Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, Paris

Pushing open the door to Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, a grand house-turned-hotel tucked away on a pretty, sun-dappled street of the Marais, I was distracted by a small, wiry ball of black fur regally descending from a back office somewhere as if he himself were the proprietor of the hotel. He paused a short distance away from my feet, tail wagging, looking up with serious eyes, as if to say, "Welcome" or, since we were in Paris, "Bienvenue".

"That's Bobby," said the receptionist, laughing, as I bent down to ruffle him behind the ears. He moved quickly, from me to Udita, eager to greet us both, yet completely soundless - too polite for even a whimper or a bark. (Later during our stay, I'd wonder aloud about Bobby's whereabouts when we returned to the hotel and Udita would joke, "Probably in his office, reading the Financial Times.")

The hotel itself is positioned about a five-minute walk away from Hotel de Ville metro station - a straight shot down Rue de Rivoli, followed by a swift left turn onto Rue Vieille-du-Temple, it's ideal for wandering to the Notre Dame, picnic-ing in the Tuileries, spending an afternoon at the Louvre, or soaking up culture at Centre Pompidou.

Its bright blue facade appears in many Instagram feeds - indeed, I glanced down from our balcony on several occasions to catch passersby standing opposite, poised with iPhone or DSLR in hand.

The hotel has nineteen rooms; small, but perfectly formed (though, by Parisian standards, I found ours on the second floor to be quite spacious!). Within minutes of making Bobby's acquaintance, we were given our room key - no passports to be photocopied, no credit card details to be taken in advance - and allowed to show ourselves to our room, where, upon opening the door, Udita and I collapsed in fits of giggles on the twin beds and shouted, "What is this life?" as we flung open the balcony doors and peered out onto the distinctly Parisian streets below.

Decorated in the 18th-century style, the owner, Monsieur Alain Bigeard, has taken great pains to source antique furniture and the finest quality fabrics to adorn the hotel. The paintings that hang in the rooms and reception area are all original oil paintings, and the framed sheet music extracted from first editions. Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais is, of course, named after Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who - amongst many other things - was a playwright and musician who authored the Figaro plays, the second of which (The Marriage of Figaro), Mozart based his opera.

We met Alain the next morning, after we'd finished our decadent breakfast and were preparing to head out for our early morning wander around the Marais. In his charming, easy way, he explained the history of the hotel, and I pressed for details on where he sourced all his fabulous antique furniture and art. Waking in the hotel feels, at times, like a cross between waking in a fairytale and a museum - drowsy from a late afternoon nap, I momentarily forgot where I was, and thought I'd been transported to the 18th-century, half-wanting to reach for my powdered wig. Alain's fine attention to detail is a testament to the hotel's ability to evoke this magical feeling.

I'd read previous reviews of Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais' legendary breakfasts (which can either be taken downstairs in the basement or brought up to your room - naturally, we opted for the latter), but nothing quite prepared me for the spread that arrived within minutes of me requesting it from reception (advance notice is not necessary - you simply call when you're hungry!). Nestled in a impossibly French-country chic basket tray was a pot of fresh tea, a pitcher of coffee with warmed milk, jars of pate, kiwis, soft boiled eggs perched in porcelain egg cups, tiny pots of jam, honey, and marmalade, freshly-squeezed orange juice, cheese, and - the piece de resistance - a basket of warm croissants, crusty baguettes, and pain au chocolats. I nearly wept (and definitely swooned when I took my first bite of jam-smothered croissant).

The people at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais are as pleasing as the attractive decor - the polite, nearly apologetic way staff tend to phrase requests ("We have a habit of keeping room keys at the desk whilst you're out!"), the warmth and personal attention ("Bonjour, good morning! Breakfast to your room? It would be our pleasure!"), and the eagerness to help ("Can we book you a taxi? Or help you with directions to the restaurant?") - all make staying at the hotel a delightful experience; the exact opposite of the cold, sniffy stereotypes that first-time visitors to Paris typically fear (particularly those whose French skills are limited to ordering a maximum of three pastries from a boulangerie).

In fact, it would be the ideal place to stay if you're a first-time visitor: easy to get to, located in a beautiful, but central neighborhood, and wonderfully welcoming. I know my parents love Paris (my dad in particular!) so I can't wait to take them back to Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais on their return to Europe.

