Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors at the AGO

"With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved.

In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars. All of us live in the unfathomable mystery and infinitude of the universe."

- Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

I can't remember when I first heard about Yayoi Kusama and her stunning Infinity Mirrors exhibitbut I do know that I've been wanting and trying to see it for years. It has seemed like wherever I have travelled, the show has either just finished or is starting after I leave!

When I heard last year that the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) was going to be hosting this exhibition (the only Canadian city to do so), I've eagerly awaited its arrival. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the media preview of this extraordinary show, which officially opened to members of the public this past weekend to overwhelming demand.

When the AGO opened the booking portal for tickets in January, thousands and thousands of people logged in, waiting for hours to snag a ticket to one of the hottest shows of the year. In three days, the AGO sold an astonishing 30,000 tickets, selling out well before the show opened! One of the most exciting things about this show is that it is drawing attention and a younger audience to the AGO, generating energy and excitement which will hopefully continue into the future attracting more shows like this one. For myself, this show inspired me to buy a membership to the AGO to explore everything the Gallery has to offer and engage in new ways.  

Infinity Mirrors and the dreamworlds they create in six immersive rooms have to be seen in person to get the full effect. Yes, they look beautiful in photos, but are even more dazzling to experience. These worlds were created by Yayoi Kusama, the brilliantly talented 88 year old artist who lives in Tokyo (voluntarily in a mental hospital since 1977), and still actively creates art today.  In addition to experiencing six of Kusama's most iconic works, there are more than 90 paintings (including her early Infinity Net paintings), sculptures, photographs, rare archival materials, and works on paper from the 1950s to current day to see.

In addition to the ticketed exhibit, you can see her 'Narcissus Garden' installation on the second floor (on view from February 24 - April 29, 2018), a beautiful 'garden' made of mirrored balls, which is open to general admission.

Kusama has been creating art and breaking new ground for over 60 years. During her time in New York (between 158 - 1973), Kusama moved in circles with fellow artists Andy Warhol and Allan Kaprow. It was during this time that she began creating her signature polka dot and net designs, transforming them into paintings, soft sculptures, installations, and performance-based art.

The first use of mirrors came with Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field, 1965 (the red-and-white polka dot themed installation), which multiplied and magnified the repetitive effect she was hoping to achieve, transcending physical limitations and creating an immersive experience. 

Kusama was the first woman to have a solo presentation at Venice's Biennale's Japanese Pavilion in 1993, and was named on of the world's most influential people by Time Magazine in 2016.

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkins

Above, the famous 'Kusama pumpkins' can be viewed in her work called All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins. You aren't allowed to take photos while inside the room, but you can when outside the door looking in. You will also be escorted inside with a member of staff. This is apparently due to pumpkins being damaged in previous exhibitions held elsewhere and the art is fragile.

The pumpkins first appeared in some of Kusama’s drawings from the late 1940s and has regularly shown up in her paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations. Her first pumpkin mirrored room was staged in 1991 and later at the 1993 Venice Biennale. The concept of this room is for viewers to be transported into a space which recalls fairytales and fantasy. 

 

Love Forever is a trippy feast for your eyes, allowing up to two viewers to look through small peepholes into this room. Looking inside, you can see yourself in a mirror directly opposite as well as the other viewer, making it feel quite voyeuristic. Kusama was experimenting with new technology when she created this room, which features dazzling lights, patterns and colours which change every few seconds. Her 1966 exhibition featured this work and she distributed buttons with her 'Love Forever' message printed on them. For her, this work stood for civil rights, sexual liberation, and the anti-war movement in the 1960s. 

 

The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away takes you into a world of lights and mirrors resembling a galaxy. Hundreds of LED lights flicker and sparkle while you are inside activating the environment and becoming immersed into the infinite space. It is absolutely breathtaking to experience! I just wish that you could have longer than the allocated 30 seconds to experience it and really take it in. 

 

Phalli’s Field arose from Kusama wanting a new way to create a hallucinatory scene of phallic-like shapes covered in red polka dots. Up until the point this room was created, Kusama had spent much of her time between 1962 and 1964 sewing thousands of stuffed fabric tubes and affixing them to furniture and other objects to create her sculptures; however, this became physically and mentally tiring. Her breakthrough moment came when she began to use mirrors to achieve the repetitive effect she envisioned, transcending her physical limitations, and making it an immersive experience for viewers. 

 

Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity is another mesmerizing world comprised of flickering gold lanterns that seem to go on forever into black infinite space. Kusama's room is a reflection on the experience of death and potential afterlife, recalling the Japanese tradition of toro nagashi, a ceremony which sees paper lanterns float down a river to guide ancestral spirits back to the resting places on the final night of the summer Obon Festival. 

 

Dots Obsession – Love Transformed Into Dots has you enter a large gallery room which has a rosy glow from the large pink polka-dotted balloons hanging from the ceiling and placed around the floor. Near the back of the room, you can enter a room inside one of the balloons, feeling a bit like you are entering a fuschia fairy-tale world. On the other end of the room, you get the opposite experience by peering into a small hole into a dazzling pink infinity mirror room. 

