9 Best Things I Ate in Toronto

I recently traveled to Toronto for the first time. I'm not sure if it was a work trip or an eaiting trip, but it was delicious. Over four lunchtimes and three dinners, I managed to squeeze in plenty of fantastic bites. Here are some of the best. Classic Poutine at Poutini's House of Poutine

Okay, so poutine is really from Quebec, but I wasn't going to go to Canada and not have their national French fries dish. This was a size small and it was packed with crispy fries, rich gravy and cheese curds. Disney's "Hercules" soundtrack played throughout my time here, and yes, I did go the distance and eat the whole thing. Right before dinner.

Marshmallow Latte at Redline Coffee

The latte was delicious, but even moreso because they torched mini-marshmallows on top! Every sip went through a crisp, gooey marshmallow layer, making me question my devotion to Starbucks handcrafted beverages.

Panko-crusted Tofu Bao at Banh Mi Boys

The banh mi here looked fantastic, but I wasn't even hungry, so obviously, I went with a smaller option. The panko-crusted tofu was crispy and soft in the middle and oh so perfect with the fluffy boa and crisp pickled veggies.

Cherry Pie Doughnut at Glory Hole Doughnuts

So the name of the shop is questionable, but actually I'd put any part of my body in these doughnuts because they were amazing. Like Dough's pink hibiscus doughnut amazing. Cherry pie was notable, but the buttered toast was also excellent. Plus, the owner seemed cool. Support her dessert business.

Green Beans with Preserved Olives at Luckee

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After ordering 1400 dishes, including a tasty off-menu chilled soba salad, one of the ladies dining next to me leaned over to my table and asked "Are you a food critic or something?" Just really hungry. She said I needed to have the green beans, i.e. the best vegetable dish in the whole world. I wouldn't give it that superlative, but the dish was pretty amazing: salty and satisfyingly crisp through. Plus, the veggies made a great cold snack later on in my hotel room, alone watching House Hunters.

Mushroom Gemelli at Drake One Fifty

Everything on the menu looked good here, but after a tasty beet salad and oysters with fresh shaved horseradish, I was craving pasta (obviously). The homemade gemelli had mushrooms in the pasta dough, as well as in the dish with grilled raddichio. So. Good.

Parsley Root Risotto at dbar

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Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 3.59.08 PM

I've been a huge fan of Daniel Boulud since we met in 2008 and every time since he pretends to know who I am. Merci. Anyways, I had to check out Boulud's restaurant in Canada and it was pretty excellent. From the charcuterie platter to the deceptively simple risotto, I was beyond thrilled with my meal there.

Peameal Bacon Sandwich at Carousel Bakery

peameal
peameal

Not counting a Starbucks gingerbread latte, this was the very first thing I ate in Toronto. I imagined something like mushy peas on breakfast food, but this was actually juicy cuts of back bacon that had been brined and cured in cornmeal. It was really, really tasty, especially to a recovering vegetarian.

Oysters at Momofuku Daisho

momofuku oyster
momofuku oyster

Canada has really good oysters. The oysters at Momofuku tasted especially fresh and came with a nice mignotte-- made with rye, not wine -- on top. In addition to my raw appetizer, the roasted rice cakes with Chinese broccoli and tofu were another fantastic dish here. I should mention that they came with sausage, but my server astutely noted that, like a three-year-old, I managed to eat around the sauce. I will always choose carbs over meat, even when David Chang is involved.

For an extensive list of everything I ate in Canada (important stuff), you can check out my Instagram. Or you can live without knowing, which is probably fine. 

Onion Chips on the Plane: A Horror Story

I recently had the privilege of enjoying several international flights. International flights often come with the promise of a free meal or two, and sometimes wine, if we're lucky.  On these past few flights, I've eaten my pre-packaged airplane meal without complaint, saving my food criticism tendencies for when I wasn't 50,000 feet elevated above any Zagat recommended restaurants. Mushy lasagne made from frozen ravioli and individually wrapped rolls with "buttery spread"  are not my usual fare of choice, but part of the allure of travel is experiencing the uncomfortable, or maybe just the unpreferable. Whatever sadist put these on a plane should be appropriately punished

However, on a recent flight from Paris to New York, I was dismayed to find that our evening meal was a pre-packed ham and cheese sandwich with a box full of, well, junk food. Do apples and bananas not travel well on planes?  The absence of fresh food on most airlines has always puzzled me.

As I pawed through the flimsy box to see if anything in there was remotely edible, I was pleased to find a not so tiny bag of potato chips.  Crisps, yay! I was so happy I wanted to tweet my excitement, but alas, I was all alone on an airplane crossing the Atlantic.

