Wine Recap

In my last post, I had a photo of my case of organic wines from Australia, mostly Ochota Barrels.  4 months on, I’ve not finished all of them but I have another case on the way.  After my most recent trip to California & my Winc membership, the wine closet is maxed out. So, I need to get off my block and make it happen or make room or drink it or share it or something.  If you’re free & like wine, text me.

As I was sipping through the Spring & Summer, I did my best to document what I was drinking & eating.  If you’d like any of the recipes, feel free to send me an email. Overall, the wines were amazing & totally worth the shipping.

The below recap comes from phone photos & random notes on slips of paper.  I did more accurate mini notes on Instagram as I went.  If you’re curious, you may want to check there as well.

Ochota Barrels 5VOV Chardonnay



Tasting Notes: Buttered Popcorn
Meal: Lemon Garlic Butter Shrimp, crusty bread

Ochota Barrels Impeccable Disorder Picadilly Pinot Noir

 

 

 



Tasting Notes: Red & Black Fruit
Meal: Steak marinated in soy sauce, fish sauce, & red onions, sauteed mushrooms, salad, & oven chips with chicken salt

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vinyard Grenache

 



Tasting Notes: Dark Chocolate & Raspberry
Meal: Arroz con Gandules, Camarones al Ajillo (spicy) & salad

Ochota Barrels & Gentle Folk Vineyards – Father’s Milk Pinot Noir
I think the winemaker’s wife was pregnant when he made this <3

 

 

 

 

Tasting Notes: Small, wild sweet strawberries that are red through & through
Meal: Nothing – it was so good that I didn’t want to pair with anything. It’s the best red I’ve ever had after the Botanicals.  Reminded me of a valdigue.

Ochota Barrels 186 Grenache

 



Tasting Notes: Peppery & strong with 13.8% alcohol content #right_turnt
Meal: Most likely steak frites & salad (period dinner)

Miss Moss Sparkling Blanc de Blanc


Tasting Notes: PAPAYA!!!! Amazing!
Meal: Truffled roast chicken, salad, & potatoes.  We tried a few wines with the chicken, so, we had the rest of the bottle with a fried New England Fisherman’s Platter (shellfish, cod, fries, onion rings) a couple of days later.

Other Wines From the Case
Ochota Barrels – Weird Sweet Berries in the Woods Gerwurztraminer: Hands down my favorite Gerwurz, super dry, floral – so delicate & complex.

The Other Right – White Young Thing: Tastes like baking tart apples, would be good in the fall with mature cheddars

Ochota Barrels – A Sense of Compression: This is the partner wine Maynard James Keenan and it’s a one the best done premium new world wines I’ve ever had.  We shared the wine & our summer truffle with friends who are Tool fans and chefs.  The whole thing ended up being a truffle pizza & wine fest.  BTW, I bought the truffle on sale from Food52 & we definitely got $60 worth of deliciousness and entertainment out of it!

If you’re interested in any of these, Australian Wine Centre ships worldwide.  With the exchange rate, it’s not as bad as you would think.  However, if you’re looking for something a bit closer to home, Winc is a great wine club.  I normally don’t recommend wine clubs since they tend to be quantity over quality.  If you dig around their website, they have some really interesting California wines you don’t see on the East Coast.  On a recent quick in & out of California, I saw my entire August order for sale at 2 super hipster wine shops.

Cheers!
Salud!
Sante!
Kiipis!
Slainte!
かんぱい! 

 

And so it begins…

My case of wine arrived from the Australian Wine Centre.

This is big news chez Evil Lair because I have such affection for Australian made things – music, wine, food, art.   Everything, really.  Living & creating in an isolated place brings a certain aesthetic to things and I dig it.

Here’s a photo of my most recent haul from Down Under:

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing some reviews & suggested pairings.  Here’s a sneak peek:

Nothing like uncorking your dinner after a 60 hour week with another 12 hour day ahead of you!

