Travel, Uncategorized

Travel Diaries: Paris in January (part 1)

Who visits Paris in January?

The thing about Paris in the winter is that it’s preferable to remain indoors. A lot of people aren’t interested in strolling along the Seine when your socks are squelching every time you press them into your shoes.

That said, if you keep an eye on the forecast and pack appropriate footwear, you can have a lot of fun mixing indoor and outdoor activities in this beautiful city. Also, I’ve noticed instead of just suffering through the rain like us Pacific Northwesters, Parisians just duck under an awning and wait out the worst swells before continuing on beneath an umbrella.

Smart.

Anyways, there are dozens of book shops, cafes and museums you can visit when the weather is sub-par. Then, when the rain clears, you can meander through one of the city’s many green spaces and check out the touristy things like the Eiffel Tower and what-not. If you’re comfortable spending a little extra cash to spend time indoors during the winter (think between 10 and 15 euros per museum entry, and 3-5 euros for a coffee), you’ll be able to snag a cheaper flight, shorter lines for everything, and most likely a cheaper place to stay. Summer is the height of tourism in France, so if you can get over the weather, winter is a great time to get a feel for the real Paris.

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Part of that whole “real Paris thing?” Learn to speak a little French. I went to Musee Cluny today, and the security guard asked me something I didn’t quite get, so I said “je ne parle pas francais.” She scolded me like a kid and said (in French): “you’re in Paris, learn to speak French, no?”

The funny thing is, I understood what she was saying quite clearly. For every meal I’ve ordered so far, and for every purchase I’ve made, I’ve spoken entirely in French. I ordered “le petit dejuner et un cafe” this morning at a brasserie and bought “une chocolatine et un pain d’antan bio” while thanking waiters (merci beaucoup!) and wishing them a good evening (bonsoir). I’ve been offered selections of fruits, asked for money by beggars, and hit on by vaguely creepy men on the sidewalk. I can totally understand everything that’s being said to me, through a combination of my knowledge of French and visual context. The part I’m not great at is the speaking, because I have to think and conjugate and translate.

Anyway, the museum itself was phenomenal. I actually went to see the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, which I’ve loved since I was a little kid, but the exhibition was closed for restoration this week. Still, there were many other equally beautiful tapestries, and because of the restoration my ticket was cut to a mere 6 euros.

Even more beautiful than the tapestries were these mesmerizing rooms filled with ancient stained glass windows…

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Just standing in four walls of that was unbelievable. I was in awe, especially because these were created in like the 14th century (or the 16th… I forget). Tomorrow my plan is to head to a few more museums, because after my first one today, the rain let up! I wanted to walk as much as I could while the weather wasn’t too bad, so I did…

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Just endless, endless beauty.

Eventually, I did get a little hungry, but couldn’t decide what to eat. I stumbled upon Angelina, the place whose famous chocolat chaud I’d heard was once a favorite of Coco Chanel’s.

So of course I went in, had a deliciously thick mug of chocolat chaud with a pile of rich whipped cream, and watched the rain thunder down through huge glass windows.

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Thus fueled, I continued walking. My legs were starting to ache at this point, but it’s PARIS. There is so much to see! I got a little lost trying to find my way back to the Seine (my guidepost for figuring out where I am in Paris) but meandered through this park for a while.

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I didn’t mind the grey weather so much, but I was elated when the sun came out for a few hours in the afternoon. Still wanting to really make the most of that light in the sky, I did something I didn’t even know you could do.

I climbed the Eiffel tower!

See that second ring around the base?

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Turns out there are stairs leading up to it! The line was super long for the elevator ride up, but while I was standing in it I noticed a couple walking through the tower on the other side of the base. I went over and, walking past the non-existent line right up to the ticket booth, asked for a 10$ walking ticket. When they asked for my age, they told me it was only 5 euros.

Ticket in hand, I began the dizzying climb.

