Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’


Hello? Is anyone still there? So I know it’s been a while since my last post and I don’t really have an excuse but I hope to post on a more regular basis from now on, so please stick with me!

So last we left off I had just finished posting about Loire Valley.  After 4 days in France, the hubs and I were more than happy to get on with the Paris part of our trip.  Don’t get me wrong, Loire Valley was beautiful and a lovely place to visit but we were just so darn excited for all the great restaurants I booked in Paris, which I’ll go over in my next post.

While the focus of our Paris trip was food, we still had to plan some activities to space out our meals so this post will focus on all the sights we visited.  The hubs and I had already visited Paris before (twice for me, once for him) and had done the major attractions like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur, and Musee D’orsey so this time we focused on the lesser known attractions.

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Musee Rodin – Dedicated to the works of Auguste Rodin, this museum and surrounding gardens was used primarily as Rodin’s workshop during his life.  The house itself is manageable and includes lesser known works of his as well as from Camille Claudel, another french sculptor who was Rodin’s model and lover.  What is special about this museum is the serene gardens with Rodin’s sculptures scattered throughout, including the famous The Thinker, The Kiss, The Gates of Hell (inspired by Dante’s Inferno)and The Burghers of Calais.

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Palais Garnier – Known as the Opera Garnier or the Opera de Paris, this was the premier Opera house during 19th century Paris and was famous for its opulence and grandeur.  Being a huge fan of Phantom of the Opera, I had to visit the famous opera house that was the inspiration for the novel and later the musical.  I’d highly recommend taking the guided tour of this opera house to gain a better appreciation of the architecture.  The guides are wonderful in their descriptions and do a great job letting the visitors imagine what it was like to be a member of the elite going to watch an opera and walking up the grand staircase.  The Opera house is absolutely beautiful and a must see for anyone who appreciates great architecture and storytelling.

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Musee de l’Orangerie – This intimate museum permanently houses Monet’s famous Water Lilies murals.  Located in 2 rooms are 4 giant panels of the Water Lillies canvas, each panel depicting a different time of day and season.  The rest of the museum has a good collection of other impressionist works.  I particularly liked this museum because of the well curated impressionist paintings and the size of it was very manageable.  The museum is also located at one corner of the Tuileries Gardens, which is a lovely place to stroll afterwards on a nice day.

Paris2 Arc de Triomphe – While the Arc is one of the most well known landmarks in Paris and we certainly saw it each of the previous times we were in Paris, we never actually climbed to the top.  The climb to the top is slightly strenuous but well worth it for the views.  You get a wonderful view of the layout of the city with the avenues radiating out from the arch.  You can even see the new arch from up there, the Grande Arche de la Defense, which is the 20th century version of the Arc de Triomphe.

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Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation – This site won’t take much of your time but is worth a visit.  It’s located right across the street from the backside of the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris and is free so please stop by if you are already in the area.  It’s a memorial dedicated to the 200,000 French citizens that were sent to Nazi camps and murdered during World War II.  Each of the 200,000 lights in the above picture represents a victim.

Paris4 Pont des Arts “Paris Locks Bridge” – While not an attraction per se, this pedestrian bridge is still worth a visit for the beautiful sunsets.  Come half an hour before sunset with a blanket and some wine and snacks and enjoy the sunset amidst Parisians and tourists.  And if you happen to be there with your loved one, consider purchasing a padlock, affixing it to the bridge, and throwing the key into the river as a symbol of your everlasting love!


It seems like we didn’t see a whole lot for being in Paris for 4 days but we did do a lot of walking around neighborhoods and of course we also spent lots of time dining as well.  We particularly enjoyed walking in the St. Germain de Pres (6th arrondissement) and Le Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissement) neighborhoods for the lively cafes and shops.  We also spent some downtime resting at various neighborhood parks, which was a wonderful way to people watch and catch a glimpse of daily Parisian life.  Also, I’d highly recommend visiting the famous sights in the evening as well to see them all lit up.  It’s a great way to 1) digest after a heavy dinner 2) take beautiful night pictures, and 3) enjoy the sights without all the crowds.

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Lastly, for a great unobstructed full view of the Eiffel Tower, day or night, head to Place du Trocadero.

