Two little feet and a bunch of Parisian streets (An Amateurs’s Guide to walking the City)

I’m quickly learning that the best way to discover these European cities is on my own two feet. For this post I recommend you pack some water, a good pair of running shoes folks, and as Kelsey would call them “Emergency Granola Bars”.

I went on a free walking tour throughout the city with Sandeman Walking Tours . These run 3x a day everyday and you tip your tour guide at the end rather than paying up front. Generally speaking these types of tours are better. You avoid the 70 year old guide that has recited the same information so often they can’t be bothered to care anymore. Instead you get someone in their 20s with real love for meeting people, starting conversation and providing historical and CURRENT information about the city & people that live within it. 

If you’re looking to wander around the city for a bit, a good place to start is St. Michel Fountain. This is right near île de la Cité which is the 1st arrondissement  (so very central). In the area near the fountain you will find a ton of food. If you’re facing St. Michel cross the street to your left. If you continue down the side street there are vendors from everywhere, not just parisien food. If you walk away from the fountain (so facing the other way) and turn right you can head towards île de la Cité and there you’ll find Notre Dame. The line up is always huge so don’t be discouraged. It’s free to go inside, it’s just a security check and moves relatively quickly. 


If you’re facing Notre Dame and take the side street to your left in your opposite direction you will pass Paris’s oldest hospital (on right once you’re walking) and then once you continue you will come across a massive flower market. It runs everyday, except on Saturdays it is pet market. With the market on your right you are also facing St.Chapelle chapel which is the church with the most extensive collection of stained glass windows. It is said to be very beautiful inside. 

If you walk through the flower market and turn left you will be headed down a street that will take you towards Point Neuf and then you can follow it this way to the Louvre. Behind the Louvre there are massive gardens and if you walk through those and turn right you will come to a carnival area and turning right through there will take you to the art institute which is a very busy and populated area of Paris you might like to walk around in. 


If you are looking for a different feel, I suggest you take the metro out to the Montmartre district. This is your classic French city with winding cobblestone streets, quaint little cafes, artists set up in the square and music playing. Go there and plan to spend the day. From there you can take all the steps up to sacre coeur for the most beautiful view of paris you will ever see. Again, the line up to enter the basilica looks long. But it’s free to enter and you don’t actually wait that long. You can easily spend plenty of time wandering through this district, checking out the art and little shops and galleries that line the streets. At the base of Montmartre there is a wall called “Le mur des je t’aime” meaning “The Wall of Love” where “I love you” is written in 250+ languages. Sit there for a while and watch families, lovers, old married couples hug and kiss each other while the pose for a picture. It’s absolutely beautiful. 



With Love,

Kolina 

Paris Sunsets 

I’ve made it quite the mission on this trip to watch as many sunsets in as many places as I can.  There’s just really nothing that makes me happier. 

Here are some of the sunsets I chased while in this beautiful city. 

Montparnasse 

The second tallest building in Paris save for Sacre- Coeur. Parisens all hate it, and I can see why.  It sticks out like a sore thumb and looks nothing like the beautiful limestone that makes up the rest of the city. To get to Montparnasse you need to take the metro stop that includes Montparnasse in the name. Seems obvious right? However if you put the directions into google maps it will take you elsewhere and you will walk an hour in the opposite direction direction like we did.. perhaps arriving at the sunset destination a little less excited than you were when you set off. When you see the view though you’ll realize it was all worth it.


Bridges – The River Siene 

Paris is covered in bridges crossing the river Siene all over the city. My favourite place was at a bridge right outside of Musee D’Orsay. It’s strictly a walking bridge, so you don’t need to worry about the rush of traffic while you’re there. There are steps along the entire river that you can sit on as well.


Parc Buttes – Chaumont 

I learned about this park by talking to a tour guide who had moved to Paris from London to work in Disneyland after falling in love with the city. I’m starting to get the vibe that I’m not the only person who’s been completely enamoured by its beauty and rich history. I told him I had some time to kill and wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t covered in tourists (the irony.. a tourist trying to escape tourists) . He recommended a park called “Parc Buttes- Chaumont” and it was the best recommendation I’d yet received from someone residing in the city. It’s huge  and I sat on the hills admiring the trees and the view for two hours before I got up and walked around. You can make your way up across a tight rope bridge to a small pavilion on the very top of a hill overlooking a river and the city. From there you can watch the sun silhouette a good portion of Paris (including sacre- coeur ahhhhh) in pink and orange hues. 


