Paris at Dawn, In Transit

Day 5 of #KateKimEuropa2015: Paris, Zurich, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, Berlin

On our last night in Paris, my sister and I went to our Airbnb apartment early to pack our bags to catch an early morning train to Zurich, Switzerland. We prepared the layers of clothes we’re planning to wear, set on the counter the toast and jam we were going to eat, made sure the clothes we hand-washed were rolled up and packed, and our electronic devices were safely stowed in our bags.

We woke up before daybreak. It had been drizzling. The alleys were quiet, the shops and galleries that were typical of our St. Germain-des-Pres neighborhood wouldn’t open in another 3 hours. In this quintessential Parisian neighborhood where tourists would stroll by the Seine two blocks away and locals would discreetly move their way through streets known only to them. There was nobody to be seen, except for one or two delivery trucks slowly cruising; the sound of their engine and tires moving within earshot but their heft would only be visible every now and then. The street lamps glistened, the puddles moved softly as the drizzle prodded them. The early morning spirit of Paris’ 6th Arrondisement was absolutely serene and beautiful.

The beauty of transition physically manifested in this moment.  The watch did say it’s a new day, but the day was slow to wake up to its call. The sun was taking its time to show its face. Amid the hurried rustling of our bags in our Parisian apartment and internal deluge of thoughts as we recount our itinerary toward the next city, the morning felt no similar rush, it was unfolding as it should be at this time of the year.

These are the kind of moments that we normally don’t pay attention to when we travel, because they are mundane and uneventful. I’m sure my sister and I have missed a thousand situations that called for a slower pace, or event a quick second of attention.

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This quick shot from a camera phone isn’t saying much, it’s not a picture worth a thousand words. It, however, symbolizes a single moment in our trip. A single moment so uneventful, but somehow speaks to the many succeeding moments just like it when we found ourselves in transit to another place, city, destination, journey. It’s like a leaf so insignificant on its own but makes up a tree that makes a forest. The transitory, negligible parts of travel actually bridge the narrative of our journeys.

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Living the Parisian Lifestyle

Day 4 of #KateKimEuropa2015

Paris is a city that is made up of many beautiful things to see, touch, smell, hear, taste. It is a place to indulge because all of these are within reach no matter the time or day.

You wake up in the early morning and you hear soft French music playing. Then, you go out in the streets and walk along people with such varied sense of style, but all so intriguing to to look at. You stop by a bakery, even if a tiny one with no signboard for its name outside, and the croissant you get is the best of its kind you’ve ever eaten. You walk down the street further, and you arrive by the Seine. There are more people in the streets now, all with their own unique sense of style. Also, a lot more cars are making their way into the intersections, and a number of bicycles and motorcycles appear in different directions. The sunlight is still gentle, adding a subtle glow to all that it touches.

You finally arrive at your first stop: a museum, where you plan to spend your morning. It just happens to be the Louvre, the greatest museum in the world. On your way there, you go through an expansive garden called Jardin des Tuileries, where French kings and queens used to roam around. You take a break, sitting on a ledge or bench, to admire all the sensorial experience that have befallen you thus far, and you haven’t even gotten inside the museum. After a few minutes, you make your way to the museum entrance. On your way there, you simply cross the “invisible line”, a spatial designation that connects the most important sights of Paris to each other. Then, finally, you see the entrance to the museum. Before you reach it, you are greeted by a modern architectural masterpiece that enhances the original museum bearing centuries-old foundations and containing historically significant works of art, a display of human creativity at its pinnacle.

