Travel tips

Traveling at home

Traveling is an amazing, enriching opportunity. Even in your own country, travel to have new experiences in different cities. Each country is home to a variety of cultures to discover. Most people think they need to travel to an exotic country to have an unexpected excursion, but take advantage of what your country has to offer!

Be open minded and have an adventure!

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Planning your trip

It’s important to know yourself before you travel. Ask yourself, what do you like to do? How long is your holiday and how much are you willing to spend? Solo travel or group travel? How far do you want to travel? Pick a vacation destination based on your interests and budget.

Once, I spent the weekend in a neighboring town. Not “traveling”? I beg to differ. The town has a history and culture completely different from my hometown. I discovered new facts about my state, centered around this area, that I would have never known before.

Do you want to travel abroad? Check out my International travel tips.

Be Flexible

When you have planned everything to a T, anything can and will happen. Traveling is a wild adventure. It can be stressful but that’s part of the experience. Travelers have to be flexible and open minded.

Be Prepared

Buying tickets in advance lets you skip the line at main attractions. Though it’s important to be flexible when traveling, it’s nice to have a little structure. Research a bit where you are traveling to, find things that interest you, and keep an open mind.

I think it’s also helpful to research transportation options. Some cities and countries offer travel passes; which depending on how often you are traveling, this may be the best deals and save you some money.

Money

Keep cash hidden with you in case of emergencies. If you wallet gets stolen or card declined, it’s better to have the option. Also, let  your bank know where and when you are traveling so they don’t block your card as fraud.

Talk to locals

Locals are the only people who truly know the city you are visiting. If you want to get to know the city better, ask for a local’s opinion. Also, check out current events during your vacation.

Packing 

We’re all guilty of it and it ends up costing us-overpacking. Unless you are moving abroad, you don’t need 15 pairs of socks. Next time you travel, check out my suggested Packing Tips for a list of what to pack and what not to. It’s important to separate important items, just in case a bag gets lost or stolen. Make sure you pack sunscreen and a first aid kit.

Water

This could go under packing, but, it is incredibly important that you bring a water bottle or a backpack with a water bladder during your vacations. Being a tourist is a great form of exercise and to get the most out of your trip, stay hydrated.

Get a map

At the train station or tourist office-get a map as soon as possible. Most tourist town will have a map with main attractions or a walking tour. Make sure to note the address of your accommodation somewhere. I like marking a spot on my map and familiarizing myself with nearby landmarks and public transportation. Make sure to check the closing times of transportation in the city you are visiting. It is also good to “star” the location on GoogleMaps, or another GPS application. Personally, I prefer having a hard copy written down somewhere, just in case my phone dies or I lose service.

Free WiFi

Be careful using free WiFi in public places. If you need to make a bank transfer or online payment, it is safer to do it on a protected network.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is usually for international travelers. If you are traveling in your own country, medical insurance from your area usually applies in other cities. If you are flying, you can purchase travel insurance from the airlines for baggage protection; this covers the cost if your luggage is lost. Research what is best for you, the best travels are safe travels!

Photos

Take all the photos! I am notorious for taking too many photos… Especially sunset photos. As I travel more, I’ve developed a sense of travel photography. I no longer take photos of everything but specific things that stand out to me. If you are a travel blogger, keep in mind articles when you are taking photos. Though you don’t need to capture every single moment, it is good to have an overview of your trip so you can share the photos on your travel blogs. Make sure you have extra batteries packed or a backup camera (I just use my phone when I’m not using my camera). Also, if I’m traveling with my laptop, I backup my photos every night-just in case.

Let someone know when you are traveling

I always tell someone when I’m traveling, whether it be a friend or family. Though we may be tempted to go Into the Wild, leaving everything behind, it is an important safety precaution. If there is every an emergency, someone will be aware of where you are and about how long you were planning to stay.

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French castle located in Maincy, near Melun. Inside you’ll discover silk tapestries draping the walls, hand-made furniture, decadent ceilings, marble statues and paintings by renowned artists. The castle has become a Palace for the Arts and an icon of 17th-century French architecture, design, and gardening; all with a scandalous history…

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A little history:

The charming Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was built by Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis de Belle Île and Viscount of Melun and Vaux. Later Fouquet would become the general prosecutor of the Parlement of Paris and superintendent of the finances.

