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.

Image result for the talented mr ripley

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.

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.

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’m on vacation. I have terrible luck with eating outside of the US. Don’t worry, I survived on an all lemon gelato diet. I loved this vintage movie poster shop but we have limited wall space in our apartment.

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!)

Advertisements

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.

82935-img_4928

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.

1103c-dsc_1330
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.

f04d4-rustic2bapartment

 

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.

7f578-dsc_1358
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

Summer Roman Holiday

I can not believe it took me over 40 years to finally visit the amazing city of Rome! Antz and I traveled to Venice, Italy all the way back in prehistoric times of 1997. We didn’t even have cell phones or digital cameras back then. So, this trip was long overdue. We took the train from lovely, quiet Turino to bustling, crowded Rome in the evening.

As per usual on long train rides, I edit my photos, Liv snacks and reads and Antz plays on his phone or draws. We didn’t get a carrefour which is four seats facing each other but this seating was fine.

IMG_2687Mon Ami Paree intro post-14
IMG_9406

It was tricky finding our way out from Roma Termini, which is enormous. My phone didn’t have service inside the terminal so we just guessed which direction to walk. The real side of traveling is dealing with the hot, overwhelming crowds and the frustration of navigating a new city. I try not to let it get the best of me but I am so much happier when I have a pre-booked car waiting for us or I can just call an Uber. Once I got service, we discovered that only Uber Black cars were available which is too expensive, so we walked in the dark to the bus stop.

IMG_9417
It was too damn hot to be lost. When the bun goes up, it’s serious business time.

IMG_2674

Our Airbnb was very cute, perfectly located near the famous Piazza Navona, had an elevator (we were on the top floor), an awesome balcony overlooking the square and AIR CONDITIONING in the bedroom! We were so happy in the apartment, since we had a late arrival my photos are pretty bad. I love a sexy wood ceiling.

Roma Edits-2DSC_1098

IMG_2742

We were starving so we headed to the first pizzeria that looked the least crowded. I must say that for Italy being the pasta capital of the world, they really have terrible tourist trap restaurants all over Rome. You will not find anything impressive near the city center. The food wasn’t great but we were so tired and hungry, who cares.

Rome edits-2IMG_2760

It was midnight by the time we finished eating so I thought it would be a good idea to check out the Trevi fountain since the crowds would have died down by then. We walked past some boring old buildings and not at all special landmarks that have existed since the time of antiquity, no big deal.

Ciao sweaty Lizzie!

Well, as you can see there is no perfect time to walk around Rome. It was still crowded and 90 degrees at midnight. Be we are in Roooooommmaaa!

IMG_9461

There she is folks… the Trevi fountain in all its glory.

It’s almost impossible to get a shot without someone in it at this fountain. The ground is covered in trash and you feel like you will get pickpocketed but we waited and found someone who looked trustworthy to get this shot. I hate to say it, this place is overrated. It felt artificial, like Las Vegas but dirtier. I won’t say to skip it but keep your expectations low.

DSC_1164

I am proud of this shot because I had to crop out so many heads and selfie sticks.

a864a64a-6419-426a-9a2f-2d1f08fe3516-1_hd.original.jpg

Despite my poor reviews, the fountain is extraordinarily beautiful and full of coins (the money is collected daily and supposedly donated to poor charities).

Rome edits-4

Lesson learned, no late night siteseeing after a long day of traveling, we were all cranky and my quest for the “perfect” family shot was in vain. We called it a night and happily went to bed with the air conditioner cranked on high.

DSC_1109

Ciao Rome!

Off to Torino, Italy

We landed back from Nice to Paris with only 48 hours to sleep, do some laundry and re-pack our suitcases, we hopped on a train at 5 am to the small town of Torino, northern Italy.

torino tram Edits

Why did I choose to visit Turin? (Torino in Italian) Well, I was planning a summer trip to Rome but I discovered most of the trains were sold out of first class seats and it only was a five and half hour ride to Turin versus a grueling eleven hour ride to Rome. Then I found the cutest Airbnb rental for less than €100 for two nights!  I knew it was worth spending a few days in a smaller town before our week in Rome.

think
This is my favorite meme

We took an Uber to Gare de Lyon at 5 am because it was too early to take the bus or Metro. Our train was scheduled to leave at 6:25 am so I may have overestimated our departure time. Spending an hour waiting, I never paid attention to how beautiful Gare Lyon is.

