Passport to Paris

UGH the jet lag is real…. I think it’s finally starting to set in as I’m writing this! This past week I had an incredible opportunity to travel to Paris for a long weekend getaway. Now that I’m back I’m trying to do everything I can to get back to a functional routine and writing this post seems like the perfect way to start! 

This entire trip starts with a tremendous story. One night, shortly after Thanksgiving, I received a text from a good friend of mine in LA saying she found round trip tickets to Paris for quite literally an unbelievable price (round trip from LAX for less than $400, cheaper than a flight home to Iowa!) My friend then proceeded to ask, “Who wants to go with?” Being that the trip would only be a few weeks away and having to hastily decide in order to take advantage of flight prices made me both incredibly nervous and extremely tempted. I began to think my way through the logical steps.  First, check the bank account and then check the amount of PTO I’ve acquired. Next, I make a phone call to my mom fully expecting her to be the practical one and reel my crazy thoughts back in (as one does when they call their mom in moments like this.) However, much to my surprise that wasn’t her response at all. It was actually something along the lines of When are you going to have this opportunity again?”  So true… 

Hearing her say that, I knew my mind was already made up! So, I went home and booked a round trip ticket–there was no turning back! A few days later 6 women in total (many of us having never met before) had booked their tickets and started planning the trip of a lifetime! 

First night in Paris at the Eiffel Tower

Many people I’ve talked to have said they only spent a few days in Paris and that that was enough. After having been now, I can attest to that! We arrived in Paris late Thursday afternoon and left Tuesday afternoon arriving back in LAX Tuesday evening. (Time changes will always be confusing.) Four and a half days was perfect in my opinion! It was enough time to see the city and cross majority of the things off my list without feeling too rushed. By the end, I was exhausted and ready to return home. 

Next we had to find a place to stay! After looking into hotels, hostels and Air BnBs, considering there was six of us, Air BnB seemed like the best option! Paris is divided into different districts and with help from a friend of a friend going on the trip, we had the best insight into the perfect locations. We ended up staying in 2, from which everything was perfectly walkable. Contrary to popular believe, the Eiffel Tower is actually not centrally located so when planning your trip, you may consider staying in a more central neighborhood like we did. My favorite thing about Paris is how easy it is to get around. Whether you want to walk, take the subway, or Uber, all options are readily available and easy to navigate even if you don’t speak any French! 

Like most major European cities, I’ve noticed so far, you can get by with only speaking English. However, it’s always important to me to at least try and speak the language when interacting in public at a restaurant for example No matter where you’re traveling to, I challenge you to at least prepare a few words such as…

  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Yes/No
  • Thank you 
  • Sorry
  • Excuse me
  • Bathroom 
  • Check/Bill

I attempted to learn a little French before I left using a free app called Duo Lingo! Although it was helpful to learn some phrases, it’s important to practice consistently in order to retain any of it… I wasn’t very diligent and realized all I could remember was how to say “cat” and needless to say, that didn’t come up in conversation very often.

When I travel, I’m just as much about seeing all the sights and main tourist attractions as I am about finding happy accidents and things off the beaten path. One of my favorite ways to get acquainted with a new city though, is to take a hop on/hop off bus tour. It’s an affordable way to make it to all the main attractions in a city in a short amount of time. It also always helps me to get the lay of the land and realize where things are at in relation to another and not to mention its essentially “free” transportation that you would have paid for to get around anyway! Tours like this are offered in most major cities in the US and Europe. My favorite has always been City Sightseeing or Big Bus tours! We got a two-day pass that included two different bus routes as well as a river boat tour. 

My favorite path less traveled spots included the covered passageways that have been transformed into little shops and restraunts. I also fell in love with the small vendor booths known as Riverside Bouquinistes, that line the river around Notre Dame and contain collections of old prints and books as well as other trinkets and paper goods.

Paris being the city of love was the perfect place to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Although not with our loved ones and out on a girl’s trip, we still made sure to celebrate. We went to an amazing restaurant, Matignon (located in 8, an area equivalent to Rodeo Drive or the Upper East Side). It was surely a group date even the Bachelor would have approved of! Afterwards we hit the town for a night out and wound up at a Spanish inspired spot complete with Latin music and dancing. The whole night scene was lively with places that stay open all hours of the night. There was a lot of influence from other cultures depending on the bar, so there’s no reason to not come across an Irish Pub that feels too close to home or a place that feels so foreign you don’t know where to start! 

