Category Archives: Travel

Versailles, Paris, France | Spring 2013 | Travel

I have wanted to visit Versailles for several years now, probably close to a decade. I’m not sure why I didn’t visit there when I went to Paris a decade ago. I don’t think I realized how close to central Paris it was. Over the years, I’ve heard from several people of the beauty and grandeur of Versailles, how it was a place I shouldn’t miss. That made me feel really good after I had missed it!

We got there at a reasonable time (if I had to guess, probably around 9), and there was a line to match the grandeur of the palace. We had bought tickets in advance, but we still had to wait in line for an hour to get in. It was cold, but we kept ourselves entertained by scoping out the fashion of tourists from all over the world. Jihfan and I still preferred the very “proper” fashion of London, especially for men, although we did see some exquisitely dressed women in Paris. We took turns guessing where each group tourists were from: USA, Japan, Spain, Italy, etc. We saw a group of students from America, and Jihfan and I were surprised by how you could even tell they were Americans by the way they walked. Strange. Emiri nearly died of embarrassment by how a group of Japanese tourists were outfitted. Let’s just say there was no doubt they were tourists… and they were wearing matching electric blue ponchos.

Maria Kim | Versailles, Paris, France | Travel Maria Kim | Versailles, Paris, France | Travel

If I had to describe Versailles and my experience in two words, those words would be “overwhelming opulence”. You simply cannot cover the entire place in a day. I am an ambitious traveler, and there is simply no way. I will be the first to admit that I am largely history ignorant, and there is still no way. We covered the Palace, the Gardens, and Marie-Antoinette’s estate very quickly. I got exhausted because everything was so overwhelming – the history, the extravagance and visual overload, the enormousness of the estate, and the crowds. I can only take so much of so much.

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I particularly loved Marie-Antoinette’s estate. The estate was where Marie-Antoinette could escape from all the pomp and manners of the Court of Versailles and retreat to simpler, rural living. Access to her estate was based on invite only. I don’t blame her, the estate, created in the manner of a village, was so cute and cozy. Each house in the village had it’s own vegetable garden and my favorite were the tulips that were growing on top of the roofs. If we ever own a house, I will grow tulips on the roof.

Maria Kim | Versailles, Paris, France | Travel Maria Kim | Versailles, Paris, France | Travel Maria Kim | Versailles, Paris, France | Travel
Next stop: Cotswold! More cute and cozy villages!

Versailles Recommendation:
Buy the Passport in advance and get there early!!! – The Passport gets you into all of the ticketed areas (like the Palace, Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, etc), and you can buy it in advance at the main train station at the information desk. Even with buying it in advance, we still had to wait an hour to enter.
Marie-Antoinette’s Estate
The Gardens (I would imagine it to be absolutely phenomenal in the spring time)

 

Paris | Spring 2013 | Travel

Jihfan and I enjoyed the fashion in London, but we particularly enjoyed the men’s fashion in London: very classic, slim tailored pants, fitted coat, and always a scarf. Once we got to Paris, however, we immediately noticed how all of the women in Paris were so chic. Our first stop in Paris was at a restaurant we just picked off the street where we had a Croque Monsieur and some espresso. Our waitress was a 60 something year old lady, and she looked good. She had an impeccably cut bob, skinny jeans, black knee highs, black turtle neck, and some earrings – so simple and so French. We loved it, which was far better than her attitude. The food itself was nothing to call home about, but the espresso was incredible. I was not a huge coffee drinker, but that espresso changed my life.

One of our first stops was the Saint Ouen Flea/Antique Market, which wasn’t as busy as Portobello Road, but just as overwhelming. The market has outdoors and indoors section, but I was completely blown away by some of the flooring in the indoor section: old blocks of wooden end grain, in a brick layout, without even any filler. It fit the antique market perfectly. We met a very regal dog, and I was also at the right place at the right time when a man was lighting his cigarette in some wonderful lighting. I had to include a photo of a shop that was overgrown with branches as it’s one of my favorite looks on architecture, and we all found some souvenirs to take home.

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We stayed in central Paris in St. Germain. We took a nighttime stroll to view Notre Dame at night and then picked up some crepes around the shops in St. Germain. The next morning we went back to Notre Dame and took time to look around the interior of the church. I loved the glass room/window confessionals in the church, which was interesting considering that there are so many tourists going through who can watch you in confession.

