Highlights… & Hindsights Making The Case for Repeat Destinations

I’m currently, ok always, considering my next vacation destination, and with so many amazing places in the world it’s hard to decide. Should we commit those precious vacation days to repeat destinations, digging deeper into what a city has to offer? If we do, what about all those wonderful new places just waiting to be discovered?

#jardindestuileries
Sailing ships! A highlight of our Paris visit!

When traveling, I’m torn between wanting to wing it and not wanting to miss anything, which definitely helps makes the case for repeat visits to certain destinations. For example, our recent trips to Paris, London, and Edinburgh were all repeat visits, we’d already checked off many of the main attractions, which enabled us to explore more freely. One point for repeat visits!

#bigben
Our tour of the Houses of Parliament was a definite highlight!

That said, one of my favorite things about traveling is the discovery of the new. The surprise and delight you feel when discovering something wonderful in a new place simply can’t be beat! These moments are one of the reasons I love to travel, the highlights of our adventures! One point for new destinations!

#arthursseat
We missed out on Arthur’s Seat during our first visit to Edinburgh.

However, being new to a place can at times be a hindrance. No matter how much research I’ve done, there are times when things don’t go quite as planned. Whether it’s accommodations, location, food, or timing, these are what I like to refer to as the hindsights of our adventure. These are things one can only know after time spent and often it’s too late… Another point for repeat destinations.

#brugge
This view from our hotel window in Bruges was a highlight!

Of course not everywhere has a hindsight and some places are just plain full of surprise and delight. I love surprise and delight! Looks like another point for new destinations!

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast
Flying to Glasgow from Belfast we were treated to this fabulous view!

So, it looks like a tie between old and new, which means I’m no closer to working out where in the world, we’ll go next, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights and hindsights from our summer 2016 adventures in Europe!

Highlights & Hindsights

Dublin, Ireland

Highlight: Guinness Factory Tour

There were many wonderful moments during our visit to Dublin, however it was our visit to the Guinness Storehouse that came out as number one! Which speaks volumes, since I don’t even drink beer. All four of us absolutely loved this experience and if you should find yourself in Dublin I highly recommend you go.

#guinnessstorehouse

Hindsight: Popular attractions require advance planning

Our planned a visit to the  Kilmainham Gaol Museum went awry when we couldn’t print our tickets and unfortunately we missed out. We ended up visiting Malahide Castle instead, which was delightful, but lesson learned.

Cork, Ireland

Highlight:  The Blarney Stone

For more than 200 years people have been kissing the Blarney Stone and after some debate (it is the world’s germiest attraction) Simon and I decided to join the club!

Cork Blarney Castle
The Blarney Stone

Hindsight: Touristy doesn’t always equal bad

If only we’d known how much we were going to enjoy exploring Blarney Castle, we would have given ourselves more time.

Killarney, Ireland

Highlight: Killarney National Park

We spent three nights in Killarney, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry and the perfect little Irish town! Quaint, friendly and picturesque, it was exactly what I had pictured an Irish town to look like!

Killarney Ireland
Ross Castle is located inside Killarney National Park

Hindsights: Whoops, attention to detail is key!

Putting the wrong fuel in our rental car meant a drastic change in our plans. Instead of a visit to the Dingle Peninsula and Skellig Michal we spent a lovely day wandering in  Killarney National Park. If I ever find my way back to the west of Ireland a trip to the Skellig Islands will be my first order of business!

Limerick, Ireland

Highlight: King John’s Castle

We weren’t sure what to expect at King Johns’ Castle, but I do love a good castle and we had to stop for lunch anyway so why not just eat lunch at the castle?

#kingjohnscastle
King John’s Castle

Hindsight: There was none!

This was a bonus stop on our way to Galway, and we were delighted with the way this midday stop turned out!

Galway, Ireland

Highlight: The Cliffs of Moher

The spectacular Cliffs of Moher are a definite must-see if you’re visiting the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

ireland cliffs of moher
The Cliffs of Moher

Hindsight: Allow time for unexpected adventures

There is a walk along the cliff tops , but we were running out of daylight and weren’t really dressed for a hike, so we satisfied ourselves with a good long look over the edge.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Highlight: Everything about the entire visit

Our visit to the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland was by far the best day of our 12 day tour of the Emerald Isle, if not our entire summer abroad!

#dark Hedges

Hindsight: We should have stayed longer.

Having no idea how much we would enjoy our visit we only booked three nights, but easily could have spent twice that many exploring Belfast as well as the amazing natural beauty along the Northern Coast.

Glasgow, Scotland

Highlight: Mural Trail

A very happy accident, we discovered Glasgow’s Mural trail on our way to another destination!

#hiphopmarionettes

Hindsight: Glasgow deserves more time!

