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Paris/London 2015

NOTHING BESIDE REMAINS. (Ok except some wine, but that was short-lived.) #canard

So my quick trip to Paris and London was pretty full-on. I crammed a lot into less than a week, but it was good fun. I don’t have any pictures of the London portion, but this whole trip grew out of the need to go down there so I could get a bridesmaid’s dress from David’s Bridal in Stratford. And that went just about as you’d expect spending two hours in a large American chain bridal store on a Saturday would go. Eeesh. I did pick out a nice dress though, and I didn’t even have to carry it home because it needed ordering, so that was pretty successful.

I then headed straight for the chaotic centre of London to check out the Revival Retro boutique, which was the complete opposite experience. Absolutely lovely and everything on the sale rack was in my size (NEVER HAPPENS). I straight CLEANED UP in terms of vintage style early birthday presents to myself, including this dress, which I love love love.

New clothes!

If only I were so lucky every time I had to get new clothes.

Anyway, after that, I grabbed some gelato at Gelupo to bring back to my fantastic hosts’ place for dessert. I stayed with David who I went to college with, his husband Jason and their housemate Krysta. They made me dinner and cocktails and had great chat and wine (Jason is a wine seller, check out his shop if you’re in London!) and were pretty much impeccable in every way.

Sunday, I met my friend Chloe and we had an epic Sunday roast in a pub then a walk along the river in the sun before wiling a away the afternoon before my flight out of London City in The Understudy, which is a great new bar at the National Theatre looking out on the river. Excellent beer AND coffee.


My full Flickr set for Paris.


I couldn’t remember if I’d factored in the cost of the bridesmaid’s dress when I set the budget for this trip, but I’m going to guess that I did because the dress was £110 and all my other spending was about £120 short of my full budget, which was £600. I did not count the money I spent on clothes in London in budget spend because it was just kind of normal shopping I needed to do (ALL of my clothes are falling apart at the same time, ergh.)

Trip total: £475.49

At 6 days, 5 nights, that’s an average of £79.25 per day. Higher than my average for Finland, which was slightly surprising, but I did pay for accommodation for part of this trip, and I didn’t do that in Finland.

I'm loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!

I’m loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!


 £187.90 on food and drink. I TOLD YOU this trip was all about eating. This was my biggest expense, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

£113.95 on transport. This is mostly local public transport, as I only spent £35 on the flights since I got them with BA miles/Avios.

£9.76 on entertainment. A ticket to the Louvre and a donation at Notre Dame. I did so much walking and wandering on this trip that most of my entertainment was free. The Louvre is kind of expensive, but I’d say it’s justified.

£125.00 on accommodation. My first Airbnb, which was fantastic! I’ll definitely be using it much more now.

£3.70 on stuff for me. This was some travel bits and pieces at Muji in London.

£35.18 on gifts. For my hosts and for a few treats to bring in to work.


Paris: Less money or less hurry?

In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

Paris plans

Paris, part one (and being a wimp)

Paris, part two (I am so very full)

In the headphones

Nina Simone

On the Kindle

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Paris, part two (I am so very full)

A bit of our dinner at Le Dauphin.

A bit of our dinner at Le Dauphin.

So, go back out last night I did, and I ended up at Le Dauphin. This place was amazing. It’s apparently the tapas-y offshoot of a much fancier, more expensive restaurant a few doors down. It was a little pricey, but seriously worth every Euro penny of it. Plus we shared everything so I got to try ALL THE THINGS. And I basically just let Elisabeth and Noura pick what we got, right down to the wine, so I got traditional French stuff as well as good twists on various meats. They did something MAGICAL to fresh mackerel. And the French original that a deviled egg is modeled on is a thing of pure transcendent joy, I’m telling you.

I never imagined in a billion years I’d end up in a place like that, so, that’s why it’s good to know locals.

It was a late night, ending with Japanese whisky, a metro home, and battling with the wifi to try to get some images on the last post then ultimately giving up and passing out from exhaustion and drink. I stayed in bed til about 9.45 this morning and popped out to grab some breakfasty things (including more pastry) before having a coffee with my lovely airbnb host Mathilde and going out to face another day of walking. This time in my trainers, which was such a good plan.

