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One Day in Christmas Paris

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Paris always fascinates me. It’s the city that is resistant to any transformation yet it feels a little different every time I visit. With its monumental landmarks and eternal classic architecture, Paris nonetheless has many faces. It’s like a talented actress that can be dramatic when you expect it from her, or cheerful, or posh, or foxy, or even sad. Depending on what season you visit in or what mood you bring in with you, you’ll meet your own Paris, and will probably keep it like that in your memory forever.

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My first visit to Paris happened to coincide with fall, and to me this city will always stay a little dramatic, like the piercing wind that followed me around while I was getting acquainted with its beautiful sites.

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I also visited Paris in spring, when the chestnuts along the Champs Élysées are blooming and spreading the magnificent aroma covering the entire city; I’ve been there in summer when it’s so hot and steamy that all you can be thankful for is that there are no usual crowds of tourists around you; and this time I happened to visit Paris in December, all set to celebrate Christmas.

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Having only one day off that I was able to extract from my work trip to France, I tried to concentrate on just walking around the city, soaking up its joyful Christmas spirit, as opposed to hitting my favorite sites. Numerous sparkling balls alongside the Champs Élysées and the lit up Eiffel Tower made the city very festive, and the incredible aroma of freshly baked crepes and waffles in the kiosks set up on both sides of the avenue, accompanied by tasty steaming gluhwein made for one very memorable day.

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Having my family come down from Russia to celebrate my 27th birthday in Paris made that weekend even more special. After a shopping extravaganza on Avenue Montaigne, we had an amazing lunch at L’Avenue famous for its beef tartar followed by an even more chic dinner at Lasserre famous for its decadent foie gras-stuffed roasted pigeon. If you ever happen to dine at this restaurant, don’t be shocked by several cages with doves at its entrance. They serve a purely decorative purpose – you won’t be eating those beautiful white doves but rather special farm-raised pigeons.

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The next morning I walked my favorite route: Champs Élysées down to Place de la Concorde through the Tuileries Garden to Place Vendome, saying goodbye to one of the most captivating cities in the world… Who knows when I will visit it again and what mood I will be in to rediscover Paris for myself in a new light?

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Montpellier: The Golden Town

Old Town Square

Most of you know that in my day job I’m a fierce PR girl working with clients in digital media, and one of the perks of my profession is that I get to travel a lot. And even though traveling for work is not as much fun as exploring the world on your own, but hey, whatever keeps the travel bug satisfied works!

Old Town

In November, I had a chance to revisit one of the most romantic cities in the world – Paris – as well as get acquainted with the hidden gem of southern France – Montpellier.

Church

When I thought about South of France, some of the first things that came to mind were the French Riviera, luxury, posh lifestyle and European glitterati. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Montpellier and its surroundings had nothing to do with those associations. And don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad with la dolce vita, and I definitely love me some expensive champagne and oysters, and the whole St. Tropez’s chic. But South of France is very versatile, and I found myself rather fond of its simple yet elegant Montpellier region.

Cold Foie Gras

Cold Foie Gras

Hot Foie Gras

Hot Foie Gras

Located not so far from the Spanish border, the first thing you notice about Montpellier is how prominent the Spanish influence is, especially when it comes to food. The old town has hundreds of tapas bars to offer, with small plates varying from traditional Spanish delicacies such as albondigas y croquetas, to authentic French dishes such as foie gras and chèvre. Note that locals tend to dine really late – they take their time drinking wine and picking at tapas, then proceeding to dinner at around nine.

Pate

Duck Pate

The food that I had there was outstanding – from charcuterie and cheese plates to traditional French entrées to decadent desserts, every dish was inspired by and crafted with classic French character. For food connoisseurs, Montpellier even boasts a Michelin-star restaurant.

University of Montpellier

University of Montpellier

Most of the places we visited were located in the Old Town Montpellier, a medieval labyrinth of narrow cobblestoned streets, so intricate and so mysterious. Surrounded by a fortified wall and lit up with numerous streetlights, the historic quarter left an impression of the golden town. It was nice to wander in the maze of its tiny streets and discover new sites every night. It has a mini Arc de Triumph, an antique university and beautiful churches. One pleasant surprise was discovering the Papa Doble bar, a tribute to one of my favorite writers, Ernest Hemingway. Featured in the top 50 bars of 2011, Papa Doble is famous for its crafty cocktails and is definitely worth checking out.

The Porte du Peyrou

The Porte du Peyrou

Papa Doble Cocktails

Papa Doble Cocktails

Like Boston, Montpellier is a very young city, probably because it’s home to the University of Montpellier, one of the most famous and oldest universities in the world, dating back to the 12th century. Every Thursday night is student night, which is a fun yet dangerous experience, mostly because of the amount of shots it normally involves.

