Tuesday, June 17, 2014

EuroTrip: London, Paris, Venice, Rome

London, Paris, Venice, Rome
So many cities visited, so much to take in. Every day was a new experience in sensory overload. The immediate and lasting impressions I had of each city were: Loved London. It's a more refined version of the US, and I may actually prefer to live there over any other US city. The accents alone are enough to convince me to move. Disappointed with Paris. The city didn't live up to its "romantic" billing -- perhaps we didn't stay in/visit the right areas? I felt like it was the NYC of Europe -- dirty, smelly, had their share of unsavory characters. LOVED Venice. So charming and picturesque. Its laid-back vibe and slower pace of life meshes well with my personality, so I'm a bit biased there. It was so apparent the passion Italians have for their craft. Rome was my least favorite city of the four. Crowded, aggressive people everywhere. Hated how there were hidden costs in practically every restaurant we ate at.

Just a warning, a ton (compared to the usual) photos ahead.

LONDON

London ended up being a great choice to kick start our trip. There was no language barrier and not much of a culture shock. The only thing to really remember is that they drive on the left. The city helps you out with "look left" or "look right" text on the ground at crosswalks, which I found to be super helpful... though at times my brain would be slow to register and I'd end up looking in both directions really quickly first.

Of all the cities that we visited, I was blown away by their public transportation system. We never had to wait for more than 2 minutes (!) for the Tube, any time, any day. Amazing. Now I completely understand foreigners' frustrations with the US subway systems.

We stayed around the Earl's Court station in Kensington, which is on the Piccadilly line. I found the area to be less tourist-y but yet still convenient to all the attractions on our to-see list. I don't recall having to transfer to other lines often (ie: Heathrow airport is on the Piccadilly line, but I believe we had to make one transfer to the train station for the Eurostar.)
St Paul's Cathedral
[photo above] St. Paul's Cathedral nearing sunset.
[photo below] The streets of London.
London (Big Ben)
We visited the usual tourist attractions: Big Ben (walked by), Westminster Abbey (didn't go in), Buckingham Palace (didn't do research beforehand so didn't get to see the changing of the guards -- darn it!), London Eye (gorgeous views; don't let the regular line scare you because it moved steadily and the wait was only ~30 mins; not worth it to pay extra $ for the express line, imo), and two museums (Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum -- both are free!)

I think the British Museum is probably larger and more famous, but my favorite of the entire trip was the Victoria and Albert Museum. I like how the exhibits at the V&A were unique, ie: a fashion exhibit displaying clothes from various time periods. The gift shop at the V&A was practically an exhibit by itself. We ended up spending way too much time there and had to go back another day to finish touring the rest of the museum.
at Victoria and Albert Museum
[photo above] Temporary fashion exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum. In love with all the ladylike looks.
[photo below] Cheesin' outside the British Museum. I'm typically more of a modern architecture type of girl, but I so love all the buildings in London.
outside the British Museum
[photo below] Gardens at Kensington Palace. The grounds were huge, so we definitely walked much more than planned. Hyde Park was nearby, which I recall from my historical romance novel reading days, and I remember thinking to myself, "So this is where all the ladies and gents from the regency era spent their days horseback riding and strolling arm-in-arm. Neat-o."
Kensington Palace gardens

We wanted to experience the British tradition of afternoon tea, so therefore decided on a late lunch at Thames Foyer, located in the Savoy Hotel. It's expensive at ~£52/person (~$90!), and easily our most expensive meal of the trip. We thought it was all-you-can-eat for every course, but in reality, it was just unlimited finger sandwiches. We all really enjoyed the "main course" of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and was all set for seconds (or in DH's case, seconds and thirds) when our waiter awkwardly told us only one serving allowed. Aww shucks. I'm far from a tea connoisseur, but I enjoyed how you could sample and sip as many flavors as you wanted. The atmosphere was nice, service was great, and we easily spent a few hours just enjoying the whole experience. We were that table of Americans taking goofy, posed photos much to the dismay of the proper British, I'm sure.

