Monday, July 29, 2013

NEXT UP: AMSTERDAM. This one's been on the list a while, one of those 20-something-stoner points of interest that has to get done. We've rented an amazing AirBnB on the canal: A classic Amsterdam houseboat. It was pricier than our usual accommodations, but it was literally impossible for Jeff not to stay in a houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam. He looked at me, all like, "This is happening. We'll figure it out elsewhere in the budget." And that was that. (I'm not complaining.)

And we'll finally make it to a major international city during its Gay Pride Festival. We missed Sydney by a day, Paris by two, and even Cambodia's capital, Phnom Phen by mere hours. Pride has slipped through our fingers more than once, but not this time. We'll gay it up bigtime in the Dutch capital. Our friend Joe (the one from Bahrain) will meet us for his summer vacation and he's always primed for a good time.

Aside from fully absorbing gay-Amsterdam (ew) and watching the Pride boats float the canal, we'll rent bikes and bust around for a week. I know I had strong feelings about museums in Paris (See: I Don't Give a Shit About Museums) but we'll visit the Van Gogh and the Anne Frank House. And we'll spend some lovely sunsets on the deck of our very own houseboat.


LOCATION: Berlin, Germany
DATE AND TIME: Monday, July 29, 2013 12:00PM Central European Time/Monday, July 29, 2013 6:00AM EST

PACKING FOR A TRIP OF THIS SCALE IS TRICKY. While we knew we could easily pick things up along the way, we didn't want to spend unnecessarily. Jeff has been carrying a medium backpacker-style backpack, and I've been using a large rolling duffle; both have been stuffed to capacity since we left home. We even shipped a slew of stuff - clothes we weren't wearing, books, camera lenses - from Vietnam (10kg for $135, and it took less than 2 weeks: not bad!) back in June.

This trip was very much planned around the sun. We arrived in New Zealand and Australia at the end of their summer, and then stuck to a firm route guaranteeing warm weather. This helped since we only had to pack for sun. I can't imagine if we'd zigged through Europe in February or zagged through northern Mongolia. Packing for 4 seasons would be really hard.

In terms of provisions, we started the trip with lots of pharmaceuticals, might-need toiletry items, and on-the-off-chance clothing. Jeff brought 3 pairs of jeans and I packed every pain relief medication I could cram in a Ziploc bag. After spending three months in South East Asia, I can tell you this: You can get all sorts of meds there, for pennies. Cold and Flu? No problem. Headache? Got it taken care of. And, as you can imagine, their Gastrointestinal Aisle is epic.

Below, a peek at what I'm packing.

1) This is likely the most-worn part of my wardrobe. Bathing trunks. I brought 3 pairs, and have ditched one along the way. If I could start the trip over again, I would've packed 10 and nothing else.

2) Other than a swimsuit, The Uniform for this trip has been a black polo shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. I literally have 5 of each and, like Smurfette before me, wear them every day. Polo shirts maintain their shape and are neater than a t-shirt, and khakis are just light and easy. I don't want to think about my outfit on this trip, so creating a uniform was the easiest plan of attack.

3) I have two pairs of shoes: these Vans and a succession of flip flops. Sneakers are good for walking around all day. I find that brown leather ones are better than, say, a bright colour or pattern. I can get away with wearing them to dinner (we don't eat at ultra-fancy places) and at first glance they don't immediately look sloppy.

4) One pair of khaki pants. I've worn them, literally, 3 times since we landed in New Zealand. Handy to have for those (rare) cool nights. I also wore them to the opera in Sydney, where shorts would've been inappropriate.

5) The navy blazer. I wore it to the opera in Sydney, and that's it. The poor guy has been smushed in the bottom of my suitcase all these months. When we shipped some things home, I considered ditching it, but here's what: On the off-chance I need it, a blazer isn't something you want to pick up along the way. It fits and I like it, so it'll stay the course.

6) A checked button-down shirt like this. They're beach-friendly, but can also be worn to a "nicer" event or dinner. They launder and travel very well. Handy to have, though hasn't seen much action.

7) We had leather flip flops made in Hoi An, Vietnam, a town known for its custom shoe and clothing industry. (They are similar to these by Ted Baker, though the straps are leather too.) They are comfortable and have held-up well. Not bad for $10.