I’m not wonderful with heights, so it was a little frightening…

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But, oh my god, was it worth it.

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It doesn’t get any more beautiful than that.

With that, I’d like to wish you bonsoir, and I will see you in a few days. Maybe tomorrow. It depends on what the day brings! Remember to follow my Instagram @kenaia for more photos and videos.

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I hope you enjoyed this post!

 

Thoughts, Uncategorized

In Transit

Last night I looked through the screen covering my open window to watch the sun set behind the city. In a moment, it had bundled together landmarks, old buildings, mountains and construction sites into one beautiful silhouette.


I thought of the people in cars driving to and from on the streets below me, wondering if they had taken a minute to notice the beauty that surrounded them, coloring sidewalks a rusty gold and blanketing dirty alleys.


Maybe it’s because I don’t drive, that I notice these things. When I get in a car, on a bus, on a plane, I am never the one in charge of controlling the vehicle, which leaves me free to think about and notice the world around me.


Looking through the window last night, I remembered a year ago, when I lived further north, and often caught the bus at this time of day. I rarely read or used my phone on these rides- I’d always look out the window, listening to music to alter my perceptions of things.


In cold and dreary rainstorms I would play Crystal Castles as the sky was dark and the sound of traffic hammered away at me. On sunny days I would relax to Charli XCX…


But I digress.

When we travel, we find ourselves in an ideal setting to look around. To notice.

In transport, we often learn more about a place than we’ll have a chance to discover on our own. Due to the speed of travel when one is not on foot, more can be seen and experienced. Often, more places can be accessed. This is not to say I don’t appreciate a certain kind of foot tourism (I walked all over Paris last year), but you can absorb so much of a place simply by looking our the windows as you go somewhere.

When your plane lands, what do you see? What does the landscape look like? Can you see the glimmering lights of city streets or small villages? Often you’ll find swathes of farmland, patchwork quilts over the globe.

When you take the train between cities, what do you see of the countryside? Animals, people, gatherings, festivals. Cobblestone streets in Paris or old cars abandoned in bushes in rural Florida. Greenery; flourishing, long-dead or somewhere in between. Stately manors and homes where the roof shingles have fallen off one by one.

Traveling by bus, by cab in a large city, you become a witness to the millions of interactions happening around you. Watch the arguing couple kiss and make up, the family of tourists awestruck in Times Square. Listen to the old lady with the needle and thread on the seat beside you as she tells you how she was married in the park across the street underneath a white tent dripping rainwater.

We tend to focus on arrivals. On getting somewhere. But there’s more to every trip than the promised bounty of a destination.

The journey is so beautiful, and can show us so much.

Remember, when you are in transit, to look, to listen, to absorb.

Remember to watch for the moments that will allow you to truly understand a place, its people… 


or yourself. 

Local exploration, Uncategorized

Breakfast at The Edgewater

My grandmother and I are both early risers.

The other day we met up for breakfast and were rudely reminded that the rest of the world doesn’t get up as early as we do… none of the eateries we could think of were open until 11 or 11:30.

After a bit of driving, we decided to head to Six Seven at The Edgewater, a hotel on Seattle’s famous waterfront.

The view from our table was stunning. Despite the fact that I grew up here and often run along routes with similar views, I was reminded of why we attract so many tourists up here in the Pacific Northwest.

Being situated in a pretty luxurious hotel, I expected Six Seven to be pretty nice. And wow, were we blown away.

From the service to the food, the coffee (Zoka) and presentation, we were pampered. Everything was beautifully done and DELICIOUS.

It was also great to be able to dine out at a nice place without worrying about my allergies- I had fruit and an avocado/bacon/caramelized onion omelette with basil and goat cheese, and it was phenomenal. I’d had to talk myself out of the (glutinous) pancake stack and didn’t regret it for a second.

Perhaps the best moment of the whole thing was this seagull who watched us for most of our meal, probably hoping we’d share.

