Paris: An Incomplete Guide to an Amazing City

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Paris feeds the soul. It’s as simple as that, Belles. So while I’ll do my best to give you my top 5 places in the city, you can bet that there will be more blog posts about my trip to explore the amazing experience that is Paris. Before I start though, I have to say, I loved my hotel. Le Glam Hotel was a steal! At $79 a night, I got an amazing, clean, modern, and stylish hotel room with amazing hotel staff. It was a truly wonderful experience.

My amazing steal of a hotel ❤

Here’s a list of hidden gems and totally touristy things I enjoyed the most while in Paris:

Boulangerie Dominique Saibron

I cannot stress how much I loved the macarons and choquettes here. And the eclairs, and the baguettes, and oh my God, the TARTS!–yeah, this could go on for a while. Everything is baked to perfection. I’ve had a lot of macarons, Laduree (made in France) included, but nothing has compared to these macarons. Light, flavorful puffs of perfection, never too heavy-handed with the citrus or floral tones! And the espresso flavor was to die for. Pure bliss.

Just rows and rows of goodies!

House of Dior

I’ve been obsessed with Dior for as long as I can remember. I even did a project highlighting the historical significance of the A-line dress, made by Christian Dior in the 1950s. When I found out that I’d be going to Paris in the Spring, I knew I had to see the place where it all began–the original Dior storefront. What I wasn’t expecting was an entire neighborhood of Dior!

Original Dior Store

Where it all began–Christian Dior’s first storefront

You know I had to buy something there, right? A memorable token of the trip. 😉

Versailles

Versailles is a whole day affair, and it is so so worth it. I’ve been to quite a few palaces at this point, in Turkey, in Italy, and England, but this was another level of opulence. Jaw-droppingly stunning. But more than anything, it was intentionally built like that. Every room you enter in the palace has layers and layers of meaning and intentionality behind it. Power play after power play. Just, wow. If you have never taken an Architecture tour, I recommend the ones in Chicago, but once you’ve taken one, you start to understand why buildings are built the way they are and it opens a whole world of expression you probably never considered.

A tip: If you can, go early, see the gardens first and then enter the palace. And one more thing: gifts are sold sporadically throughout the palace and in the gift shop. Make sure to buy things when you see them! I made the mistake of thinking I would find lots of similar things outside the palace gates and I was so wrong! I still regret missing out on the opportunity to purchase a beautiful horse and carriage piece I saw there.

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L’Orangerie

While the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay are wonderful museums and should definitely be visited if you have time, they’re both enormous and take a lot of energy to navigate. If you’re a fan of the more manageable, “bite-sized” museum experience, where you get a little bit of all the greats, then the Orangerie is for you. Plus, it’s got 3 rooms of wall-to-wall installations of Claude Monet’s Water Lillies. And it is gorgeous.

Monet’s Water Lilies

Alongside this wonderful series, I also encountered my first Jackson Pollock piece and discovered a few more artists that I have grown fond of. I didn’t come out of the museum exhausted and weary like I did with the other 2–I felt like I could actually appreciate the art. It was well organized and palatable.

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Running through the streets of Paris from the Eiffel Tower to the River Seine ❤

This one is really more or less about giving yourself the freedom to be silly. Traveling can be tough and it takes its toll on your mood. I’ve found myself tensing up in unknown environments and being super cautious. After a long day of museums, walking, and not enough bathroom breaks (why is it so hard to find a clean bathroom in Paris???), we took a moment to re-energize with some gelato near the Eiffel Tower. We were on our way to the docks for a lovely sunset cruise of the Seine, but the waiter at the restaurant took forever with the check and we had to hurry to catch it. We started with a tense speed walk. Which transformed into a speedy shuffle. And after glancing at our watches, we all burst out into a flat run. The glee on our faces, the laughing and hooting as we dodged bumpy cobblestones, poles, and people, was the thrill we’d been seeking all day. The feeling of being completely and totally silly. We missed the boat by thiiiis much but it didn’t matter. We were feeling adventurous again. Bold. So we talked and laughed loudly, openly, completely immersed in the thrill of a newly revitalized city, watching the sun set on the Seine. Watching as the sky around the Eiffel Tower transformed from pretty blues and whites against the structure’s steel railings to a deep purple, clashing brilliantly with the golden yellow of the Tower as it’s lights turned on. I attempted to flirt with a cute crepe maker in French as we waited for the next boat and got whip cream on my nose as I delve into the brilliant waffle I’d purchased.