8) The other half of The Uniform: Several pairs of khaki shorts. Again, they pack easily, are quick to iron, and don't look sloppy when we're in an urban area or having a nice lunch somewhere. We have done a full turn-over on our shorts since leaving. They can get a bit dingy after months of wear and questionable wash-water in places like Bali. But there are H&M's everywhere, so a quick stop and $50 had us back to square one.

9) The Essentials. A hoodie for cool nights. Several plain black T-shirts for beaching or sleeping, and all the underwear in my underwear drawer. You never know how long you'll have to wait to get laundry done, and certain things aren't wear-twice articles.

10) We've literally bought nothing on this trip, in terms of "souvenirs" or take-home stuff. But when we were in Istanbul we stumbled on Jennifer's Hamam in the marketplace and couldn't resist snagging a few Turkish towels. (There was a Canadian flag sticker on the door which drew us in.) We used to carry beach towels in our luggage, but ditched them somewhere in South East Asia as they were heavy and took up too much space. In the few weeks since Turkey, these have been so handy. As a lightweight picnic blanket in Paris or, their rightful use, a towel. They dry almost instantly and take up very little room in the luggage. A must for a trip like this.

On Uniforms (January 30, 2012)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

SEVERAL TIMES ON THIS TRIP WE'VE ARRIVED IN NEW PLACES WITH THE IMMEDIATE FEELING OF, "HM. I DUNNO." After particularly great legs (Bali) it can be hard for the next place to live-up (Thailand). After wandering the city centre on our first full day in Berlin, we sat at a pub and both slumped simultaneously. "This isn't Paris," I said. "I was just thinking the same thing!" Jeff replied. Obviously it's ridiculous that we'd even say such a thing, or that comparing Berlin to Paris to Athens to Singapore is something we do now. But here we are.

I've spent the equivalent of months in New York and now we've been to Paris, so what's left? How could any city even measure-up to those? And on day one in Berlin, I wasn't sure it was possible.

Our friend Paul promised the city would reveal itself. Or maybe we'd open-up to it. Whatever the case, day two started to feel right. We began to understand the city a bit more, getting familiar with the multi-syllabic subway stations and the underlying melancholy. It's a city steeped in full-blown horror. Chicago has seen some stuff. The gruesome days of Roman gladiators were rough, surely. But Berliners were living it within my lifetime. It's a city coloured by those decades of limitation and subsequent rebellion. Here, art and culture are elevated to religion, and, as my friend John noted, sex is currency. Everywhere you look there are signs of a strange polarity, and you'll certainly stumble over a placard reminding you of the once-literal bisection.

I think I almost expected active mourning, or at the very least, some obvious rage issues just beneath the surface of everything. I thought this city would brood. But, after a week (and I'm an expert now) this is not a place mired in sadness. It's a decidedly young-feeling city determined to eke out a new identity. I imagine winter has its own disposition, but, like Toronto, Berlin should be judged at its best, in the height of this record-hot summer.

(Visit my Instagram feed for details on some of the above images. I try to give a bit of context for the different places and monuments. Instagram is my real blog.)


1) Berlin is hip, but accessible. It feels like Toronto, except German-er. We've been discussing how cities fall on the Glamour Spectrum. Some are like New York and Paris, others like Toronto and Melbourne. Berlin is in the latter group.

2) The city is currently experiencing a 30% unemployment rate. 

3) Word on the street (and the internet) is that Berlin shuts down in July. It's extremely hot, so I get it. We saw 50-year record highs during our week, between 35 and 40ºC (95 - 104ºF). Painful without air conditioning. 

4) The Metro is efficient and clean. Though not cheap. It's up there with Toronto in terms of price-per-ride.

5) If you're into photography (particularly commercial fashion) you must visit the Helmut Newton Foundation at the Museum für Fotographie. They are currently exhibiting his World Without Men (women, personal + commercial, runs until October 13, 2013) and on permanent display is Private Property - his personal effects, letters, cameras, notebooks. So interesting. My favourite part was a wall of faxes he'd sent and received, notes to editors and friends, famous fashion stalwarts. Before email, pen-to-paper. Quite special. 

6) Our apartment was in a grey area between Kreuzberg and Neukölln in a largely Turkish neighbourhood. Apparently the döner (Turkish pita wrap) was invented right down the street. Because of the large Turkish population in Berlin (they were invited en masse after the War to work) it's said that Berlin sees döner sales of 2.5 million Euros a year. #carbloading

7) On weekends there's an outdoor market (arts, crafts, vintage clothing, etc) on Maybachufer east of Kottbusser Damm, along the canal. Worth a walk-through if you're in the area. There are others across the city as well.