 

The Obliteration Room is the final room of the exhibit. This room invites you to participate in completing the work. Upon entering the stark white room, set up to look like an everyday home with everyday objects, you are handed a sheet of coloured dot stickers and invited to place them anywhere in the room and on objects. I would love to see what this room looks like when the exhibition closes! Kusama's concept of obliteration is to find and create new expression on this white space as the coloured dots invite each visitor to participate on a journey to infinity one dot at a time. 

For each of the mirrored rooms, you will join a line to enter. You may have the opportunity to go in by yourself or with two to four other people. You need to leave your bags just outside the exhibit (watched by AGO staff) and can enter for twenty to thirty seconds depending on the room. The staff have a stopwatch to time each entry and will give a soft knock on the door to let you know when five seconds are left. I wish that you could have more time inside the rooms as they are so dazzling and extraordinary that there just isn't enough time to properly take everything in. But, on the other hand, it forces you to be present and enjoy the moments you do have. 

This extraordinary show is a visual delight, and you are encouraged to share your photos with the hashtag #infinitekusama. Part of the appeal and high demand to see Kusama's show has been driven through photos shared through Instagram. While you can bring your cameras and smartphones, you cannot bring in tripods or selfie sticks. 

There will be a new batch of tickets released by the AGO on Tuesday March 6th at 10am online only. There will also be a very limited number of same-day timed tickets available on-site at the gallery. The show runs from March 3 to May 27, 2018. 

WMW and the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal

I first discovered the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal after walking through the Palais Royal a couple of years ago. I looked it up on Instagram to find that they had a beautiful account that I began to follow, enjoying the regular dose of inspiration from the hotel and its surrounding areas. 

The Grand Hotel du Palais Royal is a small luxury, five star boutique hotel, just a stone’s throw from the Louvre and across the road from the stunning Palais Royal. With interiors designed by by Pierre-Yves Rochon, the hotel is chic and elegant, wrapping you in private luxury from the hustle and bustle outside. It is also part of an 18th century building with aspects of it holding a historical designation, including the facade. Some of the 68 rooms and suites in the hotel have their own balcony with stunning views of Paris and famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. Throughout the hotel, fresh flowers and plants greet you as a nod to the stunning Palais Royal gardens on its doorstep. You can also indulge your senses at the Le Lulli Restaurant, Lounge Bar, and Carita Spa

The Palais Royal area is a fantastic location when visiting Paris due to its proximity to so many of the city's main attractions:

- Famous monuments and sites: Palais Royal with its beautifully landscaped gardens and black and white podiums, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Comédie Française theatre;

- Some of Paris's chicest boutiques, restaurants, brasseries, and cafés, including shops in the covered arcades of Palais Royal, rue Saint Honoré, and Place des Victoires (including Christian Louboutin, Pierre Hardy, Marc Jacobs, and Stella McCartney);

- World-renowned museums, galleries, and art dealers, including the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, and National Museum of Modern Art (Georges Pompidou Centre)

I recently stayed at this beautiful hotel, feeling like royalty from the moment I arrived. An attentive doorman was waiting to open the door to my taxi, sheltering me from the downpour of rain with an umbrella overhead and whisked me inside. Inside, I received a warm welcome from Concierge, who checked me in quickly while also explaining all the amenities and services available. I then had a bellboy guide me to my suite. 

I stayed in the Palais Royal Suite, which took my breath away as soon as the door opened. When you step inside, you are greeted by a plush chaise lounge and small terrace overlooking the courtyard, and a staircase (!) leading up to the rest of the suite. As I walked upstairs, I took in the warm and welcoming bedroom, chic, modern bathroom made of glass and marble, and inviting living room with a walk-out terrace. I actually felt happy that it was stormy outside so that I could change into the cozy bathrobe and relax in my mini palace in the heart of Paris, watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour.

The suite is on the 7th floor and has private access. The view from the living room looks out to the Opera Garnier and Sacre Coeur Basilica, as well as looking over the Palais Royal and street below where you can watch the world go by. 

The jaw-dropping bathroom is all glass, light and marble, with a double sink, deep bathtub with a lovely window view, and separate shower stall. Those who follow me know that high quality toiletries are always a sign of a great hotel, so I was very happy to see that luxurious Atelier Cologne products were provided, as well as the extra thoughtful touches including vanity and dental kits. Make a cup of coffee with your own Nespresso machine and walk out to your private terrace, where you can gaze out to the Eiffel Tower and Louvre. 

After enjoying a delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, Le Lulli, take a stroll into the Palais Royal with its chic black and white-striped podiums and perfectly manicured gardens to enjoy a coffee at one of Paris’s most popular coffee shops, Café Kitsune.

After a day of exploring Paris, pop into the hotel's cozy Lounge Bar for some tea and pastries. Or, enjoy a masterfully mixed cocktail or tasty bite to eat, open from 11am to 11pm. If you're feeling fancy, enjoy the Champagne Bar, where you can choose from over 30 different selections. 