We had a long wait with no cafes open yet to get breakfast. Lucky for us, there was a piano in the station and talented folks treated us to a rendition of Dr. Dre and Amelie medleys.

We traversed this gorgeous lake somewhere in southeastern France for ages. I need to find out the name of this lake but I am guessing it could be lac d’Annecy. I want to go to there.

Torino Edits-9FullSizeRender-2

We arrived at the Torino Porta Susa train station before noon. Let me say how much I appreciate a clean, not too crowded, easy to navigate train station like this one. We couldn’t use Uber so we walked to our Airbnb. It was unbearably hot so after 20 minutes, I was drenched and feeling grumpy. However, my mood lightened as we passed the beautiful buildings and quiet streets.

The city is so classic Italian and charming but also terribly hot. I was so relieved when we made it to our Airbnb and found an elevator in the lobby. It’s such a luxury in European buildings.

IMG_9217

That stained glass window was bellissimo! The street we stayed on was quiet in comparison to our lively street in Paris. I am sure Italians take siesta hour very seriously.

Wow, we actually had to use an old skeleton key, so delightful! Our apartment was small but splendid. It had the perfect mix of modern and old-world. I adore the stain glass window and arched ceiling.

IMG_9260
IMG_E9252

I loved the balcony (although it was too hot to hang out there) but lovely breezes.

Torino Edits-12
IMG_9244

The bedroom had this lovely, ancient painted ceiling.

DSC_0837DSC_0838

IMG_9248

IMG_2588

It’s always weird to me that most homes in Italy have a bidet. I honestly never used one. Someone is going to have to show me a tutorial, I have so many questions!

Our Airbnb host was super cool, he gave Antz an ice cold beer upon our arrival.

IMG_9253

We needed lunch and gelato right away so we walked to the tram and headed to Old Town.

DSC_0849

I love the curtains for shade on the balconies. Torino is so lovely, all I was missing was a convertible Fiat 500 like this beauty.

fiat pop 500

I really need to learn how to drive a manual transmission! I would drive this adorable car in a heartbeat if I fit inside.

Torino Edits-10

Torino Edits-13

Did I walk into the 1950s? Look how cute the street lamps are!

Balcony goals!

IMG_2556

Prego Antz!

I can’t believe how incredibly beautiful this pharmacy is. I saw it on Pinterest and had no idea what the address was but it was easy to find.

Torino Edits-7IMG_9285
IMG_2558
Italy has my heart with this Accidentally Wes Anderson signage.

Liv got peach, Antz got chocolate chip and I tried cantaloup. I can’t get enough Italian gelato. Ice cream is mandatory several times per day in the Italian summer heat.

So of course we arrived during the awkward afternoon time of 3 pm – 7 pm when most restaurants were closed. We walked for hours looking for anything open but we ending up having to wait hours before 7pm. I don’t know how to time our travels so that we don’t end up starving in the middle of the day but it always seems to happen. We stocked up on some water and fruit from a convenience store and went back to our Airbnb for a nap before dinner.

Guess who overslept?! We slept right through dinner so we were starving the next morning.

Torino Edits-24

Believe it or not, this was the first time the three of us brushed our teeth together at the same time. We all can’t fit together in our teeny bathroom in our apartment in Paris.

IMG_9385

Thank goodness we found a cafe that was open but it wasn’t the bacon and pancakes breakfast we were hoping for. We settled for orange juice and pastries.

DSC_0980

We left on a Sunday so most places were closed and it was brutally hot so we took the bus downtown to take some photos of Turin before our afternoon train to Rome. I was playing with the settings on my Nikon but as always, I ended up with blurry shots. D’oh!

Torino Edits-25

Even Lulu was sweating.