After a full morning at the museum, you step outside and the sun is high, and it’s more pleasant to walk around, basking in all its warmth. You take a break for a sip of soda, and you chance upon a bistro by the Seine. You see the Notre Dame from where you are. Accordion music is being played somewhere nearby. Tourists are taking pictures. Friends are having mini picnics. There’s an energy abuzz. It’s probably a good idea to have lunch. You order from the menu and everything looks delicious– cheeses, baguette sandwiches, quiche, salade nicoise, or heavier options like poulet roti or coq au vin. The food tastes natural and fresh. Even the water is delicious. After lunch, you decide to take another stroll, passing by the numerous bridges that cross the Seine, vendors selling water color painting in the street, crepe and coffee stands at every corner, fountains and statues every now and then. You decide on your next stop along the way. You pass by businessmen on their phones, lanky models, old men wearing berets, teenagers with their headphones on, women with a baguette sticking out of their tote bags. No one is in a hurry.

You look up to gauge how much farther you have to walk, and there’s the Eiffel Tower on the horizon.

Being in Paris reminds me to pay more attention to the mundane, because it is extraordinary. The city invites me to live life deliberately, artfully. To immerse in art, beauty and everyday blessings.

Dabbling into French Cooking

Day 3 of #KateKimEuropa2015

I’ve been to many cooking classes before but taking a cooking class to learn classical French cooking in Paris beats them all.

We went to a cooking school by Hotel D’Ville, along the Seine. It was such a fantastic location and a perfect de-stressing activity in the evening after a whole day of walking along Champs-Elysee and doing some shopping 🙂

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The foyer at La Cuisine Paris. Look at those Parisian-inspired items!

 

 

In the class, we learned how to debone a chicken, hold a mallet to tenderize chicken, use animal membrane to hold stuffed chicken together, using the same ingredients (vegetables, herbs, mushroom, chicken broth, etc) in different ways to make multiple courses… the French do make creative use of anything and everything in their cuisine!

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Menu: salad with Dijon dressing, mushroom sauce, vegetable stuffing with Provence herbs and pine nuts, baked chicken, white wine

We got a copy of the recipes we used, and hopefully one of these days I’ll get to make a version of this at home 🙂

There were two other women in our class, a woman nutritionist from San Diego, and a flight attendant from Sydney. Our instructor is a Danish-American currently living in Paris teaching culinary arts and working at Parisian restaurants.

It was a nice hanging out and getting to know such a well-traveled and international cast of people!

Cooler in the City of Lights

Day 1 of #KateKimEuropa2015

My sister and I arrived in Paris yesterday morning. Paris is cold in October. We booked an Airbnb in the 6th Arrondisement, also known as the St. Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. After settling in, we rested for a few hours, then made our way a few blocks down to a French bistro, to have our first dinner in Paris.

Although it was cold, we thought it would be fun to sit outside to have our meal, in casual Parisian style. We had French onion soup and split a salad. We had some baguette, too, since we were in Paris after all. It was a laid-back Sunday night, and many of the people around us were American students studying in Paris. It seems like they were enjoying the experience; to me, studying abroad is one of the best thing any student can do before graduating.

Day 2 of #KateKimEuropa2015

Even though we were slightly jetlagged, we knew we needed to start the day early since there were so many things to see in such a limited amount of time! We signed up for a walking tour of Paris through Sandeman Tours. It was a good way (both cost- and time-efficient) to see the western part of the city.

We saw a lot of things, from fountains to churches, to parks, to rivers and bridges. We also got to experience riding the Paris metro to Palais de Chaillot, where we’ll get to see the Eiffel Tower!

Getting lost in our journey toward the Eiffel Tower: We didn’t know where to go, and had to go through some trial and error entering the wrong turnstile for the line we needed to take. Between asking our tour guide and train station employees, as well as having our maps around, we arrived at our destination: the grand Eiffel Tower.

It was actually thrilling to get lost for a period of time, because as you are trying to find the right direction, you remember certain train lines and stops which comes in handy later on. You also get to talk to locals such as train operators, passersby, sometimes store owners, all of whom help the city operate the way it does.

The Eiffel Tower is breathtaking. More than a massive structure, it is a symbol of Paris, a beacon seen at a distance in the city centre. It carries so much history, from its creation for the World Expo 1889, to its siege during WWII. On top of the Eiffel Tower, you get to see all of Paris. It is certainly the best viewpoint of Paris: Haussmanian buildings, parks in the French style, the Seine and the many bridges that intersect it, the sprawling palaces.