Two days just wasn’t enough in this walk friendly city brimming with architecture, art, music, and shopping!

Inverness, Scotland

Highlight: Urquhart Castle on the Shores of Loch Ness

Having missed out on a visit to Loch Ness on our previous trip to the Highlands, we decided to make it a priority. A highlight was exploring the ancient ruins of Urquhart Castle, located on the shores of the lake.

#urquhartcastle

Hindsight: So much more than a monster!

Our visit here was wonderful and exceeded our expectations in every way.

The Highlands of Scotland

Highlight: Eileen Donan Castle

A last minute decision to see Eileen Donan Castle did not disappoint. It’s no wonder that Eilean Donan is the most photographed castle in Scotland, it’s setting in the middle of three lochs is stunning!

#eileandonanbagpiper

Hindsight: The Isle of Skye

There is never enough time in this magical country. We got a small taste of what the Isle of Skye has to offer and I’m definitely going back for more!

Edinburgh, Scotland

Highlight: Everything

Have you ever visited a place that felt so right, so special that it was almost painful to leave? Love at first sight? That’s exactly how I felt about Edinburgh from the very first moment.

#edinburgh

Hindsight: I’ve realized my Edinburgh list will never be completed

Although we didn’t have time to go inside the Writers Museum, we did spend time in the courtyard reading the tiles, which are inscribed with lovely quotes written by some of the city’s most famous writers. All of them about Edinburgh of course!

Hadrian’s Wall

Highlight: A dream come true

I know that for some, what basically amounts to a crumbling brick wall in the middle of nowhere England might not be interesting, but for me, a history loving anglophile, this was an absolute dream come true!

#hadrianswall

Hindsight: Walk the Wall Hike

It’s quite popular to “walk” the Wall and I would have liked to, at least for a little while, but serious rain was threatening and after a few minutes the boys abandoned me for the shelter of the Housestead’s Museum.

York, England

Highlight: York Minster

It made sense that the center piece of York, York Minster, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, would be our first stop. We were not disappointed!

#yorkminster

Hindsight: There wasn’t one!

The rain fell hard and steadily during our visit, but thankfully we still managed to enjoyed this lovely city.

Nottingham, England

Highlight: THE Nottingham!

Yes, that Nottingham, home of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men!

#robinhoodnottingham

Hindsight: Sometimes the weather wins

Sadly, extremely heavy rain put us off from a visit to Sherwood Forest.

London, England

Highlight: Camden Market

My highlight is also a hindsight!  I can’t believe the Camden Market wasn’t already on my radar, It’s right up my alley and reminds me a lot of Venice Beach, California. Fun & quirky!

#camdenlock

Hindsight: Top of the Shard

With my love of photography, I regret that I didn’t take the time to visit the observation deck at the Shard. Greenwich is also high on my list for next time…

Brugge, Belgium

Highlight: Beautiful Medieval Town

I was delighted by the incredible beauty of Brugge, a quaint little medieval town. I immediately fell in love and spent the better part of my three days there taking endless photos.

Bruges Canal

Hindsight: Why didn’t we eat more chocolate?

The question is: With endless chocolate shops around every corner, why didn’t we visit more of them? I’m afraid that’s a question, I’ll never know the answer to.

Ghent, Belgium

Highlight: Graffiti Street

Wanting to see something a bit off the beaten path and big fans of street art, we were excited to learn that Ghent has a dedicated graffiti street called Werregaren straat. We really enjoyed this and loved the idea of a dedicated place where anyone can express themselves freely.

#wergeranstraat

Hindsight: Maybe next time…

Elliot really wished we’d had a can of spray paint or two, so he could contribute.

Amsterdam, Holland The Netherlands

Highlight: Everything about our visit!

A lovely and walkable city with no shortage of interesting sights and streets to wander we made the most of every minute of our visit in Amsterdam.

#nightcanal

Hindsight: We visited Amsterdam and didn’t ride a boat or a bike, what?!

We made the most of every moment while visiting this fabulous city, but still ran out of time before ever stepping onto a boat, or peddling a bike. We did see some windmills though! If I had to do it over again I would stay on a houseboat!

Zaans Schans, Holland

Highlight: Windmills

I felt I couldn’t visit Holland without seeing at least one windmill up close and personal! I know, I know, that’s a very touristy thing to do, but hey, sometimes I’m a tourist!

#zaanseschans

Hindsight: Why didn’t we rent bikes here?

If we ever find our way back to this wonderful place we will be sure to rent bikes. The wide pathways and lovely scenery would make for a perfect bike ride!

Paris, France

Highlight: Sainte Chapelle

As I emerged from the doorway into the main part of the chapel my mouth literally fell open. I was completely surrounded by jaw dropping beauty. How did I not know about this amazing place?

