How to Perfect the Art of House Swapping

 

Bonjour,

Usually when I plan a trip I find inspiration from my list of places I want to visit board that I’ve saved from Pinterest. I enjoy reading travel magazines like Condé Nast Traveller and Afar magazine for more off-the-beaten-track sources. I like to find an interesting landmark, a cool hotel or quirky museum to center around the trip. For example, when we visited Amsterdam last November, I had to check out the amazing Voorlinden museum after seeing it on Instagram. It really was the highlight of our trip to the Netherlands.

This rad exhibit is called Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich

The museum liked our photo so much they asked to use it for their brochure!

We love to learn about different cultures from our beloved MAPS book which also inspires our travel wishlist.

Since we moved abroad, I need to be budget conscience (since Antz is now a freelance artist) so I look for ways to fit everything into our small budget. I love the luxury of spending our first night of a trip in a fancy hotel. This way we can order room service and relax since we are usually tired from traveling all day. I also get to take a long, hot shower and take photos of the hotel for my Instagram. Since most hotels I fall in love with tend to be pricey, I find the least expensive day to book (usually early in the week) and I hunt for deals a few months before booking. I also utilize my Chase Sapphire and Amex cards points to upgrade our room or car rental. In the past few years I’ve been taking advantage of house swapping instead of expensive Airbnb rentals. Our first house swap wasn’t a traditional house exchange. We used points we accumulated from Love Home Swap, the largest house exchange website, as a form of currency to rent a 3-bedroom house in Reykjavik, Iceland. The woman we swapped with then can use the points to book another home that is listed on the site. Once you become a member, you are given a set amount of points based on your annual subscription level. There is an option to do traditional swaps which are simultaneous or you can stay at a members home and they stay at your place for a later date. I get about five swap requests per day (Paris is a very popular swap destination) from people all over the world so I have my top 5 swap cities listed on our profile.

I hope this makes sense, you can read more about how to use points on their site. You can read more about the details of our house swap during our 2016 trip to Iceland here.

Now, how do we get into house swapping? Well, it started with testing out renting our LA house on Airbnb for a weekend. We planned a few road trips to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington during the summer of 2016 and I knew our house would be empty for a few days. Since we were spending a large amount of money to take the train from Portland to Los Angeles, I thought it would be smart to list our house for rent on Airbnb. Antz was pretty apprehensive about having strangers stay in our house but our next door neighbors rented their back house successfully all the time so I was curious to see how it would go. I bought some new sheets and towels from Target so they wouldn’t use our personal bedding and linens. I didn’t think it would rent so soon but it turned out that one of our neighbors down the street were getting married and her Mother found our house listed and booked it so she had somewhere to stay while she was in town for the wedding. It worked out wonderfully knowing it was someone we indirectly knew staying in our house. We rented our place again for the following weekend and grew more comfortable with the idea of strangers staying in our home. We put all our valuables in storage bins in our garage and changed our home alarm code for the renters. Our cat Lola stayed at home the whole time and our renters never saw her (she’s extremely shy around strangers) The income we made for the Airbnb weekends paid for most of our summer trips!

Since things went so well, we started looking at possibly renting our house while we were spending a year abroad in Paris. When we were looking for for a longer term house swap in Paris, I found a home exchange website called Behomm.com. Behomm is a house exchange website based in Spain aimed for creative professionals and the homes are highly vetted. Most of the homes looked straight out of Architectural Digest and I was nervous our Los Angeles house wouldn’t make the cut but luckily we just completed our big renovation. I was looking for a reciprocal house exchange with someone in Paris for our sabbatical year but we ended up only finding a swap for two months. Those two months of swapping were a perfect opportunity to allow us time to go apartment hunting in Paris. It turned out to be lucky for us we didn’t find a swap for the entire year since we ended up making our move to Paris permanent. The process was super easy, you search for the city you are looking to exchange in. There’s even a reciprocal button that shows you people who are looking for a swap in your city. You can view photos of the homes and read the homeowners profile. The site offers language translation because in our case most of the profiles were in French. Next, you message the homeowner on the site and set up the terms of the swap; the dates, the length of time and they agree to the terms. You pay all your own expenses (mortgage, utilities and some swaps even include a car) and they pay their own. Some home exchange sites offer supplemental insurance to cover any damages. The idea is you treat the home with as much respect as you would like someone to treat your own. Since we were moving to Paris for a year for our swap, most of our belongings were already put away in storage. We left our cat Lola at our house which was fine with our swappers.

It’s also is helpful to get to know the swappers before the exchange so you feel more relaxed about the whole thing. I have met many kind people in the house exchange community.

The best part for me is since we started doing house swaps, we can afford to take more trips because I don’t end up with a large hotel or Airbnb bill. We also save on meals because we can cook rather than dine out. I even did laundry during our exchange in Iceland when all our clothes were muddy and wet from hiking. I like that you can message the owners prior to swapping to get a feel for them, kinda like a dating app. I was getting hundreds of house swap requests from around the world but we were focused on exchanging in Europe and Japan. You can list the cities you are interested in swapping with or leave it open to all offers on the website.