Comedie

Place de la Comedie

If I had a little more time, I would have taken a train to Sète, which is only 45 minutes away. I was told it’s a wonderful town spreading from the top of the hill to the beautiful marina at its base.

Opera Comedie

Marseilles and Aux-en-Provence are also not that far away, so if you decided to visit this part of southern France, there are plenty of places to explore.

University

Sights:
Place de la Comédie with the Opera Comédie built in 1888
The Porte du Peyrou, a triumphal arc
The historic Old Town
The Jardin des plantes de Montpellier, a historic botanical garden
The University of Montpellier

Restaurants/Bars:
Papa Doble
Fabrik
Le Duo
L’Alcove
La Réserve Rimbaud

The Beauty of Cornwall

By James Starkey

Those of you who read my recent post will know how in love with the South West of England I am. So, for my second post, I’ve decided to write about Devon’s neighbouring county – Cornwall.

When many people think of the UK, they often consider a trip to London or one of the larger cities, however, by getting out in to the countryside and discovering the beauty of traditional England, you can experience so much more.

Just like Devon, Cornwall’s beauty is to be found in its miles upon miles of unspoilt countryside, huge stretches of golden, sandy beaches and small villages that keep the values of community life alive in the modern era. However, it’s not just the places that make Cornwall so special. The people are renowned for their welcoming demeanour and the food. The food is to die for!

There are some of the finest attractions to be offered in Cornwall so it’s no wonder thousands of people from around the world come back here year after year to enjoy their holidays.

The world’s most famous sign-post sits at Lands’ End. With directions to New York and John O’Groats in Scotland, it’s worth heading to the most westerly point on the British mainland if only to get your photo taken here! Further east you’ll find the beautiful St. Michael’s Mount at Penzance and on the north coast, the picturesque St. Ives.

If you’re interested in wildlife and horticulture, then you won’t want to miss The Eden Project. These world-famous biomes house a wide selection of different plants and flowers from all around the globe and it makes for a superb day out for all ages. A little insider tip: if you’re in the area during the summer time, check out ‘The Eden Sessions” – a series of intimate shows with some of the country’s top musicians… Definitely worth looking into if you get the chance.

If you’re looking for surfing, then the town of Newquay is filled with beaches that offer up some of the finest waves across the entire Western Europe. For big competitions such as “Boardmasters,” you need to look no further than Fistral, perhaps the most popular beach in the whole of Cornwall. Although if you’re looking for activities somewhere a little quieter, then Lusty Glaze, just around the bay from Fistral, offers up a whole range of things to do whilst enjoying the privacy you might be unlikely to get at the more popular beaches. If you’re looking at a surfing holiday, then there is a huge range of Cornwall Hotels to choose from across the county, with some of the best sitting right on the edge of the coast, close to the waves that so many surfers are hunting for throughout the year.

Now… the food! Many people will have heard about the Cornish pasty, a dish that takes its name from the very county in which it was made, however, as the locals will be quick to tell you, you can’t get a better pasty than one made and eaten at home! Therefore, my recommendation for the first culinary delight you should get your hands on when visiting the county is to head to any local bakers for a pasty. While there are far too many shops to list individually, I’m sure that if you find a family-run bakery, you’ll be in for a treat!

If you’re after a freshly caught meal, then Rick Stein, the world-famous chef, has a restaurant in Padstow that serves up the best daily catch.

So here, next time you’re planning a vacation in the UK, be sure to put Cornwall on your list.

The author, James Starkey, is a travel writer for a number of different publications across the UK including holidaycottages.co.uk. He writes on a wide range of different topics covering locations as well as things to do and what to see across the globe. 

Discover Devon

By James Starkey

Welcome to Devon; two spectacular coastlines, two glorious National Parks and a huge range of quirky and interesting locations to explore; it’s no wonder in my eyes why this large county in the South West of England has been a favourite of mine since I was a child.

For anyone who’s not familiar with Devon, it’s a sleepy, mostly unspoilt county that’s hidden away in corner of the UK. If you’re travelling from London, it’ll take a few hours to arrive by either car or train, but I’m sure that after a visit you’ll agree with me that it’s most certainly worth it!

Whether it’s the vast expanses of open countryside, the views that go on forever whilst stop at the top of Dartmoor or the miles upon miles of beach (perhaps the traditionally made ice-cream plays a part here; my personal favourite is a Hockings found in North Devon), you’re bound to find something that will inspire one of the most memorable holidays you’ll ever enjoy.

