My mid-life check in

Bonjour guys,

I’ve had the most formidable (as the French say), chill summer. We hosted many special and dear friends and family that we ended up staying in Paris all summer. I started a new venture called Mon Ami Paree walking tours and this weekend we are hopping on a train for our 17th wedding anniversary. It’s completely bananas to me that I have done anything for as long as seventeen years but I’ve been with lovely Antz for half of my life so I consider myself lucky. I’ve been thinking about how I am getting closer to the midpoint of my life (fifty is creeping on me) and all the things I’ve learned, failed and grown from. Here’s my list of real talk life advice that have shaped me thus far.

Don’t pick at your face. I am so old school in my skin regime that I still use toothpaste on my pimples and I never touch my face. Now that I live in a city without a car, I feel the dirt and sun more than ever. So, everyday I wash my face with Bliss fab foaming 2-in-1 cleanser & exfoliator with bamboo buffers  (I bought a huge bottle before we left LA) and moisturize with my Holy Grail Aveeno Positively Radiant Sheer Daily Moisturizing Lotion. That’s it! I try my best not to frown but I am embracing my laugh-line wrinkles. Remember a pimple is temporary but a scar can be permanent.

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Manners first in everyday situations. When I was 11, I spent a summer in the exciting state of Oklahoma with my Grandmother’s sister. My Great-Aunt was super traditionally strict and she basically put me in charm school boot camp that summer. No elbows on the table, ask to be excused from the table and always say Good morning when you greet someone. These are no-brainer rules for Liv, lucky me I rarely have to remind her but it’s such a dying part of our society. Bring a gift the first time you visit someone’s house, hold the door for people struggling, make eye contact when you speak to someone. So many people have a hard time learning names but I always say the person’s name when we meet to remember it. I also write myself notes to remind myself (cute family we met at the park with two kids and live in the 2eme). Please learn a strong handshake. When I meet someone with a weak handshake I want to head bump them so hard. How far will you get in life with that weak grip? I don’t trust weak hand shakers. I often have to catch myself from saying “Bless you” out loud when someone sneezes on the bus because I get such strange looks (I forget, no one speaks English). One of the most charming things I appreciate here in Paris is you must always speak to a shopkeeper or bus driver when you enter. I also love how people offer their seats to elderly or pregnant women without a thought. From my observations, pregnant ladies get treated like princesses here. Remember, politeness goes a long way and shows integrity.

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Also, create your signature pose. I started looking up to the left when I noticed it makes my eyes look wider and brighter, it has become my default pose!

Always bring a umbrella! I have learned the hard way so many times since I moved to this land of unpredictable rain. I have gotten caught in rain and hailstorm without even a jacket. I am so LA that I forget to wear a jacket when I leave the house and the sun is shining bright. Little did I know it can take less than an hour for the weather to take a major turn. We have acquired so many cheap umbrellas because we get caught in the rain. Now I carry a bag every time we go out with two small umbrellas, my wireless headphones, a pack of wet wipes, portable phone charger and cords, hand sanitizer, our table tennis rackets (almost every park has a table) and a water bottle. These things used to live in the trunk of my car but now I have to schlep everything myself.

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Invest in quality lip balm. I used to throw Vaseline on my lips if they were chapped for years in my twenties. Then I got an Anthropologie gift card for my birthday so I bought some fancy Smith Rosebud Salve. I loved the smell of the balm but the container would get bent in my bag and it was too cumbersome and messy to open. So when I found EOS in sweet mint at Target, I was addicted. I literally brought 20 of them to Paris with me because I fear running out. My Mom even sends me more in my care packages because she knows I am obsessed. Find a quality lip balm and never leave home without it in your purse. Trust me, I had to stop at a 24 hour grocery store to buy some lip balm while I was on my way to the hospital when I was in labor with Liv.

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My Mommy keeps me stocked with necessities from LA. Still can’t ship In & Out burgers.

Don’t buy something with the hope of losing weight to wear it later. I bought a cute baby doll dress from Target thinking, it’s so cute and not expensive, I’ll lose some weight in my arms and be able to wear it in a few months. That dumb dress sat in my closet for five years. Why mentally psyche yourself up for something you can’t enjoy now? I no longer starve myself, or beat myself up about my weight. I am healthy and loved. I walk more now than I ever did and I feel great in my clothes. The apparel industry has come around to accepting that all women aren’t size six, so I feel great about being able to buy clothes that don’t look matronly or feel left out of what the cool girls are wearing. I was even asked to try-on clothes for two brands I adore (my darlings at Ace & Jig and Ban.do)  This 42 year old lady is still as rad as I was at 22!

