Ma Vie en Franglais
 
After saying for the past five years that I was going to go to Amsterdam, I finally made it happen this summer. And I'm so glad I did.

Not only are the Dutch people freakishly nice (maybe I've spent too much time in Paris...or New York City for that matter) but the city itself is fabulous. Super easy to navigate, great museums and parks, and, personally, I loved the Dutch architecture.

Here's a quick rundown of my recommendations, sights to see, where to stay and some photos from my trip!

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Where to stay: Hotel La Bohème
I found Hotel La Bohème through booking.com, and honestly I couldn't have been happier with it. It was affordable, clean, very centrally located yet not in the crazy part of town where you would hear drunken teens on the streets at 4am (gosh I'm getting old.) Plus, we got a delicious free breakfast, free wifi, AND they have an adorable hotel cat named Mimi (who, I just discovered, has her very own Facebook page.) The staff was extremely friendly and gave us great recommendations of things to see in the city.

If you can only see one museum: Van Gogh Museum
This is actually one of the best museums I've ever been to. They lay it out chronologically and geographically, so you can explore Van Gogh's work from beginning to end and watch his mind slowly unravel through his art work. The museum also provides tons of interesting facts about Van Gogh's personal relationships, and have several excerpts from his own personal journal. I left with a far better understanding of Van Gogh as a person as well as the amazing artist that he was.

If you can see two museums: it's a toss up.
If you like Dutch history and Rembrandt, then you should stop by the Rijksmuseum, which focuses on paintings and artifacts from the Dutch Golden Age. I personally found the museum a bit underwhelming, but, it was a great way to learn a bit more about Dutch history, since, you know, you're in the Netherlands and everything.

I personally loved, and would highly recommend, FOAM, a small photography museum in downtown Amsterdam. I was lucky enough to stumble upon it when they had a great exhibit of paparazzo photos by Ron Galella, one of the pioneers of the paparazzi movement, who photographed everyone from Mick Jagger to Jackie O. This museum is a must for anyone interested in photography or more experimental art.

Historical Visit: Anne Frank House
I'm assuming most of you read The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school/high school. Well the original house where Anne spent two years in hiding is in Amsterdam, and is definitely worth a visit. Anne's father Otto Frank, the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust, helped the museum re-create the house as it was during World War II. Although the furniture has been removed, there are photos and audio guides to describe how the house once was and the family's experience in hiding. It's not the most upbeat tour you'll ever take, but it's truly fascinating.

Note: the house has a limited capacity, so lines are often long. I highly recommend booking tickets online, in advance. I didn't know this was option at the time, so we ended up waiting about 20-30 minutes to get into the museum. And apparently that's considered a SHORT wait...

Debauchery in Amsterdam: Red Light District and Coffee Shops:
Amsterdam is such an anomaly - it's so clean and quaint compared to the rest of Europe (and compared with most of the U.S.) and yet they have legalized both prostitution and marijuana - neither of which are considered clean OR quaint.

The Red Light District is worth going to, but unless you're trying to sample some of the goods, you won't need more than 30 minutes of walking around to get a feel for the place. I actually went during the day and it was quite calm - I can only imagine that it's much more, um, lively at night. But it's definitely just a culturally interesting place, unlike any place else I've been, so unless you're touring the town with your grandmother, it's worth passing through.

Coffee Shops are not hard to find in Amsterdam (duh.) What IS somewhat difficult is scouting out one that's not full of loud tourists, giddy to get high.

The Bulldog is the oldest coffee shop in Amsterdam, but is also the most touristy. It's big, it's loud, it sells weed...might be worth swinging by the gift shop or the over-priced restaurant for quick smoke. But honestly I'd recommend a more low key place, like La Tertulia, at a cute corner on Prinsengracht, one of the main canals in the city. This place is much smaller than The Bulldog, has a nice patio area, and seemed to be more of a local spot rather than a tourist trap.

As far as I could see, it was legal to smoke inside and outside all coffee shops, and while walking along the canals and in the streets. When I asked some of the locals about it, most of them said that smoking (marijuana) was more of a teenager/tourist thing, and that a lot of the more "mature" citizens in Amsterdam didn't partake quite as often. Who knows if that's actually the case for the majority of Amsterdamians, but I thought it was an interesting observation regardless.