Maria Kim | Paris | Spring 2013 | TravelMaria Kim | Paris | Spring 2013 | Travel

My favorite photos from the Louvre are the ones I took of the statue Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. There was a swarm of people at the statue when we got there, almost chaos. It just felt like such an invasion of privacy and sacredness, paparazzi taking photos of this couple in such an intimate embrace. It was a completely different experience to see the statue once everyone walked away. Maria Kim | Paris | Spring 2013 | Travel Maria Kim | Paris | Spring 2013 | TravelMaria Kim | Paris | Spring 2013 | Travel

We also came across a student fashion exhibit pieces which were show cased in these fun spherical clear balls, and went to the famous Ladurée for some macarons.
Maria Kim | Paris | Spring 2013 | Travel

Next stop: Versailles!

Paris Life Changer:
Hair dryer to warm up the bed sheets!

Paris Recommendations:
Pharmacie – We loaded up on beauty products while we were out there. So many great products are sold at their local pharmacy stores. These stores are lit up in neon green lights, you can’t miss it.
Dips Restaurant – This was our expensive French dinner out and it didn’t disappoint. The concept is so simple, and all the dipping sauces were well executed.
Le Marais – This was my favorite neighborhood to walk around. Lots of little boutique shops.
Croissants and Espresso! – We concluded that there must be something in the water to make croissants and espresso so good in Paris.

 

 

London | Spring 2013 | Travel

My first trip to London was roughly ten years ago, and it was that trip where I caught the travel bug. I was enamored with all the history you could see and feel throughout the city (see and feel are key as I have fairly little actual history knowledge). I went with one of my best friends from middle school, Anna, and we met up one of our mutual friends, Peter, who had finished backpacking around Europe. Hearing his stories of backpacking Europe completely whet my appetite, and I was set on doing the same as soon as I could. I would backpack Europe for a month only half a year later, after I graduated from university. My brother and I toured the major cities in seven countries in four weeks: England, France, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Greece. I was hooked.

I wasn’t particularly excited about seeing London this third time around because I felt that I had already seen the city, and it honestly wasn’t on The List. However, one of my good friends from high school, Emiri, now resides there, and I was very excited to spend time with her. She had moved back to Japan during high school, during which I lost contact with her for close to a decade. I tried looking for her a few times, even asking some Japanese friends I made one summer if there was any way in Japan to find a particular person, and then one day I found her on Facebook. We hung out whenever she’d come to visit her parents in Maryland, but it was always so short. Seeing that we both loved to travel, we would always talk about traveling together or visiting one another, but then we made it happen. After a reunion with another high school friend, Jihfan, the three of us set out to see London, Paris, and Cotswold together, with Emiri being our host and guide.

I suppose it was rather stupid of me to think London would not have changed in the last ten years since I had visited. Even if I was prepared for it to be different from what I remembered, I don’t think I could have fathomed by how much. The biggest difference I found was in the food. I was dreading the food we would have in London. London has a reputation for having terrible food, and it is for a reason. Ten years ago, all the restaurants were the same and were serving the same pub fare, nothing special really. I remember having excellent fish and chips, but you can only have fish and chips so often. However, the food this time around was phenomenal! Never will I think of London as having terrible pub food again. And maybe I didn’t go to the right places ten years ago, but the whole city just felt more vibrant this time around.

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My favorite place in London that we visited was the Borough Market. The Borough Market is one of London’s largest food markets, and is the oldest fruit and vegetable market. It is an open-air market and is known to be one of the best shopping experiences in London. There you can find wild mushrooms, truffles, freshly caught game, and artisan everything. Aside from all the wonderful sights and smells of the bounty of food, I loved the old industrial feel to it, as the market sits underneath a network of railway viaducts. It’s just so romantic, and I’m a sucker for romance.

We happened to walk by the Twinings of London store, Twinings 216 Strand Shop and Museum, and as a huge fan of tea, I was happy to stop in. The store, which has a tiny museum in the back, is a narrow sliver of real estate along Strand and is directly across the Royal Courts of Justice. It is the heritage store for the company that Thomas Twining bought in 1706. Today, in that tiny little shop, they have a wide assortment of teas, samplers, pick’n mix teas where you can select individual tea bags and make your own sampler, and also a sampling bar. Did you know that the tea that Twinings sells in England is far superior to the tea they sell overseas (well at least in the United States)? I have never been fond of Twinings Tea in the United States, but the tea they sell in London is quite good. They also have some flavors that you can’t buy in the United States like, my favorite, Lavender Earl Grey. Wonderful stuff.