At the Le Lulli Restaurant, which is housed inside a winter garden flooded with light, enjoy exquisite French cuisine by Executive Chef Clement Le Norcy, trained by Michelin Star Head Chefs Francois Adamski and Michel Portos. Le Norcy works with quality, seasonal, regional, and organic products in his creations. For reservations, contact lelulli@ghparis.com or +33 142 96 72 20.

I enjoyed a wonderful hour-long massage at the Carita Spa. Part of the personalized luxury touch was the fact that service can be upon request until late in the evening. After arriving on a Friday evening during a storm after a long week, I rang the Concierge who arranged a massage for later in the evening, which was divine. The Spa features a large Turkish bath, two treatment rooms, a beauty salon (including hairdressing and nail services), and wide menu of services, as well as a fitness room with state-of-the-art exercise equipment and personal training. You can also purchase Carita products and Kure Bazaar nail polish on site. You can also enjoy the services of the Spa if you aren't a guest at the hotel; however, access to the fitness centre and hammam is reserved for the guests of the Carita Spa and Hotel. The Spa is open daily from 9am to 10pm. 

A unique offer by the hotel is to enjoy an exclusive tour of the Palais Royal and learn about its history, including it being the former palace of Cardinal Richelieu (originally built in 1639) and how it became the most important market in Europe in the 18th century. The tour lasts between 1.5 to 2 hours with tea included at the hotel lounge. The price per person is 130 € per person (2 persons minimum, 55 € per additional person).

Additional services offered by the hotel include 24 hour room service, daily turndown service with complimentary water, laundry and dry cleaning services, highly trained 'Clefs d'or' concierge, a business centre, valet services, and complimentary wifi. Multiple languages are spoken by staff including French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. The Concierge can also help you with everything from booking restaurant reservations to theatre tickets to key sights and attractions in Paris - nothing is too much trouble!

 

Getting There:

The hotel is easy to find. If arriving by plane, it takes about 45 minutes from Charles de Gaulle Airport, and 30-45 minutes from Orly Airport. If you arrive via the Eurostar, the hotel can be reached in about 15 - 20 minutes by taxi from the Gard du Nord or by Metro (lines 1 and 7; Palais Royal - Musee de Louvre). From Gare de Lyon, it is about a 10 - 15 minute taxi ride. You can also take the bus via lines 21, 48, 69, 72, or 81. There is also a Velib bike station about 50 metres from the hotel. 

The hotel also offers private transfers, which can be arranged with the concierge team prior to, and during, your arrival.

 

Paris City Guide

Need some more Paris inspiration? Check out some of my favourite things to do in Paris here!

 

 

Source: grandhoteldupalaisroyal

Hotel München Palace

In making my annual Christmas Market visit to a new European city, I stayed at the lovely Hotel München Palace in Munich for part of my stay. This family run, five star boutique hotel is located in the beautiful, upscale Bogenhausen quarter of the city. The hotel is owned by the famous Bavarian restaurateur family Kuffler. This hotel provides a personal touch that focuses on making sure that its guests have a comfortable, warm stay in an exclusive, elegant, and private environment. 

Walking into this hotel for the first time, I was warmly greeted by a sharply dressed doorman and friendly reception staff. The small but warm and inviting contemporary lobby was festively decorated with a large Christmas tree twinkling in the corner with cozy armchairs and sofas to relax in. My first impression of the hotel was that it felt like a well-kept secret in Munich, an exclusive hotel to enjoy in privacy and peace. 

A boutique hotel, the Hotel München Palace has 74 rooms all individually decorated in an elegant, modern style by Kuffler Inn Design. You can choose from a classic single room through to one of the suites in the hotel, including the large and luxurious Presidential Suite for the ultimate in comfort. All of the rooms have parquet flooring, a minibar, safe, a/c, a flatscreen television, a PC connection, and high-speed internet access. 

I had the pleasure of staying in one of the Deluxe Double Rooms. My room was cozy and comfortable, with a lovely homey feeling. Plush furnishings and a comfortable bed with high quality white bed linens envelop you when you tuck in during the night. Beautiful details included parquet flooring, high ceilings, and a marble bathroom. My room had a large window overlooking the interior courtyard, where I enjoyed looking at the Bavarian architecture facing in. My room also had high speed internet and a television with multiple international channels.

Those who follow me know I have a big thing for the toiletries offered by hotels, and is one of the first things I look for. I truly believe that the sign of a quality hotel is the provision of quality brands for its toiletries. So, I was very happy to walk into the bathroom to see luxurious Molton Brown products to enjoy!

Inside the hotel is a Bar, Restaurant, and Garden to enjoy. Breakfast in the morning was a complete joy with a large spread of delicious food to choose from to start your day off right! The Palace restaurant features international cuisine and Bavarian specialties as well as the fantastic breakfast buffet and afternoon tea service. Head into the cozy Palace Bar to enjoy a cocktail, which is a popular meeting spot. The Palace Garden is a wonderful place to enjoy a drink, lunch, or dinner in this oasis in the middle of Munich. 

