My Best-Kept Secret Souvenir from Rome

I know you may already be thinking of a gladiator helmet magnet to stick on your fridge or a bunch of post cards of the Trevi fountain but I prefer something else to preserve the memories from our travels. I am not a fan of buying lots of trinkets or cheap souvenirs I’ll never do anything with while we are on vacation. I do buy Liv a gold souvenir coin from churches we have visited (usually found in a vending maching for €2). My biggest frustration when we return from a trip is looking through all my vacation photos and seeing hundreds of photos of Olivia and Antz taken by me or Liv and me but hardly any of all three of us together besides a few not-so-great selfies. I get even more upset when we ask a relunctant tourist for a photo and it turns outs terrible. We have all been there. My last few trips I thought I found a solution by bringing a tripod with a remote however the museums did not allow selfie stickes or tripods so we had to leave it in the locker room. We have tried to set up the tripod outside however we didn’t feel comfortable with leaving our iphones out of reach when we were in a large crowd (and how do these influencers stop people from walking through your shot?!)

I finally had enough so I decided the best souvenir (and value) is booking a family photo shoot so I have photos of all us which I will cherish forever! I wish I could hire our friend and talented photographer Lee to follow us around the world and shoot us (our rad shoot in London) but alas, I am not as wealthy as a Kardashsian. So, I reached out to my friends who may know photographers in Rome that would be available for booking a family shoot. Mostly everyone was out of town because locals tend to skip town during the peak tourist season. I wasn’t having much luck finding someone so I ended looking online and I found a 2 hour walking tour that included a photo shoot.

We started off super early (to beat the crowds) and met two other couples at the Colosseum. It was already boiling hot but our tour guide found some shade to shoot us in. Victoria, our guide and photographer is an American who lived in Rome for several years. She was able to show us famous landmarks from an expat point of view and quickly take some shots during our walk.

The tour was pretty hurried due to the large tour buses arriving so we tried to stay ahead of the big tour groups, we had some good spots all to ourselves.

Our reward for getting up so early was seeing the Roman forums without the tourists, huzzah!










Our advice for posing for photos, don’t forget to let your silly side shine. I have so many photos of us in the same boring pose so I try to think of something different or pretend like we are in a magazine photo shoot. We do our best to capture the I’m a character in a Wes Anderson film aesthetic.


I can’t believe how far we walked in just one hour. Don’t forget to pack wet wipes, we were so hot and sweaty but the wipes kept us from looking like we were melting, I literally was soaked!

Some souvenirs are necessary, such as that Roma fan. Luckily we stopped at a cafe for some juice to keep us hydrated.

Another tip I have is to request candids but also be aware of the camera. I like the observational photos as much I like the posed ones because it shows us in the moment.

Grazie Victoria! We really enjoyed talking to her and sharing our expat annoyances and joys. Even though there was two other couples in our group she made us feel like we had her full attention. She also got our photos back to us in a week which is record time! I found her to be a great bargain but unfortunately due to Covid-19, I don’t see her actively online.

There are a few photography websites that you can find a photographer to book online:

Flytographer
Airbnb Experiences

I recommend to start by asking friends if they know someone because it’s easier when you find a photographer who doesn’t normally do tourist shoots. My experience has been they are less likely to take you to popular tourist locations and pose you in a generic (like school picture day) poses. I like finding someone that has a more edgier, artsy style (like Lee!!) Sometimes you have no choice because you want those to shoot at those landmarks but if we have been to a location before we tend to skip the main attractions and find a less crowded part of town. For example, I wouldn’t encourage anyone visiting Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower/Trocadero for photos. It’s packed with tourists and souvenir vendors so if you are coveting the perfect shot with the iron lady, head around the corner to rue de Buenos-Ayres and hope you don’t have too many cars parked on the street (again always go early!).

Of course when I went it was rainy and every car in Paris had to drive past when I was trying to get a photo.

Bon Chance!

The Best Way to Tour Rome (during peak tourist season)

Rome is a huge metropolis and the public transportation isn’t as efficient as other cities we have visited. That being said, we found an excellent way to see the city while avoiding the hordes of tourists. We began our day early and was surprised that it was already unbearably hot outside. We waited for a bus to take us into the east side of town and it took forever to arrive. I was already missing the convenience of French bus stops, that have electronic boards which tell you when the next bus will arrive. It was also annoying that we didn’t have any change on hand to pay for bus tickets so we just gave the driver €5 and he smugly kept the change. We couldn’t order an Uber because the city only has Uber Black service which is insanely expensive so hot and dirty city bus it was. I have always dreamed of renting a pastel pink Vespa scooter with a matching pink helmet to tour the city pretending like I am Audrey Hepburn’s character in Roman Holiday. So I had the brilliant idea to book a scooter tour for our family. It took almost an hour just to find the scooter rental company as we kept getting sidetracked by the scenery.

Alas, my dream riding around Rome in a pretty, pink vintage scooter were dashed when I saw these red and black scooters lined up outside. Fine, I could improvise with bright red only because it matched my earrings and lipstick. I was ready to hit the road until the guy leading our scooter tour asked us, “So you know how to drive a manual transmission, right?” Uh, err, no absolutely not! He also asked if we had previous experience driving a scooter in city traffic. Now technically, I drove my Mom’s 4-wheeler in the desert once and that ended in me crashing into a cactus while wearing flip flops, so admittedly, not a ton of experience. He laughed and said you think you’re going to drive a scooter in this city (in heavy bumper-to-scooter traffic everywhere). We all agreed, we didn’t want to die that day despite my further disappointment. The guy at the scooter rental place gave me our only other option…take a guided three person Vespa tour. Bravo!!

The downside was the driver wouldn’t arrive for a few hours. We decided to walk around the neighborhood and find some lunch and gelato while we waited.

We were told to check out one of the city’s best gelato places Giovanni Fassi but we arrived before they opened. I was surprised that people were lining up for this place but luckily we were first in the door.

Holy Cow! The gelato was insanely good. Liv wanted another one but we promised to get some after our tour. The place had 1960’s Wes Anderson vibes. We headed back over to the scooter rental place and met our tour guide.

Our guide/driver, Georgio, was amazing! He was so knowledgeable and fun. He asked us what we wanted to see and put together a comprehensive tour of Rome in three hours.

He was smitten with Lulu!

