Le not so quaint Parisian apartment

Even the best of us trip up on the odd occasion, and it seems that no matter where my pink-sneakered footsteps take me,  a trail of chaos and adventure inevitably follows, as if haphazardly weaving its way into the story-line, whether I like it or not.  Eager to share tales of mischance and adversity, these episodes of calamity offer quite the unique take on my escapades abroad.  After all, rare is the sojourn that goes off without a hitch, a picture perfect fairy tale of unrealistic expectations.  No - in my world, passports are lost, planes leave without me, trains break down and hotels are oftentimes flea infested accommodations of the bug producing kind.  I therefore alternate between either renting apartments or staying in hotels when traipsing on foreign territory, and as desirable as it is to be pampered in a hotel, putting your feet up in the coziness of one’s own pad is oftentimes just the route to go.  Or, so I mistakenly thought….

Envisioning a picture window view

Envisioning my future Paris apartment

 And that is how I stumbled upon le chic Paris apartment, quite the affordable gem of a find in a bustling French neighbourhood, my new temporary digs away from home.  A quaint studio walk-up situated in the 2nd arrondissement along rue Montorgueil, the apartment was located in an area of town that I had not stayed in, my previous rental apartments occupying real estate in the 3rd arrondissement in Le Marais.  The price was right, it was available for rent on my requested dates and most importantly, the pictures on the website showcased a large floor to ceiling picture window, a cozy kitchen nook and best of all, it was literally steps away from shops and bistros.  No matter then that it was barely roomy enough to accommodate both the Kid and I, a mere 260 square feet of Parisian quaintness, it would nonetheless suffice for our five day stay.  What could go wrong?  Plenty, that is, if you tend to get freaked out about being sequestered in miniscule enclosed spaces, or, if you’re over the top claustrophobic, like you know who!

Little did I realize when I paid the deposit for our cute as a button apartment, that I would literally spend the majority of my time trying to figure out how to avoid returning to those cramped quarters at the end of the day, begging and pleading with the Kid to meander the darkened rues and avenues until our sore and blistered tootsies literally bled onto the pavement, leaving us no choice but to step foot into le dreaded confining cell of an apartment.

As le French taxi sped along the avenues, en route to le charming Parisian apartement, the Kid and I were beside ourselves with glee, eager to kick up our heels (Keds, to be exact), fling open our picture window and literally hang from the rafters as we celebrated la joie de vivre in our favourite city.  And then reality hit hard as our taxi screeched to an abrupt halt, and mercilessly catapulted us across the curb, dab smack in front of an edifice that was undergoing quite the renovation, a barricade of steel girders cautioning us to stay far, far away.  The imposing scaffolding effectively hid the entrance passage way from view, as if imploring would-be tenants to tread with trepidation and enter at their own risk.  In hindsight, my pink-sneakered feet should have just turned around and high-tailed themselves to the nearest hotel, but how was I to know what labyrinth of a maze lay ahead?

Le taxi en route to le quaint Parisian apartment....perhaps we should have gone to the Ritz instead!

 Punching in a five digit code, the proprietor led us through the first of two sets of automated doors, each of which required a swipe of an electronic card in order to open (like, seriously, are we in a vault or top-secret spy hideout?  And heaven forbid, what if there is a power failure and the doors refuse to click open and the Kid and I are trapped in the now black as night foyer?). The mere possibility of the likelihood of such an occurrence sent shivers of dread along my spine, memories of being trapped in the Middle Ages in the Historium still too raw to shake. 

My sense of unease was increasing with each step, as we snaked our way along the lengthiest and narrowest of hallways, burrowing deeper into the annals of one of the strangest of apartment complexes.  Navigating the now confining maze of corridors, turning left and then right and then left again, up the stairs, then round a corner, only to traverse yet another constricting corridor, I was seriously considering turning around and bolting for the exit, which, unfortunately for me, was nowhere in sight, for this labyrinth had me trapped like a fox in its snare. 

Le dejected sigh....wishing this was my apartment hallway...Le grand sigh.....

 After what seemed like an eternity, we rounded yet another corner and were finally deposited at our questionable dwelling at the top of the stairs. Well, at least it’s not in the basement, is near the attic and thus close to possible streams of daylight, so it might not be that dismal after all, I reasoned, all the while chiding my over-active imagination for once again leading me down that well worn path of delusional and irrational thought.

Could it get any worse?  Well, dear reader, it did, as the bolt stubbornly refused to budge yet even a millimetre, forcing le cool as a cucumber Parisian landlord to laboriously huff and puff as he finagled with the latch, all the while chuckling that getting into the apartment was clearly not as difficult as getting out of the apartment.  Say what?  Apparently, the previous tenant had accidentally locked himself inside, with the temperamental bolt having jammed the door shut, thus sequestering the distraught foreigner inside, freaking him out sufficiently enough to warrant a late night rescue phone call to Monsieur.  Are you kidding me?

Should have moved into the Palace of Versailles instead....

Welcome home!!