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View from the Eiffel Tower

After we’ve had our fill of the Eiffel Tower, we walked across the street and sat by a park area behind a mechanical carousel for kids. We saw couples sitting on a bench, kids running around, women taking a stroll, men jogging. Some dubious looking set who passed by each other in the streets to shake hands and walk away — it was odd to us that they just encountered each other, made eye contact, shook hands, and went their separate ways. We looked at them, puzzled, since even acquaintances would stop by to chitchat for even a few seconds. One of the guys looked at us suspiciously, and we realized it’s best to leave the area since it’s getting dark.

We had dinner at a Les Cocotte, as suggested by our Eiffel Tower tour guide and local Parisian Violet. It’s owned by Christian Constant, a renowed French chef who has garnered the Michelin star. The restaurant is very small, and can only accommodate a handful of people. We came at the right time and were seated by the door– not the greatest table, but at least we got one! The ambiance is casual, yet modern and sophisticated. Food is pricey, but delicious and top-notch even with its proximity to the Eiffel Tower and its tourist traps. Perfect for a dinner with friends, family or even for date night.

 

 

Here are some of the sights we saw in our walking tour, which is a typical tour for first time Paris travelers:

  • Fontaine St. Michel
  • Notre Dame
  • Palais Justice
  • River Seine
  • Pont Neuf
  • Academie Francaise
  • Louvre
  • Tuileries
  • Obelisk
  • Axe Historique
  • Henry IV Statue

The Magic of Montreal

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Cafe Replika, 252 Rue Rachel Est Montreal, QC H2W 1E5 Canada

 

Montreal captured so many things for me while I was there. I felt a lot of joyful emotions. It was like finding a place that my heart has been looking for but my mind doesn’t know it’s seeking. Everything I like about a place I found in the perfect summer weekend in Montreal: great public transportation system, well prepared and delicious food, culturally driven population to appreciate arts, films and tradition, musical and disciplined language, sophisticated style, lovely lifestyle, a mix of culture, a hybrid of sorts. I love Montreal for these reasons. If the thought of winters bearing a thermometer reading of 25 degrees below zero doesn’t give me flashbacks of horrible Chicago winters, then I would move there in a heartbeat.

On second thought, I’m not opposed to trying out living in Montreal even for a short period of time. Despite the winters. This is the magic of Montreal working on me.

Cycling through Montreal

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Vespas and bicycles in downtown Montreal. But we rode a different kind of bike provided by the bike tour company.

After catching a red eye flight to Montreal, my sister started the day with a croissant and cappuccino in the Outremont neighborhood, where we will be staying for the weekend. This trip was relatively unplanned, compared to the various trips my sister and I have done in the past.

We had an idea of what we wanted to do, but needed to prioritize We looked at guidebooks and consulted the maps we took from the information center at the airport. It was only after checking the description that I realized I took the official version, which means everything was en Francais. Welcome to Montreal.

It was 10 am on a Thursday and between our groggy selves and desire to immediately kick start our adventure, we took a 20 minute walk that started at Boulevard Saint Joseph and Saint Catherine Street. We passed by quiet, tree lined streets where people of all ages were just about waking up, heading to work, or running errands. We passed by a young couple that were taking turns unloading their cars of their latest grocery haul– bottled water, chips, beer, wine — which looked to be the ingredients of an upcoming house party. We passed by old couples waiting for the bus toward the day’s destination. We saw children in their pressed uniforms walking to their classes. Some young people were dressed in casual outfit of shorts, t-shirts, light cardigans, which gave away their current vacation status.

My sister and I finally arrived at Fitz and Follwell. The shop had a small entrance in the basement, and being located on the busy street of Mont Royal, it was almost impossible to find. We signed up for cycling on Saturday morning.