Notre Dame 

I did not get the chance to watch a sunset here but there are many blogs and resources that recommend checking out a sunset by Notre Dame. This makes sense as it’s on Paris’ little island. Not far from there is Ponte Neuf, one of Paris’s famous bridges and it would be lovely to watch from there as well. 

Regardless of what you’re looking for, you need to find your little niche, sit, and enjoy. It’s absolutely stunning. 

Hope your day is sunshiny,

With Love,

Kolina 

Venturing through the catacombs 

One of the coolest features Paris has to offer is the Catacombs beneath the city. I had no idea that these famous tunnels rumoured to hold the bones of millions actually spread throughout the entire city. In fact every property in Paris has a “cave” assigned to it. Many shops or restaurants will use it as a cold cellar, or bars will use it for their dancing area. These catacombs are a result of the beautiful architecture that gives Paris its harmonious vibe- Limestone excavation. One of the highest paying jobs at the time… because if you were mining limestone you didn’t live very long. These tunnels bury deep into the city where you will find a black line along the ceiling and dates on the walls. These dates signify when the tunnels were originally deemed “safe” by the inspector. The black line was his Hans and Gretal way of ensuring he did not get lost in the depths of these damp halls. These dates go back hundreds and hundreds of years. 

As you make your way through the catacombs the air becomes much cooler and the walls become damp, you can feel the depth as you descend deeper. There are areas that contain water running through them. Deep lakes that carve their way through the tunnels. There is only one legal entry to the catacombs and specific tunnels you are allowed to enter. However many have been known to enter them through the sewers and entrances by the abandoned train yard (“the little belt” for anyone who’s interested). Thrill seekers will come scuba diving through these waters in hopes of making new discoveries and exploring the caves. The school of geology actually does a baptism for their graduates in a special pool used during their graduation ceremony. (Which is totally rad and I’m wondering if I chose the wrong major). There have been raves of up to 2000 people in various caverns. Project X actually paid to rent out a lake in the catacombs one year fully stocked with Gondolas from Italy for their guests. A secret society was discovered fully decked with a functioning movie theatre. Authorities stumbled upon it one day and when they returned the next there was a sign on the door which stated “Do not try to find us”. When the leader of this group was interviewed on the news there was mention of the closing of his theatre and his reply was “This is not a concern, we have many more”. Those who enter, enter at their own risk and call themselves “catophiles”. Police search the tunnels daily, looking for those who have gotten lost sneaking through. It sounds crazy, that something like this could exist beneath an entire city but I looked it up and I’m convinced it’s real. My tour guide admitted that he’s entered quite a few times without the badge and I’m officially convinced that I need to make good friends with some catophiles in Paris so I can come back for my own adventure. 

In one part of the catacombs that we explored there was an area named Quatier de Carzene that belonged to a man named Francois Décure. When his shift was over he did not return above ground like the others. He chose to live down below and carve into the stone. His creations are absolutely breathtaking. Here are some photos:


The year that Décure opened his creations to the public in the hopes of sending the money to his family, there was a collapse and sadly his life was lost along with much of his work. I felt honoured to be able to witness what he quite literally dedicated his life to. 


And so of course the part that everyone is waiting for.. we entered the area of the catacombs that holds the bones. Above the door is written “Arrete! C’est ici L’empire de la Mort” which translated means “Stop! Here lies the Empire of the Dead”. Experts say that more than 6 million bodies are buried in the tombs of Paris and I can tell you that it is mindblowing. There are stacks of bones, many of then femurs lining the walls, with skulls placed throughout. Many of these extend so far back that you run out of light before the catacomb runs out of bones. It is one of the most unfathomable things I have ever, EVER, seen in my entire life. Now I feel like in tourist situations such as these it’s easy to desensitize, but I want to acknowledge that although this occurred years and years ago, these were still people and their lives still had value. 

Years ago air bnb had a contest where you could enter for a nights stay with a plus one in this graveyard- said to be one of the scariest places on earth. It’s safe to say this fellow did not last the night before he called it off and wanted to be taken out. In his defence, right above the bed they provided him, “Si vous avez vu quelque fois mourir up homme, considérez toujours que Le meme sort vous attend”, is carved into the wall. This means “If you have seen that some men die, consider that the same fate awaits you as well.”