Christmas 2018, we booked a spontaneous trip to Vienna, Austria when I found a €45 flight! This was the apartment we swapped on Kid & Coe, a home exchange and rental site that is kid-friendly.

 

The owners lived on the floor above us and they had five kids! Our flat was modern but still has the European charm I adore. Liv is always excited to have her own room to sleep in. 

We had our first trip after the pandemic lockdown in July 2020. I had a credit from Kid & Coe for a small job I did for them on social media so I booked a few days at this lovely cottage in the French countryside in Normandie.

We had the whole house to ourselves and the owners were next door in their home, a lovely older couple from England. 

So, here are my pros and cons about house swapping:

Pro – Saves tons of money! My annual memberships varies from $99 – $360 which can be one night’s stay at a hotel. I have three active memberships and I have access to house swaps and house rentals all over the world.

Con – It can be tedious work to find the perfect swap. There have been many times I wasn’t able to confirm the swap I wanted because the owner wasn’t available for my proposed dates or they didn’t respond. There is a system in place to urge members to respond in 24 – 48 hour timeline, but some members may no longer use the website so they may not get back to you at all. I have to keep that in mind when I fall in love with a perfect pool house in Provence and I don’t get it!

Pro – You have access to an entire home and that is perfect for longer swaps. We cook, we play board games, we use their backyard or even borrow their bikes. I love hotels but having a home to stay in for a long trip can be so beneficial, especially when traveling with kids. Antz is usually able to work in a more comfortable space than in a cramped hotel room. We also get to feel more like locals during our trips and explore neighborhoods we usually wouldn’t venture in when staying at a hotel. We always leave a guide explaining all the details of our apartment (wi-fi codes, how to use the washing machine, where things are located, etc.) and I have an extensive Google Maps that I send them before the trip that highlights my favorite places in Paris. The same courtesy is usually offered to us as well.

Con – Accidents may happen, trips may need to be rescheduled and life’s inevitable drama. When we swapped during the summer in Barcelona, we returned and discovered our Smeg electric kettle handle was broken. I contacted the swappers and they agreed to pay for the damage and I bought a new one. This is why it’s best to keep your valuables and delicate items stored away. We keep all our breakables and irreplaceable items in our locked closet in storage bins. Olivia was worried about leaving her PC in her room so we put away the keyboard and mouse and put towels over the monitors. She left this friendly note for the swapper’s son.

Pro – Swapping is a social event, we have made lifelong friends with our swappers and most of the people in the community are so friendly and helpful. When we were looking for a swapper in the Netherlands, everyone we reached out to who couldn’t swap with us offered to tell their friends that we wanted to swap and that’s how we ended up finding our swapper. You will get comfortable meeting new people from different countries.

 

I certainly feel like the pros outweigh the cons but I wanted you to know what issues may arise when swapping.

I would be happy to answer any questions in the comments and I can send referrals to my house swap sites if anyone is interested in joining with a discount.

Love Home Swap (this is the largest network of home swaps, we get the fastest responses here)

Kid & Coe (this is my favorite swap site because it’s geared towards kid-friendly homes but the rental prices are very expensive)

Behomm (I only have 10 invitations so please only request if you are 100% ready to join!)

Here is a youtube guide for joining Behomm 

I hope this helps explain how we house swap. If you don’t get a ton of people requesting swaps, don’t get discouraged! I recommend really putting time into the photos you upload on your profile and I like to add photos of nearby attractions and restaurants to help entice viewers. We have gotten so used to keeping our apartment organized and tidy because we have so many swappers during the year. 

Bon Voyage!

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.

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, 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.

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.

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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?

paris eiffel tower

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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  • Hand 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. I also carry this hand sanitizer spray.
  • 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 by Anker works great and it has multiple ports. 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 fruit, nuts or granola bars 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, a portable mini fan 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 your 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 less chaotic ride to your destination. Keep in mind, you can no longer purchase tickets for the bus from the driver, so you have to go to the Metro to buy them. The French public transportation is very easy to navigate and convenient (but it can be crowded and smelly). They even have the arrival times posted on most bus stops. Believe me, you will be doing plenty of walking later.DSC_0176

    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.DSC_4768
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      IMG_0976The 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.IMG_1481
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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 on the terrasse and order a Saint Germain cocktail like the cool Parisians do.ACS_0591

       

    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 during the day 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.DSC_5274

    7. Princess Crepe
      3 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris

      What is better than a Parisian crepe? A Japanese Kawaii cheesecake filled crepe! This tiny place is nestled in the Marais village 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 

      DSC_1031Montmartre 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.IMG_E1145Then 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.paris blog-2
      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).

