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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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On our last full day before we flew out, I did something that I’ve done only once before, several visits ago: I went outside of Paris. Well, just barely. We took the RER A train from Opera to the end of the line, to the adorable town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It was a quick half an hour train ride, if that, which is about as far as we could reasonably go if we wanted to be back in the late afternoon. The main attraction in town, and the first thing you spot coming up from the train station, is the imposing château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The sprawling gardens, manicured that surround the castle were a bit soggy the day we were there but the vista at the end of the cliff provided a view straight back into the city, including a teensy Eiffel Tower in the distance. We spent the morning walking around the town, shopped at a Christmas market in the town square, and had two of the most delicious crêpes we’ve ever had at a small, packed restaurant off the main strip. Composer Claude Debussy was born there, and the tiny, two-story Visitors Information office housed in the building where he lived with his wife and daughter doubles as a small museum to his life (think one room, free admission, all of five minutes to visit). If I had to think of a word to describe Saint-Germain-en-Laye, it would be “cute.” It was just so, so cute. Five or six hours is the perfect amount of time to spend there, and it only cost €16 for both of us, round trip, to get there. It was a nice change of pace and while I wouldn’t have planned it on my own, I’m glad Jamal suggested it.
We got back to Paris around 4, and headed straight for Montmartre. Given that it was our last night, we had made reservations at our favorite restaurant in the neighborhood (and, actually, the world), Le Cepage Montmartrois on Rue Caulaincourt. We went to Sacré-Cœur, visited our old haunts, our favorite hidden park on Rue Burq, and stopped into about four seemingly identical pop-up shops with the same aesthetic. (Montmartre is becoming hipsterized at an alarming rate.) I’ve made no secret of my favoritism in the past, but it bears repeating: I love Montmartre. I love it. It was my home briefly, and it’s where I keep coming back to. I’ll always have a soft spot for it, for my favorite boulangerie on Abbesses that makes the best baguette, the traiteur on Rue Lepic with the best rôti, and the cheap crêpe window right at the corner of Lepic and Clichy with the beautiful girl who always gave me an extra dollop of nutella with a wink. Parts of the neighborhood are tacky and overtouristed (helllooo Place du Tertre) but I still love it, warts and all. It was the best place to spend our last night.
And that concludes the Paris photos, kiddos! Thank you for being patient and putting up with all of them, as I’m sure some seem repetitive from trips past. I promise I have other, non-Paris posts scheduled in the coming days & weeks.
But, uh, you’re going to have to deal with this all over again, because I’m going back in 66 days. Ha!
We spent the last half of one waning afternoon in the 13eme, the southeastern arrondissement settled high on a hill. The architecture is different, there are so many charming, non-Haussmann houses lining twisting, cobbled streets, and there’s a feeling there that you’re not even in Paris anymore, that you’ve left the map and the century. Location aside, that sounds a lot like Montmartre, doesn’t it? Or, Montmartre five years ago, anyway. While you’ll never hear me speak ill of mon quartrier, the authentic, non-touristy pockets of the 18eme are harder to eke out these days, as people seem to have gotten the memo that Montmartre is amazing. The 13eme feels distinctly local, given that there are virtually no tourist attractions (no major museums or shops or destinations). People live there. It’s wildly affordable (We know because we stop at every real estate office we pass, regardless of what city we’re in) and after just an afternoon, spent wandering and gazing and stopping for tea, we were settled: next time we’re staying there. (I like to think further ahead, and couldn’t help but daydream about how much apartment I could get for my money, long term).
The next day, my friend John’s urging, we visited the Musée Jacquemart-André. To say it’s beautiful would be an understatement. An old hotel particulier turned museum to We walked over to Ternes and had lunch at an Italian restaurant, before splitting up and heading our separate ways for the afternoon: Jamal back to Martyrs to shop for dinner, and me to Louis Vuitton & Ladurée, two tasks I didn’t mind undertaking on my own. I’ve always been comfortable on my own, but there’s something about this city that encourages it, how the tables upstairs at the Laudrée on Rue Royale are just big enough for two people, but don’t make a solo diner look alone. I got caught in a rainstorm on my way home, and stopped for cover in the two bookstores on Rue de Rivoli before heading to the metro at Concorde. I walked into our apartment in the 9eme to a tiny Parisian kitchen overflowing with scents and steaming pans; Jamal made chicken and shallots, with lentils and roasted potatoes. Not a bad way to end the day.
