Honestly, my time in London makes me sad to recall- it was that perfect. It was one of those rare stretches of time when I was completely, uninterruptedly content, with nary a worry in sight.
Which may have involved a few factors. For one, day after day of sunshiny spring weather. In March. In London. Is that normal?
And two, thanks to Amanda (a fellow foodie and Michigander) I was able to live in London (or rather, the charming town of Richmond) rent-free. I even had my own room, and an soft, sprawling white bed to call my own. And yes, this is rare enough on my travels to worth noting.
And three? My three weeks in London coincided with my little brother Andrew’s semester abroad, so we crammed in as much sibling bonding time as possible. Obviously.
I spent my three weeks in London in the best possible way. Hanging out with my little brother in Regent’s Park with a backdrop of ducks and daffodils. Brunching in the sunshine. Exploring London’s street art-filled East End. Picnicking in the middle of the week on manchego and merlot in Hyde Park. Sipping champagne atop Hampstead Heath.
Isn’t funemployment the best?
And okay fine, I did see a few tourist attractions: The Tate Modern, The British Library, The Museum of London Docklands.
But I mostly neglected my long list of attractions because, guys, the spring weather was so nice. And why would I be inside the British Museum when I could be at a food market? Or a friend’s garden? Or… anywhere outdoors, really?
Here are all the reasons I’m still cursing the strict British visa laws, and why I so adored my three weeks of pretending to be a Londoner…
Brunching on the (Near) Daily
While I cherish lingering over all meals, lingering over brunch may be my favorite. Eggs and soldiers, smoked salmon with cream cheese, a plate of poached eggs and toast? Yes, yes and yes.
And there’s something just satisfyingly naughty about brunching on a Wednesday.
Cooking at Home
While I’m traveling I rarely have a kitchen so cooking at home in London was a gift!
I tried to offset the heavy meals I was eating out by preparing healthy French salads (think salade niçoise and chèvre chaud) at home.
Frequenting the Local Pub
My favorite things about England are pubs, banter and medieval history. And yes, probably in that order.
So naturally I fell head-over-heels in amour with Amanda’s local pub, the White Horse, during my stay. Between lazy afternoons over IPAs and raucous Wednesday quiz nights, the pub was the perfect place to kick back regardless of the hour.
And America, I beg of you- can we PLEASE have at least one proper pub here? Without 12 TVs to a wall? And perhaps a little charm? Or maybe peace and quiet? #endrant
Picnicking In All of London’s Parks
During my stay in London few parks were safe from my epic picnics: London Fields, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath included.
And these were no ordinary picnics; I lived in France, remember? I’m kind of a picnicking expert.
These were feasts of pungent, barnyard-smelling camembert, round loaves of wheat bread, port and duck pâté, slices of oily manchego and endless bottles of cheap wine.
When in London, I suppose?
Getting to Know London Better
It’s no secret I love London- I’ve even considered moving there! But it was such a joy getting to explore more of the city.
I’m now hugely in love with Shoreditch (post soon!) but I also enjoyed spending time in just about every other neighborhood I set foot in, as well as just soaking up all the daily life taking place around me.
And okay, okay, it wasn’t all clotted cream and cupcakes. (Though who are we kidding- it mostly was.) When in London I do occasionally feel judged for being American- talking on the tube made me slightly uncomfortable. (And plus, everyone’s silent!)
That aside, my three weeks in London were perfect- and I of course intend to return.
Have you ever spent a (somewhat) long period of time in London? Did you enjoy it?
While in Switzerland, I knew I wanted to do more than ski, sled and snowshoe- I wanted to get off the ground. And when sky-diving proved to be too expensive (someday!) I opted to for another sky-high adventure activity- paragliding.
This wasn’t my first paragliding experience- I tried it while studying abroad in Argentina. But as I stood on the mountain, staring across at the impenetrable fog, my heart beat a little faster than I’d care to admit. I mean, I had done this before right?
I feigned a shaky smile as my handsome Swiss-German instructor, Florian, fiddled with my straps. Soon he was behind me and shouting for me to run. I didn’t have much time to be scared- in seconds my feet were off the ground and we were soaring over the Alps.
The sensation was exactly how I remembered- calming, almost meditatively so. As we floated around, I could see the entire city of Interlaken and her cerulean twin lakes separated by a canal. When I looked down at the mountains I half-expected to see mountain goats running between the pines.
And then it was selfie time! Florian instructed me to spread my arms out like a bird while he took a picture with his GoPro. And considering how weightless I felt, it seemed like a very appropriate selfie.
(This was also the moment when I kicked myself for not buying a GoPro before my world trip.Ugh!)
For the next fifteen minutes I just floated around in a near trance, awestruck by all the views in front of me.
But soon my fifteen minutes of blissful gliding were up. Florian told me it was time to land. “Run!” He shouted. And suddenly my feet were back on the ground, in one of Interlaken’s park in the center of town.