You’re probably asking yourself why all of these bodies ended up here in the first place. Paris had a cemetery called Cimetiere des Innocents and as you’re probably aware this city went through some terrible times in regards to overpopulation, disease and famin. People were constantly dying the the cemetery was overflowing with bodies. One year there was absolute flooding there the stink and smell overwhelmed the entire city, complete with bodies washing up into people’s cellars. So finally the decision was made that there must be somewhere to store the bodies and that is how they were placed into the catacombs. 


I left that tour completely wonderstruck and absolutely fascinated with the city below this city. I feel like I have so much to learn. If you’re planning on touring the catacombs in the future I have two suggestions for you. 

1) book a tour. Not only will you not have to wait in the 3 hour line up, but you will gather so much more knowledge from someone who currently lives in this city rather than a droning audio guide.

 2) If you can, choose to do this on a hot day. It was 35 degrees outside (46 with the humidex) and we were so thankful to spend a few hours underground with the damp, cool air. 

That’s all for now!

With Love,

Kolina 

Bienvenue au Paris 

We arrived in Paris swiftly via Chunnel. Another method of Europe’s vast transportation system that continuously blows my mind. If you are planning on heading to France from London in the future I’d highly recommend taking this train over flying. It’s also a great way to see the country side before heading into the city. 

We stepped off the train and were immediately hit with 35 degree weather. Paris was in a heat wave and the temperature was a whole 10 degrees hotter than it had been in London. By the time we got to our flat for the week my family was quite tired and so we grocery shopped and I set out on my own for some sunset exploring. 

 I set out on foot towards Hotel de Ville, which I knew was somewhere in the general direction of Norte Dame. For those of you that don’t know me well, my sense of direction isn’t great but google maps has been my bff these past two weeks and we only get into the occasional argument. After walking a few kilometres in that general direction I came to the square and saw this:

(My apologies for the awful picture I was too excited to take another one) 

I looked at this building and gradually my jaw actually hit the hard Paris ground. I walked around in circles, neck cranked back, smile plastered on my face in awe of the city that so many describe as romantic. Is it romantic? It must be as I was so enamoured.  The architecture of each building so perfectly chosen and meticulous – every curve of limestone melting so seamlessly into the next- the way the light was bouncing off of the stone- the way people gathered with wine by the river enjoying each other’s company- I loved it already and I hadn’t even been there 2 hours. 


I caught site of the Eiffel Tower for the first time in the distance and knew quite certainly that someone should have warned my heart about paris.


With Love, 

Kolina 

Tips for Travelling Through London 

Our time in London has come to and end and so I thought I might put together a bit of a concluding page of helpful tips for travelling through the city that people talk about all over the world. All in all I did not step off the place and fall in love with this place like I immediately expected, however I’ve never believed in first impressions and so of course the city did grow on my. I found that I loved the areas that were less in the business district and more so in parts of the city I found tucked away while wandering a random street. The nightlife and theatre district was always filled with energy and I’ve definitely decided the city in the evenings is something I’m a fan of. Realistically speaking, if you grew up in a city in Canada, london is going to have pretty much everything you’re used to having…probably more. It was by no means a difficult city to be a tourist in. If I were to go back to England I think I’d travel to some other areas before heading back to the city. However I really think it would be interesting to spend more time there to find the parts of the city that only locals know about. Anyways you’ll have to visit and decide for yourself! 

Here are some things I picked up along the way that may help if you’re travelling there anytime soon:

1. If your phone is unlocked, there is a phone company called “Three” where you can get a UK phone number and 12GB of data for 20 pounds. If you are travelling for longer they give you a code to top this up whenever you run out of data/texts etc. This also works in most European countries you just need to make sure your phone is unlocked or you won’t be able to use this as I wasn’t. 

2. There is wifi virtually everywhere you go– even in most department stores. I even had wifi at Hampton Court Palace. If you’re staying in London you probably don’t even need a phone card. But it can make things easier if you’re trying to communicate with people in the country. 

3. People don’t really tip in London. Generally 10%, and you only tip if the service was actually good. This is because their minimum wage is rather good here and most often tip is already included in your bill. 

