Paris in 32 Miles

The transition from mountains to high rises was a bit more startling than I expected. Though I'd spent just a couple days in Savoie, I had quickly fallen in love with the landscape, the lifestyle, and those beautiful, little girls. Paris felt gloomy and it didn't help that it was grey, stinky and overpopulated with tourists.

 

I arrived on Saturday in the evening; I took the train to the metro which dropped me off across the street from Hôtel de Ville (city hall), just a few blocks from my air bnb, a studio in the heart of Le Marais. I face timed with Jack, trying hard not to show my slight feeling of homesickness, before leaving for a bite at a wine bar around the corner.

 

The spot was called L'Alsacien and it was absolutely wonderful. Almost at full capacity and booming with energy, one of the waitresses found me a seat at the community high top where I squeezed myself between two couples. Suddenly, the lights turned off and we all sang joyeux anniversaire to one of the employees. My mood shifted quickly. The waitress, Naomi, and I became friends almost immediately. She was kind, cheerful and contagious. She suggested a Paradis Meyer glass of wine (which was incredible). I also ordered one of their famous pizzas ; it was basically perfect. My good friend, Lea, joined me in Paris last minute, flying from Fez, Morocco. It was cool and unexpected; we had always talked about experiencing Paris together!

 

Unfortunately, she became ill with food poisoning leaving me alone to wander on Sunday. I rose slowly, grabbed brunch and walked over to the Bastille where there was a huge flea market filled with Parisian antiques, vintage clothing, accessories, art and home goods. I walked in and out of shops, admiring the eclectic collections.

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Next, I walked to the Pantheon where I exercised my terrible tourist skills. I don't like crowds, lines, or masses. I don't like commonality and I can't stand admiring a beautiful object while hundreds of people are taking the same picture of it with a device that was originally designed to make phone calls and send messages. So I stared at it for a while from the outside and watched other people stare at it. I took what I thought was an interesting image of it from a different perspective and then I moved on to the Luxembourg Gardens which I enjoyed thoroughly. The flowers were gorgeous and the sculptures complex, strange and evoking. I sat on a bench, breathing it all in. It was definitely the highlight of my day. I walked down St. Germaine street which I found pretty uninteresting and commercial, though there were some incredible looking restaurants and stores. I crossed the bridge and briefly admired Notre Dame before letting an eighth tourist know (I started counting) that I don't live in Paris and I don't know where 'such and such place is'. I tried not to flip my hair. Merci beaucoup!

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I met a Congolese ambassador, Margi, of a restaurant/lounge/bar/dance club on Instagram called Le Comptoir Général. He invited me to a Sunday party where I could have dinner and hang out with the locals. Ecstatic for this opportunity, I took the metro to Gacour and walked through an adorable neighborhood along the Seine to Le Comptoir Général. Margi was hospitable, fast moving and generous. We stepped inside a simple cafe, freshly painted pink and blue. Almost everyone inside was African. We ordered quickly, for me the chicken mate, a traditional west African dish. It was my kind of meal, rich yet light, nutty, tangy; I ate every last bite and followed with a mango, papaya rum drink. We talked about Paris and a photography exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Museum. He told me he had moved to Paris in '86 and was in love; so in love that he had made it his mission to make others fall in love with it too. Later, I sat with his friends in the VIP section (a small, homey area filled with old furniture and African art). We watched professional dancers tear up the dance floor. The people were fashionable, gorgeous and exotic. Hundreds of ethnicities filled the space. Big curly hair was everywhere. Though I didn't speak the language, though I was in a foreign country in a place I'd never been before, I didn't feel different, objectified or alone. It was absolutely wonderful.

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Monday was a national holiday, therefore difficult to navigate. It was hard to know what was open, what was closed, what hours were different. Lea and I did our best to go with the flow despite my eagerness and her post food poisoning fatigue. I made a plan the night before so I could cover everything. It was a lot but I am ambitious. Of course, our first stop, an adorable French cafe called Claus, was opening late- 90 minutes past my scheduled time. It was worth it though, the menu provided four options of pre planned coursed out breakfasts. Baguettes, elderflower and apricot jams, eggs, an array of meats and vegetables, espresso, juices and cocktails flew through our table leaving us in total bliss.

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The Louvre proved to be a bit of a let down. The line was long and once inside it was packed. We got whiffs of many different (i.e. horrible) smells. It was yet again, difficult to appreciate a piece of art while humans swarmed it like bees trying to capture its beauty on a 1x1, 2 dimensional screen. But we had fun people watching, art gazing, architecture appreciating. Next was the Eiffel Tower which was so much taller and larger than I ever imagined. It was so, so massive. I was stunned. I finally understood why it's a spectacle of the world. Before leaving, we stood before it, staring at it for a while, admiring its beauty (while dozens of people pretended to hold it, hug it, kiss it).

