London calling

Last week London called. I answered. A quick two hour jaunt via the Eurostar, and there I was.

This city that has always felt like home. Perhaps it’s the dynamic energy felt amidst the international air, much like NYC and certainly something I miss living within the calm and frenchness of Paris. The trip was one of business, as I’m currently working on a new hand-printed London Collection of handbags (where better to conduct market research?), had several shops and showrooms to meet, and equally one of pleasure. Many friends to catch up, exchanging a bottle of red for a pint of cider.

Home became close to Baker Street with a dear friend, Regents Park just minutes away.

I could not avoid central London…

What clever advertising! (Love the classic London cabs, preferably black.)

A walk around Sloane Square and into the world of eggs & Saatchi…

On my last morning I was given a tour of the colorfully posh Primrose Hill.

A walk along the canal beneath London skies, to Camden…

And back again from one world into another.

My trip happily ended in London’s evolving East, Shoreditch.

London has also called Andi of Misadventures with Andi, who just took a gastronomic tour with Context Travel… who knew what a foodie city this was!

walk of life

When I discovered that the travel site Trippando along with Travel – Moments in Time was hosting a contest on the topic of ‘beaches’, I couldn’t resist. Not simply because I love to write about travel and have walked many a beach in my life, but because the grand prize is a stay at Elba Island’s fabulous Acacie resort. Another beach I hope to explore!

Walk of Life

I grew up on the vast sandy stretches of the Hamptons, the South Fork of Long Island, New York. These beaches became my home. Often I would stare at the sea and dream of the infinity that lay beyond. Perhaps within this infinity lay my future, and I tried to catch a glimpse. And always, I would walk.

The years passed and my walk continued. Year after year upon the same calming shores. With the sands at my feet and the whispers of the ocean my solace, I knew this was my place. And yet.

It was not until I left those shores for others much less familiar and comforting that life began to reveal itself. Perhaps the whispers had provoked my fate, knowing better than I that my walk was longer than the sands of only one beach. And so I continued, barefoot and curious, upon the shores of Brazil’s remote Fernando de Naronha, Bali’s kaleidoscopic sands, Thailand’s multifarious banks, Australia’s rugged paradise, Mexico’s tropical landscape, into Italy’s dramatic coastline.

Fernando de Naronha, Brazil

Monterosso al Mare, Italy

My walk led me from one beach to another. Each more intriguing and revealing than the last. The whispers continued, and I embraced their varied tones.

Tulum, Mexico

I returned to my beach. The one I once called home. And again. But this time I was not alone. A set of footsteps, slightly larger than my own, found their way alongside mine. My walk of life continued, in the same place it had started. The whispers now, were our own.

Westhampton Beach

Since then my walk has led me to the enchanting shores of Corsica and the Greek Isles. As life evolves the walk continues, to beaches yet to be discovered.

New Year with Gaudí

Following a memorable traditional family Christmas spent on the Italian Riviera between Monterosso and Levanto, it was time for a new adventure. I had last been to Spain many university years ago and was eager to become reacquainted with Barcelona. Almost immediately we were greeted by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, considered by some a genius and by others a lunatic. Perhaps a mix of the two? For those 6 days we experienced Love in the City of Gaudí.

Our first stop was Casa Batlló (right), a modernist house appropriately called the ‘house of bones’.

I was mesmerized by the colors and effects, each detail fitting together creating a masterpiece.

The roof of tiled chimneys was particularly impressive. I was intriqued with the mind of this genius.

Next stop was majestic cathedral Sagrada Família, the Nativity facade by Gaudí began in 1882.

The Passion facade with controversial statues by Josep Subirachs sculpted from 1986-2006.

Intricate ceiling of the cathedral whose completion is planned by 2040, 10 towers still to be built.

Our self-guided tour, along with many others, continued to Park Güell, a garden city project.

We were first greeted by the iconic dragon.

A lone violinist accompanied by a washerwoman amidst the living stones.

It was here where Gaudí lived his last years, within this failed urban development turned park.

Our last stop was the statuesque Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera.

It was with the silent guardians on the rooftop that I became enamored.

The whisper of these chimneys confirmed that I would soon return.

weekend in the Loire

The Loire Valley is quickly becoming one of my most beloved areas of France. Ever since our first Loire by bike trip amidst the grand château earlier in the year. Last weekend we planned another Loire adventure, this one to the scenic village of Amboise, festive and calm in it’s off-season charm. A perfect escape from the pre-Christmas chaos of Paris.

We arrived to a scene reminiscent of a painting.

And there it was, the Château d’Amboise, nestled into the skyline, awaiting our arrival.

But first, a quaint village waiting to be explored. (Would we find a restaurant open? Barely.)

A tour of the Château d’Amboise, home to many of France’s nobility, proved a regal experience.

To say nothing of it’s grounds. Enchanting!

Our last day, guided by the sunshine we visited the Château du Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci, along with Mona Lisa, had spent the last four years of his life. It was here that we entered not simply the home but the mind of this genius. Within the château and it’s gardens are displayed many of da Vinci’s creations. I was struck by how advanced he was for his time. A painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, botanist, musician, writer… My Italian smiled proudly at the brilliance of one of his own.

It was an ideal weekend. Already we are planning the next trip… a château or two remain.

experiences of a lifetime

Today marks five years since my adventures around the world took flight. Still, it feels like yesterday. Sitting aboard a plane, tipsy from sake and high from anticipation, having just bid farewell to dear friends and family after several days of revelry at Miami’s Art Basel. I was about to embark on a journey of 13 months and countless experiences. First stop Buenos Aires. I often reflect upon those days, particularly when I’m not feeling inspired (even amidst the beauty of Paris), and find myself reliving these scenes… eternally grateful to call them my experiences.

Exploring Machu Picchu beneath a misty sky.

Bathing on the remote island of Fernando de Naronha in Brazil.

Sky-diving over the majestic landscape of Queenstown, New Zealand.

Driving along Great Ocean Road in Australia.

Admiring Jodhpur, the magnificent 'Blue City' of Rajasthan, India.

Catching a glimpse of the Taj Mahal.

A spiritual moment at the temple of Ta Prohm in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Becoming fashionable in the city of tailors, Hoi An, Vietnam.

Two days floating on a junk boat in Halong Bay.

Meditating upon the Mekong in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Exlporing the rice fields of Ubud, Indonesia by motor bike.

Inhaling the grand view of Hong Kong.

Driving through the landscape near Lhasa, Tibet.

Climbing the Great Wall of China.

Finding tranquility amidst The Golden Pavilion of the Rokuon-Ji Temple in Kyoto.

A sunrise hot-air ballon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey.

 What are your most cherished experiences? (Have you lived them yet?)

 

travel meets fashion

I love to travel as much as I love designing. Thus, I decided to design a custom travel bag, revealing the three cities closest to my heart. A seemingly easy task, at least for the first two. Paris, since this is now my home and ever since that first visit so many years ago, love at first encounter. New York since it’s where I spent some of the most memorable (and formative) years of my life.

As for the third, that was a challenge. There are many cities I became enamored with, mostly during my journey around the world. Buenos Aires, Hanoi, Ubud (more a town than a city), Sydney, Mumbai, Kyoto, Luang Prabang, Krakow, London, Mexico City… the list goes on. But where was it that stood out in my mind unlike any other? Tokyo. Perhaps because I was there with dear friends on both my first visit and my second. Or perhaps it was due to the freshest sushi I’ve even eaten at 7am after a night of darts and karaoke… or simply, the unique energy and electricity in the air.

Whatever it was, Tokyo won a place on my bag. Along with Paris and New York.

What are your top three?

To make this equally exciting for all fashion savvy travelers out there, I’m giving away one custom hand-painted reversible travel bag to a lucky traveler and fan. With your initials printed on the inside pocket. To enter, leave a comment stating your three favorite cities and join my facebook fan page where I will announce the winner on December 15th. Bonne chance and many a bon voyage!