Today my wandering was accompanied by Dramophone on loop in my head. Perhaps slightly more appropriate than Alan Cumming (considering Cabaret is based in Berlin). Caravan Palace ARE French after all. And Thursday is usually Lindy Hop day.

On various recommendations, I went over to the 19th and 20th (‘the Leith of Paris’) and wandered through Parc des Buttes Chaumont, down through Belleville. I got an amazing sandwich from a boulangerie just across from the park in Belleville where they totally upsold me to the best meal deal I think I’ve ever freaking had. Basically, they were like, if you buy a sandwich, you can pick ANY OF THESE AMAZING LOOKING DESSERTS for sometime like 50 cents or so less than they usually are. And I was like, UM, YES, WHO SAYS NO TO THAT?! I got a massive slice of vanilla rhubarb custard tart with my cheese, walnut, honey and rocket sammitch. Then I sat outside in the park and ate the sandwich incredibly slowly because I was still kind of full from the night before, not joking.



After struggling to finish my lunch (I saved the tart for later), it was on to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise where all the famous folk are buried. I’m not terribly interested in most famous people, and least of all Jim Morrison, who most visitors seem to be after if the graffiti in the ladies toilets is anything to go by, but I did seek out Oscar Wilde’s grave. Because: Oscar Wilde! I don’t know if Jim Morrison’s is glassed off because I didn’t see it, but I was kind of disappointed that people had treated Wilde’s so badly they felt the need to seal it up. I love the choice of poetry snippet on the back from The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It’s also incredibly bizarre that this has popped up again just now because another passage from it is mentioned in Alan Turing’s biography as the way he broke off his engagement with Joan Clarke (I am STILL reading it, it’s a slog but worth it) and I just read that particular bit on the plane the other day. Coincidences!


The back of Oscar Wilde’s grave.

The cemetery was a nice place to wander around. The columbarium in particular was lovely. My grandfather is in the one in Arlington which is all very military and uniform, so I’d never seen one that had such creative and varied markers. I don’t have pictures because I feel weird taking pictures of that stuff, but people obviously put a lot of love and thought into the small square they got as a marker.

I then metroed to Bastille and did some window shopping and wandering round a Paris department store. The kitchen floor! They had a whole AISLE full of CHEESE TOOLS. And the stationery and art supply floor! Eeee. Man oh man, I have no idea how I managed to NOT buy anything. Some kind of mad self-control.

I nipped back to home base to regroup and eat some bread before heading back out post-sunset to see the Eiffel Tower. I have to say, I am so, so happy to live in a city where I am not obliged to ride an public transportation at rush hour. The sardine-like nature of the Paris metro is almost unbearable. The only thing that makes it survivable is knowing I don’t have to do it more than a few times. Yeesh. It’s almost worse than London too, because you don’t get the orderly, queue-obsessed Britishness of MOVING DOWN THE CAR.



But I digress. Eiffel Tower! I managed to round the corner from the Trocadero metro JUST as they were lighting it up at 7, which was pretty awesome. It goes all sparkly for 5 minutes every hour. I opted not to go up in it because it’s expensive and the queue was massive, but that was fine, because looking at it from outside is great. If I had the energy I would have maybe done the walk-up-stairs ticket just to see the construction of it all from the inside. But my feet are pretty dead from two full days of tromping about, so I just admired it from many angles. Then I wandered away along the river to get the metro back for an early night. One thing I did notice when staring back was that the spotlights at the top of the tower are actually 4 different lights timed to look like one rotating light shooting out from both sides. For some reason this fascinated me, probably because I bet most people don’t pay attention long enough to notice it.

I could have stared at this for hours.

I could have stared at this for hours.

I’ve had an early night tonight to regroup and rest my feet and stomach (bread, cheese and tomatoes for dinner – couldn’t handle much more). Tomorrow I’ve decided I will indeed hit the Louvre before jetting back to London. It seems wrong not to.

