Sunday, January 19, 2014

Paris at Christmas

As mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to spend Christmas in Paris this past holiday.  I cannot recommend this kind of trip enough.  We left on the 15th & came back on the 26th,  a very light travel day.  While we still had make up holiday obligations when we returned, we circumvented the stressful countdown of trying to get everything done before the magic day.  I've never felt so refreshed in January as I have this year...because I wasn't so worn down from the holiday!

We rented an apartment in the Marais through Vacation in Paris -  Personally, I prefer renting apartments when I travel because I find an apartment to be more comfortable than a hotel.  Also, you can cook your own meals when you don't feel like going out.   Other pros include being in a residential neighborhood, more room to spread out,  & a generally cheaper vacation overall between meals & lodging.

When we arrived, we used Super Shuttle - When we departed, we used Uber through the app we have on our phones for Boston Uber.  Disclaimer - it was 70 Euro to CDG - but it was worth it to us to not have a 5:30 am pick up time from Super Shuttle or dragging our bags in the dark to the subway & schlepping to the RER.

Paris is a great city any time of year but it is especially gorgeous around Christmas.  Surprisingly, most everything starts opening - except stores - around 2 or 3 pm on Christmas Day.  If you're there on December 25th, there will be plenty to do - Christmas markets, ice skating, Eiffel Tower (although the line will be crazy long).  Having said that, some places do shut for the last 2 weeks of the year.  It's always best to call - not all websites will have the most updated opening/closing times.

If you do go, here are some recommendations for fun/delicious times beyond the usual:

1. Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris -

2. David Lebovitz's blog -

3. Google Maps or other app for your phone - much easier than fussing with a map (although, I did that a lot too!)

Cultural Things (beyond the usual iconic "must sees")
1. All the gardens - you can watch all Petanque leagues play & old men shout "merde!!!!" when they miss shots

2. Palais de Tokyo - Open until at least 11pm every night even Sundays

3. Ciel de Paris/Tour Montparnasse - The restaurant will give you the best view of the city including the Eiffel Tower (just go for a drink in the afternoon).  A lot of people think the best view is from the Eiffel Tower but you can't see the Tower while you're standing on it! Plus, Montparnasse, while huge, is not the most attractive building in the city.  So, why not use that for your city views vs. having it in your photos?

4. The roof at Galeries Lafayette - this also provides great views of the city from the Right Bank

1. Frenchie - The restaurant only takes reservations online about 12 weeks in advance.  If you can't get one, you can queue up for the wine bar (get there around 30 mins before it opens) & tell them you'll take a table if there's a no show. The wine bar has the same style food but it doesn't take reservations.  Getting there early is a must.  Frenchie to Go is great for lunch as well.

2. Les Philosophes - Traditional French Food done by a Japanese chef for organic/mindful diners - and with American style veggies options, i.e. big meal sized salads.  Try the cuisse de canard - served with duck fat potatoes & salad.  I am still dreaming of this meal...

3. Cuisine de Bar - Poilane's cafe...great for brunch. Aaaannndddd they favored my Tweet so I <3 them!

4. Marche Biologique de Batignolles - This is the big organic market.  You can get EVERYTHING here - meat, fish, dairy, jams, bread, and of course, loads of fruit & veggies -

5. Wine - What my 7th grade teacher told me still holds true - wine is cheaper than most soft drinks. For 3 Euro a coupe, you can try lots of different ones.  The best part - they're often not loaded up with sugar and other things so you won't get an awful headache like you do here from cheap wine.

6. O Chateau - Try any number of wines by the glass including Chateau d'Yquem!

7. L'As du fallafel - Lenny Kravitz's favorite fallafel place in Paris! Their take away window is open until midnight - keep it in mind if you get desperate! 

1. Big Department Stores - Galeries Lafayette will give you a 10% shopping coupon plus pull the VAT off your purchase as soon as you buy whatever item (better than having to go to a desk at the end with all your receipts).  The caveat? It's the Herald Square Macy's with all the tour bus drop offs but it's a proper French department store.  While I didn't buy anything in the upstairs, I hit Lafayette Gourmet in the basement HARD.  REAL HARD...terrines, Dalloyau pastries, Petrossian smoked salmon, etc.. The Bordeauxtheque is not to be missed if you're a wine person.  However, having said all that, I like Bon Marche & Le Grand Epicerie better.