4. The tube is amazing and ridiculously easy to use. When you get to the tube station you can buy something called an Oyster card (another card that you can add money too as you go). You’ll scan your card on your way into the tube and then when you scan it on your way out it will subtract that amount from your card based on the distance you travelled. Make sure you scan on the way out or it will take the entire amount off of your card as a penalty. The best part about this system is that the amount caps off at 6.60/ day. So you can virtually ride the tube as much as you want for that amount 

5. Tesco & Tesco express. This is their grocery store (or one of them) You can get anything here, yes including alcohol. The best thing is that they have a meal deal which includes a sandwich, snack and drink for three pounds. For those of you concerned about health I used to get a garden sandwhich, spinach smoothie and organic granola bar. YOU CAN SAVE SO MUCH MONEY IF YOU USE TESCO. 

6. Tourist attractions i.e. Museums, palaces & churches close around 1700 with last entry often taking place around 1630. Get up early if you want to fit everything in. 

7. London Pass– this pass offers you admission into a set amount of tourist attractions over a certain amount of consecutive days (of your choosing) once you’ve activated your pass. It includeds access to a hop on/hop off buss tour as well. The pass gets cheaper the more days you choose to use it. I highly recommend you determine whether you are going to use this pass to its full potential before you decide to buy it. You will most likely save money if you don’t use it.

8. Check out festivals in the area before you go. There is so much going on in this city! While we were there, their summer food festival was going on. Come July there’s a music festival like every two weeks. The queen’s birthday parade happened while we were there too. This is a happening city! 

I expect some other things will come to mind that I’ve forgotten and I’ll update as I go! But for now goodbye London! It’s been a pleasure!

With love,

Kolina 

Welcome to Hogwarts 

On this day I did what many have dreamed of doing since were little and burying our heads in the books or lining up outside movie theatres to see it on the big screen- I went to Hogwarts. 

I really have nothing I can say to give it justice other than it.was.magical. 

We saw everything that made this movies one of the favourite parts of my childhood. All I wanted was to be Hermoine Granger. HOW COOL would it be to play quidditch with your friends and study potions and spells. Every year my sister and I have a Harry Potter marathon at least twice, and I’ve read the entire series 3 times. In fact Kelsey and I downloaded all eight films to watch throughout Europe while we’re here. Okay OKAY fine, I’ll admit it… I’m watching the Philospher’s Stone as I type this.  You could say that visiting the set of Harry Potter turned me into a really big fan girl.. and that doesn’t happen very often (unless of course we’re talking about a sunset…or Harry Potter)  

The Great Hall
Gryffindor common room & Hermoine, Ron and Harry’s outfits from the first film.
“Sherbet Lemon”
Malfoy Manor
The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets ( OMG SO COOL)
Umbridge’s Office
Buckbeak
Aragog
Diagon Alley
Hogwarts set used for filming throughout all 8 films

That evening my family and I went to see Les Miserables at another of the theatres in Soho and it was breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a musical as much as this one. It was sad, and beautiful and everything in between. What a day to end our stay in London. 


I hope your day is just as magical as mine was!

With Love, 

Kolina 

Camden Town 

Today we ventured out into the more northern parts of the city- the city that holds one of the most amazing markets I’ve ever visited- CAMDEN MARKET. You walk off the tube and immediately the city has a different feel than being right in the heart of london. The buildings are smaller, there’s a rougher sort of artsy feel to the shops and pubs- AND there is room to walk on the sidewalk because it is far less crowded. The buildings here are painted all different colours. It’s lovely. 


The first thing I’ll say about Camden market is that you’re not just going to spend an hour there. There are so many stalls and venues and different levels that you will get lost for an hour before you even find the next area that you want to explore . Just when you think you’ve made your way through the market completely, you turn around the corner and there’s a new maze of hallways and vendors to visit. If you’re into second hand this place is your heaven. I got to 17 and then I stopped counting. If you like food- THIS IS YOUR HEAVEN. They have things like vegan crepes & pancakes, gourmet Mac & cheese, meat from all over the world, Venezuelan street food, and more donuts than you could ever imagine. If you like alcohol- I’ll say it once more this is your heaven. They have a shop where you can get a drink made out of your favourite cereal, gin tasting, a pub etc etc. I could go on but really Camden is something you need to experience for yourself. 


That evening my friends and I grabbed some wine and sat by the river for another sunset. A perfect end to a perfect day. 


Hoping all your days are perfect,

With love,

Kolina 

Phantoms, churches and towers..oh my!

