Paris, France-June 2018

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When I first started traveling seriously, I would research what I was going to do and see and then plan jammed packed days. It like I was worried I would be bored wherever I was.  Silly Flo. Bored is state of mind. You allow that to happen.  Now as I am older and more experienced, I am less inclined to plan stuff because I usually don’t end up doing what I had planned on doing in the first place.

I booked 5 nights in Paris, because I was at the mercy of availability of frequent flier seats. While Paris had gone on me, I had been so many times before that I wondering what I would do for the 6 days.  I booked a side trip to Luxembourg and some jewelry classes at L’Ecole  Van Cleef & Arpels.   But it was colder that I had anticipated and I was tired, so I skipped my trip to Luxembourg.  Instead I just wondered around the streets of Paris. Discovering new neighborhoods, and taking photos.

I was super excited by jewelry class. I LOVE gemstones. So I signed up for two courses, Discover the Gemstones and Recognize the Gemstones.  So great for anyone that loves gems. So informative and hands end. I was taught how to use proper jeweler tools. If you love gems, I highly recommend checking out their course offerings.  I am sure there will be more classes in my future. It’s very well taught.

I could not be in Paris and go do some cultural. The hotel recommend a Klimt exhibit, so off I went. I know of Gustav Klimt, his most famous piece of art is The Kiss.  The Atelier des Lumières  is a digital art museum. So the art is display on the walls, the floors, you.
It’s cool, but it could easily give you a headache.

After 3 weeks touring around, it was time for my final flight. I am so thankful for the check in agent at UA that ignored the fact my bags were grossly overweight. And for the fantastic flight crew for laughing at my “situation” as I struggled to get it all in the overhead bin. The best part? Seeing a familiar face, Claudie, who I had met 6 years before on flight from Brussels to Chicago.  But if you’ve ever meant Claudie, you would know she’s got a smile that you never forget!  I even trekked to the back of the plane, something I avoid doing at all costs, to see chat with during the flight. It turns out we will be neighbors here in Chicago! And Beth, another flight attendant and her friend, who was working the flight as well happens to love Champagne! It was like it was fate, United bringing me home and helping reunite with old friends and introducing me to new ones.

Stay tuned for the next adventure back Australia for graduation.

South of France-July 2015

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Record Heat Wave hits Europe….. Of course the year that I decide to break my own travel rule.

A few years ago, I decided that I would travel on my birthday. Not that I need an excuse to travel, but why not do something that makes you happy on your birthday.

This year I headed to the South of France. I found an amazing fare to Paris on United Airlines, so I added on a flights to Nice on Air France. Fortunate for me, United provides an arrivals lounge for inbound passengers at the Sheraton CDG. So I was able to refresh before flying to Nice which was great since I have no status on Air France.

Air France has bit more generous carry on policy then other carriers I’ve flown in Europe. They allow up to 12kg/26lbs for hand baggage. Most other carriers only allow 7kg/15lbs. I just checked my bag, because well I did not want to have deal with liquids etc. I am glad I did. There was agents walking around the gate around checking everyone’s bags. At this point, I only had a small tote bag and yet I still got hit with a sticker that said my bag must go under the seat in front of me. I saw many of passengers have to surrender their bags.

Since it was my birthday I decided to spoil myself and use my points, so I booked a room at the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée. Its quite the charming hotel located on the main street in Nice, Promenade de Anglais, right across the street from the beach.

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If you are looking for a little beach time but also a little sightseeing, Nice is great place to visit. It’s quite a walkable city. It has a lot of Italian influence, as it was under Italian rule, this is especially evident in the old town.

The South of France is the definitely the summer playground for the wealthy.  The private jets, yachts, cars, homes, it’s a wealth that quite interesting. It’s not to say the average tourist can’t afford to visit,  let’s just say you are most likely flying on Easy Jet not your private jet.

I opted for organized tours on this trip, so I signed for a day tour of Provence, that included stops in:

Cannes

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Grasse, where we visited the Fragonard Parfurm Factory, I learned some fascinating facts about parfum. I learned those who create parfum are called Perfumers or “Noses”. There are currently only 50 true perfumers in the world right now. They must attend 3 years of schooling, followed by 7 years of apprenticeship. They are able identify over 2500 scents, from memory. They can only spend about 2-3 hours a day smelling scents and to protect their noses, they do not smoke or drink.

