When I was still a wee college student, I spent one happy June “studying” the island of Mallorca, a Catalan-speaking island located a hop, skip and a jump from Ibiza.
Living there, however briefly, was easy in a way only living on the Mediterranean can be: A cool bowl of gazpacho for lunch, indulgent mid-day siestas, salt-sprayed afternoons on the beach.
During my month on Mallorca I made time for plenty of little adventures. From journeying to the beryl waters of Porto Cristo’s beach…
to exploring the narrow streets of Palma’s medieval quarter…
to staring up in awe at La Seu, Mallorca’s enormous cathedral… (and my favorite church in Europe!)
to boarding an antique wooden train to Sóller, a charming port town where we drank orange liquer on the pier…
to enduring a (hungover) sailboat ride with my friend’s host family…
to catching rays and strolling the promenade at El Molinar every day.
And then there were the things I didn’t photograph: Eating ham and cheese croquetas while watching the waves crash to the shore, buying anise and orange flower cookies from nuns, sipping Mahou as dolphins jumped through sunset-dappled waters, driving down the windy mountain roads to Deia on roads barely big enough for a horse-cart.
But what I valued most on Mallorca was simply daily life with my host family. Or rather, my host grandmother- I spent the month living with a lovely, 78-year old polyglot and mother of seven who spoke fondly of her girlhood in France and Basque Country.
We spent many sun-dappled afternoons together in her kitchen, donning aprons and cooking up fragrant batches of paella and menestra.
Everything at Mercedes’ was equally a treat and a learning experience. I loved waking up to pa amb oli, or pan mallorquín rubbed with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil and topped with tomatoes and jamón ibérico de bellota, Spain’s finest ham.
I loved my afternoon snack of homemade crackers topped with spicy sobrassada, a Balearic Islands’ specialty sausage.
So good it’s worth booking a Thomas Cook holiday to Majorca, trust me!
Actually I loved all the food at our house: fresh off the vine nísperos (loquats), queso de cabra from a local dairy farmer, olives that the dentist dropped off, manure and feather flecked eggs from the neighbor.
I enthusiastically tried to learn every recipe Mercedes would teach me: gazpacho, trampó mallorquín, ajoblanco, tortilla de patatas, merluza en salsa verde, among many others.
One of my favorite ways to travel is to live with a host family- you simply learning so much more about the country.
Mercedes’ courtyard where she grew lots of fruits and vegetables. See the little aluminum foil figures on the tree? She used those to ward off birds from pecking the lemons.
How else would I have learned about the unrelenting heat of the Xaloc, the southern wind that blew in from the Sahara?
Or when to use extra-virgin olive oil and when to use virgin? And how you should reuse it seven times?
Or how to make stock out of a rabbit’s head? (Seriously.)
A map of Mallorca’s winds.
Another one of my favorite things about living on Mallorca was my friend’s amazing host family who basically adopted me during my time on Mallorca. We would spend long afternoons lunching and relaxing in the courtyard as I tried to understand the Catalan they spoke.
And on our last night on the island they played Spanish guitar for us for hours, danced and sang, and gave us a bottle of local Mallorcan fennel liquer. Spanish guitar is my favorite instrument in the world; I truly could sit rapt and listen to it for hours.
Overall my month on Mallorca gave me many things: a reconfirmed, lifelong love of Spain, an improved command of the Spanish language, a fascination with Catalan culture, a recipe book stuffed with traditional Basque and Mallorcan recipes.
Have you ever had an incredible study abroad experience?
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After a year of thoroughly exploring the Paris restaurant scene, there was still one gaping hole in my virtual foodie CV- going out for a fancy meal. So for my last lunch in Paris, I headed to Pierre Sang with my Paris-based PIC, Edna.
And in the spirit of going all out on my last day in city, we opted for the 35-euro five-course menu. When in Paris, right? (more…)
The meal started off with the best butter I’ve ever had in my life- salt-flecked, creamy and soft. Yum.
Butter from Normandy= crack.
Next came the amuse-bouche. What I love about Pierre Sang is that the menu changes every day, and that the waitstaff will only tell you what you’re having after you’ve already eaten it… it’s kind of like rehab for picky eaters.
Which is how I ended up eating raw rabbit breast that I thought was squid. Oops.
Overall I was really impressed with the quality of food. Pierre Sang was born in South Korea and was adopted by a French family when he was seven, and I could definitely taste the blend of Eastern-Western flavors in his food. He uses Western ingredients but prepares them with an Asian respect to flavors: tangy, sweet, spicy and salty all at the same time.