8) 30 minutes on the U7 will take you from Alexanderplatz to a Wannsee, a lake outside the city. It's super popular in the summertime with locals. We were hopeful and decided to make the trek to avoid the record-breaking 45ºC Sunday heat. The train was efficient and easy. Then we arrived to find a gate/lineup situation. You have to pay 4.50€ to enter after waiting in a 1 hour queue. We stuck it out. Then found the beach to be mucky, shallow, overly-warm and completely crazy-busy. The water was so gross I couldn't even force myself in. Canadians are spoiled by beautiful, huge, clean lakes, which I knew. But that fact was illustrated beautifully today. 

9) For obvious reasons there are a tremendous number of blondes here. It's overwhelming.

10) The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park was interesting. It's a 25 acre, incredibly austere site with several statues, sarcophagi, and monuments to the fallen Soviet soldiers of WWII. Its sheer vastness is a reason to visit. I did find it rather jarring, however, that such an ostentatious memorial should stand in, what was once, the western fringes of East Berlin. Precariously close to the "death strip" - a no man's land on the east side of the Wall where at least 171 hopeful escapees were killed by Soviet guards. While I certainly don't dispute the contribution of the Soviet army during WWII, I can't shake what their government went on to do to East Germans during the subsequent decades. It's all kind of a gigantic irony-mindfuck. Over the years there have been many petitions to have the memorial dismantled. While I'm conflicted, I certainly don't think it should be destroyed. But perhaps the quotes from Stalin emblazoned on every surface could be reconsidered.

11) The Bauhaus Archiv is terrific and really well-curated. My only problem was the gift shop. I mean, gift shops are counter-intuitive in museums and galleries at the best of times, but particularly here. The entire time you wander, listening to a rather-good audio tour, you are hammered with the fundamental principles of the Bauhaus movement. (Form + function, design being a service to the people, efficiency, and affordability of materials/mass accessibility to good design, etc.) and then you're invited to buy "the Bauhaus Lamp" (Wagenfeld, 1924) for 425€ ($580USD). Now, this isn't meant to be a controversial statement about the value of these pieces, culturally, or their quality. I get it. And I'd encourage anyone who loves the lamp to pay ANY sum being asked for an original. I just find it disingenuous to sell them at the Archiv. Leave it to Design Within Reach.

12) Hope you like currywurst.

LOCATION: Berlin, Germany
DATE AND TIME: Sunday, July 28, 2013 7:00PM Central European Summer Time/Sunday, July 28, 2013 1:00PM EST


Location: Berlin, Germany
Accommodation: Hidden Gem by the Canal 
A super-stylized apartment in a great, up-and-coming area. The owner has assembled a crazy house of quirky knickknacks, taxidermy, artwork and vintage charm. The building itself is an old 6-storey walk-up (we got used to all 71 steps. Ugh.) A bit of noise in the morning (near a school), but safe and family-friendly. Lots of restaurants, shops, bars, and conveniences within seconds of the front door. Would highly-recommend.

Keeping the budget in-line, we ate at home or street food for the most part. But we had some cheap-eats Indian food in Kreuzberg at Aapka. Seating outside right along the canal. Quite nice. We also had a decent Italian meal at a local spot called Sippi Osteria. Literally at the bottom of our building, we'd walked by its busy patio many times before stopping to eat. Cheap wine, good food. Our friend Jack met us for drinks at a Berlin favourite, Cocolo Ramen, and we snacked on some really excellent dumplings. He's lived here for 2 years and is a regular, so I recommend this place highly (by proxy). 

In terms of grocery shopping, I'd recommend Karstadt. It's a much nicer shopping experience than the variety of "discount" stores located throughout Berlin (Aldi, Lidl). It's more expensive, but much better quality and a far superior shopping experience. (I take grocery shopping very seriously.)

Berlin is a booze-friendly place. You can buy wine, beer, and spirits cheaply all over, including corner stores. We had a couple of drinks along the Spree at a walk-up bar in Treptower Park. A great place to people-watch. 

Roses Bar is a must! It was our friend John's only recommendation and we were not disappointed by the pink fun fur walls and moody lighting. A dykey Brit expat named Gabrielle served drinks and gave shoulder rubs. 