To order a custom bag or join a bag painting workshop and create your own: info@kasiadietz.com

the heart of a village

view of Monterosso from the sea

Much like with a person, it’s possible to fall in love with a place. I experienced this several times during my journey around the world. But it was Monterosso al Mare, and the breathtaking landscape of Cinque Terre that captured my heart. A serendipitious encounter, or coup de foudre as they say in French, much like the meeting with my Italian. Little did I know this place, that I had promised at least a piece of my heart to, would in time become my home.

Monterosso as the sun sets

This weekend, my Monterosso born Italian and I should be serenely tucked away amidst this dramatic landscape, celebrating his parents’ wedding anniversary upon the same setting where we recently celebrated our own. Instead, the ever unpredicatable mother nature had other plans. As the world is well aware, these 5 towns, particularly Monterosso and Vernazza, have suffered terribly due to intense flash floods.  Global warming being the cause. Several lives lost and many people without homes and businesses, being the result. Within only a few hours, this past Tuesday the region was suddenly hit with 20 inches of rain, causing rivers to overflow and sweep through the villages. Thankfully, my Italian’s family, friends and most villagers are all safe.

enroute to Vernazza by boat

My heart breaks for these people who I have gotten to know through the last few years. Amidst the language and cultural barriers, I have been accepted into this land, not only by my Italian’s family but by the many kind-hearted and hard-working locals. My thoughts and prayers are with all those going though such hardship in Monterosso, Vernazza and neighboring villages.

view of Vernazza

Why I am writing this is not to post photos of the devastation and mourn the loss of a village, quite the contrary. My purpose it to celebrate the strength and resilience of this village and it’s people. Already, only a few days after this natural disaster, so much has been done by the locals and their neighbors, to assist in the clean-up and reconstruction. Even my Italian’s sister has been aiding in cooking for the many left without homes, food, or gas. His aunt, uncle and cousins too. Proof that the heart of a village can overcome even the toughest of obstacles.

a vision of natural beauty

Cinque Terre, and my beloved Monterosso, will remain one of the most beautiful places on earth.

down south

Last weekend, after spending several days with my dear cousins from Poland, both in the sea and on land (I dared yet again to hike from Vernazza to Monterosso, this time with 3 kids under 7), my Italian and I left Italy and headed back to France. All along the coast, via train. A journey I had last taken solo. Once in Cannes we embarked on the open road via cabriolet (my idea). Heaven!

Our destination was a village on the Côte d’Azur by the name of Bormes les Mimosas. Here is where I would experience my first French marriage. A couple from the North to wed in the South.

We were immediately smitten. My Italian thinking that we could easily have been in Tuscany.

The stone facades revealed an assortment of candy-colored pastels.

I very quickly understood why the village was named after mimosas.

The view from this hilltop village was magical. A perfect setting for a wedding.

staring at the sea

I was born a beach girl. Westhampton Beach that is. I have always thought of the journey of life as a walk along the beach, the setting and rising sun marking the passing of time. And forever near a beach I would like to remain. Thankfully, my Italian is a boy of the Mediterranean. Very often we travel to his sea. Monterosso al Mare. Incidentally, the only one of the Cinque Terre with beaches.

With the many tourists in town as well as sun-seeking Milanese, safer to hide beneath an unbrella.

These last summer days I am exploring the wild and less inhabited Levanto beaches. Molto bello!

Staring at the sea I reflect upon the many beaches I have walked thus far in my life. And have come up with my top 5. (Not including my local Long Island beach, those of Monterosso, and the turquoise waters of Corsica.)

1. The 17 barely inhabited beaches of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

2. The many remote beaches of the Fourni Islands, Greece

3. The beach island of Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

4. The elite sands of Jose Ignacio, Uruguay

5. The beaches of Tulum, Mexico

The next 5 remain to be discovered…

Loire by bike

Last weekend we set off to explore the Loire Valley. A regal French landscape rich in history and architectural splendors. What better way to breath the royal air and discover the hidden treasures and grand Châteaux than by bike? Our journey began in Blois, a quick 2 hour TGV ride from Paris. A charming city to call home for a few days. With some of the best French food I have ever tasted. Not to mention how welcoming and friendly the people are. (Note to self: leave Paris more often!)

Our journey began beneath an overcast sky, over the bridge and into the colors of the countryside.

Occasionally we passed a small village with barely a soul in sight.

We continued on the path into the woods… almost 25 kilometers behind us.

And there it was, looming in the distance. One of the grandest structures of all.

The Châteaux de Chambord. This sight alone made the journey by bike worth it.

Here we stayed to explore the interior of this Franco-Italian masterpiece. In awe.

Needless to say (though my untrained muscles were in denial), the journey was only half complete.

We followed the Loire river back. Passing a private châteaux or two along the way.

The late afternoon sun provided strength for the remaining 10 kilometers.

Until the bridge was again in sight. Magnificent in it’s reflection.

A total of 45 kilometers later, we returned to Blois filled with the energy of accomplishment. Deserving of a feast and a glass or two of wine. And ready to plan the bike route for day two…

Click here to plan your own Loire by bike adventure. Enjoy the ride!

for the love of August

August in Paris. It’s the time of year that those who live in this vibrant city come to love, or more commonly, leave. If you are one of the lucky few to experience this annual (and literal) ‘closing shop’ of Paris, give in to the stillness and enjoy. How exactly? Here are a few ideas.

1. Travel by bike. Velibing is one of my favorite modes of transport along Paris’ winding paths. With fewer cars on the roads, have no fear!

2. Now is the perfect time to indulge in a fine dining experience. (Given that your restaurant of choice is open). Here’s a reputable list to try.

3. The famous Paris Plage. (Who needs St Tropez?) Worth at least a stop for a game of Pétanque.

4. If you crave some quality alone time, visit the hidden gardens scattered all around Paris. An ideal place to escape with a good book.

5. August is a perfect time to play the role of tourist, regardless if you live in Paris or not. Hop on the batobus and let the fun begin! You can almost see Paris in a day.

6. Fancy an art fix? You’re in the right city, with over 140 museums. Here’s a list by arrondissement. To avoid long lines, the museum pass is not a bad idea.

7. Have you been craving to explore another neighborhood? Now is the time. (I recommend ‘Little Africa‘ in the 18eme.)

8. For those faced with the challenge of learning French, the city is your school. Particularly in August. Find an open cafe, sit at the bar and the lessons begin!

9. To escape those seldom hot but often overcast nights, the cinema, particularly in mid-August is filled with many a ‘must-see’. If weather permits, the Open Air Cinema at Parc de la Villette is even better. (I plan to be there on the 18th for Woody Allen’s Manhattan.)

10. If you have done all of the above and still crave a little adventure, the TGV trains will not disappoint. For a scenic getaway, take a trip to Honfleur or even closer, the gardens of Giverny. Let’s not forget wine tasting in the Loire Valley (my upcoming August adventure).

Am I missing anything?

The Dream Life of Chloe Lodge

When I first met Chloe Lodge, I sensed a curiosity in her gaze, and a warmth in her demeanor. When I found out she was studying to become a photographer, my interest grew. (Having worked as a Print Producer in the advertising world for over a decade, I grew to know and admire many visual thinkers, and have developed a love for photography.) With undeniable fervor, Chloe told me about the Masters Programme she was completing in Paris, and her final project, documenting ‘Expat Women in a Foreign Land’: Paris. (And would I want to participate? Bien Sur!) So, how did Chloe arrive to pursue her dreams, in Paris? Her path is a unique and well-traveled one.

It still surprises me, how quickly life can change. If a year ago, someone said to me that I would be at the beginning of a new career in photography, having studied in Paris and been exhibited at the Rencontres dʼArles I would never have believed them. I am delighted to say this is exactly what has happened.

Photography has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. When asked as a child ʻwhat do you want to become?ʼ for me, aged 7, my answer was always ʻI want to be a National Geographic Photographer.ʼ At fifteen I showed my photographs to my art teacher who said ʻthese are nice pictures but they are holiday snaps. To be a photographer you have to make the everyday appear extra-ordinary and more interesting than its perception.ʼ I had little, or no idea what she meant and felt discouraged.

