Travel

Travel
Travel

San Francisco

San Francisco
San Francisco

Laugh With Me

Laugh With Me
Laugh With Me
Powered by Blogger.

Winter Wonderland in Old Town Tallinn, Estonia

Does Tallinn, Estonia ring a (jingle) bell?

I'd never heard of it until early last year when I stumbled upon Tallinn Tourism Board's Instagram (R! O! I!). When a cheap flight alert came through my inbox after months of following their travel-lusty photos of colorful town squares and cobblestone streets, I immediately forwarded it to Cassandra. I think you see where this story is going.

Before we knew it, it was the weekend before Thanksgiving and we were off to this very new-to-us, very foreign region. Not only had neither of us been to the Baltics before, but also most importantly! We're both very much warm weather dwellers (Christmas-in-shorts kind of people) and thus, the exact opposite of Elsa: the cold has ALWAYS bothered us. This was our first cold weather destination, and it clearly showed: most of the things in our suitcases were borrowed or frantically purchased at the last minute.

But Tallinn, my goodness! If it's not yet on your radar, this is me ringing all the bells and insisting that it needs to be. It's one of the coolest (pun intended) places I've ever been, and evokes all the childhood storybook dreams of yore.
Bright and early, we hauled on our wool socks and bulky boots and fleece leggings and a second layer of pants and gloves and scarves and earwarmers and thermal shirts and cozy sweaters and parkas that swallowed us whole - a process that took a full twenty minutes.

...and then the exploring began!

Knowing not much more than the fact that our Airbnb was situated somewhat close to the main square in Old Town, we set out in the direction that looked liveliest and followed a path of wet roads and adorable pastel buildings, chattering away with each other about how cold we were and geez, it REALLY is cold isn't it and how much colder do you think it'll get and... all of a sudden, Cassandra gasped and started speed-walking because she'd been the first to catch sight of this:
That towering fir, all lit up against the gray skies in the center of the Town Square - Raekoja plats, the rich scent of mulled wine simmering just yards away; and wow who knew that the brisk chill makes this scene all the warmer. Twirling around and prancing to and fro, we were absolutely delighted but also a bit puzzled at how no one else seemed the least bit affected.

If You Find Yourself In Paris For A Few Hours...

For whatever reason, my time in Paris is always fleeting. 24 hours here, a weekend there (and there, in 2014). But perhaps it’s the short and sweet nature of these visits that shrouds the city in magic for me: these glimpses are windows into surely the most dazzling city of all, with its fiery foliage, steaming crepes delivered straight from the pan into cold fingers desperately needing to be defrosted, and of course that iconic sight of the Eiffel Tower all golden and lit up at night.

(I say this through the rose-colored glasses of Hindsight though because… well, read on.)

Most recently, I had two extended layovers in Paris. Last November, my favorite travel buddy Cassandra and I left for our spontaneously-planned trip to Estonia and Latvia - listen, cheap flights are my kryptonite. Our friend Leah was supposed to come too, and she championed hard for the longer layovers in Paris (as she’d never been). We were reluctant as we’d both spent time in Paris before and OOO days are precious, but eventually agreed - aaaaand then Leah ended up needing to drop the trip, so here Cassandra and I were faced with 7 hours in Paris on the way over to Tallinn and 17 hours (this time, overnight) on the way home. I’ll be the first to say it: Champagne. Problems.
Before we proceed, I need to mention the flight from hell. Think: a grandpa next to us who kept wanting to chat as we watched Wonder Woman (for the first time!!!) (he also may have stolen someone’s phone...); a man who cut us in line to the bathroom and stayed in there for 30 minutes; a baby who screamed for all but the last twenty minutes of the flight, and a couple who would huff dramatically and turn to glare at the poor thing’s family every five minutes. All of this, plus the complete inability to get any shuteye PLUS

navigating the Paris airport through a sleepy haze trying to find the train that'd take us into the city, and then sprinting to make said train only to realize we were on the wrong side of the platform so sprinting back up and down more stairs...

needless to say, we both sighed audibly in relief as we finally emerged by the Notre Dame - exhausted, but more than ready to be in Europe. In fact, we were so caught up in travel woes and the anxiety from getting from one place to another in a short timeframe that it wasn't until the moment we stared up at the Notre Dame that it occurred to us: WE WERE IN EUROPE - and then we took a good, hard look at ourselves and que horror, would you look at our haggard selves! And so we threw on some red lipstick because what else could we do, and continued with our afternoon.
We admired the Notre Dame, and then walked over to Shakespeare & Co, an Instagram darling to be sure but also a true treasure trove of literary delights. We picked over the 1 euro books on display, but with heavy bags and intrusive selfie sticks a'plenty, we didn't stay for very long. Our next stop was a comic book shop down the street, and not too long after, our craving for crepes hit an all time high.
I was convinced that I could find my way over to my favorite little creperie in the Marais (the same one where I ordered two crepes only to realize that I had actually ordered three in broken French... and then proceeded to eat all three) without a map - and confidently led the way. 