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My point is, see the touristy things, cross places off your bucket list, but don’t forget to explore yourself. Explore the you that you are when nothing and no one is inhibiting you. Be free and be you. That’s half the fun.


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Rome in a Day

Cruising Europe was a dream come true, and it all started with 5 days in Italy. Me and my family intended to spend 2 days in Rome, taking in the city with all its decaying grandeur, and then spend the remaining time visiting the gilded halls of Florence’s top family–the Medici–and the time capsule that is Pompeii, a city sealed in all its volcanic ash and forgotten by time and men for thousands of years. From there, we would make our way to Venice to catch our cruise ship to the Adriatic Sea and Jerusalem. The trains tickets were purchased, the journey carefully mapped. It was going to be riveting. At least that was the plan until a tornado ripped through Atlanta.

The tornado delayed every flight in and out of Atlanta International Airport, including ours (we had a stopover in ATL). The logistics were a mess, and we ended up airport hopping for 3 days in our attempt to get there. We finally made it to Rome in the evening of what would have been Day 3. Our chances to see Pompeii and Florence were shot. So we decided to make the best of what we had. Believe it, Belles. We saw Rome in a day.

Fresh off the plane and exhausted, I somehow convinced my parents to grab some halal gyro pizza from a street vendor (there’s TONS of Bangladeshis in Italy! Who knew?) and come out for a quick walk. Little did they know I had a surprise in store. I led them through the cobblestone streets full of music and laughter, turned a corner, and bellisimo! We were at the Fountain of Trevi. It was magical; the perfect way to lift our spirits. We made our wishes and tossed our coins. Did I take the moment to sing the first few lines of “Call Me, Maybe”? You bet. On blast. 😀

In the morning, our first stop was the Vatican. This city/museum is so vast, you need to get a tour guide. Ours was wonderfully interactive and could answer all the questions I had planned to save for our trip to Florence about the Medici and their influence on art, politics, and religion. Two birds, meet my one stone. 😀 I had never been in a museum where the artwork was close enough to touch–not encased in glass. We walked through centuries of sculptures and art as we moved towards the Sistine Chapel with its most famous of ceilings–The Creation of Adam. No photos were allowed inside the chapel but Michelangelo’s fresco was awesome. The details, the history, the underpants (yes, I said underpants). All the controversy between artistic vision and religious propriety was right before our eyes. And it was MASSIVE.

After a quick lunch and a refreshing gelato to give us a boost, we left the Vatican and began our race to see Rome. It felt like the tornado had followed us all the way from Atlanta–we found ourselves running from place to place, trying to see as many of our must-see sights as we could. Here were our top picks:

The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita): First made famous in Roman Holiday, we had to try our hand (get it? pun very much intended) at surviving its jaws. On our way out, we happened upon a lovely operatic performance taking place in the adjacent church, Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Daring to tell a lie at the Mouth of Truth

The Colosseum (Le Colosseo): To the movie-classic question, “Are you not entertained?!”, we gleefully reply, “Yes!” We were literally running to the gates of the Colosseum before the guards could call ‘last entry’ and couldn’t have been happier with what we saw. I still get goosebumps when I see the cells where the beasts prowled, impatient for that cocktail of clean air and blood. We soaked it all in–the scale, the sensation. Thanks to my handy Fodor travel guidebook, we all took turns giving the structure our own melancholy salutation like the hundreds of gladiators who had come before us. Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant. Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you.

The Spanish Steps and Piazza Di Spagna: Believe it or not, this was one of my favorite places. We got here right around sunset, after a long day of walking. We’d seen the Pantheon, the Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum, and the wonderfully busy Piazza Venezia. We’d seen street performers seemingly floating in thin air and busts of old emperors by the Arch of Titus, with its towering trees of peculiar, almost Truffula-like form. We were ready for a rest. As we walked down the Piazza di Spagna, lined with designer stores, we met the most charming Italian violinist who, noticing our interest, serenaded us with his beautiful rendition of Por una Cabeza, which happens to come from my mother’s favorite movie, Scent of a Woman.

