my Paris: Temple & Oberkampf

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered the upper Marais and Square du Temple. But this I do know: It was love at first sight. The streets all quiet and sweet with their window boxes and white-crackled shutters, you feel as if you’ve stumbled into a children’s story book. The Square itself is in a word, darling, but I’ll describe that later… What I absolutely love about this neighborhood is that it is pristine yet approachable. Elegant yet lived-in. An oasis of peace and quiet joy, with a sense of child-like wonder rising as you round her quaint corners.

It’s also a mecca for the brunch-lover and the vegan/gluten-free foodie. If your tummy’s idea of heaven is Avocado Toast, then I can’t think of a better area to stay. You’ll have your pick from at least a handful of restaurants all within a five-block radius.

Walking northwestward along Rue Oberkampf across the grand Boulevard Richard Lenoir is another quirky neighborhood, more akin to Montmartre or the Canal Saint Martin area than Temple and the north Marais. A bit grittier, here you’ll similarly find a plethora of Bobo and foodie-approved restaurants as well as plenty of shopping from the independent boutiques that line Rue Oberkampf’s sidewalks.

Both areas are unique yet very much worth visiting.

Images courtesy of MAGNIN-A, ©Pat Callahan, & ©besopha/flickr

 

Neighborhood Favorites

 

See:

Square du Temple

In the heart of this neighborhood lies a sweet little secret. A secret garden where the laughter of children fills the air as they climb and play on the great gymnasium sectioned off in the southwest corner of the park. A great place to visit if you’re traveling with little ones in Paris. A great place to visit if you’re not. Beautifully landscaped–there’s even a pond and a mini waterfall–it’s an ideal place to park it on a bench, basking the sunshine as you drink in the beauty of the buildings and nature that coexist in perfect harmony. It’s also the ideal overflow location for busy brunch spots in the surrounding area that offer takeaway. No need to wait 45 minutes for a table when you can take that avocado toast to go and enjoy it picnicking in one of Paris prettiest parks!

Images courtesy of  Compass.com

 

Streets:

Musts

  • Rue Réaumur & Rue de Bretagne are full of cafes that have great happy-hour offers. Grab a curbside seat, a drink and take in the scenery. Or duck into Marché des Enfants Rouges for one of Paris’ best open-air markets and some delicious international fare.
  • Rue Perrée is picturesque with the park on one side and shops on the other. Stop in at The Broken Arm – part boutique/cafe, or explore all that Le Carreau du Temple has to offer – an exhibition hall with all everything from art to sport to entertain…
  • Rue Dupetit-Thouars and everything within the triangle created by Rue de Picardie, Rue de Normandie Rue de Bretagne are personal favorites. Zig-zag your way through these quaint streets as you scope out breakfast/lunch/brunch options. But good luck choosing… some of the best spots are hidden here.
  • Rue Oberkampf & Rue Vieille du Temple are your streets if shopping is on the agenda. Loads of boutiques and shops to duck into.

Maybe Nots

  • Honestly nothing’s off limits in this neighborhood! As a general rule the larger streets tend to be more functional and utilitarian, lacking a bit of intimacy, ambiance and charm. But this is Paris… practically everything is charming. So just keep that in mind when you’re looking at hotels and where to stay.
Images courtesy of ©NickyInsideOut & ©besopha/flickr

 

Stay:

Hôtel Best Western Saint Martin Bastille

I’ll be honest. The only neighborhood’s I’ve stayed at in Paris are South Pigalle and the 10th Arrondissement. Why? Because the closer you get to the center of Paris the pricier it gets. That said, if I go back there are two neighborhoods where I’d love to be located. This is one of them. And Hôtel Best Western Saint Martin Bastille is probably where I’d stay.

Yes, it’s a chain, but it’s a good one. Best Western’s are gold in our books. And not only can you can earn points staying with them, better yet, you can use points to pay. With the location ideally set between both Temple and Oberkampf you have some of Paris’ best eats at your fingertips.

The rooms look luxurious and well appointed and best of all the prices won’t break the bank at under $100 a night! A steal for this part of town!

If your price-point is a little higher I’d also recommend either Hotel Fabric – a chic four-star hotel in a former textile factory in Oberkampf, or Paris Boutik’s La Librairie – an elegant boutique apartment hotel set amongst a library of book right near Square du Temple.

Images courtesy of Best Western Hotels & Resorts

 

Eat:

Chambelland

Tucked away just off Rue Oberkampf is this little slice of heaven for the celiac or gluten-intolerant traveler. When my naturopath advised me to go sans gluten not only was I concerned about traveling, but I was convinced my days of adventuring (in a culinary sense) were absolutely over. Not so! Thankfully Paris (as well as most of the world–Winchester included) is full of gluten-free bakeries & eateries where you can eat the gluten-free dream.

Chambelland is just such a place. Not only is their entire bakery gluten-free, but they upped the ante by building their own mill where they produce their own GF flours. The result: some of the finest baked goods in Paris, quite possibly the world. They even supply some of the best restaurants in Paris with their breads. My personal favorites are their chouquettes–little airy unfilled puff pastries that they sell in either 5’s or 10’s–that go down way too easily, or their pain sucre–a long rectangular baguette of sweet bread amazingness that comes in either plain or one with orange blossom water, orange zest & chocolate chips. I know which one I’d go for… But everything here is good. They even have sandwiches if you’re in the mood for something more savory & substantial.

Images courtesy of ©Lisa Klein Michel, ©Violet Grey, ©Emmanuel Naxos, & ©Adventures of a Gluten Free Globetrekker

 

Season + Wild & the Moon

I paired both Season and Wild & the Moon together because, firstly I couldn’t choose between them, and secondly they offer a similar experience: clean eats that’ll make your insides feel as pretty as those perfectly-plated pancakes in front of you. Dishes and decor that are an Instagrammer’s dream–just count how many people you see snapping pics of their plates… And with a combined following reaching well above 60k it’s good both restaurants offer takeaway, in case you don’t feel like waiting 45mins for a table…

If it’s pancakes and bacon you’re after, or maybe an avocado toast with smoked salmon & poached eggs Season is where it’s at. The food is fresh and delicious, with options for everyone: carnivores, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarians and vegans. They offer a selection of sweet and savory dishes including matcha bowls, muesli and yogurt, toasts, as well as salads and sandwiches in an oh-so-fashionable setting. They have a lunch formula (espresso + daily special) for €12, as well as a designated takeaway storefront just around the corner.

Wild & the Moon on the other hand is a completely vegan and gluten-free establishment –great for those going gluten & dairy-free, not so much for those with nut allergies… (they only serve their homemade almond/coconut milk blend). The narrow room feels like a jungle-oasis with plants hanging from every corner. Try one of their many cold-pressed juices or elixirs, especially concocted for any and every situation: detox, weight-loss, skin-care, hangover-cures etc. Or choose from their delicious bowls, both sweet and savory, or their salads, snacks and smoothies that you can eat in or grab from the wall fridge in the front for takeaway. At the very least snag a Wild Bar (homemade energy bars) and a Golden Latte or better yet try their Blueberry Lavender Latte! Both are outrageously good.

Images courtesy of ©30’s Magazine, ©Le Polyèdre & ©Photographie Ma Récreation.

 

Café Pinson

With two locations, one in the 10th Arrondissement and the other here in Temple, Café Pinson has become a favorite of mine. And it’s no wonder with its retro decor, great light and fantastic gluten-free menu. Their slogan, “In detox we trust,” says it all – offering made-to-order juices, and committed to serving healthy and organic menus. They have an excellent petit dejeuner (breakfast) formula: espresso + soy yogurt & granola + freshly pressed juice + jam & bread or 3 madeleines. Or you could just order an almond milk latte and slice of their rich and delicious matcha tea cake. They also have amazing vegetarian and vegan lunch options with salads, soups, quiches and all sorts of other yumminess. Definitely worth checking out, in either neighborhood!

Images courtesy of ©HuffingtonPost.com & ©Paul Bowyer

 

Café Oberkampf

Just off Rue Oberkampf and a block up from Chambelland is this unsigned little gem in navy blue, Café Oberkampf. But you’ll know it by the groups of girls waiting on its outdoor benches for a table inside this petite little place. If you’re lucky you can snag one of the window seats looking out onto Rue Neuve Popincourt, taking in the view as you sip a delicious latte whilst enjoying something off their all-day brunch menu. But the most difficult decision will be what to order (isn’t it always though?)… An almond butter & banana toast on Chambelland bread, or baked eggs in your own personal skillet? A bircher muesli bowl or granola, fruit and formage blanc? Maybe it’s best to come with friends, even if you do have to wait… Me thinks it’s worth it. Just make sure they like to share!

Images courtesy of Facebook & LeFooding.com/©Camille Pierrard

 

Candelaria

So you’re in Paris, but you’ve had enough of this french food… (a stretch of the imagination, but I’m sure it happens). Or maybe you’re just really craving something that tastes like home? And by “home” I mean Mexican food. Specifically tacos. Well I have the answer. Candelaria.