The small, original estate was bought by Fouquet in 1641. The ambitious 26-year-old member of the Parlement of Paris had a cultivated personality and a love for the arts. After becoming the superintendent of finances under King Louis XIV, Fouquet began the construction of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1656.

Fouquet spared no expense during the construction of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. He desired the estate to be an elaborate tribute to the arts. Fouquet enlisted the help of the greatest artists of the 17th century: architect Louis Le Vau, head gardener André Le Notre and painter-decorator Charles Le Brun. The team worked harmoniously to create a beautiful, luxurious atmosphere.

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On August 17, 1661, Nicolas Fouquet hosted an extravagant soirée in honor of the Sun King, Louis XIV at his new estate, Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The famous inauguration of the château was organized by François Vatel and included the debut of Molière’s play “Les Fâcheux,” a grand dinner, and dazzling fireworks show.

But the party and the château were too luxurious. Though Fouquet had intended to flatter the king, Jean-Baptiste Colbert believed Fouquet’s exuberant château was built using misappropriated public funds. Therefore, Fouquet used royal funds to build his château, then presented it with flamboyance to the King he was stealing from. Trying to outshine the Sun King did not go over well with His Majesty.

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Only three weeks after the party, on Sept. 5, 1661, Fouquet was arrested by d’Artagnan and Colbert organized his trial. The owner was charged with embezzlement from the monarchy’s funds to pay for the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. In 1664, Louis XIV overruled the judgment of the court and condemned Nicolas Fouquet to life imprisonment. Fouquet died in 1680, in the fortress of Pignerol.

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was seized by the King and Fouquet’s family exiled. The King confiscated tapestries, statues and the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He also used the same trio (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) for his own project- the palace and gardens of Versailles.  A decade later, Madame Fouquet and her eldest son were able to recover their property.

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The estate went to auction in 1875, after 30 years of abandonment, where Alfred Sommier successfully bid on the neglected château and gardens de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Sommier, a great French sugar magnate, took the effort to renovate and preserve the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Patrice de Vogüé opened the estate to the public in 1968 with the support of his wife, Christina de Vogüé. In 2015, the descendants of Alfred Sommier, brothers Ascanio, Jean-Charles and Alexandre de Vogüé become the fifth and current generation of de Vogüés to manage the estate.

FUN FACT: Château Vaux-le-Vicomte was used as a hospital during World War I

During the first World War, the French Health Service realized that their institutions wouldn’t be sufficient and called for private hospitals. Her husband having been drafted, Mrs. Sommier also responded to the call of duty. Using outbuilding of the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, she established a well-equipped auxiliary hospital and medical team-creating the Auxiliary Hospital No. 23. The first casualties were admitted on October 7, 1914. The hospital treated a total of 1,123 casualties.

Visiting the castle:

This stunning estate is the creation of three debutant legends. France’s “Grand Siecle” (17th century), could not have culminated more exquisitely than what became the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Louis Le Vau, the King’s “Principal Architect,” had already achieved acclaimed fame for his works. Le Vau drew inspiration from the ancient classics and with an Italianate theme, he developed his own style. His first grand piece, Vaux-le-Vicomte, laid the foundations for the next 150 years in French architecture.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte marks a new era in garden art and redefined the French garden. André Le Nôtre, the project’s landscape architect, created the first large-scale scientific and artistic achievement for his time. The science can be seen in the use of geometric lines and tricks of perspective. The notability of the garden was realized during the lavish party on August 17, 1661. The beautiful, intriguing gardens were made to be an optical illusion. When you stroll through the garden, you discover it in stages. From the château you think you’ve seen it all, but, it is much bigger than it appears and has different levels and surprises sneakily built in. Le Nôtre became known as the landscaper of the “Grand Siècle,” and everyone who was anyone wanted him to landscape their garden. Le Nôtre is responsible for some of the greatest classical gardens in France today including Tuileries, Saint-Cloud, Chantilly and Saint-Germain-en-La

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During your visit, you can pay an additional three euros to visit the dome, the highest point of the château which offers 360-degree views of the estate. I recommend you save your three bucks and just walk up to the Hercules statue. Located at the furthermost end of the garden, the Hercules statue is on an elevated hill which has a great view of the garden.

The Iron Masked Prisoner:

The story of the masked prisoner starts at the Pignerol fortress. In 1669, a new prisoner arrived with an iron masked, locked and could not be removed. This iron mask concealed his identity from the first day of his arrest until the day he died.