Feel like relaxing? Indulge in a pampering shower, sauna or steam bath, or get some exercise with the gym's quality equipment, all with access to the rooftop terrace. Even if you don't fancy working out, you can head up to the rooftop terrace to enjoy some beautiful views of the surrounding neighbourhood. 

The hotel also offers various event room facilities for conferences and private events, as well as business suites for meetings up to six people. Other services to enjoy from the hotel is a complimentary minibar, daily newspaper, bicycle rental, 24 hour room service, concierge services, garage parking, limousine service, and shoe shine services. 

Near the hotel, visit the sprawling Englischer Garten, or take in some culture at the Philharmonie and Opera, Villa Stuck Museum, or Prinzregententheater, or see the Friedensengel Monument

Getting into the city centre takes about 15 minutes, which you can access easily by public transport. The subway and bus (Museum line) stops are a few minutes walk from the Hotel, and the city's fairgrounds (Messe and ICM) are a 10 minute drive away. 

Sketch - London's Most Glamorous Place for Afternoon Tea

Sketch has become instantly recognizable due to its iconic art deco-inspired, glamorous pink salon that is an Instagrammers dream. 

Located in Mayfair, Sketch hosts a series of bars and restaurants over two stories in a converted 18th century building. 

The Gallery, designed by India Mahdavi and David Shrigley, is the eponymous room in Sketch that features the afternoon tea, which, in my opinion (and probably many others, considering how busy it gets), is the most glamorous in London! If you're looking for a classic experience in a beautiful room, particularly with a group of girlfriends, this is a perfect place. To note, it is also open for dinner, with creatively styled and interpreted classic dishes. 

 

Sketch London Afternoon Tea

From the moment you arrive at Sketch, the service is impeccable, adding to the luxurious experience you have there. Start by choosing either a classic or Champagne afternoon tea; as you can see above, we went with the Champagne tea! Served in classic Champagne glasses, it automatically ups the glam factor. Sip your champagne slowly while taking in your surroundings, which include 239 pieces of quirky artwork lining the walls by David Shrigley - the largest group of original drawings Shrigley has ever exhibited.  

Start with creative and delicious sandwiches, served on an afternoon tea cake stand, created from stacked cups and saucers. The tastiest ones in my opinion are the coronation chicken, and truffle croque monsieur. If you fancy some more, your server will gladly bring you a refill of your favourites!

But don't forget that you've got fresh scones and cakes to enjoy as well, so don't fill up too much on the sandwiches to save room for the other things! 

You can select from freshly baked, warm plan or sultana scones, served with classic clotted cream and strawberry jam. I went with a classic plain, which was delicious. It was also a nice balance between the savoury sandwiches and sweet cakes. 

The cakes offer a nice balance of flavours, from a citrus tart, to chocolate gateaux, to bubblegum marshmallow knots (very light in flavour so not overpowering), and a delicious cheesecake pudding. 

Sketch London Afternoon Tea
Sketch London Afternoon Tea
Sketch London Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is served between 12:30pm - 4:30pm Mondays through Sundays.

sketch Afternoon Tea as from Monday 13 March:
sketch Classic Afternoon Tea, £58 per person
Champagne Afternoon Tea, £72 per person
Children's Afternoon Tea, £29 per child - including Pat the Bear

 

Oh - and don't forget to make a stop to check out the quirky, beautiful, space-like bathroom pods before you go!

City Break in Paris

I absolutely adore Paris. I know that won’t be earth-shattering because let’s be honest – who doesn’t? One of the things I really love about it is that you can have a different Parisian experience every time you are there – an art focused weekend; girls weekend; romantic weekend; foodie weekend; shopping weekend; or a combo of any of those.

I want to share a few of my current favourite things to do, see, and eat in Paris that hopefully provides some inspiration for you!

Eat

First things first – where are you going to eat?? There are too many wonderful restaurants, cafes, bars, patisseries, and markets to name, so I’m going to share just a few of my current favourite places:

  • Start the day off right with doing as the Parisians do and stop off at a patisserie or boulangerie in the morning and grab a croissant or pastry to go. When I was visiting in the spring, I stayed in the Marais and stumbled across an amazing little bakery called Au Petit Versailles du Marais. Turns out it has been voted as one of the best bakeries in Paris!  It's tiny but wonderful, and regularly wins awards for best bread. I highly recommend their pain au chocolat, as well as one of my favourite pastries, Paris Brest.

 

  • Fish La Boissonnerie is a lovely restaurant in St Germain. I don’t usually do this when travelling, but the food is so good that I usually end up there more than once on a trip to the city of light. The food is seasonal, tasty, and never disappoints. It also has a fresh, regularly changing menu, and brilliant wine menu to boot. Across the street from Boissonnerie is its sister restaurant, Semilla, which is also fantastic though a bit fancier or more upscale. Expect a delicious, seasonal menu and terrific wine as well. 
  • I’m a much bigger tea drinker than coffee drinker, so if you’re with me on that (and even if you aren’t), my absolute favourite tea is Mariage Freres. I discovered it a few years ago and stock up whenever I’m there. My favourite flavours are French Breakfast and Vanille des Iles. There are various locations across Paris, including a few where you can sit in and have afternoon tea. 

