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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Houston: Letting Life In

Ah, Houston. The city where zoning is a myth and flash flooding is a regular occurrence. I think that adds to the charm of the city, though. The greatest thing about Houston is you never know what fabulous hole-in-the-wall restaurant you might find just around the corner. Being 45 minutes from the Gulf and always booked with great concerts, it’s a fantastic place to spend Spring Break too! But most importantly, Houston doesn’t shy away from nature– it welcomes it into the city. 

1. Cockrell Butterfly Center

Houston is hot in the summer, but nothing beats the heat and humidity of a rainforest in the middle of the city! Get up close and personal with hundreds of bright, beautiful butterflies at the Butterfly Conservatory. Stay really still and you may get lucky and have one land on you. This is one magical experience you don’t want to miss. Snapchat filters have nothing on the real deal.

Cockrell Butterfly Center-- Houston TX

Butterflies flutter around every plant inside the Houston center, tickling passersby with their feathery wings

2. Phoenicia

A mouth-watering bite of gyro sets me off to high places and no place makes it better than Phoenicia. Dare I say it: Better than Halal Guys 🙊

Everything is made right in front of you and it comes to you hot, fresh and juicy.  So if you’re taking in the sights downtown and feel a little rumble in the stomach, get yourself some. You’re welcome.

3. Downtown Aquarium

Talk about bringing nature to your doorstep! This aquarium is amazing. That’s all I’m going to say. You have to see it to believe it. )

The restaurant next door. Make sure to get the Fish n Chips 😜

3. Rice Village

Looking for something a pittle more high street while on your vacay? Take a stroll down the streets of Rice village. With tons of great shopping to be done and the cutest cupcake place youve ever seen, there’s plenty you can do, including an impromptu picnic on Rice University’s campus lawns. But if you’re not in the mood to get your knees dirty,  there are several other delicious restaurants within walking distance, including my favorite Turkish place, Pastas.

A delicious yogurt and eggplant dish at Pasha’s in Rice Village

4. Kemah Boardwall

Lastly, what’s better than a never ending carnival? Take in the cool boardwalk breeze and catch an amusement park ride or two with your sweetheart. You csn see this place off the highway and its always open. Enjoy the lights, the skyline, and Texas’s specialty– deep-fried ANYTHING.

Chicago: Experience Things Differently

There are two things about the Windy City you need to know: the wind keeps blowing and the people keep smiling. Seriously, the people are so nice! And Chicago is all about YOU. In every facet of its being, the city reaches out to interact with you, so dive in and experience city life differently with these 5 ways to spend a week in the Windy City.

1. Dine with Death

What’s Chicago’s take on the classic “dinner-and -a-show”? They make dinner part of  the show! After all, nothing adds flavor to a delicious 4-course meal like murder. My brother and I went to The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Show at the Knickerbocker Hotel (how fantastic is that name?!) a few months back and had a blast. The actors in this whodunnit were exceptionally interactive and had us all looking like the cry-laugh emoji by the end.

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That’s not an actor… 🙂

Shows can be a bit pricey so make sure to check Groupon for discounts!

2. Play some Volleyball on Lake Shore Drive

When the sun’s out and the temperature’s over 60, you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be someone playing beach volleyball on Lake Shore. Swing by for a pick-up game or bring a picnic basket and enjoy the gorgeous view. With Lake Michigan on one side and the beautiful Chicago skyline on the other, who could ask for anything more?

chicago volleyball

3. Go undercover at SafeHouse Chicago

The name’s Bond. James Bond. Transform into a secret agent and dine the way they do. Brand new to the city’s restaurant scene, it opened this January, SafeHouse Chicago brings you into a world of espionage and danger so beware of double agents! From the moment you walk in (it’s the red door), to the time you make your getaway, you’ll be in the world of Bond, Agent 99, and Agent K.

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An authentic piece of history:  A piece of the Berlin wall that came crashing down on Nov 7, 1989

 

So put on a swanky suit, take on a secret agent name and make your way to the SafeHouse for a terrific night. And don’t forget to get your cocktails shaken, not stirred. 😉

4. Laugh your butt off at Second City or grab a seat at a local play

This is the city that brought us some of the best SNL talent and of course, the fabulous musical Chicago! Comedy and drama are kind of their thing. Seats are hard to come by as shows are bought out months in advance, so if you can’t get in, don’t fret. Chicago’s got plenty to entertain you. Every one is different but there’s lots of experimentation going on with user experience in smaller, local productions. I sat in on a one-woman play once where we, the audience, were bystanders trapped in a room with the character in one instant, and in another instant, we were accused of being part of the angry mob outside, the cause of the woman’s conflict.

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5. Pizza, Dogs, and Chocolate Cake Shake: The Trifecta

New York has Halal Guys, Chicago has Portillo’s. Portillo’s brings you the best of Chicago–hot dogs and the Masterful Chocolate Cake Shake. It’s literally a giant slice of chocolate cake blended into a gigantic chocolate shake. Bring a few friends to split the sweet. You can thank me later.

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For some delicious Chicago-style deep dish try Lou Malnati’s or Giovanni’s or venture into the side streets for something a little less touristy.

There’s always more to do in Chicago and the outer cities so go out and explore one of my favorite cities in the world.  ♥


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