I haven’t mentioned this much on the blog, but I’m a die-hard ski bum. As in, my parents taught me to ski as a toddler, I raced GS and slalom in high school and I used to be on the hill five to six days a week. Not so bad for a Michigan girl, huh?
And ever since my first Warren Miller movie at the age of six I’ve dreamed of skiing the chalet-dotted mountains of Switzerland.
Which is why when my family friend Doreta invited me to her Swiss ski chalet for the weekend I spared no expense. Travel accounts be damned, I was going to finally ski Switzerland.
My family friend, Doreta, is someone I have admired my entire life- an elegant German woman who married an American and divides her life between the U.S., Italy and Switzerland. Have I mentioned she speaks five languages?
Upon seeing her chalet in Gstaad for the first time I was already in love- a cozy mountain farmhouse situated next to the Swiss dairy farmer, with views of the Alps from every window.
On my first morning Doreta prepared me a hearty pre-ski breakfast: earthy German black bread, a soft-boiled egg, wheat bread with French honey and butter and black coffee with cream.
Breakfast is already one of my favorite things in the world- there’s truly nothing I love more than to waking up to toast. But nutty German black bread? I was a goner. But I guess with a surname like Fleckenstein it’s in my blood.
Once Doreta’s son outfitted me with complimentary ski gear (Danke!), we headed to the hill. While we rode the gondolas Doreta spoke German to everyone while I sat and cursed myself for not knowing a word of it.
Doreta also taught me a neat trick- to carry snacks on the mountain. In my pockets I kept one ziploc of gruyère and one of chocolate, which helped us stay out longer as well as save money on lunch. Genius!
But despite all the fun I was having, on my first day I was almost in tears. My boots were too big (racing boots are much tighter than recreational ski boots) and I felt so out of practice. It had been almost three years!
But I couldn’t be too upset as after a full day on the hill I got to relish one of my other favorite rituals- après-ski. Because is there anything better than sitting in a toasty living room after a cold day on the slopes, cheeks flushed with a glass of wine, chatting with friends? Well, no, in my opinion.
On my last day in Gstaad Doreta took me for a little spin around town. I loved seeing the little villages, where clothes hang between 18th century chalets. Many chalets had inscriptions on the façade, with the last name of the family, a prayer in German and a date of construction- I saw some that dated back to 1757!
And between the beautiful blue skies, no-lines skiing and lovely company, I couldn’t have had a better time finally experiencing the Swiss Alps.
Are you a skier? Would you ever want to ski Switzerland?
While I spent majority of my time in Venice lazily wandering the canals, one day the group and I mustered up the energy to lazily wander the canals of another island- Murano.
Murano is famed for its glass-making, and upon arriving I realized the entire island truly is glass-obsessed- I even spied glass pastries in the shop-windows.
While I wasn’t a fan of most of the glass for sale (mainly because I can’t stand millefiori) I did spot some ruby-red goblets à la Pablo Neruda I have long coveted. But alas, world trips don’t lend themselves well to delicate glass goblets.
For lunch we stepped into a little hole-in-the-wall crowded with workers in technicolor orange uniforms. As always with Edna, I was in for the meal of my life: seafood pasta brimming with mussels, moist salmon in a spicy green pepper sauce, bitter spritzes to accompany.
The company wasn’t bad either.
After lunch we ambled up and down the canals and took about a million photos. I particularly loved snapping shots of the antique wooden boats moored up around the island- my family has a 1957 Chris Craft at our cottage so they’re very near to my heart!
Before leaving the island we stopped for gelato, my daily indulgence in Italy. Sitting there, basking in the warmth of the Italian sun with hazelnut and chocolate gelato dripping down my fingers, I joked about how my life is exactly like Eat Pray Love. And realized that I’m totally fine with that.
Have you ever visited Murano?
I arrived in Venice at night by vaporetto, the boat rocking gently as I observed the promenade. I could faintly smell seaweed as I stepped out of the boat, the cobblestones illuminated by ornate street lamps as passersby strolled past in 18th century carnevale costumes. I looked up and to my surprise, saw stars.
From the start, Venice felt both magical and bizarre, like a cross between a James Bond film and medieval time travel. And needless to say, I quickly fell in love with the surreal, sinking city.
And while visiting Venezia I didn’t see one museum, because damn it, after the Midwest’s polar vortex I wanted to enjoy some Italian sunshine.
Here are the highlights from my lovely week in Venice.
Staying in a Gorgeous Rental House in Zattere
Thanks to the lovely Edna‘s invitation, in Venice I stayed with her group of friends in a stunning canal-side house. The house was located in Zattere, a residential neighborhood with a wide waterfront promenade.
I think bunking up in a residential area was among the reasons I fell so hard for Venice- sipping my cappuccino while watching runners in the morning and groups of surly teenagers smoking cigarettes after school was so much more interesting than being among fellow tourists.