Out of habit, I flipped over the bag to read the ingredient list (I used to do this religiously when I kept Kosher, and I still like to know exactly what's in what I'm consuming).  Ingredients in these particular chips included onion powder and dehydrated onions, as well as cream powder.  Cream powder?!  Like milk fat that's dried and put on a deep fried potato. Ew.

Upon close inspection, I realized that the bag of chips was not merely chips, but Onion Flavored Chips.  Anyone who has ever eaten anything knows that Onion Flavored anything stinks.  And anyone who has ever been on a plane (which I hope the crew and caterers of my flight had before my trip) knows that smells don't escape an enclosed area with 8-hours of recycled air.

Onion Flavored Chips.  I now had every angry things to tweet, but again, 50,000 feet elevation.  I tucked them into my box along with the sandwich and silently cursed the fact that I'd be eating raisins for dinner.

One by one, the bags started opening, and the crunching of the chips started drowning out Thor, the in-flight movie on this now decrepit flight.  And as the crunching continued, the stench began.  Within minutes, the entire aircraft smelled like an onion farm, in which half of the onions had been minced and chopped and forgotten about in a giant pile of dehydrated cream.  Not only did the popping open of each bag release a disgusting smell into the thin air, but each passenger slowly got a more vibrant form of onion breath with each crunchy bite.

I rushed to the bathroom to hopefully escape the stink for a few minutes.

It says a lot about a food when you have to run to an airplane bathroom to escape it.

Even with the traditional cart of tea and coffee following "dinner", the onion aroma barely disappeared.  The rest of the flight was an exercise in inhaling and exhaling, convincing myself not to eat all of my Duty Free chocolates in order to eliminate at least some of the culinary awfulness that was this flight.

Of course, I survived the flight and was able to sate my appetite afterwards, but the experience left me with truly negative feelings towards in-flight cuisine, and chips.  If you're in charge of travel meals for any airline, I beg of you, please hold off the onion chips.  We will all thank you.

You Better Belize It: Part II

Time moves really slowly in the jungle. If you sit down to breakfast at 10am (far too late by any adventurous standards, far too early by freelance writer standards), and you're done by 10:30am, you still have a good 10+ hours to kill before it's time to sleep again. So yeah, according to some, I may not have made "the most" of my time in Belize but my idea of a vacation is sitting in one spot in possibly nice weather and reading my book.  Or several books.

According to Al, the owner/chef/designer/HBIC of our eco resort Macaw Jungle Lodge, (voted #1 by TripAdvisor people in 2012!), we needed to get out and do things. "See Belize!"  I'd seen enough.  I do things all the time.  Vacation is not about doing things. Somehow my parents were persuaded to "do things".

After a nausea-inducing 2+ hour drive on the unpaved roads, we spent an afternoon at Xunantanich, a Mayan ruin I'd never heard of, so it was kind of cool to discover some undiscovered territory (Just like the Spanish!).  That, and on the ferry (read: hand-cranked steel contraption) to cross the river into the ruin, I met neighbors from my block in Manhattan, so I felt slightly less out of my element.

The museum at Xunantanich (which actually kind of sounds like a lost part of Soviet Russia "zoo-naan-tan-eech", so yeah, I had an accent for about an hour there) hadn't been updated since 1996 (the year we climbed Chichén Itzá, and also the year Rent debuted on Broadway -- my kindergarten self didn't care), which pretty much summed up Belize.  But who doesn't want to relive the 90s?

This was admittedly pretty cool

We climbed the various temples, took pictures of monkeys, and eventually headed back for a healthy lunch of Pringles, plantain chips, and other grocery store items (fun fact: most Belizean grocery stores are run by Chinese immigrants who were granted instant residency to run businesses here), which we ate in the comfort of a grocery store parking lot before trying to beat the sunset back to our jungle cabana.

lunch

After reading by flashlight for over an hour, there was still time to kill before dinner, and without Twitter or you know, technology, I was not happy. Dinner came and went, and after a few rounds of creaming my family at Bananagrams (Creative writing is a practical major!), 8pm marked looming hours of darkness with nothing to see or do.  We couldn't leave if we wanted to. We couldn't order Seamless. There was a frog staring at me in the bathroom.

Yet another day (January 2) arrived with looming possibilities of adventure ahead of us.

While I was really content sitting on a bench reading my book all day, somehow we were pushed to leave the "lodge" and venture out to Río Frio (Cold River), which was an unthrilling proposition for me. Not only did all jungle drives take 2+ hours to travel a short distance, they were sickeningly bumpy, and no radio signal is available in the middle of nowhere.  Also, dogs run across the street, somehow dodging cars but ugh, scary.

