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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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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Understanding Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw. I knew I couldn’t plan a trip around Poland without hitting the capital city. Yet as I mentioned before, it seemed to be unpopular with a majority of tourists who didn’t like its modern feel. In fact, it seemed to be unpopular with some of the Poles as well. On our last night in Krakow, upon hearing what our next destination was, our bartender proclaimed Warsaw to be “the most hated city in Poland.” And further elaborated that it was a place where “the uneducated live like kings.” So with that last vote of confidence, we left picture-perfect Krakow to see what Warsaw had in store for us.

At first look, I could see why there’s a lack of love for Warsaw. It was modern and shiny, busy and bustling, befitting of an international capital. Many of its visitors whether Polish or otherwise come for business. Those who come for pleasure seem to dismiss it in favor of smaller, more manageable cities.

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All Hype or Just Right? Krakow, Poland

Krakow. Whenever I heard about fellow travelers’ experiences in Poland, this city was one of the first words off their lips, or off the proverbial lips of blogs. Krakow was a clear favorite of many and given these high praises I wondered how it would all hold up in person. I had created high expectations and wondered if they would be met. And perhaps part of me wanted my opinion to differ. After all, had all these people set aside two weeks to travel around Poland? Surely I would prefer less touristy city like Wroclaw. 

There is certainly more to Poland than just the city of Krakow and the country deserves more time of a traveler to experience its diversity. Yet I’m going to admit it - I utterly fell in love with Krakow. It’s a must-visit on any Poland itinerary, and if I were to formally draw up a top 10 of Europe list, Krakow would make the cut. 

Let me try to back my opinion up - if the food alone doesn't convince you, here are some things I did and saw that made me join the ranks with many others declaring Krakow a Polish favorite.

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FIAC 2014

Paris had a lot of art to see. There’s a reason that the Musée du Louvre is just a synonymous as the Eiffel Tower in evoking images of the city of Paris. Art is important to French culture, and there’s plenty of it to go around.

One thing I appreciate about Paris is that while there are numerous art museums throughout the city that charge an entrance fee, there also is a spirit to make art accessible to everyone. This manifests itself in a variety of ways, but one is the cultural events the city sponsors. 

Autumn brings about one of those events to town, called FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain). This international art festival holds its main event in the Grand Palais (which took place this year from October 23-26). I’ve never been inside for the event because the hefty 35 euro entry fee is a bit steep for me. Luckily though, the festivities are accessible for those unable or unwilling to cough up the dough. The festival exhibits installations “hors les murs” (outside the walls) namely in the Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin des Plantes, and a few other locations throughout the city that are free for the public to see and enjoy.

Last year I absolutely loved exploring the Jardin des Tuileries and admiring all the artwork on display. This year, the festival raised a fuss when the unveiling of the installation in Place Vendome created quite the scandal. (Read more on the outrage over the green “Christmas tree” on France 24’s news article here, and why the artist got slapped in the face three times...)

Controversial art aside, this year I honestly wasn’t as impressed with the art I saw during my walks through the Jardin des Plantes and Jardin des Tuileries. But I still want to share with you some of my favorites. And even though I didn’t find the selection of art as interesting this year, I do have to credit the event for getting me out on a lovely afternoon just to enjoy Paris in autumn, and also gave me the motivation to see two beautiful sunsets.

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Pre-Opening at the Musée Picasso

Have you ever been known in your group for some sort of never-ending saga? This happened to me when I was moving into my first apartment in New Jersey and had months of issues with acquiring a couch. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that we paid for the couch in full, and then every time we called to check on the status of the delivery, it was further from being made (going from being in transit to the distribution warehouse to unraveling before our eyes when our fabric of choice suddenly was out of stock). I became the girl at work with no couch, which provided lots to talk about at the copy machine as the story just kept getting more ridiculous.

Once again in Paris I can take part once again in a long, drawn-out tale, but thankfully this one is a bit less personal and inconvenient. For the past two and a half years, I've been following closely the progress (and drama) of the Picasso Museum’s renovation and long-awaited re-opening. 

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Coming This Weekend to Paris: Nuit Blanche 2014

One thing that has always impressed me about Paris is the focus on cultural events. It seems that everyone is well-versed on the latest expositions going on in the city’s museums and other cultural events. People love to talk about what’s on, what they went to, and what’s on the list to visit. I got some insight in how this interest in the arts becomes ingrained when I started tutoring English. I took my elementary-aged student to Centre Pompidou and she started telling me about one of her favorite artists, Robert Delaunay. I was blown away by how she could remember his name and give some reasons why she liked his paintings. Part of the school curriculum incorporates the arts, and the appreciation for people who create and bring beauty into the world is certainly celebrated here.