I wish we could have figured out how to rent a bike but we proceeded on foot.

IMG_9340

There’s something alluring about telephone booths, I suppose it’s the same appeal as a photobooth. It brings back nostalgia and I love the 1960s vibes. Also, how rad is that green mailbox. I love a good mailbox.

We loved these adorable tram cars. However, they weren’t going in our direction.

Torino Edits-8
DSC_0942

We saw this roof in the distance so we walked towards it. This building is the Mole Antonelliana which is now a museum of cinema. It’s believed to be the tallest museum in the world however the access to the roof was closed so we just browsed the gift shop.

 

The store selling these paletas saved our lives. It was deathly hot!

IMG_9366

We took the bus back to our Airbnb and walked to the train station. We had a couple of hours to kill before our train so we hung out in a tiny shop with a little fan.

Torino Edits-27

Turin was charming, very quiet, less tourists and slower paced. I wish we were able to try some food but we never seem to time it right. So 48 hours later, we were off to Roma.

Arrivederci Torino!

Our last day in Cote d’azure

We spent the last few days day in Nice on a whirlwind of adventures. Everyday during our vacation, I tried to get photos of the beautiful landmarks in Nice. Yet, with so many tourists, “C’est impossible.” I finally decided to wake up at the crack of dawn (which is difficult for an insomniac like me) to get photos.

Our first stop was Le Negresco hotel. Of course, there were cars parked right in front of the entrance but it’s my unlucky curse. Even without the crowds, I couldn’t capture how beautiful the hotel is. I just love the architectural details.

How sweet was the bellhop? Our next stop was the fountain of the sun in Place Measséna.

Nice Brandi-8

Even at 8 am, it was so hot I wanted to jump in the fountain. We drove over to Castle Hill park, a park on top of a mountain. Lucky for me they have an elevator. We stopped at the I love Nice sign for a cheesy family photo.

IMG_8913Nice editNice Brandi-9

We walked across the street to Castle Hill park. There is an elevator built right into the mountain.

IMG_1854

OMG! This view was everything.

We asked a couple to take our photo with the beautiful coastline of Nice and this is what they delivered. I took their photo and made sure to not get the morning shadow and I took several photos. They took three of the same exact shitty shot. *EYE ROLL*

Nice city-5

I don’t know what to say to describe how pissed I was. I am sure it was the extremely hot weather but we were all in a grumpy mood. Luckily, Antz broke the tension making fun of my attempt to rock a chic French scarf. He said I looked like Bret Micheals from Rock of Love and I couldn’t stop laughing.

IMG_8933

We set off to find the waterfall I heard about and after walking forever we realized we kept passing it.

DSC_0553DSC_0560

I feel like my entire day was an article of expectation vs what you get. We bought popsicles from a snack bar and took Liv to the playground.

We almost died from the sun! I couldn’t brighten these photos anymore.

The Castle of Nice (Chateau Hill) used to be a military citadel but it was destroyed in 1706. It is a must see spot to visit in Nice (just bring tons of water!)

Poor baby was dripping with sweat. We hurried back to our rental car which I had to return before noon. We took the tram to the Nice train station and then took another tram to Old Town so we could meet my friends for brunch.

IMG_1911

The couple that we house swapped with last March were in town for vacation. Her family is from Nice so we met at a friend’s cute restaurant and we met her brother and his family. I wish I took more photos of all of us but they food and conversation was so amazing, I totally forgot.

I am normally not a huge prosciutto fan, but it was sublime paired with the fresh cantaloup. Antz ordered mashed potatoes at the chef’s suggestion and I took a bite. Ummm, did I just taste the yummiest, creamiest mashed potatoes of my life? Just look at that fresh butter! I was falling in love with the south of France even though the sun was trying to melt us.

The place we had brunch is:

Marinette
13 Rue Colonna d’Istria
06300 Nice

After brunch, we took an Uber back to our rental and had to hit the beach for one last swim. We met two sweet ladies on vacation and chatted with them. They were a mother daughter duo and the daughter was on summer break from college in America. The funny thing about our conversation was they were both topless the whole time so it was pretty weird for us, but they were so chill about it, we just ignored the obvious awkwardness. Good thing I was wearing sunglasses.

