Paris: The Swag

Paris wasn't all decadent meals, and bike rides along the Seine, and me taking pictures of CM taking pictures. We also did a wee bit of shopping. We could have done so much more, but we managed to restrain ourselves. Sort of.

As a tourist, you might not stumble upon BHV (which stands for Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville), but I encourage you to reserve at least an hour for this massive department store. We wandered through like starving people at a buffet—there is just nothing remotely like this in Vienna. There are departments for just about anything you can thing of, ranging from automotive to bedding to jewelry. We bought up such myriad items as crafting supplies, a bunch of these prints for our kitchen (don't you love them?), a wedding guestbook, and I picked up some honeymoon lingerie (ahem). We couldn't stay too long without getting overwhelmed, but it was glorious while it lasted.

I long to look like a French girl, so I picked up an adorable blue and white striped summer dress and Les Tropeziennes sneakers. It's a start...

While wandering through Le Marais, we found this shop/gallery, which sells original art in small sizes. We bought the sweetest little painting. I can't wait to find a place for it.

And now for la pièce de resistance (aka The Most Ridiculous Souvenir Ever):

We must have walked by the window of Pylones (one of my favorite shops in Paris, but there are actually a few in NYC, too) a dozen times and seen this Eiffel Tower Nespresso pod holder. We started out joking about it, and then slowly the joking turned into reality, and on our last day we walked in and bought it. It came in an enormous box which we had to carry onto the plane back home. I can only imagine what the Security personnel thought as it went through the x-ray. I have to say, I know it's silly and beyond tacky, but it puts a smile on my face pretty much every time I walk into the kitchen.

Arguably the best things we bought in Paris were a tiny lock and a permanent marker, to continue our tradition. We added ours to a vast collection just across the river from Nôtre-Dame. I hope we do this all our lives.

Photo by CameraMan
And a close-up by me

I think it's safe to make this official:

44. Go to Paris with CameraMan.

Bossy Book Club

I've been reading up a storm lately, mostly in the bath. As exciting as life is these days, sometimes it's nice to dive into the lives of characters who aren't planning a wedding or a transcontinental move (oops, spoiler alert… more on that soon, I promise). Here are my recent faves.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
I love World War II stories, but most of what I've read and seen has dealt exclusively with the European War. This is a biography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who joined the Air Force in 1941 and ended up a POW in Japan. This was a recommendation from a friend, and I'm so glad I listened. Zamperini's life story is epic and inspirational, and this book was impossible to put down.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
Larson wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Devil in the White City, so I bought his new book (another World War II-related read) as soon as it came out. He has a talent for making non-fiction as compelling and readable as any novel. This one is a portrait of Berlin in the years leading up to the war, through the eyes of the bookish American ambassador (as well as his slutty daughter, who was, um, "special friends" with half the upper-level Nazis). I loved it.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
I picked this one up because it's on this list, which I'm reading for #76 on the Bossy List. This book reads like a classic, which I guess it is, although I have to admit I had never previously heard of either the book or its author. It's a small story, but ambitious in its own way. I was fascinated by the quirky philosopher of a narrator, and it felt like the kind of book I might return to every few years. I'm glad I discovered it as an adult instead of being assigned to read it in school.

I'm stocking my Kindle for the first week of the honeymoon, which we are planning to spend in unending laziness. What should I make sure not to miss?

Happy weekend!

My dearests, what are you up to this weekend? CM and I are heading out of town (again) for a couple nights. We got a Groupon (Vienna has Groupon!) for this hotel a couple hours away. Doesn't it look magical? The Groupon includes dinner and breakfast both days, and we're planning to relax, get work done, and maybe go for a hike or two. I might even get a massage while we're there. Heaven.

A few links for your weekend:

This is what we're drinking for cocktail hour tonight. It's mildly labor-intensive, but totally worth it. Make sure you shake it enough so it gets frothy. Yum.