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May can’t come soon enough.  Hubs and I just booked our flight to France and I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it! (Saved by the Bell anyone???)  Although we’ve been to Paris before, it was only for a long weekend and we were new college grads with little funds so this time we are doing it right!  There’s going to be shopping, lots of walking and exploring off the beaten path neighborhoods, and of course TONS of eating.  From wine and cheese picnics in the park to Michelin starred restaurants, from fresh out of the oven croissants to ham sandwiches, from macarons to rotisserie chicken, we want to try it all!  We’ll have 10 days there but we want to explore other parts of France too so here’s where the real work begins.  The more I research, the more places I want to see, but we only have about 5 days to explore since we want to spend about 4-5 days enjoying Paris.  I’m totally going to sound like an ignorant American but boy did I not realize how many unique cities there are in France.  Here are a few places I’m considering.

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I’ve seen numerous photos of Mont Saint Michel and would love to actually see this beautiful island in person.  It’s a well preserved medieval town and I can imagine wandering the winding alleyways.  It’s about a 4.5 hour drive from Paris though, and although beautiful, I don’t think we would spend more than a day there.  An alternative would be to spend a night or two in Rennes, Brittany and try their famous crepes, seafood, and galettes, and then head to Mont Saint Michel for a day trip.

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Loire Valley is on my bucket list of places to visit in the near future, full of enchanting chateaus and gardens.  I’d love to bike through the region, taking in the beautiful vistas.  We’d tour numerous chateaus, go wine-tasting, and try the delicious cuisine.  It’s only about an hour away from Paris by train so it’s easy to get to and we would ideally stay for 2 nights so we don’t rush our time there.

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Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy, need I say more?  This city is one of the key wine centers in France and as such has multiple caves offering FREE wine tastings!  It’s also known as a gastronome’s paradise and has a major food market on Saturdays.  The city is  approximately 2.5 hours southeast of Paris so it’s not too far out for a 2 day trip.

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Um, how cute is the architecture??  Colmar is located in Alsace, France and is right on the border of Germany and Switzerland and as such is influenced by those countries.  It’s a beautifully well-preserved city and has unique food that sounds more German than French, like bretzels with melted cheese, sauerkraut with fish, and quiches!

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Reims is the main city of the Champagne region!  It’s only 45 minutes from Paris by train so this would make a great day trip.  While there we would visit the impressive Cathedral where almost all the French kings have been crowned for 1,000 years.  And of course we can’t leave without touring the most famous champagne producers like Veuve Cliquot and Taittinger.

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Giverny, the home of Monet’s garden’s where he was inspired to paint his series of waterlilies and other dreamy landscapes.  Although there’s not much there other than Monet’s home and gardens, it’s only 45 minutes from Paris, totally worth it to see his paintings come to life.

Have you been to any of these places?  Are any of these must see’s?

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TGIF! I’m so excited because I’ll be spending this weekend in La Jolla visiting friends.  I’ve been to this lovely village twice before but this time I’ll be looking forward to just catching up with friends and relaxing.  Most people tend to visit La Jolla as a day trip from San Diego but there’s plenty to do there to make it a nice weekend getaway destination.

Featured Travel Idea: La Jolla

 top: harbor seals, grande colonial*, 7 caves kayaking

middle: panda*, la jolla cove*, la jolla shores surfing

bottom: sea world*, geisel library, mt soledad

La Jolla exudes the typical beach culture you’d expect to find in Southern California.  Sun, surf, and seals! Head to La Jolla Shores and spend your morning trying to catch waves.  If you’re new to the sport, sign up for a class at the Surf Diva, known as the #1 surf school for women.  Or you can try your hand at paddle boarding.  Make sure to stop by their shop and pick up some fun beach attire.  If you’re like me and prefer to stay relatively dry, then go on the original La Jolla Kayak tour and explore La Jolla’s Seven Caves and Underwater Park.  After an active morning, go for a stroll and head to La Jolla Coves for a picturesque view of the coastline.  Then continue on to Children’s Beach for a look at the harbor seals, just don’t get too close!  Head to Prospect Street for lunch and window shopping, stopping along to admire the beautiful architecture of the Grande Colonial Hotel nearby.  For something “off the beaten path”, drive to the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla and visit the Geisel Library, named in honor of Theodore Geisel or more famously known as Dr. Seuss.  The campus is beautiful and you’ll be amazed by the unique architecture of the library.  Finally, take a scenic drive up Mount Soledad, past the million dollar homes, and enjoy a panoramic sunset view.

Do you guys have any recommendations for me? I’ll fill you guys in on any fun things I do when I get back!

*pictures taken by me

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I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!  I know that I’m a little late with this week’s travel inspiration and I can give you all plenty of excuses but frankly I’ve just been enjoying my extra long weekend and spending some quality time with the hubs and the pooch.

