When we arrived in Paris, we had about an hour to appreciate the city before our train ride to Bayeux, but by the time we got off the train from Charles De Gaulle, we were so exhausted from all the air travel that we just stayed within Paris St. Lazare station. We were hungry, so we took a walk around the station in search of food. It was hard to sway the bf from grabbing some Burger King, but we went to a small sandwich shop instead that sold French baguettes, and some salads.

We did manage to go up to street level to snap one picture though to commemorate the bf’s first steps in the City of Lights. I’m also going to take this opportunity to say that the bf is camera shy so I’m going to respect his privacy and try not to include shots of him in any photos that go up, but I swear that’s his hand in the photo, not some handsome French man that I ran away with as soon as we landed!

First steps in Paris

We took one train straight to Bayeux and it was uneventful, which was nice given that we just wanted to relax for a bit. While the bf snoozed I caught up on reading The Goldfinch.

As I mentioned before, Bayeux is the small town that the bf chose as our jumping off point for our D-Day tour. I really had no idea what to expect as we trucked (trained?) closer and closer to it. All I knew from the pictures I saw online was that Bayeux looked a lot like what Belle’s town, from Beauty and the Beast, would look like if it was real – she did live in a French town after all!

I did know that Bayeux was one of the few coastal towns in the area that was virtually untouched during World War II, so it retains a lot of its old world charm. There weren’t a lot of modern-looking buildings, unlike Caen, which is a town twenty minutes away and suffered a lot of destruction during the war. Bayeux was also the first city to be liberated during the Battle of Normandy.

IMG_8485

When we finally stepped off the train and into the Bayeux, it suddenly dawned on me that it was Sunday and it was 9pm, which meant that there would be virtually no chance that anything was open in town. Oh and yeah, we were starving. Uh oh.

We quickly hiked ten minutes or so to our “premium hotel,” The Premiere Classe Bayeux. It had a machine outside for late night check-in’s, which I thought was pretty cool despite the fact that it was housed in a small wooden structure with giant spiders living in the eaves of the roof. We soon discovered that our hotel was more of cleaner, fancier (and I use that word very loosely) hostel with a bunk bed, which we used to hold our stuff and free up the very limited floor space, and two single beds that we had to push together to form a decent sized queen (it actually ended up being the biggest bed we slept in the whole trip!).

 Bayeux Cathedral

A quick check on Yelp showed us that we were in luck – there was one restaurant in town open until 11pm! We quickly headed towards L’Conquerant, which was about twenty minutes walking distance from the hotel. In our haste, we almost missed the back of the striking Cathedrale Notre Dame de Bayeux. We literally turned a corner and there it was. I mean look at it!

Unfortunately, when we finally got to the restaurant, there was a sign on the door that said this was the only Sunday night they would be closed. D’oh! We had passed a few other places on the way that were starting to close up, and I prayed that one would still be open, but when we returned to each one, they had finally closed down for the night as well. Lesson learned, should’ve gotten the Burger King. Just kidding. Luckily, we had some granola bars and dried fruit back at the hotel, so we munched on that and tucked in for the night, ready for a whole day of exploring Bayeux.

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You probably looked at this post title and likely only recognized the city in the middle, huh? Don’t worry, up until a few months ago, Paris was the only city on that list I knew about, too! So I thought it might be good to preface all the trip posts coming up with an explanation of how we chose these cities to see, especially considering Europe is a HUGE continent with lots of must-see cities. Hopefully, this will help in case you’re struggling with the same or a similar situation when it comes to trip planning.

Karra eating a galettes at f armer's market in Bayeux

A little over a week ago (god, time flies), I got back from my last big vacation of the year. It was one that my boyfriend and I weren’t sure we’d even be going on until two months before we left. But stars aligned and before I knew it, we were off to Europe!

Our main reason for going was so my boyfriend could attend a conference in Heidelberg, Germany (now you know why it ended up on the list). I had no clue what this university town would be like and from pictures, it reminded me a lot of these ceramic Christmas villages capes that my grandma likes to put out during the holidays. I’ll save what the town was actually like for my recap post on it.

