Well, it’s happened.
My personal computer is now also my work computer (#startuplyfe) so I begrudgingly had to change my computer language preferences to British English. Can’t have the Brits calling the company out for spelling with z’s instead of s’s. I’ve been trying to correct to American English when sending emails to friends and family or writing tumblr posts and have not enjoyed seeing favorite with no “u” underlined in red as misspelled.
This is all a long way of saying if I post things in a British spelling, it is not intentional but my computer’s autocorrect.
(Also, I think I’ve started using the word “quite” a lot, which seems Britishy. I like “keen” too. Admire but have not had the balls to use “lovely” and “brilliant”, which are both used in spades here.)
(I have always picked up other people’s phrases and adopted them as my own. My friend, Rachel, used to call everyone wily minxes all the time (obviously because of Friends) and to this day, I still use it constantly.)
(If I lived here the rest of my life, I still don’t think the words “bloody” or “bollocks” would ever come out of my mouth in a natural, unironic way.)
Oh Brugge. (Is it Bruges? Is it Brugge? All the locals spell it “Brugge”, so I’m going with their version.) As every other person who has ever visited Brugge has probably felt, it’s impossible not to be charmed by and immediately fall in love with this little town. Your Londons and your Parises (?) are exciting and fast-paced, but Brugge is a step - or a leisurely stroll - back in time. We were worried the 8 waking hours we had there wouldn’t be enough time to get a feel for the city. And while I easily could have spent several more hours taking a canal ride or renting bikes, the town is small and quaint enough that you don’t need much more than a day to get to know it. It’s the perfect place to end a long jog around Europe.
We got in on Friday night after a long (delayed) train ride. Rather than taking the 20-30 minute bus ride to the city center, we decided to walk the 30 minutes. With our suitcases. Along cobblestone roads. In the rain. It was hard to stay too mad when the skies cleared and sights like this came into view.
The central markt.
After dropping our suitcases and changing into dry/non-sweaty clothes, we walked 5 minutes (everything is a 5 minute or less walk, it seems) to L’Estaminet. There I proceeded to have the best spaghetti of my LIFE and I’ve eaten a lot of spaghetti, folks.
Have a close-up of this deliciousness.
Everything we ate there was fantastic. I’d tie it with Les Cocottes in Paris and Borough Market in London for my favorite meals of the trip. Thanks for the reco, Rick Steves.
Saturday morning we got up early so we could take advantage of the few hours we had left in Brugge. As we walked to breakfast, we found this funny little guy in an apartment window.
Casey recommended this patisserie for breakfast and Ali and I gladly obliged. Another fantastic meal!
The hot chocolate was served on an actual silver platter. It’s hot milk with dark chocolate chips. Glorious.
If you’re wondering why there are three pastries for two people, it’s because I ate two that morning. I went with my classic pain au chocolat, but I also decided to try the creme koek (the pastry with all the powdered sugar). Holy shit. There was some kind of vanilla pudding-type filling inside of it. I didn’t think anything could give pain au chocolat a run for its money, but here it is.
We wandered around town for the first hour or two. It’s incredible how much emptier (read: tourist-free) the city is before 10AM. This is just a random bookstore. And Ali playing Vanna.
Why wouldn’t there be an all-ages marching band playing through the city on a random Saturday?
Back to the markt and the heart of the city. You can get a waffle anywhere, but we stopped at this series of cafes to try one.
The waffle was tasty (also there was ice cream, so how could it not be) but nothing spectacular. I suppose I had higher expectations for something known as a Belgian waffle. Kind of tasted like your average waffle at home.
See that building on the left with the red roof and window frames? That’s where we ate our next meal: mussels.
Our moules-frites (mussels and fries), a dish that originated in Belgium. Again, they were good but nothing to write home about. (Though technically that’s exactly what I’m doing.)
Our final stop was Chez Vincent for some “real Belgian fries”. I’d been anticipating this one quite a bit because, well, fries, and tons of dipping sauces. I hate to say I was a bit disappointed. The fries were tasty but no different than fries at home and of the four dipping sauces we tried, I really only liked one (boring aioli, go figure). Again, maybe I set my expectations too high?
