Thursday, January 12, 2017

Paris is known for the Eiffel Tower, its fabulous French food and beautiful buildings. However, did you know that the City of Light is also home to some of the most famed street art artists in the world?

After only knowing about Banksy until we moved abroad in 2010, I didn’t know or pay much attention to street art. Since living in Europe and Melbourne now, I’ve developed a huge appreciation and fascination with street art. In fact, before we travel to a new destination, I look up where the best neighborhoods are to find street art or which street artists to look out for as we walk around.

Last year, I fortunately visited Paris twice – once with a girlfriend and the latter time meeting with a group of friends from Germany. Living in London now makes travel to Paris and elsewhere in Europe so much easier than before! On these trips, I simply focused on food, exploring new neighborhoods and looking for street art. The photos below reflect what I found on these new trips. Enjoy!

Space Invader Street Art
One of the cheekier street artists is known as Invader or Space Invader, a French artist originally based in Paris. He attaches weather-resistant tiles in the form of mosaic images inspired from the 1970s-video game “Space Invaders” in cities around the world. Invader started these installations in Paris in 1998, where you find more than 1,200 of his creations, and has continued to “invade” other cities in France, Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia and Australia.

When visiting Paris, spotting an Invader becomes a sort of game. My friends and I had a blast this past summer looking for and taking photos of the Invaders around Paris.
WRDSMTH in Paris
Labeled as “a writer doing time in LA,” WRDSMTH is another cheeky street artist that is known for his poignant messages flowing from a vintage typewriter or written in a typewriter-type font. The anonymous artist uses a unique combination of stencil/spray painting and wheatpasting for his street art. LA is still home to most of WRDSMITH’s creations, but you’ll find his work in New Orleans, New York, London and Paris.

Earlier in 2016, WRDSMTH’s pithy “The only lie” piece found a new home in Paris! I couldn’t resist taking a photo with this 6-foot version located on Rue de la Lune in Porte Saint Martin.

A photo posted by My Traveling Joys (@mytravelingjoys) on

Street Art in the 13th Arrondissement
On both trips, I visited a new-to-me neighborhood on the Left Bank – the city’s 13th arrondissement, which has in recent years become a renowned neighborhood for a number of large-scale artworks by both French and international graffiti-street artists.

Unlike other Parisian districts, the 13th contains many more modern high-rise apartment blocks – which are perfect for large-scale murals. In recent years, the local townhall officials have been working with Galerie Itinerrance and other art groups to commission artists to go ‘big’ on the sides of its buildings. We used the Galerie’s map to try and find as many murals and other street art that we could. Or you could try one of the local street art tours like this one.
Cat by French street artist C215 located at 141 Boulevard Vincent Auriole.
“Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” by Shepard Fairey at 186 rue Nationale (above the Cat on the Boulevard Vincent Auriole.)Right: “Rise Above Rebel” by American graffiti artist Shepard Fairey (also known as Obey), located at 93 Rue Jeanne d'Arc.
Blue mural by church called “Delicate Balance” by Shepard Fairey at 60 Rue Jeanne d'Arc.

Ecole cité Dorée, corner of Vincent Auriol & rue Jenner.

This one is my favorite!“La Madre Seculaire” by Chilean artist INTI, at 85 Boulevard Vincent Auriole. You also can find INTI’s murals in ÅÃ³dź, Poland.
Other murals we found in the 13th:
Another anonymous street artist is one known for his signed works “Kraken Je t’aime” which feature a legendary but mythical sea monster. We found a few Krakens around the city, but this one is one of my favorites.
When you visit Paris, enjoy the food, but don’t forget to look up and down the side streets for unique street art as well!

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, January 5, 2017

After skiing three mornings in a row during our Christmas break, we decided to call it quits early one afternoon so we could get a hike in before sunset.

Let me tell you, that hike sounded like a fabulous idea until we reached a steep path up the mountainside. My calves were barking after all that skiing, which I’m still not that good at. Oh well! We had blue skies and really couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon!
We hiked up behind our small village of Servoz, about 1 hour from the Geneva Airport, located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. This village, population 935, has long been part of France’s mountaineering and mining heritage and is familiar to climbers everywhere. You’ll find the most darling historical water fountains that horses, hikers and mountaineers have used for perhaps a few hundred years.

Once we had hiked up behind Servoz and another tiny hamlet, we were greeted with a near 360° view of the Fiz Mountains, the Pormenaz, Le Prarion and the magnificent 'Big Brother', Mont Blanc – the tallest mountain in Europe! The views are always worth it!

Atop an empty, grassy hill, we plunked our tired bodies down and settled in for a pre-sunset snack of French fromage, sliced saucisson and crackers. The late afternoon sun cast a warm glow throughout what is known as the “sunniest village in the Chamonix valley.” I reflected on what a perfect day it really was. Earlier I skied the best I’ve ever done, without falling once, and with the help of my husband who normally has the patience the size of gnat! He had been such a good sport as he would probably have preferred to be skiing on the more advanced black runs. We were gazing at a beautiful view and we were on vacation! 
But I said, “You know what would make this day even better, if a herd of goats went walking by right now.” After all, we were in the French Alps.