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Never not wearing my favorite Ace & Jig dress

Embrace your quirky self! I used to have an unhealthy relationship with my hair. I have bleached it to death, chemically straightened it for years and mistreated it out of sheer laziness. The straw that broke my hair unhappiness was in January 2017. I was putting a chemical straightener on my hair when I had to take off my Olivia pendant necklace (the chemicals would ruin it)  I somehow lost my necklace that day so I vowed to never use that stupid (and damaging) stuff again. I haven’t put any chemicals or color on my hair since then. I replaced my necklace too. When I want to change my look, I get colorful braids. Now that I live in a more humid climate (my hair literally turns into a mushroom the second I go outside)

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I’ve learned to embrace my natural curls. I have an established hair routine that I do once in a while because I’m still lazy but the less I mess with my hair the stronger and healthier it’s been. I invested in products I know keep my dry, damaged hair moisturized and leave it alone. I broke my expensive flat iron when I first moved her because of the dumb voltage. I bought a new Euro flat iron but it doesn’t work as well as my old one so I decided, why go through the time and energy trying to make my naturally curly hair straight? Now I throw tons of leave-in conditioner and twist my hair, or sometimes I wear flexi rods overnight and poof! I’m little orphan Lizzie.

Young Lizzie (with long locks like Olivia’s) and Lizzie in her 20s (with ridiculous hair extensions)

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I’ve retired my signature braids for the summer to give my hair a rest and let it breathe. Braids are a protective hairstyle in the Black hair community but they can also cause breakage if you use the wrong type of hair or have them braided too tight. Plus they are annoyingly hot. I’m embracing my afro!

Please for the love of God know the difference between homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled and mean different things!) I am in a Facebook travel group and when I see adult people typing “I waisted a ticket because the whether was bad,” I have a brain meltdown. Listen, I am no grammar snob, I am completely aware my spelling is atrocious (thanks autocorrect for fixing that for me) and I am a serial run-on-sentence writer, but if you aren’t sure (not SHORE) which word to use, take a second and Google it. It took me years to grasp the difference between stationary and stationery. I subscribe to Word Genius which emails me a new word a day. I really wish I had a reason to use the word hornswoggle on my blog. Learn new things all the time. It’s cute to be smart.

Master your penmanship. I may sound so old-fashioned and prissy in my unsolicited advice here but have you ever tried to read a doctor’s prescription? I now live in a country where they write in lovely italic cursive however, I can’t tell an S from an R. Liv has beautiful penmanship, I have always instilled taking pride in your handwriting in her from an early age yet the French education system has taken over and she writes so teeny tiny, I can’t figure it out. I bought her a calligraphy set and she loves to practice writing fancy. Practice makes perfect and being able to write in legible handwriting is important even in today’s digital age.

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Not everyone is going to like you. Believe it or not, this can be hard for extroverts like myself to accept. I can be hypersensitive and believe it or not I get anxiety around new people. I am an only child so my friendships are everything to me. I have been told that I am a people person but I really have a small inner circle of only about five or six people who really know the real uncensored me. I’ve had to deal with people flaking on me, people mischaracterizing me and many people underestimating me for years. My confidence comes from learning self-trust. I am okay being the loud girl who listens to weird music or dresses like a toddler obsessed with rainbows, that is who I am, not sorry about it. I can’t help but be selfish about my happiness. I try my best to set an example for my (sometimes shy and quiet) daughter because growing up is hard and things like bullying, eating disorders and now the fake Instagram perfection standard makes it even harder. I never had a sibling to give me advice or tell me I look crazy so I’ve made great friends and spent time listening and learning. I now have many sisters (by marriage and my bff) but I wish I knew at 13 that just because someone didn’t like me meant something was wrong with me. Your people will get you. As you get older, you stop caring what other people think.
What strangers think doesn’t matter and are inconsequential to your success!

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Proud Pokemon Go nerd Mom. If you play too, let me know so we can be friends!

 

Fail, ugly cry and then try that shit again until you finally succeed! OMG, this was a hard lesson for me to learn y’all. I am notoriously impatient and when I don’t immediately get my way, I turn into the biggest brat ever. I have gone through every type of disappointment, felt like life was over for me and through all the drama and heartache, always came through better than I started. It’s weird when you are going through something serious, it feels like being stuck in quicksand. I now know that the harder something is for me to achieve, the more it’s worth it. I also know that anything worth doing requires sacrifice and commitment. You may sacrifice sleep, spending money, eating desserts but will it be worth the sacrifice in the end? Ask yourself this when going into a new venture. I have learned in the past twenty two years that my internal stress and anxiety is a complete overreaction. I know deep down things will work out because it always seems impossible until it’s done. The word is literally I’M POSSIBLE!!