After a brief spell at Art College studying sculpture, I achieved a BA Honours degree in Art History. Not having a clue what to do with a qualification such as this I fell into the city life of London, initially working in Event Management, then momentarily for the big boys at Goldman Sachs on Fleet Street. However, the creative Chloe gasped for breath inside everyday, so when a slightly unusual opportunity presented itself to me, I grabbed it with both hands. Working alongside Bear Grylls was a fascinating and all-encompassing job. Regardless, my role was one I could tweak and mould how I wanted. It was about organisation, PR, event management and with a little design thrown in. During a particularly intense period manning the 24-hour UK base of Bearʼs 2003 Trans-Atlantic Arctic Expedition I realised that it was about time I stopped sitting behind a desk organising adventures for others and see the world for myself.

My London flat went on the market, and I booked myself a round-the-world ticket. I planned on three months away but ended up being away almost three years. In that time I travelled across Russia, Mongolia and China on the Trans-Siberian, I spent four months backpacking in South-East Asia and finally ʻsettledʼ in New Zealand for almost two and a half years.

The back streets of Valletta, Malta. May 2011

The age of digital photography was upon us and, small compact in hand, I rediscovered my love of photography – capturing the beauty in the everyday. The landscape, culture and texture of life in the ʻLand of the Long White Cloudʼ awoke the softly doozing hunger for the photographic image from inside me. Whilst down-under, I not only fell in love with my photography again, I fell in love with the very wonderful James.

This was almost five years ago, and for reasons unknown to us, we then ended up in England. The dream of any little girl came true and James proposed. It was a double whammy because he also agreed to my fantasy of a small, intimate wedding on an Italian hillside, then the intense organisation began. It was all going to plan, until devastation hit. It was a Saturday afternoon, exactly three months to the day before our wedding, that I received the phone call. My dear and much-loved Mum, had died overnight in her sleep. Aged just 58, it was sudden, unexpected and shattered my world from the core.

Unwillingly but essentially I had to shift the wedding plans to funeral plans, desperately trying to ingest the utter shock of what had happened. We had to decide quickly whether to go ahead with our Italian wedding plans, or not. We decided whenever we were to get married after that she wouldnʼt physically be there: getting ready on the day, smiling at me with pride as I said my vows, laughing with me every step of the way. But she had been part of the planning THIS day, so we had to move forward.

Springtime in Paris, the Eiffel Tower. March 2011

Is it possible for light come from the darkness of utter tragedy? Sitting in the shade of a palm tree on our honeymoon, a realisation slowly dawned on me that I might now have the opportunity to follow that childhood dream of mine. I could go back to school to study photography. After much research and a swift application, I received a confirmation from a school in Paris to study Professional Photography starting September 2010.

Still fragile and in shock from the previous six months, I wondered if it was the right timing for me. Being in my mid-thirties, it felt like it was ʻnow or neverʼ. I had visited Paris as an art student, spending many happy hours in the Louvre and Musee DʼOrsay, and knew Iʼd always loved it as a city and so, swallowed hard and took the plunge.

As I began my studies I felt that the studio was where I wanted to be, ʻmakingʼ pictures and not ʻtakingʼ them. However, as my first semester journey of personal and creative exploration ventured on I began feeling more and more that the outside world is where I wanted to be. My interest has always been in people, within the context of their lives. Understanding how things change and evolve for them over time. I consider myself a social observer and a story teller, and it’s for this reason documentary and portrait photography is the area in which I love to work. Photography is not purely the creative action of taking a picture, it’s about people and their stories, their lives.

Kasia Dietz, from the portrait series 'Modern Women at Home in a Foreign Land' April, 2011

Ten challenging, soul-searching but fantastic months later, I have achieved a National Diploma with Honours, and finished the Masters Programme. Following our final diploma show in May, two out of 68 students were selected to be part of the 26 year celebration exhibition of our school at the Rencontres dʼArles… and my work was one of them. It was a complete surprise, but a fantastic honour so soon after graduating. The same exhibition will be shown in November, during Paris Photo Month, at the Speos Gallery, Paris. A city at the nucleus of the photography world. It feels like the beginning of something very wonderful… itʼs not the start of a new chapter, itʼs the start of a whole new book. A book I have always dreamt of starting, and now I am.

The Residence of the US Ambassador to France, Paris. April 2011 (selected for Rencontres d'Arles)

Congratulations and best of luck to you Chloe, as your ‘dream life’ of visual story telling continues!

Chloe Lodge Photography, will be exhibited at the Speos Gallery, 75011 Paris from November 8th – December 31st 2011. You can also follow Chloe Lodge on facebook as her life soon takes her from Paris to Asia. (Once the traveler always the traveler!)

ʻModern Women at Home in a Foreign Landʼ captures todayʼs Anglophone women making lives for themselves in a country where the culture, language and tradition is often very different to their own. Each following their own dream, in so many different ways. Her self- published book is available for viewing via Blurb.com

the smallest island

Our Greek island-hopping adventures began in Santorini, the most touristic (and one of the most beautiful) islands in the Cyclades. From there a quick boat ride to Folegrandros, much less touristic, but not exactly undiscovered. Onwards to the more remote Fourni Islands. Our last stop on what became our gradual ‘escape from civilization’, was the smallest Greek Island. Upon hearing about this unknown island from a well traveled Italian couple, both my Italian and I were intrigued. Several days, three islands and four boats later, we arrived to Marathi.

Could there be a place more removed from the world than Marathi? I imagined not. The population consists of two families who own the three tavernas. We decided to stay in the more upscale of the three, it was our honeymoon after all. Meanwhile, I was determined to find out as much as I could about the life and history of the island. Did I succeed in our three day visit? Not so well. I learned the most from a Polish waitress who worked for the pirate. Yes, there did live a pirate on the island, one of the three inhabitants in the winter season. The secrets of Marathi will remain buried.

In what felt like the middle of nowhere, we were undoubtedly detached from all manners of distractions. Aside from an occasional imposing yacht, an island in itself, docking in the neighboring waters. And then there was one surprising night of Greek music and dancing in our taverna… who knew we were on a private party island? The greatest calm was found at the old settlement, high on a hill above the harbour, once home to a dozen or so inhabitants before WWII.

What went on in this space so many years ago?

Unfortunately the lonely wild goat did not prove a helpful tour guide.

Only the church stands proudly intact at it’s vantage point.

It was here that we watched our last Greek sunset. Perhaps the most magical of all.

Until the next time.

Islands undiscovered

My Italian was eager to explore the great unknown, while I would have been more than happy to remain in the Cyclades. I am not one to stifle anyone’s dreams, so we journeyed onwards. A very rough sea rocked us to Mykonos where we spent the afternoon wandering amidst the white maze, until our early morning boat to the little known archipelago called the Fourni Islands.

Upon reaching this former pirate’s lair we immediately noticed how removed it was from the world. There were only a handful of other tourists, (all of whom we soon met), and complete stillness. With a population of under 1,500, this is considered ‘real Greece’. Certainly life has not changed here in decades. Did this quietude provide the charm? Perhaps. Though I was not yet impressed. We settled into the only ‘luxury’ hotel on the island and soon set out to explore. By foot, taxi (though very often he was nowhere to be found) and motorbike. Car rentals had yet to make their way to the island. What did we find? A landscape so replete with natural beauty that it’s difficult even to describe. This is why the Fourni Islands are considered a gem hidden in the Aegean.

There was barely a soul on the road, the heavy winds, and goats being our only companions.

We made our way from one tranquil beach to another. Days were lost.

Perhaps not so high on the list of honeymoon destinations, Fourni turned out to be undeniably romantic. Secluded beaches, the best (and most inexpensive) seafood, often eaten beneath the shade of a single tree, cooked by a local woman named Maria. (Leave it to my Italian, for this romantic interlude I give him all the credit.)

