Saturday, 28 June 2014

Paris for one.

As I lay by the Seine, I thought to myself: I am SO happy. In this precise moment, but also in my life in general.

To quote my favourite song of the moment, Be Okay (listen here, it's so wonderfully happy and feel-good): "When your life is great, celebrate the feeling." I think I'm getting pretty good at achieving that, at appreciating the present and not always dreaming about the future, but it's something we all need to work at.

There were boats going past playing La Vie En Rose, there was a little breeze, the Seine was sparkling away in the Sunday afternoon sunshine (hot but not unbearably so), there were men fishing across the river and Parisians roller-blading past behind me. I had a French magazine, my music and refreshing treats in the form of a Diet Coke and a giant punnet of strawberries.

Who gets to live in those houses?
I love being by water on a hot day, even if I can't go in it. Maybe it's the breeze or maybe it's all in my head but I find it cooling. Savouring the feeling of the warmth of the sun on my skin, it was bliss that afternoon. I thought to myself: Life is so great. I am so happy. Year abroad is the best.

I didn't want to move. But then I needed the loo.


I was by myself, but that was part of the joy of it all. I am someone who is - and always has been - perfectly happy on her own. I can sunbathe for as long as I like and don't have to feel bad for needing the loo as frequently as I do.

Last week I was in Paris for work for a few days which was amazing. It worked out rather in my favour too as I managed to get a cheeky weekend in the world's most beautiful city. YES! Aside from meeting some friends for drinks on Friday night, I was free to do as I pleased on my ownsome for the rest of the weekend.

Chilling on a swing behind Notre Dame

Two summer days in Paris to myself: what a treat.

Having been to Paris a fair few times before (and quite recently, remember?), I wasn't in any massive stress to pow out all the tourist sights. Except I couldn't come to Paris and not pay a trip to the Eiffel Tower now, could I?

Despite this, I am one of those crazy travellers who packs so much into each day that they burn out by 7pm. Evening fail.

One thing I decided over my weekend in Paris is that I really need to either come back or generally live there when I'm rich. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time doing everything on a shoestring budget, but I can't help but dream of how amazing it must be to enjoy all the luxury Paris has to offer. Scrap that, not even the luxury, just any restaurant as opposed to supermarkets all the time. #studentinternproblems

Still, walking and admiring the buildings is free. Good thing I love doing that then!

Aside from the gorgeous architecture, here are some the things I love most about Paris:

1. The road name signs

2. The lampposts

3. All the outside tables and chairs

4. The fact that you can see the peak of the Eiffel Tower nearly everywhere.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but my Paris to-do list was really more of a to-eat list. Aaaand I did pretty well ticking it all off.

Crêpes, macarons, falafel, pain au chocolat... It was a delicious few days.

In fact, getting a Nutella crêpe was the first thing I did on Saturday morning.

I was in the Latin Quarter, which I love. It's super buzzy, especially come evening when all the international restaurants are vying for your custom. Slightly more chilled in the morning, but I still had plenty of choice when it came to crêpes.

Here's how my conversation with the man behind the counter went:

Me: "Please be generous with the Nutella!" (Because why wouldn't you want lots?)
Him: "Do you want to get fat?" (Oh, so that's why you wouldn't want lots.)

I wasn't sure what to reply really but I took my super Nutella-y crêpe and thoroughly enjoyed it anyway.

The Latin Quarter is just over the river from Île Saint-Louis, another area I love, right by Notre Dame.

Île Saint-Louis isn't big and the streets are tiny but absolutely charming.

And over the river on the other side you find yourself just on the edge of the rather different but totally fabulous Marais, another fave area.

The Marais is home to aaaallll the trendy shops not to mention the falafel of your dreams (see above or my previous rant about it here.)

Place des Vosges

The Marais is also home to this totally un-French but fantastic diner, Breakfast In America.

My brother had taken me there three years ago when I visited him on his year abroad, and for some reason I got a loyalty card and have kept it in my wallet ever since. When I spotted it again this time round I couldn't not go in and treat myself to a big ole American milkshake. It doesn't matter where in the world I am, I will never not crave a chocolate peanut butter milkshake.

OK now I really want one again. Great.

Quick, let's move on.

As much as I love revisiting my Paris faves, discovering new things is always fun too.

Portuguese custard tart, anyone?
One of my best discoveries was the INSANE view you get from the top of the legendary department store, Galeries Lafayette. If you go all the way up to the roof terrace, you'll walk out to incredible views of the city. It rather took my breath away. (Apologies, I didn't have my good camera with me and these phone snaps alas really don't do it justice.)

Yes, that is Montmartre in the distance
I could see Sacré Coeur, the Eiffel Tower (obvs), the Opera and the Arc de Triomphe. Speaking of which...

A spot of shopping on the ole Champs Elysées may have occurred too, but the sales had just started and I would've been a fool, a FOOL I tell you, if I ignored them.

I didn't want to spend too long in shops though as the weather was beeeee-autiful!

I do love strolling along the banks of the Seine... So blue and sparkly!

I also enjoy browsing the vintage posters and books at all the little stalls lining the river. All whilst keeping an eye out for 1D. THEY WERE IN PARIS THE SAME WEEKEND AS ME! I didn't see them though. Killer.

Moving on (before I cry)...

All that walking can take it out of a gal though, and one of my fave places for a sit-down in Paris is the Tuileries garden, right by the Louvre.

Book, sunshine, sit-down, perfection.

