February 26, 2017

Fête du Citron 

With the ease and cost efficiency of traveling along the Côte d’Azur, my friends and I attended another festival welcoming the coming of spring.  The little town of Menton, France, hosts an annual citrus festival to celebrate the region’s fruit season.  Taking the 1,50€ bus 100 to Menton, we arrived at the Broadway-themed carnival and chose to wander through the festival gardens rather than endure yet another parade that week.

Menton Citrus Festival | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - ayssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

Before even seeing the structures, you could smell them.  The sweet-and-sour scent of citrus floated on the crisp Mediterranean breeze and enveloped visitors in a warmth as satisfying as the February sunshine.  The larger-than-life displays, inspired by some of the world’s most well-known musicals, created an incredible show of their own. Towering over spectators, the displays delivered sensual experiences: radiating color, familiar tunes, and, of course, the all-natural citrus perfume.

Thousands of lemons and oranges, stacked, spaced, and spread, created the stationary floats of popular Broadway productions.  Songs from the shows enhanced the experience, while the stimulating smell of citrus complemented the garden promenade.

Menton Citrus Festival | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - ayssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

Les Misérables

If the yellow walls and blue and white gingham-printed shower curtain in my childhood bathroom serve as any clues, my favorite citrus display was of “The Wizard of Oz.”  From the characters, to the poppies, to the ruby red slippers, I enjoyed the highlights of the show in fruit form almost as much as I do the show itself.  The only thing missing?  Toto!

My friends and I ended the garden walk with freshly squeezed lemonade and a “Roi du Menton,” a crêpe filled with lemon syrup and sugar.

Alyssa's Abroad Perspective

While Nice’s Carnival was slightly tacky and confusing, Menton’s Citrus Festival was stunning and authentic (for the most part).  If visiting the Côte d’Azur for the celebrations of the region, skip a day in Nice and make your way to Menton!

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice,

A.J.H.

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February 21, 2017

Carnaval de Nice 

Though the largest carnival celebrations may be in Rio or Venice, Nice organizes a family-friendly schedule of celebratory events commemorating the festival.  Ready to explore a significant section of Nice’s history and current claim to fame, I prepared for participation in the fête.

The origins of carnival celebrations are not clear beyond their pagan roots, as there are many explanations for the glutinous gatherings.  A popular possibility, however, is that Christians adopted the parties to precede Lent.  The days of carnival allow for freedom and liberation, peaking in Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  No matter the original reason, carnival is now a time for people to come together and find the fun in society, and more importantly, themselves.

 

Le Roi de l’Énergie

The theme of this year’s celebrations was the King of Energy, and my first event was the Carnival Parade.  Though there are multiple showings of this procession throughout the festival week, I attended a weeknight production with the other students in my program.

Our cheap tickets sent us to a space to stand, closer to the action, while bleacher reservations were available at a higher price.  It may have been the day of the week we chose to attend, but the seated spectators were stoic and dull despite the animated attempts of the carnival dancers to engage the crowd.  I appreciated standing and dancing along the parade route, even though, by the end, I was partied out.

Civically proud, as the French are, many carnival floats portrayed political messages.  Among the displays of the Green Queen’s clean energy and the renewable energy of love, Donald Trump made his way down the street as the world’s new oil captain in a “wind of change,” and the French presidential candidates continued along the route on their ceaseless, election cycle wheel.

 

Bataille des Fleurs

My second carnival activity was the Flower Parade.  In addition to the entertainment that the flower-filled floats would provide, their deconstruction, in which flower bouquets would be thrown to the crowd, was another incentive for attending. Unfortunately, the floats were underwhelming, only adorned with flowers and not composed of them, as I had expected.  And, though it may just have been by chance, but I didn’t get any flowers!  You had to be 6 years old, 60 years old, or have a 6-foot-tall friend to catch a bouquet.

The Carnival Parade is worth the time, with reasonable expectations.  I do not know how past festivals have been celebrated, but because of continuing terrorist attacks in France, Carnival has recently been adjusted to accommodate safety concerns.  The Flower Parade, however, disappointed.  Nonetheless, Carnival hosts many other events over its 10-day duration, so there are plenty of other celebrations to explore.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice,

A.J.H.

Break 1 – Paris

Sunday Morning Markets

Whether its flowers, food, fancy goods or flea market finds in Madrid, luxury shopping or international eats in London, Easter treats in Prague, creative crafts in Budapest, or crazy cuisine in Barcelona, exploring the concentration of cultural curio found in a market is one of my favorite things to do when traveling.  Though sometimes a tourist trap, most markets still have roots in the heart of the culture and provide an insider’s look into the lives of the people.  In Paris, Sunday morning sees hundreds of vendors set up in the city for the marchés aux puces (flea markets), so I chose one of the area’s many markets and set out to explore.

Porte de Vanves Flea Market | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

I had planned to visit Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, one of the biggest flea markets in Europe, but did not have time to travel far from the city center.  Instead, I went to the Les Puces de Vanves, a smaller market south of the Seine.