2. Things to buy - There's a real Brooklyn thing going on with fashion right now but you can still get the Parisian touch with nice lingerie, perfume, drugstore cosmetics (which is on par with department store cosmetics here), and of course, chocolates - all for much cheaper than what you'd pay here for  the same quality.

Other Recommendations
1. Taking the TGV on a day trip out of the city - We went to Reims (45 mins each way).  By the way, Pascale, an extremely nice SCNF employee at Gare du Nord helped us out when we booked the wrong tickets.  She was technically on her break but went back to her window to help us.  We went back to bring her flowers but couldn't find her.  If you see her, tell her MERCI from me!

2. Walk - You can buy a tourist metro pass but just get a carnet.  You'll see so much more stuff walking around.  To put it in perspective - the incorporated city of Boston is double the size of Paris.

3. TSF Jazz - Jazz radio station that will create a real Paris vibe in your apartment ( along with a stinky Diptyque candle (, some flowers you bought at the bio marche Batignolles, and an apero of rose & potato chip. Voila - vous etes un Parisien!

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back - so much so, I am already planning on another trip this year.  If you have any recommendations for me, please post them in the comments.  Or, if you're planning to go, I am happy to answer any questions.

Traveling: Dublin Pre-Clearance

Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris.  As I was being a bit budget conscious, I decided to go via Aer Lingus vs. the direct Boston to Paris Air France flight.   I would absolutely do this again - price point notwithstanding.  The connection in Dublin is super easy on the way over.  Most of the people on our flight were not connecting to Europe.  So, there were no lines at security checkpoint and the airport was not very crowded.  Upon arriving in Paris in the early afternoon, CDG was not insane (most of the big international arrivals & departures are early or late in the day).  We were the only ones on our Super Shuttle ($25 one way, per person). With only midday traffic, we were at our apartment in the Marais within 30 mins.

On the return, we did have an early flight out of CDG.  We noticed that the gate check in time for our BOS flight was 2 hours before our departure time...which struck me as weird.  Dublin is much smaller than Schiphol or any of the huge other airports.  At some of the larger airports, you will be advised to get to your gate 90 mins+ because it will take you that long to walk to the other end of the airport.

Apparently, the US now has a giant presence at various airports & border crossings around the world.  I've heard it's because certain US entry points are very congested so they are trying to ease the "traffic" by having people go through Customs & Immigration before they arrive on US soil.  Regardless of the reason, I actually loved it.

Basically, you fill out your customs form, declare your chocolates,  & get your US entry stamp in Dublin.  The perks of this are:

1. They have pens at the tables where you fill out the customs declarations. There's nothing worse than scrambling for a pen when they pass the forms out on the plane.

2. There's relatively no line in Dublin - at least not like the ones when you arrive in the US because 4 other international flights arrived at pretty much the same time.

3. Even if there is/was a line, I'd still prefer to stand in a line when I am somewhat awake vs. queuing  up after a long, tiring flight.  It's a bit grim standing in line for hour when you really just want to get home - or have to go to the bathroom.

The process is super easy:
1. Follow the signs to the US Pre-Clearance.
2. Fill out the form with the conveniently provided pens.
3. Go up to the first desk & they will stamp your form.
4. Go to the second desk where they ask you a bunch of questions about where you were, what you did, & what you're bringing home.
5.  Identify your luggage on the screen they show you.
6. Go on your way to the final security clearance before you get your gate.  AND - you can bring bottles of water through this checkpoint.  We literally stood 10 feet from the checkpoint, trying to down our liter bottles of water.  Of course, as soon as we were finishing up, the guy told us we could've brought them on. Timing is everything, I guess!

Once you get through the final checkpoint, you'll be at the gate.  The gate has a full service restaurant & take away items for picnics on the plane.  

In theory, it's super easy.  However, we had a lost bag so that actually wasn't what happened to us.  We had to sit in a pen by ourselves while they "located" the bag.  As the bag did not turn up & we were getting close to departure, we were forced through customs.  Then, we were brought to the back room with some dubious looking backpacker.  I am not going to lie - I was little scared.  Ultimately, we were told that our bag was still sitting at CDG & it would come on the next flight to Boston.  We were released & dispatched to our gate...not sure what happened to our new backpacker friend.  They took his passport from him & he looked really bummed out...

We made it home in one piece with 2 bags.  The best part - upon arrival in Boston, all we did is walk to the baggage carousel, pick up our bags, & hit the silver line.  We were off the plane & on our way home within 30 mins.  Hooray!