I was elated that we didn’t opt for the crazy scooter ride. We chilled in the Vespa and soaked in the breeze as we drove past poor, miserably-hot tourists walking by.

Georgio made stops at each site and gave an in-depth explanation of the history of the location from the perspective of a bonafide Roman. We learned so much!

Basic bitch photo but I was so upset about the construction below. Why am I always cursed?!

The time seemed to fly by. Georgio even swung by the Trevi fountain to attempt another photo but it was the middle of the day and swarmed with people.

We ended our tour by driving past the infamous Spanish Steps and it was so crowded I couldn’t even recognize them!

If you visit Rome and want to book the Vespa tour please request Georgio, he is the best!

My Vespa Tours

We hugged Georgio and said ciao. I had to bite the bullet and ordered an expensive Uber Black to drive us to the other side of town. I knew I wouldn’t survive the city bus in that heat at that time of day. As we were basking in the air conditioned Uber, I totally kicked myself for forgetting to take a photo with all of us and Georgio, boo! 🙁

Well, I was immediately cheered up when we arrived at our next destination.

I was super excited to visit the Galleria Borghese. I followed the museum on Instagram prior to our trip and it didn’t look real in photos. I was absolutely blown away by the vivid colors and the 3-D painted characters.

I highly recommend visiting the Gallery Borghese even though it’s a bit outside of the city center. It was really nice to stroll through the tree-lined gardens after spending most of the day in the crowded, busy city.

We ended our day with another mediocre meal near our Airbnb. I was so tired and hungry I can’t recall what we had but you can guess it was some sort of generic pasta…when in Rome.

Decorating a Parisian apartment with color!

Coucou,

It has been awhile since I have posted an update on our Parisian apartment. I have gotten so many compliments from visitors who tell me that our place looks so LA. Yet, I didn’t plan to go for a Californian vibe intentionally but I suppose you can’t take the LA outta ya girl.

Searching for an apartment in Paris can be as competitive as getting into an Ivy League university. There is so much demand and very few places available within an affordable price range so many people have to make compromises when apartment hunting. We were in the same boat so when we saw our place, I had to look past the messy girl who was living here at the time. We needed a place fast and we were only planning to lease for one year so we weren’t too picky over minor details. For example, I really wanted our place to have ornate crown molding and a quintessentially French chandelier. Well, the light fixtures in our place are pretty much non existent and we have basic crown molding with just the tiniest amount of French charm for me to be happy. I asked our property manager if they had time to paint a fresh coat of white but they said we could paint it ourselves, at our own expense. Another reason we chose our place (besides the location and the size) was it came fully furnished.

I should say I feel very lucky to even have white-ish walls because many apartments we looked at were very orange, red and lime green. We were happy we didn’t have to spend a fortune on basic pieces of furniture and I can’t believe the Maison Chateau Rouge x Monoprix home line released the same week we moved into our place. I bought many accessories to add a much needed punch of color. I love the light we get from our gorgeous floor to ceiling windows and the layout works perfectly for our family of three. Antz and I still can’t believe we got this place in our dream location!

There are two choices when renting in Paris, furnished or unfurnished. The latter is not what you may be used to in the US. An unfurnished apartment means there is no kitchen. In most cases that means no sink, no appliances and no cabinetry. Oui, you will find an empty room with pipes coming out of the wall. However, a furnished apartment is equipped with everything you would need down to your dishes, forks, spoons and knives. Our apartment had obviously been rented by students due to the choice of furniture and the wear and tear of the inventory. We happened to end up with some Asian style pieces that I would never in a million years choose for our place but I knew I could tolerate it for a short term stay. We moved in under the impression it would only be for a year and then we would move back in our lovely, newly renovated house in LA. So we packed away a majority of their kitchen items and the linens and bought our own basics from good ole’ Ikea. If I knew we would be staying here permanently from the start, I would have invested in higher quality dishes and cookware but we shipped as much of our things from LA as we could fit in a shipping pod, what we bought is fine. Poor Antz had to account for hundreds of items from a list I sent him and sort them by what to ship to Paris, what to store at my Mom’s house in California and what to sell or donate. When it got down to the wire, not everything I wanted made it to Paris (I really wish our Christmas decorations were shipped but we really have no room to store them) and more items ended up being donated than I would have liked but he had such a huge undertaking, I can’t complain about the results. Thanks sweetheart!

So our pod shipped from LA in September and didn’t arrive here in Paris until late January. It took the longest around-the-world journey but we are grateful it arrived in relatively great shape. During the months of waiting, I would have panic attacks that our ship would be invaded by pirates (they still exist right?) or a giant rogue wave would knock our container off the ship. I know, I watch too many movies but my life’s precious treasures were packed in that box so I imagined the worst case scenario. Only two pieces were damaged during the move.

I still don’t know how Antz and I managed to unload 60 boxes into our place in less than an hour but I will admit that I could have kissed our building’s elevator that day.

So, after a year of living practically out of suitcases and decorating our apartment without spending much money, we were finally able to start making the place more like our permanent home. I relied on covering the bad furniture with as many colorful textiles and accessories as I could.

Our apartment was quite bare bones on the day we moved in. There was an inventory of all the items and furniture the apartment came with. I was so giddy about moving into our version of a Parisian pied-à-terre, I barely paid any attention to the condition of their old stuff. As soon as the rental company girls left I literally threw all the stuff into boxes and shoved it into our only tiny closet.

We went from having three closets and a two car garage to this one walk-in closet for all our storage. It’s a miracle we are able to figure out where to put everything. When we first moved in, we could tell the last tenants did not clean at all. Guys, I’m not even joking there was a cheap TV that wasn’t plugged in attached to a freaking VCR! They also had a Sony radio set up that did not work. Too bad I didn’t bring my old CD collection with me.

I can’t stand the couch that our place came with but that’s what you get with a furnished apartment. I threw some blankets and pillows over it and try to ignore it’s existence. The bare walls made me a little crazy so I put up my Rifle Paper Co banner just for something to look at. I had to use the hooks that were already in the wall so it says “jolie maison” which means pretty house.

Our hallway/breakfast bar is a convenient space for Liv to do her homework and a crafting area but there isn’t much I could do with those contemporary stools. They are not very comfortable but nothing else really fits in the awkward space and if I replace them I would have to leave the new stools in the apartment when we move.