#saintechapelle

Hindsight: Accommodations

While there wasn’t really anything wrong with our hotel, I’ve yet to really hit the nail on the head as far as Paris lodgings go… hopefully next time!

Versailles, France

Highlight: Marie Antoinette’s Gardens

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Petit Trianon, the home away from home of Marie Antoinette, who apparently wasn’t so enamored with the main Palace and preferred to spend her time elsewhere.

#petittrianon

Hindsight: An evening visit might have been better

We should have considered going later in the afternoon for the musical fountains show and evening fireworks. We might have been able to beat the crowds, and the heat.

London, England

Highlight: Hyde Park

London’s parks are the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon just like the locals do! They are beautiful, vast and filled with activities for every interest.

#serpentinepavilion2016

Hindsight: Do we really have to go home?

Even after six weeks of travel, I wasn’t ready to go home.

Nothing makes me happier than discovering new places with my family and sharing them with all of you!


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London: An Afternoon in Kensington

#kensingtonhilarystyle

#southkensingtonAfter Six weeks of travel our amazing adventures through Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, were coming to an end, and it was time to head home, but not before one last hurrah! What better way to end the trip of a lifetime, than strolling around in my number one favorite city: London!

#kensingtonhilarystyle

Wanting to explore somewhere new, we chose Kensington, not only was it a neighborhood I hadn’t spent much time in, but we had an early flight back to the States and its proximity to Heathrow was a big plus. Our hotel, The Kensington, was walking distance to Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, the Museum of Natural History, High Street, and many other interesting sights and restaurants!

#herefordarms

Speaking of restaurants, arriving, from Paris, just in time for lunch we discovered the Hereford Arms, a friendly  pub and restaurant with excellent service and even better food. I had the best tarter sauce I’ve ever had there, and after weeks traveling throughout the UK, thats saying a lot! Seriously!

After lunch we walked up and down High Street enjoying the beautiful flower arrangements, poking in and out of the various shops and galleries and stopping to take photos. Our little one had recently discovered he actually enjoys reading, so we picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone for the flight home.

Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens

#princealbertmemorialWanting to make the most of our very last day, Simon and I decided to explore Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which were walking distance from our hotel and are conveniently connected to one another.  London’s parks are the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon just like the locals do! They are beautiful, vast and filled with activities for every interest.

#royalalberthall

We wandered through the parks taking photos, hunting Pokemon, and stopping along the way to admire The Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall and the interactive Peter Pan Statue.

#princealbertmemorial

One of my favorite things to see is the Serpentine Gallery, but in past visits my boys have enjoyed both the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and Diana Memorial Fountain.

The fountain was an especially big hit as the day we visited it was quite a warm afternoon, however the playground’s Peter Pan theme is really charming. Who wouldn’t want to take the helm of a giant pirate ship, hang out in a tee pee , or play sentry on the walls of a fort!

The Serpentine Gallery

#serpentinepavilion2016As I mentioned I really enjoy, the Serpentine Gallery and our  first stop within the Park was the Gallery’s Summer Pavilion installation. If you haven’t had a chance to see this, I highly recommend it! The exhibition is different each year, and showcases the designs of up and coming architects via the building of unique and temporary structures located within the Park. This was my second visit to see this exhibition and if given the opportunity I would go every year! Depending on the year’s design, visitors can go and in and out, enjoy drinks and snacks, and even climb onto the structure. While most years the exhibition features only one structure, this year’s featured some smaller buildings as well.

#serpentinepavilion2016

Highlights and Tips:

  • The many activities within the park differ depending on the time of year, so consider repeat visits.
  • Admission to The Serpentine Gallery is free.
  • The Pavilion Exhibition is a summer installation and changes every year. Check the website for the most current information.
  • Kids 12 and under can enjoy the Peter Pan themed Diana Memorial Playground with adult supervision.
  • Go ahead and dip your feet into the Diana Memorial Fountain. Its permitted!
  • The Peter Pan statue is interactive, so consider bringing a smart device.
  • Did you know you can take a guided tour of the Albert Memorial?
  • Kensington is a great place to stay if you have an early morning flight out of Heathrow.
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Until next time, London…

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Would you like directions to all these fabulous places? Why not take me with you! you can download this and other fun hilarystyle articles using the GPSmyCity app!

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Paris: The City of Love A Photo Tour

Sometimes referred to as The City of Love, Paris is definitely moving up on my Favorite Cities list, but it wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, It wasn’t until my third visit, that I really came to realize what, many other people already feel: I love Paris! I know that with so many amazing places in the world it can be hard to commit precious vacation time to repeat destinations, but sometimes it’s those repeat visits that really show you what a city is all about.

In Paris there are…

#Paris

Lovely views around every corner.