IMG_4821Next stop was Gourdon, a little town with amazing panoramic views of the area. I had an amazing lunch with my  new Australian friends, LeAnn and Kim.

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Our final stop was a quaint little town of St. Paul De Vence, an old medieval town. Full of art galleries and fun little shops. Lucky for me and my curious fascination with cemeteries, there was not a lot of time for shopping. I did discover an cute shop that sold the most fantastic jam, La Chamre Confitures. ( If anyone traveling to Paris anytime soon, do yourself a favor, your welcome). On a serious sugar high, I tried to navigate my way back to my tour meeting point. Until I saw the most amazing painting in an art gallery window. I figured what’s the harm in checking it out? Bad idea, I wanted to purchase 1/2 the gallery. Turns out the actual artist was there, Michel Degav. We had a lovely chat, and while I was not able to purchase the piece I originally wanted, I was able to get a nice print.  If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking out his gallery, Atelier Galerie d’Art, oh and tell him Flo said Hi!

Oh I did finally find my lavender,but it was not very fragrant.

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When I began researching my trip, I found out that I would be in town for the Nice Jazz Festival. The line up included The Roots and Kool and the Gang, so purchased tickets. Now I am not much of concert goer so I really did not know what to expect. It’s a festival, i.e. no assigned seating. Well more specifically, no seating at all. I am glad I went but I will probably be less inclined to do that again.  Did I mention it was HOT?

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The next day I headed out to discover my 47th country,

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I checked out the casino in Monte Carlo and enjoyed the immense humidity.( No not really). I had signed up for the 1/2 day tour and somehow ended up on a full day tour. I think I would be have been good with the 1/2 day one. But honestly, I can think of worst ways to spend my birthday. I got to discover the 2nd smallest country in the world!

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Since I had booked my flights separately, choose to fly up to Paris the night before my return flight to Chicago. While at the airport in Nice, I decided to pick up a sandwich at my favorite place, Paul. While waiting a young lady walked up and asked the server if he had wine opener. He did not, and I said maybe try a knife? She explained, that she was flying to Amsterdam, and had 2 bottles of wine, but was unable to check her bag.  The server suggested trying a place down the terminal, and she asked me if I had time before flight, would I like to join her for some wine. I did actually have time before my flight, so why not?  So cheers to Vanya from Bulgaria for sharing her wine with me on my birthday in the Nice airport.

So officially now have less then 1 year to get planning the big party for next year. Any suggestions on where it should be?

Paris-June 2015

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Does anyone recall the freakish blizzard that hit Europe in December, 2010? When the arctic winds come to visit? I recall it vividly. It was unnaturally cold.

I can now add remember when that freakish heatwave that hit Paris in early June 2015, to my travel stories. When it was was 90f + degrees (32-36c)?.

It’s not a secret that I do not like extreme heat. Especially for sightseeing. I figured I would be safe visiting Europe in early June, because it’s technically late spring. WRONG.

This trip I had booked a room at the Hilton Paris Opera. It’s more centrally located and I was able to take the RER to Gare Nord and change to the Magenta line to Haussamn St. Lazare which is right next to the hotel.

**TRAVEL TIP***-do NOT use Google Maps in Paris. It’s a little wonky when it comes to public transportation. A good alternative is RometoRio

After refreshing, I hit the streets to do a little shopping.  Again, don’t trust Google Maps. What should have been a 10 minute walk took me 30 minutes.  Did I mention it was starting to get a little warm?

First stop Chanel, for Pursegate 2.0. (Whitney and Katy- that same bag is still sold out!). I am happy to report, no major damage done on my credit cards.

Bruce and Will were able to change plans and come to Paris a day early.  We made plans to meet for lunch. Somewhere, again in case you miss it the first 2 times, don’t use Google Maps. At this point, it was no longer just warm, it was hot.  There was an insane line for taxis, so I did what anyone with a smartphone would do, requested an Uber. It was only 3 km away, how long could it take? 1 hour and 24 euro……

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We had a nice lunch and took a stroll along the Seine. The guys were fading and I had plans to meet up with my friend, John for drinks,  so we parted with plans to catch up again later.

