Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy Friday!

You might remember how a few weeks before I left for Europe, I was told that I'd be laid off from my full-time. Well luckily for me (though it'd been such a pain for months before), I'd been working 52 hours a week due to my second job covering music and celebrity news for BET.com. So when I mentioned that I'd be leaving my day job, I just took up more hours with them. This week, I started my new schedule and I can't complain. Aside from my original night shifts twice a week, I'm also producing content for the site's lifestyle section Monday through Fridays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This leaves my afternoons free to wander around the city, pursue my other projects, relax, or celebrate the weekend a little early like I did today.

I've only just started this new routine so I still need to get better organized and schedule in exercise, creativity, and other freelance work. One thing's for sure though, I now have more energy to share things with you and finally upgrading to a MacBook Pro has made researching and writing so much easier! Next week, a roundup of where we stayed during our travels, the one European item I just needed to have, a chat with an author/creative force behind a popular stationery company, and sounding off on a first date issue.

Have an amazing weekend my little monkeybutts. If the rain holds off tomorrow, A., a couple friends, and I will be heading to Six Flags!



A sweet stop-motion Spanish music video by sibs Jesse & Joy and here's how they made it. (via Lola's Cookies)

Build your own strand of lighted balls at this colorful shop in Paris. (I popped in, too!)

Cheap, community-driven classes courtesy of the Brooklyn Brainery. (via Swissmiss)

Would you ever try these galaxy nails?

Draw a Stickman makes your wack drawings come to life.

I'm finding these cinemagraphs mesmerizing. Here's more about these "still images that move."

Oral sex tips to use on him and her.

A simple way to make pretty paper tassels.

Stunning photos of emptiness and color.

It's obviously not the same as being there, but Arounder lets you take virtual tours of cities around the world. Visit Barcelona, New York, or Shanghai from your chair while I use it to remember the places we visited this month and see where I should go next.

P.S. Have you heard of Occupy Wall Street? It's a NYC movement that's gone on for two weeks now to protest the greed running through the financial district. A. and I went to check it out on a whim today and ended up participating for nearly four hours and marching against police brutality. I'm in awe of those activists who fight tirelessly for changes every chance they get because good God we got home tired, thirsty and damn near deaf from all that yelling!

A Chat With: The Notebook Doodles


I've been following The Notebook Doodles for quite a bit now and just had to share for those who haven't stumbled upon it yet. My own notebooks are often filled with scribbles and drawings all along the margins, but this anonymous 20-something doodler takes to Moleskin notebooks with such handwritten artistic flair, it'll probably make your own penmanship look like unrefined chicken scratch. In her collection you'll find scans of notebook collages with quotes, thoughts, and lists paired with torn images, photos, and illustrations. I also love that although she might make some finishing touches on the computer, she's old-school like me in that she starts the whole process with pen, paper, and an idea.

Hi and thanks for chatting with us! My handwriting is pretty neat, but you've just turned yours into this pretty work of art. When did you start creating your notebook doodles?

I started in high school and I've since had a lot of time just learning and improving them as I go along.

How often do you draw and practice on a given week?

It really depends. I can't give a concrete answer because there are some days where I won't doodle at all and there are other days where all I do is doodle.

Tell me a little bit about the process after you get an idea. Do you do it all by hand or on the computer?

I do everything by hand first, with a pen and a notebook and then I'll scan it onto the computer. If I need to tweak anything, I'll do that on Photoshop and that's pretty much the process.

When you're not doodling in your notebook, how do you spend your time?

Drinking lots of coffee and with work obligations, but if I'm lucky, I'll be relaxing, watching my favorite TV shows, doodling, and sleeping.

I know that you can be commissioned for projects. What kinds of work can people hire you to do?

Anything doodle related. And that's a wide range of things from blog banners, posters, postcards, logos, invitations, note cards, and so on.

Right! I saw the posters you created for Enlighten Education that paired your photography with inspiring messages. Do you have any other things you'd like to create in the future or fun projects in store for your followers?

Well, I definitely would hope to keep on creating and whatever comes, we'll just have to see!
*****

If you want to carry around a tiny reminder of your wonderfulness, you can download all of the posters The Notebook Doodles created for Enlighten Education to use as free wallpaper for your phone. Just visit EnlightenEducation.com to choose your favorite one. Or rather ones because I can't decide between "I am free to be my authentic self" and "no matter what today brings." What about you?

Images: thenotebookdoodles.com

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ever Flowing


I just wanted to say thanks so much for all the kind words of support I've received via comments, emails, and messages. It's so sweet to know that there are people who care, from those who've known me my entire life and people whom I've yet to meet in person. You're all awesome.

It's weird, but in talking with friends over the last couple days and being asked what it is that's making me feel this way, I've realized that I don't even know anymore. Insecurities and resentments perhaps? (Though the girls seem to think women are just hard-wired for the dramatics.) Lord knows. Over the last couple of years things seem to have improved so much on the outside, but inside I had just set things on simmer, sometimes acting as if everything was okay so I wouldn't have to deal with stuff. Fake it 'til you make it so to speak. So obviously when a little spark sends everything to a boil, I can't suppress these feelings anymore. I think I justified those moments with the fact that hey, at least the scales are tipped in the positive direction more often than not these days.

So here I am like I've been countless times before, contemplating and acting upon next steps. To those who've stood where I do, who have been successful, and who are still struggling through the mist, I admire you for not giving in. A good friend of mine shared a quote with me yesterday while we lunched under the trees of Bryant Park that I hope speaks to you as it did to me:

"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." (Heraclitus)

Whenever you feel like you're back in the same spot you were before, look around you. While you were busy climbing, stumbling, and getting back up, everything was changing along with you. That spot you now find yourself in has been affected by the passage of time, the people who've entered or left your life, and by the bounty of experiences you've gathered in your arms along the way. Hopefully these changes translate into strength to push just a little further each time around.

Image: cinemagraphs.com

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And Then You Realize You Never Changed At All

It was February 14, 2008 when Mr. First explained over the phone and through our tears that maybe it'd be best for me if we ended the relationship. That I needed to focus on myself for a while so I could feel better and find happiness - even if it meant alongside someone else someday. That it was tearing him apart that no matter how hard he tried, I just couldn't smile anymore. When the phone call ended, I felt like my whole world had just fallen to pieces beneath me. I wanted the bed to close in on me and swallow me whole, I couldn't sink deep enough into it.

Slowly but eventually the spinning stopped, I regained some sense of balance, and then I met A.

