Eurotrip 2016: Part 2 (Paris)

See Part 1 here. 

Early on the fourth day of our trip, which was a Saturday, Doug and I got up and jumped on the train from London to Paris—we went through the Chunnel! From the train we got to see some nice countryside; the Chunnel was only 30-45 minutes of the whole three-hour train ride. I was reading The Secret Life of Bees so I didn’t have a chance to feel claustrophobic.

Our airbnb was in Le Marais (neighborhood), at the Arts et Métiers metro stop. The listing did not exaggerate, our place was right above the metro. This is a huge plus, especially considering our luggage. The minus was that the building’s elevator was broken and we had to climb six narrow flights of stairs to the seventh floor. This kind of cramped my style—I’m the kind of person who likes to pop back in to “home base” a couple of times throughout the day to regroup. Still… the view of the rooftops of my favorite city was certainly worth all those stairs.

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We were in Paris less than 48 hours so we really jumped right into our itinerary. We got something to eat at this hipster restaurant called Holybelly that I found on Instagram. The food and coffee lived up to my expectations! Heading to Paris and then eating at a brunch restaurant where everybody speaks English (so many American expats there) isn’t what I’d necessarily recommend to a first-time visitor, but since this was my 4th time in Paris it gave me a glimpse of what my life might be like if I actually had the opportunity to live there. PS: Know anyone in Paris hiring foreigners? ;)

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After lunch we headed to Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the Seine river where (uber famous) Notre Dame cathedral is located. We joined the long but fast-moving line to enter. Originally we’d planned on climbing to the top of the towers, but after having climbed to our apartment, my trick knee wasn’t really ready for another giant flight of stairs. Inside was even more beautiful than I remembered from my visit in high school. The stained glass windows are the most famous and beautiful aspect. The cathedral was not very crowded compared to Westminster Abbey from a couple days prior.

After Notre Dame we went to the Île’s other famous chapel, Sainte-Chapelle. I’ve only in recent years started hearing about this chapel, in part I think to its small size, and also owing to the fact that it was under a huge restoration took up the greater part of a decade. This was really the showstopper of the whole weekend in Paris. Approaching the chapel, it’s quite nondescript and there isn’t much buildup (construction zones, hallways, etc). Then, you enter a beautifully painted (dark) lower chapel, then go up a tight stone spiral staircase to the main event. The stained glass in this chapel was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s hard to put into words so I highly, highly recommend that if you ever travel to Paris, you must stop in. I’ll let my photos try to convey the beauty:

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After Sainte-Chapelle I explored (legendary) Shakespeare and Company book store, then we had a crêpe and bummed around in the Quartier Latin, which I’d always read about in textbooks but had never ventured to. It was so-so. It reminded me of Pacific Beach here in San Diego, meaning bustling but pretty mass-market-y. Not so quaint, authentic, or tucked away. The crêpe was cheap and good, though. We ate in a nearby park; it was nice to sit for a while and just soak in the ambiance.

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The next day got a bit derailed when we found out that the Air France pilots were on strike and the flight we’d booked for the following morning was flat-out cancelled. We spent a big chunk of the morning fretting about this, and we even went to the Air France office in the city, but it was Sunday, so naturally everything was closed. We didn’t have cell service or data, which made us feel hopeless. Trying to make the best of it and put the predicament out of our mind (plus, it was pouring), we went to the Louvre because honestly when you’re in there you can’t think of much but art. Like Notre Dame, I hadn’t been to The Louvre since 2005 so I was eager to visit.

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Underneath the Louvre is a small mall-type area. I used wi-fi at the US Embassy Apple Store to send off a few messages to Air France in hope of a resolution. Then we sat at a nearby brasserie (the ubiquitous corner cafes with colorful awnings and outdoor seating) and really stretched out our dinner, grateful to be out of the rain.

We went back to the (wi-fi less) airbnb to pack, determined to get to Madrid one way or another, in the morning. Long story short, we ended up mooching wi-fi off a shady cash-advance type of store at 11:30pm and buying two not-terribly expensive plane tickets from a different carrier (EasyJet) leaving at 6am. I’m still waiting on a refund from Air France for the cancelled flight. Frustrated about the unexpected cost and the second day of sightseeing being mostly derailed, but relieved to have flights booked, we rushed to our flat to try to get some shut-eye before heading out for the airport really, really early the next morning.

You can catch part one here, and my next post will cover Madrid! Have you ever had an unexpected trip-up while traveling? Was it before or after the smartphone age? How did you deal with it? 