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In complete secrecy, Nicolas Fouquet communicated only with the Governor of the fortress, Monsieur de Saint Mars, and with a valet whom the Governor attributed to the prisoner. The man in the iron mask stayed imprisoned for 34 years under the name Eustache DAUGER. His prisons successively: Pignerol, Exiles, L’ile Ste-Marguerite, and La Bastille.

Never was there another prisoner who was the subject of so much ministerial correspondence and royal instructions for Monsieur de Saint Mars, who was successively governor of the prisons of Pignerol, Exiles, Ste Marguerite, and La Bastille. The Iron Masked Prisoner’s budget was one of the most important devoted to a prisoner under the old regime. The ministerial instructions specified that the prisoner: Be treated well, does not communicate with anyone, and be killed if his face was seen.

During the old regime, certain nobles condemned to short-term sentences in prisons with frequent visitors had to wear a mask of dark tissue to preserve avoid being recognized and protect their reputation. Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI, though questioned by many, refused to disclose the identity of the Iron Masked Prisoner. Louis XVIII stated, “Je sais le mot de cette énigme: c’est l’honneur de notre aïeul Louis XIV que nous avons à garder.”

“I know the word of this enigma: it is the honor of our ancestor Louis XIV that we have to keep.”

In 1703, the prisoner died at La Bastille, with the iron mask on and his identity never revealed. Niether Voltaire, Michelet, Topin, Mercel Pagnol, Mongrédien, nor any other french historian has ever uncovered the identity of the Iron Masked Prisoner.

How to get there: 

Traveling in France? If you are staying in or near Paris, Château Vaux-le-Vicomte is a perfect day trip from Paris. An inspiration for all other french castles to follow, your France vacation isn’t complete without a trip to this castle that inspired Versailles.

The Vaux-le-Vicomte website recommends that from Paris Gare de l’Est, you take the train Line P direction Provins until Verneuil l’Etang train station. From there, there is a Châteaubus shuttle which travels between this station and Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The shuttle is located in front of the train station exit. Caution: cash only and trains/shuttles may only be every hour.

rer-svgAn alternative is the way we went. Living in Paris, we all have the Navigo Pass which can be used on the métro, buses, and trams in the city. It can also be used on trains known as RER in the entire Île-de-France. So, we took the RER D from Gare de Lyon to Meluns train station. From there we took an Über to the château. For us, it was much cheaper, quicker, and more reliant as far as departure times were concerned.

 

 

No keurig in my office!

I took a freelance writing position with a developing website and thus, have been spending more time in an office setting. The office, in a suburb of Paris, has a single-cup Nespresso machine. The Nespresso machine is the European version of the American phenomenon-the Keurig.

Before these fantastic one cup machines, people used to take coffee breaks together and share a pot of coffee. I can only imagine it: office-workers in their pencil skirts and blouses or slacks and ties, gossiping together in the kitchenette about their weekend, kids, and latest office drama.

I didn’t start drinking coffee in college, but I sure upped my daily dosage. A fond college memory are the late nights we stayed up staying together in the dorm rooms, all sharing a pot of coffee. “Any body want some coffee?” Dreary eyes respond, “Please!” “Okay, I’ll go put on another pot.”

Where did this camaraderie, this fraternity among coffee lovers go? It was destroyed, along with eco-friendliness, by the convenience of the Keurig and Nespresso machine.

The bottom line is, you can’t share a Keurig or Nespresso cup of coffee. Coffee drinking used to be a communal activity. Now, at a real adult office, we are confined behind cubicles, making singles cup coffees for ourselves rather than asking our neighbor, “Hey want some coffee? Okay, I’ll go put a pot on.” It feels as though we are trapped in solitude, staring at a computer screen. No coffee breaks takes one of the only means of socializing away from an office job.

Being new and nervous in a foreign office, it was a dramatic and discouraging realization. I had to become independent from beloved coffee for social interactions, so, I stayed aware for other socializing situations. Although I miss the social coffee breaks, I started taking advantage of lunch breaks, Wi-Fi failures, and opportunities to ask coworkers about the website.