We grabbed some gelato from nearby and plopped down on the steps in true Audrey Hepburn-style. We were soon being shooed off (apparently food is no longer allowed on the steps–too many tourists making a mess!) but we had a grand old time with it. About ready to call it a night, we started making our way off the plaza when a barrage of heart-shaped balloons came bobbing down our way. A surprise proposal! We were thrilled. We joined in the festivities, observing and even singing along to the couples’ friends’ rendition of the Bruno Mars song, Marry You. Yes, my Belles, Rome was magical.

Proposal on the Spanish Steps <3

So, Gelato? Check. Pizza? Check. The perfect Roman Holiday reenactment on the Spanish Steps? Check!

Sure, we didn’t see the Borghese Gardens, the Duomo in Florence, the Barberini Palace with its exquisite interiors seen in Roman Holiday, or the many museums in the area but that’s what a second round is for. After all, this is what dreams are made of, right? 😉

Pope Francis Graffiti


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Halloween Movie Review: IT

Every since American Horror Story started up, for me, Halloween has stopped being about trick or treating and taken on a new shape–one of true horror. This year’s remake release of Stephen King’s IT is exactly the kind of movie to put you in the Halloween mood.

Confront your worst nightmares this month with IT, as a young group of 7 often-bullied high school teens make it their mission to find out why so many kids are disappearing in their small town of Derry. There’s blood, there’s jump scares, and best of all, there is a ton of screaming, Stranger Things edition–Finn Wolfhard from the cast of Stranger Things does another fantastic job in an 80’s throwback movie, screaming for his life. (Speaking of, who’s ready for today’s premiere of Stranger Things 2?! This girl, right here.)

A terrifying clown haunts our screen and the back of our eyelids as it takes on the shape of each person’s worst fears, be they rational or irrational. And because IT transformed from one person’s to another’s so frighteningly accurately, I couldn’t help wondering what mine would be.

I especially enjoyed the dialogue in this movie. It was witty, sarcastic, and on point. Each character was distinct but when the group of outcasts banded together, they didn’t seem awkward with each other. In fact, there were many LOL moments in the movie alongside the jump scares and the more terrifying shots of a dark thing approaching at great speed. A perfect blend, I’d say.

All in all, if you’re looking for a great movie to get you down to Halloweentown, I’d recommend this movie–alongside the more classic throwback Disney hit Halloweentown.

 

Cleveland: Full of History, Full of Hope

I’ve visited Cleveland several times over the years, but I never really saw Cleveland until my last visit. Cleveland has often been viewed as a pock-marked with “bad spots”, especially after the recession of 2008. But the city seems to be coming out of a metaphoric chrysalis as of late. You can really feel the city coming alive around you. To truly capture the essence of Cleveland, you’ve got to visit these places.

1. Algebra Tea House

This is a place where people come to interact and discuss religion and politics and art and poetry and love. Bookshelves line the wall amidst pops of color and hand crafted mugs. This little tea shop was the first non-italian owned shop in Cleveland’s Little Italy district and it has given and received warmth to the community with its tea and friendship.

algebra coffe shop

Everything has a touch of the owner’s hand– chairs, tables, and even the front door is crafted by him and his paintings hang on the walls in bright bursts of color.

2. Superman wasn’t born in Kansas or Iowa… He’s from Cleveland

That’s right! The original superhero, Superman, was conceptualized in a house near Case Western University by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Like any iconic superhero, Superman is like a beacon of hope for mankind, shining bright and believing the best in us. It is fitting that a Man of Steel was born from the Cleveland community as Cleveland is finding its way again.

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The first volume of the Superman series is displayed in comic strip form on the fence surrounding Jerry Siegel’s house

3. Lucky’s Cafe

Craving a little Farm-to-Table action? Lucky’s is the place to be. Tradition and diversity lead the way in their most interesting of flavors. You can have fun with some of their more experimental dishes like the Canoewreck, or you can go with their Forever-Delicious Baked Mac-N-Cheese. Whatever you choose, I guarantee you’ll love it.