 

  • A lovely brunch and coffee spot is called Claus in the Marais, close to the Louvre. It's always busy and I have never organized myself enough to book a table, so I've usually just grabbed some of their lovely pastries to go and eaten them with their coffee on one of the benches in the Louvre square (perfect for people watching and stunning surroundings).  

 

  • My best friend and I went to Le Marie Celeste for the first time together a couple of years ago and LOVED it. Tricky to find (thank goodness for google maps), it’s deep in the Marais, located on a corner, and tiny. It’s also absolutely wonderful. It’s got a young, cool vibe, with a menu to match. The menu is fresh, features seasonal ingredients, and changes regularly. It’s great to go with friends and try various things through small sharing plates. But the real star might just be the incredible cocktails they concoct.

 

  • Bistrot Paul Bert is possibly one of the most traditional French restaurants I’ve visited. Fantastic food but what really stands out in my mind is the dessert course. It may have been the enormous cheese plate they brought to the table (think a large cutting board with big pieces of cheese and a knife to cut off the amounts that you pleased!), the rum cake that came with an entire bottle of rum to pour yourself (incredible!), or the magnificent Paris Brest that I tried for the first time and fell in love.

 

  • If you’re looking for a great quick lunch or snack, pop into the fab food hall at Printemps! I stopped in while shopping on my last visit and sat at the counter of a Spanish tapas vendor enjoying sparkling wine and tapas. Lovely!

 

  • Mama Shelter is an excellent place for cocktails at night and is where cool Parisians hang out.

 

  • I have saved the best for last. Promise me that you will go to L'Eclair de Genie for life changing eclairs? Yes? Ok. Seriously though, these eclairs are out of this world good. There are a few locations now but the one in the Marais is my favourite.

See/Do

There are a million things to do and see in Paris that it would be impossible to list them all – especially as everyone’s interests and tastes vary. If I was to recommend a single thing though, it would be to just wander around the city without a plan and few glances at the map. Perhaps start wandering along the Seine and crisscross over the bridges, such as Pont Alexandre, Pont Marie, Ile Ste Louis, etc.

Here are some of my other favourite places to visit at the moment when I’m there:

  • Check L'Institut du Monde Arabe. Zaha Hadid designed the building, so it is not only stunning to see on its own, but it features an incredible free view on the roof terrace. The café is great to stop for sparkling wine, mint tea, and some baklava too!
  • Visit the parks in Paris as each are unique and beautiful in different ways. The Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes are my favourite parks to wander through.
  • My current favourite museum is the Rodin Museum. Much of the museum is actually outdoors in their beautiful gardens, which is also a favoured location for Dior during Paris Fashion Week.
  • I’ll come right out and say that I'm obsessed with the Eiffel Tower. I think the best place and time to see it is at Trocadero super early in the morning - like 7.30/8ish when there are barely any people around. There's a wonderful little mobile coffee place there where you can grab a cappuccino and enjoy the view before wandering down the Champ du Mars. Alternatively, when it sparkles at night (each hour from twilight to 1am for 10 minutes on the hour each hour).
  • The Place des Vosges is lovely to wander and hang out in, as well as the newly re-opened Palais Royale. Cafe Kitsune is in the Palais Royale, so it’s a great place to grab coffee and sit outdoors when the weather is nice.
  • If you plan to do the Louvre, plan it carefully and have a game plan. It is enormous and overwhelming, so don’t put pressure on yourself to see everything. Do your research beforehand and pick a few things you’d like to see and focus on those areas. The best times to go are early morning when it first opens, or later in the day a couple of hours before closing to avoid crowds.
  • Walk up the steps to the top of the Arc du Triomphe as the 360 view is fab from the centre of Paris!

 

Shop

  • Bon Marche is a must! It’s personally my favourite place to visit and shop when in Paris. They have the best in beauty, contemporary fashion, accessories, and homewares - and the store itself is stunning! While you're there, take a break and stop in at the Rose Bakery inside and have one of their famous carrot cakes and coffee or tea.
  • Printemps is a fun store, though my favourite things about it are the food hall (across the road in a separate building from the main store) and the rooftop terrace where you can enjoy stunning views across Paris free of charge (one of Paris’s best viewpoints and little known to many tourists). There’s a great café up there to enjoy something to eat and drink while overlooking the city.
  • If you're as obsessed with toiletries like I am, you have to visit City Pharma in St Germain. For many in the know, it is an essential pilgrimage and I would happily take the train from London just to stock up. It has the best products, like Caudalie, Avene, La Roche Posay, Klorane, etc, at inexpensive prices. Be forewarned - it gets insanely busy I suggest going early on a weekday morning or later in the evening on a weekday if you can.
  • Shop some of Paris’s local independent shops as well as homegrown talents, such as Isabel Marant.
  • I can’t forget to add Colette to this list, possibly Paris’s coolest shop! You can find Colette and many other wonderful upscale stores to shop along one of Paris's most famous shopping streets, the Rue Saint Honoré.