The showerhead in the bathroom was broken. There is no hope for this tiny bathroom. We scrub it clean as best we can and I added a few bins to store my hair and beauty products. The only redeeming quality it has is the towel rack which is lovely in the winter.

It still hasn’t been properly repaired but at least Antz found a way to prop it up so we don’t have to hold the showerhead (when I see bathrooms with a handheld shower, I’m always curious to how they manage to bathe like that). I was super annoyed that whoever designed the tile in the bathroom for chosing a beige grout that appears to look dirty. I bought a cool shower curtain from Etsy but we can’t figure out how to install a curtain rod around that useless glass partition. I also couldn’t find any bleach to properly scrub and sanitize the tiny bathroom. We even had a maid come in to clean but this room needs a complete renovation.

Our living room is comfy spot (not you couch!) Lola loves to sunbathe next to the windows. I am so happy Antz brought some of his artwork because it really transforms the space. The only two pieces of furniture we shipped was our gray armchair and a bedside table. Our books are everywhere but I don’t mind books as clutter. It gives us a reason to look at them more.

The kitchen is the most eifficient room of the apartment. We are happy that we were able to fit most of my dishes and kitchen stuff in the little space. Antz brought my crockpot and waffle maker from LA but we have only used the waffle maker so far. I’m scared to plug in the crockpot with an American adaptor because… fire. I bought the cutest Smeg tea kettle for Christmas although Liv is the only regular tea drinker in the family. Our egg rug is still holding on almost fourteen years later.

I will say, the best investment we made in our place was replacing the washing machine. I can’t wrap my head around the French people who dry their clothes on racks. We had to do it for a few months and I almost went crazy with having to iron everything and our towels would never fully dry. We spent almost €40 everytime we went to the laundromat to dry our clothes. We bought a dual washer/dryer and although it takes forever (the French do not like wasting too much water so every appliance is eco-friendly) it’s a million times better than going to the laundromat.

Antz works in an office space in Liv’s room which is great because if he has a work call, he closes the French doors and shuts the curtains. We were lucky that the last tenant left an office chair so we didn’t have to buy a new one.

Here is the before and after of Liv’s room. This was my favorite room to decorate. Eventually I want to change out the mirror to a more French style.

Her room looked like this for the first year before we got our container from Los Angeles. Now her room looks like this. All the colors!!

It was easy to inject color in Liv’s room. We bought some yarn from the lovely craft supply store La Droguerie and Antz and Liv made these colorful pom poms for her Ikea lamp shade. The Thundercat figures are from Antz office, he has many more toys and collectibles but there was no space to display them here so they are in our storage shed at my Mom’s. We stacked her books in front of her fireplace because we have no bookshelf space. I bought her blanket from Anthropologie last Christmas. It was drama getting that package and the import fees were insane but I think totally worth it. I was happy to replace the broken bedside table with a white table from Ikea that just fit the tight space. Now her Miffy lamp has a home. Her grandma sent some gifts last Christmas and the whale nightlight fits right in.

I bought this gumball rack from Domino when we still lived in LA but I never had enough wall space to use it. It fit perfectly next to her armoire and she has a place for her cute bags.

There wasn’t a curtain in Liv’s room so I used my beloved Rifle Paper Co tablecloth and it has worked well for the past two years. The owl lamp is from Ikea. Olivia is going through a Japanese kawaii phase (check out her tiktok) so she has requested a makeover of her room for her birthday this year. I have started ordering new bedding/accessories and I’m excited to give her room a new, fun look. There is a shop here called Hema that has really affordable items.

Our bedroom has made a big color change too. I wasn’t able to pack to all my bedding from our house in LA so I have been taking advantage of the soldes (sales in January) from my favorite shop in Paris, Merci. I want every color of the rainbow in their linens.

I liked the minimalist design of our bedroom at first, however, not having a headboard wasn’t comfortable. We also lacked storage. I couldn’t take the empty walls and shelves much longer. I ordered a new bed frame that has storage inside to hold all my bedding and a larger mattress.

I am not an interior designer, I just like to be surrounded by pretty things. I have so many challenges like hiding Lola’s huge litterbox or finding places to store all our suitcases, so I use bins and crates for everything. I found these adorable, collapsible bins in pastels colors.

These bins now hold my clutch purses, my camera accessories and I got some bigger ones for Liv’s craft supplies and Antz felting wool. I am obsessed with them.

Well, tomorrow is my birthday which also happens to be the first day of spring. We are on day four of a fifteen day quarantine in France so we spent the entire day doing some major spring cleaning. Since we are stuck inside our apartment for another week or so, I put our new spring bedding out and it has cheered me up so much!

Thanks for checking in and I hope everyone stays safe and positive during this tough time.

a tout!

Expat Life: Two Years Abroad

Bonjour,

Today marks our second year living in Paris! It is still surreal that we have packed up our life in Los Angeles and moved into a 700 square foot apartment in beautiful Paris. At the beginning of the year we met with our immigration attorney to apply for a Passport Talent, which is a four year residency card that would allow Antz to work as a freelance artist. Another benefit of this card is we will receive access to French healthcare. The hard part for us is we will start paying French social services (just like the US public programs, the French pension which is similar to social security) which will be 25% of our income. Our long term goal is to apply for a resident card so we have to show proof of paying these taxes anyway. Antz and I will have to take a French verbal and written test so we will have to crank up our studies. We won’t find out if we got the Passport Talent until April so for now I am crossing my fingers and toes and asking for all the good vibes we can get!

In the meanwhile, we are still loving life in Paris. 2020 has been the warmest winter in France so most days are sunny even though we still have to wear our coats and scarves. I don’t think we will get snow but hopefully we will find some during our upcoming trip to Copenhagen for spring break.

My birthday is in a few weeks. I am super stoked because my favorite video game ever Animal Crossing is coming out with a new release on the same day! It’s called New Horizons and it looks so awesome.

I have played Animal Crossing ever since the first one came out on Nintendo GameCube back in the old 1900s!!! I was so bummed when I couldn’t hook up our Nintendo Wii to our computer monitor but we decided not to buy a TV because they actually have an annual tax on TVs in France. We use our iMac computer to stream TV on Sling, Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu and Amazon Prime so we don’t need a telly at the moment. Nintendo is releasing a rad Animal Crossing limited edition Switch so I pre-ordered one for my birthday gift. Liv and I are so excited to play! Let me know if you play too, I will post my friend code on my Instagram. Antz drew a cartoon me with my favorite Animal Crossing villager, cute Bunnie.