After exploring as much as was possible, the rough seas subsided, we bid farewell to the locals and fellow pioneers, and set out to continue our journey. In search of islands still more remote

Island of Italians

We arrived to Folegandros and I was not immediately impressed. Like many islands in the Cyclades, the port was less than spectacular, revealing several boats and a lonely taverna. It’s what we discovered driving up to the Hora, the main village overlooking the sea, that confirmed why this island was such a favored destination, particularly among the Italians. Not to mention the views…

What we were surprised to discover upon reaching the Hora, other than one of the most charming villages in the Cyclades, was an Italian cafe/tourist office. Much like an oasis it greeted us with authentic cappuccino, freshly baked focaccia and many a ‘ciao’ from the neighborhood Italians who had for decades made this their summer retreat. We immediately felt at home.

Meanwhile, the locals carried on in the manner they had for years. I grew most fond of the twin brother bus drivers who provided the transportation. (There was also one taxi, just in case.)

We made our way from one fine (wild goat included) Greek dining experience to another…

We explored the traditional settlement of Ano Meria where life has not progressed in decades.

The beaches proved an ideal sanctuary, revealing turquoise waters and the right amount of shade.

Must we leave this ‘paradise found’? Yes. It was time to journey onwards to islands undiscovered

Island of beauty

Anyone who has ever planned a wedding knows how necessary it is to take a honeymoon. Directly afterwards, if possible. Where did we decide to escape to? The Greek islands of course. Beginning with Santorini, where just 9 months earlier my Italian proposed. Naturally, we booked the same room in the same hotel in Oia. (Can you say sentimental?) And from this perfect perch atop the cliffs, overlooking the caldera, our many days of Greek honey and nights of a (full) moon, began.

After 3 days of staring at the sea, indulging in local white wine and many a Greek salad, we decided to explore the island. Something we had not done much of on our last visit. (With a view like this, is there really a need to explore?) And so we rented a car and took to the open road. One view replaced another… each more spectacular than the last.

At the end of a long winding road, paradise was found in the form of a hidden beach.

Neighboring the famous ‘Red Beach’, which certainly merits it’s name.

One evening we caught sight of the most inspiring sunset, with the sun melting into the sea.

Followed by a full moon. Soon to turn into an eclipse. Time again to stare at the sea…

We inhaled the many scenes of serenity and continued our adventures to the Island of Italians

journey complete

When I first discovered Cinque Terre in 2007, after several days spent in Monterosso under the Mediterranean sun, I was ready for a hike, 12 kilometers to be exact. I took the train to Riomagiorre at the opposite end and my journey began.

I fell in love with Manarola, set so enchantingly upon the sea. (How could you not?)

I became taken with each village and it’s views. Within the Cinque Terre a new world unfolded and I found myself thinking about the lives of these people so isolated from the rest of the world. How inhaling the sky and the sea was part of their daily ritual. I continued on my path, climbing up the steep steps and down again. Corniglia soon became my vista.

When I reached Vernazza I was not only physically spent from the hours of hiking but was in need of a little time to reflect. And a glass of local wine. The sun was setting, and I joined the many stray cats lounging on the rocks for the most spectacular natural light show. (Incidentally, I had heard that the hike back to Monterosso was the toughest part of the trail.)

I was not meant to finish that hike. It wasn’t the right time. (And I’m a firm believer in timing.)

Until now. My Italian and I ventured via train to Vernazza, beneath a temperamental sky, to brave the trail I had left untraveled. The views were even more breath-taking than I had remembered.

Between intermittent rays of sun and rain with barely a soul in sight, we followed the steep 3.5 kilometer path, laughing, singing (not a talent I possess) and a little story-telling. We slowly made our way to what I consider the most beautiful panorama of all.

Home. Journey complete.

all aboard

What I love about traveling is not merely arriving to the destination but the actual movement from one place to another. The travel. While on the road for 13 months I embraced this ‘time inbetween‘, as it allowed me to reflect on the places seen and to anticipate those waiting to be discovered. Many 12 hour plane rides gave me plenty of time to muse, but it is via train, traveling over land (and perhaps under sea), that I always feel most connected to the journey. Put me on a train, and I am happy. (Even simply the Long Island Rail Road or these days, the Trenitalia.)

My most memorable train ride to date was 48 hours enroute from Lhasa, Tibet to Beijing. I could have easily flown and spent more time exploring China’s capital, but I chose the option of adventure.

With only my thoughts to accompany me, I observing as the worlds of Tibet and China converged in my midst. I was one of a handful of Westerners and shared my sleeping cabin with 2 Chinese men, a Tibetan, and a few good books. My conversations were limited to very basic English as I taught the Tibetan man to play backgammon and in turn he taught me a Tibetan game.

I became a voyeur. Much of my time was spent observing life on the train.

The dining cabin became my ‘room with a view’. The landscape my vista.

The sun rose and night fell. And again. I could have easily spent another 2 days enroute.

One day I hope to board the Orient Express to destinations unknown… But these days I will happily settle for the night train from Paris to Venice.

scenes of a village

I first discovered Monterosso during my trip around the world over 3 years ago. It was a seredipitous encounter, completely unplanned. I fell in love immediately. It’s hard not to, being surrounded by so much natural beauty. Little did I know, it was a place I would come to call home.

These days, my Italian and I are settling into life in a village. Home on the Mediterranean. Spending time with family, making wedding arrangements and taking time to taste the oranges hanging in the trees and listen to the sounds of the church bells. It is these scenes that currently compose my life.

Paris feels very far away.

tribute to the girls

Recently I read an article that confirmed my belief in the importance of girlfriends. It proved something along the lines of how women find comfort in other women much in the  same way that a man finds comfort in his wife or partner. This I believe, having formed several lasting female friendships throughout my life. Most of whom I am still deeply connected to.

A few weeks ago, two such dear friends and I met for a quick jaunt in London. Unabashed girl time. Karen was flying in from Istanbul (where she is living her own adventure), parting with her little girls in order to spend time with the big ones. I hopped on the train from Paris, and we both met at the home of Brandy, whose wedding we attended last Spring in a castle in Scotland.

Karen and I have been friends since the high school days (we won’t mention exactly how long ago that was…) Brandy we met during the university years when she and Karen shared a room. On my way via train I thought about our many journeys together. A spring break when Karen won a luxury trip to Jamaica and rather than inviting her then boyfriend, she brought me. (That is friendship!) There too we met Brandy for the less luxurious yet equally exciting chapter of our Jamaican holiday. (Ah the stories we can tell!) I also recalled our travels in Italy in which we drove (or can I say sped) all the way to Croatia. And never will I forget our millenium spent in Amsterdam where another friend Anna joined us, as did many a random adventure. The list of girl bonding goes on…

Rarely did we all ever live in the same city, yet both Karen & Brandy called my first NY apartment their home. So many chapters of our lives we have shared together, and continue to. Next stop Italy!

London in the rain proved the ideal background for colorful conversations and carousing…

It is friends like this that become the family we are not born with. For them, I am grateful.

vintage lives

Recently I attended an event at the newly opened Rose Bakery in the 12th, well situated within the walls of contemporary art space La Maison Rouge. It was not the tasty appetizers nor the wine that whet my appetite. Nor was it the ‘tous cannibales‘ exhibition spread throughout the space. (Quite a shock to the senses for anyone attending!) What most captured my gaze and provoked many a thought was an exhibition by Chiharu Shiota entitled, From Where We Come and What We Are.

Hundreds of beaten up suitcases constructing what appeared to be a house; a form of shelter.

I could not help but to think of the lives of and behind these suitcases, where had they traveled, on what journey had they been, when and for how long. These vintage bags had many a story to tell, as did those whose hands they had passed through.

Chiharu asks ‘Do memories help construct us or do they prevent us from moving on?’ A good question. Personally, I choose the former.


warm sentiments

I’ve returned from the eternal sunshine known as Florida. At least in body. My mind is still filled with palm trees and the cries of seagulls. It was beneath such a landscape that we spent a warm and memorable Christmas in the company of my mom. Many days of calm, conversation and characters. It was ideal, this welcome jaunt into what felt like another space and time.

