Friday, January 29, 2016

Planning For Paris....Step One- Hotel Or Apartment

Maybe you are like me and love the process of planning for a trip, or maybe you would rather pay your money to a tour company and just show up at the airport and let someone else do all the planning.

Even though I have just took the first step in planning my trip to Paris, I have been doing research for quite awhile now. I only have about 5 Paris travel books on my bookshelf and have stared at the Google map of Paris till my eyes turned red.  No, I'm not one bit obsessed!!

The first step in planning this trip was to find a place to stay.  For me the decision on whether to stay in a hotel or renting an apartment was a relatively easy one.  Economics did play a little part.  I thought it would be a bit cheaper to pick up some groceries at the nearest market and fix some simple meals instead of eating every meal out.  Most of all though, I wanted to have the whole experience of living like a local.  So consulting my cousins wife, who is my travel partner and friend, Renee was agreeable to the idea of renting an apartment.  I had changed my mind after talking to a French friend from thinking about staying in the 7th arrondissement  near the Eiffel Tower to the 6th in the St, Germain neighborhood.  We are more centrally located in this area where we can walk to many things we may want to see and do.

Like I said I had started doing research awhile ago, so I had looked at many apartments through various agencies.  In fact I had 19 apartments saved to my favorites on VRBO.  It was almost too confusing.  Each one had good points and I finally narrowed it down to about 3 apartments.  I think I went back and forth between those 3 about 20 times.  Finally  it was time to pick.  I kept going to one apartment through Paris For Rent, an agency which is recommended by Rick Steves
 Paris 2016 . When I made a price request Patrick promptly contacted me and told me this apartment was not available for the first 2 days I had requested.  After a few email exchanges I changed my date so we could book that apartment.  Renee gave the okay and I ended up making the 50% down payment.  Patrick sent me all the info the next day and step one was complete.

With our apartment booked it finally is real that this will happen and I will be back in Paris in September!!

What's next?  Searching for flights.  Looks like this will take the biggest chunk of the travel budget. The question is, to hold out for a bargain, or just get it over with and book?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Does Solo Travel Scare You? Do What I Did.


 How many times has fear held you back from doing something you really want to do?  Oftentimes it's more  that we care to admit.  Fear can paralyze us into not living our dream lives.  Of course not everyone can act on every little whim we have, like quitting a less than fulfilling job when we have a family to support, but with careful planning we can take steps to make our dreams into reality.

 Take for instance traveling. My dream of going to Paris began many years ago when I was in High School.  I love fashion and it was always a far off dream to visit the fashion capitol of the world.  I never thought I would actually go at that time since dreams like that for me were just that-dreams that could never be reality.  Then I turned 40 and for the first time I realized I will not live forever.  I set up a separate savings account and started putting away about $15 dollars a week into that account.  It was my "Paris Account" and I did not touch that account.  I found that I did not miss that $15 every week and although we could have used that money for daily expenses, that was the only way I was ever going to make my Paris dream a reality.  If you think you can't afford to take a big trip, I recommend opening up your own little savings account.  Put $5, 10, 15 dollars a week aside.  It may take a long time to save up enough, but it will be worth it.

     For the next seven years I kept building up that account until I had saved $3500.  Mind you my hubby had no desire to share my dream with me and being that I was determined to go I started researching going by myself.  I started searching for info on traveling to Paris solo and found that there is a whole lot of people my age that go it alone.  There are lots of bloggers and other websites out there just geared to solo travel.  I also did a lot of reading on the Paris forums on the Foder's website for about every bit of information geared toward Paris travel.  The more I researched the more obsessed I became.

     I had resorted to the fact that I would have to go it alone until my hubby saw a TV spot featuring a week long tour of Paris with a local tour company hosted by a local news celebrity.  Maybe this was my ticket!!  Why I never thought of this before I will never know.  I was afraid to go it totally by myself.  After all going to a foreign country where you don't speak the language is a little intimidating, but I was desperate to go and had the money all saved up!  Could this be the answer?

     I ended up going to an informational meeting about this trip and I had found my answer.  That night I paid my deposit and made my Paris dream a reality.  In the end I went on that trip not knowing a single soul and ended up having the time of my life.  Going on a group tour is the perfect way to see a place you dream about. It turned out I was not the only solo person on that trip and in the end I made a few friends too.