The green storefront, also lacking signage other than the white handwritten lettering on the window and the neon sign in the corner reading “TACOS,” is the true (and only) entrance to this Mexican speakeasy in Paris. In truth, the tacos are just a bonus… What people really come here for are the drinks. They only take reservations for cocktails at the bar (none required for the taqueria…) Now if that hasn’t convinced you, the intro to their Menu (of drinks) will :

Within this menu lies the last link of a chain of cooks, brewers, potion- makers, that since the pre-Columbian period have transmitted their traditions, their legends, their myths, their stories, and their recipes. Here is our statement of this heritage and of this marvellous art of mixing ingredients and creativity. We invite you to experience these libations containing folklore, fantasy and reality.

With love from l’équipe Candelaria,
Ivan, Alejandro, Thomas, Jacopo, Océane, Romain, Joris, France, Brittini, Carlos et Jesus

They also serve brunch here, and from the pics it looks well worth it. Definitely a unique experience with legit food and libations found only in Paris.

Images curtesy of Facebook & ©Diane A Broad.

 

Crêperie Gigi

A trip to Paris is not complete without having a crêpe. A real crêpe. Now there are plenty of stalls in the Latin Quarter and even some littered down the larger boulevards in Paris, but if you want a full dining experience I can’t recommend Crêperie Gigi more highly.

Situated along Rue de la Corderie, and facing a triangular square where bicycle’s congregate as happily as their riders is this sweet little restaurant, tucked behind Le Carreau du Temple. As the name implies Crêperie Gigi serves sweet and savory crepes: the savory are served on a sarrasin (buckwheat) base (gluten-free hooray!), and the sweet ones are served on a froment (wheat) base and are called crêpe sucre. But these are not the snacking kind you take away… With gourmet ingredients like smoked salmon, duck, shiitakés, truffles and burrata they require not only a knife and fork, but time to sit and savor every bite. I can’t think of a better place to enjoy this than at Gigi’s outdoor communal tables under her sweet awning. Get a bottle of cider and if you’re feeling adventurous order your crêpe Façon Salade —for an extra €1.50 it’ll come out as a salad in a buckwheat bowl – think taco salad only french style.

Images courtesy of Facebook & TripAdvisor

 

BigLove Caffe

One day I was wandering around the Temple neighborhood and as I rounded the corner of Rue Debelleyme I stumbled upon this gleaming glass storefront. No name. Just a ginormous line. Obviously it was a popular place. Curious I looked it up when I got home and was supremely sad I hadn’t queued-up. What everyone else knew that I did not is that this little glass front houses some of the best Italian food in Paris, with an exquisite brunch and best of all gluten-free pizza. Yes. Gluten-free.

Part of the BigMamma clan, a restaurant group offering fresh authentic Italian food all over Paris, BigLove Caffe is their outpost in the upper Marais and their solution to the brunch trend that’s sweeping Paris. But not to worry… unlike a lot of places in Paris where le brunch reigns supreme, BigLove is open for dinner too. They don’t take reservations so be prepared to stand in line, but the wait definitely looks worth it. From the cured meats dangling in the window to the provisions stacked on shelves around you the feel is definitely a homey one. And if that doesn’t make you feel all warm & cosy I’m sure a stack of pancakes (unfortunately not GF), an avocado toast on Chambelland bread, or a plate of pasta will, never mind the pizza! Most definitely worth a try, especially if you can’t stomach any more cassoulet, or duck confit.

Images courtesy of Facebook.

I hope this guide to Temple and Oberkampf gives you some inspiration and a few places to put on your Brunch Bucket List. It’s really such an unexpectedly beautiful area and not too far off the beaten path!

Cheers!

justJessika

 

my Paris: the 10th Arrondissement

The 10th Arrondissement is the first place I stayed when visiting Paris this past year, and it’s been the place I’ve returned to practically every time. Centrally located with Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est being not only major train stations, but hubs for many metro lines it’s definitely a convenient place to stay.

Besides its location, the 10th is a vibrant and diverse district, home to a growing food scene within Paris. Loaded with restaurants that are proud of their culinary heritage, they’re delivering delicious and inventive dishes, pushing boundaries and revolutionizing the food culture in Paris. Not only that but these fine establishments don’t require a six-figure salary to afford. They cater more to those who live and work in Paris.

The crowd is definitely a younger one, and you’ll see tons of them crowding bars along Rue de Paradis, sitting on the curbs of Cour des Petites Écuries, or along the banks of Canal Saint Martin enjoying a beverage (beer is super trendy right now!) and life in one of the hippest parts of Paris.

I hope you enjoy it too! Below are some of my Must’s in the 10th.

Image courtesy of © Francisco Anzola/Flickr

 

Neighborhood Favorites

 

See:

Canal Saint-Martin

This might be one of my favorite places in all of Paris. A local hotspot, especially for the Bobo (the French for “Hipster”) 20-30-somethings, you’ll spot them all sitting on the canal’s edge at dusk with a bottle of wine enjoying the night air. It’s where all the cool kids go – or at least it feels like that.

But during the day it’s equally as charming, with its bridges that crisscross from one side to the other. There are also lots of cute boutiques, cafes, lunch spots and restaurants that line its banks or the many streets that branch off of it. Enjoy these delicious and affordable places or do as the locals do and grab yourself a good bottle, a baguette, some cheese and picnic along with the rest of Paris.

Images courtesy of The Tasting Table, Girls Guide to Paris, © Francisco Anzola/Flickr

 

Streets:

Musts

Image courtesy of Paris Burger

Maybe Nots

There are very few areas in Paris that are unsafe these days. The 10th Arrondissement is a gritty and very diverse district but that’s part of its appeal. That said there are a few streets that aren’t as picturesque…

  • Boulevard de Strasbourg is a big boulevard with not much going on. I wouldn’t recommend staying here.
  • By Gare du Nord & Gare de l’Est or any train station for that matter is always a little extra rough. The location might be ideal in terms of proximity to transportation, just know it’s not going to be as idyllic as other areas.

 

Stay:

ART Hotel Lafayette

I’m not gonna lie… we got this hotel from Priceline’s Express Deals–you only know the neighborhood of the hotel, star-rating & price, and once you book it (non-refundable) you find out the name of the hotel. It’s a tad risky (and exhilarating), but this time we definitely scored with ART Hotel Lafayette.

Situated at the north-most end of Rue d’Hauteville its location couldn’t better with Gare du Nord an 8-minute walk away, and the nearest Metro station, Poissonnière, just 3-minutes. And with neighboring streets like Rue de Paradis and Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, breakfast and dinner spots abound! Essential for those late-start mornings when the tummy’s grumbling, or those late-night dinners when your feet just wish they could magically find themselves back in bed.

While the lobby’s seen better days–a bit worn from use, the rooms are nice and stylishly dressed. The bathroom was smaller but the shower was large and luxurious, with amazing water-pressure (showers in Paris tend to be tiny.)! But by far the best part of the room was the view from our shared balcony of Église Saint-Vincent de Paul! Worth every penny! The staff was kind and helpful, and the front desk was manned 24-hours. Would definitely recommend this hotel when staying in Paris!

Images courtesy of Booking.com, Expedia & TripAdvisor

 

Eat:

Peonies Paris

On Rue Faubourg Saint-Denis there lies a sweet feminine oasis of coffee, cakes and flowers. Dressed daintily in shades of blush and kelly green Peonies Paris is every girl’s (or Instagrammer’s) heaven. The beautiful brunette with the big Bambi-eyes behind the counter is Clementine Lévy–florist, barista and owner of this part cafe, part floral shop. Come in and enjoy a delightful cup of coffee and slice of their freshly made cake (they usually have one that’s gluten-free) or partake in their vegetarian lunch that changes daily – a seasonal salad, vegetarian rolls or the ubiquitous avocado toast. Either way a stop at Peonies Paris is sure to please. Just please don’t leave without at least smelling the peonies! Better yet buy a bouquet to take away…

Images courtesy of © The Socialite Family & Joelix.com

 

Cafe Marlette

With two locations, one in South Pigalle on Rue des Martyrs and the other on the amazing Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, Cafe Marlette is where it’s at if you want a delicious, generous and affordable breakfast or brunch. As with many places in Paris they focus on quality, bio (organic) ingredients and offer a few different formulas ranging in size & price. The one I love is Le Marlette: a coffee of choice (here you can actually order a latte or cappuccino and they even have alternative milks too!), freshly-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, yogurt with granola, and a slice of one of their in-house cakes (yes, they’ve got a gluten-free one!). If something savory is more to your taste they also have a number of egg dishes on their à la carte menu. Definitely grab a window seat, and if you’re wondering how to recreate that delicious cake you ate, fret not! They sell their pre-made mixes online and in-store.