Rather than fly to NYC and brave a pending snow storm (hadn’t we had enough of that already in Paris?), we ventured to Miami. What better place to celebrate the New Year than South Beach?

I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve, as reality always seem to take an opposite turn from my expectations. A lesson in letting go perhaps. It’s the beginning of the next year that I welcome. Rather than make an ambitious list of resolutions as has often been my habit, (and usually recycling them the next year), I decided instead to be clear and mindful of my goals. Most of all, to be aware of what is most important in life. Family. Friends. Health. Love. To name a few. Day 7, so far so good.

And now, being back in the cold and grey of Paris, those days in Florida feel like a distant blur… 

the rise of Fall

Fall has arrived to Paris. The chilly air a prelude to months of hibernation as night falls early and life begins to be lived indoors. But not before a little outdoor adventure. It’s the changing hues of the leaves, the feeling and vision of the earth shedding a layer in preparation for a barren winter. That is the appeal of Autumn. At least for me growing up with four seasons on the east coast of the USA.

And so, accompanied by a few friends, we took to the road in search of falling leaves. About 60 kilometers southeast of Paris, a quick train ride away, we found exactly what we sought, the forest of Fontainebleau. 108 square miles of Autumnal paradise! (Thankfully I had my GPS!)

Four hours later, enlightened by golden hues (and a little random art), we returned to Paris.

the journey of letting go

Bindu Wiles asked me to be a contributing writer as part of The Shed Project, an effort in cleansing your life and living minimally, to say the least. Having packed one bag to travel the world for over one year, and later moving from NYC to Paris, I have learned to let go and the journey that comes with it. (Thank you Bindu! And good luck to fellow Shedventurers.)

The Journey of Letting Go

I always found great comfort in my stuff, even as a child. Things that remind me of a person or a place. Things that, to me, hold emotional value. Notes, ticket stubs, a drawing on a napkin, a love letter scribbled in haste, a valentine’s day card from my father. I think of these as sacred pieces of a puzzle that compose my life.

As I got older I became more selective with my mementos. Living in close quarters in NYC played a major role. As did the accumulation of stuff. Closets filled with fabrics for clothes I never had the time to make and store bought clothes I never had the occasion to wear. Shelves filled with books I had not yet read but surely would one day. And all the hidden spaces containing mementos I had collected throughout the years.

I often thought if I had to evacute my apartment in an emergency what would I take? Surely my 7 photo albums and 11 hand-written journals. And that huge box of memories I’d been saving since the 8th grade. These were all pieces of my past. But how was I supposed to grow and become by holding on to them? And weren’t they all part of me anyway, even without their physical presence? Thankfully, I never had to flee my apartment.

As the years went by, I began to feel more encumbered by my stuff. Yet I could not let go of it. I had very skillfully attached sentimental value to each and every item. I remembered the moment I bought it, or who had given it to me and for what occasion.

I felt weighed down by my possessions and dreamt of feeling light and unencumbered. This was one of my motivations for throwing away a quarter of my belongings, packing a bag and hitting the open road. One year of travel taught me just how little you really need. And how empowering is the detachment from stuff. I was reminded again and again how much more important people and places are, and space in which to create new memories.

Post travels I returned to NYC and was reunited with my stuff. The two thirds that remained. Was I happy to see it all again? Not really. I hadn’t missed it and not once did I feel like traveling back into my history to dig out a past memory. I had created too many new ones.

The greatest lesson in letting go of stuff came when I fell in love. I was moving to Paris to begin a new life. Again, it was time to pack, not simply for one year but quite possibly, forever. I was forced to open each box of memories I had been saving, even those momentos from my travels, to revisit my life and for the most part, let it go. 

I sorted through the bulk of my possessions, mostly clothes and books, with a trusted friend. Someone emotionally detached from my past. Two-thirds of my wardrobe ended up in a mountainous heap on the floor, ready for the taking. I could not bare to throw these once relevant pieces of my life away. Instead, I gave them to friends, neighbors and those in need, free to create memories of their own.

In terms of my most personal stuff, many long nights were spent living in the past, confronting chapters of my life I had not thought about in years. Filled with nostalgia, I reflecting on the life I had created and all the momentos that were left as a result. I very carefully selected keepsakes and placed them in a box titled ‘my past’. Well aware that irrelevant of what I discarded or stored, these memories will always remain a part of my life. This process of letting go of so many chapters of my personal history resulted in a feeling of freedom I had only briefly encountered during my travels.

A few of my most revered remembrances, the scrap book composed from my travels, my most recent journal, an envelope of childhood photos, I put aside. They would join me in Paris.

I left NYC with two suitcases, and never looked back.

homage to the grape

This past week I learned how to harvest wine grapes. In Monterosso. With my Italian and his father, who has been harvesting for decades. Last year, I merely assisted in stomping the grapes, surely as much fun as it sounds (and largely a tourist attraction I might add). This year, I became a true laborer of the land. Little did I know the travail of such sweet work. And the fulfillment that follows.

Harvesting began at 8am. The view itself was worth the early rise. Acres of stepped land, locally referred to as poggi, covered by vines and olive trees. I was wide awake, as were all other forms of wildlife, namely flies resembling wild mosquitos and sneaky little salamanders. No fear. I took to the task at hand and in meditative rhythm the grape cutting began. With intermittent tasting, to ensure quality of course.

The picking continued for three hours, filling over 12 huge crates. We had finished one piece of land but two more remained. It appeared this harvest was much larger than the last, though the grapes were not as high a quality. Thus sciacchetra (my favorite local dessert wine of Cinque Terre) could not be produced. But white wine would flow!

After a well earned home-cooked meal of pasta and fish followed by a nap on the beach (harvesting is exhausting!) it was time to press the grapes. This part I love. I feel fortunate that my Italian’s father has not modernized the technique. It’s still a very hands on, or in this case, ‘feet on’ experience. 

With great care we crushed the grapes as my Italian’s father collected the juice to add to the 300 liter boiler. Almost as quickly as we finished our grape dance the container was filled. Soon the boiling would begin.

The following day our ‘homage to the grape’ continued. Picking. Eating. Stomping. In 3 months time we drink! I will forever appreciate a glass of wine. Especially one from the Poggi Harvest of 2010.

love affair with Greece: part two

Is there a more spectacular place on earth than Santorini? Perhaps. But I doubt it. This unique landscape was created thousands of years ago by the eruption of a volcano, sinking the centre of the island, revealing a caldera surrounded by multi-colored cliffs. Not to mention the surreal sunsets….

We drove directly to Oia, surely one of the loveliest villages in the Cyclades. With patience, resolve (and a little luck) we found a dwelling nestled into the volcanic rock with a perfect view of the caldera. That is where we chose to stay for three days. In peaceful bliss. Staring at the sea.

It was here that my Italian asked me to share his life with him. I said yes. Was there ever a question?

love affair with Greece: part one

Often during my year of travel I found it very difficult to leave one place in order to discover another. A common dilemma of the traveler. The appeal of the ‘paradise found’ was so strong, filling my senses so completely that I could barely say goodbye. Even knowing another unknown and uniquely beautiful place was waiting to be discovered.

This is exactly how I felt during our ‘island hopping’ in the Cyclades. Each place, one so different than the next, became home in a matter of days, and I could imagine no other place so magical and idyllic. Until the next island. 

Our adventure began in Mykonos, the island of hedonistic revelry. Or so it felt. Beginning in the early evening and ending perhaps at sunrise, this stylish island came to life. An endless array of restaurants, fashionable boutiques, bars and discos of Little Venice lining the Mediterranean, not to mention the hidden champagne bars. Time seemed to hold no relevance. Even the shops stayed open early into the morning, should you desire a little pre-dawn shopping spree. We managed to avoid the crowds and cruise ship contingent only during early afternoons spent happily lost in the maze of cobbled streets, while the sun seekers lined the beaches aptly titled ‘Paradise’.

I’m not a big fan of the ‘beach turned dance party’ concept and prefer to listen to the calm of the sea. A quick hitchhike or scooter ride from the town’s center and we found just this. I am privileged to say that I have walked the sands of many gorgeous beaches in my life. Agios Sostis is one of them. 