Happy New Year! I try not to make resolutions, because I inevitably break them (going through a round of Invisalign last year was finally what stopped me from biting my nails, after 15 years of resolving at midnight on the 1st to do it), but this year I decided to focus on being the Best Version of Me, in whatever form that entailed. It’s kind of vague and open to interpretation, which means I technically can’t fail. Obviously, I am the best version of myself when I am writing, which means I need to blog here more often than the measly once a week (at best!) I was managing before. Four days into the new year (and almost a month since I left for Paris) and I’m just getting around to it. Baby steps!
Another beautifully sunny day spent in Paris. Walking around the Rue des Martyrs Sunday markets, wandering to Madeleine and down the Rue Saint-Honoré, with a stop to circle the Palais-Royal gardens, before heading all the way to E. Dehillerin (closed, as it was Sunday), stopping at Les Halles and marveling over the newly opened gardens and gigantic shopping mall (Jamal had just been to Johannesburg, and was especially excited at Jardin de Nelson Mandela; I lost my mind in the Lego store over the replica of Notre Dame), and eventually making our way to the Marais for falafel and a tour of the Village de Saint-Paul Christmas markets, a winding, hidden maze of connected courtyards south of the Rue Saint-Antoine. Our day didn’t even stop there, as we hopped on the metro at Pont Marie and headed south to an arrondissement neither of us had ever been to previously, but those photos will have to wait for another day. I’m exhausted just recounting the amount of walking we did this day. But with skies like that, what other choice did we have?
You can see why I’m so in love with this neighborhood, right? The Rue des Martyrs winds its way up (fairly steeply) from the church of Notre Dame de Lorette to Pigalle, crossing the Boulevard de Clichy, and up to Montmartre, just east of the Abbesses metro. Which meant we weren’t too far from our beloved quartier, and so could still spend a lot of time there, too (and we did). There’s such an interesting, quiet authenticity to this neighborhood. Years ago, on the trip when Jamal & I got engaged, we stumbled up to Martyrs to a Sunday brocante where we bought old printing press letters in our initials, and it remains one of the highlights of all of our Paris trips. Staying here this time gave us a new perspective; stopping at the boulangerie on our corner after watching them bake the days’ provisions in their back kitchen window (lurker status: expert), shopping at the bio (organic) market for lentils and shallots, taking our petit dej at the same café every morning, joined by the very lovely cat who lived there.
We also did a lot of walking this trip, even though the public transit system was free the first few days we were there because of the overwhelming smog and pollution. On our second day, we walked from our apartment to the Marais for our macaron class, back to the 7eme to retrieve Jamal’s debit card (an ATM machine had eaten it the night before), over to Odéon, looped around the Jardin du Luxembourg, and finally stopping for dinner at a Tunisian couscous restaurant by Notre Dame. I collapsed into bed each night exhausted, but exhilarated, that classic Paris combination where I’ve run myself ragged but still can’t fall asleep because I don’t want to miss a single second. And if the photos above prove anything, there is a lot that happens at night. We rounded Luxembourg in a thick fog, and saw a lone gentleman in a wool coat and hat walking through the mist in the glow of a streetlamp. Jamal and I both stopped short and said, almost identically, that it was a movie poster or book cover come to life.
I know what you’re thinking: with a view like that, how did I ever leave the hotel room? (Short answer: the beckoning scents of warm pastries six floors down.) I landed in Paris before Jamal, and checked into our hotel –the hotel we booked for free using his seemingly limitless supply of points– to find they had upgraded me to their best room, the one at the very top of the building, with a king-size bed, an enormous bathroom with a rainfall shower, and, oh, A MAGNIFICENT VIEW OF THE EIFFEL TOWER. There are no words, just heart-eyes emojis.
When Jamal arrived from South Africa a few hours later, he found me in a puddle of my own drool out on the balcony, my camera in hand with my finger permanently pressed on the shutter button. No joke, I think I took roughly 150 photos of la tour the 24 hours we were in the room, capturing her in all different lights. (I slept with one eye on her, watching her sparkle at 11 and midnight, the fierce jetlag absolutely no match for her beauty.) Jamal managed to drag me out for food & a nice long walk, all the way to the Christmas market along the Champs-Élysées. It was overwhelmingly magical, and I couldn’t get over the size of it; it stretched from Concorde to Avenue Montaigne, on both sides of the wide boulevard, with hidden, smaller villages behind the main vendors. I’ve had plenty of people ask me why I would go to Paris in the winter, and the amount of Christmas cheer, the city all decked out for the holidays, is reason enough (like I need a reason).
