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Recent Travel Articles

Guest Post: Great Experience Renting a Paris Apartment Using AirBnB

Editor’s Note: Over the past year I’ve become a fan on AirBnb, the service that allows guest to find rooms and properties in 192 countries. I had a positive experience using them in San Francisco, and my friend, Mike, used them to find an apartment in Paris over the summer. When he sent me a photo of his rental and I noticed a lamp I have in my own living room at home, I asked him to write us his experience as a guest post for the blog. Hope you enjoy the read- Jen

Last year, Jen asked me to write about my experiences traveling to London and Paris with my family – wherein we found accommodations in professionally-managed private and corporate apartments.

This summer, our family returned to Paris for an 11-day visit. Our daughter, now 8 years old, was scheduled for one week of “French camp” at a school in the 16th arrondissement; we wanted to find an apartment within easy commuting distance, but which was also situated in a lively, active neighborhood. These constraints ruled out our preferred Parisian apartment service (Guest Apartment Paris) because the journey from their apartments to the camp would have required 35-40 minutes each morning and afternoon. Conversely, Parisian friends advised against staying close to the school in the 16th, which they deemed too conservative, sleepy and staid.

Detail of a few art pieces in the living room

I started searching anew for rental apartments on VRBO, and found myself once again disappointed by their limited search options, opaque pricing/availability details, and woefully bad photos. Not a thing had changed since I had considered using that service four years ago… Aside from the presence of a spunky new competitor to consider: Airbnb.

I had heard about Airbnb since it launched in late 2008, but never had reason to explore its offerings. Its youth serves it well, as the site feels modern and is intuitive to navigate. Click on “Paris” on the front page and you’re presented with various neighborhoods, tagged by areas of interest. Alternately, you can click on “All Listings” and filter to your heart’s content: Lodging type, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, price range, neighborhood, and targeted amenities. Airbnb search listings feature a live-updating map, showing approximate locations of filtered properties, so you can more easily target a specific corner of a neighborhood or access to a métro (subway) line.

Individual listings on Airbnb are generally very impressive. They use a standard rubric for presenting information, the photos are usually very high quality (Airbnb sends photographers to assist property owners with this), maps and street view are available so you can get a feel for the neighborhood, and a calendar of availability is maintained (sometimes slightly out of date, but better than I’ve found on VRBO). Each listing has a bookings feature that will give you an accurate price for the dates of your intended stay – so you don’t have to negotiate that later on with the owner.

Panorama of the living room

Using their search interface, I quickly narrowed down my search to 3 properties. I sent in requests to all 3 owners for our intended dates. The first to confirm definite availability was the one we booked. The apartment we landed at was a great find – just 2 minutes from a metro station, and 5 minutes by foot to the Seine. We were steps away from the Champs-Elysees, and just two blocks from a grocery store. Amenities in the apartment were everything we needed (washer/dryer, dishwasher, full kitchen, wifi, computer/printer, cable TV, DVD player). The decor was lovely, including tasteful furniture and intriguing art. It was situated on an interior courtyard, making the apartment incredibly quiet and protected from the noise of the city and streets. The stated square footage was over 1900 square feet for 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, an office/gym, and large living room. Best yet: We had all of this for $400 per night – the cost of an entry-level shoebox-sized bedroom in most of the city’s brand-name and boutique hotels.

Airbnb takes great steps to increase confidence and trust between property owners and the renters. They verify mobile phone numbers on both sides, encourage linking your profile to “real-life” networks like Facebook and LinkedIn (to show that you’re a real person), and can even offer Verified IDs to those who send in scans of documents like driver licenses or passports. Also, Airbnb renters pay fees directly to AirBnb, which holds funds until one day after you check in. You don’t have to deal with odd forms of payment (wire transfers, money orders) to complete strangers, and you don’t lose out on your money if the listing was false or misleading.

We were blown away by the ease-of-use and the transparency offered by Airbnb. It put our family at ease and made our stay in Paris a true delight.

Panorama of the courtyard outside the apartment

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Guest Post Series: Pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago, Part II

Editor’s Note: My friend, Manila-based producer Tanya Yuson just finished a 100 km pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago in Spain. I asked her to share her experiences here on the blog as a series of guest posts. Today’s is filled with the muscle pain realness, more gorgeous scenery from the Spanish countryside and the goodness of Nutella. You can read part 1 here. You can follow Tanya’s pictures on Instagram where she’s @TYPIX. – Jen

Day 3 – Palas de Rei to Melide

Our first “easy day”. We are supposed to only do 14km and at the end of the walk will be the best Pulpo de Gallega for lunch. After our 24.8km the day before all we want to do is go downhill.

Breakfast at the Pension Palas is quite a spread! It only lacks an omelette station. But for 5 Euro you can toast croissants, brioche or the spectacular Galician bread. According to our innkeeper, the best Galician bread is from Palas de Rei. Chorizo, queso, a basket of delicious fruit and some delicious cafe con leche with the milk steamed and ready to be poured. There is also a homemade almond cake as well as cereal and yogurt. The capper- a huge jar of local honey and an even bigger jar of the Spanish Nutella.