Friday, July 26, 2013

WE DIDN'T STAY IN A LOT OF HOTELS WHEN I WAS GROWING UP. Our family trips were mostly weekend adventures to one of several provincial parks in our area where we'd erect a tent or pop-up our trailer and roast marshmallows for two days.  But on the rare occasion we'd pull up to a Super 8 on a road trip to America, I remember feeling a sense of adventure. The moment you swung open the door to find a perfectly reset room, with impossibly crisp linens and an inexplicable number of lamps. Like most families I knew, we lived in a house, so having a balcony (despite its parking lot view) was pretty exciting, too. And I've always been a sucker for a miniature toiletry item.

Until Dateline NBC starting shining blacklights at the Howard Johnson, unearthing horrors beyond comprehension, these temporary homes were special.

When you check into a hotel, it's your shot at sleeping on the other side of the bed, an aesthetic test-drive behind a monolithic mahogany desk you'd never buy in a million years. Hotels are an opportunity to consider, for a moment, the merits of dusty rose and a chance to leave wet towels on the floor. After 6 months in them, they also remind you how they are not home

This trip, among other things, has been about letting go of stuff. Every detail of our apartment in Toronto was planned and created, nothing by accident; while it wasn't belaboured, I did consider every aspect. Since packing it into boxes, divesting ourselves of most material belongings, and hopping onto a succession of airplanes, I've come to care less about things. I take a lot of comfort in the simplicity of having one chair, a couple of bedside tables and a bed. I'm not sure what else I need.

But AirBnBs are something different. Where hotels are completely anonymous, these short-term rentals are quite the opposite; many people live in their apartments when they aren't renting them to international strangers. So they are homes, brimming with personality and the effects of a life. When looking for sharp knife, you might stumble on old income tax receipts or a rather telling prescription bottle. I have moments where I feel like a very slow-moving cat burglar with all the time in the world. It can feel weird to dig to the back of a cupboard for a coffee mug that isn't yours or develop genuine concern for the health and welfare of somebody else's houseplant. 

Hotels seem to design themselves by some unspoken international average, where something is bound to be familiar to each person who crosses the threshold. If you're not accustomed to windows without screens, fear not, the TV controls will be conventional. If the electrical sockets are foreign and off-putting, the toilet will flush as you're used to. It's a push-pull. A give and take.

But AirBnBs don't strive to make you feel at home. Their distinct function is to make you feel at somebody else's home. Everything is region-specific, be it weird locks, a washing machine in the kitchen, or a shocking German toilet with a shitshelf built-in. (I won't get into it. But, it's horrifyingly Googelable.) If you do the AirBnB circuit, you're meant to experience a place like an insider. There will be no faux-comforts for you here. 

And like that mahogany desk at the Comfort Suites Hotel, AirBnBs let you test-drive somebody else's toilet and their personal style. I've always wondered just how unbearable one of those chairs shaped like a hand would be, and now I know. Would I like a 14th century armoire in my bedroom? No thank you. Oh gosh, how annoying would it be to drink water from three-ounce shot glasses? Very! 

It's a great opportunity to take a spin in somebody else's life. If only for a week.

And I've been inspired by so many things along the way. When we go home, I know I'll drown in stylistic choices as we set ourselves up in a new place. I'll have to paint everything white or run the risk of becoming my worst nightmare: A post-travel, identity crisis-mish-mash of Turkish kilims, South East Asian pottery and kangaroo taxidermy. Louis XV thrones, Balinese water features and Union Jack flags. But, hear me now: There will be no Buddhas.

(Our current AirBnB in Berlin. In an old walk-up, the place has 12-foot ceilings, decades of tattered paper on the walls, and a cornucopia of styles. A large room at the back - 20x30, beautiful - is being transformed into the owner's studio space so sits disheveled. But lovely.)

LOCATION: Berlin, Germany
DATE AND TIME: Friday, July 26, 2013 6:55PM Central European Summer Time/Friday, July 26, 2013 12:55PM EST

Thursday, July 25, 2013

When the time came for a map of Berlin, my dear friend and talented illustrator Paul got really excited and couldn't wait to start talking about this town. When I requested a comprehensive list of must-see's, he responded immediately and with such passion, I had to share his list with you. I'd never heard him sound like an inspiring history teacher before, and it charmed me something fierce!

In his own words, just an email from him to me, this is Paul Dotey's Berlin.