The next day, we attended a macaron making class at La Cuisine Paris. I took the same class with my mom in March, and while I felt more confident this time around, the process is still extremely intimidating and nerve-wracking even with Jamal’s calming influence, and I’m more than happy to pay someone else, someone more skilled, $2-$3 ea. instead of making my own. (Guys there are SO MANY STEPS.) We also (sadly) checked out of the hotel and (happily!) moved to an apartment on Rue des Martyrs in the 9eme. We’d both read, “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs” by Elaine Sciolino, former New York Times Paris bureau chief, earlier this year, and were smitten. It was a new neighborhood for us, just south of Montmartre/Pigalle, but it might be our new favorite. It felt like Montmartre the very first time we visited, with an authentic, local vibe. More photos to come, of course.
On the last day of September Jamal and I drove to upstate New York for a friend’s wedding. I’d long dreamt of spending a picturesque fall weekend in the Finger Lakes region, and his friend’s nuptials seemed like the perfect opportunity to don some flannel and visit a few wineries and see the leaves change color. The weather had another thing in mind; it rained the entire time we were there, even through the (beautiful) outdoor ceremony and throughout the (blessedly tented) reception, stopping only the following morning as we loaded up on breakfast before beginning our six hour drive home (four hours to Jamal’s parents to pick up Fitz, and two hours back to Philadelphia). But you guys know me and my predilection for rain and cloudy days, so I wasn’t bothered by a little inclement weather. If anything, it made Watkins Glen, the tiny town nestled at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, and the surrounding areas, more atmospheric, more lovely, somehow. Aside from the ceremony portion of the wedding on Saturday evening, where we were more focused on the touching vows the bride & groom wrote for each other than on the drizzle, and the short walks to & from our rental car into each of the five (five!) wineries we visited and had tastings, the rain didn’t really even affect us. Give me fog and mist any day.
The weekend was all too brief, but whet our palettes for another trip upstate in the future. We brought back eight bottles of wine. The region is known for sweet white varietals –“grapey,” they call them– and our bar is now fully stocked, including a kit to make mulled wine when the temps dip a little lower. It was a gorgeous weekend getaway, the best part of which was that Jamal didn’t check his work email once. Not once! A rarity, but a welcome, and much-needed, treat.
I took Fitz out for a walk after dinner on Tuesday night, and was stopped in my tracks the moment we closed the door behind us. The sky was a bright yellow, with giant tufts of thick clouds in shades of pale pink and orange. Fitz wasn’t as impressed, and kept sassing me whenever I paused to look up at the sky and marvel (apparently peeing was more important). We came back inside and I quickly grabbed my camera and ran back to the corner to snap a few photos. In those short 10 minutes, the colors had changed and brightened and become more saturated and, somehow, more beautiful. I haven’t seen a sky like this since Paris in early summer; I had lunch with my dad’s friend John last week and we both agreed the cloud formations and sunset colors, like virtually everything else, are far more gorgeous in Paris. Well, I think this was Philadelphia’s way of proving us wrong.
September 1, 2016 / art / photo /
Every city has that one neighborhood for me: Paris has Montmartre, Rome has Trastevere, and Barcelona, as we happily discovered, has Gràcia. An authentic, charming, local’s-only neighborhood, nestled above l’Eixample, Gràcia extends as far north as Park Güell, but the pocket we fell in love with is between Avenue Diagonal and Travessera de Dalt. We felt the same way walking around Gràcia as we did the very first time we visited Montmartre years ago: we could absolutely live here. Finding Gràcia was easily one of the highlights of the entire trip for us, more than any of the attractions we bought tickets for, or the restaurants that were highly-rated online. Just walking around and falling in love with the neighborhood, its locals, its shops and restaurants, its slightly shabby architecture, made both of us wish we could move right in and never leave.
But we had to leave, at some point, because
life is super unfair all good things must come to an end. Or something. I don’t like to talk about politics much around here, I do enough of that in real life off-line, but the upcoming presidential election might very well provide an ideal opportunity to get the fuck out of America for a few years. And I know exactly where we’ll land. Mostly because I didn’t get to actually eat any of those magical marzipan creations at La Boqueria, and I need to know if they taste as good as they look.