KIDDING!!! #boozebag

I did not have half a bottle of wine with a packet of crackers for an evening meal. There was a huge plate of cheese, charcuterie, & salad out of the frame…as well as my hawt husband, who was splitting everything with me.  The wine just went best with these particular crackers.

Before I get into the reviews though, I wanted to serve you an apero!

In the Fall, I went back to the “Old Country”, a.k.a. Ireland, and ate some very tasty things.  We decided to do one fancy meal & chose The Greenhouse  for their tasting menu.  It’s billed as modern organic Irish food and it’s made by a Finnish chef…so it has a bit of that trendy Nordic thing happening.   Highly recommended.

They have a signature cocktail which is a great starter & would be really wonderful in hot weather. It’s Blanc de Blanc champagne, citrus syrup, kaffir lime leaf, & elderflower cordial.  The above is a decent approximation of it with components found at any basic shop.

As champagne is much more expensive in the US than the EU, I wanted a blanc de blanc fizzy from another region.  Total Wine didn’t have much in that style, hence, my choice of Cremant d’Alsace.  In general, I tend to use the Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blanc or prosecco if I’m creating something with a more subtle flavor profile.  This Cremant worked well but it was a bit heavier than the resto version with its red juice component.  For the citrus piece, we made lime syrup with just sugar & fresh lime juice and did a St Germain floater.   It’s a great starter, especially, if you’ve got a night of eating & drinking in front of you.

Enjoy!

Feeling Like A Local Abroad

I was born with insatiable wanderlust.  From a very young age, all I wanted to do was see everywhere.  Over the course of my life, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to see other places & experience other cultures.  While I still have a bucket list a mile long, my preferred mode of travel has moved from seeing as much as possible within a short window to leisurely inserting myself into local life.  The more people with whom I speak, the more I hear that people prefer this kind of travel as well.  If that’s what you’re looking for too, then, here are a few tips to experience a destination like a local:

1. AirBNB or other rental
In my opinion, there’s nothing that makes me feel “on the road” more than the lack of private cooking facilities.  For as much as I love to eat out, at some point, my stomach and my wallet wave a white flag.  Eating a homemade meal on the couch while watching local tv or a movie can be very grounding, especially if you’re in a completely different environment. 

Aside from the ability to self cater, renting a place means you’re more likely to be in a neighborhood vs. a tourist or business area.  So, you’ll have easy access to shops & services that locals need & use.

Advice: Make sure your rental has multiple, varied reviews over a span of time.  This indicates a legitimate property.

2. Shopping: Supermarkets & Pharmacies/Chemists
If you want a snapshot of where a place is at, check the supermarket and pharmacies.  Supermarkets will be showcasing the latest trendy foods while simultaneously tipping their hat to the latest wave of immigration.  Pharmacies can give you all kinds of clues to the general state of things.  Big end cap with allergy pills, tissues, & eye drops? Something ferocious is about to bloom! More contraceptives than baby items? Definitely a younger neighborhood so there’s probably some good restaurants nearby. Etc., Etc., Etc..

Beyond the inferred social commentary of stocked products, supermarkets and pharmacies provide the best kind of souvenirs: Experience Gifts! Have you ever used Labello chap stick?  You’ll be hoarding it like quarters for laundry. Love fancy chocolate?  Supermarket level bars in Europe (especially Switzerland & Belgium) are higher quality, fresher, and an incredible value compared to anything you can get here.  Enjoy taking baths?  A box of 20 fizzing bath tablets in Japan will run you under $5.

Advice: Be open minded & buy anything small that catches your eye to try while you’re there. You never know when you’ll find your new favorite sweet or sunscreen.

3. Classes
The 2 classes I love to take when I am traveling are yoga and cooking.   Travel is wonderful and life changing but it can be really hard on your physical body & mental state.  Between the jet lag, congested spaces, new food, & different environment, your body can go out of balance pretty quickly.   I’ve found a couple of yoga classes can get me right back to where I need to be.  Luckily, most yoga studios offer an introductory pass and equipment rentals.  I’ve never regretted spending money on yoga – ever.