I arrived at the market around 9 a.m., which was still a little too early for the French.  After about an hour, all of the displays were organized, and a steady stream of visitors scanned diverse collections of items for potential purchases.

This flea market was not unlike many others that I have visited, with many similar novelties for sale.  Nonetheless it was a nice way to spend the morning.

 

Hot Chocolate Heaven

For a filling brunch before my flight, I made reservations at Angelina, a special, Parisian café recommendation from a friend.  Angelina is known for its hot chocolate, so I set out to discover if the praise met my high expectations.

Angelina | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

The meal was expensive, as I had anticipated, but offered plenty to eat.  The hot chocolate was very good, thick and sweet, though I still think Madrid’s chocolate con churros does the warm, rich drink the best.  The food probably could have been split between two people, but as solo adventures were the theme of this trip, breakfast was no different!  I enjoyed my fancy, French-inspired brunch, down to the very last drop of Angelina hot chocolate, and made my way back to Nice.

Overall, I had a great week!  It provided just the right amount of time with traveling friends as it did time alone.  I navigated transportation, ate in restaurants, and explored cities by myself.  Though I never doubted my travel knowledge and abilities, I did learn to enjoy my own company and be okay with spending time with me.

 

Travel Tips

  • Tune in to Podcasts.  My mom has recommended that I start following podcasts for a few years now.  It took my hour-long walk home from school in Nice to truly become interested in listening to dialogue instead of music, but I have finally started to explore the podcast world.  One of the programs I enjoy is Condé Nast Traveler’s “Travelogue,” which discusses the evolving travel industry from a traveler’s point of view.  While listening to the March 17 episode, “How Women Are Changing the Travel Industry,” I really identified with some of their comments and stories through the experiences and feelings I had on my Break 1 trip. The section from 3:53 to 5:47, specifically, captures my solo travel observations, but I recommend giving the entire episode a listen and checking out the rest of their conversations!

 

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Paris,

A.J.H.

April 23, 2017

I may be behind on my blogging, but not on my French politics!  In honor of France’s first round of presidential elections, I am sharing this hilariously accurate video about the candidates and the influence of French politics today on the global politics of tomorrow. Round 1 results reveal that it will be Macron against Le Pen (French Trump) in the finals. Stay tuned for Round 2 on May 7.

Disclaimer: Contains potentially vulgar and offensive language.

 

Paix, Amour, France,

A.J.H.

Break 1 – Paris

Despite Paris’s unseasonably beautiful weather, I opted to spend the day inside, exciting my senses, at two of the city’s lesser-known museums:  The Grand Perfume Museum and the Fragonard Museum of Perfume.  As The Grand Perfume Museum explains, France is home to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, and Paris, the global capital of chic, so there is no better place to explore society’s fascination with fragrance than in the country that captures it all.

 

The Grand Perfume Museum

Opened in December 2016, The Grand Perfume Museum showed signs of its first-year status; audioguides were unavailable for the visit and some exhibits were not yet completed.  Nonetheless, the videos, interactive games, and overall information presented by the museum entertained.  The self-guided tour can last as long or as short as one wishes, but with all of the intriguing displays, I ended up staying for a few hours, much longer than expected.

From history to science, the museum explained the origins of perfume, the biological processing of scents, and everything in between.

As one can imagine, smelling was a huge part of the experience.  Whether requiring a visitor to guess a scent or to match one to a memory, the exhibits engaged guests in creative and thoughtful ways.

Overall, the experience is well-done, with a wide range of expositions that spark multiple senses, appealing to children, adults, men, and women.  Once the museum addresses its minor operational difficulties, it can be added to the list of the many ways to pass a perfect afternoon in Paris.

 

The Fragonard Museum of Perfume

While the Grand Perfume Museum educates on fragrance as a whole, the Fragonard Museum of Perfume focuses on the Fragonard brand.  Another difference, the Fragonard museum offers free admission and a guided tour.  I did not make a reservation for an English guide, so I joined one of the French tours organized every 20 minutes.

I’m not sure if it was the information, the presenter, the French, or a combination of the three, but I felt that this tour was dull and drawn out.  Especially when compared to the Grand Perfume Museum, the Fragonard lacked engagement.  It is a passive experience, dominantly looking and listening, so visitors cannot connect to the content. When creating a museum about fragrance, the primary action should be smell!

The Fragonard Museum of Perfume is much more a museum than a full sensory experience, like that of The Grand Perfume Museum.  Paying to play at The Grand Perfume Museum is a more productive use of precious Parisian time than strolling through a staged tour at Fragonard.

 

Evenings at the Eiffel Tower

After spending hours indoors, I opted to watch the sunset from the Eiffel Tower.  With a stick of barbe à papa (translation: Dad’s beard), I sat on a bench in the Trocadero Gardens and enjoyed the magical hour between day and night in one of the most spectacular cities in the world.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Paris,

A.J.H.