Occasionally he takes commissions so message him on Instagram Anthonyconleyart

I asked Antz to weigh in on our two years abroad and this is what he had to say:

✌🏽So two years have passed and these are some pluses and negatives.

😉Our door buzzer works now and it is great! No more running down stairs to open the door.

🤗We’ve discovered bacon exists at Marks & Spencer (a British grocery store).

🎨I am now working from home as a freelance artist which is nice because I can spend more time with the girls.

🤫We are on a path to getting a passport talent but I don’t talk too much about it cause I might jinx it.

😊I’ve been cooking a lot more (he’s an amazing chef!)

👎🏼 Negatives include, we’ll be paying french taxes soon.

👎🏼 Our plumbing in the shower still sucks!

Liv is in her third term of public school. She started in 2nd grade and is now in 4th grade. She loves her school and last week her class started swimming lessons which she really enjoys. I can’t believe California doesn’t offer swimming lessons given we live in such a sunny climate. Every French student learns to swim and that is such a great life skill to have. Extracurricular activities are included in the school curriculum and it is so helpful to no longer have to rush Liv to private swimming lessons and spend hours in traffic. Liv has started a new hobby on weekends, in French it’s called le roller. So many Parisiens skate, I bought her these peach Moxie skates.

We feel like we have a solid daily routine. Antz takes Liv to school and I handle pick up and ballet. We eat at home more than we did our first year which is saving us money. I recently went to an event at The American Library in Paris because a few of my expat friends were talking on a panel about what it’s like to be an expat in Paris as a person of color. It was so enlightening. I was happily surprised to see a crowded room full of Black expats, some who have been living here for decades and some who just arrived for a semester of school. It was cool to meet people who were going through the same challenges I have been through. I also was happy to venture across the river into the 7éme after dark alone. Lucky for me, my friend happened to be there and she took the Metro home with me.

I was so happy to join this illuminating discussion hosted by beautiful, intelligent ladies and I met a lovely reader of my blog 👋

It is so nice to have two whole weeks of school breaks instead of one week we had in LA. We just returned from a road trip in Germany (I’m excited to share a post from our Valentines day soon). Our next trip will be to Copenhagen which I am super excited about. I have always wanted to visit the Scandinavian countries and we are going to drive into Sweden for a day. I have so much planned!

It’s weird how fast these two tumultuous years have gone by. I have become accustomed to living in Paris yet I still don’t speak French fluently and I encounter issues that I have no control over.

Here is my list of great and not-so-great things about living abroad:

  • I feel like I have endless opportunities living in France that I no longer had in Los Angeles. I guess growing up in LA, I feel like I had been there, done that so many times that I got bored. Here, everything feels new and exciting. I still haven’t visited every museum, cafe, shop or park in Paris so there’s always something new to explore. I feel so much inspiration being here. I recently bought these gorgeous art supplies from Paper Fashion that I plan to use this spring when it’s warmer. I rarely draw or paint so this is outside of my comfort zone.
  • I love the freedom from being car-dependant. I occasionally miss my car because of the convenience and especially during colder days I would prefer my heated seats but our lives revolve around walking, public transportation or renting an e-scooter. I don’t miss the traffic or stress of the LA lifestyle. It’s refreshing to walk to Liv’s school and say hello to the guy who repaired my broken necklace, or stop and chat with the local baker. I never had relationships with locals on this level in LA because everyone was in their own busy bubble. There is a sense of take your time here and I notice more camaraderie among strangers because everyone walks. In LA, you spent so much time isolated in your car it wasn’t healthy. I breathe so much better and get more exercise (even though I hate sweating) taking a walk is so beneficial for your psyche.
  • Our finances have completely shifted. In LA, we were homeowners, we had two cars, we paid tuition for an expensive private school and we had to save for a short vacation once a year. Travel is such a priority to my well-being that I was depressed about not being able to travel more often. Now, we don’t have the burden of debt, mortgage or tuition, we are able to afford to travel more frequently. The best ways we can afford to travel are two factors; swapping our apartment and using my credit card points for car rentals. I still can’t believe I booked our flight to Copenhagen for €15 each.
  • We discovered Circus bakery! Their cinnamon buns are life-changing.
  • I wish I could figure out a solution for getting packages in a timely and drama-free way. This is something we Americans take for granted. I have pulled my hair out trying to track down lost packages, waiting weeks (sometimes even months) to get a package from the US. There is no system of accountability (May I speak to your manager only works in America) and the customer service here is close to non-existent. It was more stressful around the holidays because I paid so much money to ensure I would get my packages on-time but Paris had a transportation strike that made things difficult. A few days before Christmas I almost paid a taxi driver to drive me to the UPS facility outside of Paris just to pick up my package. The items were delivered two days after Christmas but I ordered them December 3rd with a arrival guarantee of December 15th. Nothing is on-time here and I’m still adjusting to that.
  • As many friends as we have made here, we spend more time together as a family than before. We really enjoy hanging out together. Liv and I share the same hobbies, we play Pokemon Go, hunt for Invaders and we like going to shops in Paris that sell cute kawaii items. We are already planning Liv’s kawaii themed 10th birthday party because I have learned my lesson and I am ordering all the supplies months in advance.

  • The language barrier, it isn’t really an issue in our daily lives however when it comes to administrative things like dealing with our landlord or visa stuff, it can be a nightmare. Google translate isn’t helpful when I really need to use it. You see, the French language is very idiomatic which can make translating it difficult. Imagine having to read the fine print in a contract written in legal terms. It’s English but I still don’t understand what they mean. All I hear is how adults talk on Charlie Brown cartoons.

    I translated a recent email and was left utterly confused. I get what they are attempting to say but it feels like it’s written by a robot.
Dear users,

No containment measure now applies to people who have stayed in risk areas (northern Italy, China outside Hubei, Iran ...).

Indeed, these stage 1 measures, intended to avoid the entry of the virus into France, are no longer useful according to health authorities as soon as the virus circulates in France. Only returnees from Hubei province or one of the two "clusters" of French territory (Oise and Haute-Savoie) are subject to such measures as a precautionary measure and until further notice.
 
