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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Wearing Winter Well

Attention Belles,
The world’s temperature gauge seems to be on the fritz–snow in Houston? Australia has the hottest day on Earth?
Dallas has been moodier than usual, with 30-degree temperature drops in just under 8 hours. How’s a girl to dress for such volatility without feeling like a woman in menopause? With several years experience in the dry, cold state of Wisconsin–where winter stays for 7 months out of the year–I’ve got the Holy Grail you’re looking for, so keep reading!

1. Hydrate

I bet you didn’t expect this to be the first thing on our list but it is THE MOST IMPORTANT. Beauty stems from the inside out and the best way to look amazing is if your body feels amazing. In case you didn’t know, winter is dry, ladies! Up the amount of water you drink in the day by at least half to compensate for it. A happy, hydrated body shows its gratefulness in your hair by giving you plump, strong roots, and in your skin by keeping it bright and wrinkle-free. My recommendation: Opt for water when you go out for lunch or dinner, and make a transparent water bottle a permanent fixture on your desk at the office. That way, you always know how much water you’ve drunk throughout the day. Check out this sleek bottle from Urban Outfitters or this floral one from JCPenney.

2. Moisturize

Ever look down at your hands and think they look like your grandmother’s? Get yourself some lotion, missy, because your hands are dry! Dry skin doesn’t have the suppleness and elasticity of well-hydrated skin and, left unattended too long, can have painful consequences. Dry skin tends to wrinkle and crack much more easily, leaving scars. The only thing that has proven to effectively prevent signs of aging is moisturizing, so whether it’s your face, hands, back or feet, keep them youthful by applying lotion any time you feel them drying up. I keep a bottle in my car and several in my office so I’m never caught without! An added bonus of this: your makeup will glide on more smoothly and stay on longer without creasing. God-send, am I right? My favorites are the Chloe Love Story, this Stress Relief lotion from Bath & Body Works, and this delightful Lavender and Honey lotion.


Don’t have time for a daily full-body moisturizing session? Try this in-shower moisturizer that I’ve been loving!
Curel Hydra Therapy Wet Skin Moisturizer

3. Tie up your hair

Summer isn’t the only time to wear braids and cute updos. Winter can really suck the life out of our locks, leaving them limp and staticky, so keep them safe from all the static, knots, and split-ends by tying them up. Get creative! Add sparkle and fun with winter-themed hairpins and Elsa-inspired hairdos. Or let subtle metals enhance the elegance of an all-black outfit you’re rocking.
Need ideas? Check out this Youtube channel:
Kayley Melissa

4. Leave-in Conditioner/Hair Masks

Cold winter winds can be harsh and drying on your strands, so do yourself a favor and increase the frequency of your deep-moisturizing hair treatments. You’ll see your hair can look full and fabulous all winter long if you give it the care and love it needs.
The Macademia Nourishing Moisture Masque and the It’s a Ten Miracle Leave-In product leave my hair silky, full, and shiny every time.

5. Think Layers!

Staying warm and cozy is key in the winter, right? But how do we dress in layers without looking like a bulky marshmallow? One word: Cashmere. I highly recommend investing in a few cashmere sweaters of varying length to be worn over tanks, shirts, or even other sweaters! Stylish warmth isn’t an oxymoron when you’ve got these great pieces in your closet to mix and match.
Try this, this, or this beautiful design.

6. The Right Jacket for the Temperature

Frozen may be a great movie, but it’s not a cute look. What most people don’t realize is that jackets come with a temperature range. You wouldn’t wear a puffer jacket in the sweltering summer heat, would you? You shouldn’t wear a peacoat on windy, 30-degree days either.
– Temperatures in the 50s call for shorts! Psych! But I’ve seen that happen in Wisconsin, so don’t laugh too hard. But most light jackets like this faux fur leopard print coat or this chic, army green moto jacket work well in this weather.