After ninety minutes of trudging through the mud, we decided to kill our plans to visit a place called Cold River (and also not risk our lives in a particularly soggy part of road), we turned around to visit director Francis Coppolla's jungle lodge, Blancaneaux.  

Not "lodge" here people, this was a real resort! Pulling past the landing strip for private planes and helicopters into the property, which boasted an impressive organic vegetable garden for the hotel's restaurant, this was vacation.  We explored the gorgeous property (a pull!  huts with electricity! chairs with pads!) and sat down in the open-air dining room under the breeze of a fan from Apocalypse Now.

Lunch featured wood-oven pizza with imported Italian ingredients, and fresh salad and pasta dishes prepared with produce grown on site.  Easily the best meal we had in Belize, rivaling many New York Italian restaurants.  But alas, the run was setting in 2.5 hours, and we had to return to our "lodge" before dark.

spag

On the way back, we stopped at Green Hills Butterfly Ranch, which is another one of those things I don't like, because bugs come flying at you and you're supposed to enjoy it because they're colorful.

My fearless father

Al prepared a coconut curry black snapper for dinner, no complaints, and we had coconut pie baked by Mennonite missionaries for dessert (there are so many of them in all of Belize!).

The next morning, we (read: not me) fixed the flat on our car, packed our bags, stopped at the Belize zoo, and headed for the tiny plane that took us to Ambergris Caye, where we enjoyed the beautiful week on the beach in San Pedro, which I won't write about, because polar vortex.

I didn't know how good I had it...

You Better Belize It (Part I of... well, let's see if I survive)

This is was the first year that it wasn’t assumed I’d be going on family vacation. Every year I’d go home on break, of course I’d be traveling rather than left at home.  Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel were all givens (yeah, no complaints) but this year when my mom asked me if I wanted to go to Belize (which I mistakenly heard as Bolivia…) it was an invitation.  I accepted it, of course, I love South America (although we were going to Central America, and I’m apparently a terrible listener) and got excited for a break when I wouldn’t have to check my grades or bring my AP textbooks (high school) and actually relax.  I also was looking forward to actually speaking Spanish, as I seem to only be bilingual now past midnight and after a few drinks and in search of pizza (shout out to 121 First Avenue!).  Belize (Not Bolivia) was colonized by the British, not the Spanish, so yeah, English.

I was not informed, however, that we would be “roughing it” in Belize. Roughing it means buying all the supplies ahead of time and living in a staffed house, but still.  No cell service. Limited Internet.  I was tricked.

We arrived in muggy Belize City on the morning of December 31.  It took almost an hour to go through customs, interrogated as if we were members of a drug cartel – “What did you pack?”  “How did you pack that?”  “Why are you here?”  -- fingerprinted, and finally sent out into drizzly and muggy Belize, where we scrunched into the slim hallway of the rental car agency to try and claim a vehicle.

After switching from the stick shift SUV incorrectly given to us, we piled into the correct car and made our way through Belize City to the jungle.  With only one highway, we weren’t concerned about getting lost, so of course we did.

Somewhere, Belize

Finally in the right direction, we stopped at a roadside restaurant, Cheers: With a Tropical Twist, for a quick lunch and some socializing with baby goats.  I hadn’t checked my email in almost 10 hours, and everything seemed to be okay.

We headed further down the Western Highway and eventually made it to a dirt road with wooden signs leading to various “resorts” (yes, “resorts”) and started slowly ascending through the muddy road.  Very slowly.  Like, 6 train held in rush hour traffic slowly.  At the approximate speed of 1 mile and hour, we watched as the sun started to set and no sign of civilization existed in the near distance.

We were warned not to drive in the dark, because of animals and large potholes, not to mention the lack of streetlights, or any lights whatsoever, but what could we do, we needed somewhere to sleep.  The humid car, packed with snorkel and “outdoorsy” equipment was not an option.

"Road"

It was dark.  And I say this as someone who lives in a Manhattan closet with no windows.  Even with the brights on, we could barely see three feet in front of us, and what we could see was rocks and potholes and deep, gooey mud tracks.

With my mom hysterical that we were going to die (not an unlikely prospect at that point), my brother chiding her for not knowing physics, and my dad trying to steer through the dark, treacherous “road” (this was no longer a road, perhaps a path for cars would be more accurate), I was starting to wish I stayed at home.   Plus, we were going to miss Miley on TV, which essentially meant I couldn’t write snarky articles the next day.

After passing a “resort” (not ours), we drove over some moon-like craters, knocking against each other in the back seat (a great method of sibling bonding, not), and stopping a few feet short of a river.