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The rest of the day was challenging. Everything on my list was closed, restaurants included. The popular streets I had been recommended weren't their usual bustling selves. We walked miles out of our way to get the best sandwich in the city only to find it was closed. These attempts thankfully led us to quaint, local wine bars and sandwich shops where we had local, authentic experiences and finally delighted in Parisian lifestyle. Thanks, adventure! That evening, after decompressing, we walked a couple blocks to Pain, Vin, Fromage- a hole in the wall gem. We ordered fondue and a plate of goat cheese paired with a half bottle of red wine. It couldn't have been a better way to end our time in Paris.

 

The next day I wandered Le Marais, popping in and out of boutiques, ending at a popular spot called Merci. Paris had grown on me. There was so much to see, too much for three days. I loved the style, the passion for food and wine, the balance between work and play, the stunning architecture. It was refreshing to see diversity. The people, though arrogant, were friendlier than I expected; 'As you want' was a popular phrase. (What if I don't always know what I want?!)

 

I decided that I'd grown a lot, being independent in a big, foreign city. I learned more about my likes and dislikes. I made my own choices and didn't have to ask anyone how they felt. I sat with myself listening to my own thoughts. I realized how accustomed I am to adapting, maybe feeling comfortable had more to do with me than with them. However, after all of that, I learned that even when I'm by myself, I'll always find a way to have company. I may not like crowds but I love people. And Paris is a city meant to be shared.

 

Oh, one last thing. I looked at my Fitbit App at the end of my stay. I walked 32 miles.

Not too much, not too little

I arrived in Copenhagen at 10:30am. The flight was just seven hours and relatively comfortable. I sat next to a lovely, talkative couple, a writer and a sculpture artist. I slept for most of the flight- thanks to my good friend, Drew, who makes tinctures containing herbs and botanicals that aid in various ways (immunity, anxiety, etc); the one I brought with me aiding in sleep.

 

Upon arrival, I walked out of the terminal to the train where I purchased a train (Oresundstag) ticket to Lund, Sweden. One of my best friends, Moon, lives there and is finishing her graduate degree at Lund University (one of the most prestigious universities in Europe) in human ecology while teaching yoga and learning Swedish. She is brilliant, resourceful and a great inspiration. She also happens to be my half aunt which is a complex dynamic many can't wrap their heads around starting with our closeness in age and difference in appearance (she is blond and blue eyed). Thus, saying we're friends is typically the less complicated choice.

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Lund was quiet and charming. We met a few of Moon's classmates at an organic, vegetarian Indian restaurant called Govinda's; where they served us beet salad, lentil soup and yellow curry. The interior was adorable and bustling, humbly decorated with a friendly, joyful staff- a true, local favorite. Once finished eating every last bite of our meals, Moon and her friend, Nora, walked me through the cobblestone streets explaining the history and culture of the little town. We stopped by their historic church and Raja Yoga Lund, where Moonie teaches yoga. They exclaimed that it was the warmest day Lund had seen, coming in hot at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It felt so strange to see more bikes than cars. I observed that the Swedish people were kind, humble, ethical, careful and uniquely concerned with the greater good. It was refreshing to see a society function efficiently as a whole. Moonie told me of their philosophy called Lagom: a Swedish idea or feeling of not needing to be the best, but to be 'just right'. There is no precise English translation which I find fitting. Lagom indicates balance, just enough, fair share, making sure everyone has food and drink at every table. Swedish contentment...sign me up.

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That evening we considered Malmo where they have typical Swedish baths- you lie in a sauna and then jump straight into the Baltic Sea and back and forth. Apparently it's 'a Swedish thing' but I imagine any culture would practice the same routine if they had a sauna overlooking an ocean. We also considered a farmhouse out in the country. Unfortunately both were too far for my one night stay so we decided on another 'Swedish thing'...beer. We met with Moon's Chicago born friend, Rachel, at a bar called Inferno. It was packed and lively with an array of beer selections, my favorite being a Danish dark, full-bodied amber called Pistonhead. One of the best lines of the night came when a guy tried to engage with us in a conversation about American politics. In a bitter, condescending tone he said, "I mean really, how do you all feel about your current political state? Do you feel proud?" Moonie looked at him with a sigh and said, "I feel too tired to have this conversation right now." It's so nice to have a friend who says what I'm about to say for me.

 

That night, after returning home and after Inferno had closed, I realized I left my camera battery charging in the bar. FAIL. I kicked myself until the next morning, when I found a shop that *magically* carried gear for my Fuji. A whopping 449 kronas. So I lied. I'm still kicking myself.

