Flashback Friday – Paris

Wow I can’t believe it’s Friday already. Somehow the weeks are flying or is it just me? This week’s Flashback Friday is being dedicated to the city of love, good ‘ole Paris. 

If I had to trace back my love for travel it leads me to a trip to Paris when I was 16. My mom had a business trip and my grandma and I tagged along. This was my first real trip if you exclude a couple of trips to Disney, the Jersey shore, or a cruise (which I do). It was my first time being in a new country, new culture, new language, etc. Not to mention it was freaken Paris! It’s pretty much one of the most glamourized cities in popular culture. I couldn’t wait to go. Our trip was in the fall so it was rather gray, cold, and gloomy the entire time. This trip was over a decade ago so traveling back then looked a lot different than it does today. We didn’t have smart phones and unlimited data to look up directions, translations, or recommendations. I do recall it being a little tricky to find places to eat (which sounds absolutely ridiculous nowadays). At the end of the trip I had decided I loved traveling and being in a foreign country, but I hated Paris. This was a harsh and disappointing revelation for a dramatic 16 year old. I was supposed to love the city of love!! I decide that the weather played a large role in this and that I would have to come back in spring or summer to see Paris in all it’s glory. 

I would get that chance to give Paris another shot a little over 5 years ago. My best friend was living in Paris and I surprised her with a visit with two of my other friends from college. The trip overall was super fun because who wouldn’t love traveling around with three of your best friends?! And admittedly, I did like Paris significantly more than the first time around, but I wasn’t sold on it. Truth be told it reminds me a lot of NYC, but with more impressive architecture and you get cat called in French instead of English. 

I would say to this day Paris isn’t my favorite city and it’s totally overrated. That being said, it is an easy city to get acquainted with traveling and a good starting point for first time travelers. Walking around a random street and looking up and seeing the Eiffel Tower is pretty awe-inspiring. I’ll be honest though because as much and I didn’t love Paris on either trip, I still do get an urge to go back randomly especially when craving a croissant. It’s so strange – I guess there is something that always draws you back in. Paris is the only part of France I’ve been in and when I get back I plan on exploring further and going to Southern France. 

There are so many resources on Paris, and the perfect “How To Paris Guide” doesn’t exist because it all depends on your ideal vacation. I will highlight my personal favorites below:

Champs-Élysées

The iconic Champs-Élysées is every girl’s dream come true. If you aren’t interested in shopping you can window-shop or people watch over a coffee. If you do want to snag some French or European goods the currency conversion and tax back offers make them less expensive than in the States. On my second trip we stayed in a hotel near Champs-Élysées and it was the best location. 

Sainte-Chapelle

Sightseeing and hitting up all the well known, iconic sites is a must. However, in the midst of your planning you may overlook going to Sainte-Chapelle, which would be tragic. This is one of the most beautiful chapels in the world. Constructed in the 13th century the chapel contains largest and oldest collection of original stained glass windows. It’s truly a gem on the Seine. 

Seine River Cruise

Speaking of the Seine, taking a boat tour on the river is a great way to see the city’s iconic sites from a different point of view. I would choose a boat tour over a walking tour any day in Paris. If boats aren’t your thing at least take a stroll down the Seine, just don’t pull a Madeline

Picnic at Sacré-Coeur

Seeing the inside of the Basilica is magnificent and most likely on your bucket list, however, take some time before or after to sit on the green lawn. It’s a popular picnic spot so grab a baguette, cheese, and some macaroons from a nearby shop and bon appetit. 

Louvre

I’m a sucker for museums so the Louvre is obviously on my list. I don’t know how it couldn’t be as the world’s largest art museum. The outside itself is a wonder! The most well known (and crowded) piece of work on display is the Mona Lisa. My personal recommendation would be to explore further than just seeing her, but that’s just me. I could spend days here and it wouldn’t be enough. Having lunch in the neighboring gardens is also very quaint in the warm weather. 

Eiffel Tower 

I cannot not include the Eiffel Tower on this list. Possibly, the most recognized monument in the world and you’ll see it everywhere you look during your trip. At the same time it’s the most touristy, but most necessary thing you can do on your trip. Going all the way up gives you an amazing view of the entire city. After, exploring inside the tower spend some time in the surrounding areas. Across the street there a beautiful carousel and other unobstructed views for great pictures. Similar, to the picnic at Sacré-Coeur, spend some time lounging around and drinking amazing French wine in the grass around the Tower. For a bit of a bougier experience you can opt to have lunch or dinner within the tower, prior reservations needed. Make sure that at least one night on your trip you see the Tower at night for the light shows.

Palace of Versailles

Technically outside of Paris, but accessible by public transportation, Versailles is a perfect day trip. There’s so much to see, but I would definitely recommend adding on the Marie-Antoinette tour to your ticket. An entire day spent here is not in vain as you are transported back in time on this beautiful estate. There are various day trips available as well as what’s offered on property. I would like to take a bike tour around Versailles if I get back one day. 

Cooking Class 

French food is tres magnifique and usually a big reason many people come to France. Naturally, a cooking class is the perfect way to get some hands on experience. I took a three hour macaroon class and to this day it is still one of my favorite travel experiences ever. I love love LOVED it and hands down recommend the class to everyone! The school also offers other classes, which I would have taken if I had more time and plan on doing so if I get back. Of course there’s other (and many) cooking schools in Paris, but I just had such a great experience I still remember that early morning day so clearly and fondly. 