ACS_0178Cannes-6

Antz had to start work that afternoon and Liv needed to relax and play video games on her Nintendo Switch. I took a quick nap. Later that evening I had to meet my friend Brandi for drinks one last time before we left.

The next morning we flew back to Paris. I know we will return to the south of France. I would love to visit more inland in the Aix-en-Provence area.

IMG_2093

Road Trip: Cannes

A visit to the south of France requires a visit to the most famous city, Cannes. The international film festival is held in May. It was a scenic hour drive from Nice.

Nice_-6

I admit, I thought the city would be pretentious and snobby but it was as charming as any of the cities in the south of France. There was more traffic than we had seen before and of course more luxury brand boutiques but after we parked Liv found an American style diner and we bought some ice cream.

We were so sunburned from laying out on the beach the day before, ouch! I was so happy to find my first and only Invader in Cannes.

Liv and I rode the ferris wheel. The city was practically empty.

I normally don’t like riding ferris wheels, but I felt brave and I prefer enclosed rides. The view was worth it.

IMG_E1326

If I ever go to the Cannes Film Festival (because I totally am) I would like to stay at the Splendid hotel. Now I know the famous Eden-Roc hotel is where all the celebrities stay in Cannes but I feel burned that we were turned away at the gate when we tried to get a drink at the notorious bar. Turns out you can only visit the hotel grounds if you have a reservation and the guy at the gate said there was an opening in 11 months. Cool.

We walked across the street to a little park and found a cute brocantes (antique sale).

I was super tempted into buying a Louis Vuitton travel case that was a bargain for €600 but luckily, she only took cash and I realized, I had nothing that valuable to travel with such an expensive bag.

Maybe one day.

Cannes was lovely but also just a normal French town. I have always associated it with such A-list celebrity, even the public bathrooms were just a fancy port-a-potty.

DSC_0129

On the lovely drive back to Nice, Liv asked if we could stop and ride one of the beach bikes. Antz was exhausted so I took one for the team and rode in the blazing heat with Liv and Lulu. The things I do for my kid.

It was actually very fun, it would have been perfect if it wasn’t so darn hot. We rode the breezy coastline for an hour while Antz napped in the car with the air conditioner on.

Nice Monaco-3

We couldn’t find a restaurant open to have dinner so I ordered my delicious Mediterranean pasta again from the place in Old Town Nice.

Cannes was a lovely day trip. I would only stay overnight if I chartered a yacht, we didn’t find much to do if you aren’t doing some serious shopping.

Road Trip: Côte d’Azur

Day three in Nice I took the bus to the airport to pick up a rental car so we could drive to a special beach outside of Nice recommended by our friend Louise and drive the magnificent Cote  d’Azur.

ACS_0142

The only compact car they had with an automatic transmission was a boring black BMW. I always imagined myself driving the cliffs along the south of France in a cute vintage convertible like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief yet my non-stick driving skills doesn’t make that a reality.

 

We drove south of Nice to the small coastal town of Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat. The roads were very narrow and curvy.

 

 

The roads were right along the cliffs against the stunning blue sea waters and houses were built right into the mountainside. It seemed impossible to walk in the city but we saw women pushing strollers right on the tiny streets. It was such a contrast to the huge, busy beaches of Nice.

It was easy to find our dream house.

Nice-19

Bougainvillea everywhere!

 

IMG_8228

The beach had rocks but we spent most of our time in the water.

DSC_1227IMG_8236

 

 

 

 

It was a perfect beach, the water was lovely. No seaweed, no sand in your bum and we even saw little fish swimming with our GoPro camera. I can’t believe I just realized that this was the same beach location from one of my favorite Grace Kelly and Cary Grant films…To Catch a Thief!

It finally got too hot for us so we grabbed some lunch at the little cafe and drove back to Nice.

 

I wanted to take a shower and change clothes because we were driving to Monaco that evening.