•        •        •

Berlin can be a stern concrete cousin to Paris, but it really does reveal itself. Someone told me that Berlin is a museum of the 20th Century. Fascism, communism, Nazism, capitalism, totalitarianism: All of it happened there. Paris and Rome have ancient history, but Berlin's history happened within the lifetime of the old duffers sitting next to you on the bus! Berliners have seen it!

Bauhaus Archiv | A great museum. Well put together, but not massive. I really loved it, it combined the style and look of the age with the politics. The modern shit got shut down pretty quickly when Hitler pushed for a return to traditional German style.

Tiergarten | Berlin's Central Park. Nude sunbathing boys, too, if you know where to get lost.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is very impressive. The metaphor presents itself quickly - wandering through what seems like an open free place but you can quickly lose the person you're with if you turn a corner.

The Topography of Terror is also worth a visit (ok, ok, there's more to Berlin than genocide and war, stick with me...) It's an outdoor museum along part of the Wall and on the site of the Gestapo HQ. It was powerful.

The Kathe Kollwitz Museum was really special to me - She drew, painted, sculpted, all about women and children. She lost her father and brothers in WW1, then her sons in WW2, so she was FUCKING MAD. I'd never describe her work as depressing or bleak - she has too strong a style, she's too bold to be pitiful. Her style is pretty much the benchmark for Anti-War propaganda.

Potsdamer Platz is one of the best sections of 'new' Berlin; it used to be the border between east and west and now it pretty much looks like what North America should look like in 2150. "Ohhh, so THIS is urban planning done right," you will say. 

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a TRIP. It's a bombed-out remain from WW2 but they didn't rebuild it, they just... kinda preserved it. See it to believe it. 

Checkpoint Charlie is also really amazing with a small, quick museum. This is the place that made all of Berlin's recent history make sense. This one little gate and a guard was the border between the free world and the iron curtain. The museum has cars with hollowed-out seats to fit children so the parents could drive through Checkpoint Charlie to 'visit a doctor' in West Berlin, but they were in fact escaping. And when they snuck adults in cars they wedged blocks of wood into the shocks so the car wouldn't ride low and look too heavy! And these people are alive today! This stuff isn't ancient history!

LOCATION: Berlin, Germany
DATE AND TIME: Thursday, July 25, 2013 11:00AM Central European Summer Time/Thursday, July 25, 2013 5:00AM EST

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Paris in July. We did that.

And just in time to leave, I finally mustered the guts to say bold things like "Bonjour!" and "C'est bon?" at the grocery store. We ate more bread than is reasonable and spent just shy of 50€ on cheese. (But, not at a restaurant or anything, rather at markets and delis where it's unbelievably cheap. So I'm saying that's a lot of fucking cheese!) We drank wine by the gross and walked more than we have in a very long time. Paris is a cheese/wine/walking kinda town.

And it's a place perfect for the highly-sensitive, but not the faint of heart. (There's a difference.) Its smells and its noises are frequent, and if you're like me, you'll smell and hear all of them. Thoroughly laced with urine, arguments waft across airshafts and promenades, ambulances and police cars wee-waa casually down wide boulevards as if not in a hurry at all. The sun is hot, but the shade is actually cool. It reminded me that in Toronto, the shade of an oak tree is just a dimmer version of the same humid air. I have to stare at my feet as the pavement turns to cobbles; alleyways of the Marais are actually more treacherous than the ancient temples of Cambodia. Gardens and parks are everywhere, though you need to be choosey if you're looking to spread out on the grass; it's prohibited in most places, the one fussy French thing I could do without.

When I wander the streets I read, in a hushed whisper, every street sign and poster. I've perfected my guttural R's, merci very much, but none of you will ever hear them. I'm much too self-conscious to try them out on anyone who knows me. Instead I'll sheepishly mutter to strangers who work in kiosks on this, our last day in Paris.

(Gustave Eiffel designed the tower, completed as the entrance to the World's Fair in 1889. He had an office built for himself on the upper-deck. Amazing.)


1) Paris is not a large place, at only 105km². Just barely larger than Manhattan and a little smaller than Vancouver. Paris would take up less than 20% of big-city-sprawlers like Toronto and Chicago. Paris is small

2) That said, it's got an impressive network of roadways at over 6000 kilometres. Philip Augustus, the King of France from 1180 until 1223, had the streets paved in the year 1200. Which I have a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around.

3) The Paris Metro system is impressive. There are over 200 kilometres of lines and it seems to go absolutely everywhere. We used it constantly and found it efficient, clean, and convenient. We never waited more than 2 minutes for a train and found transfers and navigation well-marked in English. 