Arguably the best part of traveling has to be trying all the food! Part of the fun of it for me is ordering but not always knowing what you’re going to get! France is no exception! The bread is outstanding, the desserts are worth every bite, the onion soup is unbelievable… but my favorite French cuisine has to be steak and pommes frites (French Fries) What an unexpected pair but man is it good. 

On our last night I treated myself out to a restaurant that came highly recommended, le Relais de l’Entrecote. Not only is it delicious but it’s a genius business idea, really! It’s a beautiful, higher end restaurant that you’ll most likely have a wait to get seated (but it’s totally worth it.) Once you sit down you can order a drink but there’s really no menu. The entire place only serves one thing- steak and frites. I got a wonderful glass of red wine and was then treated to a side salad and baguette while I waited for the main course. The waitress then brings the steak and fries from the kitchen, takes them over to a serving station and then prepares the plate for you. (I sat right next to her station, so I got a first-row seat at how it’s done.) She brings you ½ your steak covered in a sauce that’s a cross between au jus and a very subtle pesto along with an order of fries. Meanwhile the other ½ of your steak is covered and resting on a heated tray and when you’re ready she’ll bring a fresh order of fries straight from the kitchen and the other ½ of your steak… two meals for the price of one! Then if you’re really looking for the whole experience, you can select from the extensive and incredible dessert menu (which I couldn’t read a single thing.) I let the waitress pick for me and wound up getting the most incredible two-part chocolate cake (one half is like a brownie and the other a fudgy, very rich flourless cake topped with mint whipped cream.) I left there having never felt so full and got all that for $40 dollars. 

Getting the money shot with your 7 euro cappuccino… priceless

That being said… Paris was actually way more expensive than I thought especially compared to other places like Rome. A double espresso shot would be 5 euros when I could have just got a Starbucks cappuccino at home for cheaper… still it seemed worth it. Overall, it was very comparable to the prices we pay in LA (very expensive to drink cocktails and dinner is typically in the $25-$35-dollar range.)

 Something else that reminds me of LA, the traffic. Although it’s not as densely populated with cars, 15 miles can take you an hour to drive. For example, I always thought Versailles was much further away but when we looked it up, it was only about 15 miles from where we were staying but it’d take over an hour to get there by car. We ended up taking the train all the way there and it couldn’t have been easier! 45 minutes and $3 later we found ourselves standing outside the Palace of Versailles, one of the places I’ve always dreamed about visiting since studying it in Art History classes in college. This was my favorite place we went to during our trip! The palace itself was a little underwhelming but the palace grounds were spectacular, even during off season. I loooooved visiting the Estate of Trianon (something I didn’t even know existed) and I’m now convinced my dream house will resemble Marie Antoinette’s Queen’s Hamlet. You could spend days walking through these parks and still never see it all and if your feet are too tired to go on you can always rent a bike or golf cart to zip around! I would love to go back sometime in the late spring, early summer and see everything in bloom and fully landscaped!

Overall, I’m so glad pulled the trigger and went. It taught me that not everything in life has to be planned and well thought out.  Sometimes just taking a risk can pay off in ways you never even dreamed of. Seeing the world, experiencing history firsthand and learning about other cultures makes traveling so worth it and so important to me. I hope everyone has a chance to explore new places and see the things they’ve dreamed of in real life. 

Cars, Castles & Clesi

I’ve taken a little hiatus these past few weeks, because I have a special visitor staying with me this summer! He’s in LA for the Summer for an internship and between that, my work, and getting adjusted to each other’s lifestyles, we’re staying very busy. We have managed to have some fun since he got here a little over a month ago and I’ll continue to post on Instagram and Facebook our various adventures.

Two weeks ago, we even made time for a little weekend getaway and headed up north for the weekend. I’m excited to share the details of our trip and would highly recommend that you take your own version of this mini road trip. Whether you need a weekend getaway driving distance from LA or the Bay Area or whether you’re looking for a unique, small-town vibe vacation to California. Our trip started in LA and headed north to Paso Robles, Cambria, San Simeon, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbra. There are plenty of other places on the way so if you have any recommendations or you’ve already done something similar, please let me know in the comments below!