Business casual was the dress code so I had planned on wearing this exact outfit to tea. Laziness won so I only ended up wearing the dress and the ring.
afternoon tea at The Savoy
[photo above] Pinky up for afternoon tea! It's hard work to lift and keep that finger raised.

Aside from the tourist attractions, we also spent quite a bit of our time shopping. Our first stop after our plane landed was actually to the Burberry flagship store (121 Regent St), lol. The multi-level store was beautiful -- my eyes couldn't stop glancing back-and-forth between the displayed items and the building's architecture. Ceilings with original moldings, a grand staircase with jumbo screens on its side, which is where they hold some (all?) of their fashion shows -- definitely work checking out even if you don't plan on making a purchase. The flagship store is actually the only place where you can see and touch sample material to customize bespoke trench coats. SIL was like a little kid in a candy store; tried on multiple items and eventually bought a gorgeous girls' cashmere coat. The SA who helped us, Gemma (shoulder-length strawberry-blonde hair) was super nice and patient (actually the one who showed us around the store and pointed out the building's history.) She didn't hesitate to pay their on-site tailors multiple visits when SIL had alteration questions. Speaking of on-site tailors, they're used to tourists passing through and are very accommodating with your travel schedule. SIL wanted the belt loops lowered on her new coat; the Burberry staff asked when we're leaving and said no problem; lo and behold, they had the job finished the next day. One thing I want to note are the prices in general. Given the current conversion rate, it may not be cheaper to purchase overseas, so just do your homework beforehand. We also didn't time our visit well because the Burberry US spring/summer sale started earlier than Burberry Europe -- actually while we were still in London!

Unfortunately I was remiss in taking food photos throughout this trip. Many of our meals didn't "look" appetizing but were actually quite tasty... or I was too hungry and devoured my meals before photos even entered my mind.

Places I enjoyed and recommend: British food at Great Queen Street (I had black pasta with cuttlefish which I thought was good. DH had pork chops, SIL had a bisque -- both were really good. I think they have a constantly changing menu though), Bang Bang chicken at Camden Market (DH described it as "the best chicken ever" and hadn't tasted anything like it in the US. The markets remind me of the night markets in Asia, so definitely worth checking out. I think Borough is more tourist-y than Camden.)

Toodle-oo London!
London

PARIS

We arrived in Paris via the Eurostar (highly recommend for comfort and convenience) and stayed in the area around the Gare du Nord train station. I felt the neighborhood was a bit sketchy and wouldn't recommend for families. One time late at night, we stopped at a small grocery store (like a bodega) directly across the street from the train station, and the clerk cautioned us about pickpocketers in the area. I didn't realize until later that Paris is a well-known city for pickpocketers (thought it was just Rome and Barcelona.) SIL later told us she had nixed certain tourist attractions from our list (ie: Sacré-Cœur) due to disinterest and notoriety. Might as well have stuck a naive tourist sign on my forehead.
Paris
[photo above] Beautiful Paris at sunset.

Of course a visit to Paris wouldn't be complete without a stop to the Eiffel Tower. We didn't go up to see views of the city because we had already seen them the night before from the top of Tour Montparnasse (tallest building.) In hindsight, it was probably not the best idea to see the city on our first night because aside from the Eiffel Tower, I couldn't tell (and didn't know) what anything was in the dark. We did catch the Eiffel Tower light show while atop the Montparnasse building, so that was cool to see.
at Pont Alexandre III bridge overlooking the Eiffel Tower
[photo above] Enjoying the view at the Pont Alexandre III bridge. I loved this neighborhood, which reminded me a lot of the National Mall in DC with a grassy lawn and buildings on its sides. I remember marveling on many occasions at Paris' likeness to DC, but it really shouldn't have been a surprise as Monsieur L'Enfant was responsible for designing much of DC. I still think the architecture in Paris is more beautiful and intricate than DC's though, as originals usually are.
[photo below] Musée d'Orsay
Musée d'Orsay
Other places that we visited: The Louvre (I thought it was over-rated! I guess I'm just not a fan of dark, gloomy European art from the 17th-18th (?) century featuring mostly the same subjects, ie: naked cherub babies), Musée d'Orsay (I enjoyed this museum so much more than The Louvre and I'm not even a big Impressionist fan -- or at least I didn't know I was. I really liked the brighter colors and landscapes), Versailles (Beautiful and extravagant. I enjoyed walking around the gardens more than touring the Palace itself. We went on a crowded and rainy day, so the Hall of Mirrors didn't really wow me. I loved touring the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's house where she threw parties -- so cute!)
garden at the Petit Trianon
[photo above] Garden at the Petit Trianon