It was now hotter then before. And you would think by now I had learned my lesson with Google. Nope. I started to walk over to the Park Hyatt. Bad idea. I lasted about 3 blocks before I hopped in a taxi. I met up with John and few of his friends for some champagne.  And I got a present!! Thanks John!

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I headed back to my hotel for a mandatory refresh because it was just HOT. Then off for more champagne, dinner and walking around Paris.

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I finally made it back to my hotel ready to crash around 1.30 am. Only to be woken up by the hotel alarm clock at 6.30 am. It actually worked out well, as I had planned to visit Versailles.

**TRAVEL TIP*** If your hotel room has an alarm clock, make sure the alarm is off before going to bed.

I hopped on the Rer C to Versailles. I had pre-booked my ticket online, so upon arrival I was able to just show the ticket and walk in. I suggest going as early as possible, if you want to avoid crazy crowds.  Versailles was great, but between the selfies sticks and tourist playing professional photographers, it was hard to get pictures. And it was HOT,  worse then the day before.  And there were loads of people and well, I probably saw like 10%.  I actually started to feel ill, pretty sure dehydrated, so I took a break got some juice and went back out to explore the garden. I want to say I lasted about 10 minutes, before I admitted defeat.

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I headed back to Paris, where I met up with Bruce and Will before heading over to Orly to catch my flight to Florence.  I tried to Uber but they were having a crazy surge, so fares were 2.4 times higher then normal. I ended up taking Le Cab, which is like Uber but with fixed prices, nice cars, tablets with wifi. And much better prices.

Of course the next day in Paris, the weather was normal like low 70’s…………

Stayed tuned for my Italian Adventure.

 

Paris, France- March 2015

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Paris in the spring time has always been my dream. Well I was a few weeks early, but I still really enjoyed this trip to Paris.

I had been complaining (shocker) about how I always travel alone and maybe it would be nice to travel with friends.  So an idea formed that a group trip would be fun and we started looking at cities that had direct flights and could be entertaining for a weekend. I have traveled extensively thru Europe so I was open to just about any location, my friend Whitney suggested Paris. To be honest, I had been to 3 times, previously and I was just not a fan, but I thought maybe it would be different with friends.  What started out as a large group of people going, ended up as a group of 4.  Whitney, flew up from Nashville and we traveled together to Paris. And then Katy and Russell flew down from Scotland to hang out with us.

When researching activities to do as a group, we can came across a parfum making class at L’Abc du Parfum and a cooking class at Le Foodist.

Given the original size of the group, we were able to secure a private lesson to make the parfum. It ended up just being Whitney and I, but we had a blast. Marina, the instructor was amazing. Her knowledge and explanation of the different scents was just fascinating.  She prepared a sample and explained the process to us. And then we were given the opportunity to make 3 scents of our own.

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The end product? Eau du Flo and Whitney No. 3.  I highly recommend this if you find yourself in Paris. It was an amazing experience.

After parfum making, Whitney had her first taste of the Paris Metro system and we head over to the Champs Elysee.  Where we did a typical Parisian tourist activity,  had a meal on the Champs Elysee and people watched.

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At this point we were tired. Our flight was delayed so we had to rush to our parfum class and we had plans to meet Katy and Russell that night at Moulin Rouge. So we decided to walk back to the hotel. Another rule of traveling with Flo, if I say it’s just up the street, I am probably lying.  My feet still hurt.  After a much-needed siesta, we headed out to meet Katy and Russell.

IMG_3844There were a lot of mixed reviews about Moulin Rouge. I am glad that we went. It was a lot of fun! Definitely an activity to do with friends. Our seats were practically on the stage. Poor Katy kept getting hit with skirts as the performer walked by. They had this amazing roller skating act, that was just wow. And one-act was a women swimming with snakes. Which was neat until one of the snakes tried to escape. And no it was not part of the show, the women’s face was priceless and well as the handlers that came rushing out to contain the snake.  Yes it’s touristy but so worth it.

The next day, we headed out early to go to the top of the Eiffel Tour. There are 3 lines, 2 for the elevator and another for the stairs. Of course we followed the pack into the longest line, until we realized there was no line across the way. We opted to go all the way to the top and it was just amazing.  And then it was time for Whitney’s first Parisian crepe.