Fitz and Follwell has a stylish brand from the looks of its website, all the way to its store. The store was small, relaxed and interesting. Every available space was filled with bike or bike accessories: baskets, bells, seats, and other obscure accessories only known to bike riders. The bikes we were given to ride reminded me of Amsterdam bikes; they were Dutch-style with a basket infront.

McGill University

Starting the trip by Jean Mance park, we passed by young professionals playing tennis, athletic cyclists riding alongside us, and families taking a quiet morning stroll in the park. We hit up the McGill University campus, one of the best Canadian universities. Coincidentally, it was first day of school and booths were set up all around their lawn. Nervous collegiate students and their confused parents gathered around tour guides for orientation. The scene reminded me of my own undergraduate days at the UCLA campus. It felt like home to be on a campus again.

Downtown Montreal

We passed through downtown Montreal, which was filled with old brick buildings dating hundreds of years, to newly made bank buildings bearing opulent facades, and glass-and-steel modern condominiums. It reminds me of the downtowns of great American cities, such as Chicago, New York and Boston. Our tour guide showed us the coexistence of French and British influences, from the Queen Victoria Statue directly across an Art-Noveau style entrance of the Metropolitain metro station. Many might say French and English influences clashed in this area throughout history, and there are still some tension present to this day, but I would say, as an outsider, the cultures converge, and it makes Montreal more interesting because there’s nothing quite it. French and English influences with a North American brand of optimism and boldness… that’s what Montreal is for me.

Old Montreal

We weaved through the beautiful Old Montreal, with its cobblestoned streets, beautifully designed city government offices, and classic brasseries. This is an even more charming part of an already marvelous city, and while we had to cycle through cobblestoned streets where we shook and skidded on our bikes for minutes on end, the neighborhood is laden with so much history and reminiscent of the Old World.

We also saw the Vieux Port, the old Montreal port that enabled North American and transatlantic trade; Quai Jacques Cartier; Scena restaurant; and Habitat 67, a housing complex designed by renowned Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. From the vantage point at the port, we even saw Terrase L’Auberge, a beautiful rooftop bar overlooking the whole city at the roof of L’Auberge Vieux Port hotel, where we had dinner the night before.

Le Plateau Mont Royal

We rode through the colorful neighborhood of Le Plateau Mont Royal, filled with walk up houses, each possessing wrought iron staircases and stone exterior. There are clothing boutiques, bakeries, cafes, bars, cheese shops throughout the neighborhood. Our tour guide called it the Williamsburg, Brooklyn of Montreal, perhaps because of its low-key yet creative vibe.

Our tour guide took us through a combination of steep roads tormenting our calf muscles, and back alleys where we passed by neighbors having conversations and children playing.

These back alleys and well designed neighborhood streets support the essence of Montreal joie de vivre living. These are the places where people spend leisure time with their family, friends and neighbors. These are the places where local shops thrive, where moms can buy baguettes, cheese, meat, cheese, vegetable from local sellers who they see everyday for years.

We ended the day with a croissant at Boulangerie Mr Pinchot, a family owned bakery in a heart of a residential street. It was a well-suited ending to a 3-hour long bike ride through the delights of Montreal.

Experiencing joie de vivre in Montréal, Canada

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My sister and I just spent the past weekend in Montréal, hoping to catch the Montreal World Film Festival (Festival des Filmes du Monde) and do a bit of weekend exploring. What we experienced was something more than just a typical weekend exploration of taking pics here and there, sampling local cuisine and seeing local arts. We were acquainted with the art of joie de vivre, a lifestyle that revolves around taking pleasure in the joys of ordinary, daily life. It was quite inspiring how French culture is prevalent in Montréal life; in fact, Montréal reminds me of a French city outside of Paris, such as Lyon or Nantes. The daily culture around these places is about enjoying the good things in life with a manageable pace, and you see this in the fresh food available to attentive food preparation to ending the work day at 5 pm and enjoying quality time with family, friends and neighbors.

The trip was also a time for me and my sister to bond and talk about our dreams and goals, reminisce about our past travel experiences, and together discover a new and a different way of living. Je t’aime Montréal!