On our last morning at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, we had no time for the glorious breakfast spread, instead stuffing the last of our belongings and newly-purchased candles into our bags and creeping downstairs at an unsociable hour, wistfully hoping for one last glimpse of Bobby, before stepping out onto the quiet Marais street to await our taxi to Gare du Nord. The sun hadn't yet risen, but a fresh copy of The New York Times and Le Monde had been swapped for yesterday's old news in reception, and we were bade farewell as warmly as we'd been greeted.

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, I'll be back. For sure.

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, 12 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75004, Paris, France. We stayed at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais at a press rate; all opinions are my own.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Snapshots From Paris

Saturday evening: rain. Correction: foreboding clouds that gave way to a downpour. But we didn't care. Au Bourguignon du Marais was a mere 2-minute walk from our hotel's reception, and with heated lamps overhead, we chose a table outside, overlooking the street in true Parisian style.

One order of fresh green beans, supreme de poulet jaune and boeuf bourguignon later, we were truly under the spell of Paris: that heady, giggly feeling akin to sipping a glass of wine too quickly, even though neither of us had touched a drop.

A pair of profiteroles melting in a sea of hot chocolate sauce sent us into a dizzying spiral of foodie bliss, and, after paying the bill, we ended up strolling to Pont Louis Philippe for a night-time view of the Seine, spotting the teasing twinkle of the Eiffel Tower's searchlight in the distance.

Too excited to sleep that night, we drifted off around midnight ... dreaming of the day ahead.

On Sunday, we woke early, and I flung open the balcony doors before pulling the covers back up under my chin. I called down to reception to have our breakfast brought up to our room (fancy!) and we nibbled on a feast of jams, butter, fresh pain, pain au chocolat, and croissants, along with eggs, fresh juice, fruit, and more ... before taking our time to get ready for exploring Le Marais.

We peered into shops and snapped photos in front of storefronts and boulangeries. It was magnificently quiet. Except for a group of German tourists that suddendly descended on the street we were standing on, few people were up sipping coffee al fresco at that time of the morning.

I paused to take in the beautiful light; the shade from a pink-blossomed tree; a former hammam-turned-COS-store.

We meandered towards the Place des Vosges, a beautiful green square lined with park benches and four burbling fountains. We sat down to take it all in - and to wonder aloud about our trajectory from meeting at a small college in rural Massachusetts, to living in London and travelling to Paris together.

Stopping into a jewellery store that had just opened, we ogled sparkly rings and chandelier earrings before jumping on the Metro to the Tuileries, where we breezily waltzed into Angelina and ordered the house speciality: thick, molten hot chocolate.

We shared probably the most delicious club sandwich I've ever had, and went for a stroll in the now-humming Tuileries Garden ... choosing the quieter path between trees.

Feeling strangely sluggish and exhausted, we headed back to the darling Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais for ... a nap. And woke an hour later, famished for crepes.

We tucked into the Nutella and banana-stuffed pancakes before exclaiming, "What's that amazing smell?" and ducking into Estaban, before each carefully selecting a candle to take home.

After a so-so dinner at Chez Julien, we wandered to the bridge we'd visited the night before ... and somehow ended up wandering to the Notre Dame.

The setting sun had cast a beautiful wash of egg-yolk orange over the riverbank, the Seine, and all the pretty buildings lining the river. Spanish guitarists strummed melodies under bridges and trees ... another duo had attracted quite a crowd with Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound of Silence'. As the sun began to fade into the distance, Udita turned to me and asked, "Should we just go? To the bridge? Should we get an Uber and just go?" She meant Pont de Bir-Hakeim, where we'd planned to visit earlier in the day but had opted for a nap instead.

"Yes," I said decisively, and we marched over to await our Mercedes chariot outside a Subway.

"Are you going on a boat?" the driver asked, helpfully, en route.

"No, just the bridge!" we replied, giggling.

Because it was the view from the bridge that we'd gotten into the car for:

Watching dusk turn into night, we turned away from the tower, before glancing back and noticing that it was now illuminated. We ran to our positions again to snap photo after photo - with only five or so other people doing the same.

That night, we packed our bags and set our alarms, not wanting dawn to arrive. But it did - within what felt like a few minutes of closing our eyes - and we blearily trudged downstairs to await a cab to Gare du Nord, leaving our Parisian weekend trailing behind us like dream we never fully woke from.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Interior Inspiration: Dressing Table Goals

This is where I spend a lot of my time in our house, but I've never featured it on the blog before, so I thought I'd share it with you today!

