Saturday, November 16, 2019

5 Reasons I'd Rather Work at Starbucks Than Be a Travel Agent:

Hello friends.
My friend and AIC Resorts Business Development Manager, Katelyn Ciaramitaro and I met the other day to talk marketing strategy and she suggested I be more consistent with blogging to keep you all informed and entertained about travel, food, culture and all the other topics I cover here.

I will try.

It's a good time of the year to buckle down as what we call in the travel industry as, "The Wave" is coming and I will soon be sucked into the undertow of quotes for winter travel. Which got me to thinking, it's probably a good time to reiterate an important point -

WE GET PAID ON COMMISSION.  And the payment comes AFTER you get back.

This is important for clients and potential clients to know for a few reasons.

1. Working with an agent doesn't cost you anything and saves you money and time.
2. When we spend hours working on a trip quote and you don't book, we make nothing.
3. When we spend hours working on a trip quote and you book online, it's like going into overdraft - we did the work and the machine gets paid.  Total bummer, right?
4. We worry about you A LOT. We take the time to check and recheck every detail so you don't need to worry about the minutia behind the scenes while you are on your trip.  We solve problems you didn't know you even had. Online booking sites don't.  Something goes wrong with an Expedia booking and you call 1-800-GETINLINE.  Something goes wrong when you booked with an agent and we got you.

Katelyn shared this post (which she lifted from another agent friend) on Facebook today that I think may help you to understand our reality.  It will also make you laugh. Here it is:

5 Reasons I'd Rather Work at Starbucks Than Be a Travel Agent:
1) Nobody comes in to Starbucks and asks you to make them a mocha, a frappucinno, a latte, and a hot chocolate, take a sip out of all of them and not buy any of them.....yet they don't think twice about asking you to price out Disneyland, a cruise, a Trafalgar Tour and Mexico and not buy any of them.
2) You will never wake up in the middle of the night thinking "Oh my God, I forgot to put almond syrup in that guy's coffee today "
3) If you book a client into the wrong city, or on to the wrong flights, it costs hundreds to fix it - if you make a client the wrong drink, you pour it in the sink, make another drink, and give them a coupon for a free drink for their troubles
4) Nobody will ever say to you "Five dollars for a coffee....I can get it for three on the internet" !!!
5) When the skinny cranky ones come in, we can't send them to the wrong city, but at Starbucks you can put whole milk in their non fat latte, and tell them to "have a nice day”

Thank you for reading.  Enjoy your coffee, lol.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Truth About Travel Agents

Lately, in my new endeavor as a travel agent, I get that familiar (and frustrating) question, "Why would I need to book with a travel agent?"

I'm hoping after reading this, your question will be, "Why HAVEN'T I worked with a travel agent?" I think it will be.

Here's my attempt to clear up any confusion regarding the benefits of working with a travel agent.  To think that you save through those online agents is a HUGE misconception and can make all the difference in what your vacation experience looks like. 

Best price to value guarantee- BECAUSE the online booking agencies like Expedia and Cheap Caribbean are taking a cut out of traditional travel suppliers, many of the suppliers now OWN those sites, (Mark Travel and Apple own Cheap Caribbean, for example) meaning we can price match pretty much everything.  

And, what you get in added value by going through an agent versus a global website for the same price makes all the difference in your trip. For example, veteran suppliers usually include nice perks like free transfers with their on island Destination Management companies, meaning you save more $ and the hassle of figuring out how to get to your resort. Also, there's a recognizable representative on site at the resort to help you with everything from excursions to issues.  Not the case with Have an issue? You're on your own.
Why we insist you give us a budget and an anticipated booking date right away

And, with the exception of custom services like daily tour itineraries or flights only searches, working with a travel agent is FREE, because the resorts and tour operators pay the agent.  We work on straight commission so knowing our stuff, retaining our clients and managing our time is crucial to staying in business. That's also a big part of WHY continuous learning and fostering industry relationships are a must for an agent. 

Katy Kennedy of the Aruba Tourism Association and Ewald Beamans, owner of Bucuti & Tara Resorts and award winning conservationist 

Property and destination expertise - we are always taking live and online courses, webinars, certifications and site visits from the tourism board, tour operators and properties to be able to sell these va
cations. We KNOW the faces at the resorts because we visit so when we send you, and call the management, we aren't just a name, we are a familiar face. 