Tip: spreading Nutella on just toasted Galician bread and a sip of cafe con leche= heaven!

Fortified, we set off. In the plaza we meet the ladies from Canada who are traveling the camino together. One of them in her sporty wheelchair- outfitted with treads for cross country. We saw them navigate the rocky paths on the way to Palas de Rei and they are pretty much rock stars.

The short walk is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. Especially for a group of novice walkers who grew up in a tropical country, where the only hills we navigate are by car. We know enough not to make it a competition- just like a yoga class. But you can’t help being pushed to walk further by the sight of 3 older gentlemen ahead of you chatting and singing like they were at a pub instead of hiking up a steep hill.

Speaking of which- it turns our day isn’t as easy as we thought it would be. We end up reaching Melide at 3pm. Hot, tired and cranky because we are starving. We head to A’ Garanacha for Pulpo and pimentos and a bottle of Albirino. We’re still exhausted from the climbs and the heat but they were right about the Pulpo being amazing. Who knew Octopus could be so tender. Also why is a place that seems far away from the coast famous for Octopus? Matters to google later.

We get to the Hotel Carlos where we are met by Luis- the manager who runs the place while his father cooks fantastic Galician food and his mother is front of house for their dining room. It has been a good food day and dinner was no exception. Callos that we’re so flavorful, we all had to stop ourselves from drinking the bowl and Merluza a la cazuela. Fish with clams and peas baked in a clay dish.

It was almost enough to make us forget that we trekked 15km before lunch. Our sore legs would remind us of it though as we limped off to bed.

Day 4 Melide to Arzua

Learning from our mistake of waiting until 3pm to eat lunch the previous day to disastrous results – we resolve to try to cover as much ground as we can in the morning and break for lunch at around 1pm.  This will make for less grouchy pilgrims.

After a hearty breakfast, we set off  to pick up the Camino from the north side of the city. We feel especially refreshed because we all had our laundry done for a reasonable 12 Euro. Freshly washed clothes never felt so good. This is one of the lessons of the Camino – you learn to appreciate and watch out for the little things both good and bad. Newly laundered gear and ice cubes in your water bladder = good. A tweaky pain in the side of my leg = not so good. At first I think it’s because I haven’t stretched enough so I try to go at an easier pace so I can warm my legs up some more. After a bit though I have to sit down and take a break. Triage is massaging my leg with some liniment and taking the ibuprofen I forgot to take at breakfast.  To rest is good, but in my head I know that the more we keep moving, the sooner we get to our destination. My leg feels a hundred times better after the massage and the meds, and after finding a stretch that works out the kinks, I am good to go. What a difference to walk without any pain – yet another lesson learned on this Camino.

A good thing too that the pain is gone, as the last bit of ground to cover before our next destination is climbing Mt. Sophia. Unlike Palas de Rei – this is a pretty steep hill with none of the magical treecover that we so look forward to as it shades us from the unrelenting Galician sun. It’s October but it still feels like summer sometimes.  We reach Arzua and have to sit down to rest, though we are a scant 500 meters from our hotel for the night. We eventually get there and I do a proper stretch before we go down to eat. The surprise at dinner is a group of German pilgrims break into song complete with harmonies. I can’t tell what the song is about but all of a sudden it feels like Christmas.

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Chinese Destination Wedding Photos in Sydney: a Photo Essay

Chinese Wedding Photos in front of the Sydney Opera House

On my recent trip to Sydney I learned it’s a thing for Chinese couples to forget the destination wedding ceremony and instead opt for at trip and destination wedding photo shoot in sunny and scenic Sydney.

My Deluxe Opera view room at the Park Hyatt Sydney had a killer view of the Sydney Opera House and seemingly never ending parade of Chinese brides and grooms in rented (or “hired”as they say Down Under ) dresses and tuxes kissing and posing in various degrees of awkward.

Hipstamatic Chinese Groom + Bride in Sydney

I spent a little time researching on the Google and found there is a whole industry dedicated to the Chinese bridal market in Sydney. This niche market has everything from rental houses who will provide Chinese brides with selection of the latest in wedding dresses and accessories (note: poufy seems to be in vogue for Chinese brides),  to a team of hair and makeup people who specialize in Asian makeup, and tux rental. 

Thoughtful Posing in front of the Sydney Opera House

Many photographers charge by the hour and will photographing Chinese wedding couples in front of all of Sydney’s postcard worthy landmarks including: The Sydney Opera House, The Harbour Bridge, The Royal Botanic Gardens, The Rocks, and Circular Quay.

This photographer was getting edgy and mixing things up by making the Chinese groom pose with the bouquet.