My favorite aspect of Paris are the gorgeous gardens with the manicured trees. DH and SIL (+ many friends actually) all think the trees are prissy and overdone. I, on the other hand, love how neat and orderly they looked -- probably calms the OCD side of me, haha. One thing I didn't like was how sandy the ground was at every garden. Whenever a gust of wind blew through, I'd close my eyes and duck my head (not sure how much that really helped.) At the end of the day, our shoes (and probably other parts of us) were covered in a layer of dust.
strolling through the gardens at Versailles
[photo above] Strolling through one of many tree-lined paths at Versailles.
[photo below] Luxembourg Gardens
Jardin du Luxembourg
Paris
[photo above] A view looking down Champs-Élysées at the Arc de Triomphe. We should've walked down the famous street the day I took this photo, because we never did find another chance to go back.
[photo below] Whee! An American in Paris.
in front of The Louvre

Like in London, we also spent quite a bit of time shopping in Paris as both SIL and I had planned to buy Chanel bags. I ended up buying a black reissue at 31 rue Cambon, which was the original Chanel store and the only one that uses white boxes and shopping bags for packaging. The white boxes are unique, but they're actually separated into a lid and a base. The black boxes (updated a few years ago, I believe) are now one piece with a magnetic lid closure; they also feel sturdier than the white boxes. A lot of tourists pass through this location so the stock seemed low compared to others. SIL bought her bags at the Chanel boutique inside Galeries Lafayette (a department store), and I felt they had more seasonal styles in stock. I'd think that most (if not all) stores would have plenty of bags from the classic line though.

It started raining right after I bought my bag, so the SA put my paper shopping bag inside of a larger, brown plastic bag with briefcase-like handles. I left the store toting my oversized briefcase bag, which got some stares according to DH. Hell, if it was me, I'd be nosy too, because even the brown plastic bag looked nice. After one lady pointed to my brown bag while talking to the man she was with, DH decided it was time to stop ignoring his Spidey sense, so he reached inside his backpack and pulled out a black garbage bag. Huh? What? Who brings garbage bags with them on vacation? Apparently my MIL gave him a bag of bags (black garbage bags, Target plastic bags, sandwich bags, etc.) to bring along on this trip because you never know when they're going to come in handy! Indeed it did. Nobody gave us and our garbage bag a second glance as we walked to our next destination. We did stop briefly at a clothing boutique and one of the security guards was discreetly following us around the store, haha. I guess the garbage bag blended in with the streets of Paris but stood out like a sore thumb inside of a bright store. I found the entire afternoon highly amusing.

Food I enjoyed and recommend: macarons at Pierre Hermé (tried them at Ladurée in NYC and wasn't impressed. The Pierre Hermé versions are amazing. Expensive, but worth trying), ramen at Kintaro (flavorful and thick broth, plenty of meat by ramen standards -- the main gripe DH has with ramen so he ordered extra meat, and boy did he regret it by the end of the night), escargots (my first time trying them; a pain to pick out of the shell, but yummy with garlic and butter; wished we didn't wait until our last night in the city to try them), chocolate croissants (also wished I had eaten more.)