So, you’ve planned a holiday to Devon… What are you going to do when you get there? My first recommendation would be a trip to Dartmoor. The ruggedness of the landscape shows just what a beautiful, untouched wilderness this part of the world can be. While you can discover it on foot, I’d definitely say that my favourite way to trek across the moors is on horseback. If you do some research, then I’m sure you can find a pony-centre that’ll provide you with a trusty steed upon which to explore!

One of my favourite destinations in the north of the county would be the small fishing village of Appledore. Not only is there a huge selection of great pubs (I know that’s what a lot of people will enjoy!), but you can also browse the many galleries and craft shops that line the narrow, colourful streets. (It’s worth noting that this is the best place to find one of my Hockings ice-creams as well!)

The beaches of Devon are certainly worth spending some time on. With Croyde and Woolacombe the two favourites in the north, on the south coast there’s a great choice with anywhere from Beer to Torquay sure to inspire sandcastle building and hours of fun playing in the water.

Devon’s also a superb place to enjoy walking. My personal recommendation would have to be the Valley of the Rocks on Exmoor. With amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean and an incredible café (Laceys) in the nearby village of Lynton where you can enjoy a traditional Devon cream tea, which is a must if for anyone taking any trip to Devon, it really is the perfect way to round off a day exploring the coast-path.

Perhaps the best way to discover the beautiful Devon countryside is by staying in one of the traditional holiday cottages, with so many different locations on offer it means that whatever plan you have for your holiday, it’s kept flexible and allows you to come and go as you please.

The author, James Starkey, is a travel writer for a number of different publications across the UK including holidaycottages.co.uk. He writes on a wide range of different topics covering locations as well as things to do and what to see across the globe. 

 

The Other Portland

Peaks Island

Some of you might know that being a full-time PR professional, my free-spirited, travel bug-bitten alter ego can only come out and play mostly during weekends and holidays. And to satisfy this voracious hunger for travel, my boyfriend and I try to fit as many daycations and weekends away as possible in our busy schedules. This is why for the past two years we’ve been on a quest to fully explore the vibrant towns of New England, especially during the hot summer days.

The Beach

So when Alex was about to turn 27 in August (welcome to the late twenties!), I organized a little trip for us – to Portland, Maine. The plan was to stick around the city on Friday and Saturday, and then spend Sunday in the funky town of Ogunquit – the P-town of Maine, and even soak up some sun at a nearby beach. Ogunquit never happened due to the pouring rain on Sunday, but the first two days were fabulous, and that Portland trip was definitely one of the most memorable highlights of this summer.

Casco Bay

Even though we left during the Boston’s most horrible rush hour – Friday after 6PM – it only took us a couple of hours to drive to Portland. The B&B we were staying at wasn’t located in the most beautiful part of Portland, yet it was absolutely lovely. From the cheerful and always-eager-to-help innkeepers, to the Victorian style-decorated rooms and the in-room complimentary champagne, this cozy Bed & Breakfast – Inn on Carleton – definitely deserved its five stars and number one rank on TripAdvisor.com. Just to give you an example – we had freshly made peach pancakes and farm-raised bacon with fresh fruit for breakfast.

Anyways, as we arrived pretty late on Friday on Alex’s actual birthday, we immediately headed out to have dinner at Bresca. This restaurant was super-cute and perfect for a romantic dinner on a birthday night. I strongly recommend getting the smoked mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes spaghetti – this dish was indescribable. But I do need to warn you that if you’re not a big fan of pure fried fat, don’t get the fresh bacon. As Alex put it: “They went to a lot of trouble to make sure my bacon was meat-free.” Anyways, I’m pretty sure that the menu is updated seasonally, and everything else was top-notch.

Peach Pancakes with Bacon, Inn on Carleton

The next morning we boarded the ferry and took a 10-minute ride to Peaks Island in Casco Bay. It’s a small yet picturesque island with a couple seafront cafes and unique houses where the owners were generous with their $$$ and creativity to decorate them into something special. You can either take a pedi-cab guided tour around the island, or rent a bike at a local store and explore the island by yourself. The most scenic part of it is its Back Shore. It offers amazing views of the Casco Bay marina and the surrounding rocky formations. And of course, you’ve got to try the local lobster roll!

After our little island adventure, we ventured out to explore the rest of Portland. After enjoying fresh oysters, clam chowder and local brews at J’s Oyster, the diviest yet pretty renowned bar in town, the afternoon felt almost complete. We went on browsing seaport streets and checking out local shops for interesting crafts and knick-knacks.

Back Shore, Peaks Island

Per our friend’s recommendation, we had dinner at Salt Exchange – a funky restaurant in the port district. With outstanding service and delicious food, this restaurant represented the true vibe of Portland. Definitely try the roasted Cornish game hen – it’s decadent!

