How I Find Cheap Airfare

flight1

In this post I not-so-humbly bragged about finding (and immediately booking) a nonstop flight to Paris for $1 (plus an additional $640 in taxes). A few weeks before that, I booked a flight to Paris for a little over $700 total (nonstop on the way there, with a two hour layover at Heathrow on the way home). I thought I’d share my tips for finding good airfare deals, since I appear to be on a winning streak and a bunch of you expressed interest in how I snagged them. I wish there was some magical secret, or that airlines would lower their prices consistently with fuel prices, or at the very least that the basic economic principles of supply and demand didn’t really exist in this sector (there’s no reason the same flight to Paris in June should cost double what it does in March, just because more people want to go at that time of year, other than the fact that airlines are greedy mofos hellbent on making as large a profit as possible while screwing over the everyday passenger, and that is my manifesto against capitalism, the end.). But what my recent airfare scores come down to is persistence: a fair amount of website stalking, checking prices several times a day for weeks on end, and, unfortunately, luck. That $1 fare was gone an hour after I booked it, and if I hadn’t already gotten in the habit of checking frequently throughout the day, I would’ve missed it.

A word of warning: If you want to go to the Maldives and you live in Idaho nowhere near an airport, odds are it’s going to be expensive no matter what you do, so these tips might not prove to be too helpful. Sorry, kiddos! I’ve tried to make these as universal as I could.

So, here we go!

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First Wedding Anniversary

First Anniversary

First Anniversary

First Anniversary

This past Sunday, Jamal and I celebrated one year of marriage. Besides not being able to truly believe an entire year had passed since September 13, 2014 (where did the time go? Can anyone remember what happened in March? Wasn’t it just June?) the day was a delight. We treated ourselves to a super indulgent brunch overlooking Rittenhouse Square, with a mimosa for me and a bloody mary for him, and way, way too much food, and then we went home and put on sweatpants and lazed about in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon. Marriage! The traditional first anniversary present is paper, so I got Jamal Rick Steves’ Spain 2016 guidebook, which he flipped through that day, every so often stopping to say, “Happy anniversary! I’m so full!” My mommom made a sweet point: going out to dinner is routine, but going out to breakfast is rare and special. (It’s even more special when there is a chocolate fountain involved.)

First Anniversary

So, to reflect on these past 12 months: We went to Athens and Santorini for our honeymoon! We went to Italy and Paris this spring! I left my job of the last four and a half years for something that would finally make me happy. Jamal continued to travel like a maniac, darting and zig-zagging across the country nearly every week. It was a big first year, with the requisite ups and downs. I wouldn’t say that marriage is hard, or that our first year of marriage was hard, because really, when you’ve been dating for four years and living together for three, what else is there to adjust to once you put a ring on it? But it wasn’t always smooth going; Jamal and I each had a hard year (for reasons that were independent of each other), which caused some strain. We figured out late in the game that rather than turning on each other, we should turn towards each other for support. And nearly all of that strain was eliminated the day I changed jobs. I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in my mental (and marital) health.

And now, to look forward: We have a trip to Spain scheduled for next April-May! I’m turning the big 3-0! Jamal has some big career wins in the foreseeable future (which, bien sûr, comes with more travel). Other than that, the 2nd year is our oyster. What’s not on the agenda? A baby. Seriously, guys, what is with people asking when you’re going to start having a kids? It’s like the moment our officiant pronounced us husband & wife, the badgering started. Jamal and I have always agreed that, if we’re going to have one at all, it is going to be just the one. Une. Uno. But right now, we don’t know if even une bébé is in the cards; it’s certainly not on the table in the next few years. A few months ago, apropos of nothing, Jamal said to me, “You know, if we didn’t have a kid, we would have so much more money and time to travel.” But when people ask us (and seriously, we get asked this all the time), “When will you have a baby??”, “Are you guys going to have a baby soon??” and we say, “Not anytime soon, and maybe not at all,” (or, as Jamal responded when his best friend asked a few weeks ago, “Nah, we’re going to go on vacation instead.” <3 <3 <3) it's invariably met with a smug, "Oh, you'll change your mind." Maybe we will, and maybe we won't. Frankly, Fitz is enough of a handful to deter us from voluntarily saddling ourselves with a human baby. We each have too many personal goals we want to achieve (I need to finish this novel!) and countries we want to visit (we’re already planning for 2017. Japan? Scandinavia? Scotland?) still. So our second year will be filled with many exciting things, but a baby ain’t one of ’em. (Apologies to our parents.)