Equally exhausted from nights of  carousing and days spent beneath the formidable sun, we set sail for The Big Blue, the tranquil island of Amorgos. Here we found a home in the little port town of Aegiali. Hidden from the world. Mykonos hours away but long forgotten. 

In this far away land we were joined by my friend from NYC, photographer Konstantino Hatzisarros, a native of Greece and adopted resident of Amorgos. I can well understand why.

Amorgos holds many treasures, the most impressive being the iconic monastery Moni Hozoviotissis, set in a cliff high above the sea. Within these holy walls lies a miraculous icon said to be found in the waters below, guarded by the few hospitable monks still in residence.

At the heart of Amorgos lies the old capital Hora. This sophisticated village positioned 400m above sea level, boasting old windmills, trendy bars, and a view.

Driving the length of the island revealed it’s wildnerness. The shadows of surrounding islands in the distance. An old ship wreck to provoke the imagination….the natural beauty of Amorgos is unique. Perhaps it’s the light. Impossible to describe and difficult to capture.

After nearly one week of living in what I can accurately describe as an untamed paradise with just the right amount of class, it was time to say goodbye. One last sunset until Santorini….

summer at sea

The day I met my Italian we spoke about travel, among other things. Travel is a passion we share, and something I often blog about. In casual confidence he told me he would like to take me to Corsica and Greece. Corsica we have been twice already. Today we are flying to Greece, specifically the islands of the Cyclades. This completes our ‘Summer at Sea’, though we are heading to Italy for the wine harvest in September. Considering it’s ‘home’, does that count? 

One of the most important character traits I look for in anyone whether friend or companion, is integrity. My Italian is a man of his word. In so many ways. I’m happy that travel plans are included.

I am looking forward to experiencing one of the most magical places on earth. Somehow I left Greece off of my ‘places to visit’ list on my ambitious round-the-world travels. Corsica too. It was not yet time. As I have often learned, and continue to, life reveals itself in the most mysterious ways. It was well worth the wait.

the laughing man

His laughter was contagious. There was rarely anything even to laugh about, yet he laughed often and with great sincerity. This was the way with Mudarta, since the moment I met him and stepped into his taxi in Bali.

He appeared like most taxi drivers, friendly and  filled with small talk that seems almost formulaic. Yet Mudarta was special. His warmth filled the space completely, and his laughter provoked an immediate smile. His philosophies on life were profound and plenty. I chose to be a disciple of this discerning man.

Mudarta was deeply spiritual. He often paid tribute to the Balinese gods by partaking in traditional dances. His days were spent working in a hotel and his nights on the road. Several years earlier he had chosen a wife, based upon the simple formula of shared affection and compatibility. Together they raised a child, little Regi, who accompanied his father on our prophetic journey, quietly listening to the wise discourse, smiling with his eyes.

It was that day in his taxi, winding through rice fields, into a village of wood carvings and wild herons, up into the scenic heights overlooking an active volcano, into the thoughts and teachings of a simple, happy man, that I experienced great peace. 

I often think of Mudarta, this modest man and the melody of his laughter. And always, I smile.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition. (Mudarta is one of the favorite people I met on my journey around the world. We still keep in touch.)

the journey inwards

In lieu of the film Eat, Pray, Love which opens today in the US (and soon in Paris I hope), I have been reading a lot of travel related blogs and stories. This film (as 99.9% of the modern world knows) is based on the best-selling book by Elizabeth Gilbert in which, seeking emotional solace, she spends 4 months in Italy eating, 4 months in India praying, and 4 months in Bali resulting in love. I often, and more so these days, reflect upon my own journey, in which I spent 13 months traveling the world, Italy, India and Bali included. During my travels, I read and mostly enjoyed the tales of Eat, Pray, Love, even though mine was a very different story. I ate nearly everything, prayed often, and yes, I did experience love. The most important love affair of all. 

The Journey Inwards

The best investment I made in my life was not my education, which taught me the necessity for discipline and hard work, nor was it the purchase of my apartment, which ingrained in me a deeper sense of responsibility, and it was surely not my rare acquisition of a vintage bag or designer chair. It was the journey within myself, one year spent traveling around the world.

There is nothing so beautiful and equally frightful, as complete freedom. Time which is yours to fill as you desire. There exists no agenda other than to experience life in it’s many unfamiliar tastes, smells and sights. Every day unfolds into a unique composition, captured forever by the mind.

My journey began in the cobbled streets of Buenos Aires, where the heart beats in tango rhythm, to Fernando de Noronha, one of many paradises found, a secluded island off of Brazil’s Bahian coast, to the ancient civilization of Machu Picchu. I have redefined what exist for me as the wonders of the world. And this was only the beginning of what I consider to be my greatest love affair, with the world as my suitor.

The following months found me sky-diving amidst the majestic mountainscape of New Zealand, exploring the limestone formations along Great Ocean Road, completely taken with the natural wonders that became the background of my life. My mind’s eye is rich with visions from these days in which so many lives were lived.

My most profound moments were experienced in the land of color and contrasts, India. It is here that the heart reigns, amidst the urban toil and drudgery of Mumbai, into the grandeur of the pinkgold and blue cities of Rajasthan. This land speaks of an intricate past and a blossoming modernity, unequivocally captivating and nourishing the soul.

Southeast Asia became a history lesson as much as a gastronomic exploration, amidst the floating villages and ancient temples of Siem Reap. In Vietnam I tasted an endless variety of noodles and rice dishes to satisfy the most curious of palates. Within the limestone formations of Halong Bay I experienced the grandest sunset that lit the sky in hues of red. The island of Bali became one of my most revered homes. It was here that I so deeply appreciated the simplest of pleasures; food, shelter, and what becomes the most valued to a traveler, the kindness of strangers.

Inbetween my enlightened city tours of a frenetic and evolving China beginning in Shanghai, I stepped upon the sacred soil named Tibet. The chanting of monks accompanied me into the vast open space of snow-capped mountains and serene lakes. I was living within a dream, perhaps the most vivid and surreal of all. Or was it the other-worldliness of Japan.

Europe began my chapter of friends and family. Aside from intermittently traveling with a trusted friend, I often met with acquaintances, some from the life I left behind and others which I had collected along the way. I was often alone and did my best to enjoy this time. Loneliness is a common symptom of solo traveling, resulting in strength, understanding and greater reliance in the self. 

I felt undeniably fortunate to experience the lives of my friends who had created homes in remote parts of the world, beginning with the turquoise waters of the Aegean in the coastal town of Bodrum. In Turkey I also experienced Cappadocia, another great wonder of the world. I entered and exited these scenes as though they were pieces of my own life, digesting each cultural nuance and idiosyncracy. With my family In Poland I found refuge in the woods of Bykowce, a place where I spent so much of my childhood. Time to digest and reflect upon the pages that were written and the many lessons learned through my resignation to life as a traveler.

My final weeks were spent immersed in the majestic urbanism of Mexico City. I was satiated with visions of ruins that spoke of a rich history. I found my last refuge upon the deserted shores of the Yucatan. The most simple of paradises was Tulum. It was here, beneath the reflection of a star filled sky that it occurred to me that this journey was as much an exploration of the world as of myself.

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!

visions of Tuscany

We made our way from Pisa to Volterra in the late afternoon sun, destination unknown. At least to me. The element of suspense is equally unsettling and thrilling, I focused on the latter. Driving along a tangle of dirt roads we approached a house set upon a landscape of olive trees and rolling hills. Immediately I exclaimed ‘Wow, it’s my dream to stay in a place like this!’ ‘Do you think to be a princess?’, replied my Italian with a smile. (Did I really need to answer that?) It was my birthday after all. Needless to say, this agriturismo Podere San Lorenzo, a vision of Tuscany, became home.

For the next few days I was indeed a princess. Tuscan menus tasting of truffles, trips to nearby San Gimignano, drives in the Chianti region…(Aside from my actual birthday in which the weather gods were seeking vengeance, but let’s focus on the visions contributing to the fairytale.)