That night three years ago replayed in my head as I sat sobbing on A.'s floor at two in the morning, my mind slowly spiraling out of control. It was as if my boyfriends secretly get the same script upon meeting me, to read from once things inevitably get stormy.

"I don't know how else I can help you," he whispered in the dark. "I'd hoped you'd be the one, too."

Last night I not only cried out of pity and for the self-hatred that surges uncontrollably within me, but I also cried for A., for letting us fall in love when it feels like I'm still so far from being fine. I cried from the realization that no matter how much time has passed or how much distance is between the previous relationship and this one, at the end of the night, I'm still me, this same mess I've grown into. The floorboards were unforgiving as I doubled over, shaking my head, refusing to believe that I was here again. All these years and here again.

I might not be a child growing up under the ignorant wrath of tough love anymore, but even though I'm an adult, with a life all her own, and surrounded by people who love her, I still devalue and see myself as I did back then: jittery and paranoid, unsure and made overly sensitive from decades of intense emotions. One little criticism from someone who matters to me, someone for whom I have this need to please in order to feel worthy, and it creates a wound so sick it quickly metastasizes through my brain.

No one can know how it feels to be inside my head, but it tore my heart to see how I was slowly breaking his. I can't blame A. if he couldn't stick around as I fought through my self-destruction, I told him, but God how it hurt when I saw just how close to the edge we really were. All I could do was hold onto him with all I had, scared that if I let him go now he'd fly away, too. So we sat there on the floor, forehead-to-forehead, the room still too dark to see each other's eyes.

"I can't do this anymore," I told his silhouette. "I feel crazy. It hurts...I feel terrible."

We talked about the need for progress, turning to professional help again, and how I have to love myself more than I do now. When we ran out of words to say to each other, we went to bed, exhausted, and with my hand firmly grasping his.

"I need to know there's a light at the end of this tunnel," he said this morning. "I need you to stop hating yourself. I need you to stop hurting yourself. No excuses or falling because it's easy."

"I thought you were done last night..." I said.

"I thought so, too, but you're worth it so please tell me what it is I can do to help you. I want to believe that you can fight through this. I'm going to be wishing really, really hard."

Image: flickr.com

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's the Little Things That Make the Heart Swell

Little Things is a collection of simple moments, feelings and things that brighten up our days. We might think happiness is at the end of more money, a bigger apartment, better clothes, and honestly, they very well could be, but what if we can't get them right this minute? We might as well take note of all the other pleasures that already bring joy to our lives, fleeting as they may be, appreciate them and find ways to multiply their occurrences.

On my list:

wading through puddles and watching the cool water wash over warm rain boots * an unexpected check * doing something nice for someone and not telling anyone * a yawn so good it's followed by a sigh * crunchy fallen leaves * catching myself wave goodbye while on the phone * toothless baby smiles * old couples slowly walking down the street holding hands * peeing after holding it in for a long time * clear day, empty road, windows down, music up * mango sorbet * tip-toeing so A. can kiss my forehead * thoughtful blog comments * meeting a friend for food and getting so caught up in the convo, the waitress comes around three times before you finally get to ordering * being told "I like that name" after meeting me * closing my eyes and feeling the air gush past me when the train enters the station

What's on yours?

Image: justlittlethings.net

Friday, September 23, 2011

Exploring Cannes, Florence, and Rome

I'm that weird breed of human that actually feels guilty when she's relaxing so when our hectic day-to-day pace slowed down midway through Barcelona, I felt as though we were missing out on mandatory sightseeing. I mean who goes all the way to Spain to stay in their hotel room and watch TV when we could be climbing Montjuïc? So I'd make up for it by waking up at the crack of dawn to be productive,  check my emails, send off pitches and secure some freelance work while A. slept in. And by slept in I mean I left him alone until 9 a.m. because hello! How much sleep does a person really need anyway?

Well somewhere between the U.S. Open and our trips to the nudist beach Mar Bella, I allowed myself to chill out. And that continued into Cannes because honestly there's not much else to do there other than hit the beach and wonder what on Earth brought you to Cannes if you're not a celebrity, swimming in hedge funds, or docking your big fancy boat. The streets were lined with stores catering to the boojie set: Prada, Miu Miu, Chanel, Rolex, Bulgari, on and on and only broken up by the luxury hotels that fronted the sea. The olive on top was the Festival de la Plaisance that was taking place while we were in town, which filled the city's port with white tents and luxury yachts for show. And there I was, in my Old Navy shorts and 2-for-$5 flip flops, an outsider shyly enjoying the scenes playing out before her.

That said, I decided that if there was ever a time when we should go on a nice dinner date, it was definitely while we were in the French Riviera. So on our last night, I whipped out the mascara, A. his button down, and we went out for a stroll and food - at McDonald's. Okay, kidding. We only had fries so I could munch on something while we waited for the evening to arrive before slipping into Modo Mio (43, bis Rue Félix Faure; 33 (0)4 9399-0855; modomio.fr). My risotto and prawns tasted fine, but I loved the Riesling substitute they whipped up for me: a French kir cocktail made with white wine and peach nectar.

So two weeks into our trip I'd finally pulled out the little black dress that I knew would take me from frazzled backpacker to flirtatious girlfriend. And I don't think it cost me more than 30 bucks at H&M.


Even though there was more to see in Florence, our schedule truly picked up on our last day there, which is when I'd made reservations for both Galleria dell'Accademia (Michelangelo's David! Bartolini!) and Galleria degli Uffizi (Botticelli's Birth of Venus!). Before that we'd just wandered along the cobblestone streets without much planned...except for that time I made us walk all the way across town in search of a particular gelato shop around 10 p.m. and in the process bypassing, oh, about five other perfectly good options. We ended up choosing a gelateria a block away from our hostel after a) we were unsuccessful in our mission, b) Dorkys started getting tired and cranky and c) all the places we'd previously passed by had closed. We did find Vivoli Il Gelato (Via dell' Isola delle Stinche, 7r; 055/292-334; vivoli.it) the following day (turns out they were closed the day before) and I still dream about that coffee/chocolate-nutella combo that A. and I created.

Other fun places we checked out: colorful notebooks at Made in Tuscany (Via delgi Alfani,129), raspberry sorbet at Festival del Gelato (Via del Corso; 055/294-386; firenzegelatofestival.it), expensive artisan stationery at Papelerías Signum (Lungarno degli Archibusieri, 14r; 055/289-393), and a dip into our childhood at the impressive toy store Dreoni Giocattoli (Via Camillo Cavour 19; 055 216611; dreoni.it).