Cooking classes are amazing for 3 reasons:
1. You get to eat something delicious.
2. You get to hang out with fun people (usually – food & wine people tend to be pretty open).
3. You get recipes to take home & relive your experience over and over again.

Advice: Check Yelp, Swarm, or other social media for best local options.  Trip Advisor is great for resorts, hotels, and other attractions but cater more to visitors rather than locals.

If there are things that make you feel like a local abroad, I’m all ears in the comments below!

Happy, Happy Money

This morning, I saw a quote that basically said once you figure out money, everything in your life becomes easier.  Given that we live in capitalist society, I would agree with that.  Money is inert but it solves problems & generates a certain type of freedom.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about student loan debt, for profit schools, and inability to ever retire.   When I started college, I had no clue about student debt and how that would end up dictating my career choices and lifestyle.  Long story short, I was pretty broke through my 20s but, eventually, became debt free. Although, trying to pay off Navient turned into an exercise of red tape, requiring assistance from Elizabeth Warren’s office (another story, another time).  Anyway, because of my experience growing up in a working class family & navigating post school debt, I ended up with a volunteer gig doing financial literacy seminars for inner city, college bound students.

As we’re moving into a new season and a time of reinvention, I wanted to share some of the concepts that I share with my kids:

Practical Tips

1. Never spend more than you earn.

2. Always pay your credit cards off & any debt down.  Better yet, don’t get into debt.

3. Read your contracts. Know your obligations and for how long you will have them.  Think about how these obligations will dictate future life choices – because they will.

4. Budget for all your expenses – not just the big ones.

5. Use contraception

6.  Save for a rainy day.  There’s nothing worse than having a crisis and no way to make it better.

7. Keep an emergency $20 bill tucked in your wallet.  You never know when you’ll be stuck somewhere where you can’t pay with your phone or cards.

8. Always have skills that will enable you to support yourself & your lifestyle.  Never stop learning.

9. Insurance. Insurance. Insurance.  Health, dental, car, renters’.  If you’re inclined to get other types of insurance, make sure you know what the policy covers & decide whether it meets your needs.  Pet insurance is a notorious one for never covering what you need.

10. Take care of your health & well being.  Eating out, smoking, etc. are expensive and often not great for you.

Emotional Tips

1. Find what you love about your work and value that.  It’s almost impossible to love your job all the time – and you won’t.

2.  It’s better to be broke in your 20s when all your other friends are & you have no pressing obligations or dependents.

3. Spend money on experiences, not stuff.

4.  Earning your own money is empowering and intellectually stimulating at any age.  Over the years, I’ve worked with various age groups but mostly retirees.  By their own admission, those who worked part time or had outside obligations felt healthier & happier.

At the end of my seminars, I always recommend the book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, where 2 Harvard researchers explain from a scientific standpoint how spending money in certain ways can make you happier & more fulfilled.  I recommend it for those starting fresh, starting over, or just looking for a new way to think about old concepts.

If you have any tried & true money tips, leave them in the comments as I share this blog with my kids.

 

More Travel Tips: Money

Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends that they’ve had their ATM or credit cards hacked while on the road. When I called into my bank to advise that I was travelling, the coordinator told me that she’d been getting a lot of “hot card” alerts, i.e. stolen or hacked cards.

The challenge of getting money on the road today is, unless you’re carrying all the cash you need, you’re dependent upon cards.  Travelers cheques aren’t worth taking (imho) as it’s harder to find places who will cash them.  If they do cash them, the fees can be up to 40% of the face value.  Plus, the exchange rate is often better with cards.  Certain credit cards & banks will waive the foreign transaction fee (Capital One, Chase Sapphire, etc.) so it literally can pay to use cards.

