Wednesday, January 28, 2015

3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Deuxième Partie

We were warned about the massive crowds an Versailles, so we woke up our first morning in Paris extremely early in order to catch an early train and make it to the Palace before it opened at nine am. 

Getting to Versailles was very easy; We bought our RER C tickets at the station that morning (to and from Versailles Rive Gauche) which were 4,10 Euros one way. Once off the train, we followed the signs to Château de Versaille until we came upon the pretty gates below.

Imagine our surprise when we found the place totally empty! We would have probably been 8th in line to enter the Palace at nine am but because we had bought the Paris Museum Pass we skipped it entirely and made our way to the courtyard. 

We plugged in our earphones and followed Rick Steve's Versailles audiotour as we walked through the Palace. 

Managed the awesome feat of capturing a picture in the Hall of Mirrors that is not crammed full of unknown tourists. Traveling in the low season definitively has it's perks!

The Queen's Grand Apartments
Unfortunately traveling in late November also has it's drawbacks. The sky looked grey and gloomy all during our stay in Paris and Versailles was no exception. In addition because of the season, the fountains were all turned off or undergoing repairs, the garden statues were wrapped in tarp, most of the trees had no leaves and we didn't see a single flower.

On a positive note, in addition to it being fairly deserted, we did get to see some splendid fall colors in the gardens! We grabbed lunch off the only open food kiosk (Right before the canal, right by the bike rental shop) and sat on one of the benches by the canal to eat. From there, we walked through a pretty trail for about 30 minutes until we reached the Grand Trianon.

Grand Trianon
Grand Trianon
I could close my eyes and imagine walking up to this view every morning @ Grand Trianon
The French Pavilion @ Petit Trianon,Versailles. 
Petit Trainon
We then wandered around the huge lawns until we found the Queen's Hamlet. Although they were closed for the season and we couldn't go inside, we enjoyed walking around this little village which seem plucked out of a children s fairy tale.

Temple of love @ Versailles
On our way back we stopped by the " Temple of Love" before heading back to the Petit Trianon, where we hopped on a trolley back the Palace. By then it was three in the afternoon, we had spent 6 hours exploring Versailles. It was time to get back to the city in order to climb the Eiffel tower before sundown.

The weather was not in our favor, it was extremely cloudy by the time we made it back to Paris, so cloudy in fact that the top of the Eiffel Tower was lost up invisible among the clouds. We postponed our visit until the next day, glad that we had not bought tickets in advance. At the suggestion of the Rick Steve's guidebook we settled on Le Bosquet for an early dinner. Highlight of the meal: the escargot... it was so delicious, I ended up ordering it again.

After dinner, we hopped on the Metro and made it to the Louvre around six pm (On Wednesdays the the muesum has extended hours until ten pm).  We popped in our earphones again, this time to enjoy Rick Steve's Louvre Audiotour, which took us through the highlights of the museum.

It was right around here where we stumbled across one of our good friends from college. What are the odds of running across someone relatively close to you, all the way in Paris in the biggest museum ever?

Yes, it really is a lot smaller than you imagine it to be. 

At closing we raced around so Tomas could fulfill his DaVinci Code wish of seeing the inverted pyramid.

We had agreed to meet our friends at the entrance of the museum at closing and together we walked the blocks to Le Nemours, a charming little café with views of Place Colette. It was a nice place to sit outside people watch and indulge in a post-museum drink(s!). I learned afterwards that the café was the sight for the opening scene of Angelina Jolie’s “the Tourist”. We wrapped things up around midnight, exhausted after a very busy 18 hour day!

Read about the rest of our time in Paris:
3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Première Partie - Arc de Triomphe & Champs Elysee
3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Troisième Partie - Old Paris, Les Invalides & the Eiffel Tower
3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Quatrième Partie - Montmarte & Musée d'Orsay

Monday, January 26, 2015

Free Dresser turned Fabulous Media Cabinet

We received this dresser as a gift a couple of weeks before we closed on the house and it has lived in the "Nursery" every since we moved in. We spent the first 11 months in the house without a TV in the house and when we finally bought one, we put it on the coffee table in the Family room for the time being. Time being turned into more than a couple of months, when  I remembered the lonely dresser upstairs and thought that with a little TLC it would be a great solution. 

The cabinet was an unfortunate yellowish laminate, had some chunks off the top and had packing tape residue all over.!
First step was taking the dresser downstairs (a project in and of itself since that thing is HEAVY!) and placing it in the middle of our project area. I decided to paint it in the middle of the family because it was way to much of a hassle to get it outside the house and have to cross our fingers that it didn't rain for a week.

I covered the floor and all the furniture with dropcloths and placed the dresser in the middle of the room. First, I filled in every big scratch or deep gouge with wood filler, that dried out while I scrubbed every nook and cranny of the piece. 