     I'm here to tell you that you should not let your fears stand in your way.  Life is too short for having any regrets.  Just because you have no one in your circle that shares your dream, does not mean that you can't go for it on your own. Check out the tour companies in your area. I'm from Wisconsin and this trip was trough Holiday Vacations. There is a ton of info out there on solo travel. One of the best blogs for solo travel is the Solo Traveler blog.  Or just do a Google search for solo travel and go from there.

     Don't let fear hold you back from fulfilling your dreams.  One way or another you can find a way to get there.  You just need to believe you can do it and you have to want it bad enough.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

5 Things To Do When It's Too Darn Cold Outside

Winter.....I could definitely live without it.  I don't mind a little snow to keep the winter enthusiasts happy, but this -25 degree wind chill stuff is for the birds.  In fact I'm pretty sure that the birds don't like it either.  OK so maybe I should't say that since I'm not a bird.

Anyway, as I'm sitting in my nice cozy house writing this post I thought about my favorite non- device things I do when I'm stuck in the house on such a cold day like today.  There's probably 100 things I could be doing like maybe cleaning the basement, but those are just not fun and require WAY too much ambition.  No, a day like today should require as little ambition as possible.

Here's my list in random order

1) Bake some cookies-  I know what your thinking, you thought I said little ambition here,  I'm not talking about made from scratch flour and the messy kitchen type of cookies.  I'm talking about the frozen ready to bake kind that you bought in fall from the kid down the street who was raising money for new shoulder pads for the school football team.  Or maybe you have about 10 containers in your freezer from your own child cause your child didn't want to go door to door and you had to sell 15 containers. Bonus-your house smells fabulous!!

2) Get out your new adult coloring books and color-I love this adult version activity.  If you have kids this is a great thing to do together.  It helps me to stay out of the kitchen and not eat  those cookies I just spent all that time baking.  Plus it is really meditative to zone out and focus on staying in those intricate lines on the page.  I have four books that I rotate depending on whatever mood I'm in.  Some are not so easy and very detailed and some  are easy to create a masterpiece in a half hour.  Bonus-some books come with the pages perforated so you can frame and display your works of art all over the house!! Perfect for no talent artists like me.

3) Pick up an actual book and read-This is kinda a no-brainer in our house.  I LOVE to read and so does my daughter so I usually have at least one book from either the library, second hand store, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon within reach.  If I run out of books I can always raid my daughter's collection.   Bonus-even though you don't want to go outside, reading a book can take you anywhere you want to go.

4) Start or write in your journal-If you journal already this is just a friendly reminder to write a post today.  If you don't, start.  It doesn't have to be five pages long.  Even if you write one sentence to describe your day or one thing you are grateful for that's all you need.  Along the lines of this you could try a vision board or work on those Soul Collage cards.  If you've never heard of these, just do a google or Pinterest search for more info.  Bonus-you may learn something about yourself.

5) Take a nap-By now if you did all the things mentioned above you will need one.  If not take one anyway.  A short nap is a perfect thing to do on a cold day.  It feels good to crawl under the covers in the middle of the day.  This can be combined with number 3.  If number 3 makes you sleepy then don't feel guilty about putting that book down and catching some zzzz's.  Bonus-a little recharging never hurt anyone.

I know it's not easy to carve some time for yourself, especially if you have kids, but sometimes it's okay to have days like today.  So maybe I've changed my mind about cold frigid days like today...Ah maybe not.  I think I would rather be lounging outside my tiki hut in Bora Bora.  Heck, I can always bring along my coloring books and pencils, journal, and a book or two.  As far as the cookies go, well who the heck needs cookies when you're in Bora Bora!!

What do you like to do on those cold winter days?  If you live in Florida and have no idea what I'm talking about, this post is not for you!  Just kidding!!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My Top 5 Things To Do In Chicago

I love Chicago!  There's tons of stuff to do and see, It's easily accessible to me,  and mostly I feel like a different person when I'm there.  Something about the big city appeals to me.  I guess it's the fast pace of life and the fact that I can strap on my most comfy shoes and walk all over the center of the city. After all the best way to explore a city is on foot.