Images courtesy of Atelier UOA & Cafe Marlette 

 

Holybelly

If you’re not into the traditional French breakfast of a cigarette, espresso and croissant; if you’re hungering for something more substantial; if you’re homesick for a giant stack of fluffy pancakes, you’re not alone. This fact will become glaringly obvious when you round the corner onto Rue Lucien Sampaix and survey the crowd of Bobos lined-up, waiting their turn for a table at Holybelly. Both their name and slogan “It’s good because we care” say it all… serving up great coffee and food, mostly of a breakfast/brunch nature, with a smile. Their pancakes are legendary, but their eggs, served all day, are equally as awesome—be sure to order a side of hashbrowns & sausage patty. The service is always friendly and spot-on in this cool shoebox-sized place- the line attests to the truth of these statements (they don’t take reservations, so get there early!). Thankfully they’re expanding!!! So be sure to check their website or Instagram for hours and updates as they’re undergoing the expansion.

 

Soucoupe

Just a block or so down from Cafe Marlette is Soucoupe. But this is not just a coffee shop as its gorgeous turquoise storefront reads. Owned and operated by two sisters, there’s a constant flow in and out during the lunch hour by Parisians ordering their formulas à emporter–to go. And you can see why… You get: a beautiful baguette sandwich or choose from their fresh salad offerings, a juice-of-the-day or beverage-of-choice, and a delicious dessert–all for €11-12!!! The ingredients are not only fresh but sourced from local farms and the menu changes daily. Their coffee is also exceptional and they offer their own homemade almond milk for those avoiding dairy. Take your coffee or lunch to go, or sit and eat in with a view of their lovely secret garden.

Images courtesy of Les Foodeuses & TimeOut Paris

 

Urfa Dürüm

If you’re a fan international food, a walk down Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis is a must. And if you want the best Kurdish sandwich/wrap of your life look for the place with the mustard-colored awning, miniature tables and chairs (yes, these are for adults), and a line that snakes single-file out the door. Then you know you’ve arrived at Urfa Dürüm. We heard about this place when watching Anthony Bourdain’s Paris episode in his series The Layover. A must watch!!! Needless to say we were not disappointed. The flatbread is handmade, rolled-out and baked in the giant stone oven in the front of the shop. The meats are grilled up right before your eyes and the dürüm (the name of the sandwich you just ordered) expertly flung together with just arugula, red onion, tomatoes and parsley. Simple. Delicious. The menu is listed on a chalkboard in the front: agneau (lamb), poulet (chicken), viande haché (beef), foie d’agneau (lamb’s liver) or vegetarian. The owner speaks English but that’s about it… Yes they do take cards. No this is NOT halal. Yes you should try it!

Images courtesy of Yelp, YouTube & © Julian Hay

 

Café Aux Fourreurs

If you want that traditional café experience–you know, sitting on one of those quintessential woven café chairs under an awning people watching as you sip a Spritz–then you can’t go wrong with Café Aux Fourreurs. Not only is it about as picturesque as it gets, but the small menu of food is actually amazing (not always the case with most cafés–you’re going for the experience), and the people watching along Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière is supreme. If you can’t find an outdoor seat available (it can be a pretty happening spot with the locals), the interior is just as charming with a glam-retro feel. Be sure to order their Planche Mixte – a charcuterie & cheese board of epic proportions that’s one of the best I’ve had in Paris. Or if you fancy something fresher try La Fraïcheur, a salad with smoked salmon, crayfish, tomatoes, green beans and avocado. It’s phenomenal. The desserts also look incredible. Definitely worth a stop if only for a drink!

Images courtesy of Facebook & Mappy.com

 

Chez Minna

I’d passed by Chez Minna number of times as it was less than a block from my friend’s flat in Paris, and always wondered about it. But with so many other restaurants on my hit-list, I’d never considered it till one evening when Ryan and I were “winging” our dinner plans and we just happened to wander by. The restaurant looked so inviting with it’s warm yet industrial interior. And the Corsican menu looked sublime: an starter of Burratina with myrtle, beet carpaccio and apple shavings or a main of Grilled Octopus with herbed bulgur and a spicy mayo? Yes please! And with mains coming in at the oh-so reasonable price range of €16-21 we were sold. Unfortunately I’m still left wondering what all these mouth-watering delights taste like… No reservation? Not happening. So don’t make the same mistake we did… book ahead! This hot-spot on the Michelin Guide is worth a try. At least to tell me if it lives up to all the droll-inducing photos.

Images courtesy of Chez Minna & RestoAParis.com

 

Les Vinaigriers

Of all the meals I’ve had in Paris Les Vinaigriers has provided me with one of the best… In my top three. And I’ve had a lot of meals in Paris. The ambiance is perfectly Parisian, with a spiral staircase and warm wood finishes throughout, utilizing the wall of paned windows to bring in the light and life of the Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood. The ever-changing menu is beautiful, featuring for the most part traditional french dishes but allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves. They’re the stars here. The staff is very friendly, and while they do speak english and even have an english menu, most of the people you’ll find sitting around you are locals. The wine list is plentiful and the prices are some of the most reasonable in Paris with staters going for €8-13, mains between €16-26 and cocktails from €7-8. Their Menu Midi (lunch formula) is also quite good and worth checking out if you’re wanting a more indulgent lunch. If you only go to one restaurant in the 10th I can guarantee Les Vinaigriers won’t disappoint.

Images courtesy of Facebook & Take Me There

 

I hope during your stay in Paris you have the opportunity to check out the 10th Arrondissement, or at the very least eat a meal in this burgeoning foodie district. Your wallet and tastebuds will thank you. I promise!

Bon Appétit!

justJessika

my Paris: Montmartre & South Pigalle

This might just be my favorite part of Paris…

Situated in the shadow of Sacré Cœur, the land of Amélie Poulain, Montmartre and South Pigalle are charming in an old-timie sort of way. Think vintage Paris. The original red-light district, historically this area hasn’t been the classiest and there definitely are still some rather vulgar pockets. But behind those lie some of Paris’ most perfect gems: open markets with the freshest, most delectable produce, meats & fish around; café-lined streets and independent boutiques where you can actually afford to buy a thing or two. And some of Paris’s best restaurants lie nestled in this quaint yet somewhat steep hillside.

It also has been the home to and inspiration for artists over the centuries, and continues in this vain. The streets ooze artistic expression from current day painters selling their masterpieces propped up on easels to the street art graffitied on the sides of staircases and buildings.

Montmartre and South Pigalle should not be missed on any Paris trip!

Neighborhood Favorites

See:

Sacre-Cœur

Forget the Eiffel Tower! In my mind a trip to Paris is not complete without seeing this heavenly structure that perches atop Paris looking down and watching over her like a guardian angel. She still takes my breath away every time, all white and glorious. And if her beauty doesn’t have that same effect on you, than the stairs to reach her certainly will! Thankfully there’s an elevator that will shuttle you up to one of Paris’ most spectacular views for just the cost of a metro ticket. Either way, Sacre Cœur is a Paris MUST.

IMG_6391

 

Streets:

Musts

Maybe nots

  • Boulevard de Clichy is pretty much where all your sex-shops and strip clubs lie. The closer you get to this main thoroughfare the less picturesque your experience will be.
  • Rue Seveste, Briquet, and Rue de Steinkerque are the ultimate tourist traps, capitalizing on the picture-perfect view of the Basilica–worth seeing but not staying.
  • Rue de Clignancourt and the area west of Sacre Cœur is a bit sketch. I wouldn’t recommend booking a hotel in any of the areas mentioned above.

 

Stay:

Hotel Sacha: A HappyCulture Hotel

Tucked just off the busy Rue des Martyrs lies this picture perfect hotel. Part of the HappyCulture hotel group (they have 21 distinct hotels scattered all over Paris), each hotel offers a unique experience catered to the neighborhood it calls home. Hotel Sacha, set in the Opera District takes its cue from the opulent Opera Garnier, similarly dressed in red-velvet and glimmering gold.

Hotel Sacha’s location couldn’t be more ideal, with some of the best shops and restaurants just steps from its door–bustling during the days, yet quiet at night. The hotel has a boutique feel, impeccably decorated, and though the rooms are small (this is Paris after all) they are stylish and comfortable with luxurious linens and everything you could ever want to make your stay in Paris absolutely perfect.

The perk of staying in a HappyCulture hotel is that not only do they have free wifi, a Nepresso Machine in the lobby for mid-morning fuel-ups, and a complimentary HappyTime (a.k.a. Happy Hour), but as a HappyCulture guest you can partake of these benefits at any HappyCulture hotel! They indeed understand the concept of happiness and hospitality!

 

Eat:

Rose Bakery

The sit-down establishment in the Rose-trifecta of yumminess in the South Pigalle area, (they have three separate storefronts: a cafe, take-away and market within a stones-throw of each other) Rose Bakery is definitely a must, especially if you’re traveling with ladies. Daintily decorated and with a menu to match, the food is fresh, local and delightful. A Rose Latte is in order if you’ve ever wondered what that fragrant flower tastes like, and good luck trying to pick from all the gorgeous pastries! It’s the perfect brunch spot when exploring in this area.

 

La Bossue

If you’re walking up Rue des Abbesses the pot of gold that awaits you at the end (or beginning?) of this perfect street is this sweet little cafe, La Bossue. With white marble table tops and velvet teal-tufted bench seats the atmosphere is supremely cosy. A perfect hideaway after a day of walking and shopping. And the food is amazing! They have a delicious lunch formula that usually involves a salad, a quiche of some sort, and a bowl of soup, all for the price of a cocktail! If your sweet-tooth’s calling their selection of tea cakes, madeleines and financiers are hard to resist. A weekend brunch you fancy? Their buffet-style service looks legendary from the drool-inducing photos. You’ll probably want to make reservations for this.