Karra in the Paris Opera House

Knowing that we wanted the conference to be at the end of our trip, we ended up with 10 free days that could be used to go anywhere we went. I’ve been to Europe once before on a blitz group tour that took me to places like Paris and Amsterdam. It was a ton of fun, but made it impossible to really enjoy any of the cities I went to since I usually had 1.5 days MAX to explore – definitely not enough time to eat a whole lot of croissants or Belgian waffles. The bf, on the other hand, had only been to London. So, we had a lot of countries to choose from.

After a lot of TripAdvisoring, asking more knowledgable family and friends, and asking social media (more me than him, natch), we ended up picking Paris because “Paris is always a good idea” (thank you, Audrey) and because it would only take 3 hours to train to Heidelberg from there (we really wanted to train and the idea of flying never crossed our minds).

From there, it was a no brainer for my bf to pick the Normandy region of France as the place he wanted to start our trip. He’s a major history and politics buff and he talked about going to see the D-Day beaches the same way I talked about eating French pastries and cheese. He narrowed down the city to Bayeux based on a lot of great feedback on TripAdvisor forums. It was rated as the best city to take a D-Day tour from and, while it’s a small town (we made our way around it in one afternoon), there were some cool tourist attractions and it was close to other cities and attractions we wanted to see.

Karra in Heidelberg

So, after we decided on our cities, this is the itinerary we ended up with (including transportation and travel time, in case you find those handy):

  • Fly into Paris CDG via London (approx. 13 hours and 20 minutes including the layover). Take a train from CDG to Paris St. Lazare station and then a train to Bayeux from there (approx. 2 hours 30 mins of train travel)
  • Bayeux for 3 days
  • One train back to Paris (approx. 2 hours 10 mins)
  • Paris for 5.5 days
  • Take late afternoon train from Paris Est station to Karlsruhe and then another train to Heidelberg (approx. 4.5 hours of train travel)
  • Heidelberg for 6 days
  • Train from Heidelberg to Frankfurt Airport (approx. 1 hour 10 mins of train travel). Fly back home via London (approx. 13 hours and 5 minutes including the layover).

Anyway, I’m excited to share the rest of my trip with you guys. I have some really great stories to share so stay tuned!

What’s your method or strategy for picking the countries or cities you want to see? Share them in the comments below – I’d love to know what your experience was like. 

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San Francisco Golden Gate bridge

As much as I love to travel, I’m totally guilty of not being a tourist in my own city. When you try to be a tourist in your own city, life somehow always gets in the way.

That is, unless you make a conscious effort to be an explorer for a day. It’s a little known fact that I was actually born in San Francisco and used to live here when I was a kid. However, I’m just as bad at being a tourist in San Fran as I am in Vancouver. This is mainly because I’ve got tons of family living in the suburbs and rarely ever need to go into the city.

But when a friend had a 12-hour layover while I was visiting for Christmas, it gave me the prime opportunity to check out places and things I’d long forgotten make this city so amazing. Here are things you can do if you’ve only got a day in SF:

Sabella and La Torre clam chowder, deep fried shrimp and lobster rolls

Fisherman’s Wharf is always a must when you visit San Francisco. This iconic area is where you’ll find some of the best seafood in town. We stopped by Sabella & La Torre for clam chowder bread bowls. It’s a thick, hearty soup that warms you up and the sourdough bread bowl is the perfect way to fill up for a day of adventures. You can also get delicious things like clam strips, deep fried shrimp, and lobster rolls from the kiosk out front.

USS Pampanito at Fisherman's Wharf

A few steps from the seafood joints, you’ll find the Musee Mecanique. It’s filled with vintage arcade games – some from as far back as the 1920’s – and all of them are still in working condition! And just outside of the arcade is the USS Pampanito, a WWII submarine turned museum.

Sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco

From there, you can make your way to Pier 39. There are tons of shops, restaurants, and bars here, but what you should head straight for are the sea lions! TONS of them live at Pier 39, lazying about and doing a good job of looking cute whether it’s sunny or pouring rain. And you can even check them out on the live webcam if you can’t make it out to SF, but need something to make you smile.

Pier 39 view of Alcatraz, a San Francisco attraction

After the seals, the view is always worth checking out. When you first get into Pier 39, just keep going straight until you see the Candy Baron and right behind it is a great lookout. You’ll be able to see Alcatraz and on a fogless day, you may even see the Golden Gate Bridge! Both are attractions definitely worth visiting on their own.