After that I mostly followed LiveLoveDIY's tutorial on how to paint laminate furniture, starting with a 2 coats of Zinsser primer . I chose to paint it with Behr's Ultra White (semi gloss finish) since if I ever decide to paint the kitchen cabinet the would go in that color as well.

How it looked after 2 coats of primer... 
I decided to seal it with Minwax soft wax (wax it on, wait 30 min then buff it out with a clean rag) I had at hand rather than using some Minwax Poly as the tutorial recommended .The mercury glass pulls I scored at Hobby Lobby for 50% off, were the finishing touch. From free to fabulous in under $50! (Only had to buy the primer, paint and pulls)

and here it is in all it's Christmas glory (and in a really bad cel picture!)

 I promise you'll all get to see new pictures of the house in a few weeks :)

Friday, January 23, 2015

3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Première Partie

Paris was our first stop on our two week jaunt around Europe. Our flight arrived in Roissy - Charles De Gaulle around 2pm and we quickly found our way to the Tourist Information Desk, at Terminal 1 to purchase a 4 Day Paris Museum Pass. 

If you are planning a trip to Paris soon and are interested in visiting some of it's iconic sights, I would definitively recommend purchasing a Paris Museum Pass. the Paris Museum Pass will not only save you money but it will also allows you to skip the line at some of the attractions. We were spending 3.5 days in the city so the 4 day Paris Museum Pass (with a price of 56  per person) was a great fit. Before the trip I listed out the attractions covered in the pass that we thought we'd visit during our time in the city to make sure that the savings were worth it. 

Here are some of the attraction we had planned to visit:
Per person (Euro)
Arc de Triomphe9.5
Musee du Lourve 12
Musee d'Orsay 9
Sainte Chapelle 8.5
Notre Dame 8.5
Versailles 18
Les Invalides Musee de l'Armee 9.5
Conciergerie 8.5
Add up to...83.5

Bought individually the entrance fees to these attractions would have cost us 83.5€ per person.With the 4 day Paris Pass, we saved 55€ and skipped what little lines we saw at the sights.
At the Tourist Information Desk we also purchased 2 carnet, a pack of 10 train tickets. Each individual 1 one way Metro ticket is 1,70€ , you can save almost 5€ by purchasing a carnet, which is a pack of 10 tickets for 13,70€. These tickets are valid for travel to any metro train station or to any RER station within Central Paris, including any necessary changes of line as long as you don't exit the Metro/RER system. Unfortunately the train ride from the airport to the city is not considered as a ride within Central Paris so we paid for those additionally as well.
Paris Museum Pass in hand along with 2 Paris Metro "carnets" and train tickets from the airport, we followed the signs to the airport train station. Even at the airport train station we saw some pickpockets and there we some on the ride into the city as well. We stopped at Gare de Nord which was supposed to be 15 minutes walking distance from our hotel. We circled the block around our hotel for almost an hour, until we finally saw our hotel.

Our hotel, BEST WESTERN Hôtel Faubourg Saint-Martin is within 15 minute walking distance form both Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est and is between two Metro stations. Although the room was tiny (as expected in Paris) it was comfortable and modern. Our hotel rate included breakfast, which we enjoyed every morning before venturing out into the city.

We checked in at the hotel, dropped our bags in the room and sprinted out to explore the city, our first stop being Arc de Triomphe. It was a great place to start our tour of the city since it would give us a great view of the Eiffel Tower and a great starting point to the Champs-Elysee.

We arrived at Arc de Triomphe just as the night was settling in but we were bursting with energy. The way to the top is through a looonnnggg winding staircase, one of those in which you really don't want to look down.

 We arrived a couple of minutes before 6pm, which means that our first view of the Eiffel Tower was of it all dressed up in it's lighting splendor.

From the top of the Arc de Triomphe we had a wonderful view of Champs Elysee and the La Grande Roue (big ferris wheel). 

After admiring the view for a while we made our way down the Arc and walked along Champs Elysee following Rick Steve's. We had our first taste of Laduree macarons, when we stopped at their Champs Elysee location and saw that there was no line at all! Along our walk, we came across Paris' Winter Market in full swing. Unfortunately, we have no pictures of this as we had our had our hands full of "chaud vin" (Hot wine) and yummy food. There were tons of people locals and tourists alike, enjoying the festive cheer in the air.

We stopped at Concorde to catch our breath before walking back down Champs Elysee. We detoured a bit, walked along the Seine down from Concorde to Pont Alexander III to catch another glimpse of the Eiffel Tower before calling it a night. It was a wonderful end to our first night in the City of Lights.