      IMG_0626Afterwards, 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 cheese 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 home 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 large city has a Natural History museum 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 Jardin des Plantes 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 famous 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 along. 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.IMG_2990

    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)

      There are several Christmas markets throughout Paris that are open during the holidays (beginning Dec 1st). 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, games for the kids 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.

    16. Eat dessert American style in Paris
      Rue d’Aboukir, 75002 Paris

      We love wandering around our neighborhood which has a delightful American expat community. We have gotten to know many of the friendly business owners at Boneshaker Donuts, Jean Hwang Currant cookies and Clove Bakery. Please make sure to let them know that Elizabeth sent you there! You will find every type of cuisine on a stroll down the famous rue Montorgueil. We love picking up a kilo (a French pound) of cherries to snack on during the summer.

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    17. Musée des Arts et Métiers
      60 Rue Réaumur, 75003 Paris

      Super cool, off the beaten path, museum of technology and mechanics located in the upper Marais. Your kids will love the room full of antique trains, cars and machinery. This museum is never crowded and will captivate your child’s imagination. We have been several times and still haven’t seen everything it has to offer.

    18. Rougier et Plé (awesome art supply store)
      15 Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, 75003 Paris(there are several other locations) 

      After all those visits to the art museums  your young artists must be feeling inspired, so I recommend stopping by this mega store to pick up a few art supplies. A small paint palette, a canvas and a brush is all you will need. Then head over to Île Saint-Louis (located on an island behind Notre Dame Cathedral) and spend an afternoon painting the dreamy Paris landscape along the Seine.

      Berthillon Glacier
      Rue Jean du Bellay, 75004 Paris

      Then stop by Berthillon for the best ice cream in town. Any of the brasseries on the corner of rue Jean du Bellay sells it. There is a fancy restaurant that you can sit down and enjoy around the corner too.

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    19. Go on a bike ride along Canal Saint Martin
      (for older kiddos)

      Download the Uber app – If you click the bicycle icon it will show you on a map where the Jump/ Uber bikes are located. You can’t miss them with their cool, bright red paint. Once you scan them with your phone, you are all set to hit the bike lanes that run along the trendy Canal Saint Martin. The bikes are electric so it’s a smooth and easy cruise while soaking in the beauty of the canals. There’s also a two hour boat cruise that will take you through the canals many locks.

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    20. Get Lost! – The best part of visiting Paris is wandering the cobblestone streets, you will always find something fun to do. There are so many photo booths (they make great souvenirs) and carousels scattered around the city. A few of my favorite kid-friendly stores to check out.
      Bonton
      Smallable
      Petit Pan
      Tartine et Chocolat
      Village JouéClub
      Shakespeare and Company (English bookstore)
       

      Bonus – Pre-Negotiate a deal with your kids for buying souvenirs

      I have to add this because I have been there and know what a downer it is when your kid sees a gift shop and the begging commences. I have worked out two options for Liv which has saved me from many tantrums. She collects souvenir coins which are mostly found in churches and museums all over Europe. So far she has collected over 30 coins! They cost €2, and she knows she can have one so she doesn’t ask for everything in the shop. The second option is when she finds something she cannot resist (which is everytime) she can pay for it with her own money. This has been a great solution because she earns money by doing chores at home. She has learned to save and not do much impulse shopping.

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      A few years before we moved abroad, I bought Liv a toy set of world landmarks. I wanted her to learn about different world landmarks so she memorized the city and country of each one. I also bought this gorgeous book, Maps which is informative and beautifully illustrated, to research our trips. We now collect landmark souvenirs from every city we visit. They all are under 2 inches tall so they fit in her Maptote travel bag. I have been collecting patches from every place we travel to add to our vintage suitcase.

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and finally, Master the art of Distraction

I try to keep a few tricks up my sleeve when my kid starts to get whiney or cranky. Usually it’s during a long train ride and she starts asking the question all parents dread, “Are we there yet?” I keep coloring books and a pack of colored pencils in my backpack. I also have a pack of Uno and playing cards in my bag. If that doesn’t work, I whip out the secret weapon… bubble gum! Liv is obsessed with gum, mainly because I only allow her to chew it during plane rides so for her, it’s a special treat. I give her some sugar-free bubble gum and tell her to try to blow the biggest bubble ever. It seems to cheer her up and we can move on with the rest of our day without a grumpy kiddo. Now that she’s older, we have fewer meltdowns but for years that did the trick. We also give her jobs to do, like find an exhibit in a museum or let her play creative director for our photos. Delegating tasks to kids gives them a sense of empowerment and she loves to feel like she’s in charge of us grown-ups.

 

Do you have any tricks to keep your children happy while traveling? Please let me know in the comments.

Always have fun!

Lizzie

Elizabeth is a stay-at-home-Mom/blogger/Tiktoker. She is a francophile who is (slowly) learning French, adores traveling and documenting her colorful family’s adventures on her blog, Violently Happy

 

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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The bedroom had this lovely, ancient painted ceiling.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

Balcony goals!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Even Lulu was sweating.

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

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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.

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