So for any of you that have never been to the Windy City and want ideas on the best things to do while there, I've made a list of my top 5 things I like to do when I'm in Chicago. I've been there several times and I'll admit I haven't done it all, but of all the things I have done these are my favorite.  Keep in mind these are not in any particular order. 

1). The 90 minute Architectural boat tour.  There are a few of these, but I have done the one by Wendella Boat Tours every time.  It truly is a must do for the first time visitor.  It gives you a little orientation of the city.  The information provided by the guides is interesting and the plus to doing the 90 minute tour is you go out into Lake Michigan for a great view of the Chicago skyline.
2). The view from the 360 Chicago Observation Deck at the top of the John Hancock building.  In my opinion this is the best place to take in a sweeping view of Chicago and beyond. 
3). Visiting the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  A short bus ride form the center of the city in the Lincoln Park neighborhood is the free Lincoln Park Zoo.  I was incredibly impressed with this zoo.  It's the perfect size and perfect for the kiddos.  What's my favorite thing there?  Hands down watching the Meerkats play is a treat.  They always bring a smile to my face cause they are so darn cute!
4). Art Institute Of Chicago.  If you love art you have to go to the Art Institute.  The special expeditions are always changing, so there is something new to see.  I am especially waiting for the special Van Gogh 3 Bedrooms exhibit that will begin in February and run through May.
5). Millenium Park.  After (or before) visiting the Art Institute, as long as you are in the neighborhood, take a stroll through Millenium Park. An oasis in the middle of the city, the park always has something going on.  Visit Cloud Gate (aka the bean), the Crown Fountain,  and Lurie Garden in the summer. In the winter you can lace up your skates and take a spin at the McCormic Tribune Ice Rink.
6). Shopping alone the Magnificent Mile and State Street.  Ok I know I said my top 5 things, but I cannot leave out something for those of us who love to shop!  Really, Michigan Avenue is world famous for shopping and I love the mix of designer stores on the North end, but I love State Street shopping just as much.  Most people think that shopping downtown is not for the budget conscience, but really with the great mix of discount retailers such as TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack, you really can find a bargain!  I know, because while I do splurge once in a while, I am always looking for the biggest bang for my buck.  There's something for everyone on these 2 streets.

I hope this helps those of you that are going to Chicago for the first time, or maybe you've been before but never seen something on my list.  Chicago is a great city to visit with world class theater, eating, sporting events, shopping, and art.  Put Chicago on you list of places to visit and you will not be sorry.  Oh, and don't forget to find one of the many Garrett Popcorn shops throughout the city and go stand in line to pick up some of that famous Chicago mix.  After all, you need some refueling after all that shopping!!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Surrounding Yourself With Things You Love

Your home is suppose to be your sanctuary.  The place where you go to after a long stressful day and you can kick you shoes off and be yourself.  You open your house up to the people you love the most.  I always felt your home is a reflection of the people living inside.  Maybe that is why I have always wanted a home that was clean and clutter free.  Mostly because I want to feel comfortable when I am there.

Which is why I like to put things in my home that I love.  My hubby has his " man cave" where he has things he loves like his prized deer mounts, metal vintage signs, sports memorabilia, and other things he has collected through the years.  Might I mention his huge life sized indoor scoreboard complete with buzzer.  I must say when he fires that baby it heats the whole basement!!! Our daughter has her room where she has all the posters from movies she loves, two huge bookcases filled to the brim with books she buys,  one wall is completely covered with pictures of friends and places she's been to.  Even a Clint Eastwood poster!!

Which pretty much leaves the rest of the house for me.  First time visitors to my house notice as they walk in the front door immediately that I may have a slight obsession with Paris.  After all I have my mini Eiffel Tower right inside the front door.  My house is filled with pictures, posters and other Paris things.  Some, like the framed drawing of my daughter that was done by an artist in the Place du Tertre (I know, I know, but I am after all a tourist), and my personal pictures I took while there are some of my prizes possessions. I don't think there is a room in my house where there is not something from Paris in it.  These are things I love.  I even have my small walk in closet decorated with a poster from the Louvre,  and pictures I bought while in Versailles, not to mention all my Bono and U2 pictures and momentos.