The Pantheon…

Paris France

Is a place I’ve still never stepped foot inside. Its first on my list for next time!

How much love is too much…

Paris France

Over 1 million locks of love have been removed from Paris’s bridges! That’s 65 tons of love!

Speaking of Love…

Paris France

I just love it when we see a bride and Groom!

What’s that smell…

Paris France

I love cheese, but the boys weren’t too keen on the smell.

However…

#paris

They had no complaints about the cookies!

A perfect afternoon…

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is made up of, Street performers, Berthillon glace and a little rest along the banks of the Seine on the Ile de Sainte Louis.

Once upon a time…

#ruemouffetard

The Rue Mouffetard was a main road in and out of town. One of our favorite places! You’ll find a mix or tourists and locals alike on this pedestrian friendly market street.

Graffiti or art…

#paris

Street Art! We were delighted to discover among other street art pieces this C-3PO Chewbacca piece by the elusive French street artist, Invader.

You’ll find yourself surrounded by beauty…

#paris

Sometimes in the most simple of forms. From the Metropolitan signs…

yellow-bicycle-7125

and bicycles…

Paris France

to corner flower shops, and

#paris

The many corner cafes.


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Much Ado about Paris!

After 5 weeks of travel… the Pièce de Résistance! Paris!

#parisWe’d arrived, and as we drove down the boulevards lined with beautiful architecture, endless cafes and world famous monuments I was struck by just how much I love this city! Having checked many of the city’s biggest tourist attractions off on a previous trip, I decided this visit would be about new experiences. Taking it one step further, we threw  guidebooks to the wind, and decided to wing it!

La Joie

#parisWe spent a lot of our time wandering and in doing so found ourselves enjoying the unexpected. I noticed golden details on many of the buildings and wondered if they’d always been there? We marveled at how every street corner is something special. We hunted Pokemon and sailed tiny boats in the Luxembourg gardens and had the best time. Why hadn’t we done that before?! We saw the Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, marveled at Sainte Chapelle, climbed the bell towers of Notre Dame de Paris, and so much more…

The Monuments

La Madeleine 

#lamadeleineLa Madeleine was commissioned by Napoleon and is located on the Rue Royal in the 8th arrondissement. The church is beautiful both inside and out, and provides a fabulous view of the Place de la Concorde. We wandered in just in time to hear a choir singing, and it was simply amazing. Louis XVI was originally buried here before his body was moved in 1815.

Tip: To really get a feel for just how many and how big the columns are, consider walking the colonnade. La Madeline is a popular place for weddings and you just might see a bride!

Sainte Chapelle

#saintechapelleHave you ever been to a place and were so surprised by its beauty that your mouth literally fell open? This is exactly what happened to me when I visited Sainte Chapelle. I was completely surrounded by jaw dropping beauty. This is a place I firmly believe deserves to be on everyone’s must-see list when visiting Paris. No photo can really do it justice, you’ll just have to go and see for yourself.

Tip: To skip the line at Sainte Chapelle purchase your tickets inside the Palace of Justice, which seemed to be less crowded.

The Palace of Justice

#palaceofjusticeAdjacent to the  Sainte Chapelle and beautiful in its own right is the Palace of Justice. Once the Palais Ile de Cite, it was home to French royalty until the 1400s. Later it became a revolutionary prison, at which time Sainte Chapelle became a place of final confession and prayer for those condemned by the tribunal. One such person, was Marie Antoinette and there is a memorial to both her and Louis XVI in the Palace.

Notre Dame de Paris

#notredameNotre Dame is one of the few places we visited on this trip that wasn’t new, however we’d never climbed the bell towers, so we made an exception. To say I loved our visit to Notre Dame would be an understatement! Some places just deserve repeat visits, and Notre Dame is on that list.

Tip: The entry to visit the bell towers is located on the OUTSIDE of the Cathedral, on the left side of the West façade. This is separate from the entrance to the Cathedral’s interior.

Museums

Musée de l’Orangerie

#LorangerieIf you’re short on time, or even if you’re not consider a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie. Monet’s Water Lilies, given to the museum by Monet himself, as a symbol of peace, are probably the museums most famous pieces, but there are many other wonderful artists on display. The museum’s layout was very efficient and we were able to see everything before our little one lost interest. Afterwards we enjoyed ham sandwiches in the cafe gift shop!

Tip: Go early! If you’re one of the first to enter you’ll have a few moments to enjoy the Water Lilies before the room fills up.

The Gardens

#luxembourggardensNo visit would be complete without time spent in one of the city’s many famous gardens. So much more than just a pretty backdrop, surrounding some other famous place, they offer a welcome respite from the bustle of city life, or if you’re a traveling family a great place to relax and regroup.