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Enjoy their outdoor seating in the warmer months!

4. Any one of the many Polish Catholic churches in the area

Poles came to Cleveland long ago and they brought their unique art form and food with them. Besides their delicious pierogis, some of the most stunning art is depicted in their churches–if you can find someone who works there to tell you the stories behind the different stained glass panels and gold leafed statues, it can be better than a trip to the museum. I personally went to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Parma, OH where the minister walked me through his favorite panels and displays.

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A polish catholic church

5. Rockefeller Park aka Cleveland Cultural Gardens

Last but certainly not least, there’s Cleveland’s little slice of paradise. Cozied up against Lake Erie, I found this little gem on my way to the airport, right at the end of the trip. A string of 26 nationality gardens, the site is unique to Cleveland, with each garden sharing the flavor of its nation in the architecture and landscaping. It holds busts and full statues of notable individuals like Gandhi, Tesla, Curie, Schiller, and Shakespeare.

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Gandhi Statue at Cleveland Cultural Gardens

The theme of the Gardens “Peace through mutual understanding”, and the cultural diversity seen in the gardens stands at the very foundation of Cleveland and is a real joy to explore.


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5 movies on Netflix perfect for a Valentine’s date with your literary lover

Dinner and a movie still make for the best date night. Add that personal, playful touch by arranging it at home. Just in time for your essential Valentine’s Day Netflix-and-chill session, here are 5 movies you can watch while you cuddle up with your lover. Order in a heart-shaped pizza from Papa John’s and the night is set!

  1. Clueless — based on Jane Austen’s Emma
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  2. 10 Things I Hate About You –inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew
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  3. Twilight — pulls from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
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  4. The Princess Bride –of the same name by William Goldman.
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  5. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries– Ok, so this one’s not on Netflix, it’s on Youtube, so cast it to your TV some other way. It’s won a TON of Emmy’s for its brilliant take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. TLBD takes on Austen’s novel in 4-minute Youtube videos, making for a refreshingly relevant take on an all time classic.
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Not feeling like Netflix? Here are a few others you won’t want to miss:

  1. She’s The Man –a hilarious rom com inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
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  2. Warm Bodies –love and zombies? Get some Romeo & Juliet action with this film
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  3. My Fair Lady –Shaw’s Pygmalion has inspired a lot of remakes over the years with Pretty WomanShe’s All That, and Trading Places, but the best and most classically acclaimed rendition is by far Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady
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  4. Easy A–One of Emma Stone’s best jobs, Easy A takes The Scarlet Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to new heights with its glorious high-school version
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Does that make me Crazy? –Sincerely, Hamlet

This Thursday I went to my very first theatre performance that wasn’t held in a school auditorium–it was held in a cinema… lol! The National Theatre Live broadcast of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as young Hamlet, was playing in my local movie theatre and I jumped on the opportunity to watch it. Because, really, what’s better than popcorn and a play?

(Scroll to the end for a message from Benedict Cumberbatch!)

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet

Benedict Cumberbatch is Hamlet

The creative decisions in set design and wardrobe stood out in the play. Both Hamlet and Ophelia were often dressed in Mad Men-era clothing, Ophelia had an old-school SLR strapped to her neck almost the whole length of the play, telephones were often used by the ensemble in the backdrop, and Horatio looked quintessentially hipster all the way through, flaunting his beanie and spider web elbow tattoo. And Gertrude’s dresses!! To die for. Simply stunning.

Classic Shakespearean dress was usually used either in jest or during the play Hamlet holds within the play. Unlike the abominable 1996 screen adaptation Romeo + Juliet, these additions were subtle instead of garish. An interesting but overall appealing visual production.

Now I start raving. Ready?