Outdoor Activities: Canal Tours and Vondelpark
The canals of Amsterdam are one of the most beautiful and unique parts of the city. A great way to see them all, and do some leisurely sightseeing, is by taking a canal boat tour!

Boom Chicago, a comedy club downtown, now offers canal boat tours, that are targeted toward a more "laid-back" crowd. You can purchase wine and beer on board, and it definitely seemed to attract a younger clientel. That being said, I didn't feel like our tour guide was THAT well informed about the history of the city. We found out some interesting facts about day-to-day life in Amsterdam, but I wouldn't say it was a highly educational experience.

So if you're in the mood for a relaxing ride around town, give this one a try. But if you want something a little more substantial in the history department, maybe check out one of these canal tour companies instead.

You can also rent a boat yourself - if you have a Dutch friend, or any friend who knows the city well, that could be a fun way to get a "private" tour. Just make sure the driver knows the traffic rules - canal traffic jams are known to occur!

And like any major city, Amsterdam has a lovely park right near the Rijskmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Vondelpark is the most famous park in the Netherlands and hosts up to 10 million visitors a year. Stroll on through if you want a nice spot to relax in between visiting museums, or if you're in the mood for some fun people watching.

 
 
You can't turn a corner in Williamsburg without running into a guy wearing clown make-up, a bearded man in a top hat or a barefoot girl with purple dreads.

(I've personally seen all three of these characters walking around my hood. In the past week.)

You also can't walk a block without stumbling upon a some hip and delicious looking
restaurant or café. And unlike my struggles with healthy eating in Paris, almost all of them offer a wide variety of vegetarian/vegan options at quasi-reasonable prices.

I'd passed Rabbithole before, and was instantly intrigued by its Alice in Wonderland reference and shabby chic decor. So when my foodie friend recommended I go there for lunch the other day, I jumped (hopped?) at the opportunity.

I was hooked on this place right from the start. We were greeted by super friendly staff, and headed toward the back to dine outside on their garden patio. I loved the interior vibe as well - a mix of cozy couches and antique tables with whimsical touches like a monkey chandelier and funky mirrors.

Their menu is new American, with plenty of comfort food options (Mac n' Cheese, Fish n' Chips, etc.) but also a good variety of healthy salad options.

We went light for the lunch, opting for some refreshing cold summer soup, a delicious quinoa salad with artichokes and tangy granny smith apples, and a surprisingly hearty beet, goat cheese and avocado sandwich. All three items were delicious, well-seasoned and fresh.
I'm tempted to return in a few weeks and give their sweet potato ravioli a try - I can't think of anything more delicious for fall!

And as if I need yet another excuse to head back to this place, I hear they have a stellar brunch - the one meal I truly missed when I was in Paris. Buttermilk pancakes with cherry rhubarb compote and maple butter? I'm not sure I can even handle that...

Moral of the story, I highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a light lunch or hearty dinner in the center of hipster-ville (or anyone with a Through the Looking Glass fetish.)

Address:
352 Bedford Ave (between South 3rd & 4th)
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Telephone:
(718) 782-0910

Hours:
Mon-Thu, Sun: 9 am - 11 pm
Fri-Sat: 9 am - 1 am

 
 
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DISCLAIMER: This post is not recommended for readers who are a) on a diet b) hungry c) easily disturbed by delicious images or d) all of the above.

There are a million and one different types of walking tours around Paris - the only two I've ever taken have been through Paris Walks and I thoroughly enjoyed both of them. The Chocolate Walk had the perfect mix of historical facts, lovely Paris sightseeing and more than enough chocolate to taste.

Actually, I didn't know this was possible, but there was almost too much chocolate on this tour.

(Luckily I came prepared with a plastic bag to take some bites to go. Might sound weird, but it's totally worth it. Trust me.)

Our tour guide Iris met us at the Louvre-Rivoli metro and proceeded to give us a brief but informative history of chocolate in France, before whisking us off to our first tasting. Iris was a great tour guide, full of energy and knowledge and she seemed truly passionate about the subject (but then again, who wouldn't be?)

All three chocolate shops (information listed below after the slideshow) are within easy walking distance of each other, and they each have their own style and process of making chocolate.