Friday:

The whole idea for this trip started when we we’re invited to a family friend’s graduation party from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo (SLO.) We left Friday evening once we both got off work. Around 6:00 pm we hit the road and it took us about 3 hours to hit San Luis Obispo where we stopped for dinner at Woodstock pizza! (Would highly recommend loading up on your favorite toppings and creating your own personal size pizza!) Even at night, we could tell San Luis Obispo was going to be something special, but we were saving that for Sunday.

As you can imagine on graduation weekend, a lot of the hotels were incredibly expensive in the area and even affordable Air BNBs were hard to come by. We ended up booking a wonderful Air BNB in Paso Robles just another 30 minutes from SLO. (Our Air BNB was perfect, and I would highly for one or two people, and I would be happy to pass on that info as needed! Let me know!)

Saturday:

The next day we started semi-early with an incredible breakfast in the Paso Robles town square at a café called Andrea’s on Pine. Most of their menu is new every day and cooked fresh that morning. So be prepared to remember a long special list and try something original that is sure to impress. (We split a strawberry lemon coffee cake. Emory had a berry French toast bake and I had the best quiche I’ve ever had!) Following breakfast, we took a little stroll around the square and walked through the little farmers market.

Then we set out in destination of the Hearst castle however, along the way we passed the charming town of Cambria and we quickly decided to make a detour. The Cambria Lions Club was hosting a car show and chilly cook off. The whole town seemed to be out and about, and we went around to some shops and got to know some of the locals.

From Cambria we then made our way to the Hearst Castle.  We knew we were getting close when the coast came back into view and the pasture was filled with not only cattle, but also Zebras! (Yes Zebras! Not something you see every day that is for sure.) I had had many people recommend that we stop by the Hearst Castle and I think Emory and I would both agree it worth it and should be at the top of your list!

The Hearst Castle created and originally owned by William Hearst, or Hearst Publishing. Although, it’s not technically a castle —it might as well be and it’s easy to see how it got the name. Part of the property including the main house has been donated to the State of California and is now recognized as a state park. During your visit, you can select from a number of different tours. Emory and I did the Great Rooms tour (the standard tour) and it took about 2 hours total (1 hour for the tour and the travel time to get to the top of the hill) We chose not to book our tickets a head of time for a few reasons:

  • We didn’t want to be rushed and miss our reservation
  • They charge a steep online reservation fee of $8 per ticket
  • You can look up how many tickets are still available online (which there were plenty of at the times we wanted to go.

The Grand Rooms Tour takes you through the main property showing you the most famous common rooms. Between the architecture and the priceless artwork collections that includes Egyptian era statues and 15th & 16th Century tapestry and paintings you feel as though you might as well be in a classical European Castle once inside. After the tour you’re allowed to explore the grounds of the property as much as you’d like so Emory and I probably spent another hour taking pictures and taking in the views.

With a little time to spare still, we made our way to San Simeon just down the road to see the Elephant Seals. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and most of the seals were beached and napping. Some went for a swim, some got into arguments with one another but most just laid there throwing sand on themselves. Regardless it was pretty incredible to see, and I could have stayed there a lot longer especially if they were more active, but we had to get back for the graduation party.

The party took place at Clesi Wines, a smaller winery in Templeton (about halfway between Paso Robles and SLO.) We tasted a variety of the wines (all of which were delicious) and spent the evening catching up with friends and challenging one another to competitive games of bean bags. This area of California is quickly becoming known for its wine and with over 400 wineries is even considered the “New Napa” to some. It’s definitely on my list of places to come back to whether with Emory, my family, or even for a girls get away! I would love to spend more time wine tasting but with that many to choose from, how would you ever?!

Sunday:

After a generous amount of wine, the night before, we slowly made our way to San Lui Obispo again to begin our adventure back. For breakfast we wanted something a little heartier and more familiar and decided to stop at one of our favorite guilty pleasures, IHOP. Let me say—that was a mistake! While they got us right in despite being very busy for Father’s Day… it was the worst IHOP experience we’ve ever had… Oh well we left with full stomachs in the end and that was the primary goal. Also, the IHOP is located close to the Madonna Inn (which is my dream hotel for a girl’s trip see why here.)