4) Velib, the public bike system, is good/clean/etc. but isn't SO great as a visitor if you don't have a local SIM card or constant access to wifi on your phone. We found ourselves going over the 30 minute free period because we couldn't find stations or the stations were full. It was a bit frustrating. We enjoyed busting around town this way, but the inconveniences eventually made the Metro a better option. 

5) Cabs are pretty reasonable, but very hard to come by. There just aren't enough.

6) I thought there'd be a boulangerie on every corner. There aren't. More than once I found myself stumbling around, desperate for bread, and without a bakery in sight. However, there's no shortage of pharmacies, cafes, and hair salons.

7) Don't step in puddles, it's probably urine. The whole city smells like pee. On many occasions we saw men peeing in very random/public places in the middle of the day. It's weird.

8) We went to the Piscine Josephine Baker, which is a pool on a barge on the Seine near the Bastille. It looked quite beautiful and we always dig a pool day. Their website is bad and we were disappointed to find out that Speedos and bathing caps are a requirement of the facility. Fussy Parisians. While I do recommend going, be prepared for that.

9) Buy tickets for things like museums and the Eiffel Tower in advance online. You can bypass the crazy lines this way.

10) People. smoke. everywhere.

11) Happy Hour is a worthwhile endeavour. Between 4pm and 8pm is a great time of day to sit and people watch, and after walking all day, a perfect time to rest. 

12) Nothing is open on Sundays. Like, regular supermarkets are closed. Infuriating.

13) Early-on we did a bus/boat tour of the city, to get our bearings. L'Open was the company we chose, as there was a stop near our apartment. The Batobus boat portion was fun and nice, but the bus tour was terrible. The commentary was lame and it was really too busy. The bus would stop frequently and dozens of people would be there to board/purchase tickets, etc. Sometimes you'd sit in traffic for 15 minutes waiting for this process. It was the worst. Awful. Terrible.

14) It stays light until 10:30pm! Glorious!

15) Carrefour carries a Sauvignon called La Francette for 1.62€ which is completely palatable. Over the course of 2 weeks we had 10 bottles. Highly-recommended. Carrefour carries a lot of wine, actually, and some of their "more expensive" (still so cheap compared to Toronto) reds are terrific. If you can find Gabriel Meffre Châteauneuf-du-Pape, buy a couple bottles and take them home. It's impossible to get near it for less than $40 at home, and this one was 14€. 

16) If you're looking for a familiar voice, visit Ginger at The Red House. An American-owned watering-hole we quite enjoyed. 

17) Typically we get a sense of tipping culture by the Visa transaction: If it prompts you to enter a tip, we figure we should. But in Paris, they like their tips in cash. 10-15% is good, though watch for restaurants that add a big service charge. You can leave less if the service charge is high.

18) The Eiffel Tower is a beautiful thing. Sadly (and perhaps shockingly?) we didn't go up. Waiting in line was a shitty option (the lines are bananas) and all pre-purchase tickets were booked up every time we went online to buy. I've talked about our anti-schedule strategy, so we were never sure what we'd want to do days in advance. So we never got around to it. Je suis oops. UPDATE: On our last night in Paris, we did it. We had to, and the line looked manageable. It was worth it, though I'd prefer to go up during the day. A beautiful monument.

LOCATION: Paris, France
DATE AND TIME: Sunday, July 21, 2013 6:00PM Central European Summer Time/Sunday, July 21, 2013 12:00PM EST


Location: Paris, France
Accommodation: Cosy One Bedroom Near Montmartre 
Rough would be the wrong word to describe the intersection of Barbès and Rochechourart where this apartment is located. It's a bit chaotic (with a Metro station, people loitering, dudes selling fake sunglasses, etc.) but it doesn't feel unsafe or aggressive. Just kind of . . . colourful. With a Carrefour (supermarket) just up the street, the Metro (the 4, which is super great line, and also walking distance to Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est, if you're making your way out of the city) and lots of other conveniences, what the neighbourhood lacks in calm, it more than makes up for in other ways. For this price, you just can't beat it. And, frankly, it feels like real Paris up here in Montmartre. Off the tourist track, for sure. Minutes to icons like Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, and the Paris-Louxor cinema, there's lots of see without going far. Otherwise it's a quick Metro ride to the major sites/museums in the centre of town. 