Au revoir, Paris!
Paris

VENICE

Besides Paris, I didn't really have any preconceived notions of the cities we were about to visit. I was pleasantly surprised (in the best way possible) at how low-key and charming Venice was. As we were walking through the Venice airport, I could feel a relaxed vibe in the air, as corny as that sounds. We actually had made no prior transportation plans from the airport to our hotel. We knew there was an expensive private water taxi option and a ferry (I believe), but it was a long ride. Luckily, the tourist information desk clerk was super helpful and pointed us to a cheap option of taking a 30 min bus ride with no transfers. Our hotel was pretty close to the Piazzale Roma bus depot, so we made it there without taking too many wrong turns (streets were narrow and often not marked.)
Venice
[photo above] Picturesque Venice as we walked aimlessly around our hotel. The area we stayed in was quiet compared to the bustling centers of St. Mark's Square and along the Grand Canal.
[photo below] Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs
Piazza San Marco
[photo above] St. Mark's Square
[photo below] Grand Canal
Grand Canal
Venice is unlike the previous two cities we visited as there aren't really any famous landmarks -- the entire city is a tourist destination. I heard from somewhere that tourists outnumber the locals? Armed with a paper map, we just took our time and walked in the general direction towards certain neighborhoods, admiring the scenic view along the way.

The one tourist activity on our agenda was a gondola ride. They're usually for 40 mins and cost 80. We were walking towards a popular area to find a gondola station when we stopped to eat mini croissant-wrapped smoked salmon sandwiches at a local pastry shop. The guy who took our order (Elvis is his English name) started chatting with SIL as DH and I devoured our mini croissants. We weren't close enough to hear their conversation, but the next thing I knew he was on the phone and SIL came over to tell us that his friend is a gondolier. There wasn't an easy way for us to meet up with his friend because he wasn't exactly nearby and we don't know what he looked like. We then saw Elvis whip off his apron, hand it over to his boss, then told him that he's going to take his break now. "We go!" he said to us, as he led us easily through the confusing Venetian streets. This could've turned out really bad... I mean, following a complete stranger towards who knows where? It wasn't the best decision on our part, but since everything turned out ok, it was quite cool to be shown parts of a city by a local.

Elvis' friend, Sebastiano was exactly how we envisioned a gondolier to be. He sang a little, steered the gondola expertly, pointed out specific landmarks along the way, and was happy to share local history. If only learning is always this fun. Much too soon, our 40 min ride was up.
gondola ride with Sebastiano, our gondolier

One thing that was so very apparent was the passion Italians had towards their craft. I don't know if this is specific to Venice, but I just got the sense that they're all happy doing what they love, which is honing their craft. Sure you have to make money to live, but it isn't the most important thing in their lives. I'm jealous because isn't that like the holy grail in life? This is something I struggle with. To be able to find something you're passionate about and be at peace with making enough money to live comfortably. Life is more than just workworkwork, to make more moneymoneymoney. I don't know if my ramblings are making any sense as I'm translating thoughts out loud.

Street art vendors were everywhere in Venice. DH and SIL are big art fans and quite particular with what they like, so I was surprised at how often they stopped to peruse various offerings. At one particular vendor's cart, DH was taking awhile to decide on whether or not to purchase pieces. The artist told DH, "I'm proud of my art, so I'm not going to beg you to buy them. There will be people out there who will think my art is worth it." That's admirable, you know? Kind of goes back to my jumbled ramblings from the previous paragraph about Italians' passions towards their craft.

Between the three of us, we ended up buying way too much art in Venice and in Rome. I can now happily say that our home no longer has completely bare walls.
charcoal art
[photo above] Unlike most of the street vendors who were simply selling art pieces, this particular artist showed us that all the art he's selling are his originals. We stood there for a long time, just watching him transform a blank canvas into a finished masterpiece -- all with a piece of charcoal! He showed us the charcoal he was using, and it had a flat edge which he alternated between straight lines and shading (probably more but the skill is beyond me.) It was just so cool to see him handle the piece of charcoal to get the lines that he wanted. Apparently this type of art is a dying form, which I was so sad to hear.

Food recommendations: gelato (from anywhere really!), Ribot (the restaurant is actually connected to our hotel, so we dined there on our first night. Who knew that simple spaghetti with clams could taste so good?! We thought (hoped?) that other restaurants would be as good, so we never did find another chance to go back.)