This tour is obviously ideal for chocolate lovers, but I'd also highly recommend it to anyone interested in French history and culture surrounding French gastronomy.

Please visit the Paris Walks website for schedule information. Tours are 27 euro including tasting.

If you're interested in visiting these shops on your own, see below for store hours & locations:

Jean-Paul Hévin

Address: 231 Rue Saint-Honoré 75001
Metro : Concorde, Tuileries, Opéra
Hours: Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7:30 pm
Closed Sunday
Opening hours of the chocolate bar: Monday to Saturday from 12 to 7 pm

Michel Cluizel
Address: 201 Rue Saint-Honoré 75001
Metro: Pyramides, Tuileries
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7:00 pm
Closed Sunday and the month of August (oh France...)

Côte de France
Address: 25 Avenue de l'Opéra 75001
Metro: Pyramides, Opéra, Tuileries
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday from 10:30 am to 7:30 pm
Closed Sunday
 
 
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When my friend and fellow blogger Bridgette asked if I wanted to try some of the best crêpes in Paris, I (like any normal human) immediately jumped at the chance.

With less than two weeks left in Paris, I'm in full croissant/Comté/macaron/eat everything French mode - gotta stock up until the next time I'm back in this formidable city.

So yesterday we headed to Breizh Café in the Marais. Be warned, this place is almost always packed, so be prepared to wait a few minutes for a table, especially if you're larger than a table of two.

The service is friendly, and relatively quick. And the crêpes well...to die for.

This place is actually known for their galettes de blé noir or buckwheat crêpes. So don't go in expecting the super thin, lighter colored crêpes you might be used to getting on the streets. These are a bit thicker and have a heartier flavor - I actually prefer them!

Make sure to go hungry - it's really a crime if you don't try both their savory and their sweet crêpes. Breizh Café has a wide variety of savory options, most of them containing some variety of egg, meat and cheese (although I got a delicious veggie one, so it's also vegetarian friendly.)

Bridgette and I split a side salad, with an amazing wasabi dressing - spicy and unexpected, it  definitely helped balance out the meal.

Then we went splitzies on the dessert crêpes, sharing a tangy strawberry-rhubarb and a delicious ginger crêpe (both with ice cream, duh.)

Needless to say, we did not leave hungry. Breizh Café is low key, reasonably priced, and definitely worth the trip if you're looking for authentic Breton cuisine in Paris!


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Address: 109, rue Vieille du Temple
Tel: 01 42 72 13 77

Hours:
Wednesday - Saturday: noon–11 p.m
Sunday: noon–10 p.m.
CLOSED Monday and Tuesday

Metro: Saint-Sébastien - Froissart, Rambuteau, Hotel de Ville or Saint Paul

 
 
The other day I went for a quick run in the 18ième arrondissement, and I couldn't help but snap a few shots of what I passed along the way.

(Not great for my workout, but a total bonus for my blog.)

I know the pics are a bit random, but I just felt they show that even on a cloudy day, running through the streets of Montmartre, there is so much beauty to be found in this city.
 
 
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Tucked away in the 7ième arrondissement of Paris is the Musée Rodin.

It's not big and fancy like the Louvre or Le Grand Palais. But if you like flowers and/or sculptures, I highly recommend stopping by (if you're lucky enough to have a sunny day in Paris!)

If you're just interested in the gardens, you can pay just 1€ to enter and explore them at your leisure - the cost to enter the full museum and the gardens is 9€.

If you're lucky enough to be a student in the EU ages18-25 years old or a French teacher (random?) congrats you get in for free!

Being a poor graduate student, I stuck to the gardens. The flowers were in full bloom, although I can only imagine how much more spectacular they'd be if I'd made it there a few weeks earlier - by the time I'd arrived most of the roses had seen their peak.

Several of Rodin's sculptures are outside in the gardens. So unless you're a massive Rodin fan, or really into sculptures, I think the 1€ ticket for the gardens is all you need to enjoy your visit. I definitely recommend waiting for a sunny, or at least a quasi-sunny day if you're lucky enough to come across one while you're in Paris.

And make sure to explore the full grounds - after visiting the gardens toward the front, there is a back area with a large fountain, and some wooded areas that are definitely worth exploring!