– If you’re dealing with temps in the 40s or even upper 30s, a quality, wool peacoat like this one, a scarf and some gloves will get you through, nice and toasty–just remember to layer inside too! Check out this Burberry duffle coat, this Alpaca number, or this beautiful woolen parka.

– Temperatures in the 30s or lower call for some kind of feather down material. That doesn’t mean it needs to be puffy. Check out this sleek, quilted coat from Eddie Bauer! They’ve got many more, but this was my favorite.

Quilted Parka.PNG

 

Stay Warm, Belles.

Is Your House a “Trick” or *Treat*?

 

Post by: MyFairLady

OH, yes! Halloween! It’s that time of the year again, when you wake up to crisp cold mornings, oversized sweaters, pumpkin spiced lattes and well… outdoor decorations. There are essentially two types of Halloween decorations you see on the streets these days: the aspiring haunted house and the autumnal beauty, quite literally “Trick or Treat”.

Here are a few tips and ideas on how you can dress up your residence for the season.

BETTING ON A TRICK

Keeping It Simple

When on a small budget, the best thing to do is stick to one kind of scare feature! Sometimes subtlety is what makes the scare POP! Just pick what you think to be the scariest feature (skeletons, spiders, ghosts, ghouls, or even creepy pumpkins) and place it all over and around your residence. The effect is quite incredible.

 

Jump Scares

Sometimes the best scare is the one that comes at you unexpectedly and ends up giving you a mini heart attack! The genius behind this idea is making sure the scare is optimally hidden just long enough to allow for a jump scare. You can use human sized props and dress them to look like someone is standing by the door, or you can darken the front step and project screams and yells out of the front windows, or you can simply flicker the front porch lights when trick-o-treaters come by the house. Use the dark to your advantage.

Halloween Overload

This last idea is for those of us who like a bit of everything.  These are the homes where you will see a carnival of scares! Usually you don’t need a particular idea for this. All it involves is…well…EVERYTHING! From spider webs, to witches, flickering lights to skeletons, scarecrows and black cats, it basically looks like a Halloween ghoul party in your front lawn!

BETTING ON A TREAT

Warm colors

Beauty is the theme here, choosing fall flowers and colors to accent and highlight the season all over your front lawn can make the home feel rustic, and beautiful. Warm colors like maroons, oranges, yellows, reds, and dark greens all mix well to present a beautiful autumnal scene on your front lawn. You can even incorporate a cute scarecrow or corn stalks and pumpkins to add a little personality to the decoration.

 

MyFairLady is the latest addition to the Belles & Books writing team, so of course she’s an avid reader  ^_^ .  She’s a surgeon with a quirky side.  An ‘artsy fartsy’ mommy-to-be, she’ll be writing about design, decor, and DIY.  In her free time she indulges in new food finds around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. 

Around the world, around the world…

Hey readers,

You may have noticed I flew around a lot this past year. That’s because I’ve been diagnosed with chronic travel bug. Since our trip to Pakistan last year, the FamJam has been itching for more and this year the symptoms are showing.

Since January, I’ve been to Chicago twice, Cleveland once, and to the great country of Turkey for the first time ever! The fun hasn’t stopped there either. My cousin got married this year too so we jetted off to Karachi again this summer (the heat. Oh God.) for 2 weeks (!!) to take part in the festivities. And this winter, I did a fun little road trip from Chicago to Toronto with the broski cuz bonding 💯. There was lots of color and to-die-for food that are just absolute must-have experiences. So, I’ve decided to add a few travel posts to the site. Expect one for Karachi, Chicago, and Istanbul in the next few months. I’ve got a hunch that I’m going to be adding a few cities to the list this year. 😉

Stay tunes, Belles!

Wedding withdrawals

Hey readers,

Some of you may know from my Instagram feed that my sister got married last August. The bride and beau looked amazing, the food was divine (so I heard–didn’t get to eat any of it), and the bridal shower was a hit. Naturally, being the sister without kids or law school responsibilities, I took on the brunt of the pre-wedding festivity planning and execution.