What a beautiful place. Thanks to my grandmother for taking me out. 🙂

What’s your favorite local breakfast spot? Comment below!

Travel

Travel Diaries: Miramar Beach, Florida

 

It begins at 4ish in the morning, when I land at the airport in Houston, Texas.

I hang around the airport for a couple hours, eating bags of Lays from vending machines. It’s too early for any of the eateries in a domestic terminal to be open, and it’s the only available snack I’m not allergic to. I’m starving and in desperate need of coffee, but potato chips will have to do for now.

Eventually my parents pull up to the already muggy passenger pick-up area. I head over to meet them, and proceed to surprise the heck out of my younger siblings.

They’ve just begun a 10 hour road trip to a beach in Florida and had no idea they would be stopping at the airport to pick me up on the way! It’s a birthday surprise for my youngest sister, who has been begging me to visit for months. Little did she know!

After my parents and I brag about how we’ve planned this for four months and exclaim over how proud we are of pulling it off, and my siblings have had time to produce a sufficient amount of shocked expressions, we’re on our way.

Before reaching Florida, we must drive through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I sleep through most of of the drive, despite gulping from the 20 oz thermos of coffee my parents have passed to me in the backseat.

In Louisiana, there’s a rest stop where they serve “free coffee and smiles”- we sip our free coffee

and walk a short loop around some alligator statues to stretch our legs.

I open my eyes again crossing “the largest swamp in America” (whichever state that’s in…) and crossing the Mississippi river, then remain unconscious until we near our destination…

The rental condo my sister had found for us to stay in was a mere half mile from the ocean, with stunning views of the coast. From our deck we could see for what seemed like miles… Every morning we woke up to the sound of seagulls mingling with the distant rhythm of waves, and a gorgeous sunrise. In a word, it was paradise.

Every day began either at the pool or in the ocean, and we dipped in both at least once, usually twice each day. I preferred the ocean, as the Puget Sound back home isn’t as great for swimming and it was fun to have the opportunity to play in salt water. The water here was so blue and so clear, the sand pale and soft, contrasting with the crashing waves… And is there anything so awe-inspiring and mystical as the endless, open sky?

We left the shores near our condo every day for a while to check out neighboring cities. Our first little adventure was the boardwalk at Destin. It reminded me a little bit of Sentosa in Singapore– a little bit touristy but quirky enough to be interesting.  There was a pirate ship, a zip line and a lot of places to get cocktails…

The next town we hit up was Seaside, a white-walled little oasis off another beautiful white sand beach. While exploring we found a juice bar and all got fresh, fun juices- mine had cilantro and pineapple! After having several mimosas on the beach over the course of the week I felt this was much needed.

In Rosemary Beach, the architecture took a turn for the more elaborate. My mother said it reminded her of Leavenworth, WA- a bit European.

It was definitely a more well-off area- we weren’t able to actually go on the beach because we didn’t have a key code to get past the gate…. still, we wandered a bit and ended up being able to get coffee, at a real coffee shop called Amavida, a luxury in Florida. Good coffee is hard to find in the south. Maybe it’s because I’m used to Seattle, and hot coffee doesn’t sell as well in a more humid climate… Most of what’s in stores is just Community coffee (basically a cheap, Folgers-esque coffee) or similar. Even the Whole Foods only sold their line of Allegro coffee and like two other options, compared to the 20-30 other brands you’d find at any grocer in Seattle, often from local roasteries.

My point being that the americano I had from Amavida was life-giving.

Our last big stop before we drove back to Texas at the end of the week was a long fishing pier where dolphins were said to hang out. And they did! We saw a handful of them swimming around interrupting the fisherman who were trying to make catches. There was a giant sea turtle roaming around which we caught a glimpse of, too, but the dolphins stole the show.

Our final night ended with a firework show along this beach, after sampling alligator meat at a taco place for dinner. A weird way to spend an evening but super enjoyable.