 

Buvette

When an American woman opens a french restaurant in Paris, serving dishes that constitute the heart, soul and tradition of a nation, you know that she’s either got to be really good or really gutsy. In this case Jody Williams is both. Opening the Parisian outpost of her West Village, NYC hit Buvette Grastrothéque in 2013, it’s had a consistent and local following ever since. Now that says something.

And grabbing one of the few seats in this tiny, traditionally-clad purveyor of Parisian perfection, you know you’ve scored big time. With the menu consisting of smaller plates divided between tartines (toasts), vegetables, fish and meats you get to sample a little bit of it all, and believe me you’ll want to. The wine list is amazing as is the chocolate mousse. Just order it. You’ll thank me later…

 

Gloria

For those who decide against climbing the stairway to paradise (a.k.a. to Sacre-Cœur), there awaits another type of heaven a block’s walk westward along Rue d’Orsel. There you’ll stumble upon a perfectly delicious little spot called Gloria right off the Place du Théätre d’Atelier. Inside this small restaurant you’ll find trailing plants amongst wine-ladden shelves, local artist’s work hung on the walls, and a beautiful tile floor beneath your feet. But the true glory this place exudes is on your plate. You’ll find an inventive menu of small plates with a few mains, all with a slight Brazilian flair. The quality of the food is top-notch and the prices are oh-so-reasonable. They’ll choose a wine for you depending on what you order and glasses range from €4-7. But the dessert… Their chocolate fondant cake is the best I’ve ever had. Ever. You really can’t go wrong with Gloria, though you might want to make a reservation… This place is always busy.

 

Ma Biche

I discovered Ma Biche on a frigid January eve, when group of us were wandering aimlessly through Montmartre in search of sustenance and shelter. As we stumbled down a side street something caught my eye: a black-and-white silent film projected on a building façade. When I saw it was coming from the restaurant opposite, I knew one day I’d eat there. That “one day” came a couple months later. And then again a couple weeks after that. Needless to say this place is addictive.

The decor is darling and oh-so quirky-what you’d expect from a restaurant that has a film showing every eve. But the food and the wine are the real showstoppers. They only serve three reds by the glass but they’re literally the best wines I’ve ever tasted. Not exaggerating. And the burger!!! A menu staple, the ingredients vary slightly from week to week, but this mountain of beef, bacon, brie, chutney & fried egg blow all other burgers out of the water. If red meat’s not your thing then they have a whole fish that they serve flambé, or a rotating duck dish that is also delish. Whatever you choose… just make sure you choose Ma Biche! You won’t regret it. I promise.

Enjoy exploring one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris. There are so many other place’s I’d love to mention but this post can only be so long… If you would like any other recommendations just shoot me a message.

Bon Journée!

justJessika

my Paris: an Overview

So if you follow me on Instagram you’ll notice I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Paris this past year.

In moving to England I had a sneaking suspicion I’d do some traveling to the continent, especially with both the Eurostar and European budget airlines making it so affordable. I mean how could I not? But I had no idea that the majority of that travel would take me to the City of Lights.

Paris, six times in seven months! Quelle surprise!

It’s hard to resist when the Paris Opera Ballet programs one of the best balletic seasons of all time, and it just so happens your dear old dressing-room neighbor/fellow former PNB corps sister Chelsea Adomaitis dances there.

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Needless to say I’ve been blessed to discover Paris slowly, exploring all her nooks and crannies, weeding through the tourist traps, and uncovering the real and unexpected Paris. And with summer travel rapidly approaching there are a few things I’ve found that I’d love to share with you: a quick overview of Paris with some tips and alternatives to the standard attractions, followed by a series of blog posts, highlighting a few of my favorite Parisian neighborhoods and their hidden treasures.

Paris 101

The city is structured in a circle with the River Seine dividing the city in two. The Rive Gauche, a.k.a. the Left Bank, is everything south of the Seine & the Rive Droit is everything north of it.

Paris is divided into 20 districts called Arrondissements that spiral outward in a clockwise fashion from the city center (basically the Louvre) like a snail shell. There are also named boroughs–Montmartre, St. Germain, the Latin Quarter, Le Marais etc–the borders of which slightly correspond to a particular Arrondissement, but can overlap. In general most of the main attractions are found within the first 11 Arrondissements, but it’s good to familiarize yourself with each borough, be it a number or a name, finding the attractions hidden within each.

The Parisians have a reputation for being a bit snooty, a stereotype that’s occasionally true. But for the most part I found the French to be the kind, helpful, and always appreciative of those who try to speak their native tongue. Practically everyone speaks perfect English, but it’s nice to at least familiarize yourself with a few key phrases (and their pronunciation!!!) before you arrive.

The best way to see the city is on foot. In my mind there’s truly no other way to soak in its magnificence, while also making those french indulgences (cheese, croissants, eclairs) 100% guilt-free–you’ll clock some serious milage while here! They also have city bikes you can rent if cycling through the city is more your thing.

But if either of those options sound terrible, the metro system in Paris is one of the best. How much you plan to use it and how long you’re staying will determine what type of pass you purchase. Don’t forget to survey your options. Buying a 3-day pass might not be worth it if you plan to walk a lot – get a booklet of tickets instead!

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The currency is the euro. Don’t bring USD and try to convert – the exchange rate is HORRIBLE! Instead use a debit card to get cash or a credit card sans foreign transaction fees, assuming you can pay it off. We love this card.

The weather is in ˚Celsius (Good luck converting that…), and they use Military time here (0:00-24:00). Bring EU power adaptors. Do NOT bring blow-dryers, straighteners or curling-irons. It won’t work out for you. I promise.

Tips & Tools

Useful tips and tools for enjoying and navigating Paris:

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Thank the Lord for Google Maps! This is how to not only navigate Paris, but any city, especially if you don’t have data. Not only does Google enable you to personalize your map, saving and labeling favorite spots, but you can also download those maps for offline use, using it and your phone’s GPS to reveal your location when you’re without wifi or data. No need for breadcrumbs to help you find your hotel again… You can find instructions on how to do this here.

Note: you can only add places to your map when you’re online, so if there’s a place you stumble upon that you want to add, be sure to collect business cards or at least take a note of the name and add it later when you have wifi.

Eat Like the Locals 

As with many European cultures, the Parisians eat late and have different mealtime traditions:

  • Breakfast tends to be light: cigarette, pastry & café – a shot of espresso. However if you prefer a healthier/heartier breakfast there are plenty of options…
  • Brunch on the weekend is an event! Make reservations.
  • Lunch = a Formula–a 2 or 3 “course” pre-fix menu that consists of an entree (appetizer), plat (entree) and dessert (dessert), that you either eat sur place (for here) or a emporter (to go).
  • Happy Hour tends to be from 18/18:30 to at the latest 21hrs (6:30pm to 9pm) with cocktails starting at around 5-6 euros. A steal when they’re normally double that!
  • Dinner is generally never earlier than 8pm with most places getting busy around 9pm. They eat late here!
  • Parisians do walk around eating baguettes in hand. The stereotype is true! Feel free to partake in this tradition – the best gluten free one can be found here.

Low Power Mode & Portable Battery

  • FullSizeRender 4Low Power Mode. If you’re using your offline Google Maps and you keep it open all day your battery will be dead by lunch – or at least mine is. A handy thing if you have an iPhone is the Low Power Mode. You can find it in “Settings” under “Battery.” Make a habit of turning this on when you wake up and you should be good all day. Just make sure to close out apps when you’re not using them.
  • Portable Battery. Despite the miracle of Low Power Mode, there still have been times when I’m sitting at dinner and my phone buzzes “Less than 10% Battery.” Carrying a small portable battery charger and cord can be life-savers, and they’re not too expensive. Definitely worth having, if only for peace of mind…

Le Fooding 

I can’t express to you how great a tool this website is. If food is even remotely important to you–which if you’re traveling to Paris it should be–then Le Fooding is pure gold! They give you the run-down on the Parisian food-scene with loads of restaurant recommendations (complete with detailed descriptions) in every arrondissement and at every price-point.

If for some reason you fancy Mexican, Le Fooding will point you to the best tacos in Paris. Or if you want to know where to go out near your hotel (or better yet which hotel to choose) they’ve got you covered. They even have an app! Just be sure with both app and website to click the English version… they do have it!

Where to Stay & Not

After exploring nearly every borough in this great city I’ve concluded that there really isn’t a bad place to stay in Paris. With the metro making all of it accessible, staying in the center is not essential like it is in other cities. This enables you to enjoy finer accommodations on the outskirts of town at a fraction of the cost. Happiness for you; happiness for your wallet.