This morning we went to Westminster Abby and I was absolutely in awe. I stood on the graves of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. It was a spiritual moment for me. I thanked them both thousands of times. I MEAN COME ON! DARWIN AND NEWTON! As someone who’s life it quite dedicated to science I found this fascinating. The church was not only massive but absolutely breathtaking. The audio guided tour, (provided free of charge) was quite informative and could be completed in about an hour to an hour and a half. It’s the only audio guide I found to be strictly informative without the background theatrics and commentary and so I would definitely recommend it. I do not have any pictures to share with you as this is a place of worship and so pictures are not allowed nor appropriate. I’m not always a fan of touristy places however this is definitely one stop I would recommend if you are in London. 


After Westminster Abby we took the tube to London Tower. Here we saw the torture chamber and the crown jewels. I’d recommend getting here early if this is somewhere you’d like to visit. By 2pm the lines were massive and I was thankful we had already gone through the areas we wanted to see. I liked this palace a lot less than Hampton court. It had been modified and set up for tourist purposes and therefore it was harder to imagine the rich history this site holds. If you’re looking for places to visit in Paris I’d recommend Hampton Court or Windsor Castle. However, Kelsey would disagree with me and tell you to go to all three. An interesting fact about the london tower is that there we crows on the grounds everywhere. The BIGGEST crows I have ever seen. Legend has it that the King wanted all the crows executed because they were causing his astrologist issues, however someone reminded him of the tale that stated “if the crows fall, so does the castle” and so there have been crows on site ever since. 


I left Kelsey and my mom to search through London tower on her own time and met up with some friends who happened to be there at the same time! We went up the monument which is one stop off the tube over from london tower. I’d say this is a good alternative (and much cheaper alternative) to the London Eye. Both offer breathtaking views of the city. We then stopped for food and a beer in the street- one of the coolest things about London. On their way home from work people will stop at a pub, order their drinks, and stand in the sunshine with friends. We spoke with some locals who told us about different parts of the city we should visit and enjoyed our beers in the sunshine. 


That evening, as a family, we saw The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s theatre and it. was. phenomenal. Going out to the theatre here is something many locals do around twice a month. Often times if you line up before the show you can get tickets fairly cheap. It’s really interesting to me that the arts are so integrated into their lives. It seems rather appreciated and I like that. 

With love,

Kolina 

I think we might be Tourists ~ Days 3 & 4 

We started off our day wondering around. Our plan had been to do a bus tour of London however this had been cancelled and so we decided we would set out on foot and explore. The past two mornings while walking down Charring Street we have passed the statue of a First World War nurse named Edith Cavell. On the statue reads ” Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.” I’m a fan of this, and I say a silent thankyou to her each time we pass. 


Somehow, and don’t ask me how this happens, we stumbled upon Buckingham Palace. I’ve absolutely no sense of direction or previous knowledge of this city but I think most people plan to end up here. It’s quite mind blowing to wonder through a city and then somehow find yourself standing in front of literal royalty- and then you turn around and you’re in the middle of a tree filled park with water fowl of all sorts- and then you turn around and you’re on a street filled with people, bookstores and pubs.
We then visited parliament took some mandatory phone booth photos. We stopped and bought some things for lunch and sat on the steps outside near Westminster Abby while people watching and enjoying our sandwiches. (Again seriously.. if you’re travelling in London- Tesco is your BEST FRIEND).  As a family we went on the London Eye which offers an incredible view of the city. We then parted ways and I headed to the Florence Nightingale Museum. This was actually my graduation day and so I revelled at the chance to learn about the nurse who really paved the way for the type of care and practices that we carry out today. 



The following day was spent exploring Hampton Court Palace. To get there you can take the train from Waterloo station to Hampton Court exit. This palace is famous as it is where Henry the VIII resided. We entered a room at one point where Shakespeare himself had performed for the King.  It was impossible to wrap your head around the sheer size of this palace. I wish I could write enough here to do this historical palace justice, however you’re speaking with the wrong sister. I am definitely not the history major on this trip.  I could tell you endless amounts about the energy on the streets of soho, or the way the clouds look when they are sillhouteed against Big Ben, but medieval history is not my forte. What I will say is that it is worth the visit. You cannot help but acknowledge the vast history that this palace holds and the beauty that it contains. How long you wish to stay is up to you. 

 

With Love,

Kolina