Seeing the places I'd learned about in school 10 years ago reminded me of how much I enjoyed architecture history. I.M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre, the Notre Dame, Antoni Gaudi's work throughout Barcelona, Brunelleschi's Duomo for the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, these were all places that only existed in books and pictures for years. At the end of some days, A. and I would spend time researching and talking about the spaces and faces behind these works of art and our re-learning of sorts grew once we entered Rome.

There's no need to say just how much history -  and, to my atheist boyfriend's dismay, religion - runs through the heart of that city. We walked through the sprawling Roman Forum - parts of which are still being excavated - and the Colosseum across the street. A. was excited for the latter, but at this point I was beginning to feel the wear from all the heat, walking and traveling we'd been doing. Of course on our last in Europe, we plowed a day-long 4-mile path straight through Rome starting in Vatican City and ending at our Airbnb stay. We covered as much as we could along the way and my favorite moments included feeling in awe and somewhat small after walking into the Pantheon and marveling at the coffered dome and oculus, making a wish at the Trevi Fountain (though I'm pretty sure I threw my coin in all wrong), and then climbing up to the nearly-empty Piazza del Quirinale to watch the sun set behind St. Peter's Basilica in the distance.

We stopped to rest at Piazza della Repubblica to watch the traffic make its way along the roundabout and were treated to an Italian's tirade against the Roma, or Gypsies. See that's the thing. You could fly halfway around the world and color a place beautifully romantic, but social issues will still be very much alive and well no matter where you go. So we sat on the steps that final night recounting pieces of our three-week tour through Western Europe while this man poured out his feelings for blocks and back until we got up and finished our trek back home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Live the Language Continues Short Film Series

Oh how happy was I to see a comment on my last Live the Language post informing me that the EF International Language Centers have added three new films to its series? In addition to London, Beijing, Barcelona, and Paris, they now have shorts on Los Angeles, Sydney, and Vancouver, too. I've had my eye on Montreal for quite some time now (purely for the French), but learning how to snowboard down the slopes of Vancouver without breaking my neck sounds like a fine idea, too.


And P.S. I had to rewatch the Paris film and actually felt a bit sad about the fact that I'm here instead of there. How can you miss a place so much? What did make me smile? Reading about how badly I wanted my own European adventure and travel to France, Spain, and Italy and standing here six months later with that wish checked off my list.

Oh and speaking of languages, I'd like to say that I didn't completely forget all my French over the last 10 years and that my Italian kicked in quite nicely during our travels. It was such a joy to be surrounded by different languages and pick up new vocabulary just from walking down the street, listening to passersby, and reading signs. Being forced to speak French after such a long time flustered me in the beginning, but by the time we reached Rome, I chose to ask questions and gather info in Italian rather than resort to my native tongue. (Barcelona was obviously un pedazo de bizcocho.) Now I wish everything in NYC were also written in at least two foreign languages. Until that happens, I've signed up for a conversational Italian class so I can become more comfortable speaking it. God I hope I don't sound completely remedial tomorrow.

Monday, September 19, 2011

30 Gifts to 30 Strangers in Sydney

A week after I posted Lucas Jatobá's Adeu, Barcelona video where he filled the city's skies with free theater tickets tied to balloons, he sent me his latest project from Australia along with a message about the importance of giving back. For his 30th birthday, the Brazilian art director went around Sydney to give 30 gifts to 30 strangers. "I wanted to people see how good is to be grateful and kind with everyone, not only with your family and friends," he says. "We are all brothers and we share the same home, Planet Earth, so we need to be kind and good with EVERYONE."


My own milestone birthday is only four months away and it's turning out to be quite the motivator. Rather than dread entering a new decade, I'd rather use it to push me to accomplish big things and prep myself for the bigger things to come.

Do (or did) any of you have any major goals you'd like to make happen before hitting 30?

Settling Back Into NYC

We've returned from our European trip! It was such an incredible time filled with so many discoveries that it's inspired me to seek a life spent traveling abroad. After all that how can I sit still in one place knowing there's so much more to see in the world? But for now, I guess we're pretty lucky that coming home means returning to New York City. Three weeks felt like forever and honestly, by the time A. and I reached Italy we knew that we'd be ready to come back when the time finally came. Now if I could just get my body readjusted to the six-hour time difference...

Our trip by the numbers:

5 Countries visited
8 Cities explored in 23 days
15 Railway trains taken
2800 Miles covered by railway trains
4 Metro/subway systems conquered
9 Lodgings we checked into
$27 Price of cheapest lodging per person per night
$150 Price of most expensive lodging per night
3 Number of times we did laundry
4 Languages Dorkys was forced to speak
0 Times we were pick-pocketed, forgot something, or missed a train
2 Notebooks Dorkys purchased for her collection
2 Decks of local playing cards A. purchased for his collection
10 Ice cream, sorbet and gelatos consumed
3087 Pictures taken

Posts on Cannes, Florence and Rome will be ready soon along with my tips on backpacking and peeks into the range of places we stayed in. I'm so excited to show you guys some more photos! In the meantime, I'm sending a huge thank you and hugs to my awesome guest bloggers who not only contributed great insight for many of the cities we visited, but also kept in touch via email and Twitter during our travels. I'm so grateful to them all (especially those who checked in and sent tips when A. suddenly ran a high fever in Paris). In case you missed them:

An artistic view of Prague by Russian illustrator Yelena Bryksenkova.
Tourist do's and don'ts while in France by Milla Msa of Not Just Another Milla.
Parisian date ideas by Lindsey Tramuta of Lost in Cheeseland.
A love story spanning NYC to Paris by Kasia Dietz of Love in the City of Lights.
The Paris Color Project by Nichole Robertson of Little Brown Pen.
Travel is about how you see the world by Anne Ditmeyer of Prêt à Voyager.
The charms of Barcelona by Monna McDiarmid.
Going local in Venice by travel writer Lara Dunston of Grantourismo.
Memories of Venice by Eva of Four Leaf Clover.
Five ways to experience Florence like a local by Kate Hash of La Vita è Bella.
A fondness for Florence by Melinda Gallo.
Tips for living in Rome by Shelley Ruelle of Un'americana a Roma.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tips for Living in Rome

Shelley Ruelle of Un'americana a Roma, knows a thing or two about making it work in the Eternal City - she's been living in Rome since 2001. Here, she offers a few suggestions for any expat-wannabe's who'd like to call Rome home, too.


Rome is so many things: chaos, a tiny town that only looks and seems big, a city with more than 2,000 years of history. Rome is gelato! Rome is men whistling at women on the street (foreign women that is, because the Italian ones won't give them the time of day. They know better!) Rome is muscular men dressed up as gladiators in front of the Colosseum. Rome is... Rome is my adopted city and it holds a place in my heart that truly nothing else in this world can compare to.