“This is really off the grid!” my dad smiled, as if this were something we’d be really happy about.  I like the grid.  Actually, I love the grid. I live on the grid system!  Leaving the grid, I have learned, is almost always a mistake.

Stars illuminating the walk downhill to examine the river (wait, I mean flashlights, stars are overrated and give off zero useful light), my brother and dad ventured off to examine our options, while my mom and I sat in the dark and humid car, hoping not to be eaten by jaguars.

The river in the road, in daylight

Since Hurricane Sandy, I’ve spent my life in a disaster preparedness state—I always have snacks, a warm sweater, reading material, extra iPhone battery with me—but when I was invited on “vacation” I didn’t realize I’d be risking my life.

After determining that in fact, there was no bridge across the river, we decided to turn back in the mud (not easy, or unstressful) and return to the resort we’d seen earlier, the last chance at civilization. As we pulled into the parking lot, our car died.  Dead.  Like no lights or anything.

A nice French woman, Nadesh, let us use her phone to call the lodge we were supposed to be staying at, which was, in fact, across the river (“no big problem”) and they would pick us up, while we waited at this hotel’s bar.  Which was outside and had nets to cover your drinks so bugs didn’t swim in them.  Lovely.

A large SUV finally dropped us at our eco-resort (read: one-room solar-powered cabin in the woods) and we were welcomed by fresh, thick globs of mud (the kind that ruins your gold Sperrys). We headed to the restaurant (read: thatched-roof, wall-less space with tables) for a New Year’s dinner (fish and some other stuff, it was good!), prepared by the resort’s chef (read: owner/manager/concierge) and went to bed by 9pm.

Our humble jungle abode.

I woke up the next morning covered in itchy bug bites, so yeah, spiders were probably attacking me in my sleep, and with a sip of rich, jungle French press, I was informed the wifi wasn't working.

And this was only the start of the jungle adventure.

issabelize

How to Not be a Terrible Houseguest

Tis the season to visit friends or more likely "friends" with homes in Nantucket, Napa, or the Hamptons, and while you're at it, you may want to not risk your chances of never getting invited back.  I've had plenty of guests in my miniature apartment over the years, from those who have willingly cleaned the floors to those who have left food (vomit?) out to rot for days after their visit.  Here are a few tips to not ruin your "friendships" and ensure you have a place to stay for summer vacation next year. Get invited here- again and again! Maybe. (credit)

Bring something. Don't arrive empty handed, it's tacky and cheap. You're better off bringing something tacky and cheap, like grocery store cupcakes. Thank your host when you leave, and even send a thank you note or an e-card.  It may sound silly but it's really appreciated and fun to get!

Offer to do errands or chores.  I love errands, so this is kind of a treat for me, but hosts will be super grateful if you offer to help out around the house.  Can you pick up extra paper towels?  Make dinner?  Go on an ice run?  Do it!

Don't hog the remote.  I've had guests who think it's their duty to tell me what to watch.  Um, no.  Let your host dictate your entertainment, and if they're polite, they'll pull a "you're the guest, let's watch what you want" kind of thing.  Then you'll both feel satisfied wasting precious beach hours in front of TLC reality shows.

Clean up. After yourself and the other person. Make sure you put your trash in the trash can and perhaps even take out the empty bag!  You'll certainly be invited back if you a) don't make a mess and b) make things shinier than when you left. Also, if you don't shower all weekend, your hosts will notice.  I guarantee.

Check your hosts schedule beforehand. When people notify me that they're coming to stay and I don't have enough time to prepare in advance, I kind of panic.  I work so many jobs with so many different deadlines, arranging my schedule in advance is super important, and I don't want to feel like I'm neglecting my guests!  If your host has work or a prior engagement, ensure her you'll be okay on your own, because you'll have work or visits of your own to take care of.

Know your budget. If you don't have a lot of money for the weekend, be upfront about it!  Prepare to eat in or do free activities- let your host know early on to prevent any disappointment or embarrassing situations.

Have fun! This probably discredits this post as anything remarkable but seriously, relax and enjoy the visit.  You're not there to mope or complain about your super stressful life, unwind and make the most of your time.

Who will you be?

We'll Always Have Paris

There's no good way to say goodbye to Paris. In fact, I'm not sure there's any good way to say goodbye to a place. You can't hug it and promise to text in the morning,  I can't poke the Eiffel Tower on Facebook or Skype into my favorite cafes. It was hard to leave new York, I was scared about what the next month would bring, but i knew I'd be back in 30 days, which is no time at all.  When I booked the car to take me to Orly, I realize I. Had no idea when I'd be back. If ever. I planned to spend my last day re-visiting all the sights I loved, trying to check museums off my list and photograph anything and everything that I'd seen everyday and would suddenly not see the next morning.