The bride’s dress was too long, and the “lift up your bride” situation did not end well

Brides and grooms always make me smile with their optimism and joy. It was nice to see how good wishes for newlyweds transcended language barriers as passersby wished the newlyweds well.

Adorkable Chinese Bride in Sydney (hipstamatic)

Now I’m wondering if these couples opt for a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony at home. If you know, please let me know in the comments section.

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My Favorite Brunch In New York City: Union Square Cafe

Cheers to Brunch at the Bar at Union Square Cafe

Last Saturday I had  an exceptional brunch at the Union Square Cafe in New York City. It was so memorable, I’ve thought about it every day since.

It’s always fun to re-visit your old college town as an adult, and in my case that is NYC. The Union Square Cafe is just around the corner from the dorm I lived in my second year at NYU and I recall looking at it’s glowing lights longingly during my salad days. Last week my husband and I popped in for brunch. I know for sure we’ll be back again.

Cheers to Krug at Brunch

I’m a big fan of dining at the bar and since we didn’t have reservations, that’s what I did. My server (I believe her name was Christine) was fantastic– knowledgeable, upbeat, and good offering suggestions when asked a question. Anyone who thinks New Yorkers are rude hasn’t eating that the Union Square Cafe.  We had a lovely conversation with fellow diners at the bar as well. For a restaurant that’s constantly winning James Beard awards and named on Top 10 Brunch Spots in New York lists, the service is refreshingly devoid of attitude.

The first thing that caught my eye on the menu was a half-bottle of Krug for $64 which is less than it is to buy a bottle at a wine shop. I ordered a half bottle and had a feeling I’d be enjoying myself.

Tuna Crudo @UnionSquareCafe

Executive Chef & Partner Carmen Quagliata focuses on seasonal American cuisine with California and Italian influences, so there was more than enough to pick from on the  brunch menu.

I started with the seared yellowfin tuna crudo ($17). Prepared with late harvest olive oil, capers, celery and lemon. Yum! The Greenmarket Heirloom tomato salad made with herbed goat cheese ($16) was also delicious although a tad heavy on the olive oil for my taste.

Nettle Tagliarini with mushroom ragu and poached egg

The Summer Bean-Octopus salad with pesto vinaigrette was satisfying and delicious. The standout among standouts was the special pasta– a homemade Nettle Tagliarini with Mushroom ragu and and a poached egg ($24) was indulgent and paired nicely with the Krug. If you’re really going crazy you can get order it with the white truffle supplement for $45.

Strawberry-Nectarine Crisp with honey vanilla ice cream

I’m not usually the sort of person who orders dessert at brunch, but I felt compelled to check out the menu completely. The strawberry-nectarine crisp was as delicious as one might expect ($9.50).

The lemon infused Tito’s Vodka made for a delicious Martini

If Champagne’s not your thing the cocktail list is great too. They infuse Tito’s Vodka with lemon zest sangria-style, which is cool.

I loved the relax and approachable atmosphere at the Union Square Cafe

Union Square Cafe is open for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 11 am- 2:30 pm.

Union Square Cafe

21 East 16th Street (between Union Square West and 5th Avenue)

New York, NY 10003

(212) 243-4020

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Check out my Glamping HipStop Piece in the October 2013 Foodie Issue of SNAP

The Dining Pavilion at Moonlight Camp

I’m very excited that my glamping story about chef Dale Levitski’s Last Best Supper at The Resort at Paws Up is featured in the new October 2013 Foodie issue of Snap Magazine. Snap is a digital magazine that explores global guide culture, music, travel, food and trends. Shooting this story with Hipstamatic’s Oggl app was really fun and, truth be told, a bit challenging during the cattle drive. Fortunately my horse Colorado was a real pro and didn’t mind when I paused for a few photo opps.

You don’t need to use Hipstamatic or theOggl app to check out Snap– you can also read it online here.  The images in the magazine are stunning and I’m honored to have mine featured the the Foodie Issue, along with some other great food porn (including some rather photogenic pisco sours).

The October 2013 Foodie Issue of Snap features a foodporn cover shot by David Loftus

The hardest part about this assignment was figuring out which images to send to the Editors at Snap. In this post I’ve featured a few bonus images for my blog readers. I hope you enjoy reading the Foodie issue as much as I enjoyed this assignment.

You can also find a great selection of glamping destinations around the globe at Glamping.com. If you’re afraid of tents they have some great alternative lodging options including cabins, yurts, huts, teepees and Airstreams.

Trying to keep my horizons straight while on horseback was humorous.

Rainbow Carrots at the Missoula Farmers Market

Left: Fresh mint at the Farmers Market Right: Grilled Corn at the Paws Up Chuckwagon Dinner

Huckleberry Lemon Drop Martini at Tank

Left: Chef Dale Levitski’s homemade rabbit-filled pasta   Right: Pretty Pears in the Paws Up Cook Shack

Long table set for dinner with flowers from the Missoula Farmers Market

#nomnomnom

 

 

 

 

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