It's not easy to live in Rome so get all that "Eat Pray Love" nonsense out of your head. Living in Rome is about fighting for what you need, getting ripped off until you speak the language well enough to fight back and about fighting for your place in line... for all eternity.

But it's also fabulous chats with taxi drivers who can tell you all about the spirit of this city. Rome is about poets from the 1800s who wrote hilarious and vulgar poetry in the local dialect. It's about walking around the corner, seeing the Pantheon and never getting tired of it. It's about wearing heels and getting them stuck in between the cobblestones. It's about overpriced aperitivi, beautiful sunsets and kisses on romantic bridges. It's about life itself.

So you want to move here? Wow, brave you are. Well then, here are my tips:

1. First off, do you have an EU passport? You had better otherwise you'll be living illegally here after 90 days. Italy tends to turn a blind eye to Americans who "overstay" their welcome, but I'm not going to recommend it. It's incredibly hard to get a stay permit here. You could enroll in a study program and get a student visa or you could marry an Italian, but seeing as how I'm recently separated, I wouldn't exactly recommend that route.

2. Unless you're being transferred here by an American company your job options could be: teaching English as a second language, which is what I did; becoming a tour guide, which isn't easy because you need an official city license to do so; or translating. If you want to teach ESL, get your CELTA certification. You can do that here at the Accademia Brittanica. Everyone recommends the semi-intensive course because the intensive course is a bit too intensive.

3. Housing in Rome is EXPENSIVE. You can rent out a single room in the center in a shared apartment with one bathroom and kitchen access and you're looking at anywhere from €500 to €700, or $800 to $1000 a month. A good source for finding housing is the all-purpose expat mag Wanted in Rome. It's also a good source for job hunters.

4. A good way to get hooked into the expat network here is online. A lot of us are on Facebook and have blogs so search around and email expats who are already here. Generally we are pretty willing to help other crazy souls like ourselves because we get it. If you have the passion to want to live here, trust me, nothing is going to cure you until you do it.

5. Don't worry about having a car. Public transport is pretty crappy, but you'll have to rely on it. It's still one of the cheapest tickets in Europe - just €1 for 75 minutes and one subway ride. Just ignore the transport strikes that regularly occur on Fridays. I am convinced this is to give the transport workers a nice long weekend.

So here's wishing everyone who ventures to Rome a very buon viaggio. Cheers! Or, as we say around these parts, cin-cin!

Images: courtesy of Shelley Ruelle

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Florence is Where My Heart Is

To continue the trend of Americans who've left the U.S. for green pastures across the pond, I leave you with Melinda Gallo, who decided that a trip to Florence might be the push she needed to learn the language and be inspired to write. It wasn't love at first sight, she says, but eventually realized that this was where she was meant to be.

I didn’t fall immediately in love with Florence when I first came for a visit. All the tourists, heat, and constant ruckus annoyed me. It was the middle of summer and I came for one day. I visited the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, but I don’t remember much else. At that time in my life, I had been living in France and England for six years and enjoyed my life in each one. It wasn’t until I returned the following year to study Italian and focus on my writing that I fell in love with Florence.

After my second day of Italian classes, I meandered the Florentine streets hoping to discover more of the city’s beauty. Up to that point, I could only recognize the main sights and was now enjoying Florence much more without the crowded streets that I had to contend with the previous year. I walked around the city aimlessly and let myself be led by whatever inspired me.

I eventually walked into an empty and dimly lit church just behind via Calzaiuoli, which I later learned was Orsanmichele. I sat down in a pew in front of a large painting of the Madonna and child, placed inside an ornate marble structure. After looking around a few times wondering why no one else was here to admire it, I felt as if I had just found a treasure and felt honored to be alone with it.

While I studied the church, a blanket of peacefulness came over me. In the silence, I had this overwhelming sense that I was home. My body relaxed into the pew and all I could feel was joy. In that moment, I realized that my living overseas had been about my finding a home. Even though I always felt comfortable where I’ve lived in the US, France and England, I knew that there was something missing. None of these places felt like home to me.

When I walked out of Orsanmichele, I was full of vim and vigor. Florence looked different to me: it became more alive and beautiful in my eyes. The expression “home is where the heart is” means more to me than the place I love the most; it’s the place where I can finally open my heart and become the person I was born to be. I've learned that home is not a destination, but rather a place where you grow and thrive.

My being in love with Florence has opened my eyes to her beauty. Each day that I am here, the city becomes more beautiful to me. Sometimes it’s just the angle of a monument in front of a building or the way the light reflects off the water in the Arno that melts my heart. Florence has had a great impact on me: my heart overflows with love and appreciation for this enchanting city that has not only welcomed me into its heart, but also encouraged me to open my own.

Images: courtesy of Melinda Gallo first published here and here

Monday, September 12, 2011

5 Ways to Experience Florence Like a Local


When I was looking for someone to write about life in Florence, I was so fortunate to stumble upon Rob and Kate Hash's blog La Vita è Bella. I think mine would be too if I were so lucky to qualify for a dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy and stay as long as I wish. That said, I think just being able to experience the city for a few days is pretty damn good...even if I do have to return home eventually.

Hi everyone! My name is Kate and I'm a dual Italian-American citizen living in the gorgeous city of Florence, Italy. When most people conjure up an image of Florence, it's typically of the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, Piazza Signoria, The David or another popular tourist attraction. While they are all must-see sites for a trip to Florence, I highly encourage you to get out and experience the city with the locals while you are here. Here are five ideas to get you started:

1. Apertivo

Think happy hour, but with free food. Apertivo is a way of life here in Italy. For about 10 euro you receive one drink and endless plate refills of an appetizer buffet. One of my favorites is the 8 euro apertivo at Kitsch 2; it can get crowded, but the selection of food is great. Via San Gallo, 22


1. Odeon Theater

One of the most beautiful movie theaters that you will ever step foot in, the Odeon plays a great variety of American, Italian and foreign films. The best part? "Libero Ingresso" or "Free Entrance" movies are pretty common -- just the other day I saw "Per un Pugno di Dollari/A Fistful of Dollars" with my Clint Eastwood-loving husband. After a long day of touring, can you think of anything better than catching a great flick in gorgeous surroundings? You can check out the schedule here.


3. Free Museum Tuesdays

If you happen to be in town on the last Tuesday of the month, be sure to enjoy state museums' extended hours. When most tourists are heading out to dinner, those in-the-know are heading out for free entrance to some of the city's best museums.


