The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel

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Outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Bastille Day, 2012

First of all, for those who celebrated on Wednesday, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas! 🙂

Because my father travels for a living, I learned the importance of flexibility around the holidays early on. If he was out of town for an important birthday or holiday, we simply celebrated on a different night and had just as wonderful of a time! As I grew older, I began to experience my own interesting travel adventures that overlapped with holidays, which gave me a few fun memories along the way.

This week, I’d like to share some of my holiday travel experiences with you. Feel free to share your own in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel

1. Flying to London on the Fourth of July.
What better way to celebrate America’s independence from Great Britain than to fly out to the very country we are commemorating our freedom from? In the summer of 2012, I left for a short-term study abroad program on Independence Day, and the irony was not lost on me. (Of course, I actually arrived in London on the 5th and was able to barbecue with my family a day early, but I still will never forget this very strange and unique 4th of July, which was mainly spent on a plane!)

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Selfie on the Champs de Mars

Selfie on the Champs de Mars, 2012

2. Celebrating Bastille Day by the Eiffel Tower.
On that same study abroad trip, I traveled to Paris for Bastille Day, which celebrates France’s freedom from the monarchy and the storming of the Bastille. My friends and I watched the parade from a hotel room with mimosas in hand, and were able to peek out the window to watch the jets fly by. Later in the day, after climbing the Eiffel Tower, we grabbed an early dinner and then camped out by the Eiffel Tower early so we could watch the fireworks that night. Music played and as people from all over the world sang along, I felt more connected to complete strangers than I would have ever expected. (I also witnessed more marriage proposals than I had ever seen in my life!) It was a beautiful experience, one that I would recommend to anyone traveling to France in the summertime. (I also wrote an article with tips for celebrating the holiday abroad.)

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Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

3. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel.
When I was a junior in college, I traveled to Israel for ten life-changing days. The trip, which took place in December, spanned across the entirety of Hanukkah, and so it was the first year that I didn’t spend any of the holiday with family. However, being able to spend Hanukkah in a country where a greater percentage of the people celebrate it, I felt a strong sense of belonging and community. One night, when my friends and I perused the night life in Jerusalem, we were approached by rabbis who gave us sufganyot (a Hanukkah food similar to a jelly donut) in celebration. Of course, in America, if a bearded stranger approaches me with free jelly donuts, I’m not as likely to accept so readily, but on that night, it seemed more than appropriate. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel gave me a unique perspective on a holiday that I had been celebrating for my whole life, and it is a memory that I have carried with me every year since.

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4. Spending Christmas in the Philadelphia International Airport.
My very exciting Hanukkah was followed by a very lonely Christmas Day. My group returned from Israel on December 25th, and because we came from different parts of the country, everyone had different flights to catch from Philly. My flight wasn’t until that evening, so I spent the day reading, walking around, calling family members and people-watching. I wound up celebrating Christmas with my family on Boxing Day that year, but the experience gave me even more of an appreciation for those who work on the holidays, especially in service-based professions.

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sophisticated-ignorance5. Falling asleep early on New Year’s Eve.
When I was fourteen, I went on a family trip to the Netherlands. The trip was a blast – and my first time ever in Europe – but I came down with a nasty cold that was worsened by the flight home (which took place on New Year’s Eve). Because of this, I ended my year in bed, surrounded by tissues and drifting off to sleep before the clock struck midnight.

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What interesting holiday experiences have you had, abroad or otherwise?

International Adventures: Tips for Celebrating Bastille Day in Paris

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Sitting by the Eiffel Tower several hours before the fireworks went off! 🙂

Bon jour! For those of you of French descent/nationality, I wish you a happy early Bastille Day!

Last summer, I celebrated Bastille Day in the heart of Paris. Bastille Day, the French National Holiday that takes place on July 14, commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which symbolizes France’s freedom from its former monarchy. Because I had spent my Fourth of July on an airplane and missed out on all of the American traditions, I was excited to celebrate Bastille Day in France and become immersed in the French culture.

For those of you who made the trip out to Paris this summer, add Bastille Day to your itinerary. (Tweet this!) The city bursts to life with events and traditions that are enjoyable even if you aren’t French, but they can become a bit overwhelming for those who haven’t experienced the holiday before. Here are a few tips for how to appreciate all that Bastille Day has to offer without getting lost in the crowd.

Watch the parade on television.
This may sound counter-intuitive; after all, why would you watch a parade from your hotel room when you could watch it in person? Unfortunately, the Bastille Day Military Parade that takes place on the Champs-Elysses draws in such large crowds that it is nearly impossible to find a spot from which you can actually see the parade. Instead, open a bottle of champagne, turn on your television and stay by a window. If your hotel is near Bastille itself, you may even see the Patrouille de France jets fly by outside.