Paris, part one (and being a wimp)

Morning walk on the Seine.

Morning walk on the Seine.

I’ve been here just over 24 hours and I have already been reminded over and over again how long it takes me to get the nerve up to do anything. AGES. When I went out for my first wander last night and realised everything was still actually open after 5pm, I decided I needed a pastry. And then proceeded to walk past every damn patisserie I saw because I was trying to work up to asking for something in French. I am not joking, I walked for nearly an hour until I got so fed up with myself I had to say, ‘OK KATE, THAT’S IT, YOU ARE WALKING INTO THE NEXT PLACE YOU SEE WITH BREAD PRODUCTS AND BUYING SOMETHING, ANYTHING. DO IT. DO IT NOW.’

So I did. I got a wee brioche. It was pretty good. I managed to mess up two short French phrases but still ended up with what I asked for. So. Hurdle one.

Sometimes I’m good at being on my own, but sometimes I’m really, really not. I am incredibly shy, and I’m also for some reason intimidated a lot more by French than most other languages. There’s no logic behind this so I can’t really explain it. And it has nothing to do with the people, who I’ve never found to be anything but lovely and friendly. I don’t know where this stereotype of French people being rude came from because I’ve never had an example. They’ve been nothing but accommodating and helpful regardless of the fact that I butcher their language every chance I get. But I still find it really hard to get past my standard hesitation to get out of my comfort bubble.



Anyway, I did a bit of shopping after that. Bread (went for the ‘Tradition’ over the ‘Baguette’ on my friend Yann’s advice, which was SOUND), butter, yoghurt, wine, chocolate. You know. The essentials. And dropped that all back at my lovely airbnb before heading back out for dinner at the place my host recommended nearby. La Souris Verte, who squeezed me in even though they were busy and served me my first ever steak tartare with some amazing fried potatoes.

I then took a walk up to the Sacré-Cœur to take in the view (and walk off my raw, bloody, tasty meat). I didn’t stay for too long because some dude tried to ‘make friends with me’ and get me to follow him to the Moulin Rouge or something. Pain in the ass. I never felt unsafe (there are police with big guns EVERYWHERE at the moment too), but it’s just annoying to feel like a target just because you’re a single chick. So I headed home to drink more wine and plan my next day’s wandering.

Second coffee and pastry of the day in Marais.

Second coffee and pastry of the day in Marais.

Today I spent most of the day walking. I took the metro down to the river and walked along trying to find coffee. Pro tip: there’s not an awful lot of coffee going on directly on the river. At least not between Invalides and Notre Dame. So I turned away from the river and went into the first ok place I saw (it was now 10.30, needs must) which was fine, but the better stuff came later when I had coffee and a pistachio raspberry pastry at a patisserie on the other side of the river in Marais.



In between, I popped into Notre Dame, because I felt like I should probably do a tourist thing. Also it’s pretty impressive of course. I love the gargoyles. And there are all sorts of crazy details like these faces on some of the joints in the ceiling.

This is waaaaay up on the ceiling. Thank you, zoom lens, for performing fairly well in low light.

This is waaaaay up on the ceiling. Thank you, zoom lens, for performing fairly well in low light.

After that it was more wandering, all the way up to the canal, at which point it was nearing 2pm and I was hungry, so the same overcoming-my-immense-shyness-so-I-can-actually-eat-lunch process started again. I ended up in a nice place on a corner, Le Valmy, where I had some super nice duck leg in mushroom sauce with green beans and peppers, TWO glasses of wine, and a chapter of H is for Hawk in between people watching.

This is when I should have metroed it home, but I just went ‘meh!’ and walked in that general direction with the intention of getting some other cake or pastry on my way. Which I did, but it took ages and the inner-crazy went into full gear fueled by exhaustion and the need for a food coma.

So I am wandering around Paris half-cooked on food and wine and this is what is playing in my head: Alan Cumming. Singing Cabaret. On a loop. Don’t ask me why.