Students living in Creil, Montataire, Nogent sur Oise, Villers Saint Paul, Lamorlaye, Crépy en Valois, Vaumoise, La Croix Saint Ouen and Lagny le Sec are therefore asked not to come to the conservatory until further notice and to inform the tuition department for the reasons for their absence.

These measures obviously apply to conservatory staff.
 
Thank you for your attention and the spirit of responsibility that you will be able to demonstrate alongside us.

The Directorate of Cultural Affairs


I endure this often and it leaves me feeling like a frustrated child. I also find it challenging the way Liv’s school communicates with the parents. I have such limited contact with the staff that I have to use a notebook to send and receive messages. This means Liv has the burden of giving us information from school and you can guess a nine year old isn’t the greatest at remembering things. I feel so out of the loop compared to how overly involved I was in her previous school. We rely on Liv for translating and that can be stressful for her. I feel so grateful that she is so mature and can take on such a task for her immigrant parents.

  • Sometimes I find myself annoyed with the French logic. Now that I’m an expat, I am more aware of cultural differences I never paid attention to before. For example, I observe people set you up for failure here rather than help you succeed and it feels frustrating to fall into these traps. We wanted to sign Liv up for her roller club. We were told by the skate shop to call 48 hours before the class to register. I called them on time and we were told the class was already full and we should have called sooner. Well, I followed the instructions on the class brochure so… sigh! When I signed Liv up for ballet, I asked several times how much would her lessons cost. For me, this is a big factor when I do anything, how much will it cost? Well, turns out the cost is determined by your tax level, ours being tariff 6 out of 10 (which is on the high end) so I had to go to city hall to get a form that proved our tax tariff. Once at the town hall, there was no one available to give me the tax letter. I had to go to another town hall to get it which was really inconvenient. I tried to set up an account online but there was a glitch in the system that no one could help me with. Weeks later, I finally got the tax letter and submitted the form in person. I was told I’ll get a bill in January and they didn’t know how much it will be. This all took place in September. Liv was in ballet class for four months before I even found out how much her classes were! I was relieved to finally get our first bill but I still have no idea how long we will be billed or what any future classes will cost. This is baffling to me but totally normal to French people. There is no real direct answer to questions. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone at times but it’s manageable. Maybe I need to relax and go with the flow more but I am so accustomed to planning ahead and not being so last minute.
My sweet Mom sent us a care package with some fun toys inside 👽
  • Whoopsie! I forgot to update you on how Lola is doing. Grumpy old Lola is content as can be. She sleeps all day and drives me crazy because she’s up all night, meowing and using her litter (which is in our bedroom because it doesn’t fit anywhere else) 😩
    Lola has her own Instagram account now leavemealola she says to please follow. I am looking for a cat hotel to board her during our trip to Copenhagen in April.

Overall, as weird as this may seem, the annoyances are worth it. I know I appreciate simple things more. I encounter more friendly people than not. There are times when I tackle it like a game and I am determined to win the person over. I still am at odds with our apartment manager, she is the hardest nut to crack. I am so proud of our kid for her ability to adapt and thrive in an environment where she is often left to her own devices. I am tremendously grateful for Antz for making sacrifices left and right for us to have this incredible life. He left an amazing job, financial stability, his family and friends to move to this foreign place all to make us happy and if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

So again, thank you to my kind readers who have followed along on this journey with us. We feel supported and in good company. It really warms my heart when someone says to me they read my blog. I love making this connection and I hope to spark the expat fire in you! Throughout all the challenges, we only have this one life to live and I’d rather try and fail then not try at all and never open the possibility of succeeding.

Have a rad day!

Lizzie

When in Rome…

Let me take you back, not just to the summer of 2018 when we took our trip to Rome but to the summer of 1957. There was a young man named Tom Ripley and he had one talent, becoming someone else. If you haven’t gotten the reference by now, The Talented Mr. Ripley, is one of my favorite films, set in dreamy coastal Italy and most notable for its gorgeous cinematography and score by Gabriel Yared.

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If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend it. The cast is fabulous and it’s currently on Netflix. I wish I could time travel and visit Italy during the 1950s. It feels so romantic and stylish, I adore the fashion from the 1950s.

Our Airbnb was just five minutes from the famous Piazza Navona in Rome. We spent our morning searching for locations where the movie was filmed. Little did I know that using my phone to match the photos would make a glare from the sun that annoyed me, but you get the idea. Piazza Navona looks exactly the same from when the film was made twenty years ago. With exception to the giant Apple store advertisement on a building being renovated.

It took all our strength to not jump into this fountain!

We walked to a store and bought some groceries and stopped for a gelato. We could only find a small convenience store so the groceries were limited. Although they had a full olive bar, unfortunately, we don’t eat olives. So many shops sold every variety of pasta you could imagine however our Airbnb had no cookware and I was already burned out on pasta.

We spent the afternoon napping and enjoying the air conditioned bedroom while Antz did some work. Then we forced ourselves to take a walk and grab some dinner. It’s hard to find something good in our neighborhood due to all the obvious tourist traps, and I wanted shrimp fettuccine alfredo so bad. The place we chose looked legit yet had no idea what shrimp alfredo was but agreed to make me fettuccine pasta with shrimp.

So, check out what they served me after waiting 30 minutes in an empty restaurant. I didn’t eat one bite, it was ice cold like they took it out of the freezer and put it on a plate. The visibly irritated waiter tried to offer me something else but I didn’t have the energy to wait and I tipped him anyway. I had been in Rome for less than 24 hours and already had two horrible meals. I just don’t eat well when I travel. I have terrible luck with eating outside of the US. My palette is not at all refined. Don’t worry, I survived Rome on a lemon gelato diet. We took a nice evening stroll and I fell in love with this vintage movie poster shop but we have limited wall space in our apartment, I had to leave empty-handed.

At least I found some decent wine! It was a chill first day and the heat made it difficult to go out during the day. We waited until dark and took a lovely night stroll for more gelato although the temperature remained in the 80s.

It’s hard to be glamorous when you sweat off all your makeup from the humidity. I must admit, visiting Rome in the middle of the summer was not a wise choice. The city was overrun with tourists (imagine the worst stereotypical versions) it was unbearably hot and Rome is really a huge tourist trap, like you can’t walk down the street without guys trying to get you to come eat at their restaurant or buy something from their shop. I don’t like feeling accosted when I’m outside. Well, you live and you learn. I was happy to cross it off our travel list but my next visit to Italy will be during off-season and in a town that is not so popular (dying to go to Sicily!)