As far as birthdays go, this is one I will always cherish. And not simply for the landscapes.

adventures in Corsica : part three

The following morning we bid farewell to the fishermen of Centuri and headed for the northernmost point of Cap Corse, the tiny village of Barcaggio. Also the closest point to Monterosso, Italy. (Next time we plan to take a boat directly). Speaking with a few locals we learned that only 2 families (and many cows) inhabit the village. ‘Small town’ takes on a whole new meaning! We chose the local restaurant U Fanale for lunch and had one of the freshest and most tasty meals of our entire trip. The specialty of course, was fish! Well worth the trip to what felt like the end of the world. Or perhaps, in regards to the simplicity and pleasure of life, the beginning.

We stopped in Macinaggio which was not as impressive and lacked the charm of Barcaggio, revealing a trendy harbour with luxury yachts. A quick swim at the nearby beach and our journey continued, this time driving along the eastern coast of Cap Corse. In terms of harbour’s, we much preferred the quaint village of Erbalunga, our final stop in Corsica’s finger.

We arrived to St Florent, our home for the last three nights, just in time for the sunset, as was our habit. I had a good feeling about this St Tropez-esque resort, mostly because it was perfectly positioned close to dreamlike beaches and Patrimonio where we could indulge in the local wines. The town itself was both chic and humble and our room had a balcony with a view directly onto the harbour, by my request of course. St Florent was best seen from the boat ride to the magical Plage de Loto, a secluded beach located on the edge of the Desert des Agriates.

I could have stayed on the wild and tranquil Plage du Loto for hours but being adventure seekers, (in other words: at the persuasion of my Italian) we decided to brave the intense heat and hike a good 45 minutes through what really did feel like the desert, to another paradise called Plage de Saleccia.

There was barely a soul when we arrived at Saleccia beach as the last boat was soon to leave. Perfect. We took a swim, revelled for a moment at the feeling of being so remote, and trekked back through the inland and returned to St Florent.

On our last full day, needing a break from the beach life, we drove up to Nonza for lunch. Located on the western coast of Cap Corse, this little hamlet is presided over by a fortified tower. We had driven by on the way to Centuri and decided to save it for a proper visit. Shrouded in mist, the views from Nonza’s advantageous cliffside position were a sight to behold.

Our last stop before returning leaving this utopian island of wilderness and beauty was a moment of reflection at L’église San Michele de Murato. Local legend has it that this church, with it’s distinctive green and white checkerboard pattern, was built in just one night by angels. Somehow, I believe it.

adventures in Corsica : part two

It was late morning by the time took our ritual swim, bid farewell to Algajola and set off for lunch in the sleepy artisan village of Pigna, set high above the sea into the interior hills of La Balagne.

My Italian, being the romantic that he is, had a clear destination in mind. U Palazzu, a chambre dhôte and restaurant, converted from an old oil press, felt like stepping into the pages of history. It was here in this mansion that the Franceschini family lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, they being one of the most influential families in the Balagne region. The views were captivating and the cuisine was light and fresh much like the ambiance. The tranquility of the sea was quickly replaced by the quietude of the hills.

We made our way to another ancient village, Sant’Antonino, one of the highest villages in the Balagne, set at 550 meters above the sea. I was sure there could be no more charming and scenic vista than we had just experienced. Little did I know! Arriving at the restaurant La Voûte, we were completely taken with the 360-degree panorama. I had always preferred the sea to the mountains but now I was no longer sure. We had a drink, gazed into eternity and spoke for a while with the local who had opened the restaurant several years ago. I became carried away with thoughts of a life on top of the mountains, until the late afternoon air summoned us to continue on our journey.

We set to the road and headed for Cap Corse, final destination Centuri. Somehow we always managed to be later than planned (not that planning played a major role in our days), yet we always arrived in time for the sunset. The drive through the finger was an experience in itself. Not one for those privy to carsickness! Again we found ourselves on the edge of the world, winding through roads with vistas revealing the most natural and majestic landscapes. The sensation of time was lost.

Many hours and Genoese tower sightings later, we were nearing our destination. As we had realized on our first trip in the south, driving along the winding roads was part of the unique appeal of Corsica. I was lucky to be the passenger and admire the views, all the while with camera in hand and often an ‘Oh, we must stop here, the views are breathtaking!’. The play of light upon the hills was magical and well worth the seemingly never-ending drive along Corsica’s finger.

We arrived with a setting sun to Centuri, our home for the night. A charming fisherman’s village that at once felt welcoming and utterly remote, almost in an eerie way.  A glass of local wine and a plate of fresh fish was a perfect finale to the long and winding day.

As I do often when I travel, I spent some time reflecting on all that we had done in the space of 24 hours. Each day felt like an eternity. How filled I was with visions, sensations and tastes. I was reminded of the simple and natural high that accompanies the traveler. I fell asleep to the peaceful lull of the sea competing with the rhythm of a dance club in the distance, in eager anticipation of the adventures to follow…

adventures in Corsica : part one

I had often dreamed of exploring Corsica, what always seemed to me a mysterious island, possessing a unique and varied history as it passed from Italian hands to French. I even came close during my year of travel but opted instead to carouse the south of France. My Italian grew up facing this island from his perch in Monterosso, yet he too had never reached it’s shores. It was not yet our time.

Last spring we fell in love. And there was no better place. Corsica became our island.  It is here that we spent our first holiday together, exploring the south, becoming deeply enchanted by this island of untamed beauty. Long and winding roads providing the sensation of driving along the edge of the world. Or a very steep cliff. Seemingly never-ending dirt paths leading to uninhabited golden beaches. Off in the distance the setting sun illuminating a crystal blue sea. Very simply, heaven.

We made a vow to return. Forever. Or until we had crossed every inch of the island. On this, our second adventure in Corsica, we headed north.

Rather than explore the large cities, (besides the fact that Bonifacio had already captured my heart), we decided to spend our time becoming intimately acquainted with the small villages, both coastal and interior, and stopping to enjoy the view as often as our timeless days allowed. Immediately upon arriving to Bastia we located our 4 wheel companion and hit the tangle of roads. Onwards to our first stop Algajola, a little paradise nestled on the coast between Ile Rousse and Calvi.

With a population of no more than 225, this tiny village lies on a sandy strip of beach, hidden from the world. From our well appointed room, the turquoise sea and sky sea melted together, calling us ever so subtly to enter its calm. Dinner consisted of a barefoot walk to a simple seaside restaurant (still one of my favorites) for a plate of St Pierre beneath a setting sun. In case of boredom (does such a word exist in Corsica?) there’s a coastline train to transport you to Ile Rousse or Calvi for a little more action. Though we were perfectly happy to remain hidden.

By day three city life was a distant memory. Paris who? We were hyper-relaxed and ready once again to explore the island. On a sudden whim we changed our plans and hit the road for a long and winding drive above the sea, direction: ‘phantasmagorical rock formations’ known as Les Calanques.

Many hours spent in awe at the irregularly shaped boulders rising into the sky, some more than 400m above the sea. We stopped in the quaint village of Piana for lunch, (this time I tried fish soup, a Corsican specialty). Our plans changed as a local directed us to a surreptitious beach, just in time for our daily swim. A long drive and a short walk…and there was Marine de Ficajola. One of the most splendid secrets for the senses to behold! Once again, paradise found, beneath the boulders.

We would have stayed for days, living off the land, reveling in the paradisiac landscape, but night was falling and we had a long drive back to our home in Algajola, with a stop in Calvi for dinner. The following day the adventures continued in Cap Corse (part two)…

castle hopping

Living in Paris makes it difficult to travel almost anywhere and feel entranced by the ambiance. Unless you are visiting a city centered around a hilltop castle, where the air takes on a whole other ‘palatial’ feel. Ah yes, Edinburgh! I had been once before, during those days as a student in London in which I remember very little other than how enchanted I had been by the grandness of it all. 