4. Notte Bianca/White Night

If you're lucky enough to be in town during a White Night celebration, make sure you do not miss it. Typically two are held in the late-Spring/early-Summer -- one in the city center and the other in the Oltrarno (my neighborhood!). Great entertainment, tasty food and streets packed with people combine for a spirited atmosphere. Google "Notte Bianca" to see if your trip dates match up to a celebration.

5. Gelato Tasting

Ask five people to recommend the best gelato in the city and you will get five different answers. Gelato is a very personal thing! Do you like yours creamy or icy? Rich or sweet? Chunky or smooth? So many questions, so little time. My suggestion? Dedicate an entire day to tasting gelato at random gelaterias that you see around town. It's gluttonous, but also fun -- because in the process of looking for shops you are bound to find corners of the city that you didn't know existed.

Images: flickr.com, flickr.com and flickr.com

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Stroll Through a Venetian Memory Lane

I first discovered Eva of Four Leaf Clover when she guest blogged at Not Your Average Ordinary during Brandi's road trip from California to New York. After reading about her travels through Paris, Venice, Athens, Prague, Krakow and Vienna, I wanted to know more (and take off on my own trip already)! Luckily for us she was more than happy to share her fondest memories about her time in Venice. Like her, I'm sure once I visit the city I'll feel like my time will be much-too-short.

Venice, Italy will always have a special place in my heart. It's full of old, beautiful buildings, bridges, boats and apparently a lot of things that start with the letter "b." Reminiscing over my favorite parts of the city and the time I spent in Venice has brought up a whole list of memories. Here are some of my favorite.
One of the first and last monuments I saw in Venice was the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge). When nearing our first stop on the boat taxi, my friend and I passed under the Rialto and from then I was determined to go back to it within the three short days of our time in Venice.

It happened on our last day in Venice and only a few hours before we had to catch our ferryboat to Greece. Although we were cutting it close, I persuaded my friend to go back into Venice one last time. I chose the steps of the Rialto Bridge to enjoy those last few moments and boy, am I glad! Those minutes made the whole trip worth it. It was the first day the sun had graced Venice during my time there and the city was taking it all in. People were pulling up their pant legs, taking off their shirts (guys and girls, but the girls had tank tops, of course!) and tanning along the canal. It was as though the city wanted me to remember it in its full glory.

Not only is Venice unique because it's a city made up of islands, but the architecture is something else as well. Each building has so many details in the window frames, the wall colors, the design. If only the whole world tried its very best to keep everything as unique and full of details as Venice does. At the time, I was disappointed with how many buildings were covered in scaffolding, but it takes a lot of effort to keep a city like this in good shape.

My friend and I got lost so many times in Venice. All those bridges and alleyways get you from one island to five over in no time. Looking at the map, you'd think you're far from one main island only to be crossing over a bridge to where you want to be a few minutes later. Getting lost, though, was one of the best things we could have done. We saw things we'd never have known about had we just stuck to the main spots. We ended up in local neighborhoods full of cats, hanging laundry tied from one window to the other across the pathway and empty streets.

In the image above, notice that the boats aren't the famous gondolas that always represent the city, but rather the ones locals use as their main form of transportation. We got to see what it's really like to live in Venice. At the same time, it made me sad to think that Venice would soon become quite empty if it weren't for tourists bringing in business.

Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) was the first place in Venice where I set my feet down and one of the last views I got of the city from the ferryboat. It's hard not to believe in magic in such a miraculous place. Since it's been a few years since my last and only trip to the city, I can only remember bits and pieces. Venice is a city which pulls you to return and I don't know what the Italians have done to sprinkle charm over their whole country because even though I was only there for three days, it sparked that desire within me.

Images: all by Eva

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Going Local in Venice

A few days before leaving for our trip, A. and I decided to scratch Venice off our long list of cities to visit in order to give ourselves more time in Barcelona, Cannes and our next stop, Florence. Still, I wanted to share a couple great posts about traveling through Venice. Hopefully one day I'll get to visit her myself.

Travel writer Lara Dunston of Grantourismo and her photographer husband Terence Carter have been visiting Venice for over a decade and she says that she was smitten by Venice when she opted against staying in another hotel. “The first time we went it was just for a few days, as part of a longer backpacking trip through Italy, Spain and Portugal. We stayed in a budget hotel with a telephone-box-like shower in the bedroom! On the second visit, we rented an apartment, and I fell head over heels. Last year, I finally realized it was a deep and meaningful love after we spent two weeks in Venice in a vacation rental – a palazzo apartment on the Grand Canal!" The couple has been all over the world as part of a yearlong grand tour they did in partnership with HomeAwayUK where they stayed in a whopping 36 vacation rentals over 12 months including a beach house in Costa Rica to a penthouse in London. But even with all she's seen, Venice still remains Lara's favorite spot.

There’s no denying that Venice is over-run with tourists – it’s one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations and it gets around 23 million visitors every year. But contrary to rumors, Venetians do live in Venice (some 59,000 of them when we were last there) and the best way to experience Venice is the way the Venetians do. Here are my tips:

1. Stay in a local sestieri. Stay away from the touristy areas around St. Marco and the railway station and stay in a local sestieri, or neighborhood, instead, where Venetians live. I really like the backstreets of Castello and Cannaregio where you find fewer tourists and will see little old ladies gossiping on benches in the squares and kids playing beside the tranquil canals.

2. Rent a palazzo. Skip the hotels and hostels and rent something instead. While I understand a whole palazzo is probably out of your price range (it’s certainly out of mine!), you can find great value apartments in old palaces. The first one we rented years ago was a small studio that cost us just 60 euros a night – a bargain for Venice. On the last trip, we stayed in an atmospheric 17th century Grand Canal palazzo where I could lean out the window each evening and wave at the tourists on the gondolas gliding by!

3. Buy "My Local Guide to Venice." It’s a lovely, compact little guide published by Venetian husband and wife Matteo Bartoli and Mara Sartore, written by locals and available in most bookstores in Venice. It’s crammed with local tips on walks, galleries, museums, churches, shops, cafés, bars and restaurants, many of them off-the-beaten-track or given a fresh local perspective.

4. Stroll everywhere. Most Venetians we meet tell us that they walk everywhere – that’s why they’re so slim! Even locals agree that the vaporetto (public ferry) is expensive. While I’m not recommending you sprint around the city like a Venetian, if you do want to get somewhere fast, just hold on tight to the shirt-tail of a local! If you’ve got time, however, it’s best to take it slowly. Focus on exploring one sestieri at a time. Don’t throw away the map though, because you will get lost. When you do, just look up and you’re sure to see a sign pointing you to Rialto or Accademia (the two bridges) or San Marco or Piazzale Roma (the main squares).