One of nearly 40 travel specialist certifications I have completed this year

First hand knowledge - we VISIT properties, ships and tours annually to know what's new (and what needs a little refresh), where the best beaches are and which look better in photos than real life and what tour operators make your excursion exceed expectations. It goes a long way in ensuring the beach in the brochure is actually the beach your are dreaming of or that your discount "garden view room" isn't overlooking a parking lot.

Site Visit at Hard Rock Punta Cana

Industry connections - from onsite tour operators at your resort to direct lines to resort management, we have connections that make your vacation seamless. Also, having a direct connection AT a resort may spare you getting entangled in a timeshare pitch from someone you thought was connected to your trip.

Business Cards for Sales Managers and Resort Management from around the world

Tools - from building your custom itinerary for independent travel in Europe to programs that arrange car service to those off the beaten path locations to engines that help us to compare and price match your online deal, getting you the greatest value, the most seamless experience and the best price is what we do all day every day.

Hidden gem of a deal offered by Apple Vacations

Professional advice and support - we engage in agent forums so if we don't know a thing or two, we know a TON of experienced agents who can help us find the answer.
One of many online closed groups where I connect with other agents for advice

Advice - from getting the best deal, to choosing the best trip for everyone in your group to when you should go to get the best weather and the least crowds to how to get the best coverage on trip insurance, to handy apps to use abroad, we can help.

Remember: Our service is free, your memories are priceless.
Adventures by Jennifer at Cape Ann Travel
85 Eastern Avenue, Gloucester, MA 01930
Be sure to mention this blog.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Aruba: What I didn't know could fill a blog post

Dinner on the veranda at Barcelo
The best way to learn about a thing, I am certain, is to do that thing.  And, I am still new to the travel game.  I mean, not as a traveler, though I have a bucket list longer than a CVS receipt (New Englanders will understand). As an agent, I've got a lot to learn.  As a voracious learner, I've been doing just that.  From completing some 30+ online and live certifications on destinations and resort groups, tour products to group travel to attending trade shows  to spending  months under the tutelage of my mentor and other, seasoned industry pros, I haven't wasted a minute of this long multi month "internship" in travel.

The uber glam lobby at RIU Palace

The pinnacle of my recent learning experience has been in attending FAM trips.  Short for "Familiarity," FAM trips offer agents the opportunity to be on location in a destination for a few days, visiting hotels, touring the location's natural, cultural and historical points of interest and spending face time with a whole host of invaluable connections that help US to select, book and execute the perfect vacation experience for each individual client's needs.

My FAM to Aruba, one of two islands I visited in early fall, left me clear of two things. ONE: Aruba has a whole lot more to offer than just casino hotels and time shares. TWO: If I'm going to be good at this travel agent thing, I need to go EVERYWHERE so that I know what I don't know. My preconceived notion and my actual experience with Aruba are a great example of just this.

Aruba, in my mind, was a place for time share owners who travel to the same place on the same weeks with the same people every year. The more adventurous, cultural immersion kinda traveler in me rejects this type of travel.  I don't gamble, I don't like high rise hotels, I don't like going to the same place more than once and I don't like the idea of flying far away and then running into hordes of home town homies just when I am trying to escape the home town for awhile.  This is why I had never BEEN to Aruba.
A lesson in the history of the Hilton and Aruba

I was wrong. Really wrong in many ways.  Sure, the high rise section does have a LOT of casinos.  And, there are a TON of timeshares and the island IS about the easiest place to vacation, without a car, no matter how old or young you are.  And because of it's proximity to Columbia, well below the Caribbean hurricane belt, the weather is almost always near perfect and the trade winds are a blissful thing on a hot sunny day.  But the other things about Aruba, the other places I visited in Aruba, the other excursions I experienced in Aruba are unique to Aruba and make the island a very special place.  

The high rise section is popular for it's abundance of shops,big hotels and casinos.  But it also has funky beach bars, over water restaurants and toes in the sand establishments where you can enjoy everything from fruity drinks to elegant multi-course dinners by live saxophone. The daytime revelry is reminiscent of Orient Bay on Saint Martin but the nightlife continues long past when other day drinking beaches have rolled up their sandy sidewalks.  