In general, your cards could be compromised anywhere (Hello, Target!). However, it’s a bit easier to deal with the issue when you’re home vs. travelling.  So, here are some tips to help lessen the chances of being inconvenienced by “hot cards” on the road:

1. Bring 2 credit cards from separate banks – If one card gets compromised, then, you will have the other one.  Some exceptional cards will express you a new card but you’ll still need something while you’re waiting.

2. Bring 2 ATM cards – Some banks offer fee free checking – or you may have multiple checking accounts with your bank.  Use one of them as your “travel” account. Deposit enough money in this account to cover your travel expenses. If something does happen to that card/account on the road, it’s not your main checking account.

3. Use an old hotel key card to get into bank ATMs after hours – The bank coordinator told me that she thought some of the hacking occured from inserting the card in the door slot to access the ATM. That may or may not be the case, but, if you’re concerned, use the old hotel key to gain access. I recommend carrying a card with a magnetic strip in your suitcase anyway.  Many eco hotels require the key card to be in a slot to turn on the lights in your room.  I, personally, have left the room and the key card in the slot as I’ve departed.  While it’s not a super pain to get a new a key card, why waste the time?

4. Use AMEX or Visa Gift cards in lieu of cards or cash for shopping – In some ways, you could consider these the new travelers’ cheques as they’re widely accepted and independent of your accounts.

If you do get hacked or lose your cards, I recommend calling the banks ASAP to report your accounts being compromised & to discuss your options.  If you lose your ATM card, you may have the option for the bank to run your credit card through their terminal.  They may be able to give you cash at a lower interest rate than if you used your credit card as a straight ATM card in the machine.

I hope these tips help and I wish you safe travels.

One Must Have Goals

I had mentioned that I’d be posting more from Australia.  Well, we all know how that worked out.   If you’re up & close and personal with me on a regular basis, you’re probably not surprised at my lack of blogging.  My track record on returning calls & emails runs on the slow side. 
Anyway, Australia has always been one of my places – it’s an American West Coast lifestyle with European infrastructure.  As with any good adventure, the country left a couple of permanent physical marks on me including a new piercing and a new hair color.  Thank you, Southern Sun!

A lot has happened since my adventure Down Under…and I should now have more free time.  With all this newfound time, I’ll probably be updating my blog a lot more. #daretodream  One must have goals, right?

Are you coming to this school or what?

There’s always been something about Australia for me…maybe it was the music? Maybe it was “Facts of Life Down Under”?  I am not sure when or where the seed was sowed but it’s just one of the places I’ve always dreamt of seeing.  When I filled out my SAT application in high school, I realized that the University of Sydney would take the scores as part of their application.  After that, I always wondered, “What if…”.  Although looking back, I am not sure I could’ve handled going away & not coming home for a long time.  Being 10,000 miles away from home doesn’t lend itself to any quick visits. But, still…

In 2003, I was able to make here for the first time & it surpassed my expectations.  Melbourne reminded me of Boston & Sydney was more like Los Angeles.  At the time, the whole country really felt like it was at the end of the earth.  I can’t articulate the feeling beyond you’re in a country the size of the US with the population of New York spread out across it while being thousands of miles from any world hub.  While the internet was around, it still felt a little isolated.  However, that isolation (and some of the social/political events of the late 80s/early 90s) gave way to amazing art, music, food, & fashion.  I was in love.

In 2010, I was approached about working in a vineyard in Victoria…but I still wasn’t ready to take the plunge.

Finally, last year, I earned a sabbatical at work.  So, here was another chance to find out what it would be like IF I did take that opportunity to come here.  This time, I jumped on it. I got a cheap flight, rented an apartment, & packed my bag.

Here I am…and I’ve never been so glad to be anywhere. First, it’s 80 degrees & summer here. Second, it’s changed SO much!  With globalization & their robust economy, Australia feels so much more connected to the world.  “Murial’s Wedding” & “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” celebrated their 20th birthday last year.  Stephen Elliot, the director of “Priscilla” said you could never make those films again. They really spoke to the isolation people felt at the time & how they’d do anything to get out of wherever they were.  Sydney still has it’s unique character but it’s much more global.