Eurotrip 2016: Part 1 (London)

Four years ago, I took a trip with Doug to Europe. Now, finally, things have settled down around here for the time being, so we decided to take a big summer trip instead of multiple long-weekend trips like we did last summer. So, we booked our second trip to Europe!

Note: I wrote the majority of this post last week, and then as I was editing the copy… the Brexit results came in. It seems strange to publish a happy-go-lucky vacation post while the country is in crisis, but… We had a good trip, and I really did enjoy myself. For more information on the Brexit, the BBC seems pretty comprehensive. Oh, and on a related note… it’s relatively cheap to visit Britain now, after all this! 

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Our first city was London. Doug is a big Anglophile and he is really into British Premier League soccer. Also, London Heathrow is a fairly inexpensive airport to fly into, as far as transatlantic trips go. So, we started out– my first time to Jolly Old England! Parts of the city were jolly, but much of our three days in London were rainy! We saw the sun a few times, saw Big Ben a number of times, and had lots of good food.

The first day we arrived, we took the metro to King’s Cross Station (the Harry Potter nerd in me geeked out) and walked up to our airbnb. After we settled our bags and changed out of our airplane clothes, it was time to hit the city. I booked us on one of those cheesy hop-on, hop-off tour buses because I didn’t know much about London and wanted a guide to tell me stuff.

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I would give the hop-on, hop-off bus a 5/10. Traffic in London is pretty bad so for a lot of the ride you are moving very slowly and listening to the guide’s rudimentary stand-up comedy routine (maybe it depends on the guide). We got a pretty overview of the city but it started to rain, nay, pour and the bus ended up getting, well flooded out. (We’d looked at the forecast and we came prepared with raincoats). It got really bad, though, so we hopped out with the intention of seeing Westminster Abbey, but that was experiencing a bit of flooding as well, so we got a coffee and sheltered until the rain let up a bit.

Since we were already wet, and it kept sprinkling, we decided to take the Thames river tour that was included in our tour bus ticket. For me, this was the highlight of day one. Old European cities are almost always built along a river for practical reasons, so seeing it from this vantage provides a good view of new and old buildings and some good history.

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After the boat, we headed to Covent Garden which is like a fancy mall and dining area. Judging from the design, I’m thinking it probably used to be a train station? Correct me if you know. We ate pot pies at Battersea Pie Station, which I’d scoped out online before we left (I didn’t want to eat just fish and chips for three days). The pies were really good, and the crust was amazing.

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The next morning, we had a full English breakfast at Cafe Oz a pretty short walk from our flat. I had bubble and squeak, which is like a potato pancake with veggies in it. From there we saw Buckingham Palace, which was beginning to get decked out for the Queen’s 90th birthday festivities, and then back to Westminster Abbey, which was open after the previous day’s rain. The Abbey was unlike any of the cathedrals I’d previously seen in France and Belgium. It was hundreds of years old and instead of preserving it in an ancient state, the royal family kept adding on to it– tombs and memorials, and paintings, and more! The entry fee included an audioguide which was extremely helpful. I would have been overwhelmed without it and wouldn’t have appreciated my visit as much.

The weather was really good and rain was predicted for the following day, so we went to the Emirates Stadium, where the soccer team Arsenal plays. This pilgrimage was one of Doug’s bucket list items, and listening to the audioguide certainly told me more than I ever knew there was to know about the storied history of the team.

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For dinner, we went to another restaurant I’d looked up before our departure, BAO. This Soho shop is on foodie lists of “new, must-try” places to eat in London, and we had to wait in line to get in. I wanted to bail (my feet were so tired from a day of walking) but we persevered and were rewarded with yummy pork buns and a sesame-kale salad. After BAO we walked around Soho a while longer before heading in for the night.

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On our final day in London, we went back to Soho to visit Carnaby street! I’d put Liberty of London on my itinerary but it was much more than I even imagined and I was blown away by the size of the store, the medieval tudor style building, and the beautiful items inside! We went to Kingly Court and ate at Le Bab where we had a surprisingly high bill and realized we were almost out of pounds.

We went to Monocle, a coffee shop, where we each had a coffee and discovered we had juuuust enough money for dinner. The rest of the day was an exercise in not spending money! We went to the Tate Modern, which was free, and walked around Shakespeare’s Globe and the Anchor, London’s oldest pub.

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We grabbed dinner from a supermarket and headed back to our flat to watch soccer. It was the first day of a month-long European competition. Our train (through the chunnel!) was leaving at 6 the next morning so we hit the hay early.