Read about the rest of our time in Paris:
3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Deuxième Partie - Versailles & the Louvre
3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Troisième Partie - Old Paris, Les Invalides & the Eiffel Tower
3 Day Getaway: Paris - La Quatrième Partie - Montmarte & Musée d'Orsay

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2 Weeks in Europe in November:The Plan

Tomas & I, spent two weeks over the Thanksgiving holidays traveling around western Europe,

We booked our flight there a whole 9 months before the trip but cemented our plans just a few months before. During the next few weeks, you'll see a series of post of what our 3 Day getaways in each of the cities was.

Our itinerary was easy; I really wanted to go to Paris, Tomas really wanted to go to Barcelona and we both really wanted to go to London; I stuck in Bruges and Amsterdam on a whim at the last minute. At the end it looked like this...

Paris, France - 3.5 Days
Bruges, Belgium  - 1 Day
Amsterdam, Netherlands - 1 Day
London, England - 3 Days
Barcelona, Spain - 3 Days

But I wish I could say that was all. The type A person in me could not leave this trip to chance. I created a much more elaborate schedule for our time in Paris and London.

The carefully planned 3 Day itinerary for Paris:

Day 1 
PM - Arc du Triomphe & Champs-Elysee

Day 2
AM - Versailles 
PM - Lourve

Day 3
AM - Rick Steve's Historic Paris Walk ( Ile de la Cité, Notre-Dame, the Latin Quarter, and Sainte-Chapelle)
PM - Les Invalides & the Eiffel Tower

Day 4
AM - Rick Steve's Montmatre Walk
PM - Musee d'Orsay

Morning: Follow Rick Steve's book's Montmarte walk
Catch the RER suburban train by 8:00 to arrive early at Versailles (before it opens at 9:00) and tour the palace’s interior.
Morning: Follow my guidebook's "Historic Paris" walk, featuring Ile de la Cité, Notre-Dame, the Latin Quarter, and Sainte-Chapelle.
Grounds at Versailles
Army Museum
Midday: Tour the Orsay Museum.
Visit Champs-Elysées then follow Rick Steve's Champs-Elysées walk from the Arc de Triomphe down the grand Avenue des Champs-Elysées to Tuileries Garden 
and then back
Supposed to see Eiffel Tower, it was too cloudy so we walked around Rue Cler instead before heading to the LourveEnjoy the Trocadéro scene and a twilight ride up the Eiffel Tower.

6:30pm Train To Brugges
7pm*Stops at Laduree and Angelina
Dinner at Chateuabruiand
Arrive in Brugges
10pmWalked to City Center
11pmHotel :Best Western Hotel FaubourgHotel :Best Western Hotel FaubourgHotel :Best Western Hotel Faubourg

and for London. the rest of the trip we figured we'd just wing it!

Day 1 
AM -  Buckingham Palace/Changing of the Guards & Westminster Abbey
PM - Chruchhill War Rooms, London Eye & Parliament

Day 2
AM - Tower of London
PM - Rick Steve's Bankside Walk and City Walk to St. Paul's Cathedral & Covent Garden w/ West End show

Day 3
AM - British Library 
PM - British Musuem

9Arrive @ Liverpool
Tower of London
11Changing of the guard-Buckingham Palace
British Library & British Museum
12Westminster Abbey
Churchill War Rooms
Rick Steves's Bankside Walk and City Walk to St. Pauls
5pmTrain to Gatwick
6pmLondon EyeDinner @ Covent Garden
West End Show
8pm8:45 Flight to BCN
11pmMercure London GreenwichMercure London GreenwichMercure London Greenwich

We had some pretty big ambition on what we were going to be able to do in such a short period of time and I'm glad to report that we did it all and then some!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Putting Up Some More Frames

Two years ago we visited Italy on our honeymoon during which in Piazza Navona, I fell in love with the work of this one artist. These six paintings are my favorite souvenir from the trip but I totally forgot I had them them so they sat collecting dust in the back of my closet. 

Having breakfast one day, inspiration struck! The wall by the laundry door in the breakfast nook would be the perfect place to exhibit these pretty paintings. 6 paintings 4 to be placed horizontally, 2 vertically, now I had to figure out the best placement.

I decided on using a grid pattern for placing the frames in two neat rows. I cut out tissue paper in the shapes of the frames and used two strips of blue painters tape as a way of separating the frames. I used Command Picture Hanging Strips, instead of making tons of holes in the wall. 

I placed the first frame and then freaked out! The wall looked like this for
more than four months until I mustered up the courage to finish.

Four months later and I had finally put all the frames up!

Finished product

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Bucket List 2015 Edition

Happy New Year all the way from Siem Reap in Cambodia! We have been having a blast on our trip to Southeast Asia

A new year means new plans! If 2014 was all about travel & adventure (We visited 8 new states and 8 new countries!), 2015 will be all about Improvement, both of our current home and of ourselves. Other than two trips to Puerto Rico this year, we currently don't have any other travel plans for 2015, so we'll have a chance to spend some time knocking off some other things off the list.