But then it started to drizzle, and the streets all started to look the same, and we were getting hangry and cold, and it was all looking a bit bleak until the miraculous combination of my foggy memory and some bus station maps finally brought us into the invitingly warm La Droguerie. Cassandra and I shared two crepes (two, as intended this time) - indulging appreciatively on the crispy, thin edges and the thick chocolate smeared inside the pockets of bliss.
After our snack, we walked leisurely back towards the Seine and ambled along its banks, pausing to admire the sidewalk art purveyors and spectacular fall foliage. After I pointed out "the colors of the leaves!!!" for the 67th time, Cassandra snapped and threatened to push me into the Seine the next time she heard me repeat that line.

But!!! The leaves!!!
Do you see what I mean?

Irresistible.

It was soon time to start heading back to the airport, but we had one final stop to make: a peek at the Louvre... or more accurately, the sandwich cart outside of the Louvre that we knew had a particularly tasty ham & cheese baguette. Except by the time we arrived, they were out of the tasty ham & cheese baguettes and we'd walked an extra twenty minutes for nothing. Well, not nothing because ahem, the Louvre - look how gorgeous she is.
Back at the airport, the exhaustion from hellish flights and 28 straight sleepless hours and a Parisian afternoon that far surpassed our daily steps goals, we curled up in some chairs in our terminal and promptly passed out. 

*FAST FORWARD SIX DAYS (of stay tuned!! but frigid cold, two of my all time favorite travel memories, going back and forth between two countries, the most beautiful Christmas tree, so much snow, and did I mention the cold) LATER*

This time - a seventeen hour overnight sojourn! Now being such seasoned Paris Metro riders, we made it onto the correct platforms and stations... only to struggle to find our hotel in the pouring rain and confusing streets. Our home for the evening was Hotel Panache, a gorgeously designed boutique hotel in the 9th arrondissement. The room was tiny and the pipes creaky, but because we really only needed a place to rest our heads for a few hours, it more than did the trick. My very favorite part was the sweet little balcony that overlooked the brightly lit streets below. My only gripe is that we saw zero daylight as we left before dawn for the airport the next morning, so I wasn't fully able to enjoy the balcony with either a mug of coffee or a glass of wine as has always been my one Parisian dream!
The only plan for the night: grab some snacks for a light dinner picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower as it lights up right at 9pm on the dot.

You know what they say about plans.

Yep.

Reality: picked up aforementioned bites at the corner supermarket, got held up by a chatty security guard who wanted to tell us all about his writing career ambitions and political opinions, missed the train that'd get us to the Eiffel Tower in time, got off the train JUST as the skies opened for real, waited in the freezing, torrential downpour for 45 minutes. We stood there alone, absolutely drenched, cracked open the wine because it was necessary, and then hastily shared a soaking wet baguette and some cheese and salami because the paper bag that held them all was quickly disintegrating.

It was absolutely not the picture-perfect night in Paris we'd envisioned, but when the Eiffel Tower started sparkling at 10pm on the dot - well, it still made for the most unforgettable sight. Soggy bread and soaked clothes are really more our aesthetic, anyway.

We'll always have (these imperfectly perfect memories of) Paris, indeed! 

TIPS FOR A LONG LAYOVER:


  • We had a 7 hour 40 minute layover in Paris, and spent about 3 hours in the city center - we probably could've swung staying just a little longer, but wanted to be conservative with time. Remember to factor in time for navigating through the airport, catching the right train, and luggage storage (if you'll need it) on the way out, and then customs + security on your way back in. The RER train itself takes about 40 minutes each way. This is a super helpful resource for planning your Paris layover.
  • Take advantage of luggage storage if the terminal offers it. Because we had checked most of our bags and didn't have to worry about them, the remainder of our things went into a duffel bag and we traded off on carrying it. But during my long layover in Frankfurt, I stored everything away except a tote bag with valuables and it was the best 7 euros I've ever spent.
  • Prepare small bills: this was more of an issue that I ran into in Frankfurt but you'll need small bills just in case the metro / taxi / etc. doesn't accept cards or have change for you.
  • Stick to one neighborhood: spend the limited time you have in the city actually exploring rather than in transit. Poke your head into shops, grab a spot at a cafe for some people-watching, stroll the streets leisurely! There's no use anxiously trying to see 3 different landmarks located all over town, save the sight-seeing for next time.
  • See if your hotel offers free airport transfers. If you have an overnight layover with an early flight time, see if your hotel has a complimentary airport shuttle service, or if they offer it at a discounted rate. These are common particularly in hotels close to the airport. Beats figuring out public transportation so early in the AM!


Summertime

I'm typically one to stand firmly in the FALLTHETHINGS corner - brisk mornings, cozy sweaters, pumpkin muffins, you know the drill, I'm sure. Even the earlier evenings - I totally dig holing deeper into the couch, PJ's on and a hearty meal simmering away on the stove. In fact, I've always been a bit.... skeptical... of summer and, more specifically, people who love summer. What do you mean summer's the best - are you not affected by sweat, intense heat rashes, and boring days stuck at home over break?

Well. Now that we're a few weeks out of Summer 2018, consider me officially converted. It's not that I'm not giddily anticipating candles and boots and Crockpot meals (I most certainly am!), it's that this summer was absolutely incredible and I'm in denial that we're waving off the 9pm sunsets and the light, the light, the beautiful light! This is 100% a self-indulgent post, but allow me to ramble on about a few of the absolute highlights...
:: TEN DAYS IN CROATIA & SLOVENIA

I mean, need I say more?

The beginning of summer was a whirlwind - we had friends in town, a concert, Bay to Breakers (San Francisco's merriest event of the year) - and then my best friend and I were off to Europe for a week and a half. This trip in itself checked off several summer bucket list items: a road trip with unforeseen twists and turns, afternoons laying out on the rocks by the water, gelato multiple times a day, jacket-less evenings. Take me back!
:: DELIGHTFUL EVENINGS

Whether it was a bonfire in Santa Cruz with my best friends (parkas on, of course, because Northern California summer nights are not so summery), pizza and rose enjoyed on the roof, walking the mile home from work pausing every few minutes to admire the rosy skies, happy hours al fresco, watching in disbelief as the last of the sun still lingered on at 10pm beyond the Space Needle in Seattle, "family dinners" on Sunday nights at our favorite Japanese curry spot, or simply dancing and singing along to musicals in the kitchen with my roommates every night - the evenings have been so so so precious.
:: EXPLORING SAN FRANCISCO

Oh, this beloved city of mine.

San Francisco was so kind to us this summer, keeping the chillier days at a minimum and blessing us with sunshine, mild park-friendly temperatures. 

We spent so much of this summer - especially on weekends - discovering new nooks and crannies, but also loving on our favorite corners. There's one night in particular that I'm so fond of (you'll find a snap from the night two pictures down). We ventured out to a favorite jazz bar; the act of the evening was a motley crew of musicians and belly dancers and belly dancing musicians. It was a blast listening to them for a few hours, but then at 2am as they were preparing to close the bar, the band started playing I'm a Survivor, followed by Those Were The Days. A couple dozen strangers all squeezed onto the tiny stage and danced the last of the night away, sweaty and out of breath and deliriously happy. It's hands down one of my favorite San Francisco memories.
:: MUSIC!

The soundtrack to this summer is the loveliest, and I was so lucky to have seen a handful of acts live - Glass Animals, Outside Lands performers, Florence & the Machine (again) in Portland, jazz bars, favorite playlists on repeat during long drives.  
:: WEST COAST TRAVEL

I saw A LOT of 4am alarms these past few months, and know SFO at 5am like the back of hand. I made frequent work trips to our LA office, spent a handful of the most wonderful weekends in Seattle with my family, and then seriously had the most fun ever in Portland on a mini-vacay to cap off the summer. West Coast, Best Coast indeed.
:: AND ALL WITH THE BEST COMPANY

... and all of this wouldn't have been even a fraction as crazy-wonderful without the best people along for the ride. I learned so much from and created cherished memories with new friends, re-connected with a handful of old friends over nostalgia-laced stories and glasses of wine (and in some cases, something stronger), loved on my little nephew and watched him turn ONE, and came home every day to a noisy apartment with the most loving roommates. 
It's been one for the books, let's leave it at that.