My dressing table is where I begin every day - often with a cup of tea while I'm waiting for the curling iron to warm up (I curl my pin-straight, medium-length hair on most days). Depending what time I wake, my routine is either rushed and slapdash, or ritualistic and considered. Often, I like to put on a YouTube tutorial (usually by Lisa Eldridge) or vlog (by Estee Lalonde) while I get ready ... there's something comforting about having someone chat to me as I do my own make-up!

It's also where I end my day: where I swipe on toner, pat on serums and oils, and critically examine my slowly-aging face before I climb into bed (from where John usually complains, "What's taking you so long?").

Years of renting in small apartments meant that I'd clutter up bathrooms and living room mirrors with rows of makeup and skincare products - it's a luxury to have a dedicated space for getting ready in the morning, and winding down at night.

Recently, I took clippings of fragrant wild flowers from our garden - calamintha nepeta 'Blue Cloud', lavender, and geranium - and put them in this beautiful vase from Dartington Crystal. The 'Blue Cloud' smells like mint, and I love the scent of fresh lavender, so having the smokey-hued vase on my dressing table is a beautiful way to start and end each day. Every piece from Dartington Crystal is handmade, and I just found out that you can watch the artisans in action at the Dartington Crystal factory in North Devon.

This floral arrangement also motivates me to keep my dressing table tidy. I'm pretty unorganized - in fact, my room is perpetually messy! It's awful, I know. I have a hard time putting things back immediately and as a result, my make-up is usually scattered all over the place. Having a tidy dressing table, with my brushes in their places and my lipsticks hidden away in well-labelled trays, helps focus my mind for the day ahead.

Now, I just need to work on that pile of clothes on the chair ...

Where do you get ready in the morning? Do you have a dressing table? Or a slightly more improvised set up? I'd love to know!

p.s. my favorite thing to do when I go over to a friend's house, is poke around their dressing table - and my friends do the same when they come over! I pick up perfume bottles and sniff them, and test lipsticks on the back of my hand (with their permission, of course!) - ha!

Vase provided courtesy of Dartington Crystal. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Unpopular Opinion: I Like The Food in England Better

A few weeks ago, John and I went out for dinner at our local pub and had the most amazing dinner (not pictured). Simple, but fantastic. It was a warm, summer's evening (ha! ha! We won't be seeing much of those again here in London) and we sat outside on rickety wooden picnic tables, that followed the slope of the sidewalk. The pub's windows were flung open and, on the table opposite, two families sat with their young children. The sun was just setting, and the glow cast a warmth on my shoulders as John went inside to order our drinks.

I studied the menu for a while before my eyes landed on the clam linguine, tossed with white wine, garlic, cherry tomatoes, parsley, and a dash of red chilli. John settled for the pulled beef salad with barley, greens, and pomegranate seeds.

A pint of soda water and lime (for me) and bitter (for John) later, our food arrived and I eagerly dug in: easily one of the best meals I'd had in a while, hands down. The ingredients were fresh, simple, and tasty. The tiny clams were sweet, plentiful, and the shells soon piled high on my plate.

Mid-way through the meal, we traded plates (as we often do) and I tucked into John's light, refreshing summer salad: lovely, clean flavors that begged to be savoured and enjoyed.

Then, I thought back to my recent trip to America and wondered: where could I find this simple, yet delicious cooking in the States?

And then, I realized: I haven't. At least, not yet.

Don't get me wrong: I love my American sandwiches. Served with a cold, crunchy pickle on the side, with chips (that's crisps, for you Brits), a soup or salad, and stuffed with magical combinations (think: turkey breast, cream cheese, and cranberry sauce, or shrimp on a fluffy white baguette with shredded lettuce, mayo and a layer of melted cheese, or ham, turkey, and pastrami with provolone on a thick sliced bloomer) - American sandwiches are the best. Bar none.

And the milkshakes: thick, creamy, ice cold, in damn tasty flavor combinations (peanut butter Oreo, anyone?) ... perfection.

But that's where my love of American "food" kind of stops. I even have issues with eating out at restaurants - proper, "good" restaurants that charge, say, $80 for a steak (yes, really) topped with crabmeat.