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Bonus Advice: Fresh flowers makes everything better!

Any life advice that you learned from past mistakes you want to share? Comment below.

Have a lovely rest of the summer. I am still working on last summer’s travel posts, it’s taking forever because my laptop memory is full so for every photo I upload I have to throw away three. It’s moving slow but it’s possible.

Bisous

Paris My Friend Walking Excursions

Coucou (Hey!),

Paris My Friend is a walking excursion service created by myself, a francophile from Los Angeles who followed my dream of living in magnificent Paris. I am always finding new lovely places, learning about French culture and meeting interesting people in Paris (I share most on this blog). I made the move to Paris with my family and our cat not knowing anyone or speaking any French. Some call me brave, I say I’m passionate! I’m also a nerd for all things pertaining to WW2 history, Marie Antoinette and 1960’s French pop music and films. I’ll share tidbits about life in Paris you wouldn’t hear from a typical tour guide. I am not an expert, but I am your Parisian friend!

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“Paris is always a good idea” Audrey Hepburn once famously quipped, but it’s also enormous and can be overwhelming for the first-time visitor. I offer a casual day exploring the city hosted from a local expat’s perspective. Based on your interests and some quirky locations, we spend approximately four hours exploring arrondissements (neighborhoods) on foot, city bus or even e-scooter.

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I have spent years discovering all that Paris has to offer and I’ve yet to see everything. If you are looking for a break from a large impersonal horde of tourists, then take a walk with me. I enjoy showing my city to visiting friends and family so I’ve perfected a lovely day away from the crowds. The most requested thing people want to do is shop, of course! I’ll take you to popular boutiques based on your likes in the “trendy but not snobby” area of Paris. I am happy to take photos with your camera or cell phone for you to share on social media to make all your friends jealous of your trip!

 

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Our walk ends at my favorite Parisian cafe for you to try delicious escargot and enjoy a refreshing Saint Germain cocktail. I’ll leave you with a link to my personal Google Maps full of rad places to see, awesome photo opportunities and unexpected places to dine for the duration of your vacation.

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If you would like to book a walk with me, please fill out my questionnaire so I can put together a walk customized to your preferences. The minimum group is two people and the max is four to keep things intimate. The walks may include climbing stairs, walking on cobblestone and some hills. I suggest wearing comfortable shoes, bring a portable charger and some Euros.

How it works:

  • Email me at parismyfriendtours@gmail.com to request your date. (Tuesday or Thursday)
  • I will confirm your date and how many will be in your group. (min 2/max 5 people)
  • You will receive a Paypal invoice $150 per person/$75 under 12
  • Once the invoice is paid, you’ll receive a questionnaire via email.
  • The more info you give, the better your experience will be!
  • I’ll send a confirmation for the time and location we will meet a few days before you arrive. (Typical hours are 11:00 am – 3:00 pm)

Here’s an example of some of our excursions:

I’ll take you where French women buy skin and beauty products that aren’t commonly available in the US.

We may stop by a renowned bookstore that is frequented by many celebrities.

Let’s browse the second oldest farmers market in Paris featuring authentic French crepes, fresh fruit, poissonnier (fishmonger), florists and smell the cheese at the fromagerie.

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I will take you to la Poste to buy stamps to mail postcards you bought from the marché back home to your family.

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We may take the bus to the most memorable, off-the-beaten path, Instagrammable locations around Paris.

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À bientôt!

Elizabeth
@parismyfriend

Expat Life in Paris: What’s it really like?

Coucou,

Yesterday Antz and I picked up our cartes des titres (annual immigration renewal) for our second year in France. Voila!

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It just happened to be the hottest day in France’s history and our celebration was short lived for two reasons, the first was Antz carte de titre is expiring five months earlier than mine because he has an issue with his health insurance. The weird thing is we both submitted identical paperwork (we have the same insurance) so this is French bureaucracy at its finest. We will have to reapply in October to fix this costly mistake. Then on the way home from the Prefecture, Antz realized he accidentally left his phone on the desk of the lady who helped us. We hurried back and got his phone, so despite these hiccups, we are still here (at least until January 2020!) which is a victory.