Come traverse a labyrinth of mazes as you snake your way to your steal of a deal Paris apartment, all the while encountering a few roadblocks as you stumble along the way…

Next week - Yikes!!  What next?  Do we stay or do we go?  Stay tuned for more on our Parisian adventures!!  

A five star gastronomic picnic on a budget

“Ahhh….this is the life”, I thought, as I took yet another unlady-like gulp of cherry flavoured Kriek, comfortably ensconced in one of the prettiest of patios in Bruges, conveniently located just down the stairs from my room at Hotel Malleberg.  One of the primary reasons that I chose this three star budget friendly hotel was not only for the spacious rooms, but for its charming flower strewn garden inner courtyard.  Languishing in a Belgian café after a long day of shopping and sightseeing was not the most economical of options, as my frugal penny pinching scrooge had to stretch each and every Euro in order to ensure that the Kid was well fed and that most importantly, there was sufficient vino for you know who, as well as a few leftover coins in the kitty for that oh so pricey designer satchel I had my eye on.  With a little bit of ingenuity and resourcefulness, my ever so clever thriftiness enabled us to partake of yummy gastronomic fare and indulge to our heart’s content for a fraction of the price one would pay at the exorbitantly priced tourist trap restaurants located a hop, skip and a jump away from our courtyard away from home.  How then, was this possible, without breaking the bank, as, after all, remember when we had to pay a ghastly 2 Euros for tap water at one such fine dining establishment?  Well, dear reader, it’s called stocking up at le not so fashionable supermarket, where the Kid and I were able to load up her knapsack with a cornucopia of goodies and feast like the pretend royalty we so desperately aspired to be (I’m strictly speaking for the Kid here).

Le Niece was none too pleased with having to relinquish her image as an up and coming aristocrat (like, seriously, Kid, grow up, will ya) and be seen schlepping groceries along the rues and avenues, a commoner forced to stand in line at the Boulangerie, queuing with the rest of them for a fresh out of the oven melt in your mouth buttery croissant.  Adamantly refusing to stuff that aromatic spit roasted chicken in her sac, the Kid bawled and protested, mortified that a salivating pack of mongrel mutts would follow her trail back to the hotel, sniffing and yelping their way to a tasty supper.  Rumblings and misgivings aside, Miss Aristocrat Niece had no choice but to comply with her cheapo relative’s directives and help tote the assortment of foodstuffs back to the hotel.  Bribery worked like a charm as the ever contriving Kid had struck the deal of a lifetime with her pink-sneakered Auntie, her bag now overflowing with a mountain of chocolate and gallons of sugar-laden soda, a gluttonous banquet of the stomach ache kind.  Sad but true.

Pleased as punch at having now saved bucket-loads of Euros by setting up our own makeshift picnic in the flower strewn courtyard of our hotel, I couldn’t help but be proud of my ingenuity, teaching Miss Aristocratic niece that it was indeed possible to dine like kings on a pauper’s budget.  As for those stray dogs that the Kid was hesitant to befriend, well, let’s just say that even our four-legged friends blissfully napped the afternoon away, dreaming of a feast like no other.

Come dine with us as we picnic on divinely scrumptious fare in our cute as a postcard garden courtyard, indulging in gastronomic delicacies from our five star non Michelin rated local supermarket. 

Next week – Au revoir Bruges!  Where do our pink-sneakered footprints take us next?   Stay tuned for the continuation of the Kid and Auntie Nora’s hilarious escapades as we traipse throughout Europe. 

Our castle away from home in medieval Brugge

Traipsing around the globe is oftentimes quite the daunting task, requiring bucket-loads of energy, stamina, perseverance and last but not least, a comfy pair of soles for hiking around endless miles of foreign rues and avenues in quest of suitable accommodation, a home away from home and a place to rest those oh so weary blistered tootsies.  Unfortunately for us, my shoestring budget and lack of royal pedigree excluded us from both the privilege of bunking with the Queen and partaking of afternoon tea and crumpets at the Palace, being more realistically in line with pitching tents in campgrounds and napping on park benches.  A far cry from the jet setting lifestyle of the rich and famous that my starry eyed 16 year old niece strove to emulate, horrified to learn that instead of taking up residence at a ritzy glitzy five star hotel, we would instead be checking into a far more economical one or two star (if we were lucky) budget friendly inn.  The key word here was budget, meaning cheap, affordable, cost efficient and bargain basement priced lodging. My only requirements were that our hotel was located in a safe and well lit area of town, and was not a flea infested motel which bordered on the perimeters of skid row.  Who was the delusional one here?  A cheapo frugal Auntie scrimping her pennies or money is no object imaginary aristocrat Miss Kid?

Never one to stray far from home without some sort of back-up plan in place, as sleeping in airport terminals or train stations was neither the most desirable nor practical of options, especially since the Kid’s over-bearing mother would be appalled upon finding out that her daughter’s European holiday was spent camped out in an over-crowded and possibly germ infested, airport lounge - no, better to be on the safe side then and scour the web for that gem of a find and score the deal of a lifetime at a fraction of the price.