 

 

Getting To Paris

Paris is easily accessible as a major transportation hub:

In Praise of Slow Travel

I recently shared my article below with the Huffington Post, which you can find here, or below as I wanted to share it with you all here as wel! 

During my travels over the past few months, I have noticed a trend. In today’s connected society and new, impressive devices, smart phones, and DSLRs, we are keen to snap photos and share them on our favourite social media sites. However, while taking in the views of the River Arno in Florence, it quite literally hit me when I was jostled out of the way by a group of 15 nuns on an organised sightseeing tour, who proceeded to reach their smartphones out in succession, snapping photos of the Ponte Vecchio and dashing away to the next sight without taking time to stop and look at it. I realised then that an epidemic of fast-food travel has hit us.

Don’t get me wrong - I love photography and enjoy social media. Photographing new places is a great joy. But over the past year in particular, I have been making a conscious attempt to stop, observe, and take in sights and the world around me first by taking a mental picture. I don’t want to have to recall my trip by having to scroll through my camera phone; I want to be an active participant in the world around me, and remember the experience and memories.

I have also been more consciously observing what others around me are doing. It’s a sea of smartphones snapping photos. People taking more selfies of themselves rather than the sights. Trying to manoeuvre around the masses of selfie sticks waving in the air. At a museum in Florence, I watched a large group of young people on a school trip walking past exhibits filming everything on their smartphones without stopping to read or take in what they were looking at. I saw others taking photos of relics where a sign next to it read to respect the sacred nature of the artefacts in the room.

I wonder how much the people around me are taking in of their experience. Travel should be about using all of your senses to interact with a new place and immersing yourself in the experience, rather than trying to cram in as much as possible to tick things off a list and take hundreds of snaps to post on social media.

The joy of travel comes from learning about a new place, a new culture, new people. On park benches, outdoor cafes, museums, and restaurants, on their own or with others, people are engrossed in their phones rather than their surroundings or company. Last weekend, while sitting in the hotel lounge with an incredible view of the Hong Kong skyline, I was enjoying lunch while taking in the view. A friendly waiter came by to inform me that they did indeed have free wifi, seemingly concerned that I was apparently the only one not using my smartphone and taking selfies with my lunch.

So, I’ve got a proposition for us. Let’s put down the smartphones more, enjoy our surroundings and make memories by being fully present when we’re exploring new places (or everyday life, for that matter). Take in new sights, meet new people. Let’s embrace ‘slow’ travel and observe the world through our own eyes and not just the lens of our camera. Life flies by quickly enough. Let’s slow it down by enjoying the precious holiday time we have by living in the moment in real life and not just on social media. Take the time to breathe, unplug, and enjoy the break that we have worked hard to get. Discard detailed itineraries and go with the flow. In essence, slow travel is the newest old way to travel and a luxury in today’s busy world. 

Exploring London Town

Living in London is never dull. It's chaotic, fascinating, exciting, interesting and never ever a shortage of things to do. I can't believe that there are still so many museums, events, and sights that I need to check out that I haven't seen before, but I'm making my way through exploring the city. Here are a few things I've been doing recently from Instagram - come follow along with me! You can find me on Instagram at @woman.meets.world

Travel Smart: Save and Spend Where It Matters

I truly believe there is no money wasted on travelling. I remember telling this to friends last year, who promptly began to laugh but then stopped and realized I had a point – while also pointing out to me that travel can be really expensive.

Over the past few years, I’ve had lots of people make comments to me about how much I travel, asking how I can do it, have I won the lottery, how much do you earn, the classic ‘must be nice’. It was starting to get to me because at the end of the day, I work hard and travel is something I love to do.

It also got me thinking about travel perceptions, misconceptions, and realities about costs. Yes, travel involves money, but it genuinely does not have to be expensive. Over the years, I’ve picked up various lessons and tips through experience along the way, trial and error, speaking to friends, colleagues, reading websites, blogs, and magazines. I realized that instead of getting upset when I perceived people to be questioning me, why not share how I plan and budget my travel because spending my money effectively and wisely is important to me! It really doesn’t have to be expensive, I promise, and all it involves is a bit of patience and knowing a few tips and tricks. A wonderful trip, long or short, can always be tailored to your budget, priorities, and preference.

 

I believe there are three stages to any trip:

1)      Selecting and Booking Your Destination

2)      Trip Planning Ahead of Departure

3)      While You’re There

 

Part I: Selecting and Booking Your Destination

  • For me, this is often the hardest part because I have such a long list of places I want to visit – where do you even begin?? Sometimes you have somewhere specific in mind, which can be helpful sometimes, such as visiting a friend or event. Sometimes you just want to get away somewhere – anywhere – or want to do a short city break or epic long trip.