I couldn’t have done it without my best friends, to whom I am forever grateful. Especially because I was also a bridesmaid in one of my close friends’ bridal party and she was getting married the week before! I have to give a shout out to Pinterest, too. I would have been completely lost if it weren’t for that blessed site. The bridal shower wouldn’t have turned out as beautiful as it did.

Best part of this whole post? The photographer’s album has arrived! Feast your eyes on an American-Desi wedding, readers. Enjoy!

All photos courtesy of Texpertz Photography

Go Set a Watchman

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Harper Lee’s second, and last novel Go Set A Watchman was received with mixed reviews by the critics. My favorite part had to be what made others cringe the most. The complete deconstruction of the one character most near and dear to our hearts, Atticus Finch. Over time, Atticus has become the epitome of a great father and a just and fair lawyer. Lee takes this man who so many have put on a pedestal, and through Scout’s eyes, bring that pedestal crashing down on all of us.

Just like Scout, we had to come to terms with the fact that no man, not even Atticus Finch, is perfectly just, perfectly good. To hold anyone on a pedestal like that is a form of worship, not admiration, and worshiping humans is a dangerous thing.

While I, ever the cynical one, could see the “fall from grace” a long time coming, it took Uncle Jack’s unnervingly winding conversations with her to get her to realize that it’s OK. Everyone has their own opinions and they may be right, they may be wrong, or they may just be different from your own, but that does not mean you have to cut them out of your life for having those opinions. You choose the battles you fight. You don’t choose the battles for you likelihood of winning, you choose them for the benefit of those voiceless whom you choose to represent.

Interestingly enough, Lee’s novel was released amidst intense controversy over the Confederate flag & several celebrated pro-slave historical statues around the USA. A considerable piece of that argument had to do with why the Civil War even happened. Was it just to preserve slavery? Or was there another reason that so many in the South chose to fight and die by the swords of their brothers in the North?

While the country fought over whether these symbols were actively encouraging acts of racism and discrimination or simply relics of the Civil War and Southern Pride, Scout Finch and Uncle Jack fought over the after-effects of the South losing that war and the reality that Atticus was NOT color-blind as Scout claims to be. I must admit, while at first, I strongly sided with those calling for the removal of the Confederate flag and statues from their government building, after reading Go Set A Watchman, I really understood the other side’s argument–or what it should have been, anyways.

I agree with the critics, it will not be a classic like To Kill A Mockingbird. But it was one hell of a good read.

The Benefits of #FancyFriday

You all know how much I despise the term “Casual Friday”. I like to think of Fridays as a day to dress your best, since it’s the start of the weekend, and we all know trekking through the last day before the weekend can be a struggle. I like to kick off the weekend in style, hence Fancy Fridays was born. Plus, it’s Jummah, so, we’re kind of expected to do that… 🙂

Well, a couple Fridays ago, I was doing just that. I had found my latest Pinterest inspo and took the time to wake up early, do my hair and my makeup, iron my clothes (I know, I’m proud of myself when I do that too 😉 lol) and I set off to work. I was dressed in black, head to toe in a fancy little jumpsuit ❤ and I walk in to find that my teammates are dressed the same! We looked fantastic, let me tell you.

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My Pinterest Inspiration

People kept asking if we’d planned out our looks together and one of my co-workers said, “No, we’re dressed like this because we’re going to a client meeting. But Zahra looks like she could be going too…” And hen it happened. It was like a light bulb went off in her head. “Actually, Zahra, I think it would be good if you did come!”

Before she’d even posed the question, I had confirmed that yes, I would most certainly love to come. 😀 And just like that, I was part of an intimate, face-to-face meeting with the client. I was learning new things and getting insight into strategies that would effect multiple campaigns to come! So, ladies and gentlemen, THAT is how Fancy Friday got me into my first client meeting.

The End.