After the morning of eating, there was time for one more canal photo op and then it was back to the city center to catch a bus to a(nother delayed) train to almost miss but thankfully catch a flight home. A fantastic trip all around.
Where we stayed: Was supposed to be The Grand Hotel Casselbergh, but we got there (after a LONG day of travel) only to find out the room they’d planned for us had a leak, so instead they upgraded us to their sister hotel, Oud Huis De Peellaert. It was heaven. Really comfortable beds, giant rooms (although that could’ve been because of the upgrade) and right in the middle of everything. Although everything is kind of in the middle of everything since Brugge is so small. 5/5
Where we ate:
What you can’t miss:
In the past I’ve had lukewarm feelings about Paris, not understanding the hype or the romance. I’ve always wanted to LOVE Paris, to see what everyone else sees. I’m happy to report this was my favorite Paris trip. There are things this city does wrong, but there are so many things it gets just right.
We stayed at an Airbnb down the street from this charming little plaza, where many glasses of wine were consumed.
We had dinner the first night at Les Cocottes on Rue Saint-Dominique. Everyone just waits outside for their turn to be seated, no putting names on a list; they go by the honor system. (Which, of course, initially stressed my type A tendencies out.) We waited about 30 minutes on a Monday night and it was so worth it. Above, you see minced pigs’ feet and garlic wrapped in potatoes. I hesitated but both the patron next to me and the waiter recommended it, so I took a chance on the feet of a pig. It was the best thing I ate in Paris - and that is saying something.
Tuesday morning was our big sightseeing day and we ended up walking 11 miles. (I’m tired just thinking about it.) After walking by the Eiffel, one of our first stops was a little shoe boutique called Repetto. They supposedly invented/popularized the ballet flat (they actually sell a ton of legitimate ballet shoes) and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, especially after my failed interaction with Tieks. I ended up taking home a pair in navy; I will let you know whether I have more success with this brand.
By this time, it was around 10:30, 11AM, so it was obviously time for a crepe. In my opinion, any old crepe stand will do. Pretty hard to screw it up. We got ours by the Jardins du Trocadéro, right next to the carousel (which seems an unnecessary addition when the Eiffel Tower is looming over you). If you get anything but nutella and banana, I don’t want to hear about it.
Next up: Champs-Élysées (yes, I copied and pasted that; ain’t nobody got time for all those accents) and the Arc de Triomphe.
Ladurée is a macaroon institution. The only other time I’ve had a macaron was as part of a hotel welcome in Chiang Mai, Thailand, of all places. (Random, I know.) So I was pretty excited to see what all the fuss was about. Holy shit. I understand now.
To continue eating our weight in carbs, we had lunch at a little cafe in the middle of Jardin des Tuileries. To be honest, the gardens weren’t one of my favorite parts of Paris. They were pretty but I think the parks in London are better.
Leaving the gardens, we stumbled on the Louvre! Snapped a few quick pics with as few tourists in the background as we could manage.
The self-guided tour continued with the Pont de Arts or Love Lock Bridge. Pretty incredible how many people have participated in the tradition.
Next up was Notre Dame. Because the line was short, we decided to walk around inside as well. In spite of my “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” stance with churches, it always amazes me how high the ceilings are considering how long ago they were built.
By now, it’s about 5:30PM and we are DRAGGING. We’d already eaten a ton of food and were not at all hungry, but the Chez Gladines recommendation came from my new French friend/former roommate, so we felt like we couldn’t pass it up. I’m so glad we didn’t. We got the potatoes cantal (type of cheese), which were incredible, as well as chorizo and a salad that included both potatoes and cheese with a minimal amount of lettuce and veggies. As I said, Paris is growing on me. Quickly.
Wednesday we got up first thing and took the train to Versailles. No question that the palace and grounds were opulent and over-the-top. If it’s your first time in Paris or you only have a couple days, I wouldn’t call this tour an essential. My stance on palaces is the same as my stance on churches: it just leaves you less time for cheese.
Ahem. Some rosé and a croque madame and plenty of people watching. Do NOT leave Paris without a croque monsieur/madame. We enjoyed ours in spite of the dickish waiter who seemed determined to ruin our lunch. Nice try, bro. (Please note the “French-sized ketchup" above.)
