Baltic Beauty: Gdańsk, Poland

It’s no mistake that I started to talk about our time in Gdańsk, and then diverted over to the side trips we took to Sopot and Malbork Castle. Every time I sit down to try to tackle what we did and saw in Gdańsk, I get overwhelmed. There was a lot to see and do, yet it was charming and picturesque enough to just sit back and enjoy without an agenda or plan. 

Part of what I appreciated about Gdańsk is that there’s variety. There are boats to see and even ride, museums to visit, churches to wander into, lots of history to study, easy access to the beach, amber to shop for, plus good food and hang-out spots when the time comes just to relax. Let me try to unpack the city a little more by its elements:

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Take me "Bach" to Leipzig

Today's post is a guest post from a special someone - my husband! It's his first guest post, and appropriately on a subject he has always been passionate about, his favorite composer of all time. It's the reason we made Leipzig, Germany a stop on our first European Christmas market tour in 2012. Although it felt like a concession at the time on my end, it was a surprisingly delightful town that earned our superlative of "the most local" Christmas market we have visited, and all of this to do:

While we were planning our trip through Germany to see the Christmas markets, there was one thing on my Christmas wish list that had nothing to do with hot spiced wine or baked German treats: the town of Leipzig.

In America, Leipzig earns a mere footnote in our contemporary world history textbooks: they are mostly known for two things:

  • Their failure to prosecute WWI war crimes (this is one of the primary reasons the Nuremberg Trials took place: the Allies didn't trust Germany to prosecute the war crimes on their own this time)
  • The Monday demonstrations which led to the fall of the Berlin wall

Going further back in history though, Leipzig was a notable cultural center of the world. Martin Luther preached here, and some of the greatest minds in music have lived, worked, and/or visited here -- including Mozart and Schumann -- but most importantly...

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Discovering the 11th arrondissement

Bon lundi!

I've been enjoying walking around the residential neighborhoods of the 11th arrondissement over on the east side of Paris. There aren't any big tourist attractions to see, so it feels distinctly local and relatively untrodden by the millions of visitors that come to France's capital each year. Here are two pictures from a September walk one Wednesday after a stop at Marché Charonne in the 11th. It may not be well traveled but still has some beautiful architecture and little gems to discover! 

Église Saint-Ambroise in the 11th arrondissement of Paris 

This building for Maison Boutet is from 1926

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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A White Night?

Bon lundi!

“Nuit blanche” in French literally translates to “white night” but it figuratively means to pull an all-nighter. And “Nuit Blanche” is also the name of an annual event in Paris that occurs on the first Saturday of October. Maybe you can guess why it’s given that name. It’s an event that takes place all night, from 7pm to 7am the next morning.

Mark your calendar for this Saturday, October 4th, if you’re in town - I’ll fill you in on more about what the event entails this week. For now, I’ll leave you with this picture for a taste of what you might find during Nuit Blanche. I didn't stay awake all night for a proper Nuit Blanche last year, but I did manage to pass the 3am mark, when this photo was taken!

Any guesses to where this is? Hint: It's in one of Paris' churches...(yes, at 3am!)

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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This Week: Chartres, France

Bon lundi!

If you've been following my adventures, you know that on the last weekend of August Michael and I went on a surprise trip. I am really bad at giving surprises because I’m that person who is just bursting with excitement. My Grammy is the same way, pulling me aside before my birthday to show me the gift that I would be open months later. We just can’t help but share the joy of gift giving. But this year for Michael’s birthday I held it together. I managed to surprise him with a weekend trip to a town nearby that he’s been wanting to return to: Chartres.

To be honest, as I was concocting my plan only a few days prior to the weekend I had a moment of panic. Most people do Chartres as a day-trip from Paris, seeing the famous Cathedral, stopping for lunch, and heading back out. Was it a mistake to go for a weekend? Would we run out of things to do?

Nope, not at all. This week is all about Chartres, how I fell in love with the magnificent cathedral all over again, and what lies beyond the town’s star sight. Oh, and there was a light show too. See, so much to share this week, I can barely hold it in!

Find out where to find a house decorated entirely in mosaics this week!  

Have you ever been to Chartres, France?

A Birthday Celebration Meets Famous Cathedral

Bon lundi!

You know how I was all “let’s have a staycation and stick it out while everyone else abandons Paris?” Well, I almost made it through the month staying put. But then I realized that Michael’s birthday was coming up. He has been wanting to go back to Chartres ever since our first trip there in 2011. They had recently started restoration work on the famous Chartres Cathedral and we've been interested to see the progress made. That was the inspiration behind my spur-of-the-moment, last minute decision to book a surprise weekend trip.

Besides, this little getaway would make me feel more "French." Let me explain. 

There’s a term in French for this time of year called la rentrée. It literally means “the return” in English, and the closest expression that I can think of that we would use is “back-to-school.” But la rentrée is more than just the start of a new school year. It’s a time of everything starting back up again. The shops and restaurants that were closed for a good month or so open their doors again, locals return from their month-long vacations, and everyone is rejuvenated to get back into the normal swing of things. It feels similar to New Year’s to me - a time to look forward to the year ahead and connect to friends who you haven’t seen for a while due to all the vacation disruptions. 

So, even though I stayed within an hour of Paris, our little trip to Chartres this past weekend makes me feel like I can rentrée with the best of them. Looking forward to a fabulous fall!

The front of the Chartres Cathedral, or its official French name, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres 

Anyone else coming back from summer vacation? Where did you go?

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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Spotlight on London

Bon lundi!

Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
— Samuel Johnson

I don't think I could ever get tired of London, and I've been there three times this year (and counting!). This week I want to take you to some of my favorite places in the city, and hopefully dispel the myth that the food in England is bad! 

Into the Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Planning a Trip to Bordeaux

So did the winemedieval village, and ocean convince you that a trip to Bordeaux is a good idea? If it did, here's what I recommend to pull the vacation together.

Make the city of Bordeaux your home-base during your stay. It is the largest city in the area and offers plenty of choices for accommodations, restaurants, and night life. 

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Bordeaux's Little Sister: Saint-Émilion

Promises of medieval quaintness and beauty led me to Saint-Émilion the first time. The small family-run vineyards that surround the town will keep me coming back.

About a 40-minute drive east of Bordeaux lies the town of St. Émilion, covered in cobblestones and surrounded by miles of vineyards. The city of Bordeaux is perfect to make a home base for its central location and for more happenings going on, but it is essential to make a trip east to its little sister, the small town of Saint-Émilion.

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Gazing out from the steps of La Madeleine

Bon lundi!

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend! Sunday was a beautiful sunny, spring-like day, and Saturday didn't rain so I was still able to walk around a bit. This picture was taken from the top of the stairs of L'église de la Madeleine (the Madeleine church) in the 8ème arrondissement of Paris. It's been one of those minor things on my bucket list, and I finally made it a point to go inside. The building was originally built with Napoleon's intention to honor his army, but after his fall it was re-purposed as a church.

More on my weekend adventures soon!