Jardin du Luxembourg

#luxembourggardensThe Jardin du Luxembourg, located in the 6th Arrondissement offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to relax or something a little more active. We loved sailing the little wooden boats on the pond, but also enjoyed the playground, and the many statues and fountains throughout.

Tip: You’ll find the wooden boats just next to the pond. They are available to rent for €3.50 an hour.

Jardin des Tuileries 

#jardindestuileries

Due to its proximity to the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries might just be the most famous garden in Paris, so there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself here. If you’re visiting in the summer look out for the Fete des Tuileries which takes place every very summer from June to August. I loved seeing the stark contrast between the carnival rides and the centuries old gardens. Lots of fun photo ops here!

Tip: Entry to the Fête des Tuileries is free, however there is a fee for the rides and attractions.

The City of Light

#eiffeltowerOn our last night in Paris, knowing that it could be many years before I return to the City of Light, I had a sudden desire to see the Eiffel Tower lit up one last time. Having no car, we decided to hire a taxi and asked the driver to take us somewhere we would have a great view. I guess he decided the best view was just under the Tower itself! The Tower was red, white and blue to honor the victims of the Nice terror attacks, which took place earlier in the week. Other monuments we drove by included, Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, and Montparnasse.

Tip: Don’t miss out on one of the best parts of Paris, the city’s lights! Our taxi fare was around €40, which included the time we took to get out for photos at the Eiffel Tower.  

Day Trip

Chateau de Versailles

#versaillesWhat better place for those “life of royalty” daydreams than the Chateau de Versailles? Even on an overcast day the golden gates of this world famous palace can be seen shinning brightly in the distance. As you wander through the palace you’ll find yourself surrounded by opulence.

A stroll in the almost 2000 acres of Gardens features among other things a Grand Canal, which is over a mile long, groves, the Orangerie, and at least 50 different fountains.

Tip: Purchase your tickets in advance online. Arrive early! The gates open at 9 am. If you can, be there before they open.

Restaurants

Enjoying the local cuisine is an important part of any city visit! Here are three of our most memorable all located within close proximity to some of the most famous places in Paris.

Minim’s

#minimsdeparisMinims, the brasserie version of the famous Maxim’s de Paris, is located on the Rue Royal. We enjoyed, not only the food, but the restaurant’s Art Nouveau style. Eating here felt very Parisian!

Tip: Minim’s is located on the same street as La Madeleine.

Invictus

#invictusrestaurantWe enjoyed everything about our meal at Invictus. A cozy restaurant with only a handful of tables, the chef personally took our order! The food was excellent and we had a lovely evening!

Tip: Invictus is just blocks from the Jardin du Luxembourg. A reservation if recommended.

Cave La Bourgogne

#CaveLaBourgogneCave La Bourgone, recommended to us by a local friend, is located at the end of the Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest streets in Paris. We enjoyed this traditional, tasty and reasonably priced brasserie so much , we’ve been twice!

Tip: First wander the Rue Mouffetard, a pedestrian friendly market street, and end at Cave La Bourgogne where you’ll enjoy a quintessential Parisian meal while you gaze out at the lovely square along with all the locals.


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Les Jardins de Paris

luxembourg-gardens-6237

With so many famous landmarks in Paris it can be tough to decide, but no visit would be complete without time spent in one of the city’s many famous gardens. So much more than just a pretty backdrop, surrounding some other famous place, they offer a welcome respite from the bustle of city life, or if you’re a traveling family a great place to relax and regroup. Aiming to spend less time planning, and more time wandering, the gardens of Paris fit our bill perfectly.

Jardin du Luxembourg

#luxembourggardensOur first stop upon arrival to Paris was the Jardin du Luxembourg, conveniently located just three blocks from our hotel. With no particular destination in mind, our initial intention was to wander straight through, but as soon as we saw the little wooden boats on the pond, we changed our minds!

Simon, teen that he is, wasn’t sure this would be fun, but before too long he was just as into it as the rest of us! Each ship represented a different country and we were excited to see that there was also a pirate ship! However, it was already in use when we arrived. When eventually the rain chased us off we found shelter at a nearby gelato place.

Returning here many times during our visit I loved the many statues and fountains within the gardens, while my boys enjoyed hunting the many Pokemon who apparently live there. Not interested in statues or Pokemon? Don’t worry, you’ll find there is something for everyone! There are plenty of spots perfect for contemplation, the reading of a good book, or a cat nap. Feeling a bit more active, there are tennis courts, bocce courts and playgrounds.

Tip: You’ll find the wooden boats just next to the pond. They are available to rent for €3.50 an hour.