I do have one non Paris thing that I love and that is my child sized China hutch that I bought from my Aunts estate when she passed away last year.  That little piece had great memories for me.  Growing up the 2 things that remained from when my Family had a small farm was the empty barn and chicken coop.  As a child I played in that chicken coop and I had it cleaned out and it was a playhouse for us and the neighbor kids.  It was mostly me and the neighbor girls that used it.  Anyway my aunt had this China hutch when she was little and it ended up in that chicken coop, so we used to play with it and put our dishes inside.  Eventually my Dad sold that chicken coop and my Aunt brought that hutch in her house until I bought it from my cousins after she passed away. I took it home, bought some chalk paint and brought it back to life.  It sits by my front door with a Fenton glass basket from my Aunt and some other momentos inside.  My Mom had a child's tea set from Germany she gave me so that is in there too.

I think it is important to have things you love in your home.  For awhile I collected various things Only realizing later they really had no meaning to me and I didn't really love them.  I started to weed out all those things.  You can fill up your life with stuff, but in the end you can't take it with you.  Does it really matter to have all that stuff that you just like around? A house is only a home when the people you love live there and the things you put inside it show your personality.

As spring will roll around eventually it will be time to clean out and unclutter.  Take a look at the things in your home.  What do you love and what do you look at and think "not really loving this" or " you know I thought this had meaning, but it really just takes up space" ? Get rid of it. Surround yourself with only things you love.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Planning for Paris....Returning To The City Of Light In 2016

It's been 5 years since I went to Paris for the first time.  Having never gone before and since I was going to be solo, I went with a tour group. Traveling with 40 other people was great for a first time destination.  I got to see all the major sights.  It would have been hard to plan all that on my own.  Traveling with a tour is pretty much stress free.  You just pretty much show up at the airport and just sit back and enjoy!

This time however I am really going to live out my dream.  I finally made my decision to go this year after meeting a women from France that now lives in Kentucky at a Holiday Market the week before Thanksgiving.  Talking to her just got me so excited about going back that I decided I'm done TALKING about going back and actually doing it!! This  time I am going to do all the planning on my own. This makes me a little nervous. Mostly because of the language barrier.  I do know basic phrases though and hope to learn more.   I will not be going solo, I will be going with my cousins wife. I am so excited that she is going with me. I will be doing most of the research and we will be getting together to discuss details.  I want to make this a great trip for her and want to make sure she gets to check off her list of things she would like to see while there.

So far I've been checking out airfares (wow! Expensive) and since I am leaning towards renting an apartment vs going the hotel route, I've been checking out various apartment rental agencies.  I have traveled before using VRBO and AirBNB for rentals and have been very satisfied with the process.  Anyway, there are so many choices out there it's overwhelming.  I am thinking I'd like to stay in the 5th or 6th arrondissement so we are pretty central to all the main things. Being this is the first time doing this on our own I have about a million concerns such as, what kind of transportation should we take to get from CDG airport to to the city, train, taxi, or hire a service?  I guess it's mostly the fear of the unknown.

So now that the holidays are over, it is time to start the planning process. First thing to figure out is a date, then a place to stay, then the rest will come later.  A million decisions to be made.  I'm open to any and all advice.  I'd love to hear any Paris experiences or suggestions. I'm going to be documenting the planning process all the way through.  My goal is to help make it easier on those that really have dreamed about going to Paris, but are afraid to plan a trip on their own.

Oh and by the way, Thank you to my new French friend for giving me the push to finally make this happen!! Merci!

Friday, January 1, 2016

And My Favorite Book From 2015 Is..... Big Magic!

No book gave me a feeling this past year like Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert did.
I've never considered myself a creative person, but I love to write. Once I find something to write about, I am in my "zone". Where I stumble is finding something to write about. I always had this big road block in my mind that who really cares about what I have to say. Even though I write basically for myself my hope is that maybe one other person in the universe might like what I have to say.

This is why Big Magic spoke to me. Whatever you passion is, painting, writing, interior decorating, ice skating, or finding passion in your everyday life, you can find those hidden jewels of creativity within yourself. When you do find them-that's big magic.  Elizabeth Gilbert shows us how to dig deep, encouraging like a cheerleader to work hard, practice your craft, and let go of the fear that is holding us back. I honestly am able to let go of the idea that my writing does not have to be perfect, after all I'm not giving up my day least not yet!