Understanding that I couldn’t always drink my 20 cup coffee pot alone (or so they say…), I gave into the one cup craze. Personally, I don’t like one cup coffee makers that use plastic pods like the Keurig k cups or Nespresso pods. I feel as though some of the plastic is bound to be melted into your cup of joe, that is, before you chunk it in the trash—condemning it to the landfill. Black Friday before last, I bought a cheap Black and Decker one cup coffer maker with a reusable filter. This $20 machine saved me money and gave me the convenience of a single cup coffee maker. Besides the machine being a great deal, the reusable filter eliminates the constant waste of the Keurig k cups or Nespresso pods. Also, I can choose my own brand of coffee and make the cup of joe as strong as I’d like. A more eco-friendly, flavorful cup of southern coffee, don’t mind if I do indulge in a single cup!

 

Printemps Solidaire

Sunday April 16th, Printemps Soldaire rolled through Paris; from the Arc de Trimphe, Grand Palais, around Place de la Concord, to the Louvre. This unique concert consisted of nine open stages on nine eighteen-wheelers.

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Printemps Solidaire was a free concert, part of the 2017 Solidaire movement. The stages on floats concept was original, well organized and executed.

Plus de 500 000 personnes ont répondu à l’appel à la mobilisation pour la manif-concert de Printemps Solidaire.

I enimagesjoyed the atmosphere and the ambience, young and old gatheirng to see a variety of artists. The interesting idea of this parade concert was that you could either follow a stage float or stay in one place and enjoy each of the nine stages as they pass by.

Each float stage premiered three artists, set changes happening quickly and smoothly at the Grand Palais and Place de la Concord. To make this transition smooth and to keep followers centralized, each float was devoted to a specific genre. For example, Float 5 hosted three djs and kept only the dj mixer and equipment set up. Therefore making the set change quick and easy rather than switching to a full band set.

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DJ at the Place de la Concorde and the “Big Wheel”

In addition to the smooth transitions between artists, the parade also flowed smoothly through Paris-a difficult task any day. During the concert, one was able to take a walking tour through the city and see main attractions such as the Arc de Triomphe, Grand Palais, Concord, Tulieries and the Louvre, all while listening to great music.

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The difficulty of the parade-styled concert was keeping up with the float and staying with your friends through the crowded streets. It was not a problem on the wide Champs-Elysée, but became a task as we rounded the Place de la Concord onto the more narrow Quais François Mittrrand.

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Although it was an incredible experience and I was able to discover new artists, it was tiring trying to keep up with the float after a few hours. It was fun dancing along as the float moved, but only when there was enough space. When it was crowded, it was taxing.

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The Arc de Triomphe and the stage floates

This concert was labeled as one of a series of “Manif-concerts,” abbreviation for manifestations-concerts (demonstration concerts). It was a social statement emphasizing the importance of staying unified a and aware of political actions. It was a way for the french youth to gather in awareness against social inequalities of our world. ” La jeunesse d’aujourd’hui est ouverte sur le monde et soucieuse de lutter contre les inégalités. Elle est profondément attachée au principe d’une « solidarité sans frontières » et juge nécessaire l’aide de la France aux pays les plus pauvres,” according to the Printemps Solidaire website.

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The number 0.7 was displayed on the float banners. The figure was calculated by Nobel Prize-winner Jan Tinbergen and it represents the amount economically advanced countries should give for others to achieve sustainable development. In 1970, the United National General Assembly adopt this resolution of Official Development Assistance. According to the Printemps Solidaire website, France has not kept this promise and a goal of the Solidaire movement is to keep the french citizens aware.

 

Find more information about this movement and upcoming events at printemps-solidaire.fr.

 

Prepare thyself: Where to find the best travel resources in Paris

As I began to plan for my trip to Switzerland, though there are enormous amounts of information on the web, I wanted an old-fashion guide book or map.

In Paris, anyone with a passport can get a library card for FREE. This card allows them to check-out books, cds, and dvds  from any of the public libraries in the city (57 to be exact!). Click here to find more information about the City of Paris librares.

The bibliothèque Germain Tillion, located not far from Trocadero in the 16th arrondismont, offers a wide variety of travel resources for destinations around the world. They have travel books and maps. Though most are in French, I did find a few books in English.

This specific library is known for for its travel resources. It is the focal point in Paris, as far as public libraries are concerned, for travel resources. I was amazed by the amount of travel books and maps they had in their section dedicated to voyages. I took books about europe in general, specific countries or cities, and Paris! They had a vaste collection of torism books and plans dedicated to Paris.

So whether you are planning your visit to Paris or you want to travel from Paris, browse among a variety of travel resources at the Germain Tillion public library.