And thus concludes the vacation photos from our trip to Spain. Thank you so much for tolerating me these last few weeks! Now back to our regularly scheduled, not-Spain content. Boo.
Did I mentioned we loved Barcelona? The weather was glorious, all sunny skies and crisp morning breezes; there was only one afternoon where temperatures rose into the 70s, and it coincided with our visit to Park Güell to see more of Gaudí’s work. We underestimated how much time it would take to get there on the metro, and then we got lost trying to find it, and since the tickets are good only for a specific time slot, we were sort of in a panic. You only need tickets to see the Gaudí structures, and the rest of the massive, sprawling park is free to the public. Families were having picnics, there were men playing guitar, but I was frankly most excited to see the exact spot where Top Model Cycle 7 had their final runway challenge (Jamal did not understand). Park Güell was originally intended to be a private housing development, with shared green space for about 60 Gaudí-designed homes. They only ended up building 2 or 3 before running out of money, and Gaudí lived in the model home. For a man who designed such intricate, visionary buildings, he lived rather modestly; his bedroom contained a single bed, a crucifix, and one small bedside table.
We moved for our last few nights to the Cotton House Hotel on the Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes, which was, without a doubt, the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The hotel is a converted mansion that the original cotton magnate of Barcelona built for his wife, and was just oozing comfortable luxury. We used Jamal’s hotel points, and they surprised us with an upgraded suite with a balcony overlooking the terrace. We even saw Keith Richards in the lobby! At least, we think it was Keith Richards. It may have been a very convincing dopplegänger.
Gran Via was close to the main shopping thoroughfare of Passeig de Gracia, and only a 10-15 minute walk to nearly everything else in the city. We are already dreaming (and scheming) about going back, to that hotel specifically, but Barcelona more generally. Cute puppies, strong cocktails, chocolate-covered croissants, and gorgeous architecture? Can you blame us for wanting to go back?
Oh, Barcelona. By the time we arrived, we’d spent almost a week in Spain, visiting Madrid, San Sebastián, Pamplona, and Zaragoza, and while we loved every city for different reasons, it really did feel like we were saving the best for last. Everyone we knew who’d been to Spain kept telling us before we’d even left, as did everyone we met during our trip. Usually it sounded like, “You’re going to love Spain! All of it is so great. But Barcelona is just…” and they’d trail off, a dreamy look on their faces, unable to find the right words to adequately describe exactly what it is about the Catalan capital that makes everyone fall in love with it. Frankly, I’m having the same problem.
After dropping of our trusty rental car in the middle of town, we checked into our first of two hotels, a furnished apartment near the beach. After spending so much time in smaller, quieter cities and towns, we thought staying just outside of the main downtown area for a few nights would provide a more gentle transition, an easing-in to Barcelona. We stayed at Lugaris Beach, in El Poblenou, a wonderfully local and off-the-beatn track neighborhood north of Barceloneta. It was a five minute walk to the metro, and just a few stops to the main part of the city, but also directly across the street from a beach. The apartment had a full kitchen, which meant Jamal got to cook dinner for us one night, after we went shopping on the Rambla at small grocers. After dinner, we spotted from our window a pop-up amusement park up the beach, and knew we had to check it out. Jamal rode the bumper cars (I literally haven’t laughed so hard in years), won me a bracelet popping balloons with darts, and we shared a mojito at 11pm. The next night, we had the best meal of our lives at El 58 a few minutes from our apartment; the ceviche alone is worth the airfare back.
And of course, we visited the Sagrada Familia. We bought tickets online in advance (the only way to do it; entries are timed, and the wait could stretch up to five hours) which included an audioguide and entry to the Gaudí House Museum in Parc Guell the next day. The church has been under construction for 150 years, and was recently given a completion date of 2026, the 100 year anniversary of the architect’s death. (So we already know the date of our next trip to Barcelona.) It was overwhelming, visually, emotionally, walking into the church and taking in the scale of it. I’m not religious, not by a long shot, but as the daughter of an architect it was hard not to be blown away by the sheer magic of Gaudí’s mind.
We indulged in gelato, had too many glasses of wine, took a trip to Louis Vuitton, a morning stroll along the beach to watch the old men play competitive dominoes, and before we knew it, we had to leave El Poblenou, our lovely local ‘hood, and move downtown.