We headed to Montmartre after lunch, which requires a lot of climbing. Leaving the train station, we scoffed at the people waiting for the elevator. They got the last laugh, as the climb out of the station was 7 or 8 stories. Then we had to climb another set of stairs. And another. And another. By the time we huffed and puffed our way to the top, I had my doubts. Luckily, Sacré-Cœur was beautiful. There was a cute little square with lots of artists hawking their work and offering to paint portraits. It was one of the more touristy areas in Paris, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit.
One of Ali's bucket list items was a picnic near the Eiffel Tower and I was happy to board that train. We stopped by the boulanger down the street and picked up a baguette for a euro. Then we stopped by the wine store next door and picked up a Bordeaux for €4.95. Cheese was the final touch and we chose a delicious chèvre from the local grocer. It's easy to see how the French can shop at several different grocery stores in a day when everything is so close and convenient.
Picnic in session! Not pictured: coffee mugs we drank our wine out of.
As the sun sank lower and lower, the lights to the Eiffel clicked on. It was the navy sky that really showed her off best.
We started Thursday with a wine and cheese tasting. This was easily one of my favorite parts of the trip. We learned so much and ate/drank even more. Our host (pictured) was a delight; he really made all the difference.
Just before sunset, we took a river cruise along the Seine. We rode past a ton of famous Parisian buildings, most of which we’d already seen on foot. We marveled at how far we’d walked.
Friday morning it was time for one last pain au chocolat from that same local boulanger. I think I could eat it every morning for the rest of my life and die a happy woman. To me, the best part about Paris is an easy choice: its food.
Where we stayed:
Where we ate:
What you can’t miss:
Let’s start Ali’s Europe jaunt recap with the first four days: London. I will spare you the details of what we did at night and stick to the London-y stuff.
[I should preface all my travel reviews with the following note: everyone has different preferences in how they like to get to know a new place. My top 3 are: 1) its food and drink, 2) its natural beauty/landscape, and 3) people watching/walking its streets. That’s the bulk of what you’ll find in my itineraries and photos.]
On Thursday, Ali got in and we headed to The Orangery at Kensington Palace for high tea and pretended we was fancy. The ambience was awesome, the food was okay, the tea was pretty good and I don’t like tea. (I had the spearmint + 40 cubes of brown sugar.)
Afterward, we walked around Regent’s Park. I showed her Queen Mary’s Garden (my favorite part of the park). We kept it pretty low-key the rest of the night, as neither of us were feeling well.
Friday morning was sightseeing day. It had been 6-10 years since I’d seen a lot of the touristy stuff so I needed a refresher on what was/wasn’t worth seeing. We started with changing of the guards, which was probably the single biggest bummer of London. Not worth waiting around for. I remembered it being much cooler when I was 18. You’re not going to glimpse Kate.
We moved onto bigger and better things - like Big Ben! Still really cool to see regardless of how many times you’ve seen it. I was surprised by how much Ali liked it because as Ron Swanson said, “Oh look, a clock. We don’t have those in America.” Pictures don’t do it justice though. Yo eyeballs will.
Next up, we took a ride on the London Eye. It’s an interesting way to see the city, but I usually prefer street views to the bird’s eye. Wouldn’t call it a must do.
Westminster Abbey is beautiful to walk by or sit in front of for a few minutes. We didn’t go inside. I’m of the “you’ve seen one church, you’ve seen them all” camp so I generally don’t spend much time waiting in line or paying to walk through them.
Trafalgar Square is a gem I’d forgotten about. You can’t tell from this photo, but it’s a really cool way to see a ton of different vantage points in the city.
Saturday morning we got up for brunch in Notting Hill and then headed to Portobello Market. Markets (and shopping in general) aren’t my cuppa tea, but it’s a fun thing to cruise through on a Saturday morning. If you don’t mind crowds. Or are trying to tolerate them on behalf of your best friend’s enjoyment.
After the crowd of the market, it was nice to sit down on a quiet (and sunny!) patio at Ladbroke Arms. Matt, Ali and I had a drink (or two) and spent the afternoon laughing.