Ciao, Venice!
Venice

ROME

By the time we arrived in Rome via train, I was already a little travel weary. I wonder if this state of mind contributed to how I didn't find Rome as enjoyable as the other cities? In Rome, we stayed in the area around Termini station, which I'm now learning is the main train hub of the city. Rome is not as easy to get around in as London or Paris because the public transportation system just isn't as extensive. I think we took the subway twice and the bus once but only after we asked for the exact number of stops before getting off. Otherwise, we just walked everywhere.

The thing I will always remember about Rome are the crazy drivers. They somehow all end up in the middle of the intersection at the same time, but cars and scooters will know whose turn it is go to next, and they'd all turn in different directions. It's like a well-oiled machine actually. There was this one crazy intersection where we just stood for a few minutes watching the drivers weave in and out. No accidents. Quite amazing to witness.

I couldn't wrap my ahead around the lack of lights at most pedestrian crosswalks. It's nearly impossible to wait for traffic to clear because there are just so many cars all the time. What do people do? Just start walking and cars will stop for you. It was a bit unnerving at first because you don't want to be the first guinea pig to cross, right? Piggybacking is the way to go!
Rome
[photo above] Rome at sunset. I sure do like my sunset photos.
[photo below] Striking a pose near the top of the Spanish Steps.
near the top of the Spanish steps
at the Trevi Fountain
Mustering up enthusiasm at the Trevi Fountain [photo above] and the Colosseum [photo below].
at the Colosseum

We mainly went to the Vatican to see the famous Sistine Chapel, which is part of the Vatican Museums tour (not St. Peter's Basilica -- requires a separate entrance ticket.) Of course, they make you walk through most exhibits and saved the Sistine Chapel for last. In my case, all the anticipation was for naught as I remembered whispering to DH, "Michelangelo painted more than one scene?? Where's the famous hands-almost-touching one? Oh. It's right there in dead center. Wow, that's small." You can tell from my choice of words the lack of... cultural knowledge I had, haha. I think this and the Mona Lisa have been so hyped up over time that I (wrongly) expected both to be literally larger-than-life.
Vatican
[photo above] and [photo below]: The Vatican.
at the Vatican

Food recommendations: more gelato! I'd actually suggest checking out Old Bridge (2 huge scoops, optional whipped cream, all for 2!), panini at La Sandwicheria (we thought it was so good, we went on two separate days. I had the smoked salmon [photo below] panini one day and the salad version the next.)
smoked salmon panini at La Sandwicheria
[photo above] Making a smoked salmon panini with baby artichokes, arugula, and fresh mozzarella at La Sandwicheria.

Ciao, Roma!

Some final thoughts to wrap things up...

- We ended up going to a McDonald's in every country. I didn't feel like any of these three countries had anything particularly unique that we can't find here in the US.

- Lack of outlets in European hotels! I don't know if we just happened to stay in older/smaller buildings, but there is usually only 1 spare outlet in every room. So I'd recommend bringing a power strip along with an adapter if you're electronics-dependent like we were.

- Coming from DC, I was used to the low skylines, so I was happy not to have to crank my neck to stare at all the beautiful European buildings. I loved the look of London's architecture but have to say I'm also a huge fan of Paris' wrought iron balconies.

- Besides a few hellos, I never did end up really speaking French nor Italian. I was that annoying American tourist that natives probably hate because I didn't even really try =/ I thought it was funny when I heard mainly English (American English at that!) at The Louvre and majority Chinese at Galeries Lafayette. Everywhere else in Paris was mostly French, as expected.

Whew. The end.

If you made it through, thanks so much for reading!

39 comments:

  1. This is amazing! I loved Rome when I visited but I live in LA and found the crowds comforting. Lol. This is so helpful. I am putting together a trip to Paris, Barcelona, Venice and Santorini. I had no clue Paris was known for pickpocketing. I'll be taking that in to consideration as I continue to plan. You looked gorgeous and comfortable in all of these pics and yes, the gelato is to die for in Italy! You may have like Firenze better. We stayed there for four days and it was heaven. Thanks for sharing your trip!