The only down side - if you are a duty free shopper, once you pass through pre-clearance, you can't buy anything.  You're on US soil so no perfume, Toblerones, brown liquor, or cigarettes for you - either in a shop or during the flight.  Just remember to pick those up in the center shopping arcade in the Dublin airport.  Otherwise, I highly recommend a Dublin connection!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

RuPaul called...

So, I've been working way too much at my day job - like leaving the office at 9, 10 pm.  Gross.  I am so tired.  Last week, I was talking about it with my friend, Colin...not complaining though because I am far too tired to muster the energy up for that.

He is sitting there, patiently listening to me.  Then, he picks up his phone & says, "RuPaul's calling.  She says 'You better work!'. ".  HA!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I love livin' in the city (free stuff)

Boston is not one of the cheaper cities in which to live but there are plenty of fun & high end things to do for free. That sort of compensates for the high taxes, gas prices, grocery bills, etc., right?

Here's a list of my favorite free things to do in the city:

Free Music:
River Music Hall
Just fan 92.5 The River on Facebook or sign up for our 9-2-5 Network on our website.  We're always inviting you to come hear your favorite artists to play

Free Movies
The Kendall
Landmark Cinemas often do free screenings of movies or cable tv shows.  You'll get notifications if you're on their mailing list. From time to time, they give out free indie music samplers as well - a lot of the artists are ones you hear on The River.

Free Books
Your local library
It's free - no strings attached! Books, movies, music...what is not to love?

Free "Culture"  
Museum of Fine Arts
Pay What You Can, Wednesdays after 4p. Also, buying a movie ticket ($9-$11) will allow you to wander through the museum before & after.  For a sophisticated evening, have a glass of wine in the little cafe outside the theatre...

Institute of Contemporary Arts
Free on Thursdays after 5p.

Free Wine
These places all do free wine tastings...and not Boone's Farm level either!
Central Bottle Thursdays -
Brix Boston Thursdays -
Brix Boston Fridays & Saturdays -

Free Food
Julia Child's favorite market is always hosting fun samplings.  Follow them on Twitter to stay up to date.

Join their rewards club & you get free chocolate at least once a month.  Oh, and that noise - that's the sound of my bum getting bigger.

Bee's Knees
This is a market from the owners of M3.  They sample pretty much everything they sell in their store...cookies, chocolate, charcuterie, cheese, so good.

Free Clothes
Boden, a very hip British company, does unbelievable promotions, i.e. buy 3 things get the 4th free, etc..  A lot of their clothes are made in Europe and they're very high quality - I've had things for years that look brand new.

If you have any free things that you love, please share them in my comments or on Facebook.  Share the love!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer Sips

At this point, you probably know that I am enrolled in the Wine Studies program at BU.  I find wine to be a very mindful activity.  It's one of the few things where you're almost completely dependent upon your sense of smell to discern geography, chemistry, biology, and history.  I recommend wine classes to anybody who needs a good destressor - not for the drinking but more because it really gets you out of your head and thinking in a way that you probably never do - through your nose.  It's mind blowing.

Since I've been asked for help & recommendations lately, here are some easy summer wine basics I've been sharing:

1. Don't be deterred by a low price point - Many great Portuguese, Spanish, & German wines are at a great price point, not because they're awful but because they're not popular

2. Bottle color - The darker the bottle, the longer you can wait to drink it.  The clearer the bottle, the sooner you should drink it (rosés in particular).

3. A lot of mass market wines (Yellow Tail, etc.) made in the US or sent to the US market are loaded with extra sugar & sulfites.  These will get you buzzed faster but they will also give you an almost instantaneous headache.

4. Traditional rosés tend to be golden/light pink.  If you find a darker rosés, they had additional red wine added to them...which is not a bad thing in my book!

General Recommendations
1. Any vinho verdes  - They're cheap, slightly effervescent, & tend to be light on alcohol, which is good for super hot days.  They're excellent with seafood.

2. Any Basque wine - see above.  All the ones I've tried - regardless of color - tend to be on the lemony side.

3. Any French or Spanish Rosés - Very fruity (raspberry & strawberry) and tend go well with grilled meat, especially the darker wines.  I tend not to believe celebrity hype but Miraval, the Brangelina rosé is really good. 

4. Prosecco, Cava, & other non-Champagne sparklings - Often the growing conditions for this type of wine are better the further south you go.  Since they're not from Champagne, the price point is often better.  They're great bang for your buck fizzies.  Trader Joes has some great ones  - their $7 Prosecco tastes like green apples.  I am pretty sure their $5 house brand Blanc de Blanc is Perdrier from Burgundy.  Roederer Estate from California makes an excellent hostess gift.  These really do go with everything.