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Around 8am, we took the bus into Lundgarden where we stopped for breakfast at a quaint, timeless cafe called St. Jakobs Stenugnsbageri. (Say that three times fast.) The cafe smelled of fresh bread, sugar and coffee and it was nearly impossible to choose just one thing...so I chose two, a typical Swedish pastry (essentially a cinnamon roll) and a sandwich made with in house bread. Freakin' delicious. Moonie had just received a prestigious internship at an environmentally conscious firm focused on finance in Korea. Yeah, that's my friend. The mood was happy (besides me still kicking myself over the battery). Leaving wasn't so bitter since Moonie and I will be reuniting again in Amsterdam in just a week. We stopped at the pharmacy for some powerful Swedish vitamins that help protect immunity (Berocca) and spent a few minutes frustrated at the station trying to figure out where and when the train was departing. Moonie told me of the one time she had to catch a 6am train, didn't realize the bus wasn't running that early, grabbed her bike, pedaled fast into town in the dark (but only crashed once!) before barely catching it. She always finds a way. We said our goodbyes before I made my way back to the Copenhagen airport where I took a flight to Geneva, Switzerland.

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Europe (solo)

I woke up to a text from my sister a couple months ago, 'Sissy, let's go somewhere!' It was long overdue for us to take a trip. Being a master of my own schedule I suggested May. Like most people with 'real' jobs, this was not feasible for Bryn's schedule. Ho hum.

 

Curious and excited about the notion of going abroad, I started looking at tickets. I should've known I was tricking myself into something wonderful. I've been itching to visit Europe and so, when I saw a direct flight from Boston to Copenhagen for $169 I was, well...extremely ready to buy it. And just like that, I was planning a 2 week trip to Europe.

 

I'm traveling to Copenhagen, Lund, Chambery, Paris, Giessen, Amsterdam and London. Sound like a lot? It is and I'm ecstatic. It is such a privilege to visit a foreign place, grow and explore. I'll be visiting family and friends and using the time to reflect on some business ideas that have been brewing. Amazing how time away from the familiar can offer such clarity!

 

I'll be documenting my trip as much as possible. For now here are some helpful tips that have aided me thus far:

 

Flights:

First, I found the best budget airline; be careful here, sometimes cheap is expensive. Some airlines have extreme hidden fees, regulations and/or horrible service leaving you in the dust. Do your research and weigh all options, even the more costly ones.

My choice: Norwegian Air

Second, in order to find the best rates search from major hubs. Austin isn't a big airport, therefore flights are typically more costly than say, Houston. So I looked at flights from New York/Boston/Orlando/Ft Lauderdale/Houston/Dallas into cities like Copenhagen/London/Paris/Barcelona, etc. I tried different variations with the low fare calendar and voila! Boston-Copenhagen for $169 was born. Granted I had to purchase a seat but after that, I didn't come out of pocket a dime.

You're probably wondering how I got to Boston. I took a megabus to Houston, stayed with my grandma a night, then flew to Boston for a mere $65.

 

Sites to use when booking:

Kayak

Skyscanner

Hopper

Google ITA Matrix

Voyages-sncf (for trains)

 

Accommodations:

I'm so lucky to be staying with friends and family in Lund, Chambery and Giessen. In the other cities, I'll be staying in air bnbs. I considered a hostel for Amsterdam but because of the time of year most were sold out or egregiously overpriced.

When looking for air bnbs, because of my short amount of time in each city, location was at the top of my priority list. Don't be afraid to scroll through 3 or 4 pages and know that the newer apartments with fewer ratings are going to have the best deals. They're trying to get bookings!

 

Packing:

You don't need that much stuff. Keep telling yourself that. You can still be stylish and fabulous with a humble amount! I'm traveling with a small carry on (roller bag) and an oversized purse.

 

*note* they will weigh your bags collectively, purse included. They require your carry on to equate 10 kilos (which is absurd). Hence:

 

The attendant at Norwegian Air alerted me that my carry on/purse were 5 kilos overweight and that I would therefore have to check my carry on for an additional *arm and a leg*. You're kidding me, right. I asked her if she planned on weighing me too. "Of course not!" .....I then asked her if I could use the bathroom. I pulled out my handy baggu bag and stuffed what I thought was 5 kilos inside. I strapped the bag to my back, threw my trench coat on (over extra layers) and walked slowly and squarely back to the attendant with a wide smile and a large hunchback. She weighed my bags, a nice 9.2 kilos, stamped my ticket and I was on my way!

 

My full itinerary:

 

May 1: bus to Houston (Megabus), stay with grandmother

May 2: fly to Boston (American Airlines), 8 hour layover

May 2: fly to Copenhagen (Norwegian Air)

May 3: train to Lund (TGV)

May 4: fly to Geneva, train to Chambery

May 6: train to Paris (TGV)

May 9: train to Frankfurt (TGV), car to Giessen

May 12: train to Amsterdam (TGV)

May 14: fly to London (easyjet)

May 16: fly to Orlando (Norwegian Air)

May 18: fly to Houston (spirit)

May 19: bus to Austin (Megabus)

 

I hope my journaling offers you an insight into my love for culture, aesthetic, and doing things frugally yet efficiently. À la prochaine!

Four Seasons, Houston (I did not stay there...just used their bathroom and had an espresso ☺️)

Four Seasons, Houston (I did not stay there...just used their bathroom and had an espresso ☺️)

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The market at Eataly  

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Seaport in Boston