We're having a flower girl at our wedding, and although I'm not picky about what she wears, I've been looking around the web for ideas. There are so many cute dresses out there for little girls!! Look at this one. And this one. And this one! Do they come in my size?

Camera bags for girls! Although I'm still loyal to mine.

This is everything that's awesome about marriage. Amazing.

Is there anyone funnier on the internet than The Bloggess? Show them to me now, please. I have now read this post three times and also stared at CM while he read it once. I have died laughing every time.

Here is a completely candid, not posed at all picture of CM eating a macaron in Paris.

Hope your weekend is full of lazy days, pink cocktails, and caprese salad! xoxo LMB

Paris: The Food

A few days ago I realized that the time for me to get in shape for the wedding has come and gone without me changing my diet or exercise routine in any way (at least not in the right direction—perhaps I have increased my pastry consumption). At this point, since I have only two weeks(!) left, there seem to be only two options: 1) go on a drastic deprivation starvation diet and begin working out like a fiend, or 2) accept that on my wedding day I will probably look exactly like I do today and start looking for the Austrian version of Spanx.

Guess which I'm choosing?

I take some comfort in the firm knowledge that when I'm looking back at the wedding pictures, while I may be wishing I had thrown in a few push-ups in the months leading up to the big day, I will certainly not be regretting a single morsel of food that passed my lips in Paris. People, I guess everyone knows this already, but damn the Parisians know how to eat. Forthwith, my faves from the trip:

Breakfast in Paris means pastries, obvs, and the best pastries we had were at Boulangerie des Deux Ponts on the Île Saint-Louis. There was a bakery right across from our hotel, so we started there, but they're closed on Tuesdays, which is why I turned to Google Maps for a nearby alternative. In Europe, Google Maps can be highly frustrating in its huge gaps of information, particularly regarding individual businesses, but in this particular instance it served us very well, serving up the best croissant amande I've ever had.

If you go to Les Cocottes de Christian Constant for lunch (and you should, immediately), I recommend replicating the experience of the posh Frenchwoman sitting next to us with a gentleman friend. Sit at the bar, start with a glass of champagne, and don't even glance at the menu. Instead, order the appetizer (entrée, confusingly, in French) du jour, the cocotte du jour (a single-serving casserole—this is when you switch to red wine) and hell, why not, the dessert du jour. I don't think you can go wrong. Then, don't be shy, finish every course with gusto—none of this "leave one bite on your plate" nonsense. After dessert, continue your conversation over an espresso (what you'll get in Paris if you order a café). Ignore the admiring stares from the Americans next to you.

I'm not ashamed to tell you that we visited Ladurée two days in a row on our trip. From the look of every single pastry at the counter, I don't think you could go wrong ordering anything there, but we stuck with the macarons, which are famous for a reason. Oh, they're heavenly. And armed only with the phrase "Je veux prendre..." and the ability to count up to eight, you can even impress your date by ordering in French.

Pistache, chocolat, cassis, citron

Based on Jordan's recommendation, we made a reservation for dinner at Refuge les Fondus in Montmartre. The food was great (although were we to go back we would order the meat fondue instead of the cheese—we were very envious of our neighbors' meal), but to be honest, I don't think it's our place. It's very crowded, which is part of its charm, I guess, but the night we went it was crowded almost exclusively with Americans, except for the Québécois couple sitting next to us who clearly were no more interested in getting to know us than we were in them. They serve their wine in baby bottles, which is undoubtedly quite entertaining. Still, hands down the best dinner we had in Paris was a bed picnic of fresh bread, oozy Brie, and red wine in plastic cups. You could do a lot worse.

Whenever I told anyone we were going to stay on the Île Saint-Louis, they invariably mentioned Berthillon, which is arguably the best ice cream in the world. What with the rain and the cold, we didn't make it there until the last day, but oh, we were glad we did. I had wild strawberry and rhubarb flavors. It tasted exactly like summer.