 

 

Break 1 – Paris

 

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Language of Love

The next morning I found myself in a crowd of travelers from all over the world.  Though this isn’t a strange occurrence in Paris, it was a special one, because we were all appreciating Le mur des je t’aime, or the Wall of Love.  This mural, tucked away in a small park in the neighborhood of Montemarte, features written “I love you”s in more than 250 languages.  It took me a few minutes to locate the English inscription, as I was more interested in the findings of the other visitors.  While I could understand the Spanish “te amo” (upper right-hand corner) and the French “je t’aime” (left center), people were posing next to phrases so foreign to me that I could not even identify their region of origins.  There is still so much of the world to experience!

 

Passages of Paris

Breaking away from the gathering, I navigated towards the River Seine via a few of Paris’s passages, from Passage Verdeau, to Passage Jouffroy, eventually reaching the most well-known, Passage des Panoramas.  These “hidden” hallways house restaurants, boutique shops, and everything in between.  I enjoyed the afternoon in quirky antique stores and sophisticated photo galleries.

I followed the walkways down to my next location, “Les Deux Plateaux,” an art installation in the courtyard of the Royal Palace.  Though Daniel Buren’s work has been present here for more than 30 years, I had only recently discovered these funky fixtures.

Les Deux Plateaux de Buren | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

Exiting the courtyard, I ended up just in front of La Comédie – a cafe that I had visited with my family on my last trip to Paris – and realized just how hungry I was!  Torn between wanting to try a new restaurant and returning to this reliable café, I ultimately decided to stay.  Compromising, I ordered a different meal, this time, the three-cheese quiche.  A self-proclaimed quiche connoisseur, I eat a lot of this dish.  My mom’s quiche is creamy, smooth, and moist, while my dad’s is dense and cheesy.  I enjoy both of my parents’ signature quiches, but La Comedies’ version was one of the best I’ve ever had.  Seriously, amazing.  Granted, I hadn’t yet eaten that day, and was (and still am) slightly appalled at the 14€-a-serving price tag, but this slice of heaven was worth it.

 

Shopping Soirée

An appropriate way to spend an evening in Paris, I went department store hopping, appreciating French fashion in the capital of all things chic.  The Galeries Lafayette (Haussman), as I’ve previously praised, is always worth a visit, at the very least for the free, panoramic views.  Expanding my retail tourism, however, I also explored Le Bon Marché, another popular Parisian shopping destination.  Though much less architecturally impressive than the Galeries Lafayette, this mini mall did have a funky, concept store section and a cool, vinyl record cafe.

Only have time for one?  Galeries Lafayette.  Not only is it’s location is more convenient, near the center of Paris, its glass dome and rooftop views rival the beauty of any other attraction in the city.

Eiffel Tower | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

 

Travel Tips

  • Time of day matters.  When visiting the passages of Paris, consider when you choose to go.  If you arrive too early, or on a Sunday, many of the shops will be closed and the entire effect of the attraction will be missed.  You may skip crowds going at off-peak times, but I think that the skinny passages are in their full glory at mealtimes, when people are packed into cafés and window shopping, walking off the fantastic French fare.
  • Souvenir fail.  One of my favorite shops in the passages was Paris est une Photo. Though I appreciated his photography, I was more inspired by the old postcards mingling with the photos.  DO NOT BUY 12€ MOUNTED POST CARDS FROM THIS SHOP.  Five minutes down the hallway, I came across multiple shops selling vintage postcards for 1€ each, or less, and not just one or two shoeboxes full, but at least 10.  I’m usually a smart shopper, scanning all my options before going back to get the item I liked best, but of course I lost on this sole, spontaneous purchase.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Paris,

A.J.H.

Break 1 – Paris

Moulin Rouge; Paris, France | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

Valentine’s Day weekend in Paris—what a time to visit the City of Love as a solo traveler!

After strolling through the streets at sunset and stopping for a satisfying pizza at Bianca, a cozy and casual café/bar, I arrived at the Moulin Rouge.  Though also a tourist destination, this iconic attraction draws much less of a crowd than the Eiffel Tower, yet is an equally entertaining spot to people watch and snap photos after dark.

I stayed at Adveniat Youth Hostel, a Christian hostel, though very hotel-esque.  Lobby-only wifi was constricting, but considering I booked a 6-person dorm room and got a double room with an ensuite all to myself for the duration of my trip, I wasn’t complaining.

 

Hidden Paris

I began the next day in search of Rue Crémieux, a rainbow streak of homes slid among the streets of cream and navy Haussmann architecture.

Not difficult to find, but seemingly a different world, the little row of houses was quiet and quaint, more like the country than the giant, French metropolis.

From here, a short walk lead to the Coulée verte René-Dumont, or the Promenade Plantée, a railroad track-turned-green space on the east side of Paris.  Though I was blessed with wonderful weather for my entire trip, I appreciated the sun a little bit more while wandering down the path, which was surprisingly lush and green for winter.

To finish the morning, I revisited the artisanal boutiques of l’Île Saint-Louis and the bustling streets of Le Marais, a neighborhood north of the island, where I stayed with my mom and aunts on my first trip to the city.  Solo travel comes with amazing individual experiences, but I’ll always associate Paris with the special time I got to spend with my family.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Paris,

A.J.H.