Thursday morning I met up with my friend's high school French exchange student, Anne Charlotte, at Le Carousel de Louvre, which is basically a glorified food court.

We caught up on the last few years and headed to Les Arts Décoratifs to see an exhibit about Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, a less intense version of the Met's Alexander McQueen exhibit last summer. There's something about seeing clothes presented in a gallery rather than just on the rack that's so intriguing and beautiful; you can appreciate the art, design, and construction of the pieces rather than thinking about how a dress would look on you or where you'd wear it to. Seeing the evolution of the Louis Vuitton trunks from quality checkered travel cases to the gaudy bags/status symbols they are today was also surprisingly fascinating.  We both enjoyed tiny exhibit on Babar and rooms of Art Deco architecture at the museum.

That afternoon, convinced a few friends after class to venture to the legendary Longchamp Store.  The rainbow of purses, plus the surprising discount, made another rainy day adventure totally worthwhile.

We ventured through the pouring rain for one last dinner at Fuxia, an impressively cheap and amazingly delicious Italian restaurant we found in Le Marais that had another branch near the Luxembourg Garden.  I'll seriously miss the food here.  Especially the tomato carpaccio...

Friday morning was spent with chocolate chaud, edits, laptops, edits, more edits, and reading, eager to meet our 5:00pm portfolio deadline for workshop.

After completing my work faster than expected, I headed out with a friend to do what we all really come to Paris to do: shop.

And shop we did: clothes, shoes, lingerie, gifts, jewelry.  I had a few euros to get rid of and I took full advantage.  Unlike American shopowners, Parisian shopowners are honest.  They'll tell you if something looks bad on you, and not encourage you to buy anything unstylish.  It seems like their overall goal is customer happiness, rather than making a sale, which is oddly comforting.

Naturally, I overslept Saturday morning, Bastille Day, so my plan to have my last petit dejeuner was already ruined. This year's Bastille Day was Disco themed, so enormous mirrored disco balls covered the city, making the day extravagantly bright.  If only Fourth of July had themes...

I decided to walk to the Orsay, grabbing a baguette sandwich for lunch on the way. I can't believe i waited so long to visit the Orsay- it was incredible! The museum is housed in an old train station, so in edition to its amazing collection of impressionist artwork, the building itself is a spectacle to enjoy.  The views over the Seine were also gorgeous, even in the overcast weather.

Since I'd arrived in Paris, this was one of my first days wandering the city alone. No company, no agenda, just the city. I reveled in being a free agent, but found after a few hours I was sad not to be able to share my reveling, my enthusiasm for Paris with someone else. (I did, however, stop into a few puppy shops, and share my enthusiasm with a few too many adorable dogs...)

I wandered the streets aimlessly, trying to remember every little cafe and beret and landmark. I had the best chocolate eclair I've ever eaten at a small patisserie only a few blocks from home. It's funny how you only start seeing a place in a new way when you know your time there is limited.

That night, in lieu of crowded Bastille Day festivities, I met friends for Indian food at a restaurant in a building from the 17th century.  We're dubious to whether or not this is actually true.

Food is not spicy in Paris. Flavorful, but never spicy. Even the various chutneys, curries, and other dishes we enjoyed barely had a hint of spice. Indian food for beginners.

After gorging ourselves on lentils and cauliflower and naan, we went out for one last gaufres avec glacé (we wanted macaroons, but all the patisseries close far too early, yes, even Paris has its weak points...)

On the stoops of the Pantheon, we watched fireworks explode behind the Eiffel Tower, the best cliched way to end my month in France.

It seems surreal actually, that I lived in Paris for a month. Getting back to New York was shocking, I was convinced that all the street lights and crossing signs had been replaced while I was away-- everything is just so bright! I just jumped back into real life- apartment, job, friends, work- as if a month of my life hadn't been sent elsewhere, disrupting my usual pattern. I feel like I was in Paris forever and I simultaneously feel like I never left.

I'm sitting in a tea house in Park Slope, listening to some guy sing about how sad he is to be single (maybe because you're playing for an audience of mommies and lesbians. Just a thought), and I can't help comparing it to Paris, just like I compared Paris to New York every day I was there.

I'm so happy I went to Paris. I'm so happy to be back home in New York.  I'm happy I had space from my regular life, to learn and grow and get a new perspective, and I'm happy that Paris encouraged me to take risks, challenge myself, and explore the world.