Boulangerie des Deux Ponts • 35 Rue des Deux Ponts, 75004 Paris • Métro: Pont Marie

Les Cocottes de Constant • 135 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris • Métro: Alma-Marceau

Ladurées • 16 Rue Royal, 75008 Paris • Métro: Concorde

Refuge des Fondus • 17 Rue des Trois-Freres, 75018 Paris • Métro: Abbesses

Berthillon • 29-31 Rue Saint Louis en L'ile, 75004 Paris • Métro: Pont Marie


Adorable print from here

CM and I love to watch TV shows on the computer in bed before we go to sleep. Our latest obsession is Castle, a fun crime show about a mystery writer (Castle) who shadows a homicide detective (Beckett) during her investigations. There's lots of romantic/sexual tension and witty banter à la romantic comedies from the '40s. Plus gruesome and intriguing murder story lines. We love it. We talk about Castle and Beckett like they are our real friends, and we're even developing a (patent pending) drinking game to play while watching.

Only trouble is, we have now watched every episode of Castle that exists (3 seasons), and we need something else to watch before bed. What TV shows are you enjoying? I'm leaning toward picking another crime show, but I'm open to any and all suggestions. What have you got for us?

Nerd alert

I have something terribly important to discuss with you.

Have you seen this?

Apparently J.K. Rowling is making a big Potter-related announcement at 12 noon London time on Thursday, June 23. The publisher says it's not a new book (BOO!), but there are plenty of theories to go around. I particularly like this one.

What do you think? What will it be? And will you get up early on Thursday to find out?

I am somewhat unreasonably excited about this. Don't judge.

How to survive your vacation without shouting at your spouse in public

We were going through security at Sainte-Chapelle when the woman in front of us had a breakdown. The chapel is housed in a complex that also includes a working courthouse, so you have to go through airport-level security to get in. We had been eavesdropping on the American family of four (goofy Dad, somewhat frazzled Mom, smart-alecky college-age Daughter, dorky high school Son) in front of us during the relatively long wait, and they seemed to be having a good time. Mom was explaining the concept of organ donation to Son, Daughter was rolling her eyes good-naturedly, Dad was cracking lame jokes about selling Son's organs on the black market. You know, the usual.

Things went south very quickly when the security guards attempted to confiscate Mom's corkscrew. Dad was still on the other side emptying his pockets and removing his belt when Mom started yelling at him. "THEY'RE TAKING MY CORKSCREW! WE NEED IT FOR OUR PICNIC!", quickly morphing into "I DIDN'T EVEN WANT TO COME HERE AND NOW LOOK WHAT HAPPENS!", ending with an emphatic, exasperated "THANKS A LOT, MARK!" * before she stormed off (sans corkscrew, I might add). Dad, Daughter, and Son looked shell-shocked.

A little later, CM turned to me and said, "I hope I never end up yelling at you and our kids in a crowded public place." "Me too," I said. "But I know I will," he added. "Probably," I said, "and I probably will, too. We'll get through it."

There's no way around it: traveling is stressful. It's easy for tempers to flare and moods to rollercoaster when you're hot, and tired, and thirsty, and not sure where you're going, and you've just been French-waitered** for the tenth time in a row.

CM and I are still figuring out how to travel together. That's not a euphemistic way of saying we're terrible at it, like when my report cards used to say "Louisa is still working on staying quiet in class when the teacher is talking." But traveling together is very different from traveling solo, and we're discovering with each trip what makes us happy and what invariably makes us grumpy.

I've put together a few guidelines of what seems to be working for us so far.

Smaller is better
The worst choice we made on our trip (possibly in our whole lives) was to go to the Louvre. Oh, it's a beautiful museum which houses a breathtaking collection, and I'm sure we would have absolutely loved it, if we had been on a private tour. We were not, however. We were there on a normal morning in mid-June, and this was mostly what we saw.

Just looking at this picture gives me a stress headache

We lasted barely an hour. I for one will not be back any time soon. Thank goodness for the small delights of Paris, like the Orangerie, which just might be my favorite place in the world.