Pier 39 carousel and funnel cake

I highly recommend you also try some funnel cake topped with strawberry sauce, whipped cream, icing sugar, and vanilla ice cream. During the summer and fall, you can work off your sugar high on the giant carousel.

Cable car or trolley in San Francisco

By this point, my friend and I still had six hours left, so we hopped on a cable car to Union Square. There’s a stop nearby on Taylor St. and Bay St. Everyone who comes to San Francisco needs to ride one of these bad boys at least once. Be sure to grab a ticket at the booth next to the Starbucks. A one-way trip is $6.

If you’re a fan of Full House, singing the theme song as you ride along is pretty much mandatory. The drivers are also hilarious and make the ride even more fun.

Union Square in San Francisco

Union Square is the main shopping district. You’ll find department stores like Macy’s here, as well as stores like Nike, Tiffany’s, and Uniqlo.

Jasper's Corner Tap in San Francisco

For dinner, we pigged out at Jasper’s Corner Tap. The drinks menu is extensive – from beer to craft cocktails – and the food menu is filled with modern pub grub. We got started with the Chef’s Choice poutine and then moved on to our mains: the J Burger for him and Seared Tuna Steak Sandwich for me.

It was the perfect end to an epic day of being tourists in the City by the Bay.

Did I miss anything on this list? Let me know in the comments what your favourite San Francisco attractions is! :)

*Pictures are a mix from my trip in October 2012 and December 2012

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I try not to break the bank when I travel, but I always make sure to give myself one free pass per trip. This means I get to splurge on something that I really want to experience. When I went to Europe, it was skydiving from a helicopter in Switzerland. When I went to New York last August, it was a feast at Beauty and Essex, a really cool speakeasy in the Lower East Side.

Back during Prohibition, speakeasies were establishments that illegally sold alcohol, usually in a secret bar that was hidden somewhere on the premises. Even though Prohibition has long been over (thank god!), there are plenty of modern-day speakeasies still rocking the NYC streets.Beauty Elixir from Beauty and Essex in New York

NJ and I had to do a double take when we first saw Beauty and Essex, since it didn’t look like a fine dining restaurant from the outside. Even when you enter the front door, all you see is a pawnshop with glass cases filled with vintage jewelry and other knick-knacks. We were told to go through the back door if we were after some grub.

Beauty and Essex restaurant, New York

Stepping through that door was very much like going through the wardrobe and landing in Narnia. Crystal chandeliers hung above round wooden tables with leather-backed seats. Giant peacock feathers sprouted out of golden vases. Beauty and Essex was dim, elegant and emanating cool from its pores.

Roasted bone marrow at Beauty and Essex Lobster tacos from Beauty and Essex

And the food was amazing! We started with the melt in your mouth Roasted Bone Marrow with braised shallot marmalade and buttered bread. I couldn’t resist the Lobster Tacos, which was made with sweet beer battered Maine lobster and finished with a spicy poblano crema.

Beauty Elixir from Beauty and Essex in New York

Did I mention that I had a cocktail, too? I sipped on the Beauty Elixir, a refreshing gin, cucumber and strawberry drink topped with sparkling rose.

Brick Pressed Chicken from Beauty and Essex

New York Steak from Beauty and Essex

Steak sauces for Beauty and Essex

Fries from Beauty and Essex

For my main, I had the amazing Brick Pressed Chicken on a bed of creamy mascarpone polenta, while NJ got her NY Steak fix. Her dish came with four house sauces, including an amazing white truffle cream sauce. We also grabbed perfectly crisped fries because we obviously have eyes bigger than our stomachs lol

Mini Rhubarb and Strawberry Tarts from Beauty and Essex

Molten Chocolate Banana Bread from Beauty and Essex

Since we were going all out, we grabbed dessert despite being super full. We shared sweet Mini Strawberry Rhubarb Tarts and an extremely decadent Molten Chocolate Bread Pudding.

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The first time I set foot in London, all I could think was, Damn. This place is really grey. It was like the clouds were deliberately squishing themselves together so that no sunlight or blue sky could be seen over the city. It was kind of depressing actually. At least at first.

