Life Lately and a Liebster

It’s somehow September already, which means it’s the time of year I’ve fondly come to know as “la rentrée.” If you’re not familiar with the French term, it literally means “the return,” and is closest to the American concept of “back-to-school.” The difference though is that it applies to everyone. The French come back from their typical month-long vacations and the adults go back to work, the kids back to school, and life back to its normal rhythm again. 

This year, though I’m no longer living in France, I’m still feeling a bit of that la rentrée spirit. This summer saw us in temporary housing in Manhattan, and with the turn of the calendar to September, it came time for us to relocate once again. Now we’re in New Jersey, and are hopefully in the last leg of our string of temporary living situations before we have a place to call home. The pieces are starting to come together. I recently went back to work as well, and slowly we’re settling into normal routines that solidify “the return” - to America, to NJ, to our jobs, to our church, to all our loved ones who waited for us to come back. 

A lot has been going on in my life, and I’ve realized I’ve missed a few weeks of posting on the blog. To get back into the swing of the things and have a little rentrée back to writing here, I decided to keep things on a more personal note and finally respond to my Liebster award nominations. (For those who are unfamiliar with what this is, it’s basically like a big blogger chain letter. You get nominated and are asked to answer a list of questions, and then you share the love and choose other bloggers to answer your own questions.) I can be a procrastinator at times, and as the months have slipped by, I’ve gotten Liebster shout-outs from three lovely bloggers - Marcella from What a Wonderful World, Sara from Sara Sees, and Nikita from Life in Transience. They each asked 10 questions, but I’m not sure how long I can talk about myself so I choose to respond to 5 questions from each. If you're ready to learn more about the girl behind Simply Sara Travel, keep reading!  

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Shoreditch Street Art Tour with Alternative London

I’ve been drawn to the colorful streets of Shoreditch in London. I love visiting this neighborhood when I’m in town. It’s always changing, with new art popping up as well as interesting shops and restaurants entering the scene. It never gets old to me, and since I never tire of exploring artsy Shoreditch, it’s what made me narrow in on this particular neighborhood to stay in last time I was in London this past April.

I think it’s safe to say one doesn’t need to go on a tour to see the street art of Shoreditch. Once you arrive, all you have to do is walk around. You barely need to be an observant person. It’s everywhere. But this last trip, I decided to check out the Alternative London street art walking tour. The tour is “free,” meaning that it’s meant to be accessible by all. The guides are super passionate about leading others around and exploring street art in London together, though they expect to be tipped in a way that reflects how one values the tour, or what one can afford to give. It seemed like a great way to learn more about this art that I love, and provide an introduction to Shoreditch to my sister-in-law and her friend who were visiting London with me, lest they thought I had chosen to stay in some strange gritty section of town far from “London proper.”

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Afternoon Tea fit for a Queen: Goring Hotel, London

My sister-in-law has taught me how to enjoy the finer things in life. She took me to get my first pedicure and even patiently provided a pair of flip-flops when I lacked the understanding that those were needed (it was winter, after all!). I had always wondered what it would be like to have a sister to share clothes and accessories with, and the few times I’ve forgotten items on visits back to the US, she’s hooked me up with things much trendier than in my own wardrobe.

It follows then, that my first high tea in England would be with her. The truth is that I’m pretty cheap when it comes to spending money on myself. I had been interested to attend a classy afternoon tea time, but the price tag has always made me think twice. With Yumchaa as my go-to tea spot in London, I can get a personal pot of tea for a few quid - a far cry from the price tag of a proper sit-down experience. But as we planned for a fun week ahead in London with Michael’s sister and one of her friends, we figured our last hurrah (for now!) in London should include this bucketlist item. And who else to go with than the queen of class herself, Miss Dawn.

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Breaking the ice with London

Do you ever have that feeling when you’re at a party, and there’s someone there that you want to meet, but you’re too intimidated to just put yourself out there? Wishing you had a friend in common to give an introduction to break the ice?

Well, if the party is Europe and you’re staring down London from across the room -- I’ve unwittingly become that friend in common to give an introduction to get things started.  I got my own introduction with a two-week college course on theater and since then I’ve had the pleasure of introducing the city to many of my friends and family (starting with my husband -- London was our first European vacation as a married couple).

Now, I’d like to give you an idea of how to look London in the eye and say “How you doin’?” by way of recounting my most recent London introduction: to my brother, David.  One never knows where he is bound to show up, and so it should come as no surprise that somehow it worked out in our last few months in Europe that David’s business trip to London aligned perfectly with one of Michael’s work trips there. It was David’s first time in London, and he had an afternoon between business meetings to spend with me in England’s capital.

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My Method on How to Select the Perfect Airbnb Accomodations

How people travel is shifting. With sites like Airbnb, more and more people are moving away from staying in traditional hotels and towards a more local experience of renting apartments/houses or shared spaces with residents. There are lots of pros to using Airbnb for lodging - it’s often less expensive than a hotel (especially when split among a larger party, and if there is a kitchen that allows self-servicing some meals) and allows for a more local-feeling experience. There’s a lot of great material already written on this - like Adventurous Kate’s How to Use Airbnb and Have a Great Experience for a detailed explanation of the site, or Expat Edna’s post on 6 Airbnb’s I Loved Around the World to give some inspiration on the cool places you could stay worldwide. 

If you’re a huge fan of Airbnb like I am, you may not need convincing why to consider using it. The next question may be the how - how to land on the perfect place to rent and have a successful stay. This is the how to effectively use Airbnb, following my method on how I sift and select where to stay.

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London: My Gateway to Europe

Change is hard. But so necessary. If we were to always be in our normal rhythms and safe comfort zones, we wouldn’t experience all the lessons that new challenges hit us over the head with at times.