So the holidays are officially upon us and nothing evokes the festive feelings than family and food.  What better way to strengthen family ties over the holidays than to take a trip together to a charming farm property where the whole family can partake in culinary activities while breathing in the fresh mountain air.  This week’s travel idea was inspired by Blackberry Farm, an intimate luxurious boutique property nestled in the western foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.  Although there is plenty to do on the property, it would be a shame to travel all the way to Eastern Tennessee without visiting the famous mountain ridge.

Featured Travel Idea: Great Smoky Mountains

 top: blackberry farm, blackberry dining, heritage center

middle: blackberry farm, smoky sunset, fly-fishing, pumpkins

bottom: hill cottages, cades cove, sheep, market square

Book a stay at Blackberry Farm during one of their culinary events, like the Delicious Decadence event on December 4-7th and watch a cooking demonstration by the famous pastry chef, Francois Payard.  Even if you can’t make it to one of their events, you can still participate in various culinary activities like their “A Day in the Life of a Chef”.  Or you can get down to the basics and help out around the farm, learn all about gardening from the master gardener, or spend some time with the shepherds.  The whole family will enjoy seeing how the food they eat is grown, harvested and prepared.  All this emphasis on farm-to-table and artisanal preparation means that dining at Blackberry Farm is nothing short of fantastic so make sure you savor the exceptional cuisine there.

Venture out of the property by hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Walk on part of the historic Appalachian Trail or bike in Cades Cove, a historic settlement from the 1800s that is open for exploration.  Try your hand at fly-fishing at one of the numerous trout streams.  You can take a beginner’s class at the Little River Outfitters or book a wading trip with R & R Fly Fishing.  When you need to take a break from all the outdoor activities, visit the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center.  Both kids and adults will enjoy learning about Native American life through interactive exhibits and detailed displays.  Finally, head to nearby Knoxville and stroll through Market Square, taking in the historic buildings, shops, and festivals.

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This week’s travel idea was inspired by the recent NYC marathon.  Watching it on TV reminded me of when I ran the race a few years ago.  Back then I was pretty active in signing up for races all over the city.  While it was great challenging myself physically, what I loved most about those races was the ability to go places I’ve never been before.  The NYC marathon winds through all five boroughs and took me through neighborhoods that I never even knew about.  I think that for those who love to run, a marathon-cation is truly an epic way to experience a city.  There are numerous marathons that give you an up-close-and-personal experience of the location, like the Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Disney World (!) marathons.  But I’m sure that one of the most scenic would be the Big Sur Marathon that happens in the Spring.  While the marathon is already full, there are numerous smaller races that you can still sign up for.  What could be more wonderful than spending half a day running along the beautiful Pacific Coastline and then spending the rest of the weekend wining and dining in nearby Carmel?

Featured Travel Idea: Carmel-by-the-Sea

 top: chateau julien, la bicyclette, carmel mission

middle: l’auberge carmel, big sur marathon, mission ranch

bottom: carmel beach, point lobos state reserve, downtown carmel

First off, book a stay at the L’Auberge Carmel, a beautiful boutique hotel that looks like it was plucked straight from the French countryside.  As luck would have it, Voyage Prive is having a flash sale on the hotel in a few days so you may score a great deal!  The race is on Sunday so you may want to take it easy before then.  Go for a leisurely walk on Carmel Beach, one of the most serene and scenic beaches on the Pacific Coast.  Then visit the Carmel Mission and stroll through the poppy gardens.  Or head to charming downtown Carmel where you can shop, eat, and browse art galleries.  You’ll want to fortify for the big race tomorrow so have a delicious dinner at Casanova or La Bicyclette, two restaurants that are known for great food and great atmosphere.  After the race, why not unwind with some wine tasting at Chateau Julien Wine Estate.  Travelzoo also happens to have a great deal that includes wine tasting for 2, a bottle of wine and appetizers, all for $25*.  Cap off the weekend with a visit to the historic Mission Ranch for dinner and music.  If you’re lucky, you may even see Clint Eastwood there.

*disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with these discount websites, I just enjoy spreading the word on good deals!

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Last week I heard on the radio that Charleston earned top honors in the 2011 Conde Nast Reader’s Choice Awards.  It was voted the #1 city to visit in the U.S., beating out San Francisco, which has held the top spot for several years running.  Now I may be biased since I now call San Francisco home, but I feel that this city is truly a wonderful city that has a diversity that can appeal to everyone.  I read that ultimately it came down to friendliness with Charleston snagging 90%  versus San Francisco’s 67%.  I guess I can see that travelers would prefer good old fashion Southern charm to our panhandling hippies!  Nonetheless, let’s see what else this city has to offer.