And then, from some small corner of my brain, a voice mischievously suggests:


And I snigger involuntarily while I wonder what on earth possessed me to walk around in THESE BOOTS. Which may well make me look less of a tourist, but they were not really made for walkin’ straight through the day. Ooft.

This is what it’s like when I spend a lot of time alone in a foreign country. (And even at home really.)


By the time I got back I was so shattered I took an hour nap. Paris has seriously taken it out of me. I’m still incredibly tired but I’m going out in a bit to meet the girls who stayed in my flat while I was in Finland in the summer. This is good, because they’ll make local decisions for me, and I don’t think I have the energy left to do that tonight. But I’m sure I’ll get my second wind.

Tomorrow I will make way more use of the metro. The weather is really gorgeous but I don’t think I can manage another full day of walking AND stuffing myself. And I haven’t even had cheese yet!

I really like this city, but I have to say I probably would rather come back with another person. Mostly because of my (largely language-barrier-based) shyness, but another person also means you get to try twice as much different food.

Post-lunch canal strolling.

Post-lunch canal strolling.

Paris plans

It’s time for me to start gathering bits and pieces to connect my 3 days of wandering in Paris. Here’s one of my favourite things I’ve read on the matter in the past few years (and the thing that made me go ‘right, time to get yourself to Paris NOW’).

Eleven Days Alone in Paris

Can I just say that I may be more excited about breakfast than I am about anything else? Even wine. Seriously. Bread and pastries and all the cafe au lait I can handle.

Things I am worried about:

I’m rubbish at French pronunciation. So, SO BAD. I’m generally bad at accenting things properly in any foreign language, but because there are so many silent letters in French, I really just can’t get my head around it, ever. Also, my brain will inevitably default to the tiny bit of Spanish I know when I panic. It’s embarrassing. It will happen.

Eating so much before going to buy this bridesmaid’s dress I need that I will eff up the fitting. In fact, I really need new jeans but I’m thinking it will be way better if I just wait it out til this trip is well past over, because let’s be honest, I may well try every last bit of cheese in Paris.

Things I am not worried about:

Being hungry.


Atlas Obscura

This is the bit you might notice at street level.

This is the bit you might notice at street level.

I figure out where to go and what to see when I’m traveling by a combination of friend and interweb recommendations interspersed with a lot of local wandering and asking locals about stuff when I’m feeling bold. (I’m not often feeling bold, but I’m better than I used to be.) The interweb bit can sometimes be a lot of the same thing over and over, but I found Atlas Obscura last year when someone posted a link to the swimming pigs and I now check it all the time when I’m deciding what to do on my next trip. (Because: SWIMMING. PIGS.)

Granted, it does have a lot of the usual touristy stuff scattered in with the truly bizarre and unusual, but that’s no bad thing considering there are usually better write-ups on those things than you’d find in a guidebook or official tourism site. Plus, as it’s all mapped, you can find bizarre things next to the normal tourist trail things, so you can get a bit of everything.

I hit quite a few of its recommendations when I was in Helsinki, and my favourite thing was the Pohjola Insurance building. It’s just an office building in the middle of Helsinki, but it’s got all these absolutely amazing stone carvings all over it. And despite having lived there all their lives, Carolina and Johanna had never noticed all the crazy things all over it, because, as Ferris Bueller is fond of saying, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. And with this place, you have to look UP.

I’ve been having a poke around it for stuff to look for in Paris, and the Arago Medallions seem like something on par with the Pohjola building, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for those. And how could I NOT pay good ol’ Nicolas Flamel a visit?

In any case, I definitely recommend putting Atlas Obscura on your usual travel research list. You can even find stuff in your own city, or better, POST really weird stuff in your own city so we can all find it!

Anyone have other good sources of strange travel planning?


In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

I have two trips I’m currently organising: Paris/London in February, which grew out of the need to pop to London to get a bridesmaid’s dress, and the US (again!) in May, where I will be wearing that dress. And recently I briefly fell into the travel research black hole of trying to find the best bargain for these trips to the detriment of all else.