We finished the night at the trendy Wine Bar with an amazing selection of North American reds, good jazz music and perfectly soft couches. Oh wait – there were a couple more places that I barely remember because of the serious amount of tequila shots involved. But I do remember that everyone else was in their early-twenties except for us. That’s when I realized… that I’m actually OK with that. :) Everything is ahead of us, and life is just beginning!

Back Shore View

So go and explore Portland and let me know what YOU think about it.

Fall Revelations in Boston

Last Saturday, when the rest of my household, including my cat Lilu, was still seeing dreams, I woke up from the piercing sun rays that were gradually filling out space. It looked gorgeous outside and grabbing my headphones and my ear muffs, I was on my way to a date with Boston.

Needless to say, Boston is captivating. But you would think that after three and a half years living here, my feelings toward the city would become slightly muted. Wrong. They just grow fonder the more I’m here.

So walking slowly on a chilly but sunny and wind-free morning, sipping my Skinny Vanilla and listening to the Passion Pit radio on Pandora, I immersed myself in the city I fell in love with from the first sight. Passing neighborhood after neighborhood, discovering new areas and nodding to familiar sites, I was leisurely enjoying my date with Boston probably for the hundredth time.

Here are some fruits of that awesome day. Take a look and share with me your impressions of Boston!

The Elegant Back Bay

The Eliot Hotel, Mass Ave, Boston

Church Turned Luxury Condo Complex

Corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Avenues

Commonwealth Avenue

Church on Newbury Street

The Charles River Esplanade

Charles River

Sail Boats on the Charles

The Esplanade Park

Storrow Drive

The Classic Beacon Hill

Brownstone Window

Beacon Street

Charles Street

The Oldest Public Garden

The Taj Hotel

The Public Garden

The Pond

Boston Common

The Up-And-Coming Seaport District

The Boston Freedom Trail

The Holocaust Monument

Atlantic Avenue

The Vibrant South End

Metropolis Cafe

My Favorite House in the South End

Tremont Street

Nantucket: The Perfect Cap to the Summer

This morning, when I stepped outside, I realized that fall had finally taken over. Bostonians stopped pretending it’s summer by giving up the flip-flops, and actually putting on some sweaters and boots. Fall is great; it’s one of my favorite times of the year – who doesn’t appreciate the crisp chilliness of the air, the crunch of the falling leaves, and the crazy color outburst of the New England fall foliage? But at the same time, I always feel very nostalgic of the summer memories. That’s why I wanted to devote this post to one of the brightest moments of this past summer – our trip to Nantucket. I was keeping it for the fall so I could immerse myself in my summer nostalgia and let my memories (and Chardonnay) bring me back to that magical weekend.

For those of you who are not New Englanders, Nantucket is a tiny island in the North Atlantic, just to the south of Cape Cod. To get there, you would need to drive to Hyannis or Harwichport, MA, and then take a ferry to the island. The ferry ride is actually very pleasant – it’s a speed boat (the journey takes about an hour) with a full-service bar on board (watch out for Sunrise cocktails – they taste fruity but pack a punch).

When the ferry enters the Nantucket marina and the water sparkles in the sun rays, you just know you will have one amazing, memorable day. If you don’t have your own bikes, there is a rental shop steps away from the harbor. And trust me, biking is what you need to do in Nantucket. There are two main bike routes that are conveniently separated from the main roads, so you won’t have to worry about being hit by a car.

We took the bike route along Milestone Road to visit the remote beaches of Siasconset on the other side of the island. To say it’s beautiful doesn’t do it justice. It’s breathtaking! (I know I overuse this word sometimes – but what are you to say if this world is pretty breathtaking!) When you see this wide sandy beach that stretches out for miles merging with the dark blue water of the Atlantic, you really want to take a mental picture of the moment. Complemented by the classic New England style (read: wealthy), the scenic countryside views and romantic lighthouses (I do find them romantic), Nantucket warms your soul and lightens your heart.

On the way back, we took the Polpis route, which was much more physically challenging but definitely more picturesque. On this route, you’ll pass the lighthouses, quaint creeks and inner ponds, and really impressive mansions.

After almost 20 miles of pedaling, I thought it was only fair to have some fried seafood. There are plenty of cute restaurants with summer terraces in the town of Nantucket, and delicious fried New England clams washed down with some cold Sam Adams put a perfect finishing touch to a fabulous day on the island.

A lot of New Englanders compare Nantucket to Martha’s Vineyard, and one person even told me that Nantucket is too one-dimensional, too perfect in its elegant style. But you know what? It’s fine by me. Its downtown cobblestone streets and vibrant scene made me feel really happy, and watching fishing boats return to Nantucket’s harbor at sunset at a seafront bar was one unforgettable experience. I know for sure I’ll be going back there every summer to appreciate the way life reveals itself naturally.

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