5. Shop Venice’s markets. If you’re able to rent a place, do your shopping at the Rialto markets early each morning, where you can buy wonderful, local seafood, or the Monday organic markets (which start around 11am-noon) at Piazzale Roma, where there’s beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables from the islands in Venice’s lagoon. If you’re not renting a place, the markets are still the place to head to buy delicious fresh fruit to munch on during the day or cheeses, cold cuts and wine for snacks in the evening. There are a few lovely quiet spots on the canal behind the markets where you can dangle your legs over the side and watch the boats go by.


6. Buy a quintessentially Venetian souvenir. Mementos don’t come more local than the beautiful handcrafted notebooks, journals, albums and stationery made by master bookbinder Paolo Olbi, one of the city’s true artisans, in his workshop in Castello. You can visit Paolo at one of his two pretty shops, on Calle della Mandola or Campo Santa Maria Nova where you could be lucky to spot him embossing patterns onto exquisite leather covers. Say I sent you! If you only buy one thing, make it something of Paolo’s. Campo Santa Maria Nuova 6061; 041 523 7655 and Calle della Mandola 3653; 041 528 5025

7. Eat like the locals. This means not eating at the tourist restaurants on the main squares or beside the Grand Canal, and slipping into the backstreets, where you probably won’t have a spectacular view, but you will get to eat stunning food. Make your first stop my favorite Venetian restaurant Trattoria Antiche Carampane (Rio Tera de la Carampane, just off Ramo del Tamossi at San Polo). Note the sign out front which says, "No pizza, no lasagne, no menù turistico” – this is exactly what I love about this place. Owner Francesco heads to the Rialto markets with his chefs every morning to buy the freshest local seafood and that’s what you find on the tables here. Call ahead and book a table, and take a map, it’s tricky to find. And that’s exactly how we like it! Ask Francesco or his waiters for more eating tips.

8. Better yet, learn to cook local cuisine. Try to make time for a cooking class with Countess Enrica Rocca to learn how to cook Venetian cuisine. It’s a full day but a fun day. It begins with a chat over coffee at a café with the other students to decide what to cook, followed by a market walk to see what’s fresh and buy the ingredients, a visit to MilleVini (one of Venice’s best wine shops where Lorenzo will brief you on Veneto wine) and then a spritz at the bar across the lane before strolling back to Enrica’s. Held in her light-filled Dorsoduro home, this could just be the best time you’ll have in Venice, if not your whole trip!

9. Kick Back on Campo Santa Margherita. Forget Harry’s Bar and the usual spots mentioned in all the travel guidebooks. My favorite place for a drink in Venice is one of the handful of bars and pubs on Campo Santa Margherita. They’re nothing special, so don’t order a martini, what you’ve come for is the local atmosphere. If you’re tired, head here for a quiet sunset spritz, but if you’re up for a bit of party, head here late when the square gets jam-packed with university students drinking beers. Prices are cheaper than Harry’s Bar and the place has a whole lot more atmosphere as far as I’m concerned.

10. Learn to love the spritz. That’s the tangerine-coloured drink you see Venetians clutching in their hands, from early in the morning (that’ll be council workers or market vendors who’ve been up since 4 a.m.!) until late at night (that’ll be the students on Campo Santa Margherita who don’t drink beer). I like mine in the late afternoon, just as the sun is setting. If you rent an apartment, you can make your own: Aperol or Campari, Prosecco, soda water and a slice of orange. Cin cin!

Images: courtesy of Terence Carter and Lara Dunston

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Adeu, Barcelona

I wish I could say goodbye to Barcelona the way Brazilian art director Lucas Jatobá did earlier this year. We finally spent some quality time at the beach and though I feel like we could've hit the town even harder than we did our second day here, sometimes you just need that time away from the crowds to just relax and enjoy each other. Sounds simple, but some of my favorite moments with A. here have been sitting in our hotel room, drinking red wine, making fun of learning the inner workings of tennis and the U.S. Open and chasing each other in the Mediterranean Sea. Last night, we spent hours meandering through the tiny alleyways of the Gothic Quarter until we stumbled upon an amazing street performer singing Italian opera and I made us sit for a bit to enjoy the music. See? I learned my lesson (but this time it was A. who was caught up in taking photos). As we walked past tapas bars and late-night diners, I kept telling myself that stuff like this seems like it doesn't happen in real life. And yet here we are.

Barcelona, you were beautiful and I know you've totally captured A.'s attention. If anything, your women sure did.


So where are we off to next? Only the place that A. and I have always threatened to run off to whenever life got stressful: the French Riviera!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Charms of Barcelona

Canadian writer Monna McDiarmid currently resides in Yokohama, Japan, but she's also been fortunate enough to have called Thailand, Spain, Mexico and Colombia home in the past, too. She not only blogs about her travels, but also gives us a glimpse into the details of her expat life. As someone who's lived in Barcelona for three years and names it as one of her favorite cities (and just returned from a week-long visit there), I asked Monna to share some insights and tips about the Catalonia capital.

As our plane dropped out of the clouds and swept over the Mediterranean coastline, we leaned towards the window, taking in our first, glorious views of Barcelona in two years. I turned to DP and whispered, “Why did we ever leave?”

Life, of course, is not that simple. As international educators, we are responsible for funding our own retirement and it was clear that the kind of aggressive saving required was never going to happen while working at our tiny international school. So, after three years in Barcelona, we had moved to Asia where we would be able to live well while saving money.

But, somehow, life has not been quite as sweet since.

Barcelona is of Spain but is not Spanish. When dictator General Francisco Franco tried to squash the spirit of the Catalan people during the Spanish Civil War, he couldn’t have predicted that his actions would actually help strengthen their fierce pride. The Barca football stadium was the only place where Catalans could speak their language without suppression and the team quickly became a symbol of Catalan sovereignty. Today, most Catalans speak Spanish but they may prefer not to.
I remember a particularly ornery waiter who worked at Bar Tomas in the neighborhood of Sarria. As DP and I had lived in Colombia and Mexico, we were comfortable ordering in Spanish but the waiter always responded in English. This was particularly noteworthy because he clearly did not speak English and his attempts sounded like the barking of a large, angry dog. Finally, we came to understand the root of the problem and switched to English, which was clearly less offensive than our Spanish. He nodded and laughed and smacked our plate of patatas bravas down on the table with such force that I thought the plate might snap in two. We had finally passed his test.