 

  • There is one email that I enjoy receiving every Wednesday: Travelzoo’s Hot 20 Travel Picks of the Week. It’s always filled with some great inspiration. Not only are the Top 20 finds that they scour the Internet for great (free to sign up on their website), but they also have great deals that crop up for your local area (e.g., theatre, spa, restaurants). I’ve been using this site for years.

 

 

  • Do you have friends living abroad? Family? That can help you narrow your destination down. Or, just dive into your list and start somewhere when a great deal arises.

 

Flights

  • One of my new favourite apps is Hopper. This great little app helps calculate flight costs with a twist: it helps identify for you with a high degree of accuracy the best time to book your flight. You can put a ‘watch’ on a certain flight route you’re interested in and it will message you with updates if it goes down, up, or to take the plunge and buy now.

 

  • I recently also discovered a site called SkyPicker, which I used for my flight to Stockholm recently. It identified a fare to travel here for the weekend form London for £66 – how to say no to that! It also has a cool feature where you can put in your starting destination and select a radius (e.g., for me, I will pinpoint London and radiate out across Europe to find the best deals available).

 

  • The one site for flight research I always check out is Kayak – especially for planning multi-city trips as it gathers information from a large number of different airlines and websites worldwide and pulls together loads of options to choose from and customise, finding the best deals and combinations to pick from.

 

  • When searching for flights, regardless of website, check the ‘flexible with dates’ box (if you have flexibility). This will show you whether it is cheaper or more expensive to fly in or out a day or so earlier or later. This has definitely been helpful to me in the past.

 

  • Connecting flights can often be cheaper than direct. But, consider the money saved against time lost. There are some connection cities I avoid at all costs – NYC and Chicago airports in particular. I have rarely had a flight to or from these cities that has not been delayed or baggage lost. If this happens, missing your connection can be highly likely, which then cuts into your time, cost, and stress levels. Some cities are extremely efficient at connections though – Munich and Frankfurt in particular. But keep in mind that both of these airports are enormous and you need to be focused in finding your next gate to avoid missing your connection.

 

Hotels

  • Ok, so you’ve secured your flight, let’s work on your accommodation. In many ways, it’s all dependent on where I’m traveling and if I’m going with someone or on my own.

 

  • I have had a lot of luck over the past year with using Priceline – specifically, their Blind Bids or Express Deals. The catch with these is that you can grab a fantastic deal for 4 and 5*plus hotels, but you won’t know what the hotel is until after you complete the purchase. This can feel risky to many people (myself included) because you want to stay somewhere that you’ll feel comfortable and enjoy. But, you can do this using calculated risk:
    • Priceline allows you to select the neighbourhood you are interested in and the star level.
    • What I usually do then is do a google search for the hotels in the city and/or that particular neighbourhood under the star levels I’m interested in to get an idea of what I might secure.
    • Withthe Express Deals, there is a significantly reduced price named; with the Bids, you enter a price, which checks with the hotels to see if they will accept your bid.

 

  • Other sites that I have used are hotels.com, booking.com and Agoda, all of which have found me terrific deals. Agoda is particularly good for finding amazing hotel deals across Asia. 

 

Airbnb

  •  I’ve had terrific luck with Airbnb over the past few years, staying in terrific flats in European cities, such as Paris, Athens, and Rome, as well as beautiful villas in Greece. You can find fab places at customizable prices based on your budget. I’ve never had a problem with the Airbnb properties I’ve stayed in.

 

  • It works by setting up a profile and requesting to stay at a property. The owner has the ability to select who they have stay at their property because understandably, they want someone that will take care of their place too. Read the reviews of the property and do a bit of research on the area, and select where you’d like to stay. Consider factors such as proximity to transit, amenities, and safety.

 

Loyalty Programs

  • A colleague of mine says that no travel should be ‘point-less’ and he’s right. If you are travelling and/or staying with a company that offers a reward program, sign up for it and get the points. You never know what the future holds as you may end up staying with the hotel chain again or flying frequently with the airline (or affiliates, such as Star Alliance or One World). 

 

Check out Part II: Before You Go here

London Life

What else have I been up to since moving to London three weeks ago? Sharing a few of the places I've visited and explored. Follow along as I post on my Instagram at @woman.meets.world - I'd love to get your London recommendations!