Open air brick oven pizza at Tamarijn
As for favorite accommodations in the high rise section, the history buff in me swooned over the Hilton's recent renovations.  The first hotel on the island and  pioneers of tourism in Aruba, Hilton's re-brand has the resort filled in the most comprehensive and holistic way with artifacts and images documenting the history of Aruba as one of the world's most popular sunny escapes.

The RIU Palace would be a close runner up if I were in search of a VERY lively pool, Hollywood glam decor (which I love) and the ease of an all-inclusive food and beverage plan.

Amsterdam Manor from Eagle Beach
The low rise section is quieter but certainly not boring.  In fact, as a guest, it's probably where I would opt to stay.  I like to rest in the quiet and visit the lively.  Divi Village offers great multi level suites for families, Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach is perfect for groups and Tarmarijn, my favorite for it's open air pizza oven, innovative self-service hibachi-style tables in Palm Grill and reciprocal access to the Divi Aruba all on a glorious beach would suit my family just fine.  Plus, there's a shuttle to the high rise section on the cheap - like $3 on off all day.

In fact, fun family options for a life outside the All Inclusive are plentiful in Aruba, and a very sweet property in the low rise section would be my dream for a multi-generational group willing to do their own meal prep, as my crew often will. Amsterdam Manor, a lovely village of colorful cottages just 34 size 9 women's steps across a floral lined crosswalk to breathtaking Eagle Beach has a very fairy tale feel and a price point, especially on Aruba, that is pure magic. Sunset dinner at  their Passions on the beach was particularly memorable as the parent of a vegetarian, the menu was inventive and very veg-friendly.  

Given the luxury of a few days of true R&R with the hubs, Manchebo and neighboring Bucuti & Tara would be the choice.  Both focused on wellness and serenity, they are not locations for the swim up bar crowd.  Our site visit at Manchebo began with an hour long yoga class in a beachfront open air gazebo blessed by Aruba's famous tradewinds.  Hello Savasanah. The spa is Polynesian. The experience had me choosing Muesli over bacon at breakfast. 
Edwald Beimans, owner of Bucuti & Tara

Bucuti, next door, is, without question, my most favorite special place on Aruba for a myriad of reasons. Peaceful, elegant, organically beautiful, the resort is a delight for the eyes. Environmentally responsible in a way that has helped stimulate green island initiatives, staying at Bucuti means investing in the island, the environment and the planet.  Owner, Edwald Biemans, a gracious, charming and very down to earth gentleman who formerly managed Manchebo, has built social responsibility into the Bucuti story from inception.  Meeting us at the door to collect items for "packing with a purpose", a nonprofit that encourages visitors to pack toileteries and school items, clothing and other essentials into their luggage for donation to a local orphanage, Edwald posed for a group photo, then whisked away the armfuls of bags, without calling on staff to help carry or even open a door.  He was beaming about the good work of serving as liaison between visitors to his island and the people who live and work there.

Flamingos on Renaissance Island
Edwald's conscious design is everywhere at Bucuti.  From the stainless steel beverage containers guest receive at check in (and filtered water stations throughout the grounds) to the hotel's location far above the tide line to mitigate wear on the foundation to the limited smoking section (only one on the grounds), to the experimental spin bike in the fitness center that generates electricity while a guest works out, when you are at Bucuti you know you are leaving no trace. So it should come as no surprise the resort has just been awarded recognition for being carbon neutral.  Bravo, Ed and team.

And, for a totally unique experience, Renaissance in the capital city of Oranjestad is a special resort.  The decor has a very "Alice in Wonderland" fell (I LOVED) but the real treat is the property's private island, accessible by boat and teeming with tropical animals, like flamigos, iguanas, wild birds and fish.  On island bar and grills and equipment rental make for a perfect day and the resorts' location in the marina make for a fun night. 

The resorts are abundant, well maintained, offer options for every traveler.  The people are SO FRIENDLY.  The island is safe (1% crime rate) and the things to do seem endless.  

Tuna at Hadicurari
But, Aruba is so much more.  It's foodie heaven. Home to hundreds of restaurants with chefs from around the world, Aruba is the "Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, which, along with it's pedestrian friendly design explains why  there are so few All Inclusives on the island.  It's actually a disservice to self to stick to resort food with so much to taste so very nearby.