Much better, no?

I also prefer Sainte-Chapelle to Notre Dame and the Museum of Modern Art to the Pompidou. We loved our charming, tiny hotel on the charming, tiny Île St-Louis. The one Parisian exception to this rule is of course BHV, one of the most enormous stores I have seen, through which we wandered quite happily for longer than we lasted in the Louvre.

Plan ahead
We struggle a bit with making decisions in the moment about what to do next, so it helps us to make some plans beforehand. Before we left, I bought us short-term Vèlib subscriptions and boat ride tickets. I also downloaded this guide to help us focus our energies, since we there so briefly. We asked our hotel concierge to make us a dinner reservation at a fun fondue restaurant we'd read about in the guide. We are the King and Queen of Talking About Things and Then Never Doing Them, so having tickets and reservations for things helps us immensely to follow through on our plans.

But be flexible
Because of work schedules, our trips tend to be relatively short, so we like to always say, "We'll be back." It takes so much pressure off when you don't feel like you have to do and see every single thing. For example, I wish we had been able to reserve Eiffel Tower lift tickets in advance, but by the time we tried they were already sold out, and we were too daunted by the lines to do it day of. No problem—we'll be back. We also didn't get lucky with the weather on our trip. It was chilly and rainy most of the time, and we didn't really pack the right clothes. I had pictured us having a lot of picnics in various parks, even going so far as to bring a picnic blanket with us, but the weather just never cooperated. Solution: bed picnics.

This Brie is NOTHING like what we find in US grocery stores. And in the background? Beignets!
Finding the right balance between plans and flexibility seems to be the key to vacation nirvana. We're definitely still working on it (okay, that time it might have been a euphemism).

Find your places
No matter how many guide books you read, the places you remember the best are the ones you stumbled upon yourself. I think it's important, anywhere you go, to find YOUR places, the ones you'll revisit next time and recommend to all your friends. We'll be recommending Les Cocottes de Constant to anyone visiting Paris (although to give credit where credit is due, Anthony Bourdain found it before we did), and congratulating ourselves for finding the Van Dongen exhibit and the Dufy room at the Museum of Modern Art. Those are our places now.

Oh, for all the plans we make and guidelines we follow, I know there will come a day when we will be standing in a public place, in a city that is not our own, shouting at each other over something as seemingly mundane as a corkscrew. We'll say ridiculous things, some of which might end up as running jokes in someone else's marriage.

We'll survive.

*In the retelling of this story, CM is fond of changing this last line to "THANKS FOR RUINING PARIS, MARK!" and my version includes "I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY, MARK!" While we find both quite entertaining, neither is entirely accurate.

**A couple of my friends coined this verb for when a person, usually a French waiter, deliberately misunderstands something you say because you haven't pronounced it exactly right. CM got French-waitered when he tried to order a Perrier. Honestly.


Okay, I know mash-ups (putting two songs together to create something new) are, like, SO Glee Season One, but I was at our favorite café yesterday, and I heard this. I thought it was so cool I had to share it.

Then CM brought this one to my attention:

I love them! Do you have any favorite mashups?

Paris by iPhone

We just got back from 4 glorious days in Paris, and I thought it might be fun to show you some of the iPhone shots I took, while I'm going through and editing the ones from my big-girl camera. Sometimes it's so much easier to just whip out my iPhone, especially when it's raining, or my bag is full of water bottles and maps sitting on top of my camera, or I'm just tired. I generally use the Hipstamatic app—anybody have any suggestions for others to try? You can click any of the pictures to see them bigger.

On the RER train from the airport
Bird whisperer in the Tuileries
CM living up to his name...
...even in the rain
Rainy street by Notre-Dame
Elevator button in our hotel
Wine in baby bottles—that's normal, right?
Tour Eiffel, obvs. View from the Trocadero
Enjoying the best ice cream in Paris
Moules frites

 If you're in the mood for more, check out my photos and posts from last time.

Ah, Paris...


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