While I’ve never tried sky-diving, I consider paragliding to be sky-diving for beginners. It’s relaxing, quiet and provides beautiful views. And of course, there’s the whole jumping-off-a-mountain adrenaline rush.
Skywings provided me with hiking boots to use, but if you’re paragliding in winter bring warm clothes, a scarf and mittens. Skywings offers paragliding year-round and the experience costs 170 CHF, while photos are 30 CHF and video costs 40 CHF. The photos came on a USB attached to a little Skywings parachute- a cute touch!
Have you ever gone paragliding?
A big thanks to Skywings for providing a paragliding session in exchange for a review. Skywings in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are as always my own.
Skiing in Switzerland is undoubtedly expensive. Like, Dear-God-when-I-pay-my-credit-card-next-week-I’m-going-to-sob expensive. While the lift tickets are cheap compared to the U.S., just about everything else: food, accommodation, transportation, costs more.
While I enjoyed skiing in Switzerland immensely, my eight days in Switzerland were by far the most expensive of my entire world trip. So I wanted to lay out exactly how much a Swiss ski holiday will set you back.
The view from my $60/night hostel. At least it’s a good one.
How much do rentals/lift tickets cost?
Well, let’s start with the good news! Lift tickets in Switzerland are relatively inexpensive. I paid 110 CHF for a two-day lift pass in Gstaad, which comes out to about $60 USD a day. Comparatively, you would pay around $85 a day in Aspen or Vail.
While I was lucky enough to have my ski rentals comped by a friend, I paid 30 CHF for snow boots (note- not ski boots) and 20 CHF for a sled. And here was the rip-off of the century: when I wanted to snowshoe down the mountain, I paid 30 CHF for a one-way gondola ride. Seriously. That’s $90 USD for a day of SLEDDING, not even skiing!
Also, I rented all of my gear from Intersport and was very happy with the service, prices and rentals.
How much does budget accommodation cost?
In Switzerland you will pay around 50 CHF for a hostel bunk that you will have to make yourself. Luckily, every hostel I stayed in was clean and provided a complimentary breakfast.
Though I did notice that many of the “youth hostels” were filled with families and elderly people. The hostel where I stayed in Grindelwald, Jugendherberge, was inhabited almost entirely by young families! While that would be fine for older guests, I was looking for a twenty-something scene and felt a bit lonely.
The tasty free breakfast at Jugendherberge almost made up for the screaming children. Almost.
My adorable hostel in Interlaken. And the cheapest of my trip- only 35 CHF!
How much does food cost on the mountain? And is it good?
The food on the mountain is Switzerland is gourmet. I loved sampling traditional Swiss specialities, from the richest chocolate cake of my life to rolled-up Bergkäse (mountain cheese).
But like ski resorts in the U.S., the food on the mountain is pricey. The soup above cost me 12 francs! Thankfully it was worth every cent- a gourmet traditional Swiss barley soup with buttery kernels of barley and dusted with dried wildflowers.
Tip- bring chocolate and cheese and munch on them through the day to save on food. Plus, how Swiss is that?
Also, is there anything than tasting a light, crisp local pils while watching clouds slowly drift over the Alps?
While beer is on par with American prices, liquor costs a pretty penny. This “snow bunny” cocktail (Schneehäsli) set me back (or rather, the Swiss man who bought it for me, ha) 8 CHF. And this was an outdoor bar!
What other winter sports are available besides skiing?
Um, I’m just going to go out on a limb and tell you NOT to go snow-shoeing. Because plodding down the mountain while sledders whizz past is maddening. Especially when it costs you $90 a day.
Sledding in Switzerland on the other hand is an absolute blast. You take an old-fashioned sled, strap on your snow boots and careen down the mountain at perilously high speeds. Love.
This type of sledding would never be legal in the U.S. for liability reasons- you could honestly fly right off the mountain! Which is obviously why it’s so exhilarating.
Because you use your feet to stop it’s important to use sturdy snow boots- the snow-boarding boots I had made it hard to stop as they are so soft and round.
Another high-octane winter activity in Switzerland? Paragliding! While the experience costs around 170-200 CHF, the alpine views and adrenaline rush make it worth every franc. Post on my experience coming soon!
Overall, is skiing in Switzerland worth the expense?
Well, I’m not sure. While the alpine ambiance is lovely, I think you could have a similar but cheaper experience in France or Austria.
One huge advantage to skiing in Switzerland over the states is the lack of lines. I waited only a minute or two for each lift- a far cry from the 20-30 minute waits at Deer Valley! Plus, the views of the alpine villages from the slopes is hard to beat.
Would you want to ski in Switzerland?
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 Doerte 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, Doerte, 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 Doerte 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 Doerte son outfitted me with complimentary ski gear (Danke!), we headed to the hill. While we rode the gondolas Doerte spoke German to everyone while I sat and cursed myself for not knowing a word of it.
Doerte 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 Doerte 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?
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.
So 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!
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.)
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!
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…)