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    1. I think you'll be fine in Paris if you found Rome to feel like home ;)

      Just googled Firenze (just to show how terrible my language skills are, I didn't know that's Florence in Italian!) and will now have to put that on my travel list. I really wished I had eaten more pasta when I was in Italy, so this'll be the perfect excuse to :)

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  3. I don't normally do comments but I just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed your trip overview! It was so thorough and informative! I loved all the pictures and honest commentary of the places you visited. I kind of agree, Paris was not my favorite but I did really enjoy Venice. It is quite confusing but seriously isn't the gelato the best?? Haven't been to London or Rome but would love to visit. You should definitely do another one next time you travel!

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    1. *oops I meant you should totally do another travel guide/post

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    2. So glad you enjoyed this post, Liz! It took me hours to filter through photos, gather my thoughts, and put them into actual words. I'm so glad I did though because I love sharing my experiences; plus, I'll be able to re-read in the future when my memory becomes fuzzy. I wish I traveled often enough to write these kind of posts regularly. Alas, it just means every time I get the chance, I'll savor it more.

      PS - You are the first person who agrees with me and my husband that Venice > Paris! I've been on serious gelato withdrawal since returning home. Sigh.

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  4. Awww looks like a lot of fun! I'm actually booking my first trip to Europe with the Hubs. :) I cannot wait! Of course Paris on the agenda but I think the other place might be Barcelona.


    xo - Sheila
    www.sheislovelyblog.com

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    1. Paris-Barcelona is a popular combination from what I've heard. My friends love Barcelona, though my parents didn't (but I think they're just not a fan of Spanish food). Hope you and the Hubs have a great time!

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  5. Great post! Looks like you guys had a blast! Venice is on my list of places to see for sure.

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  6. Gorgeous pics!! The way you described the cities, I think Venice and London would have been my favorites, too. :) I got a good chuckle about the trash bag. That is hilarious that your MIL gave your husband a variety of plastic bags! I just ate lunch, but now I am craving gelato and other treats. :p

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    1. I like to think that London is my weekday personality (I don't mind working hard), but on the weekends I'm like Venice (just want to chill and do nothing). So in that sense, we're just two peas in a pod :)

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  7. Nice post! You're definitely the first (among the ppl I know) to say you were not awed by Michaelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel! His depiction of the male form, torso movement and muscles is amazing! And the fact that he's not even a painter.. (he considers himself a sculptor) and that he unwilingly painted the chapel ceiling for 4 years because the Pope commissioned him, and that he had back problem for the rest of his life afterwards... he's not gonna be happy to hear that from you, haha! ; )

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    1. Aww! Now you're making me think I was too harsh! Since I didn't expect there to be multiple painted scenes, I wish the ceiling was lower so I could see his work more clearly. I don't think I was able to fully appreciate his skill. Time to google high res photos of the Sistine Chapel so Michaelangelo's not rolling over in his grave at my comments :)

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  8. Really enjoyed this post, and loved your honest observations. I'm going to London to work for a month and am looking forward to 'blending in' like a local (and maybe picking up some Burberry). Your travel outfits were fab, too!

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    1. Ahh, what I wouldn't give to be able to spend a month in London! I'm green with envy right now over here :) I hope you have an amazing time and get lucky at the Burberry store!

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  9. I forgot to mention the part about your hubby pulling out a black trash bag out of nowhere was hilarious. ROTFL!! And that the security guard followed u guys around

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    1. Did I forget to tell you?! Must've been too busy recounting our experience with the "Venetian Thor", lol.

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  10. Thanks for sharing! That was so funny about the black trash bag! Loved the pictures! and hope to get to Europe one day!

    katattack2000.wordpress.com

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  11. I enjoyed reading every bit of this post - thanks for writing it out! I love how you shared your personal insights on every city rather than "this place was amazing, here's a picture of me standing next to a famous landmark" type posts LOL!

    I totally understand your comment about having a passion for your job - it makes such a difference when you're surrounded by people who perform their job amazingly because they love it.