The cheese course which our server actually forgot to bring so we reminded him after we had dessert… but he was so sweet we didn’t care!
A shot of the master himself- Pierre Sang!
Where is your favorite place to splurge in Paris?
So as y’all may have read I’m now 23! But I did want to tell you about the wonderful birthday party I had last week in Paris.
After a year of living with a host-family in France, I was seriously missing being able to host dinner parties. (I love dinner parties.) So when my good friends generously lent me their house for the weekend and okayed a dinner party at their place, I invited over my scant remaining friends in Paris and started cooking.
My French friends’ gorgeously designed abode
After an early-morning trip to the farmer’s market in town (how French!), I spent the rest of the day preparing my birthday menu and trying not to sweat to death. This year my birthday, July 21, fell smack-dab in the middle of a ninety-degree heat wave in a country that rarely has air-conditioning. Yay.
Once the guests arrived we raised a few obligatory toasts, after which I requested that we pray. Though I’m not a religious person, during my nine months in Europe I had never once held hands at the table and prayed. And I have to say, it felt good to send some thanks up to the heavens- I really do have so much to be thankful for!
For the main course I prepared Ina Garten’s lemon chicken with croutons, and as usual Ina didn’t let me down at all… it was tasty! With the chicken I served a butter lettuce salad with shallot vinaigrette, the same one I make everyday in France.
My lovely friends who made it to the party.
As the soundtrack of Manu Chao, Gotan Project and Jacques Brel played on, I served up the cheese course: salers, bleu d’auvergne and chèvre.
We finished off the meal with a super-simple financier, or almond cake which I paired with a home-made apricot sauce. While I love cooking, I hate baking so I make this easy cake every time I have a dinner party.
While my other friends left to catch the last metro, Edna stayed over for a mojito nightcap and some late-night girl talk.
And when the couple who let me borrow the house came back from vacation, we had a lovely laughter-filled dinner out on the terrace. Then my favorite French couple gifted me a beautiful shamrock necklace, which they said was “to bring you luck on your travels.” So sweet.
And while a small dinner party was quite a departure from last year’s birthday celebrations, it was exactly what I wanted.
What do you like to do for your birthday?
Despite the utter lack of air-conditioning, Paris is a wonderful city in the summer. From the white-sand beaches on the Seine to the irresistible summer sales, there’s always something to pique your interest in the sunnier months.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite ways to beat ze ‘eat. (See what I did there?) (more…)
Head to the Museums for Art and AC
One way to beat the heat is to cool down at one of Paris’ many museums. My favorites are Pompidou (contemporary art and amazing views from the top floor), the Grand Palais (incredible single-artist exhibitions from Anish Kapoor to Edward Hopper) and the Musée d’Orsay (Impressionist art in a former train station).
The Dynamo exhibition at the Grand Palais
Feast on Falafel on the Rue des Rosiers
Though Paris isn’t a city known for street food, one great place for cheap, tasty eats is the Rue des Rosiers. The Rue des Rosiers is a pedestrian-only street in the heart of Le Marais that serves up lots of traditional Jewish food.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love the 5.50 euro falafel sandwiches at L’As du Fallafel- they’re filling, spicy and made with the freshest falafel this side of Beirut.
And after tasting both the shawarma (meat-filled sandwich) and the falafel (fried chickpea sandwich), I can say with full confidence that falafel is much tastier, so go vegetarian for this meal!
A shawarma sandwich at L’As du Fallafel
Cool Down with Gelato or Frozen Yogurt
There’s no happiness like a gelato-filled cornet (ice cream cone) on a sweltering summer day- and lucky for glace lovers, Paris is not lacking in gourmet ice cream options.
While I enjoyed the apricot gelato I tasted at Grom, Pozzetto is the best in town. Per C’est Christine’s recommendation, I ordered the milk and pistachio gelato in a cup and it was so, so good. My only regret is that I tried it on my last day in Paris!
Another delicious gelato shop in Paris is chain-shop Amorino- their Nutella gelato is addictive! And if you’re seeking to sate your sweet tooth while staying slim, check out myberry, a top-notch frozen yogurt shop in Le Marais.
Drink a Belgian White
While beer in Paris is shamefully expensive (such a problem for beer aficionadas like yours truly), in the summer heat I manage to set aside seven or so euros to splurge on an ice-cold Belgian white.
Sunbathe and People-watch in the Luxembourg Gardens
Despite my Anglo inability to acquire a tan, I still love coming to the Luxembourg Gardens to soak up a bit of soleil and hang out with my girlfriends. For an extra-special afternoon, bring a bottle of cold champagne and a Bill Bryson book. For free entertainment, enjoy some prime Parisian people-watching.