Happy first anniversary, Jamal! I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Black & White (And an Excerpt From the First Draft)

Café Saint-Régis

Dubois turned the collar of his raincoat up, adjusted his scarf under his chin, and, shoulders strung up almost to his ears, stepped out of his building into the chilled rain that had persisted over the city for the past three days. It was a fine, mostly annoying mist, spraying him the moment the door closed behind him with a heavy thud. The usual morning soundtrack –a dog scampering to the nearest tree, the trash collectors rolling bins across the sidewalk, background noise to him on any other morning– had the sudden effect of being jarring, too loud, too accusatory. He hurried on, trying to make his feet move faster than his brain, trying to trick himself into forgetting the streets he’d memorized years ago. Right, left, left again. If he didn’t look up he could pretend he was lost. And that morning he needed to be lost.

The entire enterprise seemed entirely fucking stupid now, out of the suffocating confines of his apartment. His apartment. He couldn’t even think about it without feeling it was booby-trapped and rigged to blow. He had more still lifes than he knew what to do with. He’d taken three of them inexplicably, because they’d been there, available. And though he’d only spotted one at first, he later took two additional Henri Fantin-Latour pieces because his recollection told him they matched, that they’d make a perfect triptych of florals. Only he’d gotten them home and realized the colors were all wrong on the first one. Sleep on it, he’d told himself. They’ll look different in the morning light. And they had, only worse. As he’d lined them up on his dresser this morning, he’d become so nauseated and sickened by the sight of them that he had been gasping for air as he slipped on his coat and locked the door behind him.


I’m writing a novel. You can read more about that here.

Bookworm

Antoine Laurain

Have you ever come across a book and just known you were going to love it, before you’d even read a word? That was the experience I had with both of Antoine Laurain’s novels, “The Red Notebook” and “The President’s Hat.” I stumbled upon the former on Amazon, where I usually go down a rabbit hole of “Books You May Like” to find things to add my library hold queue. The premise grabbed me immediately: a man finds a woman’s purse on the street, and in going through the contents to try to find its owner, finds a red notebook with her thoughts and scribblings and starts to fall in love with her. He also owns a bookshop called Le Cahier Rouge, the red notebook. It also happens to be set in Paris, translated from French, but truthfully, that it played into my Francophilia was secondary to how delightful of a book it was. A particularly beautiful, articulate excerpt that resonated with me, given what I went through earlier this year before I changed jobs:

An existence devoted to reading would have been his ultimate fulfillment, but it had not been given to him. He would have had to choose that path much earlier, to have known what he wanted to do…To have had a life plan. At first it had been interested to be recognized as a promising young banker, to climb the hierarchy, to have responsibilities and to earn a lot of money. Up until the day he had started to feel, dimly at first, then more and more clearly, that the man he had become was the absolute opposite of what he really was. Although the dichotomy weighed heavily on him, for a while the money he was earning was compensation enough, but then it could no longer make up for it. The gap between his ideal and his reality was too great. The weight turned into an anguish that was succeeded by the intolerable idea that he was wasting his life –or even that he had already wasted it.

I couldn’t put it down, and when I was finished, I wanted to hug it, re-read it, and find the author, Antoine Laurain, and ask him how he makes writing look so easy and good. (I also have a thing for the name Antoine). Immediately after finishing “The Red Notebook”, I picked up his other, earlier novel, “The President’s Hat” from the library, and started it yesterday. I’m more than halfway through, and that I can’t stay home from work to finish reading it and rub it on my head in the hopes that some of Laurain’s beautiful faculty with words will transfer to me by osmosis or something is torture. Mon dieu.

Really, kiddos, you have to go read them. I haven’t read anything as charming and perfect in a long time. What are you reading these days?