    Can't wait to see pictures of your Chanel bag (so funny that it was carried around in a garbage bag & the security guy followed you in the store - he would have been shocked if he knew what was inside LOL!)

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    1. Haha! I remember we were making jokes amongst ourselves when we saw a ton of people taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa. But just because I didn't take a photo with that painting doesn't mean I didn't do the same at other famous landmarks ;)

      Whew, so glad someone made sense of my ramblings :)

      Can't judge a book by its cover, eh? Here's a photo of the new Chanel from its side. I keep forgetting to take photos from the front.

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    2. Oh the picture next to a famous landmark is perfectly natural - but I love it when it's combined with interesting commentary so that you get a glimpse into the ACTUAL experience - like I did with your post ;-)

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  12. Lovely post! I visited London 4 years ago and it was cold and windy. It is definitely one of the cities that I would love to go back again. It has so much history and culture in it! As a DC resident I probably shouldn't say this - but I really wish our capital is like London! :D

    Closet de Jules

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    1. No, say it and own it because I 100% agree! Sadly NYC will probably forever hold the financial and fashion capital title of the US. DC is just... always an afterthought, don't you think? Except during Inauguration and cherry blossom season, haha.

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  13. Coming out of lurking to say I loved reading through this travel post! I visited Rome last year for the second time after visiting 16 years prior and I did NOT love it. You hit it right on the head -- too crowded, people were aggressive and not overly friendly. It was really disappointing because the city is really very beautiful. Gotta add Venice to my travel bucket list. It sounds right up my alley! :)

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    1. Thanks for reading, Kelly! It sounds like we're two like-minded people, so yes, definitely add Venice to your list! My DH said the people in Rome actually reminded him a lot of China (Shanghai, Beijing). I've never been before and now I don't think I want to, haha.

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  14. I'm heading to Paris on my honeymoon next month, so this was super topical and useful for me. I'm also thinking about buying a chanel (my first!) while there. Do you think the prices are still better than in the US? Any other shopping recs while in Paris?

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    1. Aww... forget everything I said about being disappointed with Paris because I don't want you to form any prior (negative) opinions :(

      I was planning on writing a post in a few months about my experience with European shopping and the VAT refund because I wanted to wait and see if I actually receive the refund. But I can summarize real quick for you.

      Do you have a bag already in mind? Check the US prices vs the European prices, then double check with the Chanel threads on the Purse Forum. Chanel raised prices in Europe in mid-April, then in the US in early May... so I'm still kicking myself for just missing out on the old European prices! Anyways, the bag I bought is the reissue in sz 226. If I had bought it in the US, it would've been $5500+6% state tax = $5830. In Paris, I bought it for $5400 and then I'm expected to receive 12-13% back in the VAT refund, so I'll end up spending ~$4800 total. That's pretty good savings, imo. So definitely do the calculations for the bag that you're eyeing. For the VAT refund, I chose to receive money back in credit card form, which gives you a 1-2% more back vs. choosing a cash refund. I'd actually suggest choosing the cash refund route because I've now read stories where people never receiving their credit card refund =/ It also really depends on your departure flight times and which airport you're flying out from because I don't think the cash refund booths at airports are open 24/7 -- but the booths to get your VAT refund stamped should be open 24/7 (then you can just drop it in the nearby mail box to await for a credit card refund). I'm not sure if my explanation is convoluted, so let me know if I can explain any further. My best advice would be to google the VAT refund process at the airport you're departing from. I've heard the process at CDB is pretty easy and straightforward.

      Other shopping recs: Galeries Lafayette is like NM/Saks (I think there's an extra 10% discount coupon for tourists somewhere... maybe on their website?). I think Champs Elysees has a lot of stores, but we never made it down there... which my wallet is thanking me for :)

      I hope you have a great time! And that you come back with your first Chanel :)

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  15. I laughed at the garbage bag bit. Your husband is right and I once had to ditch the train in Paris to pay for (gasp) non public transportation via taxi as my shopping bag was getting too much attention. You should be fine in the nice areas though.