As I prepared myself for my move from Paris, I started trying to mentally prepare myself to leave this city that I loved so much. And something else unexpected came out of those months of turmoil. I realized that I needed to also have closure with London.

It sounds a bit weird, I know. Why would I feel compelled to bid adieu to a place I never lived? A place that I wrote about just last year when I was in a slump and wished I were in Paris instead- why now take away valuable time from Paris to spend it there?

I needed to go to London because for me, London was where it all began.

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Simply Sara Eats: With the Little Bro

My brother was born a foodie. Back before anyone was labeling themselves as such, he was one. While the rest of us “normal” elementary-school aged kids were requesting peanut butter and jelly, or perhaps the standard turkey sandwich, David was asking my mom to make him chicken cutlet sandwiches every day for lunch with a side of French dressing for dipping. He loved Idaho potatoes, boiled or mashed, and could taste if those spuds didn’t hail from the Gem State. Not only did he enjoy food like most boys do, but he had strong opinions as to what he was chowing down on when it came to mealtime.

Fast forward through school and college. My little brother is no longer little, yet at his core, he’s still that chicken cutlet and Idaho potato-loving gourmand. He lives in Manhattan and has extensive lists of favorite restaurants and ones to try on the horizon. So it should come as no surprise that when he came to visit with his fiancée one last time while we were living in Paris, the food scene was at the top of the to-do list.

To be clear, he didn’t merely say he wanted to try some French food, or eat croissants every morning, like most guests do. He wrote to me expressing the desire to go “belly to the wall.”

If you’re like me, you might not fully grasp the expression. Did he want to eat so much that his belly would extend to the wall? (A huge feat, if you saw my skinny brother.) I was unclear, but I got the jist. We were going to go all out for one last hurrah in Paris.

We had three full days to do it up, and if I say so myself, I think we accomplished our mission. If you’re like David and want some ideas of how to coordinate a foodie extravaganza in Paris, here are some of the places we hit during his visit:

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7 Steps to the Ultimate Paris Picnic

So...remember how I said that "the only way to get over moving away from Paris is to keep returning?" Well, I sort of jumped on that advice immediately and am going back in a few days! In honor of my last-minute trip, I'm going to share about an activity I plan to do every day in Paris if weather allows...

Going on a picnic is my all-time favorite thing to do in Paris, ever. It combines some of the very best elements that Paris has to offer - picturesque settings, delectable food and wine, and good company. The thing is, picnickers are not born, but raised...

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Discover Walks: Marais Walking Tour and Picasso Museum

One thing I love about Paris is that for as much time you can spend exploring and learning about the city, there is always more. There is so much history, so many details, and centuries worth of characters who have colored this city into the beauty it is today. That’s why even though I had lived in the Marais for almost three years, when Discover Walks offered me a tour of my neighborhood, I jumped. Certainly there had to be more to learn about that a guide could give a new perspective on.

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Park it in Paris: Jardin d'Acclimatation

In the "Park it in Paris" series, I write about the city's parks - some of the best spots to relax, people-watch, and mingle with the locals.

When I think about going to the parks of Paris, the first thing that comes to mind is my red picnic blanket - spread out over a green lawn with a baguette, some cheese and charcuterie, a bottle of wine and a fully loaded Kindle. My husband and I can sit for hours on end just people watching, reading, and grazing on our snacks. I've already written about two iconic Parisian parks, Parc Monceau and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which fit the bill for a perfect afternoon spent doing absolutely nothing of importance.

But I get it. You're on a vacation to Paris, time is limited, and you want to get up and do something! If that sentiment describes how you're feeling right now, the Jardin d’Acclimation is for you.  Located in the Bois de Boulogne on the western outskirts of the city, this park has it all - from peacocks roaming free to restaurants and even a museum.

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Paris' Newest Must-See Museum: Fondation Louis Vuitton

Famous architect Frank Gehry has created funky, imaginative buildings all over the world, like the playful Dancing House in Prague and the iconic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. But did you know you can now see one of his newest works in Paris?

It’s the second mark he’s left on Paris, the first being the Cinémathèque Française at the edge of Parc de Bercy. And it’s quite an impressionable mark at that. If you thought that Paris was just about cream-colored Haussmannian buildings, you’re missing some of the city’s surprises.

This past winter Michael and I ventured out to the western reaches of Paris to check out the Fondation Louis Vuitton that had recently opened its doors in October 2014. It’s located in the Bois de Boulogne, just next to the Jardin d'Acclimatation.

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Keep it Classy - Your 5-step Guide to a Wonderfully Romantic Parisian Picnic

When you visit Paris, you want the whole package: delicious French food, complex French wine, and delicate French pastries, all to be enjoyed with in a perfectly romantic setting...at a price that inflicts minimal pain to the wallet. Unfortunately, dinner out (especially with the above elements) in Paris often comes at an inflated price tag. But now that summer has come, I’ll let you in on my warm-weather secret for inexpensive romantic dining with the best seat in the house - a jazzed-up picnic along the water.

The plan is pretty genius. It involves a self-service picnic with very little effort involved, while including a few key items that add class to the simplest of spreads.  Think of it as the little black dress of picnics if you will.

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Summer in Paris, 2015

Bon lundi!

Yesterday, June 21st, marked the official first day of summer! Paris always celebrates big with its Fête de la Musique celebration that fills the streets and parks with music all day and night (I'm still thinking back fondly on our epic festivities last year alongside the Seine). It's an impressive opening to the summer session full of free concerts, fireworks, long picnics, open-air cinema, and more! I've been working on the What's on in Paris page, so pop over to see my summer picks for Paris with more activities to be added soon! 

The space in front of Paris' Hôtel de Ville always has something going on during the summer - check it out to see what's going on, like volleyball courts or free concerts! 

Do you have any plans this summer?