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Address:
79, rue de Varenne - 75007 Paris

Open daily, except Mondays
10am to 5.45pm - open Wednesdays until 8.45pm
(Last tickets sold at 5.15pm)

Metro : Varenne (line 13) or Invalides (line 13, line 8)
R.E.R : Invalides (line C)
Bus : 69, 82, 87, 92
Vélib' : 9, Bd des Invalides
Car parks : Bd des Invalides

Website: www.musee-rodin.fr

Tel: + 33 01 44 18 61 10

 
 
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Graduation ceremony - Le Théâtre du Châtelet
In late May, along with several hundred other students at The American University of Paris, I participated in one of the many great American traditions - the graduation ceremony.

I put on the polyester robe, sat through three hours of speeches and mispronounced names. I even wore the silly hat (which, I'm sorry, are the absolute worst - they seriously don't look good on anyone. Especially if you have bangs.) Despite the unfortunate wardrobe, it was ultimately a meaningful event, and I was so glad to be reunited with my classmates, many of whom I hadn't seen in over a year.

In case you were at all curious, the word "graduation" does exist in French. But it is more often referred to as a "cérémonie de remise des diplômes" - because, as usual, the French have five words to describe something that can generally be said in one word in English.

All this pomp and circumstance is completely foreign to the French. As my Parisian friends pointed out, the concept of a graduation ceremony is something they only recognize from American movies (the same holds true for red solo cups.) One of my french friends even asked to try on my cap and gown just for fun, it was such an amusing concept to him.

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the graduates - from lemonde.fr
Like they did with us at Thanksgiving, the French media decided to take this opportunity to do a little bit of anthropological research, and covered the American University of Paris graduation ceremony.

Le Monde (essentially the French version of The New York Times) wrote a piece on the event for their website, and conducted several student interviews. I was lucky enough to be interviewed, and if you watch the slide show they posted, I'm the first voice over you hear (in really fast, grammatically incorrect French.)

You can also check out the article published in the Education section of LeMonde.fr.

I'm quoted as saying the following (which I'm pretty sure I didn't really say...mais bon, I can't complain, I was just excited to be interviewed!):

"Le lien communautaire est mis en avant par tous. "Nous sommes devenus très proches, et c'est très joyeux aujourd'hui. Tout le monde est très heureux de partager ce moment avec leurs amis et leur famille", affirme de son côté Carolyn Englar, une Américaine revenue de son stage à New York pour l'occasion."

TRANSLATION: "The community link is highlighted by all. "We became very close, and are very happy to be here today. Everyone is very happy to share this moment with their friends and family," said Carolyn Englar, an American who returned from her internship in New York for the occasion."

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The AUP MAGC program at graduation
 
 
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Paris vs. New York
As I once mentioned in my debut Ma Vie en Franglais post, I inherited a compulsive need to travel to France like, far more than humanely necessary.

Like many do with cigarettes, chocolate, or an ex-boyfriend, I just can't seem to stay away.

So in an effort to remain consistent with this shameful reputation I've developed over the years, here I am once again preparing to spend the summer drinking wine along the seine, eating way too many carbs and rolling my eyes as Parisians and tourists alike fail to adhere to the basic laws of spacial relations.

After spending a challenging but incredibly rewarding year working in New York City, I ultimately decided to return to Paris for the summer to finally complete my masters degree at the American University of Paris.

Living my 26th year of life in New York was an eye opening and, dare I say, enlightening experience. I learned that the subway isn't actually as confusing as it initially appears (which is not to say that it always works/makes sense.) I discovered that as much as I love the creative, global and celebrity-whore side of the fashion industry, it's not a career path I want to devote my life to.

I realized that while scenery, culture and food are clearly the key characteristics that lead to loving or hating any city, my experience is ultimately shaped by the people I encounter, both in the strangers (literally) I run into on the street, or in the close friends I've known for a decade.

And, most importantly, I learned that Williamsburg really is the hipster epicenter of the universe. Its reputation is not at all exaggerated. That stereotype is basically on point.  (That being said, I love it and I don't plan on moving anytime soon.)
 
As much as I adore Paris, I developed a deep appreciation and bond with New York City over this past year - one that I was certainly not anticipating. So as hard as it will be to say goodbye (again) to the City of Lights at the end of July, I plan to return to my tiny yet quaint two-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, and spend another year exploring this crowded, filthy and amazing city. And I plan to enjoy every minute of it.*


* Or at least every 42.5 minutes ... a true New Yorker would never be that consistently happy. Gross.
 