Also, in our beautiful six-bedroom home we were able to cook every night. When it was my turn to make dinner I prepared tortilla de patatas, a Spanish classic, and we enjoyed fresh fish, beautiful vegetables and fondue on other nights.
Joe taught us how to make spritzes and negronis too. (Which I thought tasted like cough medicine. So much for being sophisticated.)
And next to our house was a charming cicchetti bar, Cantinone Gia’ Schiavi. Cicchetti are the Italian cousin of pintxos, little appetizers on bread. I particularly loved the creamy gorgonzola and walnut- yum.
Sampling the (Somewhat Dangerous) Local Wine
On the way home one evening, Lizard and I stopped at La Freschetteria, a wine bar where the owners fill up plastic jugs of wine for you for only a few euros. We opted for a prosecco and red sparkling wine (raboso).
Well, it turns out, this wine was… overly effective. After a wild night out at a Venetian club we deemed the wine to be roofie juice, devil wine and the most dangerous substance in all of Venice.
Having Fried Doughnuts and Italian Coffee for Breakfast
Apparently in Venice it’s tradition to eat fried doughnuts, or fritelle, during Carnevale. As a Detroiter this very felt familiar as we eat pączki on Fat Tuesday.
And of course, when it Italy you have to imbibe as much coffee as reasonably (or not) possible. Because as we all know Italian coffee is the nectar of the gods.
Wandering the City
Venice is a labyrinth. So many times we hit dead ends while wandering (and in Venice a dead end is water), and eventually we realized it’s easier to to just take a vaporetto than to navigate the canals.
But whenever we got lost we just drank more coffee, so no loss, right?
You guys know I keep it real on this blog, so I wanted to detail what I didn’t love about Venetian Carnevale.
Well, Carnevale as a whole was a disappointment. While I was expecting merry-making and dancing, what I got was occasionally seeing someone walk past in a costume.
I highly recommend coming to Venice but probably not during Carnevale. It seems better suited for older people- it’s not as much a young person’s festivity.
And aside from the cicchetti and one venison ragù with fresh pasta, the food in Venice was the worst I’ve had in Italy. Plus, it was highly over-priced.
But overall I had a fantastic time in Venice. Venice made me realize how arrogant a traveler I’ve become- I had put off coming to Venice for years because I thought I’d hate it. And I am so glad that hubris didn’t sway me from visiting this winter.
Have you ever visited Venice? Would you want to go for Carnevale?
New York City- the first stop on my four-month round-the-world adventure, and one of my favorite cities in the world.
This year I ventured to the Big Apple with my best friend, Alyssa, also known affectionately as Lizard. (And it wasn’t our first trip- one year we both worked backstage at New York Fashion Week together!)
The first item of business after six months of not seeing each other? Craft beer. Obviously.
After lunch we headed back to our cozy room at the Best Western Seaport Inn. Seaport Inn is truly a gem, with fluffy beds and prime views of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is located in the Seaport neighborhood, a pocket of charm and calm in the financial district with a beautiful waterfront and quaint brick streets.
Our second order of business? Wandering. From roaming under red lanterns in Chinatown to pretend-shopping for my dream brownstone in the Meatpacking District to stopping for coffees the size of my head at Angélique, NYC was lovely as usual.
I’ve noticed my favorite American cities are the ones geographically confined to an island or peninsula like NYC or San Francisco. The space limitation makes cities walkable and leads to neighborhoods being jam-packed with cafés, restaurants and bars. (Kind of like Europe, ha.)
Also we made a few stops at my favorite shops on Bleeker: Bond, Alexis Bittar, MAC (where I tried on Ruby Woo, MAC’s most dramatic red lipstick of course).
And I noticed my favorite French shops popping up all of NYC: Zadig & Voltaire, ASH, Comptoir des Cotonniers. (I use favorite loosely- I have never bought anything from any of those stores. I would like to though!)
The next day we headed to Chelsea Market per the recommendation of C’est Christine. Um, guys, the next time you’re in NYC, please go there.
Chelsea Market is an indoor market with excellent food, trendy clothes and vintage jewelry- all of the good things in life, right? I resisted buying some vintage 1970s gold and onyx jewelry but it was a very close call. (My backpacker budget doesn’t allow for many $70 pairs of earrings, sadly.)
And because I couldn’t decide between green curry pie and a bánh mì, I had Italian. (Even though I was days away from heading to Venice. Sue me.)
At Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina Lizard and I ordered pasta e fagiole, a.k.a. butter-soft beans with homemade pasta, as well as a side of roasted brussels sprouts. Because we like to pretend to be healthy.
After lunch we stretched our legs at Highline Park, a railroad turned park à la one of my favorite spots in Paris, the Promenade plantée.