During our trip this summer, we met up with photographers Kyle Hepp and her husband Seba and retraced the steps of our daily walk home through the neighborhood of Gracia. The neighborhood was just as we left it and the golden light flowed down the side streets like liquid gold. The woman at our local bakery recognized us immediately (we don’t really blend) and she ran out from behind the counter to give us a hug. We had been regulars; she had never minded our Spanish.

In our three years in Barcelona, we learned that enjoying the city was like falling out of bed – anyone could do it. But to BELONG in Barcelona, now that was quite a different matter requiring patience, time, a sense of humor and a commitment to extending oneself – linguistically and socially. One needed to court Barcelona carefully, according to her rules and whims. But, from time to time, when the gods of Catalunya embraced us, it was true love. 
Whether you seek to enjoy or belong, we recommend the following during your time in Barcelona:

- Learn a few words of Spanish and Catalan before you arrive.
- Guard your valuables carefully; the thieves in Barcelona are, perhaps, the most innovative in the world.
- Eat tapas. Patatas bravas, pan con tomate and escalivada are all musts.
- Sip cava at a café.
- Fall under the thrall of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia.

- Cheer Barca to victory in a home game at Camp Nou. Be careful…you may just fall in love with the coach, Pep Guardiola!
- People-watch in one of the city's amazing plaças. Our favorite was Plaça Rius i Taulet (now called Plaça de la Vila de Gracia).
- Walk along the beach.
- Ramble up Las Ramblas. We favor Rambla de Catalunya, which runs North of Plaza de Catalunya.
- Buy a pair of espadrilles or menorquinas.
- Take in a concert at the Palau de la Musica.

Every city has its own charms. Barcelona has way more than her fair share.

Images: courtesy of Monna McDiarmid

Monday, September 5, 2011

Travel Is About How You See the World


If you find yourself on foreign soil and want to read about local perspectives or just need to feed your wanderlust, graphic designer Anne Ditmeyer's Prêt à Voyager is the site to visit. She regularly features interviews with characters from around the world and "the creative ways people travel" in her Boarding Pass series. As a Paris resident (who hails from the United States), she also shares her own wealth of tips and info about visiting the city. But Paris is not her whole world as she's been seriously hit with the travel bug herself - Anne has currently visited 29 countries along with 47 of the U.S.' 50 states! Check out her slide show about the things she's learned from her travels and read on for her thoughts on roaming the world and discovering that there's a story to tell no matter where you are.

The tagline of my blog is "travel is not about where you go, but how you see the world." That pretty much sums up my approach. Often times I'll email interesting people, who will respond, "but I don't go anywhere exotic and I'm not a mega traveler." Good, that's not what I'm interested in anyway. Travel can happen where you live. Having lived in Paris two years now (three if you count my two prior stays) I'm on a mission to constantly discover new things in the city. I'm not necessarily looking for the "next big thing," but rather something that is new to me. This summer I ran my "Tour de France" series looking at the 20 arrondissements of Paris through the eyes of various local bloggers. It was highly inspiring for me to see my city through different eyes, and I learned about so many wonderful places I would never have know about otherwise.

As for exploring the rest of Europe, as far as I'm concerned you can't go wrong anywhere you go. In addition, a stellar network of trains and public transportation makes it easy. I remember going to Geneva years ago. A friend and I went for a weekend, and typical of most of Europe almost everything was closed on Sunday. However, by chance there happened to be a fantastic chocolate festival happening in the streets of the city – it made everything better. Last summer I went to Amsterdam for an Urban Arts Festival where I realized I could not only go to a city I loved, but two lovely designers who I had been in contact over the years would be there and I was excited to finally meet them. In fact, more often than not where I travel is dictated by who I know there rather than anything else – it makes for a fun, local twist for wherever I'm going.

Next up? Still to be determined, but I'd really love to take advantage of zepass.com or trocdestrains.com and buy a cheap last minute ticket to somewhere I've never been...

Image: courtesy of Anne Ditmeyer

Smitten with Paris

This is essentially a love letter to Paris.

For the last two years, I've been wondering where a native New Yorker could possibly move to after growing up in a city as diverse, full of culture and a never-ending source of inspiration and stimulation. What place could possibly compare and hold my heart and attention for as long as my city has? For as much frustration and stress as it gives me, I also recognize that I'll be hard-pressed to find another city that could hold a candle to the Empire State.

And then I returned to the City of Light.

Somewhere along the line I had concluded that if I were to move (and I so want to experience life outside of NYC), it'd have to be to San Francisco or Barcelona. Mind you I'd never even been to either place (until now for the latter), but based on others' recounts of their times in both cities, I'd deemed them as great places with a young and fun vibe as well as a hub of creative culture - exactly where I want to be.

How could nine years have erased so much of what France meant to me on my first visit? On this trip I wanted to get to know the city I only experienced on a whirlwind weekend tour. I was able to live la vie Parisienne if only for four days in an apartment for our own. We strolled the winding streets of Montmarte and caught my breathe when the Eiffel Tower suddenly appeared around the corner of the museums on Torcadéro. And those were just the touristic highlights.

There were so many moments spent admiring the details of the buildings around us, the attention in the balconies' ironwork, the grey-slated roofs, how everyone lines their windows with flowers. If there was an inviting patch of grass, we sat on it: on the hill leading up to Sacre Coeur, in the Jardin des Tuileries, a make-shift picnic in front of the Louvre. Our café chats quickly turned into discussions about the "what ifs" and "hows" surrounding my sudden wish to move to Paris as well as the exciting new projects I'll be tackling once I returned home. Then we'd sit back and watch the city go about its routines around us.
The city takes such a hold of you it's hard not fall in love with her. I could get lost in there for months, relishing the lifestyle, the language, its history and return home at the end of each day excited to set out again the next morning. On our last night, A. and I spontaneously decided to defy a passing thundershower to finally make our way up the tower and see the city lit up from above. Once there, I leaned into the railing with A.'s arms around me and decided that Paris, you would make a splendid follow-up to life in New York.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Paris Color Project

Have you ever walked down a street only to have your eye unexpectedly caught by a bright blue car parked by the sidewalk? Or smiled at the colorful shutters of an old apartment building? Nichole Robertson has been beautifully documenting these bursts colors and details of Paris for the last two and a half years and it's become such a pretty collection. Ordinary objects - chairs, street lamps, signs - get their shining moment in the Paris Color Project and it's been a treat to look through her project's archives and then happen upon a few of those scenes during my walks around the city.