I am on my 5th day here…it took me 3 nights before I woke up feeling ok.  Waking up after the 4th night, I felt great.  This morning, after my fifth night, I feel like I’ve always been here.  In my fog, I’ve been able to basically walk the entire city & most of the inner suburbs.  Today, I was definitely “myself” inasmuch as I picked up some great interesting wines to prepare for my WSET.  I’ve made a list of music I’d like to pick up…most of the unique stuff is from New Zealand…which may still have that isolated feel Australia had 10+ years ago?

AND – most importantly, I closed the loop on my first opportunity to come here. I didn’t realize my apartment is within walking distance from the University of Sydney campus.  So, I bought this ferocious lion t-shirt from the “Uni Store”. If anybody asks me if I went to the University of Sydney, I can finally say, “Technically, yes…”.

P.S. Doesn’t the lion look like he’s saying, “Are you coming to this school or what?”

Montreal

Since I’ve not blogged in yonks, I am trying to get caught up…

A while ago, Phil & I made an impromptu trip to Montreal.  Growing up in New England, going to Montreal seems to be a rite of passage where when you turn 18. Everybody piles into a car & heads towards the land of legal drinking, strip clubs, & casinos…sort of like New Orleans for the Northeast set.

I was not one of those 18 year olds so I didn’t actually see Montreal until I was in my mid-20s.  I really love it there – not necessarily for the vices but more because it’s a real outlier in a lot of ways.  It’s fiercely French in its own way.  It’s mellow, local, artsy, & intellectual with loads of nice people. Also, most of the infrastructure hasn’t been updated since the 1967 World Expo which gives it a real industrial, mid-century vibe (swoon!).  If you’re looking for a low key, easy vacation & you like a lot of art/small local businesses/DIY vibe, I cannot recommend Montreal enough.

Logistics
It’s about 5 hours by car from Boston, i.e. about 1 tank of gas.  Right now, with the exchange rate not being great, I recommend getting any refills in Vermont.  Gas in Canada is much more expensive by ounce/ml & you purchase it in litres.

Bring your passport.  You can get in with the card or just a license still…but going through customs will be quicker if they can just scan your passport.

Montreal is a walkable city & their subway is super efficient.  Put your car in a garage & leave it there for the duration of your vacation.  You can get street parking but they’re uber efficient with ticketing & towing.  So, $20 a day is worth not having to worry or deal with any hassles.

Lodging
There are plenty of options.  We stayed at Le Relais Lyonnais, which is a great, small budget hotel.  It’s in the middle of the student quarter (kind of like staying at the cheap end of Newbury Street). It’s not posh or quiet but well located.  If I needed a hotel again, I’d stay there.  Although, we agreed that next we’d probably rent an apartment so we can cook.

Sights
At this point, I don’t really do too much sightseeing…my vacations here are really all about nipping away & hiding for a few days.  However, here are some highlights I’ve enjoyed:
Hiking up Mont Royal – Montreal’s namesake, gorgeous city views
Old Town – It’s a cross between Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, & Fort Point Channel – historic & repurposed – with shops, restaurants, & museums.
Musee d’art contemporain – Modern art museum with a really cool gift shop.
Botanical Gardens & Insectarium – I love that it’s called “Space for life” in French.  You won’t see vastly different things here since we share the same basic climate but it’s still cool.
Scandinavian Spa – If you’re looking to relax, this is THE place.  Aside from the traditional spa services, they have a thermal pool & waterfall, pine sauna, & steam room.  They offer discounted day passes during the week.  Woo hoo!!!