All in all, a relaxing week of adventure, sand-coated bikinis, cocktails on the beach and salty hair moments with my family. What more could you ask for?

Local exploration, Uncategorized

Bastille Day 2017

Bonjour!

In case you didn’t know, the day before yesterday was la fête de la Bastille! Bastille Day is the French Independence day, which falls on le quatorze de julliet every year, marking the day during the French Revolution when the Bastille was stormed in 1789.

When I went to Paris last summer I actually stayed in the area near where the Bastille used to stand- it’s strange knowing I walked in places where history was made!

Besides the history, for Francophile Seattlites like me, Bastille Day is really just an excuse to do something that makes us feel a little more français.

Seattle has a few good places to satisfy your craving for all things French…

I’m sure I’ve mentoioned La Parisienne before. Smack in the middle of Belltown, it’s surrounded by other coffee shops and eateries in a seriously gorgeous little neighborhood. There are tables outside next to leafy green trees, and the staff are kind and gregarious. Their pastries and sandwiches are délicieux as well.

Le Pichet is my favorite place in Seattle for a luxurious evening. They have absolutely amazing food, always serve you une assiette à pain et au beurre before you eat, and supply a few caramels with the check.

Le Panier is, admittedly, where all the tourists go, but the have the best tasting and best-priced pastries, macaroons and baguettes in town!

The Belle Epicurean on 4th ave downtown is another favorite because of it’s classic French feel, plus you can sit outside and people-watch on account of all the hotels and business offices nearby.

Out of all these wonderful options, it was to Cafe Campagne, a French restaurant tucked into Pike Place, that my boyfriend and I headed this Bastille Day, mainly because it would be easiest to get to after work. I was also intrigued by their promise of live music and burlesque…

It was a beautiful, sunny day for a celebration.

We were gifted with stunning blue swathes of sky, warm but not too-warm weather, and the mellowest of afternoon breezes.

La fête took place beginning inside the cafe and spilling out and over the patio, filling the alleyway with throngs of people. It did feel very French with all of us cramped into this little cobblestoned space.

As promised, we were treated to live music, a small group of older gentlemen playing string instruments. They played the type of music you’d expect to hear in a French film, and one song that I assume from the reaction of the crowd was the French national anthem.

I loved that everyone was dressed up- some people with an over the top costume with stripes and berets, some just influenced by the simplicity and classic timelessness of French style. Everyone, some ladies I waited in the bathroom line with pointed out, had beautiful shoes (except yours truly, who was wearing the same shoes pictured in the With Sparkling Eyes heading- parts of the soles are beginning to peel off, but I wore them in Paris!).

There was also, of course, French food. We headed inside the cafe and ordered some pain au fromage et confiture de tomate, vin rouge, et des macarons chocolat! 

As with any good French restaurant, the inside was low ceiling-ed and had seating around the edges of the room, encouraging interaction between patrons. Dusty bottles of red wine lined the shelves and the menu was written in French.

I’m addicted to chocolate macarons!

After sitting inside beside a guy shucking oysters and enjoying our little meal, we returned to alley in time to catch an accordionist before the burlesque show.

He looked the part, with that cigarette oh-so-casually dangling from his lips. After he had been paying a while, Shanghai Pearl, Seattle burlesque artist, came out and performed a cheeky little bit to some classic French songs.

 

Finally, we headed home, but first stopped for a cup of coffee (I’d gotten up for work at 5am and was beginning to feel it).

But isn’t that a pretty French way to end an evening?

Local exploration, Uncategorized

The Lupine Lady

When I was young, my grandparents read to me. 

I recall certain stories time and again in the nuances of their voices, the personas they would take on for each new character. I had to ask my grandfather what he meant when Brer Rabbit threatened to give the Tar Baby “a lickin'” in one of Uncle Remus’ stories, but never tired of the racous Southern accent he only aqcuired during those bedtime readings.