Paris226Spend your day in the city.
Once the parade is over, go outside and participate in all the revelry that Bastille Day has to offer. Take pictures with cadets from the military academies, climb the iconic Eiffel Tower (what better day to do it than on Bastille Day?) and eat an early dinner outside if weather permits. The excitement of Bastille Day in Paris is contagious, and by spending the holiday among the locals, you will feel like even more of a part of the experience. Be sure to watch your belongings, though – it is easy to lose track of your bags in these crowds.

View the fireworks from the Eiffel Tower.
The perfect place to view the Bastille Day fireworks from is the Champ de Mars, the lawn of the Eiffel Tower. Although the fireworks show doesn’t occur until late evening, arrive early with your camera, a few snacks and a towel or blanket to sit on. My friends and I selected our spots six hours before the show, giving us our fair share of seating. The fireworks are accompanied by music, so you will find yourself singing along among complete strangers from all over the world and having the time of your life.

Leave early.
Although the streets and subways are going to be inundated with people, you can still avoid a great deal of the crowds by leaving the fireworks show five minutes early. This will help you skip the big rush and get back to your hotel safely.

Enjoy your Bastille Day!

Original version published in Immersion World.

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in Paris

Bon jour, readers! For those who are wondering, yes, that’s me in the picture, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day. 🙂 (More on that later!) As Part II of my study abroad trip to Europe, my classmates and I spent a week in Paris, where we filled up on carbs, brushed up on our merci‘s and au revoir’s, and visited some breathtaking sites throughout the city.

Although I had been to Paris twice before (at ages 15 and 16), my experience this summer was unlike any other. This week, I’ll share five of my favorite attractions and memories from my most recent visit, and my recommendations for those who plan to travel to Paris in the future. Share your own experiences in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Paris

1. Musee d’Orsay.
When it comes to famous works of art, everyone tells you to visit the Louvre when you’re in Paris. Now, I’m certainly not knocking the Louvre — you could spend days in there before you’ve seen everything! — but I found during my most recent trip to Paris, I enjoyed Musee d’Orsay even more. Orsay houses some amazing impressionist works, and you’ll have the chance to see paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh and more. The building itself is a work of art, formerly the Gare d’Orsay railway station, and is also home to plenty of sculptures, photography and other media.

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2. Palais Garnier.
As a huge Phantom of the Opera fan, I always love visiting the Palais Garnier — the famous opera house that served as the backdrop in the original novel. Located near some of the high end Parisian shopping (Galleries Lafayette), the Palais Garnier is beautifully decorated and absolutely worth a visit. One of my goals is to eventually see a ballet or an opera there, but until then, I’m happy peeking into the auditorium and snapping photos in the venue’s various rooms. An added bonus is that Box Five is actually “reserved” for the Phantom… you can look at the box’s inscription to see for yourself! Even if you hated the book/musical, you’ll still appreciate the opera house’s gorgeous architecture and interior.

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3. Boulangerie Tour.
One morning, a smaller group of us visited a bakery called Le Petit Mitron, thanks to a tour we booked on Viator prior to leaving the States. For the next hour or so, we learned all about how bakeries produce croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes — and we had the chance to make our own! We had a very passionate baker and tour guide/translator, who both made the experience fun and interactive. Although I’m not much for food and beverage, I loved having the chance to create my own signature on a Red Label baguette, and I was very proud of my croissant-rolling skills! At the end of the visit, you get to take home a few creations for free.

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4. Tim Burton Exhibit at the Cinematheque Francaise.
My fascination with Tim Burton and his work probably began when I was three years old and Nightmare Before Christmas had come out. A lot of people will criticize his work nowadays for being too much of the same, but there’s something to be said for the dark worlds he weaves together (usually with the help of Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp), and I’ve always loved his cinematic style. That’s why I was very excited to see his work being exhibited at the French Cinema Museum, where they include early drawings and stories, notes from various film scripts, sketches of characters, short films, costume pieces from some of his movies and even the famous scissor hands that everyone knows from Edward Scissorhands (one of my all-time favorite movies). The exhibit will give you a deeper insight into Tim Burton and his work, and is definitely worth the visit.

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5. Bastille Day.
If you are ever planning a trip to Paris in July, Bastille Day (July 14) is a very exciting day to do it! Because it would have been difficult to attend the Bastille Day parade and have a decent view of everything, we decided to watch the parade from our hotel television… but little did we know that the jet fly-bys on TV would soon occur right outside our window! After the parade, we went to the Eiffel Tower for a bird’s eye view of Paris. But the best part of the day? Sitting on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower (pictured) for the remainder of the afternoon with friends, waiting for the fireworks show to begin. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Paris, but watching the fireworks with so many thousands of people from around the world was such a wonderful experience, and I know I’ll have to do it again someday.

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To learn more about my study abroad trip, read my last blog post about London! Tune in next week to find out what I loved in the third and final city of my tour.