen! And somehow, I understood. I did have a friend with me to translate, in case I completely misunderstood my fate. It was surely an experience. Do I believe what she told me, (or what I think she told me)? That remains to be decided. What I do know is that surely this is the path that is assigned to me. But I did not need a ‘fortune teller’ to confirm that.

Watch. Since I don’t have a TV at home, and that seems to be a great way to learn French, I decided to try the French Cinema. (In my opinion one of the best in the world). My first film in French was Coco Avant Chanel. Thankfully Audrey Tautou is expressive enough to be understood without words! I was deeply moved by the scenes, by what I imagined was taking place, and as soon as the film was finished I read the history to better understand the story of this impressive woman. Was this experience a success? More or less, or less than more, but it was surely an attempt! Ironic that once upon a time I would only watch foreign (mostly French) films and now I am limited to Hollywood blockbusters, another motivation to learn French!

Read. I grew up reading the The New York Times and look forward to the day when I can read the French equivalent. Does it even exist? Meanwhile, whenever I pass a 20 Minutes journal, found in most metro stations, I pick it up, and attempt to read it. This seems to be the best way to learn a language, by understanding the literary construction. If it’s an interesting enough article, preferably about art, travel or the state of affairs in America, I will do my best to decipher this linguistic puzzle. This too is a great way to understand the people and culture, as the written word is taken quite seriously in France. Next on my reading list is Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, my first (adult) French book….

Look. I spend a lot of time walking around the city, exploring, reading the signs on streets, in store windows… Everywhere I look I am learning, searching for words in my dictionary. To understand, for example, why the trendy Cambodian restaurant is closed on a Saturday night. ‘Partir voir la neige’ read the sign. Ah yes, the owners have ‘gone to see the snow’. (Only in France!)

Taste. This is surely a great way to learn a language, considering Paris is a gastronomic capital of the world. Taste the menu, to be certain of what you are eating, fearlessly of course. Coupled with a good glass or two of wine the conversation is sure to flow more smoothly!

Speak. As often as possible I express myself in French, rather creatively I might add, to whomever will listen. Simply leaving the house provides many opportunities in which to practice. My conversations with the woman at the local boulangerie are rather limited, as with the friendly man at the vegetable stand (though I am learning a lot about herbs!). I suspect it’s my hairdresser who notices my progress most of all. We almost speak as though we were friends, versus when I first arrived to Paris I would simply point and smile. Most of all I speak at home, with the most patient of teachers who has himself experienced what it feels like to live in a world of misunderstandings.

What great sensory experiences am I missing…

Life in Paris : Top 10

It is nearly 6 months that I am living a life of love (and miscellaneous other sentiments, depending on the day), in the most romantic city in the world, Paris! Not to mention with the most passionate of men, an Italian. (No offense to all others nationalities of the world, most of which I think very highly of, but I must be partial). 

As any ex-pat who has lived in Paris knows very well, living in a uniquely French culture is no easy task. These days the French are even asking themselves ‘What does it mean to be French?’ Hence, is there even a place for the culturally curious like myself? Being raised by a Polish mother and an American father (a Francophile I might add), I always understood and accepted culture to be a mysterious and stimulating mélange. Having grown up mostly in the USA, a country composed of immigrants, this is what I was taught is acceptable, also considering I never chose to fit in, in the first place. In hindsight, the ‘American Dream’ was never mine. (Hmmm, does a white picket fence exist in the South of France?)

Rather than begin the debate ‘Can an ex-pat ever be considered French’, or a long list of what I miss about my life in NYC (so many simple pleasures filled my 12 years…), versus the many difficulties I face in France, I will focus on what I LOVE about Paris. In an attempt to increase my awareness about this city and to miss home a little less.

My top 10, in no particular order (except for the first one):

1. Paris is for lovers and I am in Love! In NYC too, surely love can be found, but much more difficult to nurture in such a fast-paced city with so much of everything.

2. Eating is an art. Dinner is a daily ritual, an experience to savour, whether dining at home on a Monday night, at a local bistro with friends, or at a highly-rated Brasserie. 

3. The pace of life is S L O W. These days, I rarely walk with the speed of a New Yorker. As soon as the flowers begin to blossom I will take the time to smell them. ALL of them.

4. Living history. Each corner of Paris feels like stepping into the pages of a history book. Simply taking a walk, anywhere, is enchanting.

5. Simple pleasures. You can exist on a decadent (if not so balanced) diet of the finest in bread, cheese, wine and chocolate, at least for the first month. I could go on about the cheese…

6. Art fills the air. The unique and often beautiful graffiti art and murals are a pleasure to admire. Even a shopping trip to Galeries Lafayette proves a cultural experience, with a gallery exhibiting select artists and window displays to match. And the MANY revered galleries lining the left and right banks…

7. The sky. Particularly mesmerizing at dusk. (I can’t recall, was there even a sky in NYC?)

8. Time to be. Mostly due to the highly coveted 35 hour work week. The French value their free time, something I (nor anyone I know) seemed to ever have enough of in NYC. To pursue hobbies, to travel, simply to be. 

9. The Seine. Whether it be a late summer night, wrapped in warm air overlooking the Notre Dame, or a brisk walk across the Pont Neuf in the chill of winter, in the reflection of the Seine I cannot help but to smile and feel grateful.

10. The people I love most in the world will all come to visit. This is Paris after all!

The list is much longer and there remain many more Parisian delights to discover. (Please feel free to add your own.)

What is that famous saying, ‘you can take the girl out of the city…’. I will always be a New Yorker at heart, and I will never quite attain the status of a Parisian. But surely I will enjoy the experience of living in this culturally resplendent city and adding to the richness of my own unique culture.