That said I do have a few favorite neighborhoods (which I’ll be sharing about individually in future posts – be sure to check them out!) that in my view are ideal bases because of their ambiance and access to restaurants & shopping:

  • Montmartre & South Pigalle (9th & 18th Arrondissements)
  • The 10th Arrondissement
  • Temple & Oberkampf (3rd & 11th Arrondissements)
  • Bastille (11th Arrondissement)

Places I would NOT recommend staying (there are only a few…)

  • The 8th Arrondissement is beautiful and boring. Expensive +  Residential ≠ Good restaurants & nightlife.
  • I’d steer clear of anything east of or directly below Sacre-Cœur as well as anything on Blvd de Clichy. Just a bit sketch…
  • Rue Saint-Martin between Blvd Poissonière and Rue Réaumur is a little red-light street. Also feels a bit sketch… There are nicer places.

Alternative Paris

Paris Vista: Sacre-Cour

Sure the Eiffel Tower is beautiful, especially when it sparkles at midnight for like 5 minutes (that’s definitely worth staying up for!) but it’s not very centrally located in Paris, can be quite a trek to get to depending on where you stay, and the lines… Yikes.

Instead I recommend Sacre-Cœur. Perched high above Paris, her white facade gleaming in the sunlight, not only is she absolutely stunning, but she has one of the most beautiful and comprehensive views of the city – Eiffel Tower included. The steps leading up to her front door are a great place to sit, enjoying a sandwich from mouth-watering shop on Rue du Chevalier de la Barre just behind the Basilica – wish I remembered the name… And not only is there an elevator/gondola that for the cost of a metro ticket will transport you to the top, but you’ll then find yourself in the heart of Montmartre–one of Paris’ best neighborhoods.

Church: Sainte-Chapelle

I’ve heard that Notre Dame is stunning. She certainly is from the outside. A Gothic masterpiece that’s set right in the heart of Paris, and in truth in the heart of every Parisian as well. But I’ve never been inside. Why? Because I can’t bring myself to stand in a line that wraps almost to the other side of the Seine just to get through security. Sure the view while waiting isn’t so bad, but my time in Paris is precious! So many things to do, see, and eat.

An alternative, a hidden treasure of Paris is a Gothic chapel called Sainte-Chapelle. Just a few blocks from Notre Dame, it’s also located on Ile de la Cite, but is tucked away within the Palais de Justice de Paris. There will be a line, certainly not as long as Notre Dame’s, but oh is it worth the short wait!

Just two-words: Stained-glass windows.

Nothing comes close to these beauties. And the best part is they’re accessed only by a small staircase to the left of the main entrance. When Ryan and I went we almost missed them! I literally and audibly gasped upon entering the room. There are truly no words to describe their luminous beauty. You just have to see it to understand.

Shopping: Le Marais or Montmartre

The Champs-Elysées is one of the most famous streets in Paris and for good reason. It begins at the beautiful albeit busy Place de la Concorde, where Marie Antoinette got the ax, and ends at the Arc du Triumph–two monumental sites in Paris.

But what it’s really known for is the shopping. Expensive shopping. Like if you don’t own an oil field in Saudi Arabia or a dot-com in Silicon Valley you’re probably not going to be touching items in the store let alone walking away with shopping bags. So why not go to an area where fashion is accessible and shopping viable? After all, you are in Paris…

Le Marais, once the old Jewish quarter situated on the Rive Droit, just north of Ile Saint Louis, is now the new shopping district of Paris. It has plenty of boutiques as well as international brands lining its quaint yet elegant streets.

Another option if you’re a bit more hipster and artistically inclined is Montmartre. The shops are even more affordable here (for Paris) and you can find many local designers housed within Montmartre’s cute boutiques.

Museum: Museé d’Orsay

Art runs through Paris like the Seine. It’s in its blood. And if there were a temple dedicated to the worlds greatest masterpieces, a Mecca to which all art-enthusiast pilgrimage, the Museé du Louvre would be it. The world’s most illustrious art collection is housed in what used to be the King’s palace – before they out-grew it and moved to Versailles. The building itself is a work of art. It’s hard to know where to look–at the walls covered in Da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo or up at the gilded painted ceilings.

If you happen to be one of these art pilgrims then my advice is book in advance at a specific time. You’ll still have to wait, just not 3 hours… I kid you not this was one of the waiting times when thought about going.

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With a city so full of art everywhere, museums a-plenty, in my mind it’s hard to justify wasting 3 hours when you could be enjoying art elsewhere.

That “elsewhere” could be the Musée d’Orsay. Situated in the Rive Gauche on the banks of the Seine, the Musee d’Orsay houses some of France’s impressionistic masters: Degas, Renoir, Monet, not to mention countless other artists and sculptors from all over the world. The building itself, a converted train station, is glorious, and they also offer a combined ticket to either the Musée de l’Orangerie, or the Musée Rodin – both well worth the price if you have time to take in two museums whilst in Paris.

I hope this overview of Paris has been helpful and informative, giving you some good ideas of what to see and maybe what to skip. Bottom line is it’s all beautiful.

With amazing food to experience, excellent wines to sip and beauty that utterly encompasses it’s hard to have a bad time in this wondrous city. My advice: take your time and let it all soak in. It’s not about ticking off a check-list of must-see sights, it’s about enjoying, experiencing, living. At least that’s my Paris. Now it’s time for you to find yours!

Check back soon for more detailed guides to my favorite neighborhoods in Paris (listed above): what to see, where to eat, walk and shop.

À bientôt!!!

justJessika

Keep Calm. Carry-On.

Can it already be the middle of May?

This past year has truly flown by! And it’s crazy to remember the chaos that consumed me a year ago: packing up and moving out of our little apartment; buying a house and renovating it; mentally and emotionally preparing for retirement. So so much.

But the one thing that kept me somewhat sane amid all the change was planning for my summer travel adventure.

In preparing for this five-week European trip I faced a few conundrums:

  1. How to spend less on transportation (it’s all about budget airlines baby!)
  2. How to trek through European train stations, airports & cities on my own, baggage in tow.
  3. How to make tight flight connections & make the most of my time in each location.

The answer: keep calm and carry-on.

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As in bag-size. And preferably one that doesn’t roll behind me – while they can be a bit easier on the body, they tend to be a huge nuisance in crowded busses, metros and trains, not to mention rolling them over uneven cobblestones or gravely roads.

What I’m not talking about are those monstrous backpacks that kids in their early twenties cart around, their water bottles and dusty sandals dangling from carabiners… No. The key is carry-on (which on budget airlines in Europe tend to be a bit smaller and can differ slightly between airlines so be sure to check your carrier’s specifications).

The Bag

The Patagonia Black Hole Duffle – 60L.

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This bag is awesome! Not only am I able to pack like I would in a normal bag (I find true backpacks aren’t the friendliest to things like heels, dresses and snorkel fins), but the backpack straps enable me to carry it with the bag’s opening against my back, making it a pickpockets nightmare. The fabric is waterproof and super durable, and for almost every airline it complies as a carry-on. YAY!

I will say ergonomically this is still a duffle bag – the removable backpack straps can get a bit uncomfortable if you’re toting it full and for a long time. Just keep that in mind.

Carry-On Packing

So I’ve sold you on carry-on travel. Great!

But how exactly do you pack for that? Especially if you’re a woman, you like fashion and you’ll be traveling for weeks on end?

It just takes some forethought…

My Momma has always been into the matchy-matchy thing – everything has to coordinate. And while I’ve often rolled my eyes at this seemingly stuffy and put-together style, when it comes to carry-on packing, mother knows best.

Color Coordination

Come up with a color scheme. If you love color and patterns, pick a favorite piece and build your palate off that, making sure everything merchandises well together. Same principle goes for you monochromatic dressers – the key is in pairing multiple pieces together. That way you don’t need to take seven t-shirts, you could probably manage with three.

Make sure your neutrals match. Try to choose either navy or black, white or cream, unless you’re going for a neutral-only look where white and cream work well together.

The concept is similar to the Wardrobe Capsule, just on a micro scale. A good intro to that  minimalist style can be found here.

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Where & Weather

Obviously where you’re traveling has the biggest impact on what you’ll pack. Will you be  sunbathing on a beach or exploring a city? Attending a ballet or hiking up a mountain? Maybe all of the above.

Packing pieces that are versatile is key! That amazingly comfortable black maxi dress, perfect for travel-days and beach strolls, can easily pass on an evening out accessorized with an up-do, some red lipstick and confidence of course!

And heels are so not necessary! Delicate leather sandals look just as great with a little red dress as they do with shorts or leggings and a tunic.

Traversing multiple climates can make packing a tad tricky. The solution? Layers! 

Even if you’re going to a really hot climate, evenings can get chilly and you never know when a summer shower might rain down. You can never go wrong packing a short raincoat like this, a pair of leggings like these, and basic cardigan that’ll keep the chill off in the evenings.

And when it comes to beach time, turkish bath towels are a carry-on traveler’s dream! Not only are they the cutest, but they dry quickly and pack down perfectly!

A Week’s Worth

For me, the final step in packing is laying it all out on my bed, like a giant Pinterest Board.

I try to come up with seven different outfits (reusing pieces) that will suit all sorts of activities. The rest is returned to the closet or dresser.