It's always a little ... too much. Too much cheese. Too much seasoning. Too much butter. Too much everything. The flavors become confused; the essence of the dish is lost along the way.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so: I penned a tentative tweet about this months ago (lest my head be ripped off by all-or-nothing American food lovers) and a few fellow Americans agreed with enthusiastic virtual nods-of-the-head (one British person sent me a private message that read: "Are you f*cking kidding me?").

I think back to a recent experience I had at a popular waterfront restaurant on the Puget Sound, in Washington state. Having ordered the "Rockin' Rockfish Tacos" and a side of the restaurant's famous chowder, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into a fresh fish taco with, what I imagined to be, a fresh squeeze of lime, plenty of cilantro, and some kind of cabbage concoction. What I received was a strange melted-cheese thing with a jarring sweet Thai marinade that tasted a bit like licking a Jolly Rancher alongside a portion of fish and chips. The chowder, in all is salty glory, made my head ache - I couldn't finish it, let alone taste the clams. And, you know, I wasn't even disappointed because I had a bad meal, I was disappointed because it was the lunch that I'd wanted to treat my family to, and it was, frankly, undeserving of this event.

And then there was this article that was recently published in Insider about the "8 Unhealthiest Restaurant Meals in America", which made me think ... why? Why the need for a Manchego, cheddar, pepperoni and sausage stuffed pizza topped with MORE pepperoni, sausage, bacon, marinara, mozzerella and Parmesan cheese? Calories, fat, and sodium content aside ... is that even enjoyable? (I don't know, I haven't tried it - maybe it's mind-blowing.)

After living in Europe for 10 years, my tastebuds have regressed, perhaps - regressed to a place where I find rustic charcuterie boards (with a smattering of cured meats and perhaps two or three cheeses, with a gherkin or handful of grapes thrown in for good measure) enticing; crusty baguettes smeared with a dollop of French mustard and a single but thick slice of salty ham enough; and linguine tossed with baby clams, white wine, garlic, parsley, cherry tomatoes, and a dash of chilli - divine.

I'm sure it's just me.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Travel Link-Up: Travel Anxiety

There I am, on Instagram: tilting my head back, mid-laugh with a drink in my hand in Singapore, as the sun sets behind me at a rooftop bar. And, there's me: smiling astride a camel in a Moroccan sand dune, khakis rolled up to the ankle and the sun beating down on my shoulders. And, again: striking Triangle Pose at My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam, wearing shorts and a Breton tee as if I'd just been plucked from a picnic on Hampstead Heath, instead of exploring a UNESCO world heritage site.

I look at these photos and think, 'Who is this person?' Because it certainly doesn't seem like me - the person who carefully looked up the dress code not once, but twice for that Singaporean roof top bar; the person who overpacked for the camel-camping desert excursion (but failed to bring hand sanitizer, for which I suffered the utmost consequence after being struck by a stomach bug shortly after); the woman who spent the first 2 hours in Hanoi nearly crying from the chaos that came with mopeds clipping dangerously close to her heels with no paved sidewalk to escape to.

In short, I'm the world's most anxious traveler.

In fact, I'm not even sure I enjoy traveling.

There, I said it.

I mean, of course I love discovering new places, but getting to the airport? That, in itself, requires a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)-lesson-in-practice for me. Lots of deep breathing and such. I still print every single travel-related document and bring it along with me on the trip: proof of my travel insurance; our hotel confirmation; our flight confirmation; in fact, anything with "CONFIRMATION" in the subject line.

My husband, on the other hand, is the Cool Hand Luke of travel (particularly, aviation travel). Slinking into the airport an hour (at most) before his flight takes off, brandishing his passport at First Class check-in and waltzing through Fast Track security with the grace of a seasoned Strictly Come Dancing-professional, he is cool, calm and collected from the minute he leaves our house to the second he disembarks the plane at his destination. Completing 3-4 long-haul international flights per year for work (plus numerous other short-haul trips scattered inbetween) helps, not to mention that Gold Loung access, but frankly? He's always been this chilled out about travel before his job required him to whip around the world faster than you can say, "Doors to manual".

When we travel together, everything is golden. I fret, sure, but I unload my anxieties onto him and he sweeps them away like a genie granting wishes. "What are you worried about?" he'll ask, noticing my furrowed brow on the ride to the airport. "What if ... what if the taxi guy doesn't show up and we're stuck in Marrakech and we don't know any local cab numbers and I forgot the hotel number and what is the airport like and what if I need to go to the bathroom but there's no time or ..." and he'll listen patiently and have an answer for everything. And I'll sit back, satisfied, in my seat, the seatbelt tugging at my chest.