Unexpected activities on the island round out the food and hospitality aspects of a stay on Aruba.  Our group sailed on the Catamaran X, picked up directly on the beach in front of our hotel afforded us both gorgeous snorkeling and the chance to swim down to the wreck of the Antilla, to hear her history and understand Aruba's part in navel history.

We also took a WILD ride in an open air jeep so jacked up with an extra 40k in hydraulics to traverse the totally undeveloped southern side of the island (like Cabo, but bumpy and with NO ROADS) to visit the natural pools, the natural bridge, the x caves and 10000 breathtaking and hair raising vistas nearly untouched by construction.  
DePalma Tours tour to Conchi Natural Pool

I admit it. Aruba surprised me.  I never entered a casino. I never bought a tchotchke. I never sat at a swim up bar.  I DID take a yoga class. I DID swim in a natural pool. I DID go offroading through the desert.  I DID chase fish into a sunken ship and I DID experience what brings 86% of guests back to the island year after year.  
Aruba Certified Destination Specialist

Thanks for reading, Jen

BTW: If you want any help booking Aruba or any other trip, I can be reached at:
Adventures by Jennifer at Cape Ann Travel
85 Eastern Avenue, Gloucester, MA 01930
Be sure to mention this blog.

Monday, April 30, 2018

River Cruises with U by Uniworld - Summer Travel Trend Alert

I know, I know, it's hard to believe summer will ever arrive, given how abysmal the spring has been so far.  However, the longer and rainier this spring gets, the more time I spend thinking about getting outside - into the woods, onto the sea, on a road trip.  ANYWHERE and soon.  From music festivals to international wanderlust, I'm jacking up my summer plans now to get out there and do stuff (and take my mind off the never ending rain...)

This is the first in a new series about local and foreign summer travel trends, music festivals and cultural shenanigans that are super hot right now. Pun. Fully. Intended.

River Cruises (more affordable and flexible than you think)

U by Uniworld

This is my kinda trip.  Seeing Europe by boat, pulling into tiny ports without the hassle of lines brought about by the throngs of passengers on the megaships, U by Uniworld makes their sailings even better with some cool gastronomic enhancements,  including on-shore meals with locals through their program, winery, brewery and farm tours and an entry-level price point that makes the river cruise concept much more attainable for the regular traveler. 

Plus, with a target audience of the more active traveler, off-ship excursions in this brand include multi-mile bike tours, hiking and other bulge-busting trips to combat the, um, indulgences of vacation. Take them or leave them, but know that when the guilt of indulging in a myriad of European culinary delights brings on that nasty Catholic guilt, you've got options.

Now, don't get me wrong.  The Uniworld brand and it's boutique ships are still, but with my eyes on multiple trips per year, U makes adding a river cruise AND a culinary adventure a very real probability this summer.

With trips starting at $1,499, there's never been a better time to book your dream vacation. Hurry, this limited-time sale ends tomorrow!  shoot me an email at or give the agency a call at 978-282-8216 and ask for me to get on board. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Operating a Travel Agency - My Dream Job, helping YOU to get out and see the world

Anyone who follows this blog or my TripAdvisor account, my InstaGram, my FaceBook page  or knows me at all knows that my #1 passion in life is travel.  If I could spend every day and every dollar seeing the world, I would.  We travel A LOT.  But, not nearly as much as I'd like.

So I got into travel. And, after a year at a local agency, I moved onto another more akin to my style in terms of technology, and complex planning. I couldn't be happier.

You see, it's not just the traveling that gets me excited.  It's the research, the planning, the sharing, the photos, the whole experience of making travel happen that excites me.  I LOVE learning about new places, their history, their people, culture, cuisine, getting around, finding the hidden gems, exploring and sharing what I've learned with people who will go there after me.

It's not unusual for me to get 5, 10 messages a week about places I've been.  "What would you do if you were in Scottsdale with kids?"  "Best AirBnB to rent in Paris?" "House in southern New Hampshire for 10pp?" "Is skip the line worth the money?" "Is that trail dog friendly?" "Can we do the French side of St Maarten if nobody speaks the language?" "Is Mexico safe?"  I have 4 requests in my FaceBook messenger box RIGHT NOW about travel tips.  So, why not make it a thing, like a money making thing, to help people find their dream trip??? And, so, I did.