It was at the Edinburgh Castle that I reunited with a few of my oldest and dearest friends, atop the volcanic Castle Rock where our castle hopping adventure began. 

Many glasses of whisky and plates of haggies, nips and tatties later, our adventures continued in Stirling. The scene was set for a grand wedding (this being the reason we all arrived to Scotland in the first place). This medieval town, the former “Gateway to the Highlands”, sits below a fortress and an old-town, timeless in it’s own right

Prior to Brandy’s ‘crowning’, several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling Castle, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1543. Don’t we all wish to be crowned Queen, at least for a day?

The royal wedding party, or part of it anyway. Paris, London, Istanbul and NYC unite!

Now back to normal life in Paris.

passion for travel

There are certain passions or interests, that bond people. Whether it be friends, companions, or those you choose to share your life with. One such passion (the word ‘interest’ simply does not fit here), is my love for travel.

Some of my dearest friends share this passion, leading us to have collected quite an array of travel stories through the years, which we reminisce and laugh about as often as possible. (Beware those not part of the travel clique!) One such story begins in Amsterdam on the eve of the millenium and ends in a castle in Scotland just last week…

Since my first trip to Poland at the age of 2, before my lips could properly utter sentences in either Polish or English, my eyes became larger and more curious. For this I thank my parents. I became fascinated with foreign tastes and sounds, even those as simple as wild strawberries from my grandmother’s garden, and certain vegetables I still can’t find anywhere else in the world. I began to love the energy of movement, being able to play with time, as you pass from one time zone to another. As a child, and even up until a few years ago, I dared not sleep en route, in order to savour the sacred anticipation prior to arrival or reflection upon departure. Now I am more than happy to sleep and wake up rested. (Older or simply wiser?)

When I first met my Italian, aside from the short and sweet exchange that caused a lengthy conversation to ensue (it wasn’t simply his sexy accent that did the trick), we spoke all about travel. As fate would have it, during my around-the-world trip I had spent a memorable 5 days in the village of his birth, Monterosso, and was very pleased to express my enthusiasm for this ‘paradise found’. This village has since become my second home. It was in fact his sense of adventure, having arrived to NYC for a holiday, that led our paths to cross. It was not yet our time during my stay in Monterosso. Yes, patience is a virtue.

Our most memorable (and first) trip to date was Corsica last June. We explored the southern region of this enchanted island, also known as the Île de Beauté. A perfect mix of natural wilderness in the form of uninhabited beaches and needle-shaped mountains. Most spectacular was Bonifacio with it’s majestic cliffs and old town overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Surely a place in which to lose yourself in a myriad of natural landscapes. The dream of Corsica shall soon continue as we are planning to explore the northern region this summer.

Along with this passion for travel which has surely bonded us, comes our affinity for foreign foods, natural beauty, ancient history (more him) and various forms of art (more me). Am I missing anything?

foreign flavors

The beginning of my Parisian life has proven a proper foreign adventure. The first few weeks have tasted of many flavors other than French, the sweet and savored tastes of family. We traveled to the South of Poland where my roots are firmly planted. Deep in the woods of Bykowce, the place of my youth and still now, my place.

A brief return to Paris and away we flew to taste of Northern Italy. More family and feasting, the setting of this dream in Monterosso on the Mediterranean, his place. The experiences defining dreams and reality are becoming more vague, and I willfully allow myself to be taken. The adventures seem endless as our respective cultures meet and mingle, creating an even more resplendent reality.

Tulum

My final destination is paradise. I am living in a cabana on the Caribbean shores of Tulum. Falling asleep to a cacophony of waves and waking to a turquoise sea. Mornings of yoga and diving in the reefs and underground caves of the cenotes, afternoons spent walking the tranquil beaches, reading the books of others as I write my own…simply and beautifully detached from the world. With scarce electricity, the stars illuminate the night sky. Time ceases to exist, this privilege of time that is mine for moments longer. My mind is filled with thoughts as I recollect the grand adventure that has been my life for so many days and nights. The perfect place in which to find respite as one chapter closes and another begins…

Playa del Carmen

I stopped for the weekend in Playa del Carmen, a touristy spot known for its limitless social escapades. Here I met with Magda and her friends from Krakow who were enjoying the life of hedonism under the Mexican sun. Evelyn too was here and along with her cohorts from NYC we hit the town for a night of innocent debauchery.

Isla Mujeres

The island of women. This is where Sooji and I indulged in a last reunion after many months of solo travel, to recount our moments created together and apart. Upon these blissful shores I said goodbye to my dearest travel companion as she returned to NYC, to another life and time. I bask in the sun for my final 2 weeks…

Frida and Diego



Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two famous Mexican painters united by passion and Communist views, leading to a shared life of even greater passion and pain resulting in great masterpieces. Evelyn and I spent the day at Diego’s studio, where his most entertaining neighbor Angie gave us a personal account of the lives of these capricious artists. Afterwards we headed to Frida’s ¨Blue¨ house in Coyoacán which is now a much visited museum. I could feel her presence.

Teotihuacán



The city of Teotihuacán was built two thousand years ago by an unknown race, and had been in ruins for over 600 years when the Aztecs rediscovered it and called it ‘the place where gods were born’. This was in fact the first great city of the western hemisphere. It was truly an incredible sight to behold, such man-made massivity! I managed to climb the pyramid of the sun, all 247 steps, for a proper sun salutation. I did not stay long enough to climb the pyramid of the moon however, which stands at the end of the ceremonial avenue.

Mexico City!

12 hours, 4 films and many thoughts later, I landed in Mexico City, the beginning of the end of my grand adventure. I am living in the most charming home in Condesa, an artists refuge called The Red Tree House, which was recently opened to soulful travelers by a most hospitable Mexican named Jorge. I immediately felt at home and upon my arrival I met Evelyn who too was traveling solo from NYC. A serendipitous meeting resulting in instant friendship. Together we caroused this vibrant city that spoke of a colorful history, and became enamored with the art, culture and indeed the food! Huevos rancheros has become a staple in my diet, at least for the moment.


The courtyard of the Palacio Nacional in the Zocalo, the heart of old Mexico City. Within it´s walls Diego Rivera´s murals reveal the history of Mexico.


A modern and majestic sculpture along Paseo de la Reforma.

London part three

With each visit to London my love affair with this enchanting city continues. I am now staying on the Thames with my dear friend Brandy and her boyfriend Keith. I was fortuitously treated by Brandy to a decadent dinner at Ubon, one of Nobu’s several eateries. This evening I took a walk along the river…Tower Bridge is a grand sight, majestically illuminated against a deep blue sky. My night was spent at the Tate Modern, viewing work by artists from around the globe, a brilliant collection! It feels good to be back on English soil.


Bartosz’ new flat in East London, designed and decorated by this talented young lad, well done!!

A cheeky night of revelry with Aga and Ian.

Brussels

From Luxembourg I took the train to Brussels, headquarters of most of the European Union’s institutions. Both culinarily and culturally speaking, it was really the chocolate that I was eager to ingest, as well as the traditional fare of waffles, mussels and beer. Belgians possess quite a savory palate! Tomek who lives in this frenetic city, joined me in a feast of delectable moules. I think I have had my fix!

Luxembourg

Luxembourg was voted the City of Culture in 2007, a title designated by the European Union in order for a city to exhibit its cultural life on an international level. Needless to say I sought to find a bit of this culture. What I found was an elegant little city which felt very manageable and lively without an air of pretension, though it happens to be one of the wealthiest in the world. Luxembourg is a country of under half a million people, many of whom come from neighboring Belgium, France and Germany, creating a large ex-pat community. Ruled by a Grand Duke, it is the world’s only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy. I was well charmed by this intimate city.



Swiss fix




Sometimes there is simply nothing to be said, and everything to be seen and felt. Such was my experience as we drove along the lake from Lausanne to Vevey, home to Mathias and one of the most beautiful scenes I have laid my eyes upon. On the right, the savoy alps diving into the lake. On the left, the steep stairs of the vineyards (this human accomplishment has been awarded the Unesco world heritage).