Food
Montreal is a great city.  The “doing your own thing” really comes into play here. I recommend the following:
Marche Jean Talon – We visited almost all the public markets & this was the biggest & best.  Most everything was local & organic.  It was half wholesale, half consumer with loads of prepared food stalls (local sausages, fish, bakeries, ice cream, etc.). We got an amazing flat of mixed local berries with edible flowers…I didn’t know you could eat orchids (taste like bland celery)
Depanneur Le Pick-Up – This is a refurbished convenience store/lunch counter within walking distance from Marche Jean Talon.  The line snakes through the store but it moves quickly.  There’s only 2 people cooking & prepping so it can take a while to get your food.  If you don’t get takeaway, there’s table service…but the tables are in front, on the side, in the back. Often, the servers are walking around looking for people.  It works fine but I can see how some impatient people wouldn’t be having it.
La Banquise – 30+ kinds of poutine in a place that took some cues from Howard Johnsons circa 1974. I.LOVE.IT. AND – it has a giant poster of one my most favoritest movies ever – C.R.A.Z.Y. – signed by the director.  A quick note – it’s cash only & even though we had table service, we had to pay as soon as we ordered. Also, it’s open all night.
Buvette Chez Simone – Wine bar with an expansive list.  When you sit down, they give you paper & a pencil to check off which “snacks” you’d like with your wine.  These weren’t just snacks – these were full on US appetizer sizes of things.  The food was fresh & amazing – we would’ve gone twice if we stayed longer.
Jewish Neighborhood Nibbles:
Willensky’s – go once, go more if you like baloney!
Fairmount Bagel – Montreal bagels are good – they’re not as glossy on the outside/chewy on the inside like a lot of US bagels.  They’re also a little sweeter.
KemCoba Gelato – This place had a line out the door – with good reason.  A small dish will give you 2 scoops if you don’t opt for the soft serve.
Chocolats Andree – Locally made chocolates.  The shop is in a row house & the case is in the small living room. They have a limited, seasonal selection each day – all the pieces are really small but you can tell it’s a true labor of love.

And…drumroll, please…
Joe Beef, Liverpool House, & Le Vin Papillion
It’s everything you’ve ever heard. Seriously.  I read an interview with one of the owners where he was talking about the liqueur, Chartreuse.  He described it as a “green monster penis – cool to have but you can’t do anything with it”.  I can’t quite articulate my thoughts but that quote pretty much sums up the restaurants – irreverent, over the top, & “I’m going to do whatever I want & it’s going to be awesome.”.
If you go…I recommend the following – go to Liverpool House first when it’s still light out.  It’s more casual and a bit easier to maneuver.  The menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall in all 3 places.  Liverpool House had the shortest menu & the tables were more spaced out. It was easy to stand up; read the menu; and not feel like you were disturbing somebody’s dinner.  Once you get the hang of that, go to Joe Beef.  The menu there is much more expansive – it goes around the whole restaurant (2 rooms). The light is low; the tables are close together; & servers are dodging you, the tables, & each other.  I advise dispatching one person from your party to go take photos of all the walls with his/her phone & then, show them to everybody else at the table.  The food is SO good. Be prepared for big portions of farm food – lots of meat, veggies, & dairy.  I ended up with leftovers that gave me 4 more meals from both places.

Last but not least – french fries from anywhere (except fast food chains).  Those fresh Quebecois potatoes are unparalleled!

If I missed anything, please comment below!

Travel Question – Do I need trip insurance?

It’s funny – pretty much everybody thinks I am a travel agent. I’m not but it’s cool.  Consequently, I get asked for a lot of travel advice. One subject about which I am often asked is trip insurance.  Like anything else travel related, purchasing trip insurance is a very personal thing.   Some people don’t need it but feel a lot better having it.  Others legitimately need it for any number of reasons.  Some people never get it & never need it.