Next, we headed to down town SLO and walked around to various boutiques and shops. We stopped by the San Luis Obispo Mission and walked down the little “river” walk. Of course, it’s not a trip to SLO if you don’t stop and partake in the grossest tradition there is—the bubble gum alley. People come from everywhere and add their blob of gum to the wall. Watch where you step and don’t back up too far whatever you do!

Getting back on the road we took a route that took us through the Los Padres National Forest stopping along the way at various look out points and taking some mini hikes to stretch our legs! It was really the most beautiful day outside, but I was amazed at how we went in and out of the clouds while going up and down the mountains.

The last stop on the list was Santa Barbra (which looked nothing like the Santa Barbra I remembered when I visited with my family a few years ago.) We stopped by a few shops and had to try some famous McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream. The dairy-free flavors for me and the Cornbread Cookie and Honey flavor for Emory was worth the 45-minute line-out-the-door-wait. Then we had the pleasure of battling traffic the 2 hours back to LA.

The trip was truly a wonderful experience and I’m so glad we decided to go. Like I said I can’t wait to go back and would love to know if there’s anything we missed that you’d suggest for next time? Have you ever been to any of these places before? Of the places we went, which would you most like to go to yourself? Comment below!

All About Art

heros-Recovered

IMG_7368You know…? I’m all about the art! I always have been. You name it, movies, television, music, theater, but mostly visual arts from crafting and sewing to basically anything that allows you to make something out of nothing (except for baking that is, I’m still working on how to do that successfully.) 

I’ve always been a creative person!  I don’t know that it was ever a conscious decision to pursue art but more so that I was always taking small steps that would lead me down that road. In fact, it wasn’t until my final years of high school that I even found graphic design and digital design. I did, however, know I needed a job that would allow me to be creative, think outside the box and provide a lot of variety.  I remember in fourth grade for career day all the girls were dressed up as teachers and nurses while all the boys wanted to be famous athletes and scientist. Me on the other hand, I showed up with a mood board (complete with fabric and paint swatches) and rendered drawings of a dream house because I wanted to have my own HGTV show one day.  (Sharing my ideas on a blog and social media is the next best thing to having my own tv show these days!)

So, I’ve always felt a connection with art, creativity, and other artists BUT I know that’s not the case for everyone. If you think art museums and exhibits sound boring, well keep reading because I’m writing this blog for you whether you think you’ll like it or not!  This week I’m here to offer up ways you can bring art into your own life in a fun and approachable way that works for you! Just stay with me…

Trust me, I get it! There was a time growing up that I thought visiting an art museum sounded like torture (I was probably five, but that’s not the point.)  In our culture, art museums sometimes get a “tricky” reputation.  They’re often thought of as being too prestigious, upper class, for people that have a higher education level and a big wallet… this is no longer the case and, in some places, it’s actually the exact opposite. Art and society generally follow suit with one another.  With the way our world is changing right now and growing to have a more open understand of other people, cultures, and lifestyles the art community is too.

I didn’t fully begin to appreciate art history and museums until I got to college.  Until then, I just like to make things and create my own art and not put much thought into it.  As part of my degree requirements I had to take a number of art history classes. I knew going into these classes that it’d be hard.  I knew art history meant learning hundreds of different dates and movements, learning words from other languages, and having to spell things like baroque and cubism and also be able to tell you what those words mean.  Don’t get me wrong-it was hard, and it could also be incredibly confusing at times.  Surprisingly though, my art history classes became some of my favorites (even despite they’re early start times and that they met on Fridays.)  Art history changed my life and outlook on art completely. It opened my mind up and changed my college experience for the better.

Art history classes taught me about other cultures, religions, and history that I hadn’t otherwise really been exposed to. It encouraged me to travel the world and look to the past to understand other people and traditions. It gave me a further appreciation and understanding for things that came and existed before me as well as for the things that will outlive me.  Now every time I step foot in an art museum, I’m reminded of all of these things.