I think I inherited my parents' travel anxieties: road trips to Vancouver and the Oregon Coast wouldn't be complete with my mom and dad checking not once, not twice, but nearly three times they had turned off the stove, locked the door, and switched on the home alarm. Passports were checked, re-checked and counted for all to see in the car - and this was all before we'd even backed out of the driveway.

Further trips abroad - to the East Coast, the Rocky Mountains, and Japan, for example - were left to the professionals to organize; Chinese tour companies with guides who waved brightly colored flags and umbrellas, our smallish group attracting contempt and disdain from locals and tourists alike wherever we went.

When I'm travel-ling, I'm constantly on edge. Where is the bathroom? (Can you tell I have a pre-occupation with my pea-sized bladder?) Where will we eat? How will we get there? I have a headache. AM I DYING? It all gets a little bit out of control.

But lately, when I've panicked on a trip, I observe John, silently, and watch how he deals with a stressful situation. Severe and sudden snowfall, for example, meant that several accidents blocked the road to the airport in Reykjavik on our way out. We also hadn't put the coordinates for the car rental place into the GPS. Already, my imagination was going into overdrive: we would miss the plane. We'd never get to the airport. We wouldn't be able to find the car rental place. Our own car would skid off the road.

OBVIOUSLY, we made it to the car rental place in one piece, with plenty of time to spare. The car was checked in smoothly and a shuttle took us a few yards to the airport.

Later, when we were sitting on the plane, preparing for takeoff, I whispered to John, "How did you know where to drop the car off?"

He shrugged. "I didn't, really. I mean, I knew it was just a few feet from the airport, for goodness' sake, so how far could it be?" He opened War and Peace on his iPad and was, at once, deep in concentration. Shoes already off and tucked under his seat. That guy.

But I've learned something so valuable from him - John, my preferred travel companion. I've learned how to stop catastrophizing; how to stop predicting the worst. And when the worst strikes, how to problem-solve - not stress.

Do you suffer from travel anxiety too? Or are you great at dealing with anything unexpected that comes your way? I'd love to know (plus, any tips or tricks you might find useful!).

This post is part of this month's Travel Link-Up series on "travel fears and scares". Head over to Angie's, Polly's, Emma's, and Maggie's blogs for more posts on this theme!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Angloyankophile Shortlisted For The #BloggersBlogAwards!

I had scheduled a completely different post to be published today, but ...

Last night, I came home, made myself this breakfast casserole for dinner, put Jane The Virgin on Netflix, and happily served myself seconds and thirds of this delicious said-casserole before idly checking my phone.

Scrolling through my Twitter notifications, it slowly dawned on me that I'd been shortlisted for not one, not two, but THREE categories in the #BloggersBlogAwards!

I laughed.

I cried.

I ate more breakfast casserole. (And then I had some cake, because - well, cake.)

Founded by Hayley of Tea Party Beauty, the #BloggersBlogAwards seeks to celebrate (in Hayley's words) "the small to medium bloggers who are overlooked and overshadowed"; to "show some appreciation for the hard work [we] all put in, and to celebrate the community we have all made, together."

I have to admit: I've thought of throwing in the towel on this blog more than once this year. With a demanding full-time job and freelance writing commitments, plus the ever-insistent pressure on Instagram to "grow" an organic following while grappling with an impossible and frustrating algorithm, I felt - I feel - exhausted. Like I can't keep up.

So, I slowed down a little. Which, was better for me mentally, but tricky as I didn't feel great about it.

Still, I plodded along. But that's all it was (and is, at the moment): plodding.

And, just when I didn't think anyone was noticing, I got these nominations and - I felt so overwhelmed.

I've been shortlisted in three categories:

Best Use of Photography

Best Instagrammer 

Blogger of the Year

And to think that I've been nominated alongside so many "big" bloggers ... my mind's blown.

So, this shortlist has pretty much made my year already. I'm done.

But if you'd like (and only if you'd like to!), the next round of voting is open and you can vote here until 10th September 2017.

Thank you. Thank you for sticking with me, for reading, for voting.

Thank you for always being there.

For being here.

© angloyankophile

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