Whenever people come to me, I ask them the following questions:

1. Do you need it for any outstanding reason, i.e. a medical condition where you have a better than average possibility of needing medical attention on the road?
(Yes, I recommend it)

2. Are you going somewhere where there are legitimately no medical services within a reasonable drive, i.e. if you get hurt or sick, will you need to be airlifted to the nearest facility?
(Yes, I recommend it)

3. Are you spending a large amount of money on this trip, i.e. if you were to cancel/ not be able to go & not a get a refund, would it a be a problem?
(Yes, I recommend it)

4. Are you taking a “milestone/celebration” trip, i.e honeymoon or another type of trip that has a major emotional investment in addition to the major financial one?
(Yes, I recommend it)

5. Are you going somewhere where the medical facilities are on par with what you’re used to having but you wouldn’t have enough money to deal with unexpected medical expenses, extended stays, & any other related additional expenses?
(Yes, I recommend it)

6. Does your health insurance only cover you in the United States?
(Yes, I recommend it)

7. Did you pay for your trip with cash or does your credit card not have a travel insurance clause?
(Yes, I recommend it)

The only time I don’t recommend getting it is when your health insurance covers you overseas and/or you have a credit card or other insurance policy that covers travel incidents at no additional cost.

If you need travel insurance, I recommend using Insure My Trip.

Not all policies cover what you need or want.  Many basic policies don’t cover weather delays – if you’re traveling in the winter, that might be something for which you want to pay extra.  Pay close attention to the details – # of days, countries, actual covered items – and what documentation you will need to file a claim. I’ve known a few people who needed emergency health care but never got documentation to file a claim. That can be a real hassle (and expensive) to pull together you’re not in that country anymore.

Also, I recommend contacting your credit card company; your bank; AAA;  the insurance company that holds your rental/homeowner policies; or other financial service company with which you have an account. Some of your existing accounts may include travel insurance as a benefit.  You could already have travel insurance & not know it.  In the end, you may be fully covered or you may need to just buy a cheaper, supplemental policy.

Paris at Christmas

As mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to spend Christmas in Paris this past holiday.  I cannot recommend this kind of trip enough.  We left on the 15th & came back on the 26th,  a very light travel day.  While we still had make up holiday obligations when we returned, we circumvented the stressful countdown of trying to get everything done before the magic day.  I’ve never felt so refreshed in January as I have this year…because I wasn’t so worn down from the holiday!

We rented an apartment in the Marais through Vacation in Paris – http://www.vacationinparis.com/.  Personally, I prefer renting apartments when I travel because I find an apartment to be more comfortable than a hotel.  Also, you can cook your own meals when you don’t feel like going out.   Other pros include being in a residential neighborhood, more room to spread out,  & a generally cheaper vacation overall between meals & lodging.

When we arrived, we used Super Shuttle – http://www.supershuttle.com/Locations/CDGAirportShuttleParis.aspx. When we departed, we used Uber through the app we have on our phones for Boston Uber.  Disclaimer – it was 70 Euro to CDG – but it was worth it to us to not have a 5:30 am pick up time from Super Shuttle or dragging our bags in the dark to the subway & schlepping to the RER.

Paris is a great city any time of year but it is especially gorgeous around Christmas.  Surprisingly, most everything starts opening – except stores – around 2 or 3 pm on Christmas Day.  If you’re there on December 25th, there will be plenty to do – Christmas markets, ice skating, Eiffel Tower (although the line will be crazy long).  Having said that, some places do shut for the last 2 weeks of the year.  It’s always best to call – not all websites will have the most updated opening/closing times.

If you do go, here are some recommendations for fun/delicious times beyond the usual:

Guidebooks:
1. Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris –http://chocolateandzucchini.com/edibleadventures/

2. David Lebovitz’s blog –http://www.davidlebovitz.com/

3. Google Maps or other app for your phone – much easier than fussing with a map (although, I did that a lot too!)

Cultural Things (beyond the usual iconic “must sees”)
1. All the gardens – you can watch all Petanque leagues play & old men shout “merde!!!!” when they miss shots

2. Palais de Tokyo – Open until at least 11pm every night even Sundays http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/

3. Ciel de Paris/Tour Montparnasse – The restaurant will give you the best view of the city including the Eiffel Tower (just go for a drink in the afternoon).  A lot of people think the best view is from the Eiffel Tower but you can’t see the Tower while you’re standing on it! Plus, Montparnasse, while huge, is not the most attractive building in the city.  So, why not use that for your city views vs. having it in your photos? http://www.cieldeparis.com/