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I wanted to update our expat life in Paris since it’s been quite awhile. Antz has been working freelance (with US clients) and Liv is finally on summer break. I am busy this summer hosting many friends visiting from the US. If you follow me on Instagram (you follow me, right?) then you can check out my Stories named Summer 2019. This is our first summer in Paris that we haven’t left town. I would love to share some of our daily experiences and observations that are different from our life in Los Angeles. Full disclosure, I don’t want to make this into a Paris vs LA comparison post or sound like I am complaining too much, I just want to give you a real perspective of some of the obstacles expats may confront. This doesn’t mean we don’t love living here and we are grateful everyday. I just want everyone to know, nowhere is perfect, even though photos may perceive it to be.

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School summer break – Liv’s school summer break begins after the first week of July. This is four weeks later than her school break in LA. It was difficult for us counting down those long four weeks mostly because France was experiencing a canicule (insane record high heatwave) this year and it was so hot that school was cancelled due to the extreme temperatures. The French have a strange aversion to air-conditioning so when it’s hot, it is miserable. The good news is she had swimming class every Thursday at school which is wonderful. I used to race across town on Fridays after school for Liv’s 15 minute swimming lessons in Pasadena and most of that time she spent just waiting for her turn to swim. After five years of lessons, she wasn’t really making progress and I didn’t feel like it was worth the money and stress. So, we love that extracurricular activities are included in the school day here FOR FREE! It really helped her cool down during the heatwave.

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During the last week of school, Liv’s class put on two performances for the parents. The first was a music and choir recital which was adorable beyond words. The older class sang “I’m Singing in the Rain” in English and I couldn’t help but giggle at their sweet accents. Liv’s class performed a play in French and Olivia portrayed a funny duck. We had no idea what the play was about but thoroughly enjoyed our duck’s antics. Antz made her costume using stuff around the house, bien sûr. He even painted her old Adidas yellow and felted a duck bill.

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Liv & her 3rd grade teacher

Most French families have second homes in the countryside so most of Olivia’s school friends are away on vacation during the summer. It’s been helpful that we’ve had so many visitors from LA so she’s seen many of her old friends. She also spent the first two weeks of summer break in camp! It’s a daily camp at the local recreation center (centre des loisirs). Everyday they ventured out into the city for field trips, swimming and nature hikes. She loved it!

It was a little hard for us to navigate the camp schedule because the website is in French and I couldn’t access my online account due to a glitch, so Liv had to translate for us the best she could. Our friend who works at her school helped us register her. It’s little things like this that sometimes can be frustrating. I need help setting up an online account so I can access the camp website yet there’s really no one to help me. I even went to the local Mairie (town hall) to get help to set up our account online but the woman told us she was new at the job and couldn’t help me. So everyday we didn’t find out what her schedule was until she came home and told us about it. I am still waiting to receive a bill in the mail for the camp a month later. Sigh, Que sera, sera.

This is a typical daily commute for me.

During the heatwave, Liv and I took the bus outside of Paris to go swimming. We arrived at noon but the attendant told us due to a “technical” issue the pool was temporarily closed. Such a bummer because it was burning hot and it took us over an hour to get there. Instead of going back home, we decided to go Pokemon Go hunting nearby and grabbed some sushi for lunch.

I love the Montreuil Mairie (town hall) and I caught a new 3-D Invader.

By the time we finished lunch, I called the pool and they told me it was open again. So, there is an inconsistent summer schedule in most of Paris. Did you know that a swim cap is required at public pools here? Liv’s cap never stays on because of her thick hair.

Most businesses have signs on their doors saying they are closed for weeks for summer holiday. August is the official month that Paris shuts down (the French enjoy five weeks of paid vacation) but most of my favorite places like Monoprix, our bakery and the farmers market will hopefully remain open. It’s been tricky when my friends visit because they want me to take them to all my favorite places but they have been closed all month.

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Our favorite American bakery have been closed for weeks.

We are fortunate to live close to Monoprix (French Target) which is open everyday except Sunday evenings (they close at noon). I practically live there, I go almost everyday.

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For the past year we have been carrying heavy groceries home in our bags so last week I made our first delivery order online. I was shocked that the minimum order was €50 and the earliest delivery time is the next day. It was almost a challenge to meet the €50 minimum to place the order. Luckily, I was able to stock up on bottled water, bags of ice and every heavy item I could think of. I used this app to place the order. If you happen to live in France and are thinking of placing an online order, please use my friend code for a discount for the both of us. The groceries arrive in crates which are easy to bring in our elevator. This is my €55 order.