London 2013 | Travel

We had a proper Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury.  When we were roughly planning out our trip, I was most excited for Afternoon Tea. Afternoon Tea is not cheap, especially for what it is (tea, scone, clotted cream, jam, some tea sandwiches, and bite size desserts), but I think that is true even in the States. It was, however, a fun experience to do with the ladies, and Bea’s has the best scones & clotted cream combination. I think I have a pretty good knowledge on good scones and clotted cream because after Bea’s, Jihfan and I were addicted to clotted cream. My goodness, that stuff is heaven; we practically OD’ed on it. The scones at Bea’s were more like a dry/semi-dry biscuit, which doesn’t sound delicious, but it complimented their firm clotted cream and jam so well. So absolutely go there for Cream Tea (which is all that you really need: scones, clotted cream, jam, and tea). I am now determined to make both clotted cream and scones at home to relive my England experience (but mostly to eat clotted cream).

London 2013 | TravelLondon | Spring 2013 | Travel

We strolled around some more along the Thames, passed by the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the London Eye, other tourist destinations, but then found a bunch of these metallic street performers who were sitting on air. It probably looks obvious what is going on in the photo, but it was initially mind boggling in real life. Maybe I should’ve cropped the photo a bit more to confuse you. Then to Buckingham Palace, where we got photobombed by old men, and Harrods to do some window shopping.

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On another day while Jihfan had some school work to do, Emiri and I made a trip to the world’s largest antique market, Portobello Road. I love so many things about antiquing: the history, the hunt, the mystery, the education, and even the bargaining. Portobello Road is a definite must if you love antiques and vintage, but be prepared for sensory overload. It is one road that is lined with antique shops, markets, and vendors on both sides; there is an unending amount of antique everything, not to mention an unending amount of people. It was fun to look, but it being Portobello Road, there weren’t any deals, so I left empty handed and exhausted. However, it was neat to pass by the previous residence of George Orwell in that area. We also stopped in a clothing retail store called AllSaints where I fell in love with the antique sewing machine wall displays.

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Somehow, Jihfan and I chose to go to London when they had their coldest winter in 50 years. We left cold DC to go to even colder London, where it was snowing upon arrival. Not really what most people have in mind when they think of vacation. I knew it was going to be cold, but not that cold. However, if it wasn’t that cold, I would not have gained the life changer that we called the Water Baby. It was cold at night, but Emiri had this plastic bottle that you fill with hot water and slip into your bed by your feet. The bottle must have been thick walled because it still gave off warmth even in the morning when we woke up. Gosh, we loved that Water Baby. I don’t think I could’ve slept without it.

Next stop: Paris!

London Life Changer:
Water Baby

London Recommendations:
Cafe L’eto - Aromatic, fresh teas and some of the best dessert I’ve had
Borough Market – Artisan everything. Great food. Everything smells so good here. Cool atmosphere.
Bea’s of Bloomsbury – Go for cream tea. Scones and clotted cream heaven!
Portobello Road – Look, but don’t buy. A must if you love antiquing.
Indian Restaurant – Any of them. Just go!

Family Vacation at the Outerbanks | July 4th

This summer was our second annual July 4th vacation to the Outerbanks with my in-laws and cutie nephews. What a huge difference there is in spending several days with twin 2-year-olds and spending several days with twin 3 year-olds. This year the twins played more, fought less, and definitely had more brotherly love for one another. It is so heartwarming to see little people love on each other. Even as an aunt it makes me proud, so I can only imagine how a parent must feel when their own little ones do the same.

This year’s beach trip didn’t disappoint. We always have a good time when we hang out with my SIL (and BFF) Lindsay, my BIL Ron, and their kids, and we were also joined by my MIL and Stuart’s cousin Leah. We played Mini Golf, ate “Baby” Popsicles (these are really quite amazing), fished, had loads of beach time, played lots of beach baseball where I learned to properly swing the bat by squishing the bug (thanks Ron!), went “deep” once due to ice cold waters, taught my MIL how to use her iPad, and we had even started a new family tradition of eating dessert on the deck. With a house full of people you would think there would be no quiet time, but there was and those were some of my favorite moments to capture. It was so sweet to watch the twins play quietly with their trains in their pajamas

Now that we’re in Vancouver, I am not sure when we’ll do another July 4th with them at the Outerbanks, but I am working on rallying everyone to come visit us.

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