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Last week, my mom and I went to afternoon tea at the Sofitel. For $35 per person, you get a mimosa or bellini, a pot of loose leaf tea, finger sandwiches, scones, and an assortment of mini desserts. All the trappings of traditional afternoon tea, but with a slightly French flair (macarons!), as the hotel itself is French (everyone greets you with a delighted, “Bonjour!”). My mom had purchased one of those half-off deals, so we only paid $35 total, which I admit was still a splurge for a Wednesday afternoon but the perfect excuse for a little indulgence. I turned my mom onto Rooibos tea, and we downed a full pot each (and our bellinis) in record time. We had the perfect unspoken arrangement when it came to eating, too: she ate all the sandwiches, and I got all the desserts. Hooray for being an only child!

We have been playing with the idea for months now of taking a girl’s trip to Paris next March; next year marks 15 years (!!) since my first (and her only) trip to the City of Light, and also a milestone birthday for her (I won’t say how old she is, in deference to her vanity, but let’s just say she was 35 when she had me and I’ll be 30 next year, ahem. I’ve been stalking flights and itineraries for a while, and over tea we decided to just pull the trigger on a $900 ticket that had a layover in London, either on the way there or the way back, I can’t remember. It was going to be my birthday present to her (and a selfish present for myself. Paris! Again!) but more than I was entirely comfortable spending, given I’m only working part-time and will have just been to Paris in November and am going to Spain in April. But, Paris! Maman’s 65th birthday!

I came home from tea and went to book the flight, only to find that somehow, for some reason, as if imbued by the magic of tea and macarons, fares had dropped substantially in the last day. I wouldn’t have to pay $900! There wouldn’t even be a layover! A roundtrip, direct flight from Philly to Paris next March cost me –are you ready for this?– a whopping $1. ONE. DOLLAR.

One Dollar Fare

Sure, taxes and fees added another $640, but are you kidding me? I’ve never seen fares that low. I had to book flights. (In another post I’ll tell you all my tips and tricks to booking flights, if you’d like. Stalking airline and travel websites has become a part time job for me.)

We’re going to Paris! Again!

Happy National Dog Day, Fitz!

Happy National Dog Day, Fitz!

Happy National Dog Day, Fitz!

It seems as though yesterday was National Dog Day, and I missed it. Fitz, I’m so sorry! He has no idea, frankly, because he believes that every day is National Dog Day, and relegating it to just one day per year seems preposterous to him. He’s got a point, especially when I think of how big a personality he has in his flopsy, silly little body, and realize there’s no way you can contain celebrating him to a single day. Every day is a celebration when you have a dog, am I right?

This has been a big year for Fitzwater the Wonder Puppy, as we’ve finally gotten rid of his crate and have started leaving him free range in the house by himself when we leave. It sounds like we’re begging for disaster, I know, given his track record when we tried this a few years ago (we ended up at Penn Vet Hospital too many times to count, because he ate all the things, including two rugs and two week’s worth of aspirin and fish oil pills Jamal’s parents had, as well as the plastic pill containers they came in —that vet bill was bananas). But at four and a half years old (stop growing up!) he has matured to the point where he will happily sleep on the sofa and not touch anything even without supervision, and I think he’s really grateful for the freedom and the show of trust, and is trying not to screw it up. Oh, buddy. I love you so!

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

I’ll let the pictures do the talking (and the selling) for this incroyable apartment, located in the 16eme near Trocadero. The views are, simply, breathtaking, and if there were ever an excuse to get me into the kitchen (a room I generally ignore) it would be the promise of la Tour greeting me from the window. I love everything about this place, from the floors, to the original mouldings, to even the vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase in the office. Even the stairwell is perfection! My first act though, once I’d moved in and claimed the space as my own, would be to move the desk chair to the other side of the desk so it’s facing the window. Who in their right mind wants to sit with their back to Paris? Though now that I think of it, talk about a writing distraction.

Price? An astronomical, never-going-to-be-affordable-except-in-my-wildest-dreams: $9,368,338 / €8.350.000

100 Days (And a Novel Update)

Blue Skies, Paris

Blue Skies, Paris

Blue Skies, Paris

I.