Her book, "
Paris in Color," will be a collection of her photos set to be published by Chronicle Books in Spring 2012, but if you can't wait until then, she also sells prints through her Etsy shop Little Brown Pen. Below, she explains the inspiration behind the project and the story she hopes to share through her Paris photos. But before she takes over, I have to share a line from the post where she shares the exciting news of her book deal: "As a small-town girl from Pennsylvania who moved to New York to pursue a writing career, and moved to Paris to pursue happiness, the one thing I've learned is that going for broke (and occasionally going broke) is worth it." Absolutely!

In January 2009, my husband, two sons and I moved to Paris. When we arrived, it was the dead of winter, but despite that, we did nothing but walk around. I had traveled to Paris many times before and I was not interested in monuments or tourist spots, so we just wandered around to get to know our new neighborhood.

As we walked, I noticed the way certain colors popped against the muted grays and whites of the buildings, and started to photograph them and post them to the blog. And that's how the color project was born. My readers asked for more, and I was happy to oblige so I kept posting.

The Paris Color Collections celebrate the city’s intimate details, often overshadowed by iconic landmarks. The photographs offer candid glimpses of the thoughtful craftsmanship, pedestrian pleasures and gracefully worn textures that cumulatively capture the unmistakable charm of Paris.

Images: courtesy of Nichole Robertson

Friday, September 2, 2011

New York to Paris, With Love

What happens when a girl meets her Mr. Perfect on Prince Street in New York City and then runs off to live with him in Paris? You ask her to write about it. Because I might love my L.A. boy, but I simply cannot be held accountable for what may happen if I encounter a sexy accent with a seductive smile in the coming days. Kasia Dietz writes about her musings in Love in the City of Lights and also designs these bold, reversible handbags including styles inspired by her adopted home.

Having lived in NYC for almost 12 years, excluding the one in which I left to travel the world, I often wondered if it was possible to find love in this city of over 8 million. (A fleeting romance certainly, but true love?) I was beginning not to think so. Until one unassuming day in March, on my way to yoga, I met with a pair of smiling eyes on Prince Street. And that is where the story begins. We took our time to fall in love. Six weeks to be exact. Five months later to the day, I moved to Paris, to live my love story. A city in which I had always dreamed to live. Little did I know.

It is now just over two years and life has proven even more a fairytale than my romantic mind could have imagined. In June we were married on the sea in Monterosso, Italy, home to my Italian. And now home to me. A place I first discovered and became enamored with during my travels. (Foreshadowing?) We are both traveling souls and have adopted Corsica as our island, exhibiting a mix of Italian and French culture. The Greek Islands have also become part of our love story, the setting of our engagement and honeymoon. France too we often explore. From the charms of Honfleur to the gardens of Giverny to the regal Loire Valley. Much more remains to be discovered in the years ahead, in Paris, in France, in ourselves and in the world.

As for life in Paris, it is not a city easy to conquer, even for a New York girl. Each day holds in it a challenge and more often than not, a reward. Life has certainly proven a unique and beautiful journey, and for this I am grateful.

My advice to those in search of love and adventure, don't be afraid to follow your own path and always smile at handsome strangers!

Images: courtesy of Kasia Dietz

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Parisian Date Ideas

Lindsey Tramuta is a Philadelphia native who fell in love with a Frenchman and then moved to Paris. "Cliché, right?" she quips. Perhaps, but romantic nonetheless. Her blog Lost in Cheeseland chronicles her adventures in her new home and is a wonderful source for reviews, things to do, where to go and even how to fit in with the locals when you're the tourist. She was so sweet when I tweeted that I needed some date ideas for my time in Paris that I asked if she'd like to share a few more for day and night time rendezvous. (And P.S. she's written for Travel + Leisure, too!)

Something happens to people when they come to Paris. Expectations soar, hearts flutter wildly and vocabularies dwindle to two simple yet powerful words – love and food. When you visit the city of love and light with a loved one, or someone you are fervently trying to make your loved one, these feelings are understandable. At every turn there is beauty, magic and the sweet aroma of fresh pastries and chocolate – if you don’t fall in love with a human during your time in Paris you’ll certainly become an erudite hedonist in no time.

To fully take advantage of the landscape during your romantic excursion, here are a few ideas for daytime and nighttime outings à deux (think simple!):

Stroll aimlessly.

There are few American cities where you can honestly say it is safe to stroll without at least a rough idea of a destination point – one block can make all the difference. In Paris, the streets are yours to roam. In fact, my first date with my husband consisted of eight hours of on and off strolling that began at Odéon, took us through Luxembourg Gardens, wound us around Saint-Germain, led us to rue Montorgueil for a cheese plate and rounded out in the Oberkampf neighborhood of the 11th arrondissement for an evening drink. With countless cafés and restaurants along the way, you will have ample choice when you’re ready to rest your feet.

Suggested starting points: Metro exits Abbesses or Lamarck Caulaincourt for a tour of Montmartre. There are enough hidden passageways, charming boutiques and hills to climb for one date!

Head to the water for a Seine-side picnic.

What’s cheap, relaxing and offers one of the best views in the city? A picnic right along the Seine in the Square du Vert Galant, the island underneath the Pont Neuf. Grab a blanket, some sandwiches and sweets from any of the million bakeries the city has to offer, some wine and lounge to the sound of the water. Go for a midday food break or make it an intimate tête à tête at dusk with a bottle of champagne.

Suggested picnic spots: Parc Monceau, Place des Vosges, Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin du Louvre

Get close in the kitchen.

The mecca of sweet and savory is the best place to learn how to make macarons like Ladurée (minus the factory), croissants like the corner bakery or a traditional French meal in a few hours time. Paris boasts a guidebook’s worth of cooking schools that offer classes to satisfy all tastes in both English and French. My husband and I took a macaron class over Valentine’s Day weekend at La Cuisine Paris and had a ball together - a sure fire way to get close.

Suggested schools: La Cuisine Paris, Cook’n with Class, Lenôtre, Le Cordon Bleu

Be charmed over breakfast.

One of my favorite spots for breakfast in Paris is a charming salon de thé in the 7th called Pain et Chocolat. Run by a sweet, older couple, the restaurant offers a complete breakfast, à la carte options and an ambiance that is quintessentially Paris-perfect. The street is calm, the welcome is warm and the food is delightful. Go first thing in the morning and then walk up Avenue La Motte Picquet toward the Eiffel Tower to beat the crowds.

16 avenue la motte picquet, 75007 (Métro: Ecole Militaire)

Whatever you do together in Paris, there is no need for frills or elaborate plans. Just enjoy each other and let the city do the work.

Image: courtesy of Lindsey Tramuta