Location: The 6th Arrondissement between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter

Jardin des Tuileries 

#fetesdestuileries

Due to its proximity to the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries might just be the most famous garden in Paris. While we didn’t find time for the Louvre on this visit we did find ourselves in the gardens. In addition to the usual offerings the gardens host a carnival each summer from June to August. I loved seeing the stark contrast between the carnival rides and the centuries old gardens, buildings and statues.

#fetesdestuileries

Tip: Entry to the Fête des Tuileries is free, however there is a fee for the rides and attractions.

Location: The 1st Arrondissement between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde


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Sainte Chapelle

Have you ever been to a place and were so surprised by its beauty that your mouth literally fell open? Were rendered speechless? This is exactly what happened to me while visiting Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

#saintechapelle

In hindsight I wondered how could I have overlooked such a wondrous place? After all I do pride myself on being a knowledgable traveler. With almost unlimited information available it’s hard to believe I had never heard of these places, which played such important roles in French history, Sainte Chapelle and the Palace of Justice. That said, I’m giving myself a break because while I do appreciate love my expansive collection of guide books, I also think that an important part of being a good traveler is the ability to wing it, go with the flow and embrace the unexpected.

#palaceofjustice
The Palace of Justice (photo taken during our 2013 visit)

So, it was while we were doing just that, winging it on our last day in Paris, that we decided, as we happened to be walking by, to enter the Palace of Justice. The ticket clerk asked if we also wanted to see Sainte Chapelle … sure, “why not?” we said, completely clueless.

Sainte Chapelle

#saintechapelleConfession: It wasn’t immediately upon entering Sainte Chapelle that I discovered her jaw dropping beauty, I blundered around a bit first. Wondering, Is this it? It’s so small, there must be more? What am I missing? Turns out a lot!

Noticing the items for sale at the souvenir counter had photos of what looked to be a lovely, but obviously different place. I decided to enquire, “This is lovely, but is there more?” I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it amounted to: Yes, just over there through that tiny hardly noticeable nondescript door over in the corner .

Sainte Chapelle Paris France

As I emerged from the doorway into the main part of the chapel my mouth literally fell open. I was completely surrounded by jaw dropping beauty. No photo can really do it justice. The Stained glass was shimmering in the sunlight, the golden paint on the ceilings was glowing, I know I gasped in surprise and delight! I couldn’t get enough, and even joked that a place this beautiful could actually get someone to convert!

#saintechapelle

#saintechapelle

Saint Chapelle, is showing her age and is currently undergoing a lengthy renovation, however in my opinion this faded splendor, as I like to call it, only added to her charm.

The Palace of Justice

#palaceofjustice
Even on a sunny day the light inside the Palace of Justice was dim.

Adjacent to the  Sainte Chapelle and beautiful in its own right is the Palace of Justice. Once the Palais Ile de Cite, it was home to French royalty until the 1400s. Later it became a revolutionary prison, at which time Sainte Chapelle became a place of final confession and prayer for those condemned by the tribunal. One such person, was Marie Antoinette and there is a memorial to both her and Louis XVI in the Palace.

#palaceofjustice
Stretching their legs a bit inside the Medieval Hall at the Palace of Justice.
#palaceofjustice
The memorial to Marie Antoinette and Louise XVI is through these curtains.

Tips and information:

  • To skip the line at Sainte Chapelle purchase your tickets inside the Palace of Justice, which seemed to be less crowded.
  • The medieval hall and exhibitions representing the revolutionary prison are fascinating and tied in perfectly with our recent trip to Versailles.
  • There is a lot to see and learn here, but we were able to see everything in about an hour, which appealed to my little one.
  • Sainte Chapelle was commissioned in 1238 by Louis IX to hold his collection of holy relics including Christ’s crown of thorns. The chapel sustained damage during the Revolution and the crown of thorns along with other surviving relics were moved to Notre Dame de Paris.
  • Like Notre Dame, the chapel was restored by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
  • The impressive stained glass inside the chapel, of which 2/3 is original, tells the story of both the old and new testaments.

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Notre Dame de Paris

#viewfromnotredame

#notredameYou know what they say, “Third times a charm”, and that’s exactly how I felt after our most recent visit to Notre Dame de Paris. Hardly able to remember the first occasion as I  was just a child, and battling large crowds and illness during our visit three and a half years ago, it wasn’t until the most recent visit that I really got a chance to appreciate this magnificent place!

#notredame

You might be wondering why we keep visiting the same place repeatedly when there is so much to see and do in a city the size of Paris? There are a number of reasons, but the simple answer is that a place this amazing deserves repeat visits.

Another, and more practical reason is that Simon wasn’t feeling well enough to climb the 387+ stairs to the top of the bell tower during our last visit and I promised him that if we ever came back it would be a priority. Simon has never met a staircase he didn’t consider a challenge, one reason why I don’t worry about finding time to exercise on our vacations. I know I’ll be guaranteed a workout anyway!