How to find the almost-perfect Paris Airbnb rental

Bonjour,

Finding a perfectly charming Parisian rental can be headache-inducing but I’m here to give you tips and what to keep in mind when choosing an Airbnb rental in Paris.

Firstly, you need to think about the city of Paris like a snail’s shell. Each neighborhood is divided into 20 arrondissements in a clockwise spiral starting at the Louvre. Most of the major tourist attractions are located near the Seine river which splits the city in half. The southern side is known as
la rive gauche/the left bank which is home to intellectuals, jazz clubs and writers sipping espresso in cafes (Hemingway is a noteworthy resident). My side of the city, la rive droite/the right bank is considered the chic, party side. You will find the Moulin Rouge, high fashion boutiques on Champs-Élysées Boulevard and the bohemians of Montmartre. The further from the center you go, the less tourists (more quiet) and more working-class Parisians there are. This adorable map is helpful when deciding what area you want to stay in.

My first experience renting an Airbnb was our summer vacation in 2014. After giving up on finding a hotel that ticks all my boxes within our budget, I decided to look at rentals online. I liked how easy their website was to navigate and there is a wide selection of rentals. They have accurate photographs and honest reviews. I was able to save my favorite apartments to a wishlist and contact the owner to ask questions. I was a bit disappointed that the first three apartments I wanted weren’t available with kids but I was very happy with the one we ended up renting. Half of the time, it’s sheer luck that you find a nice place that has everything you want.

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On the Airbnb website you can search by location, price and availability. Let me tell you that most apartments in Paris will often come with some kind of trade-off. You will have to put up with something lame in order to get most of your wishlist. Usually a place with a nice view will mean a strenuous flights of stairs. Larger apartments are often found in a part of town that you may not feel comfortable out late at night. I’ve even had to turn down a beautiful two bedroom apartment simply because it was across the street from a sex club. It’s good to check the address or neighborhood on Google maps before you book. You may score a place close to popular landmarks which will certainly mean noisy, obnoxious tourists, possibly a higher crime area (terrorist threats and pickpockets) and lower quality of restaurants. Don’t be too discouraged, Paris has amazing security and a police and military presence is reassuring.

In our case, we didn’t find anything available for two weeks in our ideal location le Marais, (the 3rd/4th arrondissements) but our rental was in walking distance from the the upper 10th arrondissement which was super convenient to the Metro station and we had a lovely, quiet courtyard so we didn’t hear all the street noise.

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The courtyard was quiet and lovely

Here are my recommendations to keep in mind for your search for the almost-perfect Parisian rental:

Stick to your budget.

It’s easy to fall in love with an elaborate pied-à-terre with a sparkly chandelier, and there are plenty of luxury apartments listed on Airbnb but the reality is, besides sleeping, bathing and occasionally eating, you really won’t spend much time in the rental during your vacation. Unless you are staying long-term, I suggest you keep the cost of the rental lower than what it would cost for a hotel per night. In my case I would have paid $299 per night for a hotel and our rental was approx. $150 per night for two weeks. Plus, we saved money cooking our own delicious meals and not having to tip hotel staff. Take note, Airbnb may charge a cleaning fee and a fee for additional guests. I like to introduce myself via message to the host before booking so I can get a feel for how they manage the property.

Who could say no to these happy faces!

Keep in mind during your search to look for a place that is bright, has lots of windows, and preferably not on a ground floor. Most of the apartments are tiny in comparison to American homes, so white paint gives an illusion of a larger space with a sun-filled apartment. High ceiling also help you not feel too claustrophobic.

Renting in Paris, it’s all about trade-offs.

I really wanted classic apartment with herringbone hardwood floors, an elevator in a Haussmann style building but the apartment we chose didn’t have any of those things. However it did have an awesome swing for Olivia, had a modern design, I loved the high ceilings and charming skylights in the loft. Although our place was small, the layout felt spacious and everything was efficiently designed. We wanted a place with a modern kitchen but we didn’t have air conditioning (A/C is rare in Europe) and it was brutally hot during the summer. We ended up leaving our windows open at night for a breeze but Liv and I were bitten by mosquitos everyday. We were pleasantly surprised how much we liked the area we stayed in. Normally, I would have chosen a place near the center of Paris but staying further out allowed us to shop and dine where locals go and that is how we found the absolute best rotisserie chicken in Paris. Find a place that has something you love but be prepared to give up something else in exchange for it.

Beware of dated apartments.

I know it’s hard to resist the 19th century rustic charm of Parisian apartments but the older the rental, the less amenities you will have. Things we take for granted such as a microwave, a dryer (French people love to use hangers to dry clothes), decent water pressure in the shower, WC (water closets) which are tiny closets with a toilet inside. Those gorgeous herringbone wood floors you may covet may be creaky and noisy and may be annoying hearing your neighbors. I fell in love with a few chic, traditionally rustic Parisian apartments during my search but I had to face the reality that staying in a period apartment with a three year old would have been a headache when she couldn’t resist touching the fragile antiques. We knew we wouldn’t be comfortable lounging around on older furniture. Plus laundromats are expensive and a bummer.

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I almost rented this rustic apartment with the tiniest kitchen ever and five flights of stairs!

Renting a place with small children can be tricky. Some rentals have a strict no children under 12 policy while others may charge more for kids. Since Liv was three years old when were Airbnb hunting, we made a list of kid-friendly must-haves and list of would be lovely. I wouldn’t consider any places that didn’t have white painted walls, I also ruled out any rental with longer than a five minute walk to the Metro. I didn’t want too many stairs because we had so much luggage and I worried about our kid falling on the stairs. It turned out not to be a deal-breaker because Olivia loved the bath.

We showed Liv how to scoot down the steep loft stairs.

Be flexible about the location.

