Christmas in Paris

Friend and fellow traveler Lynne Martin, author of Home Sweet Anywhere (a book I highly recommend) and blogger at Home Free Adventures, asked me to describe celebrating Christmas in Paris as an expat. I took a moment to think about what makes the city of lights even brighter during the holidays, and having spent many a holiday season in Paris, here is what I came up with. You an also find this article online at TravelSmith!

What is it about Christmas time in Paris that truly captivates the senses? Where to begin…

The intimacy of the sidewalk cafes with their heat lamps and blankets, beneath which you can indulge in a glass of seasonal mulled wine. The street vendors selling roasted chestnuts on many a corner. The annual holiday markets scattered around the city, revealing an array of artisanal gift ideas. But I suspect it’s the culinary specialties from various regions of France that draw the crowds. My favorites include raclette and the more decadent tartiflette, hailing from the Haute-Savoie.

Known for their pâtisseries, it’s no surprise that the French celebrate Christmas with cake. The bûche de Noël originally represented the yule log, a sponge cake with a bark-like texture made of buttercream. Many variations can be found around Paris, each more decadent than the last. Beginning in late December, pastry shops in Paris fill their windows with galettes des rois, or King Cake, to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th. A good luck charm called la fève is baked inside this puff pastry filled with frangipane, and whoever’s piece contains la fève is crowned king or queen for the day. The cobbled streets sparkle, each dressed in it’s own string of holiday lights. The Champs Elysées glows the brightest of all, each year in late November a lighting ceremony takes place, with thousands of fairy lights lit along this grand boulevard. Yet another reason why Paris is so often referred to as the City of Lights.

At the grands magasins including Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, and Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, the window displays are reminiscent of theatre sets, revealing animated Christmas scenes that leave both young and old marveling. Often a family trip is taken to view these story-telling windows.

We cannot forget the celebrated churches. My first Christmas in Paris was spent at Notre Dame Cathedral. The choir alone was worth braving the crowds, as they filled the 800 year old space with song, a midnight mass never to be forgotten. Even passing by the Notre Dame by night, the majestic sparkling Christmas tree will take your breath away.

Christmas in Paris

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you happy holidays + a bright and happy new year!

Follow my holiday adventures in Andalucia, Spain, via instagram and facebook.

shopping spree

With the holidays upon us, and much shopping to do, the world is scrambling to find just the right gift. Not an easy task! These days the ease of shopping online is alleviating much of the stress of driving in heavy traffic only to wait in long lines. During this chaotic hunt for ‘just the right gift’, we are left wondering whether the recipient will even be grateful for the purchase. I remember many a Christmas receiving gifts that was given simply for the sake of gifting, the unused item often ending up in a box hidden in the basement.

Xmas Paris

Who exactly will be shopping online this year? According to a recent survey the majority of online consumers being 88% in the UK, 86% in the US, 84% in Germany, and 83% in Russia. Why has online shopping become such a trend? For the simple ease and ability to shop anytime & anywhere. Who knew how many people liked to shop in their pajamas!

What makes online shopping so easy, and what I have been using for my business for years, is PayPal. This service allows people to safely send payments without sharing financial information. Already there exist over 132 million active accounts in 190 markets and 26 international currencies.

To assist in your holiday shopping, PayPal has chosen select vendors to help you choose just the right gift, to give or to receive, and all at a discount. No more reindeer sweaters and argyle socks! Watch this video (in French) showing some of the worst gifts people have received… shampoo?!

Here’s the link to your very own shopping spree, from the comfort of your home. Thank you PayPal!

 

a new chapter

Every new year I reflect on the days gone by and set goals for the days ahead, often referred to as resolutions. This year, no more. I’ve come to realize that by thinking about what is not (ie. what I need to work on or improve) I continue to struggle with keeping up and lose sight of all that already is wonderful in my life. So this year I am starting out not with a long list of what I need to do, but a long list of what I am grateful for, much like what I wrote in my giving thanks post. It certainly helps to step away from the routine of life and look from a distance, as I was able to do during these last few weeks in Florida. This trip meant even more than sacred time with family and friends. It has also allowed me to acknowledge and appreciate all that I have been blessed with in my life.