I also had a pretty sweet sit-down outside the town hall for a while (who doesn't love sitting and people-watching?) There was a Scottish man playing bag pipes, an Asian bride and groom having a wedding photoshoot, an English comedian performing a show, people from Tropicana handing out free bottles of juice (may have taken four and drunk them all in one afternoon, oops) and a man making giant bubbles. What more could a girl want?

Paris may not be like the rest of France, but it's more French than Brussels and my little trip reminded me why I love France and French. I didn't need reminding why I love Paris. It may just be my favourite place in the world.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Italian Adventures Day 4: Desenzano.

After the baking hot weather we'd had during my first couple of days in Italy, Em and I had planned a day of sunbathing and swimming in Lake Garda for my final dose of la dolce vita. We'd had a few days powing out visits to Bergamo, Venice and Verona, and quite frankly the prospect of a more chilled day soaking up the sun was highly appealing.

Unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas. It wasn't hot and sunny on Sunday morning.

Not to be deterred, Em and I decided to optimistically throw our swimming cozzies in our bags and head off to the lake anyway.

Just half an hour on the train from Verona you'll find Desenzano. I'd never heard of it before and it took me all day to remember the name, but Desenzano is a town on the edge of beautiful Lake Garda, on the southern tip of the Italian Alps.

With its tropical trees, boats and (albeit pebbly) beaches, Desenzano has a distinctly seasidey feel. Almost exotic, if you will. It certainly has a noticeably different vibe to Verona, that's for sure.

Em and I headed straight for the water and took a stroll along the pier. If it weren't for the fading mountains I could see across the lake - it was a wonderfully clear day - I would've thought we were at the coast.

It was like nowhere I've ever been, and it sure was beautiful. There's something really comforting about being by a large body of water, so Em and I picked a sheltered bench by the lighthouse to sit and eat our packed lunches.

The water was plopping against the boats, the waves were crashing against the rocks behind us, flags were flying in the breeze and the boats were gently bobbing up and down. Combined with the squawks of the gulls overhead, the sounds of the boats and water made us feel delightfully peaceful.

Back in town we noticed a little market. It wasn't huge, but there were various things to peruse, from fresh fruit to jewellery. I am a gal easily distracted by sparkly and yummy things.

Realising I hadn't bought anything (aside from food, obvs) over my few days in Italy, I decided to treat myself to these pretty earrings. You've got to have a souvenir of some sort, haven't you?

Having had salads for lunch, it wasn't long before we decided it was gelato time. And gelato connoisseur par excellence Emily knew just where to take me: La Romana.

Oh sweet lord, this gelato was in a league of its own. Without a doubt the best ice cream of my life. And I've eaten a lot of ice cream.

It's all homemade and kept covered in store - that's how they keep it at optimum temperature and consistency. They have really interesting and unusual flavours too (although it took translations from Em and the friendly serving lady for me to learn this.)

The gelato is served not with scoops but rather spatula thingies. Apparently this means it's good, although to be honest with you I'm not sure why.

Em's fab pic
For a reasonable 2.50€ you can get three flavours (hey, we'd had salad for lunch! That's how healthy eating works, right?). Feeling slightly overwhelmed by choice, I picked the same three as Em.

Think we took enough pics?
Oh my days. They. Were. Epic.

The interior of La Romana (it's a chain by the way) is clean, bright and stylish, so instead of heading out to eat our tubs of deliciousness and risking meltage, we sat down inside and savoured every spoonful with a view of the cathedral. After taking the obligatory selfies, natch.

This gelato seriously has a completely unique and utterly delicious consistency: it's super creamy, and our flavours were chock-full of, well, choc, brownie bits and almonds. It's hard to explain just why this gelato was so insanely good, you've just got to try it for yourself one day.

The afternoon kept getting better: as we left La Romana we realised the sun was coming out. Praise be to God!

We took a stroll back to the lake and decided to sit down on the edge of the jetty, feet dangling over the sparkling water.

It was bliss.

Alas, it wasn't quite hot enough for us to strip off and join the ducklings and swans, but just being by the lake in the sun was a treat.

I made sure to savour the moment. This, I thought, is what the year abroad is all about.

After a while we decided to go for a little wander in the town, and we were passed by this hilarious and oh-so-Italian troop of Vespa-riders...

Desenzano isn't exactly the most hip of towns, but I liked it a lot.

The afternoon was on its way to evening and Em and I decided it was Spritz time. OK, it was only like 4.30pm but apparently anything after 11am is Spritz time for the Italians. They blimmin' laaaaave the stuff! Over my four days in Italy I saw everyone drinking the strangely bright beverage, so it was about time I had one myself.

These are Aperol Spritzes - apparently they're a north-eastern Italy speciality, which would explain why EVERYONE was drinking them over my travels. They're a mixture of Prosecco, Aperol liqueur and sparkling water. And I like them.

I also liked that you're generally brought bowls of crisps for free alongside your Spritzes. You know we nommed all ours in minutes. And then asked for refills. You gotta get all the free food you can, right? Mmm... Tortilla chips.

We sat outside, sipping our Spritzes, people-watching and admiring the wonderful view over the lake. A blissful moment indeed.

And that, dear friends, not only concluded my day in Desenzano but also just about ended my trip to Italy. It was so so so great, not only due to the wonderful places I saw but also because I was sharing it all with one of my dear dear friends.

Ciao, bella!*

*Yes I really just said that. Cringe. Cliché. Sorry.
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