Asking yourself questions like, “do I really need four pairs of shorts?” or “will I actually go running while I’m on vacation?” are helpful in narrowing down the final packing list.  Every trip I’ve come home with something I never wore, so don’t be afraid to be ruthless here. Worst case scenario you don’t have enough clothes so you have to go shopping… Bummer.

I’d give you a formula, but every person’s style is different… Some ladies prefer sundresses while others never leave the comfort of their jeans no matter how hot it gets. Regardless, if you have a week’s-worth of outfits you should be golden!

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Misc Tips

Take the cream, forget the suds

Don’t waste your clear quart-sized liquids bag on shampoo or body wash. Most places provide it or it can easily be purchased at your destination. Conditioner, I’ve found, is another matter – they’re not all created equal, especially abroad. So definitely double up on that travel-sized conditioner!

Laundry-Day

Travel-sized Woolite packs of detergent (you can buy them here) are essential! Whether you’re staying at an Airbnb with laundry facilities or washing out your undies in the hotel sink they come in really handy! Just don’t forget to pack them in your liquids bag. Another alternative is bringing Dr. Bronner’s which can double as detergent and body wash. A little goes a long way with this stuff! You can buy it here, or find it at pretty much any Whole Foods, PCC, REI etc.

Wherever your travels take you this summer, I hope you enjoy them to the fullest. Seeing new places, experiencing different cultures & cuisines, and beholding the beauty of this incredibly diverse world our Papa God created is a true privilege and one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Hope this guide to carry-on packing helps you to travel light and enjoy the journey. It’s really an amazing one!

Cheers!

justJessika

In the white space

Well 2016 was quite a year.

I know everyone keeps saying that. Guess it was big for lots of people. In lots of ways. But I  seriously don’t think there’s been one in my books thus far that even compares. Not sure there’ll be one to follow…

Now I’m not saying there haven’t been major moments in years previous. I’m not saying this was the BEST, and it’s all downhill from here. But so many crazy HUGE life-events all happening in the span of 12 calendar months (okay really like four months, but who’s counting?)…? Well lets just say it’s a bit unlikely it’ll all happen again. Then again, how does the saying go? “Never say ‘never’?”

But just to put it all in perspective here’s 2016 in reprise, bullet-point style (my fav):

  • Became first-time homeowners!
  • Packed and moved out of our first home/apt we’d lived in for 3 years. Unpacked & moved into our new home for like 10 days…
  • Retired from a 12-year career (and 26-year love) as a professional ballerina.
  • Had an epic trip traveling (sometimes solo) all over Europe for 5 weeks.
  • Renovated our “new” house.
  • Packed up our life and stored it all in a shed and two garages (thanks parents!).
  • Moved to England!
  • Became full-time grad student & full-time housewife/part-time writer.

I guess the only thing we could’ve added was a baby… thankfully the Lord knew our limit!

Needless to say, LOTS of change. LOTS of transitions. Things that, if I’m honest, I’m pretty terrible at.

So we do this thing at my home on New Years. It’s totally a Mr. Bill (my dad) thing. But that said, I’m sure it’s not entirely unique to our household. In fact, I believe it’s quite common…

We all sit down around the dinner table and talk about the previous year – highlights, what we did well, what we could improve upon. And then we talk about our goals for the new year. Notice I did NOT say “resolutions.” We’re a “goals” family. We don’t resolve. We do.

And when we were younger my dad would have my brother and I write it all down (nowadays it more consists of just conversations). He on the other hand would come prepared with an intricate mind-map that looked like part little-kid-spider-web-drawing, part legit-crazy-person-ramblings on a sheet of graph paper. He had all his goals divided into sections: health, career, relationships, spiritual, recreation. And of course there were sub-sections within each category. He still makes them to this day, and I have come to regard them not so much as the O.C.D., Type A, control-freak tendency (which, let’s be honest, they kind of are…) I scorned, but as a work of art. As something I aspire to… somewhat.

And this year was no different (minus the fact that we’re a few thousand miles away).

Ryan and I sat at our dinner/everything table and asked the questions. And as I thought about all that has transpired for both of us this year, all the trust-falls of faith we’ve had to take, all the unknowns and still blurry bits of the future that have yet to reveal themselves, I have to say I’m quite proud.

You see I’m just a chip off the old Mr Bill block. A planner. A goal-setter. A doer. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s in part how God wired me.

But one of the most frightening parts of 2016 was walking into an unknown. Closing one chapter, turning the page and not seeing words or lists, but white space. Blank. Sure there were things floating about in the periphery, but no clearly delineated plan to be executed, steps chronologically written in permanent ink.

I knew retiring, and retiring when I did, was part of God’s great plan for my life. It’s confirmed in me every day. Not a single regret. Not even one. And I also know we are supposed to be here in England for this year. But what exactly the future holds, I cannot specifically say, much to the chagrin of those who ask the dreaded question “so what’s next for you?”  There are so many possibilities, so many desires, all written down of course, but no particular path or route has been revealed.

But I’m learning to rest in that. Even to delight in it. Believe me, not something that comes naturally.

As time approached the “page turn,” I spent many a sleepless night seeking God’s direction. Seeking His will. To be outside of it has been, and still is one of my greatest fears in life. But it didn’t matter how hard I prayed, how long I journaled… Nothing. Well no, not nothing… He told me I just needed to trust and follow Him. One day at a time, one step at a time. Was that enough? Was He enough?

How could I say “No.”?

My life. My story. But are they really mine? Have these plans, hopes and dreams been of my making, of my doing, or were they planted in me, grown and cultivated through Divine provision, doors opened, and obstacles overcome? Through miracles from the Master perfectly orchestrated? Everything in my life attests to this, the Truth.

So the only response I could possibly have in that moment, in that question was to put my hand in His and say, “I’m ready. Let’s go!”

Because He is more than enough. Because even in the hardest times, in the darkest places He’s only ever been good. He is only good. He never leaves my side. And He turns darkness into light. And He gives the best gifts.

And since He’s got the plan in His hand, and I’ve got my hand in His, I have the freedom to  look up. To look around. To drink in small moments, ordinary moments and really live in them. Live in TODAY. Like never before. To slow down and let it all soak in: the fleeting, the futile, the simple, like the most intoxicating perfume. Because it’s here, it’s now, and it will all be gone, like water slipping through my fingers.

What makes a day memorable? Makes it stick out and stick with you? It’s impossible to remember every single one. So what happens to the ones that like the water seem to pass by silently unnoticed?

As I sat in bed contemplating this, gazing at a cross-stitch hung on the opposite wall, Ryan’s head resting on my chest, my fingers running through his curls, I realized I never wanted to forget this moment. Ordinary, yet nevertheless precious.

But the reality is that there was nothing in particular that set this day apart from any other. No amazing adventure. No epic tragedy. I couldn’t even tell you if it was sunny or cloudy. It will be forgotten with all the rest of the perfectly mediocre days. And yet I came to an astonishing conclusion:

“So if I’m going to forget this…” I thought to myself, “if it’s something that right now I find utterly precious, but won’t remember days or weeks or years from now, then NOW is all I have. So in this moment, let all of me right now celebrate and fully appreciate it, thanking God for the gift this is.”

The gift of the ordinary. The gift of Today. Of seeing the ordinary as extraordinary.

It could be the song of the birds as I walk along the river in to town. It could be the sideways winter light that illuminates a brick building against a stormy slate-blue sky. It could be the smile of an elderly man I make eye contact with on the street.
And yet how many of these moments have I let pass by because I was so focused on arriving at the destination? Achieving the goal? Following the plan? Sticking to the route? Or just trying to figure it out… I never would have developed these eyes to see had my future been laid out before me as I wanted. Had I not had to trust and follow into the white space.

So in this year of seemingly unknowns my goals are simple ones, in bullet-point style:

  • Drink more water.
  • Read more books.
  • Embrace change.
  • Find a healthy balance with health.
  • Live fully & intentionally each day for God’s glory.
  • Let Him lead & look up. Look around.
  • Be thankful & celebrate Today.
  • Rest in the surrender. Joy in the journey.

I’m learning to embrace the white space. I’m seeing the beauty of it. Giving me these ordinary-celebrating eyes and strengthening my ability to be still and “treasure up all these things and ponder them in [my] heart,” so that when the pages are full of scribbles and endless lists I still know how to look up, look around. And rejoice.

Maybe you’re feeling a bit directionless as you enter 2017, despite persistent prayers and petitions for His plan…? I hope this honest confession gives you strength and courage to stand in the unknown, despite the social and even personal pressures to “have a plan” or “know what’s next.” That you know it is far better to wait on the Lord than to try and forge  through the fog. In your striving. In your strength. He has a purpose for everything. And it is always good.

Write down your dreams, hopes and desires. Don’t give up pursuing what God has planted in your heart! But trust His timing. REST in it. And in the meantime, find purpose in cherishing Today while it is here. Soak up the gifts that each one brings and celebrate them in your heart. This is truly living.

Living my fullest life with you all in 2017,

justJessika

Deconstruction

So it seems I’ve been playing catch up with my summer adventures, but neglecting the one I’m currently in. Namely, what it’s like living in England. What it’s like living in Winchester.