Travel - US
  1. Sit in Lincoln Memorial steps in Washington D.C (April 2013)
  2. Swim on a beach in Hawaii
  3. Check out Natural History Museum in NYC (Sept 2012)
  4. See the Grand Canyon while visiting Vegas
  5. Visit Graceland in Memphis (Jan 2014)
  6. See the Northern Lights while in Alaska
  7. See Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
  8. Drink around the World at Epcot in Florida (May 2013)
  9. Take a Big American Roadtrip
  10. Drive through the mansions in Charleston, NC
  11. Ride up the Space Needle in Seattle
  12. Stay overnight in a Smoky Mountains cabin
  13. Take a picture at The Bean in Chicago (Oct 2012)
  14. See Mt.Rushmore in South Dakota
  15. See the fishes at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta
  16. Take a scenic drive in Colorado (Aug 2013)
  17. See Old Faithful at Yosemite National Park
  18. Do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
  19. Walk Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco ((Nov 2012)
  20. Ride the Lady of the Lake at Niagara Falls
  21. Drive through the lighthouses in Maine
  22. Go to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis (Jan 2014)
  23. Stroll the French Quarter iin New Orleans (Jan 2014)
  24. Visit all 50 States (29 Left) before we turn 30
  25. Visit 20 different zoos (7 down; Houston, Bronx, SLC, Cincinnati, Columbus, Denver,San Francisco)

Travel - International
  1. Visit Prague, Czech Republic Vienna, Austria & Budapest,Hungary
  2. Walk the streets of Jerusalem
  3. Walk through Angkor Wat in Cambodia (Dec 2014)
  4. Walk the grounds of Chichen Itza in Mexico (May 2014)
  5. Snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef & visit the Sydney Opera House
  6. Admire “Birth of Venus” in Florence (Jun 2012)
  7. Visit Alhambra in Granada, Spain
  8. Celebrate Carnaval in Brazil
  9. Drink Limoncello in Amalfi (Jun 2012)
  10. Travel around  Russia (St.Petersburg & Moscow)
  11. Visit Taj Mahal in India
  12. Cruise Halong Bay in Vietnam (Dec 2014)
  13. Drink some wine in Portugal
  14. Walk the streets of Montreal
  15. Stay in a water villa in the Maldives
  16. Visit the Acropolis in Athens, Greece (June 2012)
  17. Go to the Haga Sophia in Istanbul (June 2012)
  18. Ride a  camel in Egypt and visit Petra in Jordan
  19. Walk through the Red Light District of Amsterdam (Nov 2014)
  20. Get lost in the streets of Bangkok (Jan 2015)
  21. Marvel at the Machu Picchu in Peru
  22. Walk the Great Wall of China
  23. Ride a gondola in Venice (June 2012)
  24. Visit the Colosseum in Rome(June 2012)
  25. Visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany
  26. See big cats while on an African Safari
  27. Try to make a British soldier laugh in London (Nov 2014)
  28. Kiss on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (Nov 2014)
  29. Set foot on all 7 Continents (3/7)
  30. Visit 50 countries by age 50 (13/50; 8 in 2014)

  1. Get Married
  2. Buy a House (Feb 2013)
  3. Furnish a House
  4. Sell a House
  5. Have Children
  6. Raise happy & healthy children
  7. Get another dog (Gnocchi/Feb2013)
  8. Celebrate our 25th year Anniversary by reliving our honeymoon
  9. Meet our grandchildren
  10. Plant a herb garden
  11. Plant a tree and watch it grow
  12. Mentor someone at work
  13. Volunteer at a charity we are passionate about
  14. Start a scholarship fund
  15. Get a Masters Degree
  16. Learn a third Language
  17. Coach a Little League team/Boy Scout troop
  18. Write & Publish a Book
  19. Write a Blog
  20. Be able to Retire before 60

  1. Go skiing/snowboarding
  2. Go surfing
  3. Run a 5k
  4. Run a 10k
  5. Run a half-marathon
  6. Complete a marathon
  7. Learn to play golf
  8. Get scuba certified
  9. Brew our own beer (Sept 2013)
  10. Go on a rainforest canopy tour
  11. Go to a Turkish Bath (Jun 2012)
  12. Break a Guinness World Record
  13. Go on a hot air balloon ride
  14. Take up hiking
  15. Go whale watching
  16. Swim with dolphins
  17. Take a ballroom dancing class
  18. Take a photography class
  19. Take cooking classes (Jan 2014)
  20. Learn to play Piano/Saxophone/Conga
  21. Attend a Broadway Play
  22. Attend all Cirque de Soliel performances
  23. Attend a Super Bowl
  24. Attend a Summer Olympics
  25. Attend World Series

34/100 = We crossed 10 off in 2014, that's not bad!

What do you have on your bucket list? Any suggestions of things we should add to ours?