Featured Travel Idea: Charleston, SC

top: bacon cornbread, fried green tomatoes, pork trotters

middle: folly beach, audubon swamp garden, ravenel bridge

bottom: shrimp and grits, fried chicken, oatmeal cream pie

Charleston is one of the top culinary cities in the South.  With a plethora of award winning chefs, fresh ingredients, and a multitude of cultural influences, it’s likely you’d be eating your way out of this city.  Situated in the heart of Low Country, the city is known for fresh seafood like shrimp and oysters, and down home southern cuisine.  Have a craving for seafood? Eat at Pearlz Oyster Bar for what else, oysters or head to Bowen’s Island for their Frogmore Stew which has shrimp, corn on the cob, sausage, and potatoes.  Want to try Low Country cuisine? You can’t go wrong with Jestine’s Kitchen or Virginia’s on King.  If you could try only one southern dish (the horror!), then it must be shrimp and grits, and Hominy Grill’s the place for it.  Serious foodies will love the fresh, local ingredients featured at Husk and FIG.  Whew, with all that food, you’ll want to stay active for the rest of the trip.  Take a leisurely jog, yes I said jog, through historic downtown Charleston towards the water and end at White Point Gardens for a breather.  Oh, you want something less tiring? Take any number of self-guided walking tours, in particular try the Charleston Museum Mile tour for a little bit of culture, good scenery, and historic sites.  Or wander through the cobblestone streets South of Broad and admire the well preserved stately antebellum homes.  Visit the Magnolia Plantation for a glimpse into 19th century plantation life and nearby Audubon Swamp Gardens, the oldest public garden in America.  Go see the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge by bike and enjoy the terrific views at the top.  Finally, spend an afternoon at Folly Beach and kayak, paddle board, surf, or tan to your heart’s content.  Yeah…I’m still not sure whether Charleston deserves the top vote though, I guess I’ll have to visit 😉 !

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I heard Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours on the radio the other day and no matter how many times I hear it, it always manages to bring a smile to my face.  This song is just so wonderfully happy and calming that it brings back memories of my vacation in Kauai last year.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the hubs and I played this song every time we were on the beach!

Featured Travel Idea: Kauai, HI

top: treehouse, na pali kayak, pat’s taqueria

middle: hanalei beach, hanakapi’ai falls, monkseal

bottom: jo jo’s, waimea canyon, taro fields

Kauai, also known as the Garden Island is probably the lushest of all the Hawaiian Islands.  Rather than stay in a traditional hotel, why not stay at The Treehouse, a vacation rental located in between the North and South shore of the island, making it the perfect home base for exploring the whole island.  Although not really a treehouse (although that would be way cool!), it is a 2 bedroom stilt house with a wrap around Lanai and a tropical garden and lily pond, ensuring that you will experience the Hawaiian lifestyle as soon as you step foot on the property.

For the active travelers, make sure you go there between April and September so that you can kayak along the Na Pali coast, one of the most breathtaking coastlines in the world and best viewed from sea.  If that’s not enough of an adventure for you, hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail (one-way), which follows the Na Pali coast and takes you to numerous waterfalls and beaches accessible only by foot.  The whole trail is strenuous, requires a permit, and most likely an overnight stay at Kalalau beach, but you will be rewarded with dramatic views and total seclusion.  For those desiring just a day hike, you can still hike 2 miles (no permit) on the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai beach and falls.  For a different vista, head south to Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.  While it is certainly grand, the lush landscape and colors make it maybe even more beautiful than the stateside canyon.  On your way back from Waimea, stop by the small town of Hanapepe for lunch at the Shrimp Station.  No visit to Hawaii would be complete without some shave ice so go to the Original Jo Jo’s Anueanue Shave Ice or the not so original but still good Jo Jo’s a few blocks away.

Of course you have to squeeze in a beach day.  Go North to the famous Hanalei Beach.  Have lunch in the little town center or better yet, stay on the beach and grab some delicious tacos at the taco truck, Pat’s Taqueria.  If you prefer the South, head to Poipu beach.  If you’re lucky, you may even see some Monk Seals on the beach!  For lunch, grab a Puka dog, Hawaii’s version of a hotdog, and then some ice cream from Lappert’s Hawaii.

Finally, for something a little bit more unique, take a Kauai Photo tour, or for the artistically inclined, a Kauai Paint for the Day tour.  The photo tour provides you with the opportunity to see Kauai through the eyes of a local photographer.  You can rent and learn how to use a DSLR, ask the photographer all sorts of questions, and visit scenic spots, like the taro fields and king kong mountain!  There’s numerous other activities available (helicopter tour, ziplining, river rafting) making Kauai the perfect vacation spot to do everything or nothing at all.  Can someone please go there now and take me with you?

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