Well, I’ll just cut to the chase… I’m not going to answer those very reasonable questions.

I know… I’m horrible. We’ve lived here now for over 2 months and I haven’t posted a single thing about it. I’m not going to promise I will, because I make enough of those and never end up keeping them… But I will say that I strongly hope to share some reasons why I think our Papa God hid Heaven in this beautiful, bucolic part of the world. In a nutshell it’s been a peaceful paradise for my heart and soul. Far better, far greater than any place I ever knew actually existed. I’ve been trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to slow time down. Anyone have any tips?

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It’s also been 6 months to the day since I said goodbye to Ballet. Not that anyone’s counting…

In the scheme of things I know that that’s not a huge span of time. But in some ways, especially so far removed from my life as I knew it, June 12th feels like an eternity ago.

And yet this separation from the familiar, with literally an ocean between us, has been the biggest blessing as I begin this new chapter. I’ve developed new routines, or, well, lack-thereof… But still. You get the picture. I couldn’t recreate my former status-quo even if I wanted to.

img_1530-1I don’t have a Metropolitan Market around the corner to get my 1/4lb of Herb-Roasted Turkey breast from Ames & the crew behind the deli counter every day at lunch (nor could I afford it…). Uptown Espresso hasn’t expanded beyond Lake Washington let alone the Atlantic Ocean. And as much as I love (and miss) my family, friends, and former co-workers, I don’t have them to busily distract me with coffee dates and the like. I don’t even have a yard or house with its unending “To-Do” list to consume my mind and time.

Had all these things still remained, perhaps the process would still be paused. Perhaps indefinitely.

The process of healing… and I’m not just talking about my toes.

Not to sound dramatic, but it’s incredible the havoc Ballet can have on a heart. On a soul. It’s no wonder films like The Red Shoes or Black Swan exist. Because something about Ballet can be so very all-consuming. The passion. The pursuit. The dedication. The sacrifice. The masochism. The mental and emotional constructs, the twisted logic – like thick stone walls and tangled brier hedges – placed, planted to protect. Never meant to harm… (Think Sleeping Beauty’s castle)

img_5983-1Self-preservation: it’s powerful, stealthy, and highly underestimated.

But at some point Ballet ends. And those thick walls that once protected against assaults on the heart inevitably bar beauty and joy from entering in, from flourishing. And that twisted logic meant to make sense of situations steeped in criticism, comparison, or worse – silence, strangle reality and deform truth. That self-preservation, if left unattended, left unaddre
ssed, leads to self-destruction. A life in bondage. The prison slowly, unknowingly self-imposed.



I think I’ve always been aware of this prison I’ve made… well to some small extent at least. After all, I laid the bricks with my own two hands.

Disappointment. Brick laid. Casting catastrophe. Add another. “Fat-talks”, passive-aggressive comments, judging glances. Bricks & briers for days! But it wasn’t till I had some distance, some perspective that I saw this fortress for what it truly was…

I don’t mean to be a Debbie-Downer. Truly I don’t.

Ballet is beautiful. It is the thing, thing for which God created me. But any time we love something, really anything or anyone (save One), with so much, too much of ourselves there is a risk, no, a guarantee of heartbreak. They can never reciprocate or fulfill the heart’s outpour, at least not in a consistent and copious fashion. For the eventuality of all things is that they will one day weaken and fade away. They were never meant to support such a weight. Because Love is no light matter.

So what happens? Instead of seeking the something, the some-One who can perfectly satisfy, abundantly lovewithout clause or condition, without fading, without ceasing, we just try to make the relationship work. Bolster it with bricks. Protect our heart from the thing we’ve given it to.

Sounds kind of crazy when I think of it like that. But isn’t that exactly what I’ve done? Isn’t that what we all do? Millions of castles, fortresses, prisons built by our own hands.

But at some point Ballet ends. Everything ends. So what now? Now that the object of my love is lost? The wall still firmly in place – a cold bleak palace, the twisted logic still contorting, subtly controlling.

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Distance. Perspective. Truth. Seeing myself, my thoughts, my actions, my motives in an honest, sober and unflinching light. No longer hiding behind excuses, behind walls, behind Ballet.

And in this new light something is born: Desire. For more of it. For light. For life. For freedom.

And the bricks begin to crumble. The walls begin to fall.

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand” … “to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” ~ Isaiah 42:6a,7

The concept of freedom. The feeling of it. Floating. Weightless and light. Able to breathe. To live fully, no longer a slave to the opinions or expectations of others: directors, patrons, choreographers, co-workers. No longer a slave to the expectations of self. Because truly we are our own worst critic.

In some ways the thought seems incredulous…

Really? I could have that? A life where I am enough? Where I am accepted, loved and valued just as I am? No more striving? No more paying my dues? No more mind-games or power-plays? Where nothing is hidden? Where all that I give will be infinitely matched – and THEN SOME?!!! 

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ John 10:10

But this is true. This is Truth. Jesus, the Light of the world came down to rescue me from my dark dungeon. To set my captive heart free from the prison I’ve built around it. He offers me His hand. He takes hold of mine.

And He gives me life. Full life. His life.

By his wounds I am healed. By His life I live. In His hands I place my heart, I pour it out. No bricks or briers required. Because He will never end. He alone is strong enough to bear the full weight of Love. To lavish it over all who choose Him.

And the more I give of my heart the more the desire grows. For a Love that takes me just as I am, and transforms me to my fullest self. For a Love that overflows and fully satisfies. For a Love that knows no bounds, and knows no end.

The process of healing. Of deconstruction. This is what I’m experiencing here in this peaceful place across the ocean.

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What prisons have you built? How has your heart been broken a million times over? Do you long for healing? For wholeness? For freedom? There is hope! Jesus offers you His hand. Will you take it? He alone can fully rescue. He alone can truly demolish the walls and briers that strangle and imprison. Find truth, find life, find freedom in Him!

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~ John 8:12

Roman Holiday

It’s funny…

I never had a desire to go to Rome. Like not ever.

Venice? Bucket list! Florence? Absolutely. Rome? Mehhh…

My impression was just another huge, HOT, crowded city with tons of Italians hustling you. Sure it’s ancient and full of history, but I don’t know… I guess I always thought of it like a mix between NYC and an Italian Disneyland.

But when I started to think of where in Europe I could see myself getting lost in, one city came to mind.

“Rome. By all means, Rome.”

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I had visions of myself as Audrey Hepburn wandering its streets – walking the Spanish Steps, buying some sandals, chopping my hair off and riding around on a Vespa.

None of these things happened. Not one.

The Spanish Steps? They were closed. Thought about getting a new do, but what if I hated it? All my pics would be ruined! And a Vespa? Death wish? I kind of wanted to live to experience the rest of my trip. So yeah, no.

 

Still, Rome. There’s nothing quite like it in all the world. It’s got a flavor all its own. Aged, smoky, but with veins of vivacity, authenticity, and so much hip artistic expression. The key is to wander. Get lost! Down all the alleyways and side streets. You’ll find hidden gems in the form of restaurants, shops, boutiques, and gelaterias that serve real gelato.

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Don’t get me wrong, the Pantheon was astoundingly beautiful. The Vatican, overwhelming. The Colosseum and Roman Forum, just really freaking old and hot! But I think what I enjoyed most wasn’t so much Rome’s history but its present. Its future. Knowing that I was walking on some of the same uneven cobblestones (like literally tripped 20 times in one day) that the apostles walked and other famous figures in history was kind of trippy. But it was the life, real Roman life that drew me in and stole a piece of my heart.

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So how did I discover this real Roman life? A few ways…

Firstly I did a bit of research. Afar Magazine (one of the best travel magazines in my opinion) has an app. One of the things it recommended was taking an Eating Rome walking tour. I looked it up and it was exactly what I was looking for.

In a small group of max 12 people a guide takes you through either Testaccio or Trastevere (the hip trendy foodie neighborhoods in Rome) and you get to sample different foods from about 10 different establishments, meeting the owners and artisans who are so passionate about what they do. Essentially you get to know Rome through your tastebuds, and you get to explore neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.

Aaand… if you do this at the beginning of your trip you get a nifty pamphlet full of the best restaurants in Rome. No worrying where to eat. No wasting meals on sh•tty food.

So that’s one way. The other way is to just get up early, strap on some good shoes and expect to clock some serious kilometers. The best way to see any place is to just walk. Plan a route if you want or just wander. But by all means, GO! 

When you get too hot, slip into a cafe for a cafe freddo (iced coffee, sometimes called a cafe shakerato) or a Spritz. Or when that’s not an option, bust out that scarf you brought and duck into a church. They literally are everywhere, and happen to be some of the coolest (both in interest and temperature) places in the city.

Okay… this post is getting really long. I’ll end it here, but I promise to write a follow-up with Sika’s Guide to Roma – my favorite cafes, restaurants, churches, places to stay and things to do.

Needless to say Audrey was right. There’s nothing quite like a Roman Holiday!