I have been incredibly blessed to be able to travel around the world and our country.  In some cases, I was even fortunate enough to get to see the paintings, sculptures, or buildings that I’ve studied in real life. There’s nothing that can describe the feeling I get when I turn around a corner in a museum and find myself standing face to face with the statue of David or gazing into Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I literally lose my breath and just try to take it all in. Now, I don’t expect everyone to have the same reaction or get as much out of it as I do, but you may just surprise yourself.

Another stereotype closely related to the art world is you have to be rich to see it, to travel to it, or to have it in your home… all of this-not true.  Whether in a large metropolitan area or a smaller suburban or rural town, art is all around you and I guarantee you can find it if you’re willing to look. If you don’t believe me, the first place I’d start looking in your area is a local college campus.  They’ve got to have something going on whether it’s a student show or a private collection of work in a gallery it could be worth your while to look into it.  If you find yourself somewhere like New York, don’t let the prices scare you!  A lot of the museums offer different discounts and pricing options, some even take donations rather than set a strict ticket price.

Once you find one and once you get in, then what? What do you look at? How long are you supposed to look at things? What all are you supposed to read?  What if I don’t get it? 

These are ALL valid questions and my answer to all of them is to stop worrying and do what feels right. Other than being quiet and not running sprints down the hallway, there’s not much “right” or “wrong” to an art museum.

IMG_4170If you aren’t drawn to something right away (or if you think it’s absolutely horrible and don’t understand it as I first felt with abstract art and work by Matisse) I challenge you to just take a brief moment to ask yourself, why don’t I like this piece?  Your answer could surprise you and even lead your mind down a rabbit hole to discover something new… but if it doesn’t ring any bells or take you on a journey then on to the next one I say.

I guarantee when you visit a museum, you’re going to see a lot of art that you’d never want to hang on your wall or put in your house (but that’s why it’s hanging a museum and not over your mantel)  The point is you came to this place, you saw the things, you thought about it, and it gave you a reaction (that reaction could be “wow this is amazing” or “this is horrible.”)  An artist’s most basic goal though, is to get a reaction… might not be the one they had in mind but none the less, they just want to shake up something in you. Try your best to keep an open mind and give it a chance.

Believe it or not museums aren’t just paintings hung on walls these days.  There’s actually a lot of artist that are trying to change the traditional “museum” experience and setting AND there’s a lot more work and thought that goes into it than you’d think.  I myself got to explore and experience this logic myself when I created and curated my first show, Married to my Work.  It was my goal to break these art and museum stereotypes and create a space that was welcoming, memorable, and encouraged you to get involved and play a part in the art. (To read more about my own art show click here: Married to My Work.)

This idea of creating a welcome space is popping up everywhere and LA has some of the greatest examples.  If a traditional museum still isn’t speaking to you then find yourself a pop-up exhibit. One of my favorite shows I’ve ever been to was a collection of work for a lot of different artists that transformed a warehouse into an immersive experience in the middle of LA called the 14th Factory organized by artist, Simon Birch(You may remember or feel like you’ve heard about it because one of the installations was knocked over by a girl taking a selfie resulting in thousands of dollars in damage… let’s take a moment to feel for her though, because I was almost that girl.  No, I wasn’t taking a selfie, but my bag did bump one of the pedestals in that same exhibit and almost knocked them over like dominos, but I was able to catch it and steady it in time…still gives me anxiety thinking about it though.)

Another, more pop-culture based exhibit is The Museum of Selfies (where a lot of my pictures have been from lately.)  This museum did aim to teach you a thing or two and not just how to take a good selfie, but it’s main purpose was to allow you to interact with different scenes and from there create your own art with your selfie.

IMG_0872Most recently my team at Florapy also attended a pop-up art show in LA called Bloom Art Show.  It was an outdoor, weekend event that was all about flowers and experiencing the beauty of nature.

See… there are so many different ways to experience art!  Change, breaking out of your comfort zone, try new things, do something different… all key parts to an art museum as well as my goals of this blog.  I’m learning from my experiences and pushing my limits with the hope that my readers will too.  I challenge all of you who have made it through this lengthy post to keep pushing your boundaries (whatever that may mean to you!) If you go to any cool museums or exhibits OR if there’s any you’d like me to check out, let me know! You know me, always looking for suggestions. If you’d like to see more of my own art and designs, visit designforthestory.com, @designforthestory on Instagram, OR just simply click the Art Work tab above!