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris” ― Oscar Wilde

Determined to hit every museum in Paris during my last week, I found one of the few that was open on Monday: Eugene Delacroix’s house and studio. Though it’s understated, it was pleasant to walk around the building where Delacroix created the gorgeous paintings I’d seen in the Louvre just days earlier.  Neither the artwork or the architecture of the building was exquisite, but seeing artifacts like Delacroix’s easel and pallet with oil paints splattered on it made the visit worthwhile.

With ample time left before class (the museum is petite) I wandered around in the finally gorgeous weather, and stopped at Ugo Traiteur for the freshest takeout Italian food I’ve ever had. Salmon with lemon and basil accompanied with vegetable tortellini in a ratatouille of tomatoes and zucchini made the perfect picnic lunch.

That night, we treated ourselves to dinner again at Le Grenier de Notre Dame, a vegetarian restaurant serving French classics without the meat.  While my carnivorous friends were less than enthused, the food was flavorful and fresh, a much needed serving of vegetables in contrast with Paris’ endless carbs.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering the streets, stopping for sweets and crepes after our large meal.

Before class on Tuesday, I visited Le Bon Marche (The Good Market) with a friend.  The Bloomingdale’s of Paris, this elegant department store had everything: clothes, homewares, fine dining, knitting supplies…  The sleek multilevel marble interior was the perfect place to spend a morning.

The Rodin Museum is open late on Wednesdays, so we planned to visit then. After trudging through the pouring rain to reach the home of “The Thinker”, we learned that the museum that night was closed for a private event.  Seriously?  On the only night it’s open late? At least we passed Gertrude Stein and Edith Wharton's homes on the way, which made the stormy trek somewhat worthwhile...

We took an unplanned excursion to Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb.  The gardens outside were incredibly colorful and beautiful in the newly emerged sun, and Napoleon’s tomb was larger than life enormous.  After a glamorous photoshoot, we walked under the Eiffel Tower and crossed the river in search of food.

My roommate in NYC told me that if there was one thing I needed to do in Paris, it was to visit L’as du Falafel (The World of Falafel).  I live a block away from Mamoun’s.  People come from Brooklyn to go to Mamoun’s (it’s that good), so I didn’t see the big deal.

L’as du Falafel was a big deal, a big deal stuffed in a freshly baked pita and topped with creamy smoked eggplant.  Words cannot do this sandwich justice. Book a ticket to Paris, you’ll see.

After a filling and delicious meal, we headed to a cafe in Bastille to write while enjoying molten chocolate cake.  Paris, you've outdone yourself.  Plus, I met this cute guy...

A Parisian Fairy Tale

Sunday morning I had an itinerary. Realizing I had less than a week left in Paris, I was determined to do everything I had planned but hadn’t gotten around to. I planned to visit the Rococo Museum, Jacquemart-Andre, and convinced two friends to come along. Ever since learning about the Rococo period in my AP Art History class, it’s been my favorite period of art. Everything is so whimsical, enchanting, and just pretty. In an alternate world I’d live in a Rococo painting.

We walked through the Luxembourg Gardens to watch the little kids sail boats in the pond, a traditional Parisian Sunday activity. Unlike the motorized boats in Central Park, these wooden boats are pushed by kids holding sticks and move wherever the wind decides to take them.  This results in more than a few tears.

We walked across the river and down the Champs Elysee. We walked and walked and walked and finally found the museum.

While the Jacquemart-Andre may not have the prestige of the Louvre, it’s absolutely worth visiting. Originally a mansion for some wealthy people I will forever be jealous of, the house was converted into a museum to exhibit their private collection as well as visiting exhibitions.

The museum is stunning. While the art collection is impressive, the true gem of the museum is the mansion itself, with gilded furniture and canopy beds and elaborate frescos. I plan to decorate my twenty square foot bedroom similarly upon my return to NYC.

After exhausting the museum (although I’d be more than happy to spend the rest of my life inside), we headed back across the river to Sugarplum Cake Shop, a bakery we’d discussed visiting but had yet to see. Sugarplum is the Magnolia of the Left Bank. Owned by three Americans, this may be the only place in Paris to purchase cupcakes and refillable coffee. Over the next week, it became my preferred writing location. The chocolate cake with raspberry frosting was unlike anything I’ve ever had: rich and light simultaneously, sugary but not to sweet. Yes, Parisian pastries are incredible, but the Sugarplum cakes are reason enough to return to Paris.

That evening, we went to the local Chinese restaurant for a feast—easily the cheapest food (and wine!) we’d had. Chinese food in Paris, like everything else, is extraordinary.

The stunning museum, the cake shop, and the endless amounts of noodles and crevettes and rose made the day pretty close to a Parisian fairy tale. Oh, and we ended our night with waffle topped with gelato...