I don’t know how often I’ll order delivery but it is a helpful service to utilize.

Since many restaurants are closed for summer vacation, we’ve had to resort to getting fast food because they are the only places open all-day. It’s not even close to how often we would eat fast food in Los Angeles but after a fourteen year boycott, I had to break my No-McDonalds policy out of a starvation necessity. Here’s the difference, McDonalds in France have grass-fed beef, growth hormones are illegal, there is no such thing as super size and the largest drink size seems smaller than a kids size! The restaurants only have kiosks to place an order and there are no refills on drinks. You can order fresh croissants and even a McBaguette. There is no fast service in Paris, you wait much longer for your food but they rarely get your order wrong and if you order food to go you will always get napkins, and they package your drinks so they won’t spill. I do find it absurd that they charge for ketchup but offer curry sauce and mayonnaise for free. Honestly, McDonalds reminds me most of back home. P.S. I think the pizza here is dreadful.

I’ve been eating healthier because the food here isn’t full of pesticides and hormones. I do still crave food from America. Antz made this silly photo of me along with my favorite foods.

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The pepperoni pizza, hot fried chicken and butter crunch candy are only available in the US and I miss them the most!

Navigating daily life in Paris can be a 50/50 split. The French have a way of making everything beautiful but also miserable. French people believe that air conditioning will make you sick so they have practically outlawed it except for tiny portable units that are noisy and only work if you stand directly in front of them. They are very progressive in their culture but some things they refuse to move forward on. If you order ice in a restaurant they look at you with utter disgust. Their language is elegant poetry that I could listen to all day, yet a nightmare to learn with a varying degree of arbitrary rules. Paris is a living piece of art. My favorite part of living here is discovering new street art and gorgeous architecture. It’s so refreshing not to be overwhelmed with advertising billboards, loud airplanes and tacky strip malls. I love finding new street art in our neighborhood. Sadly, someone has been going around the city painting over Invaders, the wall that awesome mural Liv is standing in front of was just demolished and someone tore down this Madame Chat. It’s so annoying that there are haters out there that must destroy to feel better about themselves. I am lucky I have so many photos of this precious art that is always disappearing.

Beauty is truly everywhere here however…don’t spend too long looking up at the stunning buildings because there is dog poop everywhere! It’s terribly smelly this summer due to the hot poop on the sidewalks. It’s weird how there are absolutely no stray animals in Paris yet so much poop. There’s also a urine epidemic that disgusts me. Yucky men pee in broad daylight on the streets with no regard. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen men standing against a wall or tree peeing in public. Listen, I can tolerate the smoke, I am used to the traffic noise but the pissing in public and nobody bats an eye, I do not like it at all. Women aren’t squatting on the streets openly peeing so why do men get to spray walls like feral animals? The city even puts out these open urinals (I suppose to suppress the peeing on buildings) but I don’t understand why this is even necessary? There are enclosed toilets everywhere so why do I have to walk around in piss puddles because baby boys can’t hold their pee pee until they get home like us ladies have to. Ugh! Do not fight me on this, it’s gross and needs to stop. Put your weiner away guys!

This adorable kitty on a leash at the post office, I absolutely support.

Désolé, on a sunnier note, Liv and I spend a lot of time at parks near our apartment. I love the small parks full of shady trees and benches. I haven’t seen many swings in parks here. There rarely is grass lawns that you are allowed to walk on. They usually have dirt or sand which bums me out because it’s dirty but there is a park with shock absorbent pavement similar to York Park in Highland Park. Most parks have ping pong tables so we bought our own set to play.

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For every complaint I may have, the trade off is we still live in freaking Paris! The most romantic city in the world. Like any place it has it’s typical up and downs. I can’t tell you have many times I’ve been told one thing and then the next day the exact opposite. We have been battling with our landlord for over a year to fix our excruciating slow wifi speed and replace our intercom phone so we can buzz visitors into our building. I spend hours sending emails and making calls to customer service and I rarely get results no matter how wrong they may be. It is practically criminal to admit a mistake no matter how glaring it may be. It’s become funny to us how many contradictions we encounter. The rules always change but no one tells you what the rules are, it’s up to you to figure it out. I’m quite proud that I’ve managed to rent an apartment, enroll Liv into a great school, made many friends (although several of our expat friends have moved on) without speaking the language or having any family here to help us. Everyday we still pinch ourselves we are here.

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I love this flawed yet magnificent place and I feel French in my heart even with my ‘orreeble Fwench azcent! Merci, for reading my blog and I hope you stick around whilst I catch up on our travel posts from this past year. I am working hard to upload, edit and post over 100,000 photos.