Bubbly AND Bill Bryson? Why yes please.
Shop the Soldes
The soldes are a biannual government-mandated sale in which stores mark items down 30% off or more. And while I didn’t buy anything this year (saving up for Asia is the bane of my life, ugh), someday I will come back to Paris specifically for the amazing summer sales.
Shoes I wanted but sadly couldn’t afford at my favorite French shoe shop, Minelli
Lay Out at Paris Plage
Despite this being my fifth summer visiting Paris, this was the first time I was in town for Paris Plage and I’m so glad I could finally make it! For several weeks in July and August the city closes down the two highways along the Seine and turns them into a public beach. But this isn’t some lame sandpit, as I had previously thought- it’s a well-designed promenade of beaches, playgrounds, cafés and bars where city-goers flock for a bit of fun in the sun.
One tip- bring a towel if you want to lay out because beach chairs are often hard to come by.
Chow Down on Chipotle
Is it wrong that on my second-to-last day in Paris I had lunch at Chipotle, the Mexican-American restaurant chain? Probably. But as there are only two Chipotles in Europe (London and Paris) and I was combatting a mild hangover post-birthday, I felt justified in finally trying it.
Though the burritos are pricier than in the states (9 euros, or about $12), it was so worth paying the price for a spicy taste of home in a city that’s short on Mexican food. (Though I really do love Candelaria as well!)
Fun fact- Chipotle Paris serves margaritas. They’re aren’t very good, but still- isn’t that cool?
Enjoy a Late-Night on the Seine
Forget everything I said about language exchanges- if you want to practice your French, head to the Seine at dusk with a bottle of cheap cider. I made some of my best memories from this year were on the quays of the Seine, chatting with strangers, laughing with friends and sharing lukewarm whiskey-beer on the cobblestones.
My favorite event of the year was definitely the Firemen’s Ball- because who doesn’t love cheap beer and sexy firefighters?
To plan your own summer in Paris extravaganza, here’s a map I made with all of the places I mentioned. [Paris in the Summer]
What is your favorite thing to do in Paris in the summer?
After spending a year lunching in the city of lights, I’d like to say I know my way around the food scene pretty well. Here are my nine favorite lunch spots in Paris that I visit again and again and where I send friends and family who plan to visit the city. (more…)
Le Comptoir du Relais – French
Not to sound like a Zagat guide or anything, but this is classic French bistro food with a modern twist, all at an affordable price. If you’re feeling peckish before or after dinner head to next door to l’Avant Comptoir for crêpes and tapas.
Breizh Café – Crêperie
Well, I guess all the hype is worth it because Breizh Café really does have amazing salted butter caramel crêpes. Though I don’t love quite the ambiance (there are just way too many tourists and fellow English speakers afoot), it makes a great stop between shopping and strolling in Le Marais.
For more info here’s my full review of Breizh Café.
Info: yelp // website
Frenchie To Go – American
Feeling homesick for the good ol’ U.S. of A.? Come to Frenchie for lunch. It’s known in the expat community as a great place to snack on some of your favorite anglo-eats like cheesecake, doughnuts, pickles and maple smoked bacon. Also- Please. Eat. The. Lobster. Roll. (But if you can’t afford the 23 euro price, the pulled pork sandwich is pretty good too.)
Info: yelp // website
Candelaria – Mexican
If you ask me, a life without Mexican food is not life. Which is why I was so happy to find an authentic Mexican restaurant in Paris. This tiny place made me actually feel like I was in Mexico: the shabby counter, the slowly revolving fan, the Spanish-speaking owners. The only non-Mexican aspect is the Parisian prices- at three euros a taco, you will feel like you south of the border until just before you get the bill.
Info: yelp // website
Le Relais de l’Entrecôte - French
Free refills on beverages may not exist in France, but evidently, free refills on steak frites do. Le Relais de l’Entrecôte serves some of the best steak frites in the city, and at 27 euros for two orders, it’s not a bad deal. While the tender meat and the crispy fries are delicious,what really makes the meal special is the parsley butter sauce, or as I think it should be called, What-in-God’s-name-is-this-I-would-give-my-first-born-for-some-more sauce.
Info: yelp // website
Rue Sainte-Anne – Japanese
Want to hear a random fact about Parisians? They’re obsessed with sushi and Japanese food. (I suspect it’s for the low-carb aspect, ahem.) So do like the Parisians do and come to the Rue Saint-Anne for your Asian fix- I would particularly recommend a steaming bowl of ramen or some Japanese curry.