Given this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the events Paris puts on during the year is one to celebrate the arts...all night long. Nuit Blanche takes place the first Saturday in October. The 13th annual Nuit Blanche is set for October 4, 2014 so get ready for a night of art, dance, music, theater, and more!

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Day Trip from Paris: Chartres, France, Part I

If you’ve heard of Chartres, you’ve most likely heard about it in the context of one famous building that lies in the center of town. The town of Chartres is a popular day trip from Paris because it is close (about an hour drive or via train) and it has one magnificent star-attraction that towers over the town: the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, or commonly referred to in English as the Chartres Cathedral.

You also must know if you've spent any amount of time in Europe that cathedrals and grand churches exist all throughout France and the rest of Europe. I’m at a point in my European travels that I have a bit of “cathedral fatigue.” I know, the three-years-ago-me would have rolled her eyes and be tempted to slap the present-me at even the thought of how that could be possible. Just think what she would do knowing that I admitted it. But the point is, after a while, one huge old church seems similar to the next and the novelty starts to wear off.

So hear me when I say that despite my church fatigue, Chartres Cathedral is something very special. Special enough to plan a weekend trip around it, even considering that we had seen this very cathedral three years ago.

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Walking along Berlin's East Side Gallery

Here's the final reveal of the week. One of my favorite sights in Berlin that I shared with you on Wednesday was the Reichstag. Preferably visited at sunset to see its glass dome lit up in brilliant reds, oranges, and purples, offering a great 360-degree view of Berlin. Now it's time to focus on the other highlight of my two-day trip to Berlin. Hint: it’s another wonderful free sight. And also offers a link to the history of the city, the spirit of Berlin, and its hopeful future. 

It’s a walk down Berlin’s East Side Gallery.

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Gold and Glitz: The Restored "From Louis XIV to Louis XVI" rooms in the Louvre

I've found a new favorite section of the Musée du Louvre. There's a lot to choose from and despite my annual membership I still have more ground to cover. But for now, I declare the newly reopened section entitled "De Louis XIV à Louis XVI" (From Louis XIV to Louis XVI) one of my preferred series of rooms to walk through during a visit.

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A Different Side of Prague

Travel has a way of teaching you things about yourself that might not have surfaced in a “normal” environment. It faces you with new situations, brings you out of your comfort zone, and expands what you know of the world.

Let's pause right there. Don’t worry if you’re not in the mood to read a heartfelt, emotional post. Because in Prague, I discovered something interesting about myself. I love modern statues.

Prague has a reputation for its Old World charm with the beautiful castle perched over the city and its romantic Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square). But there was something that resonated with me in discovering the more modern sculptures throughout the city. Perhaps it was just a reminder that Prague is more than the beautiful, old buildings but also very much alive and changing in the present. Whatever it was, I loved Prague the first time I went almost two years ago, and was reminded last month of just why it is one of my favorite places in Europe.

Let me show you the statues I found beyond the ones that line the Charles Bridge:

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Inside Paris' Pantheon

I mentioned that I’ve been enjoying exploring the Left Bank a bit more, starting with a visit to the Jardin des Plantes. Well, that was just the beginning of my outing last Sunday. After I warmed up to Left Bank, I continued on over to another sight I had passed by often but still never stepped foot inside: the Pantheon

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Inside the Musée Gustave Moreau

If you happen to be in Paris on the first Sunday of the month, make a mental note of it and be sure to check out a museum or two! That's because many museums offer free entrance. (Take a look at en.parisinfo.com for a list and be sure to check the time frame as some museums only offer this during the off-peak season.)

This free museum day can be good for saving some money on big ticket sites such as €11 admission to the Musée d'Orsay (completely worth it in my opinion though). Lately I've been utilizing free admission Sundays to explore museums I might not otherwise want to commit to monetarily. It introduced me to the cool Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature that I had reservations about visiting (a hunting and nature museum?! Let's just leave it that my girl scout troop "camped" in hotels back in the day). 

When my aunt and cousin were in town on the first Sunday of July, we decided to stop in the Musée Gustave Moreau to explore.

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