The London Eye

Then, I got sucked into exploring London and started having so much fun that it didn’t really matter that this seemed to be the land the sun forgot (okay. I’m exaggerating a bit. It did eventually become sunnier for a few days while I was here).

London is a treasure trove for famous landmarks and history, but there are also plenty of modern things to see and do as well. Here are a few of my favourite things about this amazing city:

Greenwich

This little suburb is pretty important for two reasons: the Prime Meridian of the World and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) are both based here. I checked out the Royal Observatory here, where there’s a museum that covers the history of the Prime Meridian and GMT. It’s also home to the seventh largest telescope in the world and a nice view of London.

Prime Meridian of the World

View from Greenwich Royal Observatory

Buckingham Palace

You know when a big Hollywood movie comes out and someone tells you that it was blow-your-mind amazing, then you finally watch the movie with all these mind-blowing expectations and it fails to match what you thought it would be? Yeah, Buckingham Palace was like that for me. At least from the outside. It was very meh.

Buckingham Palace in London, England

Which is why I highly recommend going on the tour because the inside isn’t meh at all! You get to learn all about the palace and the royals. There was even a special exhibit on Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding while I was there. I couldn’t take any pictures, but trust me when I say that her wedding dress is just as fab in person as it was on TV.

Chinatown

My mom insisted that I had to try Chinese food while I was in London because it was supposed to be amazing. And even though it didn’t make sense that I would come to Europe to try Chinese cuisine, I went ahead and did it anyway.

And annoyingly, mom was right. Again. The roast duck (my fave Chinese dish of all time) at the Four Seasons was juicy and the skin was perfectly crispy. You can also get the most amazing barbecue pork buns at the Kowloon Bakery.

Chinatown in London, England

Four Seasons in Chinatown, London

Double Decker Buses

Just as cable cars are to San Francisco, double decker buses are to London. Ride one. At least once. That is all.

Double Decker bus in London, England

Changing of the Guards

I wouldn’t say this was a particular favourite of mine. The whole thing was filled with a lot of repetitive actions – coughlotsofmarchingcough – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth coming early to get a good spot for. The whole process of the changing of the guards is such an interesting spectacle that to come to London and miss it just isn’t right.

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace 2

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace 3

Kensington Palace

This was where Princess Diana used to live and where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge currently reside. While I couldn’t go inside the palace, the gardens were a beautiful place to stroll through. The Princess Diana Memorial Playground is also located here. If you’re into running or biking while on vacation, Kensington is a great, wide open space to explore.

Gate in front of Kensington Palace in London, England

Kensington Palace and Kensington Gardens in London, England

Stay tuned for my London Faves Part 2!

What are your favourite things to see and do in London? Share them in the comments below!

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Maybe it’s my fear of heights, but I’ve never really been a fan of being high up (with the exception of the time I went skydiving in Switzerland). Seeing the Statue of Liberty was an absolute must for me while in New York City, but I had zero interest in actually going up her lovely green head, no matter how spectacular the views may be.

Statue of Liberty in New York City on a sunny day

As fate would have it, no one was allowed in Ms. Liberty’s head since she was under construction until October 2012. I had the option to check out Ellis Island, but the only view I’d be getting of Lady Liberty would be the one up her skirt, so to speak. Pass.

So, my friends and I did the next best thing and took the Staten Island Ferry. It’s a FREE RIDE that passes near enough to the Statue, so that you not only get to see her in all her glory, but also capture some amazing shots of her, too. A solid zoom on your camera or telephoto lens would be perfect for this.

Statue of Liberty on a sunny day in NYC

After being surrounded by the huge Financial District skyscrapers, Ms. Liberty seemed a tad small. I know I was looking at her from a distance, which may have tempered her majesty, but she’s still one helluva woman any way you look at her.

You also get some fantastic views of Manhattan as you drift further from the mainland, including the new World Trade Center buildings.

Financial District

The ferry leaves from Whitehall Terminal in the Financial District every half an hour (it runs 24 hours a day except for Monday mornings). You could take time to explore Staten Island on the other side, but we had a busy day ahead of us, so after the ride, we quickly made our way through the terminal and got right back on it (everyone was required to disembark first.

Friends seeing the Statue of Liberty

The round trip takes about an hour, and it’s definitely a cool way to see one of the greatest women in the world.

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