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!

How to find the almost-perfect Paris Airbnb rental

Bonjour,

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

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

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

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

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

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The courtyard was quiet and lovely

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

Stick to your budget.

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

Who could say no to these happy faces!

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

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

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

Beware of dated apartments.

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

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

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

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

Be flexible about the location.

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

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

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

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

Lizzie

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!

Mon Ami Paree intro post

“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!

 

Mon Ami Paree intro post

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

Away we Go!

We arrived in London after a wonderful, fun flight with Virgin Atlantic. 

Smell ya later USA!
 
 
 
 
Ready to fly Antz?
Wait, shouldn’t this say first class?
Liv was so happy to wear her Michael Jackson top *an early birthday gift from her Ninos*

 

No one would suspect these happy shoes to be naughty
Yay! Time for $5 airport bottled water
That is quite the nose on you airplane
Where are you guys headed?
Is it time to go yet??
 
Elsa declares it was Princess boarding time

 

Here’s an important travel tip for your next flight. ALWAYS bring a gift for the flight attendants. I gave ours some fancy chocolates and they were stoked! Guess who was showered with extra in-flight goodies and given special treatment?
These guys!
And Olivia was incredible during the whole flight. She happily chewed her bubble gum *from her Godmommy Aimee* and she wasn’t scared during take off at all. Meanwhile, I had a tad bit of airline anxiety.
Nothing drinks won’t fix, Thanks Johanna!!
Goodbye Malibu!
Liv really enjoyed reading her new Frozen book. She kept herself occupied for most of the flight
Harry & Wills chose the beef stew for dinner
When you order lemonade in the UK, you’re getting a Sprite in disguise
I normally loathe airplane food but Virgin really steps up their service
Time for a Plane Pony Party!
Who’s ready for Europe??!! HELL YEAH!
Sleepy Panda
Woke up just in time to say Hello to Björk’s hometown!
Wow! Glasgow
 
All the flight attendants loved this kid
 
Thanks for getting us there safe and sound!

We took the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station. I highly recommend spending the extra $10 for a less stressful and faster option for getting into London.

The train wasn’t crowded at all and we were able to put our luggage on a rack. We zipped into Central London in fifteen minutes.
 
 

 

This was my first time in a London train station, so I was in awe of everything
 

Paddington Station was so charming, I wanted to stay there for hours taking more photos but we had to rush to pick up our car rental. Holy shit, driving on the left in London was CRAZY!! It really takes some getting used to driving on the left side of the street and I only drove on the wrong side of the street once. A lovely group of guys outside of a pub yelled “WRONG WAY!” just before traffic killed us.

Packing for Europe

Our big trip to London, Paris and Amsterdam is one night away and I am so excited!

The husband finally finished packing last night. He’s always the last to pack but he’s the lightest packer. Everyone seems to think I’m over packing but even Antz couldn’t fit all his clothes and toiletries in his tiny carry-on. We were just about to buy this bag from Flight 001 *one of these days I hope to buy this guy* for him when he remembered I won a nice Samonite duffle bag from my old company at a Christmas raffle. At the time I won this bag, I was disappointed I didn’t win the ipod but boy am I happy we have it now.

Antz suitcaseThere’s a separate compartment on the bottom for shoes and it has backpack strap and wheels. I found the cute luggage tag at Target.

I bought a voltage converter so I will be able to use my flat iron *I am praying it won’t break* and Antz made some snazzy luggage tags for me.

Antz backpackHe’s such a minimalist

Herschel Supply Co Heritage Backpack

Homemade luggage tags *He designed them, printed them and I took them to Staples to get laminated, only cost $1.50 for 4!*

Apple iPhone/Apple Earbuds

Antz passport

Nikon D3000 SLR Camera

Gum *Olivia is super excited because she is allowed to chew gum during our flight so her ears don’t hurt from the pressure

Eyeglasses

Apple iPad

Ghirardelli chocolate *I bought some as a gift for the flight attendants

Aveeno Baby Daily Moisture Lotion *sometimes baby products work best for adults

My bag is also from Herschel Supply Co

I have a must-have list of items I can’t fly without.

Hand sanitizing wipes (as someone who worked for an airline before, wipe the plane’s tray before using).

Cozy socks so you can take your shoes off during long flights.

I can’t sleep without an eye mask (Target always has cute ones in the $1 aisle).

Aveeno Positively Radiant Face moisturizer

Travel size perfume Marc Jacobs Daisy rollerball

EOS lip balm (I like vanilla mint)

I always fly with a rosary (I’m Catholic so it’s obligatory)

I have this rad Rebecca Minkoff pouch for my makeup

Since I couldn’t fit the Nikon camera in my bag, I carry the smaller Nikon J1.

I packed a book I’m excited to read and a couple of travel journals for the long train rides. 

I packed my Fuji instant camera in my check-in suitcase, nestled in between my clothes so it won’t break (fingers crossed)

I don’t fold my clothes, I roll everything to decrease wrinkles and save space. I also make a copy of my passport in case my original gets lost. I’ve had these Streetwise maps for a few years and I finally get to put them to use!

I hope I’m not over the weight amount for my suitcase. I’m an over-packer.

Today I picked up our foreign currency at the bank so now I’m ready to make it rain in the shops!!

British pounds
Lizzie & Queen Elizabeth
 

I hope my talisman will keep us safe, I love mythical superstitions! Do you have any travel good luck charms?