Tickets and Advice:

We loved this visit! However, to make the most of your time here a few things we wished we’d taken the time to know beforehand

  • If this is your first trip to Paris: Notre Dame de Paris is located on the île de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement and can be accessed in a variety of ways. We choose a bicycle cab!
  • 13 million people a year visit Notre Dame, so be prepared for large crowds. The lines to enter the Cathedral look daunting, but do move steadily. Once inside there are audio guides available, or you’re free to explore on your own.
  • Entrance to the Cathedral is free and all are welcome.
  • Suitcases and large back packs aren’t allowed into either the Cathedral or bell towers.  I whole heartedly agree with this rule, and if you’re interested in reading more about my feelings on backpacks click here!
  • The entry to visit the bell towers is located on the OUTSIDE of the Cathedral, on the left side of the West façade. This is separate from the entrance to the Cathedral’s interior. If you’re only interested in the bell towers there is no need to enter the cathedral.
  • Entrance to the bell towers is run independently by the Centre Des Monuments. There is no need to purchase tickets in advance just enter the line. Adults are 10 € and children under 18 are free with a paying adult.
  • The visit will take about 50 minutes and keep in mind there are no restrooms.
  • Only 20 people are admitted to the bell towers at a time. The next group is allowed in once the previous group has come down, about every 10 minutes.
  • Be prepared to climb. There are 387+ steps leading to the top of the bell tower. Wear proper shoes and clothing! We were behind a woman in high heel booties and it was obvious she was struggling the entire climb.
  • Each group will only be allowed 5 minutes at the top.
  • Once inside and just before you climb the steps you’ll listen to a brief talk and have an opportunity to purchase items at a small gift shop. If you see something you want, purchase it, because you won’t be going back the same way.
  • If you’re lucky you’ll be there on a clear day, however, keep in mind there is no shade and it gets hot at the top!

5 Fun Facts!

  1. The first stone was laid in 1163, but Notre Dame wasn’t completed until 1345. Almost 200 years later!
  2. The Crown of Thorns, a piece of THE Cross as well as a nail are just three of the holy relics inside Notre Dame.
  3. Another name for Notre Dame is Our Lady of Paris.
  4. Bee hives are kept on the roof of the sacristy.
  5. The cathedral’s famous sentries, the gargoyles, you see perched high above the ground, are officially known as chimera, and were added by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc during a 25 year restoration which started in 1845.

To say I loved our visit to Notre Dame would be an understatement! From the sweeping views of Paris from high atop the bell towers…

#viewfromnotredame

To the Chimeras and gargoyles ever present keeping a constant and silent vigil over the cathedral, Paris and all who pass below…

#notredamechimera

And finally the feeling you get wandering through the cool dark interiors knowing you’re not alone. That for 850+ years people from around the world have been coming to this same place, each for their own reasons, but surrounded by these same walls, bathed in the glow of these same chandeliers and stained glass windows. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but for me it was magical.

#notredame

Believe it or not, we still haven’t seen everything! Twist my arm, I guess we’ll have to go back…


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Day Trippers: Chateau de Versailles

#chateaudeversailles

Why do I, and so many other people, love visiting castles and palaces so much? Of course history, art and architecture all play a role, but it’s also a chance to step outside your own reality and see what it might have been like to live in such a place. After all how many of us live in actual castles or palaces?

#versailles

What better place for those “life of royalty” daydreams than the Chateau de Versailles? Even on an overcast day the golden gates of this world famous palace can be seen shinning brightly in the distance.

#versailles

#versailles

Versailles is a place where the walls, ceilings and floors are equally, if not more ornate than the furniture and art found inside. As you wander through the palace peeking inside the Royal Chapel, the King’s bedroom and the Hall of Mirrors, you’ll find yourself surrounded by opulence.

#versailles
The Royal Chapel

Speaking of opulent, it doesn’t end when you step outside, in fact quite the contrary. A stroll in the almost 2000 acres of Gardens features among other things a Grand Canal, which is over a mile long, groves, the Orangerie, and at least 50 different fountains.

#versailles

Getting There

Taking the SNCF train from the Paris Gare Montparnasse station, (You can’t miss it, it’s the only tall building in all of Paris!), we arrived at the Versailles Chantiers station about 40 minutes later. Wanting to see the town, we decided to walk to the Chateau.

Plan in Advance

#gardensofversailles

If you can I highly recommend planning your visit in advance! Purchasing our tickets only one day prior to our visit we made some mistakes and discovered some things we would have done differently. The day we visited was incredibly hot, but more than that, it was humid, and a late afternoon/evening visit might have been more enjoyable. Keep in mind this is a very popular destination (10 million visitors every year) and it will be incredibly crowded.