We headed to Borough Market, which Matt told me I was “absolutely going to love”. He was right. There are so many food stalls with almost every cuisine you can think of, all serving delicious food. The area surrounding the market is really quaint too. This is probably my favorite thing to do in London so far. As my dad would say, “Surprise, surprise. Stephanie has never missed a meal.” What of it.
Ali got pad thai, Matt got a lamb kebab and I got paella with chorizo. And then we got fudge, cookies, and samples of cheese afterward. Not because we were hungry. Just because it was the right thing to do.
Leaving Borough Market, we stumbled upon Southwark Cathedral. It felt like a storybook castle plopped right in the middle of the city.
On Sunday I introduced Matt and Ali to Harrod’s. We spent two hours in there without buying a damn thing. If that doesn’t speak to the magic of Harrod’s, I don’t know what would.
Love you, London. Can’t wait to keep exploring.
Where we stayed: our flat
Where we ate:
What you can’t miss:
Bank of America, Chase, Comcast and RCN will never again receive wrath on my behalf.
You guys are taking that shit FOR GRANTED.
UK BANK (Barclays): Matt went to update his mobile number listed on the account today. He goes online to change it, only to find out they can’t update the number until they send him a SPECIAL CALCULATOR in the mail and he then extracts a code from it (!?!?!) (Meanwhile, I emailed BOA this morning with a question about international transactions and they’ve already responded.)
UK TV/INTERNET (BT): We made an appointment to transfer the service to our name weeks before we moved. No one showed up on the appointment day/time (Sept 15). No call, no explanation. Matt talks to BT customer service reps for ~3 hours and they tell him the next available appointment is not until Oct 6th. He convinces them to somehow find an appointment for Monday (Sept 22). AGAIN, NO ONE SHOWS UP. Matt spends another several hours on the phone yelling at people. We have yet another appointment set up for next week. Will I be surprised if no one shows up? No, I will not be. Say what you will about Comcast but at least they are willing to take your money and give you service. I just want wifi, damnit.
I realize no one still cares about this trip, but I never got around to writing this post for my own record keeping.
Cape Cadogan (South Africa) - We stayed in this boutique hotel while visiting Cape Town. Overall, I’d give it 4/5 stars. The staff was really accommodating, making hot chocolate and coffee for us before one early morning activity (at 5:45AM!) The breakfast was decent, the rooms were spacious and the beds were really comfortable. My only complaint was the staff left the windows open all day, which meant the rooms were FREEZING constantly. It was also winter and unseasonably cold when we went, so we may have had an off experience. They were kind enough to give us water bottle heaters to keep our feet warm at night. Naturally, I gave myself two second-degree burns on my right foot the first night sleeping with one.
Mala Mala Private Game Reserve (South Africa safari) - This is one of the best places I’ve stayed while traveling (and probably also one of the most expensive). The rooms are gigantic for two people; we actually had his and hers bathrooms. The sliding doors at the back of the room open to a river that affords a view of tons of wildlife - elephants, impala, kudu, etc. - grazing and lazing. Our guide, Mike, went out of his way every day and every drive to get us to the viewings and animals we were most excited about. He was immensely knowledgeable about the wildlife and the property and I lost count of the number of times we went off-roading. Meals were also an experience in themselves; we had dinner in the boma under the stars every night. The food was absolutely delicious. I’d give Mala Mala 6/5 stars if I could. If you ever get the chance, this one is a can’t miss.
Victoria Falls Hotel (Zimbabwe) - There’s not much to do in Livingstone other than see Victoria Falls, which is exactly what we were there to do. This hotel was okay. You could tell it had once been a thing of luxury, but now feels a bit worn and could use appliance updates. The staff was nice and the warthogs walking around the grounds was a nice touch (until one attempted to rape the other) (#matingseason). You could see Victoria Falls on the back lawn of the hotel, which was an amazing sight. The food was okay. 3/5
Vundu Camp (Zimbabwe safari) - Well, this wasn’t a great place to end the trip. It was a much more bare bones camp and actually did have an element of camping to it. (The showers/toilets were outside with tarp walls around them. One side of each room was mosquito netting, which was also over the bed. Etc.) If the viewings were fantastic, all of this would have gone unnoticed. Unfortunately, we were in a national park, which meant we had to stick to the road. Meaning no getting close to the animals and any animals we did see usually ran at the sound of the jeep. So there was basically a lot of driving around, looking at birds. There was much less variety in the animals we saw than at Mala Mala and our guide was also a bit unaware. We didn’t feel overly safe with a rifle in his hands, let’s put it that way. The owner of the camp was a bit grouchy but his father-in-law, the camp manager, was a delight who would wake us every morning by breaking into song. I wouldn’t go back and probably wouldn’t recommend it to friends. 2/5
What should I do? Where should I stay? Can’t miss restaurants?