Yesterday marked 100 days until I head back to Paris again, but who’s counting. (Me. I’m counting.) I leave after Thanksgiving, which sounds so far away, but with the way this year has been moving I know I’ll blink and be boarding a plane, embarking on my second solo trip to what, honestly, feels like home. It will be my second time going in winter, too, though I think late November/early December tend to be more temperate than the deep midst of March (at least, that’s what I’m hoping). I love winter, I love everything about it; the cold, the damp, the early darkness, so I’ll welcome the grisaille that Paris is known for at that time of year with an almost emo-kid excitement. Blue skies, like the ones above I experienced last spring and this one, aren’t bad either, though.

II.

I’ve stayed true to the promise I made myself when I started this new job, and have spent a ton of time working on my novel, dedicating solid, uninterruptible chunks of time to it (along with starting my real estate license studies!), which somewhat explains my extended absences around these parts. I have a nine page outline, going chapter by chapter, of how I want the book to come together, with questions for myself, things I need to fill in, flesh out, rework. There’s so much editing and cutting out and paring down. When I first started three years ago (!!!), this was just about a French girl. Now, she’s just one character in a story that has evolved past her, into something entirely different.

The one upside to taking such an extended break from working on it for the better part of the last year is that I can approach the draft with fresh eyes, and less of an attachment to passages and portions I previously would have been unable to chop. And chop I have, to the tune of roughly 20k words. Before, I had one massive, 183 page, 80k word document with virtually no sense of cohesion, and I would rely on my memory of specific words or phrases in each scene, to ctrl+f whichever section it was I wanted to work on (author’s note: I do not recommend this strategy). Now, I have a new document, organized by the chapters I’ve set up in my outline, and have been placing in large blocks of text that I’ve already written, tweaking them, cutting extraneous backstory that, while helpful to me originally, doesn’t help the story as it stands now. I am really happy with the way it’s coming along, and am aiming to have a completed, presentable first draft by the end of the year.

That week in Paris already has its work cut out for it.

Art Heist: An Update!

mar2picasso

Remember this art heist I shared back in March? A refresher: a package, labeled as a Christmas present worth €30, was shipped from Belgium to New Jersey with instructions to be transferred to a temperature-controlled art storage facility. Tipped off by the incongruity of needing to store a “handicraft” in such a high tech environment, Customs Officials seized the package, only to discover it was a 1911 Picasso painting, titled “La Coiffeuse” (“The Hairdresser”) which the Centre Pompidou in Paris had reported as stolen in 2001. The Pompidou can’t nail down a firmer timeframe or suspect, because they only realized the painting was missing when a loan request came in for it and they couldn’t locate it in storage. Three words, guys: routine inventory checks!

The museum sent officials to authenticate the painting in February, and the US Attorney’s office filed a civil complaint to return the painting to France. In typical bureaucratic fashion, the official hand-off didn’t occur until last Thursday, at the French Embassy in Washington:

It’s uncertain if the painting will ever be put back on display at the museum (but here’s hoping!).


You can read more about art heists here.

The All New Print Shop! (And We’re Going to Spain!!)

New Print Shop!

New Print Shop!

Friends! I am excited to share with you a completely revamped Print Shop! After some consideration (and more than a few requests) I’ve decided to make photos of our trips to Italy and Greece available for purchase, as well as offering a tighter selection of Paris photographs (editing them down from 28 to 12 was my own personal Sophie’s Choice). Take a look and let me know what you think! To celebrate the relaunch, I’m offering FREE SHIPPING on all orders until August 31st! Happy shopping, kiddos. As always, thank you so much for your continued support with this little venture!

This change to include more destinations besides Paris was necessitated by a very exciting recent event: we booked a trip to Spain! Jamal travels constantly for work (I’m basically married to George Clooney’s character from the movie “Up In The Air”), but the upside is that he accumulates a ton of reward miles. My flight to Paris last year, our honeymoon in Greece, and our flights to Italy this spring were all free, thanks to his seemingly endless supply of air miles. Case in point: this week, we booked two roundtrip, nonstop tickets to Barcelona and Madrid for 11 days next April and May, and only paid something like $48 in taxes. We’re going to Spain! I need to work on my nonexistent Spanish, as I only know how to say “meatballs,” of all things. (Albondigas!) But otherwise I am beyond thrilled. Have you been before? I would love any and all suggestions you might have! ¡Viva España! ¡Viva The Print Shop!