OMG, I ALMOST DIED AT THE END OF ACT I!! Right before the intermission, Ciarán Hinds as King Claudius makes this bone-rattling speech about his plans for Young Hamlet, how he’s sent him off to England only to be killed on orders from the King. And right at the apex of his speech, before the curtain falls, there’s a loud boom that shakes the room and the stage erupts in what looks like black gunpowder and ash, exploding onto stage from stage right. I thought for sure that the director had deviated from the script and was implying that Claudius had blown up the ship instead of having Hamlet quietly killed. In the world we live in, honestly, it would have been an extremely powerful and relevant adaptation of the murder plot. It would have immediately labeled King Claudius as the ultimate terrorist in our minds. But, alas, ’twas not to be.

End of Act I: Shit goes down

End of Act I: Shit goes down

‘Twas better. When the curtain rose at the beginning of Act II, I couldn’t stop grinning at the pure genius of it all. I had expected the black dust to have been cleaned up and pushed off stage during intermission. Instead, the whole second act was held among mountains and mountains of the stuff. Chairs were haphazardly toppled to the sides as if thrown from the explosion and the cast walked upon the ashes, oblivious to it. The dark debris was a symbol of the shattered state of mind every character is living in through the end of the play. Brilliant. Beautiful. Tragedy. It was perfect.

Okay, now that I’m done raving about that… let’s talk about the acting! I thought I would be fangirling over Benedict Cumberbatch the whole time–and he was brilliant!–but several other characters stood out as well.

Ciarán Hinds as King Claudius was amazing. His repentance attempt is still replaying in my mind; i felt so badly for Hamlet when he decided against killing Claudius in that moment, especially when Hinds delivered the lines “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go”. Sian Brooke’s Ophelia brought me to tears as she wandered off to her death. Her sorrowful song… 😥  However, the resemblance to Zoe Deschanel was so strong that it took me a while to figure out they weren’t one and the same.

Cumberbatch playing with Toy Soldiers

Cumberbatch playing with toy soldiers

Finally, we come to Mr. Cumberbatch. I thought he was over-doing some of his dialogues in the beginning–he would randomly start shouting at the top of his lungs and I couldn’t understand why–but as the play took in its own rhythm, so did he, it seems. Now, I’ve read Hamlet but I never found very much humor in it except for the occasional jab at the dim-witted Polonius. Cumberbatch, however, did a marvelous job of finding humor where I would never have seen it. He had the audience both in theatre and in cinema in an uproar at times. His every monologue was a thing to behold. The desperation in his eyes during “To Be or not To Be”, his rage while delivering his plans for revenge against Claudius while Claudius is kneeling to pray, the aching in his speech of his love for the now-dead Ophelia; the acting feels so true you can see nothing else in those moments. When scenes weren’t as intense though, something I couldn’t help but notice was that he was sweating… A LOT. It was kind of gross. He’d soaked through his shirt halfway through Act I and I’m pretty sure the new shirt he changed into was some crew guy’s from behind the scenes… lol.

As with every new actor’s performance of Hamlet, the question on everyone’s mind is “How will he interpret Hamlet’s state of mind?”. Some argue that the grief of his father’s death caused him to go mad, others choose to believe that he steadily goes mad over the course of the play, and others still argue that it was, as Hamlet tells his mother and friends, all a ruse–that he is perfectly in control of his wits. I think Cumberbatch chooses to leave that question just as vague in his acting as it is in the play. He does this with such skill, though, that the character doesn’t feel incomplete or confused, instead he feels deep. It’s like he says to Guildenstern:

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me. You would seem to know my stops. You would pluck out the heart of my mystery. You would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass. And there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak? ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.

At times Hamlet seems completely in control of himself–mostly seen this way in his monologues with a few exceptions–while other times worries us with strange acts of irrationality. And one will follow the other, there is no steady decline into madness, just enough of a randomness to keep us as involved as the other characters in trying to figure out if he’s gone mad or not. A stellar performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, without a doubt.

Did you catch your city’s showing of Hamlet? If so, what are your thoughts on the end of Act I? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Dear Reader, please donate to http://www.savethechildren.co.uk/hamlet to support the aid efforts of Save The Children for the Syrian refugees. This is a request straight from the mouth of Mr. Cumberbatch, given at the end of the NT Live performance. Thank you.