(Psst. Museums aren’t my thing.)
You guys knocked it out of the park with Paris and Bruges. We are officially past the trust falls stage. Help?
As I mentioned earlier, I got a new job, my first in London. My initial plan was to stick with advertising in spite of the fact I didn’t really like it. Sole moneymaker needs to bring in some $$$, amirite?
The more research I did, the less appealing working in advertising here seemed. While London is one of the best cities in the world to make great creative work, the industry is also a bit backward, in my opinion.
Through hard work and some lucky turns, I was promoted pretty quickly to the level (mid-management, let’s call it) I held back in the U.S. But here in London, I was told time and time again it didn’t matter how much responsibility I’d been given or how long I’d held my old title. To do the exact same job I’d been doing at home, I had to have been working in the industry for 10+ years. Period. I’ve only been working for four. I was looking at falling three steps down the ladder from where I was - Associate Creative Director, to senior creative to mid creative to junior creative. Make parallel and correct assumptions about what would happen to my salary.
Regardless, I kept on and met with about 7 or 8 Creative Directors at various agencies in London. They were all kind, willing to sit down and chat with me. But I felt like I was hitting a brick wall, wondering why I was going to take three steps back in a career I didn’t want in the first place. If I stuck with advertising another two years in London, where would that put me at 30? In the same career but a more junior position, still not any closer to figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up.
There were also a few ego blows. One CD looked through my work and told me it wasn’t good enough to join a top 10 agency in London (which he clearly considered his agency to be one of). Another’s email said he liked one thing in my book but nothing else was of that standard or anywhere like it. And that I needed to set my sights lower than the great London agencies. (I am not paraphrasing.) That email stuck with me. Maybe it’s going to linger for some time. If I’m not good enough to work in the industry I’ve busted my butt in for four years, what does that mean for my career in general? What if I’m never going to be the best - or even really good - at anything I set out to do?
At the same time I was talking to agencies, I was thinking about startups. I already know a corporate environment and big companies in general are not the places for me. I like to take ownership of projects, to be more invested, not a cog in the machine. (Note: I know you can take ownership in the corporate world, etc. etc.) I started talking to the CEO of a relatively new startup in the healthcare realm. He needed a Marketing Director to start the department from scratch. They don’t really know what their brand voice is. They need to find one. (That’s the stuff I’m qualified to do.) They want to use a lot of metrics and tracking. (That’s the stuff I’m not… yet.) For now, the position is a 3-month contract. If both parties like how things are going, it could become a full-time position, one where I’d benefit directly from the company’s success. This guy is the first person who doesn’t think I need to take 3 steps back in my career to make a name for myself here. Actually, with this new job he’s catapulting me a few steps forward. That’s the kind of challenge I want.
So who knows. Maybe I’ll start this position and not really like what I’m doing there either. But it’s different and it will be hard and I’ll learn a lot and stretch myself and hopefully get one step closer to finding a career that fulfills me. What’s that famous saying? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Time for a change.
Today’s my first day.
And it is the most normal I’ve felt in months and maybe some of the easiest joy as well.
What I’m trying to say is you can just turn your TV on for happiness rather than move abroad.
@aliochicago12 went home today. What a fantastic week and a half of laughs, memories and the occasional sprint through airports. Love you.
We are entering the age of Alzheimer’s - Absolutely haunting. One of the best pieces of journalism I’ve read in a long time.
The sad, dark end of the British Empire - Really cool I get to be here while the vote in Scotland is going on.