The apartment itself is no-frills, but large, and has a washing machine, which is very handy on a protracted visit. Things get quite loud early in the morning. The bathroom is not luxurious, if that's important to you. Small, cramped, bad water pressure, and kind of dank. I'll be glad to upgrade the shower experience in our next stop. The kitchen is not well-stocked (utensils, proper wine glasses, etc.) but serviceable. Again, at this pricepoint, it is as it should be. Pricier rentals will offer more bells and whistles. There's a Tati (discount department store) at the end of the block should you desperately require a spatula.

We ate at two restaurants. First we were sucked into a cute French restaurant in Les Puces called Chez Louisette's. A former dancehall, there's live singing and a frenetic atmosphere. And the food was pretty solid. Then we had an overpriced sandwich at a café on Boulevard Saint-Germaine, which was the jarring end to eating out. Here's what: We love eating, but we can't afford to blow all kinds of euros on sit-down meals, especially when they add a 19% service charge. It's just not worth it. If I can go to a grocery store and snag a bunch of cured meat, several bottles of wine, and a crate of strawberries for a song, why wouldn't I eat in a park? Who needs a table and chairs. Not me

But we did our share of macaron-tasting. Ladurée is classic and failsafe, but Maison Georges Larnicol offered great macarons and a wide array of confections. Some of the best caramels I've ever eaten, plus brittles, pralines, and these little candy-coated egg things that will blow your mind.


Friday, July 19, 2013

WHEN WE GO TO IKEA, I'M THE GUY WHO POKES AROUND EACH MOCKED-UP ROOM.  I run my hands across propped clothing in the closet and stop to look at myself in the mirror. I sit for a moment on the edge of the bed and wonder if I could live there. I pay no mind to price tags or finishes, but rather drag a wrist over the kitchen counter as I mindlessly gaze out the fake window. If I haven't visited in a while, I'm not a "skip the showroom" kinda guy. I don't shortcut to the As-Is, grab a meatball and go. I meander.

As a kid, I always liked playing house, or school, or store. If I played cops-and-robbers, I was always the detective pushing paper in the treehouse screaming "But where were you that night??!" I didn't care for running around and hopping fences. While my friends shot cap guns and got scraped knees, I radio'd clever tips and said things like "Johnson, get yer ass back here now!"

When I built with Lego I was a realist. Never spaceships and robots, but rather suburban homes with covetable sectional sofas and thoughtful landscaping. When a newly-added character needed an apartment, I built one over the garage like they did on Growing Pains. Sometimes a tornado would tear through the neighbourhood, forcing all the yellow people into a crawlspace while I took out some walls or opened a hole in the back of the house. But then they'd cheerfully install a set of sliding glass doors and maybe a pool. In my playtime, disasters were inevitable, but also a chance to remodel.

You have your fun, I'll have mine.

It might seem strange that we're doing Europe this way, and before we actually started traveling, I had different ideas about it too. In my mind, we'd land in one city, grab a croissant, hop on a train, hit Luxembourg for lunch and have dinner in the Swiss Alps. I thought we'd take advantage of the close-proximity of places and dart all over. Naively, I thought we'd see everything in these 12 weeks.

But as our trip began to lay itself out in front of us, I started to see how we travel. Immediately upon landing in Auckland, New Zealand, we discovered that we're not fast. We're not particularly organized. Perhaps I should be embarrassed about this, but I'm not: We like to sleep in. We're not sites-people or list-people or must-see-people. I won't speak for Jeff, but I'll tell you this: I'm wander 'round the showroom to see if I could live here-guy.

Early on it also became clear that spikes in the budget happen when we go from one place to another. Obviously transportation is a major cost, but also settling. The longer we stay in one place, the less money we tend to spend; we get into a groove and figure out the affordable approach to everything. If somewhere long enough, I can buy a bottle of olive oil and use up the whole thing. And so we were realistic when the time came to really start really planning Europe. We knew we'd have to choose a handful of hubs and hunker down in each. No lunches in Luxembourg.

So it's a highlight reel of nations. Now that we have the travel bug, I can't imagine we'll ever stop, so when we love a place (Bali! Greece! Bangkok!) we'll go back and see the rest of it. And knowing that eliminates the pressure to see every square inch this time around.

After two glorious weeks in Paris, we'll spend next week in Germany. It could've been Munich or Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, but a nation's capital is always a safe bet, so Berlin is where we'll spend our German-primer. We've rented another AirBnB and will settle, happily, into domestic life in another place. We'll wander around and eat schnitzel, I guess. We won't do everything, but who the ficken has time for that?