    I love how you tie your silk scarf - it looks great on you! How do you usually tie it?

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    1. Haha! So funny, Kat. I wonder if this is a common enough occurrence so some stores offer to ship it to your hotel. I'd still rather trust myself with new purchases though.

      Re the scarf: In the Venice photos, I folded the scarf in half to form a triangle, then loosely rolled it so it's like a long tube, before double knotting the ends (but not too close to the edge). Then I draped it around my neck and kind of fluffed the scarf a bit here and there, tucking the ends, and just tried to make it look messy chic, haha.

      In the Vatican photo, I took the scarf as it was from Venice (but by then, the knot had slipped closer to the edges) and the fabric had sort of unrolled by itself already. It was super windy that day, so the scarf wouldn't stay rolled and I just kind of wore it like a handkerchief.

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  16. Cee,

    Great seeing all these photos. Hopefully one day, I'll get to visit Venice, Rome, London and Paris. First of, I like how you said "One thing that was so very apparent was the passion Italians had towards their craft. I don't know if this is specific to Venice, but I just got the sense that they're all happy doing what they love, which is honing their craft. Sure you have to make money to live, but it isn't the most important thing in their lives. I'm jealous because isn't that like the holy grail in life? This is something I struggle with. To be able to find something you're passionate about and be at peace with making enough money to live comfortably. Life is more than just work work work , to make more money money money. I don't know if my ramblings are making any sense as I'm translating thoughts out loud"

    I don't think you were rambling. YOU MADE A LOT OF SENSE. Growing up in a different country and immigrating here at young age. I notice that we, including me pour our worries towards being successful. Work work work. We want MORE of everything. MORE clothes. MORE Money,MORE houses. MORE cars. In other countries, life are much simpler. They know and understand the word ENOUGH. I don't think MOST Americans do ( I don't mean to offend anyone) I try my best to understand what it is but it's hard. Even if we find what we love doing, I don't think the amount of money will ever be enough. We always want MORE. There's one day when I was talking MS (my fiance) about me working and wanting more savings, he told me that I need to learn what the word Enough is and he told me the saying "Enough is as good as a feast" and it's true. I want to learn how to know what is Enough and be happy and give as much as I can to others. Enough is as good as a feast.

    Anna
    Chill out, Biscuit!

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    1. Anna! Thank YOU for putting my thoughts into a much clearer perspective! Sometimes the truth is harsh, but that's reality, right? So definitely don't worry about offending anyone because I sure wasn't. It's the first time I've heard "enough is as good as a feast," so I googled for the meaning -- love it. Sums up everything I was trying to say so eloquently! Your fiance is one wise man :)

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  17. Delurking to say I LOVE this travel post. I did a similar trip back in the day-London, through the chunnel, to Gare du Nord Paris, then up to Amsterdam, back down to Venice and finally Madrid (and Pamplona-running with the bulls). Florence was on the list in 2012 but ended up going elsewhere. Off Venice are a couple of smaller islands, Murano (glass blowing) which I visited and Lido Venezia where our hotel was(which has a sandbar beach). Lido was very quiet as well and just a short water taxi ride across the water to Venice.

    I found that to be true about Venice as well. Everyone was so relaxed, even the elderly man in his glass blowing studio in his very short shorts. LOL. I didn't think I would like it as much due to the supposedly commercial touristy feel but I loved it. I didn't get that vibe in the other places I visited on that trip.

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    1. Forgot to add the bit about the garbage bags. LOL. We do that as well when we travel. Just in case the hotel doesn't have dirty laundry bags etc, and for just about anything else you can think of.

      G

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    2. Oh my gosh, I wish I had done the research and known about glass blowing! I've always wanted to see that in person.

      Haha I brought plastic bags for dirty clothes too... but they were in my suitcase! Not being lugged around the city ;)

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  18. Yay! So happy you did a travel post. Would consider doing a packing tip post, pretty please? I love those too! :)

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    1. Hey! Sure, I'll definitely take that into consideration :)

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