Dawa – Korean
There’s nothing that warms up a bitingly cold winter day like a hot bowl of bimbimbap- and as Edna showed me, Dawa is the place to get it. Though I am not terribly well-acquainted with Korean food (something I need to remedy immediately!), the food at Dawa struck me as authentic, reasonably priced and obviously, extremely yummy.
Rue des Rosiers- Falafel sandwich
Oh, dear. How many times can the falafel on the Rue de Rosiers be blogged about? But really, there’s a reason why most Paris foodies will direct you to the Rue des Rosiers- there’s just nowhere else in Paris to get such fresh, inexpensive falafel topped with topped with cabbage, eggplant and spicy harissa sauce. While L’As du Fallafel is the most famous restaurant on the street, I’ve tried most of the falafel on the street and it’s basically the same everywhere.
Nameless French Bistro
When in doubt in Paris, just got for the classics. This is a salade de chèvre chaud I tried at a little bistro near the Place des Vosges. All it consists of is butter lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, shallot vinaigrette and baguette with goat cheese, and it’s one of my favorite dishes in the world- which goes to show you sometimes simple really is best.
What is your favorite lunch spot in the city of lights?
Bastille Day, or le quatorze juillet, commemorates the end of the monarchy in France and the beginning of a kingless French republic.
For the first time ever, I got to celebrate under the “bleu, blanc et rouge” of my adopted home country, and take part in the trifecta that makes up Bastille Day weekend: the Firemen’s Ball on Saturday night, the Military Parade on Sunday morning and the fireworks on Sunday night. (Well um… I actually didn’t end up going to the military parade but more on that later.)
Firemen’s Ball (Bal de Pompiers)
What happens when you take a Parisian fire station and fill it with handsome firefighters, cheap beer and patriotic partygoers? Good things, mes amis.
Each arrondissement hosts its own firemen’s ball, but we chose to attend the first arrondissement’s near Les Halles. The party was free to enter with a recommended donation.
The vibe was amazing with patriotically colored lights, a live band and well-muscled firefighters around every corner. From the Heineken beer cans to the warm weather to the red, white and blue it honestly felt like a fourth of July barbecue. Minus the barbecue, of course.
The two beverages of choice were either a 40-euro bottle of champagne or a three-euro can of beer. Ergo the following picture…
Three-euro beers? Why yes, merci.
Question: does anyone know why both the police and firefighters in France are so devilishly handsome?
After a too-short partying sesh we left early to meet up with the French guy my friend is seeing. From there we headed to Café Oz, where we danced on picnic tables and threw back mojitos until dawn.
I love Café Oz because of its faithful devotion to the golden period of music from 2002-2004: think lots of N.E.R.D., Nelly and Outkast. And in relation to Bastille Day, all I can say is that every time Missy Elliot comes on I dance like it’s my national duty.
Spoiler alert- when you have plans to attend a military parade at 10 a.m. but take the first metro home at 5:30 a.m., you miss the military parade. But, if you’re ever in the area, I’ve heard the Bastille Day military parade is quite the spectacle- in fact Wikipedia tells me it’s the oldest regular military parade in the world! (And shame on me for missing it, ugh.)
On Sunday night I met up with another friend to watch the fireworks from Trocadéro. As we arrived before the fireworks show started, we watched the crowd pull out their iPhones and ooh-and-ah with delight when the Eiffel Tower lit up.
And I must admit- it is rather dazzling, isn’t it?
Soon after, the real show began.
While the show was beautiful, watching the fireworks from Trocadéro probably wasn’t the best idea- there were times when we literally couldn’t move in the crowd, and when fellow spectators got a little too frisky. (Or in the case of the one guy who grabbed my hips and pulled me close to him shall we put it delicately, wayyy too frisky. Vom.)
Honestly seeing the fireworks explode across the night sky made me homesick for my own country’s Fête de la Fédération. I’ve been battling with homesick a lot lately now that most of my friends are gone and am counting the days until I go home. (Eight, for your information.)
The overall scene was mildly reminiscent of a war zone: loud bangs, suffocating crowds and people sprinting everywhere. The festivities left Rachel and I half-joking about having post-traumatic Bastille Day syndrome.
But overall it was fun to see a country that isn’t known for being patriotic (I don’t know a single French person who would hang a flag outside their house for example) brandish a little pride for their wonderful nation.
Parisinfo.com does a yearly arrondissement guide for the Firemen’s Ball so google that before you go to find a partying fire station in your area.
It’s best to spot the fireworks from afar rather than up close- so rather than the Champs de Mars or Trocadéro, head to somewhere faraway and high-up like Edna did last year.
Have you ever experienced Bastille Day in France?