My favorite neighborhoods in Paris are le Marais 3rd and 4th arrondissement, and more recently, the 10th arrondissement near the beautiful Canal Saint Martin. It feels like a more authentic Paris with lots of cool boutiques, trendy restaurants and art galleries without the annoying tourists traps. Although just like LA, the cooler the location, the smaller and more expensive the rentals are (equivalent to Venice beach). There is also a pickpocketing issue throughout the city so always be aware of your bags. There really is no bad part of Paris, the further you are from the Seine the longer the walk, but you can always take the Metro or bus. Like any major city there is crime but it’s not as bad as big cities in the US, and I am a firm believer in not going out with my passport (unless I need it) or large amounts of cash. It’s also a good travel hack to keep a copy of your passport, drivers license on your cell phone and an emergency credit card hidden in your luggage (in your shoe) or somewhere safe.

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We loved buying fresh croissants every morning from the Patisserie on the corner.

If you don’t mind a smaller place, always choose the better location. Become friendly with your local baker, butcher, florist and fruit stand vendors. After a few days, we felt right at home in our Airbnb and even knew some people in our neighborhood by name. Liv made friend’s with our neighbor’s French bulldog.

Happy Airbnb hunting! I’m happy to answer any questions about the places we have rented. Do you have any Airbnb tips or hacks? Please share in the comments below!

Lizzie

20 Rad Things to do/explore/eat in Paris (with kids!)

Bonjour,

My sweet friend Karilyn who is a travel blogger at No Back Home, asked me to share my top twenty things to do in Paris with kids. Firstly, I’d like to dissuade the notion that traveling with kids can be a bummer. Non! If you are planning for a horrible time, you will end up miserable but prep yourself in advance for those unexpected meltdowns and keep these tips up your sleeve and you’ll be asking yourself why didn’t we travel with our kids sooner?

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We got Liv’s first passport when she was three, now she is nine, she has traveled to twelve countries, far more than Antz and I travelled by her age! So, let me help you make your traveling with kids blues fade away by following my guide to Paris.

I don’t travel anywhere without these must-haves:

  • Multi-function backpack – I cannot walk around all day with a purse. It never works for me, I carry too much stuff and I love to be hands-free so I carry this Goodordering backpack/tote. This has been my go-to travel bag for two years now. It has padded straps so it doesn’t hurt my shoulders and I love the extra pockets in the front to hold tickets and extra camera batteries. I use the side pockets for my water bottle and umbrella which you will read more about below. Invest in a reliable travel bag! I’ve seen too many Mom’s struggling with bulky diaper bags and flimsy purses.

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  • Anti-bacterial Wipes – Always handy with kids, I’m not a germaphobe but public spaces can be gross, so it’s always wise to have these on you for wiping ice cream filled faces.
  • A scarf – I have used a scarf as a picnic blanket in the park, to wrap my hair up on a windy day and covered myself up when visiting a church out of respect. I have this lightweight one from J.Crew.
  • Water bottle – There are lovely public water fountains all over Paris. Having a water bottle is essential to surviving a long day in Paris with kids.

  • Cell phone chargers – I have one for each of us because we play Pokemon Go, the Flash Invaders app and taking photos quickly drains our battery power. This one works great. Bonus: If you are an Invader fan, check out my Instagram stories.
  • Kids Headphones – If you are planning a long road trip, these are a necessity! Now that Liv is older, she prefers to listen to her own music and we can crank our old people tunes without any side-eyes from her. Plus I rather use my own headphones during guided tours than use the cheap ones they give you. Liv uses these.

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  • Snacks! – This one is a must-have for kids. Liv gets cranky when she’s hungry and Parisian restaurants close from 3pm – 7pm so I always have apples, nuts or granola in my backpack.
  • Small, travel size umbrella – I strongly recommend bringing an umbrella, even during the summer, the sky has been known to suddenly start pouring and it’s so frequent you will be happier you had it than not.
  • Backpack for your little one – I always let Liv pack a bag with her camera, a few books for long rides, her special lip gloss, a few small toys and her phone and charger. It makes her feel like she’s a big kid having her own things to bring when we travel. She has a Fjallraven Kanken backpack which was expensive but she’s had it for going on five years now.

  • I bought Liv her own instant camera and it has been a game changer for our trips. She loves playing photographer and it helps keep her busy when we are at museums or art galleries when she would normally run wild.
  • A retractable selfie stick – This one may be controversial. I really hate seeing these sticks all over touristy landmarks however, too many times I have ended up with no family photos or blurry, horrible photos taken by a stranger so I have given in to the selfie stick peer-pressure. This one is strongly recommended by my friend Kelly, who used it during her three month sabbatical while traveling solo. It has a built-in tripod and a remote. Just be aware most popular museums do no allow tripods or selfie-sticks.

Please keep in mind, you must say “Bonjour” when entering a business, to the bus driver or before speaking to any Parisian, not speaking first is considered rude. It’s always a good habit to teach your little ones how to say Hello, Goodbye and Thank you in the language of the country you are traveling to.

Okay, now that you are all prepped and ready to go, here’s the first stop.

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    1. Metro station
      (any Metro station)

      You may think walking is the best way to get around Paris but the city is huge and little feet get tired fast. If you pop into any Metro station you can buy a book of 10 tickets (called a carnet) which can be used on the trains and buses. I prefer taking a bus around the city so you can sitesee and enjoy a relaxing ride to your destination. The French public transportation is very easy to navigate and convenient. They even have the arrival times posted on most bus stops. Believe me, you will be doing plenty of walking later.

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    2. Jardin des Tuileries
      Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris

      This is the Parisian equivalent to Central Park, located near the Louvre museum. Here you will find something for all ages. Playgrounds and sculptures are scattered throughout the impeccably manicured tree lined paths. During the summer and winter months there is a fun fair with games and carnival rides. You will find a carousel, snack stands, a puppet theater and my daughter’s favorite, the trampolines! They cost a few euros for 15 minutes of jumping so make sure you have cash on you.

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      The museum de l’Orangerie is located in the south end of the garden which houses the impressive Claude Monet Water Lilies.

    3. Jardin du Luxembourg
      6eme arrondissement
      Closes at 4:30 pm during the winter months

      This is another popular park, it’s massive and lovely. There’s so much to see here you can easily spend a whole afternoon there! The most fun thing for kids is renting a sailboat and spending 30 minutes playing captain of the sea. Don’t worry, I am referring to a small toy boat and you get a stick to launch it into a lake. Each boat has a different country flag so be sure to choose one that you can tell you little one about.

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      Liv chose Mexico which is where her Grandmother Maria was born. There are pony rides, ice cream vendors and stunning gardens, please be aware, you cannot walk on the grass here and you will get whistled at by security if you do!