While I imagine Highline would be better in summer, we still enjoyed our brownies while basking in the weak winter sun.
And then? We were off to Europe!
Seaport Inn offered me a night’s stay in exchange for a review. As always, all opinions are my own.
At the age of 22, I spent a glorious petite année in Paris. I truly had the time of my life which may have had something to do with Paris’ fantastic bar and club scene. I find tourists often overlook Paris’ nightlife- which, it turns out, is on par with many other European capitals.
Rather than recommend specific bars, I want to highlight Paris’ top nightlife districts. And just for the record I’m more a fan of late-night bars than clubs, and I normally head to places where you don’t have to pay cover. (Yep, I was the quintessential broke au pair. No shame.) And when Momondo asked me to become a ‘local ambassador’ for Paris and share my favorite local haunts I thought there was no time like the present to finally share my favorite after-dark spots!
So without further ado, I give you all of my favorite places to party in Paris.
How to get there: (Boulevard Poissonnière, metro stop Grand Boulevards)
Grands Boulevards is a hopping 9th arrondissement neighborhood with many large, multi-level bars and clubs lining Boulevard Poissonnière in Paris’ (a large percentage happen to be Irish pubs, for some unknown reason). Grands Boulevards is a great place to meet both expats and locals, and due to the proximity of all the clubs it’s easy to bar-hop there.
Tip- if you’re in Grands Boulevards during the day there are many beautiful 19th century arcades around such as Passage Jouffroy and La Galerie Vivienne.
How to get there: (Rue Oberkampf, metro stop Parmentier or Oberkampf)
Oberkampf is my absolute favorite place in Paris for a night out. It’s filled with trendy, mid-size bars big enough to dance in but intimate enough you can always find your friends. From top hits pop music at Café Charbon to sultry, jazz-dancing at L’Alimentation Générale, Oberkampf has a range of late-night dance spots frequented by a more mature crowd than Bastille or Grands Boulevards.
How to get there: (Rue de Lappe, metro stop Bastille or Ledru-Rollin)
Looking for a rowdy, early-twenty something party scene? Welcome to Bastille. On the Rue de Lappe the music is loud, the drinks are strong and the crowd is young, boisterous and slightly douchey. If you steer clear of Rue de Lappe you can find more grown-up spots like Barrio Latino- but be warned, the drinks are obscenely over-priced!
During the warmer months, the Seine is the ideal place to pre-game, socialize and practice your French. While I wouldn’t spend the entire night there, I would definitely head there around 10 p.m. with a few bottles of cider and a whole bunch of friends. Head to the quay near Notre Dame- it’s always bustling!
Important tips for going out in Paris:
The metro closes at 2 p.m. best it’s best to get there around 1:30 a.m., some lines close earlier than others. You can also take the Noctilien, Paris’ night bus.
Parisians dress fairly sharp when they go out but you still don’t need six-inch stilettos. (I used to wear booties or black suede boots- no dancing ’til dawn in painful heels for me!)
Pre-drink hard. In Paris drinks are expensive, at around eight euros a cocktail. They add up quickly!
Don’t feel ashamed if you indulge in a late-night Nutella sandwich… (It happens to the best of us.)
or a hangover-curing McDonalds feast the next morning.
On a final note this is basically the French version of my friends and I on a night out in Paris:
Where are your favorite places to party in Paris?
Hey guys! It’s official- I miss blogging. So let’s get started shall we? And of course, Happy Father’s Day to all the awesome dads out there!
Ah, Madrid. The food-obsessed, neo-baroque, oh-so-español Spanish capital that always makes me want to uproot my life and speak nothing but Spanish and eat nothing but pata negra for the rest of my days. While Madrid will never be my favorite Spanish city (I’m more of a Sevilla kind of girl), I loved my fourth visit to Madrid this spring, despite the uncharacteristically drizzly weather. Which naturally, had quite a bit to do with my roommates: the lovely Julika of Sateless Suitcase, Amanda of Farsickness and Jessica of Curiosity Travels. All of whom are my new favorite people. And of course, our super cute, travel-theme apartment provided by Go With Oh also played a part in making our long weekend away even more wonderful. Here are some insta-shots of what made our Madrid weekend so special.
Our tree-lined residential street…
Our first night as a group! With cocktails in hand, naturally…
Blessedly our neighborhood even had a jamón ibérico shop… my favorite food EVER)
The one site we saw… hey, this was my fourth visit to Madrid, remember?
Croquetas with beer. Heaven.
A night out at Kapital, a seven-story nightclub. We clean up nice, huh? And yes, that’s free champagne.
Churros con chocolate for lunch… When in Madrid?
The best hangover cure in the world. For serious.
So there you have it! My favorite shots from Madrid. Which is your favorite? Flying from London to Madrid like yours truly? Use www.gatwickparking.com!