4. The roof at Galeries Lafayette – this also provides great views of the city from the Right Bank

Restaurants/Food
1. Frenchie – The restaurant only takes reservations online about 12 weeks in advance.  If you can’t get one, you can queue up for the wine bar (get there around 30 mins before it opens) & tell them you’ll take a table if there’s a no show. The wine bar has the same style food but it doesn’t take reservations.  Getting there early is a must.  Frenchie to Go is great for lunch as well.
http://www.frenchie-restaurant.com/en

2. Les Philosophes – Traditional French Food done by a Japanese chef for organic/mindful diners – and with American style veggies options, i.e. big meal sized salads.  Try the cuisse de canard – served with duck fat potatoes & salad.  I am still dreaming of this meal…http://www.cityvox.fr/restaurants_paris/les-philosophes_78585/Profil-Lieu

3. Cuisine de Bar – Poilane’s cafe…great for brunch. Aaaannndddd they favored my Tweet so I <3 them! http://www.cuisinedebar.fr/en/index.php

4. Marche Biologique de Batignolles – This is the big organic market.  You can get EVERYTHING here – meat, fish, dairy, jams, bread, and of course, loads of fruit & veggies –  http://equipement.paris.fr/marche-biologique-des-batignolles-4514

5. Wine – What my 7th grade teacher told me still holds true – wine is cheaper than most soft drinks. For 3 Euro a coupe, you can try lots of different ones.  The best part – they’re often not loaded up with sugar and other things so you won’t get an awful headache like you do here from cheap wine.

6. O Chateau – Try any number of wines by the glass including Chateau d’Yquem! http://www.o-chateau.com/

7. L’As du fallafel – Lenny Kravitz’s favorite fallafel place in Paris! Their take away window is open until midnight – keep it in mind if you get desperate! https://plus.google.com/115347975969490413823/about?gl=us&hl=en 

Shopping
1. Big Department Stores – Galeries Lafayette will give you a 10% shopping coupon plus pull the VAT off your purchase as soon as you buy whatever item (better than having to go to a desk at the end with all your receipts).  The caveat? It’s the Herald Square Macy’s with all the tour bus drop offs but it’s a proper French department store.  While I didn’t buy anything in the upstairs, I hit Lafayette Gourmet in the basement HARD.  REAL HARD…terrines, Dalloyau pastries, Petrossian smoked salmon, etc.. The Bordeauxtheque is not to be missed if you’re a wine person.  However, having said all that, I like Bon Marche & Le Grand Epicerie better.

2. Things to buy – There’s a real Brooklyn thing going on with fashion right now but you can still get the Parisian touch with nice lingerie, perfume, drugstore cosmetics (which is on par with department store cosmetics here), and of course, chocolates – all for much cheaper than what you’d pay here for  the same quality.

Other Recommendations
1. Taking the TGV on a day trip out of the city – We went to Reims (45 mins each way).  By the way, Pascale, an extremely nice SCNF employee at Gare du Nord helped us out when we booked the wrong tickets.  She was technically on her break but went back to her window to help us.  We went back to bring her flowers but couldn’t find her.  If you see her, tell her MERCI from me!

2. Walk – You can buy a tourist metro pass but just get a carnet.  You’ll see so much more stuff walking around.  To put it in perspective – the incorporated city of Boston is double the size of Paris.

3. TSF Jazz – Jazz radio station that will create a real Paris vibe in your apartment (http://www.tsfjazz.com/accueil.php) along with a stinky Diptyque candle (http://www.diptyqueparis.com/), some flowers you bought at the bio marche Batignolles, and an apero of rose & potato chip. Voila – vous etes un Parisien!

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back – so much so, I am already planning on another trip this year.  If you have any recommendations for me, please post them in the comments.  Or, if you’re planning to go, I am happy to answer any questions.