Tickets and Other Useful Information

Skipping the line would have been nice, but with short notice I was unable to work out exactly how to make that happen. Here are a few things I did learn that might make things easier:

  • Arrive early! The gates open at 9 am. If you can, be there before they open.#gatesofversailles
  • Purchase your tickets in advance online. Even with advance purchase you’ll need to go through security, which seems to be the cause for the very long entrance lines. However, it moves quicker than the ticket purchase line.
    Versailles France
  • The Passport Ticket option gains you entrance to everything, including the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Petite Chateau. Children under 18 are free however the exception is: there is a garden entrance fee for children on days with the Fountains Show and on Musical Gardens days.

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    The Passport Ticket includes the gardens.
  • There are guided tours, but not all tours are given in all languages everyday. Unfortunately there were no English speaking tours being offered on the day of our visit. Check the website for tour options before your arrival.#versailles
  • Bring sunscreen, water and wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be doing a lot of walking.#thegrandcanalversailles
  • If you’re visiting in the summer, consider going later in the afternoon for the musical fountains show and possible fireworks. Its also possible the crowds could be lighter later in the day… though we ended our visit around 4:30 pm and noticed the lines were still incredibly long. It was July after all…#versailles

The Palace

#hallofmirrors
Hall of Mirrors

Once inside the Palace I picked up the audio guide that came with my Passport ticket, while the boys chose to go without. It was very crowded, so lingering over anything wasn’t really possible, but we were able to see everything we were interested in. Before heading out to the garden we stopped in the Palace cafe for French ham sandwiches. I got a kick out of the restroom signage!

The Gardens

Versailles France

As I mentioned the gardens are vast, but we did our best to see as much of them as we could. I loved the Enceladus Grove, especially the fountain in the center, which was sculpted in 1675. Our visit took place on a Musical Fountains day, so we were lucky enough to see many of the fountains in action! I was somewhat surprised to see that there weren’t that many flowers in the garden, but I must admit my knowledge of French gardens is lacking. We ran out of steam so boating on the Grand Canal didn’t happen, but we did discover some yummy gelato!

Petit Trianon – Marie Antoinette’s Estate

#petittrianon

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Petit Trianon, the home away from home of Marie Antoinette, who apparently wasn’t so enamored with the main Palace and preferred to spend her time elsewhere.

The Petite Domaine was her private chateau and was by invitation only. The tour here was self guided, and because it is indeed a very petite palace, doesn’t take long. Afterward, we took our time wandering the chateau’s private gardens, which to my delight had more flowers!

#petitetrianon

Another Women’s March

Our visit to the Chateau de Versailles took place this past July, and 6 months later I’m finally writing about it. Coincidentally this also happens to be the same week that there were women’s marches around the world. It was while reading an article about these marches that I learned about another historic women’s march.

The Women’s March on Versailles, is also known as the October March or the March on Versailles, which might be why I never knew it was actually started by women. Either that, or I might not have been listening in history class that day… Though not peaceful like this week’s marches it was a defining moment in history, which involved women standing up for what they believe is right. The timing seems significant, so I thought I would mention it.

If Those Walls Could Talk

Many important figures in world history and government have walked the halls of Versailles, among them, to name just a few are: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and Pope Pius VII. A UNESCO World Heritage site, I was surprised to learn that Versailles is still in use today by the French Government.


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Would you like directions to all these fabulous places? Why not take me with you! you can download this and other fun hilarystyle articles using the GPSmyCity app!

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A Photo Tour of Amsterdam

#loveamsterdam

I loved our visit to Amsterdam so much, I broke my 1000 words max rule by 700+ words, and still, I was unable to fit everything in. The more I wrote, the more I had to say, and not just about the amazing museums and food and where to stay, but about the street art and bike bell shops, the everyday people, the city at night, and so much more. Rather than more talk I thought I would try and show you some of the sights and moments that cemented my love of this wonderful city!

Sunset over I Amsterdam

#iamsterdam

Trying for that perfect pic…

#iamsterdam

Walking through town the clouds were amazing!

#amsterdam

The architecture both on land and in the water was so lovely!

#amsterdamhouseboat

Next time we visit I hope to stay on a houseboat!

#amsterdamhouseboat

The fuzzy warm glow of the lights at night. On the streets…

#iheartamsterdam

the canals…

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the water, and

#amsterdamnightcanal

in the windows!

#miffythebunny

There were flowers…

#amsterdamcanal

and boats…

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and bikes, everywhere! Sometimes all at once!

#nightcanal

Not to mention the art, both inside…

#vangogh

and out, was superb!

#amsterdamstreetart

I hear seeing a bride is good luck! No wonder we had such a great visit!

#amsterdambride

Until next time Amsterdam…


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