I’m not sure I want to know how many times I checked flight prices and set up Skyscanner alerts for EDI-IAD return trips in the past month because it may well amount to more time that I’ll actually spend on the freakin’ plane. And I wasn’t even thinking about the ridiculousness of this until I called my friend Liam, who I will be staying with in DC, and asked him if he thought it was better to get a train back up north from North Carolina, spend the night and fly out the next day, or fly back up and go from Reagan to Dulles in a few hours. He and his boyfriend pondered this aloud for quite a while, my wifi dropped out, and when I reconnected, he said ‘Well, you could really debate this for ages and find good reasons for either way, so, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess just pick one.’

Talking sense.

And this is when I was like, ‘GAHHHH, WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING?’

Getting a good price on flights and accommodation and all that is fairly important, but also, so is my actual time. I can’t really put a price on it or anything, but it kind of felt like those times at work where someone goes, ‘Well, if we have many more meetings about this, given the day rates of the people involved, it’s starting to get more expensive to talk about this thing than just DOING IT and seeing what happens.’

Sometimes money and time ARE good motivators.

So I picked one (train, overnight, flight). Then I got off the Skype and booked my US flight. And the next day I picked an Airbnb for Paris and booked that. And made a list of the other things I need to book and put deadlines on them and forbid myself to do any more than half an hour’s research on each one. And I feel a lot better about all of it now. And I’m pretty sure I will give zero shits if the price happens to drop again, because I got some life going on.

This kind of made me realise this is the exact reason people use travel agents. I like the planning, but the research DOES take time, and you can get carried away. If you can trust that someone else is going to do all the best research for you, then why not? I sued a travel agent when I booked Africa for the first time ever. And they were great! (Trailfinders by the way. Recommended.) But I totally didn’t do it right because I was still researching everything anyway. Not because I didn’t trust they’d get me the best deal they could, but I guess because I just didn’t believe it was possible to get a better deal with a company than on my own. But it IS. And I didn’t find anything better than what they got me. PLUS they had all the knowledge I do not. So maybe I’ll do it again. It doesn’t even cost extra!

But I can’t bring myself to use a travel agent for something as simple as a trip to the US, which I do regularly enough that I should be able to book it in my sleep. So from now on, no endless searching and price tracking. I know what it should cost. I need to just get on with it.

Paris: Less money or less hurry?

I’m going to London in February for bridesmaid dress acquisition, and I’ve been planning to use it as an excuse to go to Paris as well. Originally, I was going to get the train down and use some air miles for a Eurostar ticket. (I reeeeeally want to go on the Eurostar!)

Then I saw that I’ve already missed out on super cheap train tickets to London and if I do it by train, I’d spend way more on transport than if I used my miles to fly, because I can get a flight to Paris with a stopover in London on the way home for 9000 miles and £35.

The main problem with this is that I would SO much rather take the train. But I can’t justify spending nearly 3 times as much for the privilege.  Not this time anyway.

So I may be resigned to the flights. And now I’m trying to decide if I should just go for a more full-blown holiday in Paris as well.

Initially I was going to spend three nights in the cheapest hostel I could find and just wander around for two days. Now I’m wondering if 5 nights in someone’s lovely little airbnb’d flat is a much better idea. It will cost much more, but A: I’ve never done airbnb before (exciting!), and B: if I do 2 full days in Paris and one full day in London, I’ll be spending an equal number of days doing the actual traveling between them all.

On a train, that might be ok, but three days in airports, especially when one of them is effing Charles de Gaulle (my least favourite, thus far, in the world), does not a relaxing time make. And saving money is an important goal here, but so is meaningful travel.

And an excuse to sit at a different cafe every morning drinking coffee in no hurry to go anywhere at all.

And food.


I don’t want to go to Paris just to tick it off. I want to do it properly.

Sometimes I feel like I think too much about these decisions when I should just go for things a little more impulsively. But we’ll see how I feel about the price tag of this plan in the morning. (Be sensible, Kate, you just paid off your credit card!)

In the meantime, any Paris-related suggestions greatly appreciated.