DSC_1235Nice_-6

There were so many sailboats and yachts scattered in the harbor. It felt like we were in an Alfred Hitchcock movie in the 50s!

The drive to Monaco is less than an hour from Nice. We were stunned by the tunnels built right into the mountainside but also apprehensive driving along the sharp, curvy cliffs. How cute is this fruit stand?

 

The first time I drove into Monaco, it’s so small I drove right past it! It’s through a tunnel and you have to make a quick turn or you’ll miss it. It took forever to find parking unless you were driving a Maseratti, because there were plenty parked just outside of the Grand Casino.

 

 

 

It was surreal arriving at the Casino Monte Carlo, which I had only seen in black and white on an episode of I Love Lucy.

 

IMG_8736

I just had to play one lucky game of roulette but they don’t allow children inside the casino. Antz and Liv hung out in the ornate salon while I paid the €20 admission fee along with taking €100 out of the ATM. There was a strict no photography policy inside the casino so I was only able to take one shot with my iPhone.

 

IMG_8747

I was surprised to find the casino charged an admission fee. When I went inside there was only a handful of people inside. I sadly didn’t see any celebrities or royalty.

IMG_1588

Not as glamorous as I expected. I lost my €100 in an instant. I’m so used to gambling in Las Vegas with free drinks and computerized boards that show the last number drawn in roulette so that threw me off. I was also trying to hurry knowing Liv and Antz were waiting for me.

I disappointingly returned to Liv and Antz and told them about my swift loss. We left the  Grand Casino and found another smaller casino right next door.

 

Since the second casino was free and we felt ripped off from the first one, I sent Antz in and told him to come back a winner. Liv and I hung out in the lobby and waited an hour. He returned with not just my €100 but also another €200! Yippee!

We left just in time to catch the summer night fireworks show.

IMG_1631IMG_8779

I don’t know how I made the hour long drive back to Nice but I managed.

Casino de Monte-Carlo
The minimum age is 18 and they only allow Euros to gamble.

 

Nice in Nice, France

We began day two meeting our friends from LA for brunch in Garibaldi Square which was beautiful. We met them at a restaurant/furniture store. All the furniture in the restaurant was for sale. We had an amazing breakfast and the best hot chocolate ever.

I met my dear friend Brandi many years ago through a Mom-only Facebook group we belong to and I reached out to her to ask about life at the French school Liv attended in LA. Her son is a few years older than Liv and I knew she was very involved in the school. So we met for coffee to chat about her experience as a non-French speaking person of color in the private school. I felt like such an outsider before Liv started at the school because we didn’t know anyone or have any connection to the LA French community and Brandi welcomed me with warm arms. She bridged the gap for us at the school and introduced me to another incredible friend of mine. I have since extended the same courtesy to other parents who were interested in the school to pay it forward. I adore this woman so much. PS, she is kinda of a big deal!

Nice_-7

Her rad family is living abroad and traveling like us, we were joking about pooling our money to buy a mansion with sea views together. Liv had a ball playing babysitter to her sweet little ones.

IMG_0594

Brandi had to go to work for the day so we spent the rest of the morning checking out the Port of Nice. It was a gorgeous day so we took a quick boat ride across the bay.

 

 

Posing with my yacht, no big deal. There is a cute ferry that will take you across port for free.

IMG_7773

IMG_0922
DSC_1018IMG_0993IMG_E0925

IMG_1980

This was Napoleon’s modest 1794 crib in Nice. Now it’s a lawyer’s office.

IMG_E0614

These two look like sisters!

After taking an Uber back to our rental, we hit the beach and I was surprised to find rocks instead of sand. It’s strange at first but the rocks are smooth and warm so it feels nice on your back, like wearing Crocs. We borrowed a beach umbrella from our rental and bought Liv a unicorn float. The water was the most gorgeous shades of blue. I am so used to filthy, polluted ocean water in LA, it was so nice to actually be able to see through the water. I was so happy not to have to deal with sand in our hair!