 
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a tree peony in full bloom
One of the (few) things I did not inherit from my mother, is her love of flowers.

I can deal with them from a distance, or in a field - a really, really big field. But to be perfectly honest, flowers give me terrible allergies, and I think they smell funny.

That being said, I agreed to tag along with my parents to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden last weekend, and I'm honestly really glad that I did.

The gardens are located right next to the Brooklyn Museum, near Prospect Heights/Park Slope neighborhoods in west Brooklyn.

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ran into lovely Anne (creator of ritournelleblog.com)
The expansive 52-acre-garden could easily suck up an entire day. But if you don't happen to be an avid horticulturalist, you can easily pick one small part of the garden to conquer and be in and out in under an hour.

We were a bit early to catch the Rose Garden in full bloom, but we did make it to the Cherry Esplanade and Tree Peony Collection, both of which were gorgeous.

As per usual, I got distracted by the fish and the dozens of turtles lined up along the pond.

(Flowers are pretty and all, but they will never beat out turtles in my eyes. And this kid agrees.)

The greatest treat of the day was stumbling into my friend and fellow blogger Anne, the mind behind the blog Ritournelle, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading about life in New York City from a French perspective.

After touring the gardens, we stopped for some frozen yogurt and ended the day with a quick tour of the Keith Haring exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum - which was amazing, and runs through July 8th.

All in all, it was a lovely Saturday in Brooklyn. And who knows - I may even stop by the gardens again this summer when the roses are blossoming - with some Claritin in hand, of course.

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Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
www.bbg.org

Address:
900 Washington Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Subways:
B or Q to Prospect Park
2 or 3 to Eastern Parkway

Hours:
Tuesday–Friday:
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday:
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed Mondays

 
 
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The London Eye
Two months ago I flew over to London for a short work trip during London Fashion Week.

It had been nearly a year since I last visited our neighbors across the pond, and yet it felt like I'd never left. I immediately started chatting with my taxi driver about my love of The Beatles, navigated the tube with ease and confidently asked the teller to put twenty "quid" on my Oyster card (although that confused him as he skeptically replied, "Don't you mean dollars?" So much for trying to speak like a native.)

You would think that as an American, traveling to the UK would provide little to no culture shock - next to Canada, they're about as close to America as you can get.

But whenever I'm in London, I often feel like I've entered some bizarre alternate universe.

At first glance, it looks, feels and sounds just like home. But then, I hear the change in accent (swoon.) And then people start saying words like "loo," "jumper" and "trainers" instead of "bathroom," "sweater" and "sneakers."

And then these cars come barreling out of no where, on the wrong side of the road no less!
(I swear I nearly kill myself every time I try to cross the street in that city - I should have a safety patrol with me at all times.)

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Parliament - London
Sometimes I find myself feeling more caught off guard in London than I do in Paris, because it's so unexpected.

In France, or most other countries for that matter, there is the language barrier and a trunk full of cultural differences to overcome. When I'm abroad in non-English speaking countries, I can blend in as a normal "foreigner" - they know I'm not French, but they don't automatically assume I'm American (Living in Paris, I've gotten mistaken for a Brit, an Italian and a Brazilian before - that last person was clearly delusional.)

But in England, it's clear the second I open my mouth that I'm an American. And there's nothing wrong with that. But I still can't help but feel a bit vulnerable and yes, I'll admit, a bit...well, less classy.

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image courtesy of listal.com
For this, I blame Julie Andrews.

Like any good American child, I was brought up wishing I could sing like/be Mary Poppins or Maria from The Sound of Music. I was convinced that Hugh Grant was the only acceptable man for me. In short, I was brainwashed to believe that all things classy, polite and distinguished were inherently British.

(They still have a freaking Queen for goodness sakes.)

That being said, in my old age I've learned that just because the Brits may sound posh, it doesn't actually mean they are. They can be just as brash, drunk and inappropriate as anyone else. 

And that's not a bad thing - they are human after all.**

**although any tiny island that manages to produce The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Who and Eric Clapton within a six year time frame clearly has some kind of magical superhuman molecules floating around the air. Or maybe it's the water...**