Some of my favourite places featured in the photos below:

Three Weeks in London

It's hard to believe that three weeks have already flown by since I've been in London! But, it has been enough time to (re)learn and remember a few key things:

  • Never trust the weather forecast. Not your iPhone weather app or even the BBC. Just use it as guidance because most of the time, it will be wrong. 
  •  On that point, invest in a small umbrella that you can pop into your bag and carry it with you always because you will need it regularly. And carry sunglasses because I can guarantee that if you forget them and just bring your umbrella, or vice versa, it will be bright and sunny.
  • If you want to leave a restaurant or café, ask for the bill because they won't just bring it to you. This was remembered after sitting at various places for ages and wondering when they might bring it by. It’s considered rude for them to bring it unprompted.
  • With the exception of Starbucks, you need to specifically ask for the barista to put milk in your tea when they give it to you for ‘eat in’ or 'takeaway' (not take out), or you will receive it black. Example: if you want a breakfast tea with skim milk, ask for a 'skinny tea'. 
  • All stores close much earlier than Canadian and American stores do so plan ahead!
  • The joys of free newspapers and magazines: Metro in the morning; Evening Standard in the evening; Time Out magazine to let you know of all the happenings in London for the week; Stylist (my personal fave) every Wednesday; and, Shortlist every Thursday.
  • VAT (tax) is included in the price, so you pay what you see on the tag, unlike Canada, where tax is applied afterwards at the till and often a surprise.
  • British "you ok" = Canadian/American "how's it going"/"what's up"/"how are you". This is a hard one to get used to without thinking you are being asked if something is wrong!
  • On that – be prepared for multiple ‘byes’ on the end of telephone conversations!
  • Walk left, stand right. I repeat – walk left, stand right. This might be the most important thing to remember so that you don’t get trampled on the escalators on the tube.
  • Always have your Oyster card to hand when entering and exiting the tube. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person fumbling to find it and disrupting the flow and order of busy Londoners.
  • Check the streets left and right at least two or three times before crossing to make sure you won't get hit by cars coming in directions you aren't used to. Or cyclists for that matter on a mission.
  • How green it is here all year round!
  • The kindness of the Brits and their willingness to assist you - whether it be with suitcases, directions, or generally helping you navigate life here from taxi drivers, to people in banks, to random people in the street, and my lovely new colleagues!
  • How international London is. London is an incredible, frenetic, fascinating, chaotic, energetic, beautiful place to be and it’s easy to see why it attracts people from all over the world.

 

I can’t wait to see what the coming weeks and months bring!!

Recent Travels to Croatia

Was it all just a dream? That's what I'm asking myself today as I ease myself back into everyday routine after returning back from a wonderful holiday spent in Berlin and Dubrovnik. 

This was the first time I have visited Dubrovnik and completely fell in love with it. It is such a special place and the beautiful surroundings, food, culture, and people took my breath away. It was one of those holidays that makes you forget about everything in your everyday life and inspires creativity, introspection and new perspectives on life. In effect, a bit life-changing and I cannot wait to go back again soon! I promise to post photos and my story soon, but I wanted to give a glimpse of some of the beauty I experienced from my recent Instagram posts that I took along the way (find me on Instagram at @woman.meets.world). 

xo Rheanne 

Parisian Architecture

In Toronto (and many places in North America), part of the thrill and appeal of Europe is the history of the buildings - many of which are much much older than our own countries. We live in cities that are very new, not the greatest at preserving heritage buildings, and lots of glass and concrete rectangular buildings which often look alike. 

Wandering around in Paris is a visual feast. Parisian architecture celebrates detail, beauty, and history, as opposed to solely function and efficiency. It also helps that the Parisian light seems ethereal and illuminates the buildings in beautiful ways. At sunset, so many of its buildings seem to glow in the sunlight. When in Paris (or anywhere in Europe to be honest), be sure to look up, down, and all around you as you'll never know what intricate details and surprises you  might find! Below are some of my favourites from my recent trip in April. 

xo Rheanne 

Postcards from Paris: An Ode to the Eiffel Tower in the Springtime

I have a confession to make. I am deeply in love with the Eiffel Tower and I just can't get enough of it. Yes, I realize how much of a tourist that statement makes me sound but I can't help it. I've been to Paris four times now and I often find that it's one of my first stops. I get a rush of excitement when I see it rising above the city. I love it in the morning, noon, and night. I adore it in the evening the most when it sparkles and glimmers - absolutely magical. Once it starts sparkling at the top of the hour for a few minutes during the evening, there are always people around who gasp and adore in its brilliance. I have heard more than one French person exclaim, "Ooh la la!", which to someone who is not French is fantastic! Its intricate details, its curves, its romantic design....it's no wonder it has become a worldwide symbol for Paris. There is something that draws people to it and can gaze at it for ages. 

I hadn't ever seen it just after sunrise in the early morning hours, so I made it my mission this time to do that. I went early on a Monday morning before the crowds had appeared and when the spring sunlight was hazy and glowing. This is my ode to the Eiffel Tower through photos and I hope you like it! 

 

xo Rheanne 

Postcards from Paris: Place des Vosges

On my first morning in Paris, fresh off an overnight flight from Toronto and desperate to stay awake and beat jet lag, I took a walk around the Marais after dropping off my bags at my apartment. Having left Canada in snow flurries, the bright blue skies and 20 degree temperatures felt invigorating! I grabbed a tea from my favourite tea institution, Mariage Freres, and a sandwich and began walking to Place des Vosges to have a picnic. As this was one of the first nice days in Paris this spring, I think the rest of Paris had the same idea! Although the lawn was packed with people, it was lovely to see everyone outside enjoying the beautiful weather in high spirits.