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Bisous,

The Hall Conleys

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.

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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.

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

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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*

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My Evian water bottle crates

Bonjour,

I have a story to share about how I copped the most coveted pink Evian bottle crates. I first saw the Evian crates on Apartment Therapy’s Instagram a short time after we moved to France. I thought they were perfect for our apartment but I had no idea where to find them. The next thing I knew, I was seeing them everywhere.

All the brasseries have their bottled drinks delivered daily, so you can’t help but see the colorful crates stacked outside on the streets.

I have asked the staff at every brasserie about buying one of the crates however they told me the crates were rented from the Evian water company so they couldn’t sell them to me. “Ç’est impossible” seems to be the French National motto. Thus began my Evian crate obsession, asking every time I saw some at a bar or restaurant. I never even knew how much I was willing to spend on them (€25 each probably) because no one would even consider it. Finally someone told me to just go to the source and ask the Evian water company directly.

I never got around to that, we happen to be driving back from Cannes when I saw a ton of crates on the sidewalk.

I made a quick (and probably illegal) U-turn and jumped out to ask the guy who was making the delivery. He didn’t speak English so I had my official translator do her thing and he sounded happy to help me.

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So the guy tells us, he isn’t allowed to sell them but we can go to a nearby grocery store to see if they have any. I had butterflies in my stomach with excitement!

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We followed the guy a few blocks away to a Franprix store (a smaller version of Trader Joes) and he spoke to the guy at the register. I was grinning like a crazy person when he walked us to the back of the store. He then pulls out a 12 pack of Evian plastic bottles of water and is like “Here you go!

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The language barrier is no joke. So that was a complete bust, I disappointedly drove back to Nice. I was over it by then. I knew that I would just end up bidding on an Evian crate on eBay for like $200 with ridiculous shipping. I looked for the crates online and I didn’t find any for sale.

So, the next day we went to the the Cours Saleya market in old town Nice. As we were walking over Antz noticed a door he thought would be interesting to photograph.

As I was posing in front of this door trying to get a shot without so much shadow, a guy came over with a delivery of water bottles and of course he had a few Evian crates.

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At first, I just moved out of his way but Antz insisted I ask the guy. He was confused by my horrible French but Liv translated and he told us to hold on while he went inside. I was fully prepared to hear the same thing “Ç’est impossible.” Well, he was smiling at us and he told us to come with him. We walked around the block to his truck. He jumped up and started moving things around. I was asking Antz for cash, not sure of how much I should offer. He then slide over a Coke Cola crate towards me. Liv then said “Non, rose Evian s’il vous plait.” I almost started crying when he jumped down he handed a crate to me, then another one he gave to Liv. I told him I only had €20 but he refused to take it. You guys, this angel straight up gave me two of the most sought after things I’ve been searching for in Paris for months!

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I gave him bises (two kisses on the cheeks) and said Merci a million times. I mean look at my face!! Nice is so aptly named. I couldn’t offer anyone any amount of money to get one of these things in Paris but he just gave them to us. So freaking rad!

I was ecstatic. It didn’t at all occur on me that I had to haul them on the plane back to Paris. I didn’t really care, I was just so happy to finally have them.

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If I had the space I would buy all the vintage postcards and portraits I could find. I love Victorian photographs.

 

This vide-grenier (antique sale) had so many good treasures. I was looking for a French emblem often worn after WW1 and WW2. The first ones we saw were expensive. He wanted €75 for this one.

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I found some cooler ones for €40 for two. They are so fragile, I’m afraid to wear them out because I don’t want to lose them.

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I also fell hard for this Parisian landmarks charm bracelet.

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I wish I bought it but it was a little over my budget and the bracelet was too snug. If it had a few more links it would have fit more comfortably. I am still on the lookout for a vintage bracelet, it’s exactly what I want.

I ended up having the Evian crates wrapped in plastic at the airport for €25 and then Air France charged me another €70 to fly them home, so in reality I spent almost €100 for these crates but I love them so much, I think they are totally worth it.

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I am currently using one of the crates for our plant and the other one is our printer stand until I find a replacement. I could also use one for a bed for Lola or to hold my records. They are super cute and functional.

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Have you ever been on a mission for a sought-after item? It’s so much harder here in France because my go-to websites don’t ship here. Yet, it’s still fun to search for treasures.

Bonjournée!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bougainvillea everywhere!

 

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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    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.

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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?

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Bon Voyage!