Cheers!

justJessika

*** P.S. Eating Rome is just one walking tour of many under the umbrella of an incredible company Eating Europe. They have walking foodie tours not just in Italy (Florence and soon-to-be Venice) but also in Amsterdam, Prague and London. I liked the Rome tour so much I went on one later when I was in Prague (they hook you up with a sweet discount if you’re a multiple offender). And they also offer cooking classes too if that’s more your jam.

At any rate I can’t recommend this company more highly! If you’re traveling to any of these European destinations, you like food, you like some history and you want to get the local feel just do it. I promise it’s money well spent!

Plans, interrupted.

 

First of all flying on an airplane is weird…

Think about it.

You’re in basically a metal tube with 30 rows of three people seat-belted in on either side, suspended (okay soaring) 40,000 feet above the surface of the earth with nothing below you but air.

Like I said. Kind of weird.

Now I sort of get why people have a fear of flying…

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For me the most fear-filled aspect of the solo trip I took was not the solo part of it. I’m really okay with being alone. As an extroverted introvert I love my “Me” time. It’s incredible. There’s space to just be. To think. To listen. To breathe. To analyze, plan, dream, scheme. I’m pretty good company for myself.

No… the part that gives me anxiety every time I think about it is… wait for it… the traveling.

Getting from here to there. Do I have my passport? Do I have my phone? What if there’s traffic getting to the airport? What if my mobile boarding pass won’t scan? What if my bag doesn’t fit in the overhead bin? What if my bags don’t arrive?! How do I know which track my train’s departing from? What if I miss my connection? What if I miss my flight?

So many “What if’s”! Makes me anxious just writing them.

Well one of these actually did happen to me – the very first part of my trip. Great way to kick things off, let me tell you…

I knew my connection was a little on the tight side when I booked the flight. 1.5hrs is not a lot of time between flights but it was definitely within the do-able range. Especially if I just had carry-on’s.

We were flying in to Milan from Corfu and I was going to just rip that people-bandaid off, waving goodbye as I basically ran onto a plane headed for Rome so that I could start my first solo day bright and early. This was the thought at least.

Well when easyJet informed me that my flight had been “moved up” by 30 minutes (leaving me now a one hour connection time) I was a little concerned.

I was, to put it mildly, freaking out when our flight from Corfu left 35 minutes late. It’s almost worse when there’s a tiny shred of hope that you could maybe still make it, versus the very clear “well you definitely missed that one” feeling.

As Ryan looked out the window, gazing at the beautiful Adriatic, I pressed the home button on my phone trying to calculate how many minutes I had before they “closed the gate” to my flight… The thing is nothing in Italy is on time (except for the high speed trains – those are precise to the second!), so were they really going to close the gate when they specified?

Ryan could tell how anxious I was – I got up twice during our hour long flight to “use the facilities” – and grabbing my hand away from my phone he pulled it into his.

“Let’s pray” he said with a smile.

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The thing is I actually had nothing to worry about…

I mean worst case scenario: I miss my flight. I book another one. Or maybe I take the train… Sure I lose some money. Sure it sucks. But it’s not like losing my passport, or a limb. Dramatic I know, but sometimes when your plans go awry it feels a bit like that doesn’t it? The world’s ending!!! Chest tightening. Head spinning. Emotions rising. Tears welling. Panic setting in.

What can end this nightmare rollercoaster that leaves you a puddle of bags and tears in the middle of Milan Malpensa’s Terminal 2?

Prayer.

Taking a moment to just stop. Stop the madness of worry and “what-ifs” that wiz through your brain and let it go. Let it all go. Give it over to God. He’s got a plan for all of it anyway. And knowing Him it’s WAY BETTER than any one I made. But I have to choose to believe this.

Then I count to ten (it just helps me to chill), and ask Him to show me what the real plan is! To give me His peace that doesn’t just pass all understanding, but provides clarity so that I can see which way He wants me to go.

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So what happened?

With my heart still pounding, I white-knuckled that “choice” to trust Him as the anxiety level seemed to rise with the plane’s descent.

And with the minutes ticking, ticking away my heart slumped as I saw the shuttle busses pull up next to our plane. There was an easyJet plane boarding right next to ours… probably the one I wanted to be on. So close, yet so far…

*So one thing to note about travel within Europe… it’s not like it is at home. You don’t just de-board your plane and then find your connecting gate. Depending on the airport they’ll get you off the plane and onto a bus. Then there’s a giant cattle call to the baggage claim where you pick up your bags (if you don’t have to go through Immigration first), exiting the terminal, only to re-enter once again. You find your new departure gate, go through security again, finally making it to your new gate.

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So the plan? Run. Elbowing our way through the sea of homecoming Italians we made it out of “Arrivals” and into “Departures.” Ryan next to me the entire time. And to be honest the thought of leaving him in this messy, chaotic way was tearing my heart in two.

Looking up at the reader board full of easyJet flights, we searched to find mine. Destination: Rome. Was it delayed? Was it boarding? Had it departed?!

Cancelled.

My entire body sighed as relief poured over. No hurried goodbyes. No hustling through security to a flight that might not be there. No waiting and wondering if I’d made it or not. The decision was made. And not even by me.

Let me just tell you, it’s always a good thing when God interrupts your plans!

With a full refund on my flight (which only happened because the airline cancelled on me), Ryan and I made our way over to the Hilton Hotel where he’d already had a room booked since his flight home was departing the next day.

We met up with Mike and Carolyn, my in-laws, in the hotel bar to have celebratory drinks and dinner, sharing photos and reminiscing on this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

It was how it was supposed to end.

It was how it was supposed to begin.

Ryan walked me down to the train terminal that takes you to Milano Centrale (literally in the same building as the hotel), and we got to say our proper “See you in a few weeks.”

And off I went. To explore. No fear. Full of trust. Full of peace. Overflowing with excitement. Knowing that through it all I was in my Papa God’s hands, welcoming any and all of His perfect interruptions.

Till next time,

justJessika

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Trust-Fall

 

Well that’s not how it was supposed to go…

One minute I’m talking about tips on traveling solo with pics in my bikini and then … Radio silence. Months of it.

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Well I didn’t die. I’m still here. I made it back to Seattle in one piece. And let me just tell you that I came home from one epic adventure only to be flung into another one. A much grander one… One that required an immense amount of faith, trust and oh so much sweat equity. Let me explain…

So in the midst of the whole retirement-thing, and the buying-our-first-house thing, I guess we (Ryan and I) felt like it just wasn’t enough. To be fair, the house purchase wasn’t even on the radar – but it adds to the dramatics.

At any rate, through the encouragement of a few people – the Holy Spirit included – this past spring Ryan decided to apply for grad school. But of course he doesn’t just go for the two-year program at UW… right in our backyard. Nope. He chooses a one-year program all the way in Southampton, England. Because you know, why get a degree where you’ve lived your whole life when you could get it in, say, England? And in half the time (at a significantly lower cost too – thanks Brexit..)!

Well we waited and waited and waited. No answer.

And then we bought a house. So yeah, no way we could afford grad school now! So we thought…

But God always has a way of working things out if it’s a part of His plan for your life. Especially when it seems impossible. And boy did He work it out!

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I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details of how miraculous this whole situation has been – this post is already 300+ words…

Suffice it to say that we got the acceptance e-mail (forget snail mail) while we were in Greece this past July and it’s been an uphill faith-hike ever since.

Each day we kept walking in the direction He asked us to literally not knowing how or if it was going to work. (think Indian Jones’ The Quest for the Holy Grail… I know you know the moment…)

Putting one foot in front of the other. Being faithful to the daily tasks: applying for our visas, getting the house ready to rent (which meant I painted the exterior of our entire house immediately upon returning, amongst many other projects), finding an apt in the UK, finding renters here in the US, securing funding yada yada yada…

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But also not looking too far ahead. Choosing to trust Him every. single. step. of the way. And believe me, some days it was an every second kind of choice.

But the peace and confidence He gave us (or well at least me) throughout was – it is – unbelievable! He graciously gave both Ryan and I the heads-up that it was going to be hard. It was going to be a true trust-fall if you will into His arms. But there hasn’t been a single moment where I’ve doubted whether He’d catch us. He’s been with us, seeing this whole thing through. And it’s truly been Him. 100%. So so many glory stories. Someday I’ll share them all with you…

So here I am. In a lovely flat (the British term for apartment), with a river flowing underneath me, MacBook on my lap, looking out as the leaves ignite and twilight descends.

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How did I get here? It still feels like a dream. In awe of His goodness and grace. Humbled and grateful that this is my life, at least for now.

He truly gives the best gifts… He knows what I like.

Where is He leading you? What is He asking you to trust Him with? Will you trust-fall into His omnipotent arms? He will give you the strength, the courage and the peace to step into whatever or wherever He is calling you. The adventure that awaits you when you put your hand in His is better than anything you could ever dream of!

So what are you waiting for?

Fall!

justJessika

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PS – I’ll most certainly be playing catch-up (in a very random and non-sequential order), sharing with you all my adventures both at home and abroad (including our current home which is now abroad). Stay tuned!

And if you want to stay up to date wth all that’s happening over here on the other side of the sea, check out my Instagram @sikaspock or #MacsHopthePond.