IMG_1069

DSC_1061

I baked in the sun while Antz and Liv played in the water. I also observed the many topless women and old dudes in Speedos. We actually ended up befriending a nice Mom and her daughter who were laying next to us. It was very hard to carry-on a friendly conversation with them both being topless however, they spoke English and were very sweet. We saw them everyday during our trip.

Antz rarely wears his hair down but when he does I swoon. South of France Antz is so handsome!

We packed up and stopped at a little snack bar near our apartment for an ice cream cone and spent the rest of the night enjoying the air conditioning and watching TV in Italian and French.

 

Summer Vacation: Nice for What

We headed down south of France for our summer vacation to sunny Nice. We were excited to visit our dear friends from LA who moved there a few months after we did for a year-long job. I was also excited to find that our friends Louise and Florent (our house swappers) were also there for the summer. We discovered that no one stays in Paris during August due to the extreme heat (and lack of air conditioning) and the flood of tourists. Instead of taking the train, we flew because it’s less than two hours flight and I found tickets on Air France for about €60 each. I couldn’t find any available house swaps that were located close to the beach so I found an Airbnb one block from the beach. I would have preferred to do a house exchange but Airbnb was the least expensive option I could find. There were insane mansion rentals with private pools that were driving distance to the beach that were up to €1,000 per day! Our Airbnb was a studio apartment that was clean, compact and most importantly, it had a pool and air conditioning (Liv and Antz must-haves).

Our flight from Paris was super easy and quick. Our rental was only a fifteen minute Uber ride from the airport.

 

We had to wait ages for our host to let us into the apartment and we were dripping with sweat, so as soon as we dropped our bags off, Liv and I changed into our bathing suits and jumped right into the pool. Antz had to start work but he was in heaven with the freezing cold air conditioning.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0020.JPG

After a few hours of Liv jumping into the pool like a mad woman and me getting sunbaked, Liv and I showered and we all decided to find a place for dinner. The neighborhood we were in barely had any restaurants nearby and everything I saw was closed. It was around 6:30 pm so we were starving. I found an Italian restaurant on Yelp so we took the bus to Old Town Nice.
Nice-4
Nice_-5

Nice-4

IMG_0506
We got off the bus at the wrong stop so we walked for several blocks and found Old Town a little after 7 pm so we had a wait awhile to be seated. Did I mention it was blazing hot?
At first glance, I wasn’t impressed by the menu and the staff seemed to ignore us. All was forgiven when they finally brought out our food.
IMG_0525
This was my first authentic Mediterranean meal and it was DELICIOUS! I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best pasta meal I ever had. I loved it so much, we ended up eating at this restaurant several times during our stay. I even ordered it to go a few times. I don’t know how they made such a simple plate of shrimp alfredo so perfect but I wish I could have some right now. Antz had spaghetti and Liv had pizza as always. They weren’t blown away as much as I was.
By the time we finished our meal, Liv and I had to go to the bathroom. By now, we have gotten used to sharing a tiny European bathroom stall so I asked Liv to hold my iPhone for me. Well, my clumsy self ended up accidentally knocking Liv’s hand and she dropped my iPhone in the toilet! Before I could react Liv screamed like someone got shot. I was so worried about calming her down I just stuck my hand in the toilet and grabbed it. Luckily it was before we used the bathroom. It was half funny and half traumatic. Antz was quick to point out that I had an iPhone 8 (which was brand new) so it’s water toilet proof.
We went to wait for the bus however we noticed no one was waiting with us and it was close to 9 pm so we agreed the buses stopping running by then so we decided to walk back to our rental. It was a beautiful and breezy walk back along the Promenade des Anglais next to the beach. We didn’t realize it was over an hour walk but it was so nice out, we didn’t mind.
Nice-3
Our first day in Nice was chill. I honestly didn’t think it was that pretty of a city as I expected but I later found out we were staying on the wrong part of town closer to the airport in a more tourist area.
Day two is when we found the true beauty Nice had to offer.
I used the hashtag #niceforwhat for our trip on my Instagram. If you are old and lame like me this is what the kids were listening to last summer! Apparently, it’s a bop.