5. Gerwurztraminer - Any of them...I really like them with blueberries

6. Reds in the summer - I don't have a lot of experience with these but I can say Spanish Grenaches & Northern Italian/Swiss reds can be really light.  They're worth checking out.

Specific Recommendations
1. Veuve Cliquot Demi-Sec - This, hands down, is my favorite any time.  It's a total splurge but not a ridiculous one.

2.  Charles Smith - He's a former band manager who has reinvented himself as a vintner.  In general, music people tend to be food & wine people.  I get the impression he only makes what he likes to drink.  The only thing I didn't dig was The Pinot Project but everything else is excellent.

3. Wine X/Beringer White Zinfandel - This gets knocked BIG TIME.  I don't go out of my way to have it but it's really not bad.  Last year, my wine class did a round table rosé tasting with wines from around the world at various price points.  This wine was in a black bag & everybody had to guess what it was.  Everybody thought "wine x", the mystery rosé, was the best & most expensive one on the table - balanced, fruity, goes with everything.   When it was unveiled, everybody laughed.  We all agreed that there are reasons why this continues to be a best seller.  

Best Website for Wine Pairings & Wine Info - great website, super simple facts, excellent graphics. 

Hope these help a little.  If you have any recommendations or tips, please share in the comments - so much wine, so little time, you know?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Blog roll please......

I love blogs.  They're sort of like a modern day "Life" magazine inasmuch as you get a sneak peek at how other people live their lives.  Of course, ones that are relatable or aspirational are the ones that keep me coming back for more.

On that note, allow me to introduce the blogs in my blog roll:

Once Upon a Thai
Some of you may know Dreamy B.O.B., one of our street teamers. You would have seen him at Riverfeast or any number of our events around town.  It was imparted to me that Bob was hired specifically because of his "dreamy, good looks".  Whether that was vicious rumor or fact, he was henceforth known as Dreamy B.O.B. around the station.  Now, Dreamy Bob and his equally attractive lady, Dreamy Emily, are living in Thailand.  I've not been to Thailand but the way they are describing it makes me want to go.  Big Time.

Big Daddy Thinks
Big Daddy is one of my besties.  She's a tall, blonde from Idaho who goes with the flow and generally gets stuff done.  She's irreverent, super smart, and just a great person to know.  Given those fine attributes, she makes a wonderful friend and THE perfect travel buddy.  She doesn't know this yet but if everything falls into place, I might be racking up some time "Down Under".  She needs to save her pennies for an airline ticket because she's coming with...and we're going to eat our way through Tasmania. 

Also, she operated the clapper board for the awesome local film Don't Let The Riverbeast Get You.  And, even more -  her name is BIG DADDY!!!  Sooooo, check out her blog.  She recently uploaded some great photos of Cuba.

If you have any blogs that you love, definitely share them with me.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish Words of Wisdom on St Patrick's Day

My mum's family is from Ireland so St Patrick's Day is kind of "our" holiday.  It was never a big drinking thing, more just a day to get together with everyone and have corned beef & cabbage...and maybe go to church.  Of course, you had to wear green & those little potted shamrocks dotted your kitchen windowsill.

My grandmother, a.k.a. my most favoritest person in the ENTIRE WORLD, was straight from Athlone.  She was super cool, very well read, and always had loads to say.  I am not sure if she ever kissed the Blarney Stone for her lovely gift of gab though..."kissing that buggy rock" is really for tourists.

When I was in my 20s, I was over my Grandmother's house and we were watching some U2 video on Much Music.  At this point, I will say that the following item I am about to impart was strictly the opinion of my Irish born grandmother and not that of anybody else. I mean no ill will with her comments - it was purely sound dating advice that she felt she needed to pass on to me, being a lady of certain experiences:

"Never date an Irishman.  They're all so cheap.  The only Irishmen you are allowed to date are U2.  We all know they have a lot of money so they can't hide any of it from you.".

I just sort of looked at her, narrowed my eyes, scrunched up my forehead, and said, "Ok. I'll keep that in mind. Thanks.".

Sometimes, I wonder if Michael Flatley would've fallen into the U2 category...

I will conclude with some solid Irish advice that everybody can use:

Is minic a bhris beal duine a shron

(Many a man's mouth broke his nose)