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Properly sated, we head off on the tourist bus to check out the major sites. It was a beautiful day in Paris, so we sat upstairs on the double-decker. So we lasted until we hit the shopping area.  Looking back we probably should have stayed on the bus. I know my credit card would have appreciated that. Lucky for us the Euro was low against the Dollar. So when you took into consideration the Vat refund, it was almost a 1 for 1 situation. And buying French products in France just makes sense. I mean per Katy logic, you should always purchase items from country of origin. I completely agree.

That night we headed over to Cafe du Trocadero. It has amazing views of the Eiffel Tower, which does a light show on the hour in the evening for about 5 minutes. And then took a cruise along the Seine.

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Sunday morning we head out for our cooking class. It was suggested that we do it on Sunday, as smaller shops tend to be closed on Sundays.  Our research led up to Le Foodist. Fred, the chef, instructed us on how to make a starter, main dish and dessert.  We made Salmon Tartare on Soja infused Turnip, Coq au Vin and Poached Pear with vanilla ice cream and Chocolate sauce.

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I am the first one to admit that I can burn boiled water, so I was extremely surprised that the meal turned out with my involvement. We were a group of 8 working with Fred. And he was very detailed in his instruction. He shared interesting history about french cuisine.  I thoroughly enjoyed this class and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something fun to do in Paris.

We rounded out our Sunday afternoon with a little sightseeing. Including a hair-raising taxi ride to Sacré-Cœur. Lucky for us the taxi dropped us off a the top. I am not sure I could have handle the steps to the top.

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And then it was time to come home. We managed to pack a lot into 2 1/2 days in Paris. While it did not go down as it was originally planned, I believe it worked out exactly as it should have in the end.  With travel comes the need for flexibility, especially when traveling with a group. And who knew, I might have actually finally warmed up to Paris.

À bientôt, j’espère Paris

 

Last Supper in Strasbourg

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After barreling thru the French countryside, we headed back to Strasbourg for dinner.  We checked out Petite France, which got it name for having a syphilis hospital in 15th century.  It was a grey and rainy day, so when the sun came out, we decided to celebrate.

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I’v been to France before but do you know that I’ve never had a macaron before? I’ve had a macaroon (and lucky enough had some warm ones earlier in the day).  Now you ask what is the difference between a macaron and a macaroon? I am going to say Google it.

After a long day of cheese, wine, macaroons and macron’s, it was time for dinner.  I blame my wine consumption on my dinner choice….

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Yes Beef Tartare, well when in France!

La Route des Vins et le vignoble d’Alsace

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Wait Wine? Yes please……

The great thing about France in the summer is there is a good chance you will find a local festival. Since we were staying in the Alsace region, we were able to locate several wine festivals. Our first stop was in Ribeauville, located on the Route des Vin.

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The Vins and Gastronomie festival ( Wine and Food) was being held in the town center.  The set up was similar to the Christmas Markets, wooden stalls serving different types of wine and food. You purchased a ticket at the entrance that could be exchanged at any of the stalls for different types of food.  For the wine tasting, you had to purchase a glass and a wrist band. Somehow we lost the “need to purchase a wristband” in translation. So we just drank free wine.

And what’s a little wine without some cheese?

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Time to continue on to the next town, which was about 1 minute away. What we then learned was the wine route is better discovered on bicycle, rather then driving. Obvious reasons being, should not be driving while tasting wine and well the towns are not built for large American cars. Did I mention the roundabouts????

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**** Just to clarify, there was no drinking and driving, the driver did not have a sip of wine.****

Strasbourg

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As you know I travel a lot, so there are few givens to my travel. I am picky about how I am going to get there and where I will stay once I have arrived.

If I were to be honest, my airline of choice would be Lufthansa, but they don’t fly Chicago to Fort Lauderdale, so United is my preferred.  When it comes to hotels, I used to be in committed relationship with Hilton, but Hyatt has since stolen my heart.

Given that there was no Hyatt’s in Strasbourg, we opted to stay at the Hilton. It was located right off the motorway, so it was great because it did not require having to drive thru town.  And due to my status, we were given an upgrade to the executive floor, free wireless, breakfast, and executive lounge access.

After a long day of driving and a really nice happy hour in the lounge, we opted to have dinner at the hotel.  Which turned out for the best given the nice wine selection and dessert options. Can you can say food coma?

 

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