My next Eurotrip post will cover Paris and my third will cover Madrid! Have you ever been to London? What was your favorite part, or what do you wish you could visit? I think I skipped some touristy stuff in favor of some hipstery stuff… but #noregrets! 

Downtown LA in a Day

For my birthday (which was ages ago), instead of a normal present, I asked for a getaway to Los Angeles to visit LACMA, the LA County Museum of Art. I didn’t know what to expect but I was blown away by the breadth of their collection! It truly is a world-class museum.

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Urban Light and one of LACMA’s buildings in the rear

But first, let’s back up. We can play this like you are spending your whole day in LA. Traffic is a giant bummer, so we’ll pretend like you woke up there. Could be that you stayed at The Ace, where we stayed for my birthday, or in an Airbnb in the downtown area. Or crashed with a friend. I’m sure you know someone who knows someone who lives near… right?

For breakfast you can go a couple of ways. You can eat at Bottega Louie, which is basically what it would be like if Marie Antoinette designed a brunch restaurant–an amazing bright white emporium of small but impeccably crafted sweets, and big entrees. Or, you could poke around for a smaller place like Poppy & Rose, which is aptly named since it sits right in the midst of the Downtown LA Flower District. It’s hard to mess up brunch, but a meal that makes a lasting impression is worth writing about—so I include both places which were each very good. Also near the Flower Market is the Fashion District, where  you can find almost every kind of fabric and sewing notion known to man.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall by architect Frank Gehry

After brunch it’s worth driving around Downtown LA to check out some impressive sights like the famous Walt Disney Concert Hall and the new Broad [modern art] Museum across the street. The MOCA is right there, as well, so pay the parking meter and poke around these three famous sites. If you wanted to make your day an Art Triple Feature, you could check out the Broad and MOCA before lunch, and the LACMA after lunch. That is, if you have the Museum Stamina.

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The Broad

I just mentioned lunch — depending on how early you ate breakfast you may be in the mood to grab a bite. Go to the Grand Central Market— you won’t be disappointed. I heard that the line at Eggslut can get really long, so if it’s short (like it was when I was there), get on it. If it’s too long, just pick any type of cuisine and I’m sure you will find another vendor that fits the bill. I highly recommend Berlin Currywurst. The Market has been open for almost 100 years but is experiencing a kind of renaissance (or, you could call it gentrification or hipsterification). It’s really helping along the revival of rundown (scary) DTLA move from sketchy to nice, and by the way, the food is delicious.

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Eggslut burger and “slut” (coddled egg with mashed potato)

Now head west a few miles to (in my opinion) the main event. Let me pause for a moment and tell you to drive through the super fancy neighborhoods near LACMA. WOW! You may even recognize some of the exteriors from movie locations. (I’m horrible at that kind of thing so I wouldn’t recognize any). You can park underground at LACMA so your car stays cool. The exterior of LACMA has a lot of interesting things to view without paying admission. The buildings themselves, from different eras and different architects don’t “match” but they “go,” kind of like a good outfit. You can see Levitated Mass, a giant boulder installation that caused quite a stir when it made its way to LACMA, and Urban Light (photo at top), the installation that launched a million selfies. You can even see an Alexander Calder mobile and fountain around back.

With admission, though, you can see art from every region in the world and almost every time period. It really is an extensive collection. Back in September we were there just about all day but didn’t even get the chance to see it all. I even went back a month ago and still haven’t seen everything there is to offer. The limited time exhibits are so, so good. The first time I saw a fascinating collection of works by Noah Purifoy, who I’d never heard of and now know so much about, and the second time Angela and I got to experience the famous Rain Room.

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Alexander Calder – Three Quintains (Hello Girls)

Don’t forget that LACMA is directly adjacent to the fascinating La Brea Tar Pits, which are actual, active tar pits that have been excavated over the years and contain preserved animals. Like, real preserved prehistoric animals. You can see a lot of the tar pits by just walking around the outside, but if you pay for a ticket you can go inside the main building and get a tour and learn a lot more information and context about what you’re looking at. Oh yeah, and since they’re adjacent to the art museum you only have to pay for parking once, which is a huge win.

To be completely honest, I usually skedaddle before traffic gets bad so my tips for LA are more concentrated on the morning and midday—truncated around 4PM. My evening tips are lacking. LACMA is closer to Koreatown though, so do yourself a favor and get some authentic Korean BBQ nearby. Then, if you don’t have to be rolled outside by your friends (many KBBQ places are all you can eat) you can head back downtown to Spring Street to find some trouble to get into. Or instead, you can grab a quick In-N-Out burger and go catch an up-and-coming band or a newly released movie. You are in LA after all.