The afternoon winter light was fading fast so we quickly made our way back down the mountain. Lo and behold, we both started hearing bells in the distance. I started almost jogging down the hill to find the source of the bells. I couldn’t believe my luck! A herd of sheep, each animal adorned with a tinkling bell, were grazing in an open pasture.

I guess sometimes your wishes really do come true!
A magical moment with sheep grazing in the French Alps!

My Traveling Joys

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and best wishes in 2017!

Since we are staying less than an hour away from Italy, we decided to drive to the nearest town of Courmayeur, Italy, for the day. Hubby went skiing while enjoyed some sightseeing and taking photos. It was also a delicious daytrip eating some hearty Italian Alps food.

Here are a few photos from today's adventure. Ciao!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or whatever you might celebrate!

This year, hubby and I are hanging together in Europe since we only have 10 days off from work. It's simply not enough time to run all over the US to see family again. Sorry guys!

Instead, we've been exploring Brussels and its fabulously festive Christmas markets. Coming here was a great choice and recommended by one of our fellow expat friends. Brussels is only two hours away from London by train; plus it's filled with charm and easy to get around.

Through January 1, 2017, you’ll find Christmas stalls and events taking place at the Grand-Place in Brussels and around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons. Every hour, a spectacular light and music show lights up the Grand Place, the city’s central square which features elegant historic buildings dating back to the 14th century. I almost felt like I was in a fairy tale! The area does get quite crowded, but we tried to arrive early and still had lots of fun.

Hope you enjoy this lil taste of the Brussels Christmas markets!
One night we had fish soup with glasses of Prosecco and the next day a rich dish of tartliflette (?) - potatoes cooked with bacon and cheese. Yum!

My Traveling Joys

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Well, it’s our first Christmas season in London, and despite the crowds, the city sure knows how to deck the halls.

On my days off, I’ve sought out some of the popular places to see for pretty Christmas decorations. By 4 p.m., the city is blanketed in darkness and the Christmas lights are turned on. Such a beautiful sight! 
 Christmas ice skating at the Natural History Museum.
The only problem is that everyone Рincluding your mother and her best friends and hordes of children and tourists Рgoes to see the Christmas lights as well. Be prepared to elbow your way through the crowds if you want to see the d̩cor like I did. I even went on weekdays to see most of the sites below.

Anyway, London is all dressed up for the holidays. Christmas only comes once a year, so I guess I can bear the crowds to take some pretty photos. Enjoy!

Winter Wonderland
We almost avoided London’s biggest attraction of Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park because of the maddening crowds and security checks – way different from my weekday visit in 2013??? After work, we met up with a fellow American to walk around Wonderland, which is more carnival-like than Christmas market-like. We ended up spending a few hours in the Bavarian section drinking mulled wine and eating German bratwurst around an outdoor fire – an activity more adult-friendly than the rest of the park.
London Bridge to Waterloo
Recently, I had a Saturday off from work so we spent the gray day exploring the numerous Christmas markets that are set up between London Bridge and Waterloo train stations. Along the Thames River, we found dozens of wooden huts selling all kinds of food, drinks and Christmas gifts. We concluded our Christmas market crawl at a market by Waterloo and took refuge from the pouring rain at a craft beer stand where we shared a Korean rice bowl. Nearby was a Polish food stand making bigos and serving Zywiec beer.  

Regent Street to Picadilly Circus
Besides Winter Wonderland, this area of grand shopping from Regent Street to Picadilly Circus is the most touristy of all. However, this shopping stretch gets a Christmas makeover with garlands of lights down the length of the road. On Oxford Street alone, you’ll see 1,778 snowball-like decorations and 750,000 LED lightbulbs lit up for what is the fifty-seventh year the road has been decorated for the holidays.

Covent Garden
Beware of the crowds, but Covent Garden’s cobbled piazza and old market buildings are irresistible when they are covered in Christmas lights. This year’s decorations include a mistletoe theme, with over 40 mistletoe chandeliers hanging over the area’s streets and in the pretty market buildings. I retreated into the Lauduree store to stock up on a box of pastel Parisian macarons.
Carnaby Street
I found this Christmasy street thanks to Instagram. Carnaby Street, a small laneway off Regent Street, is decked out in a theme to match the V&A Museum’s new exhibition ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’. Carnaby Christmas decorations – usually among the most distinctive in town – will remain on display until January 6th.
Possibly the most famous London Christmas lights on a single store are at Harrods, a well-to-do Knightsbridge department store that was established in 1849 selling mainly tea and groceries. To me, Harrods, decked out in its Art Nouveau windows, terracotta tiles and hundreds of lights, is like visiting 5th Avenue in my beloved NYC during Christmas. The store is filled with many high-end brands, but you’ll also find a few things that normal people can afford.
Our Expat Home
Even though we still have leftover moving boxes in our much-smaller apartment, I convinced hubby to get a Christmas tree. We haven’t had a real tree since we lived in Poland and I missed having one. And now our tree is splashed out with decorations from places we’ve lived or traveled to – Istanbul, Warsaw, London, U.S., a tablecloth from Riga, a German village house and more.
As we remain on this expat journey, I guess we’ll just continue to explore our new surroundings and make a home wherever we hang our coats.

Happy Holidays!

My Traveling Joys

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