For more information check out the Paris City Library site here or send an email to bibliotheque.germaine-tillion@paris.fr

What no one tells you about Paris

You are planning your big trip to the mystical city, la belle ville, capital of France: Paris. Everything is set: your suitcase is packed, passport ready to be stamped, and you’ve read all the “things to do in Paris” lists available on Pinterest.

But here’s what they didn’t tell you:

  1. Expect construction. It can be loud and an eye sore in your otherwise postcard perfect picture. Marie de Paris is always developing the city so expect to see green and white barriers in the roads and cranes in they skylines.
  2. Watch out for dog shit on the sidewalk and in the grassy areas at the park. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but, Parisians will leave a pile of their dog’s shit on the concrete or in a park. Double check before you sit down for that scenic picnic in Champ de Mars.
  3. No seriously, there are pickpockets so be careful. I’ve had my wallet and phone pick pocketed. Keep items close to you and in a secure bag. Don’t let people distract you with petitions or knickknacks, they are most likely scams or distractions for their partner to pickpocket you.
  4. Get a Paris metro map or a Paris map. A Paris metro map (Paris subway map) is very useful and is free at most metro stations. The Paris metro can be difficult to navigate for you first time, check out my how to article on navigating the Paris metro system. A Paris map is also useful and can be found at tourism offices and most shops near Paris attractions.
  5. Expect huge crowds at the top attractions in Paris. Even on rainy winter days, expect a line at the Eiffel Tower. For some Paris tourist attractions you can purchase a ticket in advance to skip the line at the billeterie. Many attractions in Paris can be purchased in a tourism package deal. You can always skip the typical “things to do in Paris,” but rather, spend your time Paris sightseeing the free Paris monuments and Paris landmarks. Still looking for things to do in Paris? Check out my blog series PinDrop.
  6. Suitcases are a pain in the ass in the city of Paris. Taking a suitcase from the crowded airport, on a bus or train, through the Paris metro, to your hotel can become a challenge which includes many sets of stairs. Depending on your trip length, think about taking using backpack instead.
  7. Paris time change is different than the States. Of course there is a time difference but be aware if you are traveling near daylight’s saving that France changes a few weeks after America. The Paris time zone is is Central European Time Zone (UTC+01:00), check a time zone map or time zone converter for your specific time difference. Personally, I use the world clock feature on my phone to compare times around the world when traveling.

 

African Lounge

Paris is known for gastronomy, being a cultural hub with a wide variety of haute cuisine. I dined at an African restaurant, the African Lounge to be specific, this weekend.

The restaurant is very small but cozy, with modern decor. I was impressed by their use of reds and oranges to create a modern but natural atmosphere. On the walls of the restaurant were portraits of internationally promenient people of African descent. The booth styled seats had charming, comfortable pillows to rest your back upon.

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We had to wait, wedged by the door, almost an hour to be seated. Fortunately, we were able to order drinks at the bar while we waited. My  drink, a juice called jus de bissap, wasn’t on the menu but it  was delightful; naturally sweet and savory. We also tried the jus de jimjambe, ginger juice. It had a boldly spicy, refreshing and exotic taste. Also, the waitress took our food order so when we were seated, we didn’t wait long for our food.

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My dish was the poulet brezé with white rice. My friend got the poisson brezé with white rice and we shared banane plantin. The dishes were served with a tomatoe based sauce and the server brought us an additional spicy sauce. A sauce so piquant it stayed in the back of my throat for at least five minutes after I tasted it. A firey taste that burned, but, not much flavor.

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The poulet brezé dish included a variety of pieces cooked over a fire, bbq style, and topped with peppers. I found it a bit dry and hard to eat with silverware. In my opinion, it could have used a sauce or a glaze.

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The banane plantin, fried bananas, were delicious. They weren’t greasy or overly sweet. I found the entire meal, juice included, to have an organic taste.

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The small details of the decor kept the atmosphere natural and modern. For example, the bill was given to us in a beautiful, ornate wooden box. The cover had intricate carvings on it. Also, on each table were placemats in the shape of green, tropical leafs.

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I enjoyed the ambience of the resaturant. The restaurant was open late, which is convienent for a nice, late night meal. It was small but swelled with a sense of black pride. The food was good but I wouldn’t order the chicken again. For my taste, it was too dry and hard to eat at a restaurant. Everything else we had at the restaurant was delectable.

Click here for the restuarant’s website

Click here for the restaurant’s Facebook page