My Dream Travel List – Europe

A few years ago I made a crazy goal of visiting twenty countries in under two years. I sat down with Antz and Liv and we looked through our MAPS book to decide which countries interested us most and what we would do in each destination.

I have the obvious must-see locations but I also wanted to challenge myself to see places that aren’t frequently visited. After reading about the rad landmarks and festivals across Europe I put together my dream list. In the back of my mind I sort of thought of it as a silly fantasy but now that I am actually living in Europe, it feels like we can certainly accomplish it!

The best part is since we are already  here, airfare and trains are a fraction of what it would cost flying from Los Angeles. YAY! After surviving driving in London, I feel brave enough to handle road trips so we can experience more cities in France. As long as we have reliable wi-fi and a clean/cool place to swap, I would love to visit these incredible destinations.

  1. France – Calais, Lille, Normandy, Cherbourg, Nantes, Aix-en-Provence, RouenRiems, Dijon, Poitiers, Lyon, Biarritz, Marseilles, Brittany, Bordeaux, Deauville, Nice, Cannes, Strasbourg, Arles, Gordes, Annecy, Alsace region and St. Tropez *quite possibly more cities!
  2. Italy – Rome, Florence, Pisa, Milan, Venice, Turino, Naples, Capri, Positano, Sorrento, Cinque Terre, and Sicily *Malta (technically not Italy but close)
  3. Spain – Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Málaga, Seville and Granada
  4. Portugal – Lisbon, Porto, Madeira Island and Sintra

    sintra
    Look at this insane castle in Sintra, Portugal 

  5. Morocco – Marrakesh, Fez, Tangier, and Casablanca *Rock of Gibraltar
  6. Germany – Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Hamburg, Bavaria, Frankfort, Heidelberg, Trier (to see the Burg Eltz Castle) and Saxony (Die Rakotzbrück/Devil’s Bridge)
  7. Ireland – Dublin, Cork, maybe Giant’s Causeway in Bushmills (Northern Ireland)
  8. England – London, Salisbury, Bristol, Brighton, Bath, Oxford and Cardiff
  9. Scotland – Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Lochs
  10. Austria – Salzburg, Innsbruck, Hallstatt and Vienna
  11. Switzerland – St. Moritz, Geneva, Zürich, MontreuxGrindelwald, Lucerne, Interlaken, Chur, Basel and Lausanne
  12. Belgium – Brussels, Brugge and Antwerp
  13. Netherlands – Utrecht, Rotterdam and Hague
  14. Russia – Moscow and St. Petersburg
  15. Denmark – Copenhagen
  16. Sweden – Stockholm, Gothenburg, Gotland Island and Mälmo
  17. Norway – Oslo and fjords
  18. Finland – Helsinki and the Arctic Circle (My friend Aura lives there so I’m sure she will know cool places to visit)
  19. Poland – Warsaw, Krakaw and Oświęcim (Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau)
  20. Czech Republic – Prague, of course!

 

Bonus Destinations

21. Japan – Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Yokohama
22. Romania – Bucharest (we are dying to see Dracula’s Castle)
23. Turkey – Istanbul
24. Croatia – Dubrovnik, Split and Dalmation Coast
24. Estonia – Tallinn
26. Faroe Islands
27. Australia – Sydney, Brisbane and
28. New Zealand – Aukland
29. India – Agra, Mumbai and Jaipur
30. Hawaii – Maui, Honolulu and Kauai

**Bonus: US – New Orleans, Alaska, Florida (for DisneyWorld and Harry Potter) and somewhere cool in Maine.

I have dreamed of seeing the world my whole life, so living in Europe feels surreal. We have so many beautiful and historic places right at our fingertips. I tend to get overwhelmed when I plan our trips because there is so much I want to see and unfortunately, we don’t have a limitless budget or time so I must contain our trips to weekends and school holidays. That’s always been the hardest part for me, waiting to find the best deal during the time Liv has off of school.

salzburg

This is the beautiful town of Hallstatt, Austria

Do you have any must-see places in Europe I have missed? Would you prefer visiting the city or the countryside?

europe-optimal-road-trip

Bon Voyage!