Visit Paul's newly relaunched website: PAULDOTEY.CA

LOCATION: Paris, France
DATE AND TIME: Friday, July 19, 2013 6:51PM Central European Time/Friday, July 19, 2013 12:51PM EST

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I come from a place that lights up in springtime; Toronto is special when the sun comes out. Its citizens lose their mother-loving minds and flee to any park or curbside that will accommodate them, to soak in those scarce days while they last. So I recognize the feeling here: It's panic mixed with joy mixed with simple, meteorological intoxication. Spring fever. Which, if you do it right, blends seamlessly into summer, then coasts through those last days of September before petering-out. You've gotta get it while it's hot.

And what better way than eating snacks instead of a meal? All along this city's riverbanks and sloping knolls, people (young and old) are mashing soft cheese into hunks of bread with friends.

I've always been good at a picnic, but this trip has put me in the major leagues. We've had at least one picnic a day for nearly two weeks. I can pack the whole thing into a tiny knapsack, including wine and repurposed yogurt cups from which to drink. Bread, meat, cheese, fresh fruit, chocolate, sharp knives, and cloth napkins. For a supper-picnic, I might snag a roast chicken from l'epicerie and blanche a handful of green beans. We still eat multiple baguettes and a shit-tonne of cheese, but somehow it feels a bit more dinner-y. And all spread out on the satisfyingly-neutral Turkish towels we bought in Istanbul. It's twee to the point of obnoxious, but I can't get enough.

(One of our many picnics on the Seine. On the right, yogurt in adorable glass jars with foil tops. Perfect for breakfast or picnic-dessert, and when they're empty, they travel well for wine-consumption.)

Free to be You and Me (May 7, 2012)
Real Life Friends (August 11, 2011)
Super Charcuterie (September 5, 2010)

LOCATION: Paris, France
DATE AND TIME: Friday, July 19, 2013 12:30AM Central European Time/Thursday, July 18, 2013 6:30PM EST

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Here we are, in Paris, where (according to Wikipedia) there are at least 153 of them, ranging from the Musée de l'Erotisme in Montmartre to the Louvre in The Tuileries. It's a city rife with historical significance and its feet firmly planted in the arts.  So I suppose not giving a shit is a pretty crass thing to say. But I'm tired of pretending, of keeping up appearances. So I'll say it again: I don't give a shit about museums.

Today Jeff and I spent a rare day apart. (I can count on one hand the days we've spent solo in the last 6 months.) He blissfully meandered through the Louvre, the audio commentary filling his brain with wonderful tidbits. And I marched around outside, my headphones playing music instead, buying hats and looking at the buildings and the street signs and the gazillion ancient bits Paris has to offer. Because, get this: The whole city is a museum. Even the janky uptown apartment we rented is a testament to another time, with its rounded walls and thick mouldings, layered in paint. Ironwork encases the windows and the pipes rattle under vintage plaster.

Because Paris is old.

And so when Jeff wanted to spend a day with Aphrodite and Mona (incidentally, the only Mona I ever cared about was a redheaded Robinson) I happily opted out. And he happily let me. (I'm a monster without air conditioning and he'd sooner throw himself in La Seine than deal with me at a museum.) I did my thing, and he did his. Then I met him at 7:30 with a bottle of wine and a picnic on the riverbank. Perfection.

But here's what: If I could have a private tour with a witty docent who slyly dropped tidbits about the sexual deviancies of the artists, I'd be all-in. But, after Angkor Wat and the Parthenon, I can't handle places that are busting at the seams with tourists. Even if they're couture seams. I'm just not willing to fight through a crowd to get 15 feet from a mediocre painting of some woman who appears less-interested than me. That's right. I just said that. 

(I'll happily wander around outside the Louvre all day long. It's enormous and beautiful from every angle. Paris is the most magnificent city I've seen, with parks and avenues and gardens for days. The Metro is efficient, there's bread on every corner, and the men are hot. It's a near-perfect place. Last three photos by Jeff, from inside the Louvre. A crowd 15-deep gathers in front of the Mona Lisa. Ugh. I'd rather eat croissant and I know many of you out there agree. Stop fronting.)

LOCATION: Paris, France
DATE AND TIME: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 11:15PM Central European Time/Wednesday, July 17, 2013 5:15PM EST