And that is how I cleverly stumbled across Hotel Malleberg, a three star (count ‘em , three lucky stars!!) charmingly quaint inn situated literally smack dab on prime real estate, peeking around the corner from Bruges’ main square.  Boasting spacious rooms (quite the rarity in European budget hotels) overlooking a flower strewn courtyard, this reasonably priced family friendly inn did not disappoint and was a welcoming sanctuary for our tired and weary bones.  Literally a step away from shops, bistros and fine dining establishments, the hotel exceeded all of our expectations, and was truly our castle away from home, a place to call our own for the four days that we were in the medieval Belgian town.  The icing on the cake being that even Le Niece was surprisingly impressed, enthralled by its homey comfiness, our room on the top floor large enough to give each of us our desired space.  

Breakfast was a gastronomic delight of eggs, cheese, salamis and a buffet of cold cuts, yogurt, fruit, bread and croissants.  The ever smiling proprietor was eager to please, ensuring that each guest was adequately fed, continually replenishing the dining table with fresh and savoury sustenance.  Satiated by endless cups of steaming café au lait, I was oftentimes reluctant to leave my perch, daydreaming the hours away as I scribbled in my journal at the start of each morn.  Sequestered in a cozy nook in the 16th century stone walled cellar, I was cocooned in contented bliss, as inspiration literally oozed from pen to paper, gifting me page after page of calligraphic musings.  It goes without saying that those early morning moments in time are just one of many cherished memories of my stay at this ever so charming hotel.

And when Miss Niece and I were sufficiently tuckered out after spending countless hours meandering the cobblestoned and canal lined pathways, our old-fashioned inn was a warm and inviting beacon of light welcoming our wearied souls to our temporary home away from home.  Sounds a bit cliché, mais oui, but oh so true.

Come check your bags at the inn and experience the warmth of Belgian hospitality at the cutest and quaintest of family owned hotels, a budget friendly establishment waiting to introduce you to the charm of cute as a postcard medieval Bruges.

Next week – where else in Bruges do our pink-sneakered feet take us?  Stay tuned!!

Reflections on a year spent travelling (who, moi?)

Reflections on a year spent travelling the globe. Quite the catchy title, isn’t it?  Too bad that it wasn’t one that pertained to the past year of traipsing around the world, as my three week microscopic sojourn circumventing the earth was a tad 350 days and 193 countries short of coming close to such an exhilarating adventure.

No, Auntie Nora was instead stuck with the Kid (a moody and overly dramatic teenager), for whom the word hardship equated to lugging over-burdened suitcases on half-day hikes along deserted roadways en route to one star hotels catering to tourist budget pocketbooks, all the while dining on stale packets of vending machine crisps washed down with lukewarm tap water.  A far cry from Disney and Leave it to Beaver.  Obsessed with scoring the deal of a steal and snagging a 95% reduced Chanel satchel, I spent the bulk of my vay-cay scavenging flea markets and vintage shops, whilst Miss Kid hung out with royalty and played dress-up with Marie-Antoinette and her maidens in waiting at the Palace of Versailles. 

 So what if the entire trip usually ends up as a real life comedy of errors, worthy of laugh out loud reality television moments and quite the acute embarrassment to my 16 year old European royalty obsessed niece?  What did you expect, Miss Kid?  An uneventful and oh so boring mundane vacation of the Brady Bunch kind?  Or a more realistic National Lampoon depiction of real life? 

Nonetheless, all of the events that I’ve chronicled in my weekly Wednesday blog posts are true observations of my escapades abroad, viewed from the unique vantage point of a claustrophobic scaredy-cat, taken to the next level of absurdity.  Even though I’m somewhat of an overly cautious traveller, nothing will stop me from following through on that highly anticipated adventure, whether white-knuckle jetting through the skies with the help of an endless supply of vino tinto, or having quite the un-elegant meltdown sequestered in a speeding train 1.5 miles under the river Thames, trapped in my very own traumatic near Chunnel experience, I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world and the denizens of countless other mini calamities that I’ve had the misfortune - or should I instead say fortune - of experiencing, for what then would I have to scribble about? 

After all, as wonderful as it is to have everything go according to plan and take off without a hitch of a glitch, it is just as meaningful to have things veer slightly off course and barrel along in a completely unplanned for and oftentimes, surprisingly, unforgettable direction.

This is precisely the stuff that tales are spun and woven with, recounted time and time again, priceless memories of newly acquired wisdom, inspiring others to also follow their dreams and journey along undiscovered paths.
No matter how many times I’ve traversed the globe, it never fails to amaze me how each and every footprint I set on foreign soil leaves not only an imprint on that geographical parcel of land, but also upon my very soul and being.  Each and every sojourn, whether near or far, gifts me with not only a broader perspective of the world, but, most importantly, of myself.

And, best of all, having a sense of humour to accompany me on my misadventures around the world doesn’t hurt, either!!
Come traipse the world with me, laugh a little or a lot and experience travel from a uniquely different perspective.
Happy New Year to each and everyone and may 2014 be a year of blessings.
Next week – Back in Brugge – what escapades await the Kid and I?