I believe that each of us is writing the book of our lives. It is mostly up to us what is written upon the pages, and how our unique story unfolds. As I write (and re-read) my own, I am grateful for every chapter and look forward to writing the next.

happy holidays!

Wishing all my dear readers, fellow romantics and francophiles around the world the happiest of holidays! From the City of Lights (with a glorious display on the Champs-Élysées) to sunny Florida where my Italian and I are spending Christmas with family and the New Year with friends. Time to reflect on the year that is behind us, and think of all that is yet to find us in the days ahead.

Looking forward to sharing many more adventures, travels and musings in 2013!

Warmest regards,
Kasia

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!

cheers to life!

As this year comes to a close I think about all that I have seen, felt, experienced… and I feel very grateful. Ready to begin a fresh year, happily unaware of what it will bring. Rather than make a list of resolutions, as I have the habit of doing (needless to say that mastering the French language would be at the top of that list), I have decided not to write a list of what to do but rather, how to live. I have long ago decided that life is not meant to be lived with regrets, and this, the Top Five Regrets of the Dying only confirmed why. Wisdom indeed comes with age, and we can learn a thing or two from those who have lived. So I share these insights with those alive and well.

1. live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you (perhaps most important of all)

2. don’t work so hard (seems the French have this one figured out)

3. have the courage to express your feelings

4. stay in touch with your friends

5. let yourself be happy

Wishing you all a new year filled with less work, more time with friends and always, happiness!

I shall be celebrating Christmas in Monterosso and the New Year in Barcelona. Back in 2012…


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… 

sunshine calling

We are taking a break from life amidst the caprice of winter in Paris (snow, rain, sleet and all the in between) to seek refuge beneath a welcoming sun. Two weeks basking in the glorious sunshine of Florida. Feasts skillfully prepared by le chef Mom, long, lazy days by the pool followed by evenings of tennis. Perhaps an early bird special or two… Is this what they call retirement?

Last year we spent our first Christmas in Paris. Alone. Together. It was perfect. This year I am looking forward to sharing the traditions we have created. While we relive those of my childhood. Replacing Galette des Rois and chocolat chaud with fresh fruit and mimosas.

From this far away land I send warm thoughts. In honor of the holidays, family, friends, and all that is worth celebrating.

From the Land of Palms to the City of Lights, the adventures continue in 2011…

Meilleurs voeux a tout le monde!

time to celebrate!

Nearly 700 kilometers, a dozen fresh fish, 5 spectacular sunsets, 3 shades lighter in mind, (and 2 shades darker in body) and many adventures later, I am back in Paris. For those keeping track. I have a lot of thoughts to share about these recent days in Corsica, and many images which even more accurately capture the experience. Those stories soon to come!

Since my return to ‘real life in Paris’ I’ve learned a lot about the French art of celebration having recently attended a friend’s ‘blink and it’s over’ wedding at the Mairie followed by not the same friend’s baby-shower in which the greatest surprise for the mommy-to-be was a police-officer turned stripper. Little did I know how the French like to celebrate! Conservative? Never!

And now it’s time to join the festivities about to begin, commemorating the start of the French Republic. My first Bastille Day in Paris, after many spent in NYC as a Francophile. I wonder if the rumors are true about those firemen at Les Bal des Pompiers…

Queen for a day

My favorite French tradition thus far is the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6th, the day when the 3 kings visited the baby Jesus. To commemorate this day, we ate a Galette des Rois, a delicate puff-pastry cake filled with a rich frangipane filling, delicious!! As part of French tradition, a small figurine is hidden in the cake and he or she who finds “la fève” in their slice becomes king or queen for a day. As luck would have it, I almost bit into a tiny ceramic rat in my first slice (not certain of the symbolism of what we consider a rodent in the USA, an insignificant detail perhaps?). I am the Queen! Rather than entertain ourselves with the traditional dance which we have yet to learn, we made a bet in which I would indeed be treated most royally. Needless to say, we have been indulging in this “king cake” every day since. Time now to take off the crown.