My grandmother read gentler stories to me, Blueberries for Sal and old folktales- I remember a story about a girl who rode wild horses, another about a Chinese woman who followed a rice dumpling into great caverns beneath the earth.

Most of all, I remember a story that I always referred to as “the lupine lady”, though it’s actual title is “Miss Rumphius.”

Miss Alice Rumphius, the star of this tale, grew up wanting to be like her grandfather, travelling the world and living by the sea. Her grandfather told her she should do just that, as long as she remembered to do one other thing.


She must find a way to make the world more beautiful.

 

She ends up doing as she desires, travelling and exploring the world, until she hurts her back and finds a home by the sea. She grows ill and is stuck inside, but her mood is brightened by the lupines she sees from her window. When she heals she spreads lupine seeds around the countryside and watches them grow over the years for the enjoyment of all, delighting in fulfilling her grandfather’s wish.

 

I remember wandering around tossing my very own lupine seeds throughout my childhood, enchanted by the idea of them popping up all over the place as soon as I looked away. It became common in my family to point out lupines every time we saw them on a walk, or peering from car windows on a road trip.

As a child, though, I missed the greater meaning of the story- that we should all make it a point to give the world something beautiful. To leave a legacy that isn’t related to money or fame, just something that makes this world more pleasant to live in.

It doesn’t have to be something great. It doesn’t have to be something powerful or expensive.

It just has to be something beautiful, and it can be as simple as a handful of lupines.

 

Thank you so much to Lilly of Colibri Blooms, who invited me to a prance around in a massive field of lupines with one of her devastatingly beautiful bouquets, and Seattle Urban Farm Company‘s Hilary Dahl, who was the photographer for our impromptu lupine-filled morning. Check out Lilly’s Instagram @colibri.blooms for more breathtaking flower arrangements and @seatleurbanfarmco for more of Hilary’s photography.

How will you make the world more beautiful?

Local exploration, Uncategorized

An Afternoon at Woodland Park’s Rose Garden

Woodland Park’s Rose Garden is one of Seattle’s best hidden gems.

Perhaps because Portland’s much larger rose garden is the real draw for floral enthusiasts, this small plot of land next to the Woodland Park Zoo is always quiet and often sparsely populated.

Tourists in Hawaiian shirts with loud voices and selfie sticks tend to stay away, creating the perfect secluded spot for a relaxing weekend retreat.

 

The garden is arranged beautifully, in a manner that reminds me of Le Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. There’s a small fountain in the middle with a walkway around it, circled by styled shrubbery and with paths leading off around the roses. You can sit in a gazebo, underneath some rose-covered trellises or on one of plenty of benches in the shade.

In an effort to soak up the late afternoon sun, my boyfriend and I spread out a blanket on the grass surrounded by bushes of flowers. We’d stopped at PCC beforehand and brought with us a spread of treats: strawberries, figs, smoked ham and jalepeno crackers, baby carrots, snap peas, and a bar of my favorite Dick & Taylor chocolate.

We relaxed enjoying the scent of trees and flowers, him playing guitar and me reading. It really is astonishing how quiet and serene this little garden is, considering it’s proximity to a zoo and several high-traffic roads. While we were there a handful of children passed us, playing hide and seek or riding bikes, and another group of people appeared to be meditating in the opposite corner of the garden. I was surprised not to see more people out enjoying the beauty of the late afternoon, the luxury of sunshine in Seattle and the absolute tranquility of the park.

It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

 To me, anywhere you can spend an afternoon with your shoes off, toes dirtied from frolicking between flowerbeds, shoulders tanned from laying in the sun with a good book (in this case, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth) and lips sticky with summer-ripe strawberries is a place worth adventuring to. When you live in a city it’s all the more crucial that you seek out these moments to connect with nature, to relax from the rushed, hectic pace of the workweek.

This week, find your oasis. Spend time outside. Get your feet dirty.

 

Breathe.