Diary of an International Party Girl

When travelling, it’s important to find out where Miley Cyrus has partied in the same city.  Of course, we accomplished this important task and thus ventured to Le Showcase, a club located off the Champs-Elysee below a bridge on the Seine.  Otherwise know as, The Troll Club.  The club was huge, dark, loud. Drinks were astronomically expensive.  Everything you’d expect from a trendy Parisian dance club.  Disenchanted, I left early with a friend and spent the nights wandering the windy streets of Paris, the best way to spend a night.

Saturday morning, I woke up early to venture to the outskirts of Paris to a flea market.  We took a trolley north and ended up at a place very much resembling the Hell’s Kitchen Flea.  Strange and determined vendors lined tables with crap and tried to sell it.  Among the junk, I found and purchased: a Hermes plate with a dachshunds and rabbits on it, a crop top printed with Rodin’s face, a sweater. We stopped for omelets and Kir for lunch and then headed home to rest before the evening.

We’d planned to go to Wanderlust! A big party held on the Seine every summer Saturday, popular with college students.  On the way, we stopped at Curio Parlor, an extension of the Experimental Cocktail club, decorated with taxidermy animals in bowties and candles.  Tres chic.  We each ordered a different handcrafted cocktail, passing them around to pass the fresh fruit and liquor combinations, swearing ours was the best.  Mine was the best. Cachaça, soda, cucumber and basil is an infallible combination.

We ventured down the Seine to Wanderlust, where music pulsed across the patio and into a glass room with another DJ.  We danced for a bit inside and then, as so frequently occurs in Paris, it started to pour.  Crowds rushed in and it was far too crowded to be enjoyable, so we left.  In short, go to Wanderlust when it’s nice out.

After two nights of leaving early, my last weekend concluded my visits to the Paris party scene on a less than exciting note...

From Paris, With Louvre

Friday morning I finally made it to the Louvre! I waited in line for only twenty minutes (it can take hours!) before I entered the pyramid and descended into the museum itself.

The Louvre is huge!  While I was once intimidated by the size of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, frequent visits have made it manageable.  But the Louvre is like the Met’s giant older sibling. Looking at a map, it seemed like I could navigate my way through all of the galleries by early afternoon.  But after passing through various crowded galleries, I realized that a full run of the Louvre in a single day would be impossible or at least highly unpleasant.

I started with the Napoleon III apartments, lushly decorated rooms that could easily fit two or three of my four-bedroom East Village apartment inside.

From there, I wandered through the European paintings, recognizing various artists and artworks from art history classes.

Throughout my time at the museum, I constantly heard visitors ask guards in a variety of different accents, “Where is the Mona Lisa?”  While I know this is one of the artworks the Louvre is known for, it was almost unbelievable that a person could be surrounded by such wonderful, skilled, detailed artwork from all over the world and had their sights set completely on visiting a single portrait.

At the Mona Lisa, crowds of tourists elbow each other for a chance to capture Da Vinci’s painting on their iPhones.  It’s totally overwhelming: especially considering the painting is covered by a thick layer of glass and protected by a wooden railing that prevents viewers from walking within four feet of the painting.

After seeing the highlights of the museum, I headed out to the Jardin de Tuileries, mainly to check out La Fête Foraine, or the summer carnival.

There’s nothing sadder than walking around a carnival by yourself.  The friends I was supposed to meet were missing. Only later did I learn that Orange, the main cell service provider for Paris, was down for the day.  It took hours before I figured this out.  After hours of not receiving texts, I’d just assumed I was extremely unpopular and doomed to carry out a lonely existence. In New York, if cell service went down for an hour, the city would be frantic, and it certainly wouldn’t be a secret.  Maybe it’s just my lack of understanding of French, but I was shocked to learn that a major city was without cell service for a day and I had no idea.

Similar to every other day in Paris, it started to pour, so I made myself comfortable at Jour, a fresh salad bar reminiscent of the USA, where I wrote the afternoon away…

Party in the USA!

I’ve been accused of being un-American for spending 4th of July in France. This was my first July 4th spent outside of the USA. While I may or may not have forgotten it was Independence Day until late afternoon when I heard multiple recordings of the Team America song streaming across Reid Hall’s courtyard, I celebrated my country to its fullest.

The first thing I did was watch Mary Kate and Ashley’s Passport to Paris, to remember why Americans appreciate traveling to exotic places, like Paris. I learned that I absolutely will not have fun in Paris until I meet a sixteen year old boy with a fake French accent, floppy hair and a motorcycle. This has not happened and clearly I am very miserable here.