Honestly, looking back on my trips in Paris I am once again itching to go back. My head is saying no, but my heart is saying s’il vous plait. Paris doesn’t make my top favorite cities list, but it is iconic.

Flashback Friday – Poland Edition

This week I was meant to be in Poland with my family for a wedding. However, due to the Pandemic the wedding has been pushed back a couple of months, but I’m not sure Americans will be eligible to travel to Europe for the new date. I suppose only time will tell.

A fun fact about me is that I was actually born in Poland. Although, I don’t remember much of living there my mom and I have traveled back a few times throughout the years. The most recent trip being the summer of 2018.

I believe Poland is a wonderful country to visit, especially during summer, because it’s completely underrated and therefore not as touristy as other European countries. In major cities/destinations English and other languages are becoming more widely available, but fair warning you may come across some language barriers in smaller towns.

Krakow

Krakow is my favorite city in Poland. Sitting in the main square of Old Town you’re transported back a few decades and it’s easy to spend hours at an outdoor cafe people watching. The city is classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site. While visiting Krakow you will want to stay as close to Old Town as you can and from there you’ll be able to walk or take the tram all around the city.

Exploring Wawel Castle is a must while you’re in Krakow. There has been extensive restoration to the castle and to this day it feels as if kings were recently roaming the yards. Entrance to the property is free, but going into any of the exhibits tickets are required.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

It’s heavy, it won’t be a fun day, emotions will run high, but it’s so important to remember and educate ourselves about the horrors of WWII. I truly recommend everyone to make it to Auschwitz one day. The site is such a significant part of our world’s history and the countless lives lost should be forever remembered. I honestly will try to make a trip out here every time I visit Poland. I would recommend taking a guided tour and then spending the rest of your day walking throughout. There are many day tours and transportation options that go out of Krakow. Most tours will pair with the next destination, however, I would advise to do two separate tours on different days. Fully take the day and really spend time at Auschwitz. Fair warning you’ll be emotionally drained after.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka is a very unique experience – I haven’t been to anything quite like it. Wieliczka was an operational salt mine for more than 700 years. The costs of mining salt grew too expensive, and the area now serves more as a museum/exhibit with tours throughout the day. You take stairs deep underground and are guided through various tunnels. One of the most impressive rooms is a beautiful chapel featuring sculptures, chandeliers, and more all made out of salt! It’s located only 14 km from Krakow and it’s an easy day trip. However, there is a hotel on the property as well as a spa. The microclimate is said to have health benefits.

If you feel comfortable driving my suggested route for a couple of days would be to drive from Krakow to Auschwitz and then to Wieliczka on the way back. Stay the night at the Grand Sol hotel and take the salt mine tours the next morning before driving back to Krakow.

Gdansk/Gdynia/Sopot

Northern Poland touches the Baltic Sea making this area significantly different from the rest of Poland. Trying fresh fish around this area is a must. Gdansk’s history is deeply rooted in the wars and due to air raids from WWII the city essentially had to be totally rebuilt. Post-war the city had Dutch and French influence and it reminds me a lot of Copenhagen. Gdynia and Sopot join Gdansk to form the Tri-City which line the Baltic Coast and can all be done in a day via train or car/Uber. Sopot is known as a ritzy resort town with many health spas and a beach. Gdynia is known for their museums and again a very easy day trip from Gdansk or stop before reaching Sopot.

Malbork Castle is one of the largest castles in the world. It’s just a short train ride away from Gdansk and a favorite day trip location from the city. The castle dates back to the 13th century and has a fascinating, deep history. Buying tickets in advance and getting there early are the best ways to visit.

Warsaw

If you’re flying internationally it is very likely your flight will land in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. The city was also completely rebuilt after the war and a must to explore and wander. Far less crowed than most capital cities, it’s very enjoyable to stroll around. Similar to Krakow, Warsaw also has a bustling Old Town, which is really nice for exploiting during the day or a nice dinner. We stayed at an apartment overlooking Old Town and although it was a little tricky to find at first it was a wonderful spot. There are a few museums and monuments to check out while exploring the city. The Warsaw Uprising Monument was one of my favorites.

Wilanow Palace

Wilanów Palace took my breath away. The property is absolutely gorgeous and each room in the Palace is remarkable. Dating back to 1677 and actually surviving both wars is unfathomable. During the summer months, live music and concert series take place in the surrounding park. I think visiting the Palace is a must do while in Warsaw.

Bialowieza Forest

Admittedly, I have yet to visit the Bialowieza Forest and this was a major stop on this trip’s literary. The forest straddles the Belarusian border, but on Poland’s side is the Białowieża National Park. Throughout the park you may stubble upon the European bison, the largest land mammal on the continent. The space was once a private hunting ground for kings and tsars, but now it can only be admired by nature lovers. It’s located over 200km from Warsaw, but staying around the park is recommended.

I think Poland is underrated as a destination, but there are so many wonderful spots and things to see here. It’s a country rich in history and that alone draws me to visit. I would personally suggest coming to Poland during summer as winters can be brutal.