    4. Try the snails at Cafe Charlot
      38 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris
      7 am – 2 am

      I know, your kids are probably like mine and will only eat buttered pasta or chicken fingers but I dare you to test their taste buds by ordering escargot at this trendy cafe in the Marais. Our kid refused to try them until we moved here, then she discovered all her French friends ate them, now she loves them. It is open all day, everyday (which is rare) and the waiters are very friendly towards Americans. I tend to opt for an early dinner so we are dining before the restaurant gets too busy and there isn’t much room for drama. Plus I like to get the best table for photos, of course. Be sure to grab a seat inside if you don’t want to be near the smokers and order a Saint Germain cocktail like the cool Parisians do.

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    5. Cité des sciences et de l’industrie/City of Science & Industry
      30 Avenue Corentin Cariou, 75019 Paris

      If your kid is a science geek like mine, this place is for them. There is a science museum, exploratorium, IMAX movie theater and VR experience. The entire area is perfect for kids with a park, boat rides on the canals and a small carnival. Try to go during the week so it’s less crowded.

    6. See the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night!
      Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris

      It is a no-brainer if you come to Paris you must see the incredible Tour Eiffel! Yet, I don’t want you to miss the nightly sparkle of the tower. There are always large crowds at the tower and the adjacent Trocadero but much less in the evening. Please note, you can no longer go underneath the tower without going through a long security check line so plan to be there ahead of time. The tower sparkles from sunset every hour until 1 am, it’s magical.

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    7. Princess Crepe
      3 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris

      What is better than a Parisian crepe? A Harajuku/Japanese crepe! This tiny place is nestled in the Marais and often has a line of people outside. Try the cheesecake and strawberries crepe, you’ll love it. Definitely Olivia approved.

    8. Disneyland Paris
      Boulevard de Parc, 77700 Coupvray

      Liv insisted I add the happiest place on Earth to this list. I will say, I adore Disneyland and it is much less crowded than the one in California. We take the RER A train from Chatelet/Les Halles station which takes about an hour to arrive at the Disneyland station. They have most of the same rides as the US Disneyland but with a European flair. Jack Sparrow charmingly speaks French on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. There is a Queen of Hearts labyrinth maze. I have heard they even have a pineapple whip (similar to Dole Whip) but it’s only available during the summer. The lines are much shorter and there is a seperate Walt Disney Studios park that is very cool.

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    9. Montmartre Village/the majestic Sacre-Coeur Basilica
      1 Parvis du Sacré-Cœur, 75018 Paris

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      Montmartre is arguably the most well-known quarter in Paris. Kids will enjoy taking the funicular up the hill. If you look to the right of the church, you will see a small fence at the bottom of the stairs, you can take this fun photo (slightly tilted) so it looks like the houses are sinking.

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      Then walk around the street to your left past the funicular, at the corner you will catch a glance of the Eiffel Tower. Keeping walking up the hill and you will arrive in Montmartre village. There you can buy tickets for a ride on the Petit Train de Montmartre which will take you on a tour of the area. I highly recommend it.

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      Skip the souvenir shops in the village and walk towards square Jehan Rictus to check out the Mur des Je’taime (Wall of I love you).

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      Afterwards, you can have an unusual dinner experience at…

    10. Le Refuge des Fondus
      17 Rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Paris
      Opens at 7pm (no reservations)

      Due to a heavy wine glass tax, this tiny restaurant now serves all drinks in baby bottles. There are two items on the menu; fondue and meat all served with skewers. This place is a total tourist trap that no locals would ever be seen in, but it is such a blast! The table seating is family style so people have to climb over the tables to be seated along the benches. The staff are notoriously mean and rude but I was somehow able to win ours over. He gifted us with a few baby bottles to take as souvenirs.

    11. Angelina
      226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
      10 am – 6 pm

      This place is a major tourist attraction but it is worth the wait. Located across the street from Jardin des Tuileries, it is a bakery that specializes in its signature, decadent, hot chocolate. I was so surprised to find out they also have white hot chocolate which is equally good, and I want some now!

    12. The Natural History Museum
      57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris

      Every town has one and Paris is no exception. There is a fascinating exhibit of the kingdom of animals on the second floor of this vast museum. In another building is Liv’s favorite, gems and minerals. It reminds me of the Natural History museum in Los Angeles and is definitely worth spending the day. It is located in the garden of plants which is especially pretty during the spring. Make sure to stop at the Dodo Manège carousel which has animals that are sadly all now endangered or extinct. There is also a zoo within the jardin des plantes but I recommend the next zoo.

    13. Parc Zoologique de Paris
      Avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris

      This zoo is located in the 12eme arrondissement on the outskirts of Paris in the enormous bois des Vincennes. I had low expectations for Parc Zoologique because in my opinion, there is no better zoo than the San Diego zoo, so I was delighted to see animals I have never seen in person before. LIKE A SLOTH! I could have stayed there all day watching this sweet guy move in slow motion. We went on a very hot day so we had to keep moving. Antz took a photo of a spider bigger than my hand but I won’t subject you to that nightmare. Kids will definitely love the animal feedings so be sure to check the schedule.

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    14. Choose your own Adventure
      Sports Saber League
      46 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 Paris

      This one is perfect for days you are feeling burnt out on museums and crowds. We like to ask Liv if she could pick one thing to do, what would it be? She was asking about fencing for awhile but the classes were the same day and time as her ballet so I found a similar alternative, Star Wars LightSaber fencing. There is a beginners class on Saturdays and they provide you with a lightsaber if you didn’t pack yours. Antz and Liv did it for two hours and loved it. It’s nice to ask your kids what they want to do because you may find something you wouldn’t have thought to do.

    15. Sip mulled cider at the Christmas Market
      Tuileries Christmas Market
      Marche de Noel La Defense (the biggest one in Paris)

      There are several markets throughout Paris that are open during the holidays. I have only been to two, La Defense and Jardin des Tuileries, but there are several within the city. There are booths like a farmers market selling Christmas homemade goods, gifts and food. There are raclette booths which are huge wheels of gooey cheese that are melted and dripped onto bread. The market at the Tuileries has rides and an ice skating rink. It’s a must do if you are in Paris during the holidays. Mamma’s be sure to try the hot wine “vin chaud“, it’s mind-blowingly good.