After indulging in that fine cinematic experience, we put on our white and blue, grabbed some red wine, and headed to WOS for their July 4th celebration.

The previous night, WOS celebrated its Fifth Birthday, so of course we attended the party to celebrate this momentous event. Dressing “Smart” (even the American bar uses British English), we shared wine on the Pantheon until dark, and then headed into WOS for the festivities. The festivities were just like any night at a dive bar, except the bartenders wore tuxedos and shot alcoholic chocolate whipped cream into your mouth at a moment’s notice… None of these things are bad. Especially when leftovers are promised for you at the next night’s 4th of July celebration…

“Party in the USA” and “Empire State of Mind” repeated countless times on the playlist as Americans toasted shots of tequila (very American!) to the USA! Overall, it was a pretty solid celebration, despite the lack of fireworks.

Impressions of Giverny

Tuesday, I convinced some friends to wake up early to head to Giverny, where Monet’s summer home and famous lily pad gardens are located. We arrived at the Gare St. Lazare long before our 10:20 train was supposed to leave. However, no one in Paris seems to be in any type of hurry. Ever. The ticket queue, which when full, is supposed to take 30 minutes. In the parallel universe of France, the half-full ticket queue took far longer, and needless to say, we missed our train. Perhaps because the ticket sellers have conversations with this with anyone who purchases a ticket: “No, you do not want to take that train, you want the later train, I give you discount”

“No, I want the 2:45 train, I need to get back for class.”

“You will not make that train. Take the 4:45 train. It will be cheaper!”

“I cannot take that train. I would like a ticket for the 2:45 train, please.”

“I’m sorry, je nes comprends pas. I do not speak any English. You will take the 4:45 train.”

In Paris, the customer is never right.

With two hours to kill until the next train, I headed to one of the two Starbucks in the train station.

“Mocha frappuccino? You mean Frappuccino Mocha, and no you do not want that, you want Espresso frappuccino.”

“No, I’d like mocha, please.”

“You do not want mocha, to mocha we add powder.”

“I like powder.”

“I will make you espresso frappuccino. Medium, yes?”

I’m not sure why I even bother expressing what I even want in Paris…

After a few weeks here, I’ve picked up a few more French terms and expressions, but better yet, I’ve learned how to speak English to French ears, Franglish, if you like.

Je’voudrai un scoop of glace pistache avec chocolate. On a waffle chaud. Merci.

When my friend’s cup started leaking, I offered to approach the barista and explain her situation. “My friend, her cup, it broke. The coffee drips. On her. HOT.”

“Oh, no problem! I’ll make her a new drink, what does she want?” The barista at the counter was from Spanish Harlem. I only wish I asked how he ended up working at Starbucks at a train station in Paris…

But I digress. We ate a delicious meal of stir fried noodles at the train station, and then boarded our second class car to Vernon, which is where Giverny is located. The plush seats, coat hooks, and outlets offered no sign that we were in second class, and the trip was quick with gorgeous views of the green French countryside.

We boarded a shuttle at Vernon and then walked up to Giverny, waited in line, again, for tickets to Monet’s home and garden, and finally entered paradise!

Well, actually the giftshop, which used to function as Monet’s studio before capitalists decided to profit off of his artistic genius by selling cheap calendar reproductions of his masterpieces…

Outside laid the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen (living 10 minutes away from the Chicago Botanical Gardens most of my life, this says a lot)! Bamboo, roses, lilies, and various flowers I don’t know the names of sprouted colorfully in every direction, completely negating the grey overcast sky hanging ominously above us.

After a brief, hurried walk through the flower paths, we reached the main event: the lily pads. THE lily pads! The ones you study in paintings your entire life, the ones reproduced on coffee mugs and mousepads all over the world, the ones Monet painted as his vision faded and his life drew to an end. The paintings I saw in the MOMA only a few years back were now right in front of my face. Monet was here. Monet painted this. He saw this and was inspired and created something beautiful. Something so much bigger than he ever expected.

Standing on the green bridge I’d seen painted so many times, I finally remembered why I came to Paris: to challenge myself, to see new things, to experience another way of life. It would have been so much easier not to pack up, not to argue with the ticket lady or sprint back from Giverny to catch the shuttle and train back before class, but life isn’t easy.

I had no expectations for Paris, no itinerary, no plan.

But this was it. This was my life. Seeing things I never even knew I’d see, being inspired by I don’t even know what. Sharing an experience with a legendary artist who lived long before my time, whom I rarely think about, and probably will continue not to. And I was there, and it was, put simply, amazing. And I was just so happy to be alive and be there in that moment.