With a multi-decade history of marketing, largely IN hospitality, promoting everything from restaurants to event venues, musicians, shows, races and lifestyle brands, it's what I KNOW. Getting inside of the industry from the other side, from the sales side, is a natural progression.  And it works around the ever-growing demands of a high schooler and her need for help on essays and citations and around Ryan's work and travel.  This is perfect for me now.  I see it as a gift received at exactly the right time.

And what's cool about hiring an agent, is that the commission is paid by the airline, hotel and tour group.  So you get someone else to do all the tedious planning FOR FREE.  (I will offer some on-the-ground planning for an hourly fee for those intricacies like subway stops and other outside the box stuff that takes time but doesn't yield a commission).

So, that's just what I'm doing.  And I have been fully immersed in the experience since I began this journey.  I have , to date, completed nearly 50 certifications, attended dozens of live training and several familiarity trips to various destinations.  I have never loved work training or research more.

Hook up with me at to plan your next adventure!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Doing the Math - Learning to Value Balance Most of All

Baby Julia, feeding my niece
At 43, I made a life-altering discovery.

Chasing "success" was destroying my harmony.

No joke.

As an educated woman with a pretty solid track record of success in marketing, I have been searching for that next gig that will last until retirement.  I wanted a job I could rise up through and hold onto and make my mark and a bundle of dough over the next 20 years.

Except, I really didn't.

I have a teenage daughter wrapping up her freshman year of high school, struggling to acclimate to the rigors of increased homework and honors classes and handle increasingly complicated social situations as her friend group grows and contracts, romance makes it's way into the dialogue and afterschool jobs become a thing.

I have a husband who's in his 15th year with a Fortune 100 company in a senior level training role that has him away ALOT. He's a superstar in his department.  He rocks at his job.  He's been at it forever and we have shaped our lives around Daddy being gone and keeping the  household running the same way whether or not he's here.  And she's a great kid because we committed to her as priority one, whether it is a we 2 or a we 3 week.

And that's probably the biggest piece of this post.

Like all other couples, we talked about parenting goals before we got pregnant.  We agreed that, although we were both working in the professional world, when the time came to have a baby, parenting would be one parents' main gig.  As progressive folks, we were open to it being either parent, depending on who was in the most promising career trajectory.  The other parent would work  around the needs of the children (we, ultimately, only ever had one).  Work would be secondary because nether of us wanted our kid(s) to be "raised by the nanny".  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I know a LOT of great kids whose primary day-to-day parenting was handled by loving, caring hired help.  It just wasn't for us.

My family in 2018 in front of the Tower of London
When we had Julia, Ryan was already working for his current employer, happy and on the rise in his career. I was working at a university.  It was a great gig, working across the IT department designing online training for professors on everything from Excel to Publisher as well as with the Editor, cultivating press releases about activities and discoveries at the university, even overseeing the creation of hard cover books to be sold in book stores.  I learned how to obtain an ISBN number to get a book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.  AND, I was getting my Master's Degree FOR FREE.

Until I had a meltdown.  Although we had her in a great morning daycare on a horse farm in the woods of New Hampshire and although I worked afternoons at home, writing web copy from my papasan chair in her nursery, I couldn't handle being away from my family.  I'm sure, looking back that I was super post pardum, but hindsight doesn't account for much.

So, we moved home.  It was the right decision.  I found another path, opening a fitness studio and working as a personal chef (ironically, providing meal preparation services for professional couples with nannies who wanted to ensure there was a proper dinner on the table when they did get home from their super lucrative full time jobs).  Julia was cared for by a local family when I worked in homes and with me at the studio (a bean bag was tucked behind a shoji screen with a dvd player so she could nap and watch movies while I worked, often as early as 5:30am).  Ryan traveled and excelled and grew in his company and we worked around it.
The handsome fella looking very corporate

And then I wanted to go back to my "career".  I'm pretty sure that's when my priorities went to shit.

I've been chasing my own tail, some fake idea of success and a bunch of bullshit markers of wealth that have only served to make me unhappy.

And I haven't been willing to give up the nurturing mother piece.  I won't abandon the homemade lunch piece.  I can't reject the helping with homework piece.  I hold tight to the beds made every morning and dinner at the table every night piece.  I won't "hand it over to the nanny".

And this has been the struggle all along.  I wanted the power job because I was convinced I was far too educated NOT to climb.  I wanted the big dough job and responsibilities because I KNOW I can do it well.  I thought that being the head of a department and taking home all of the BULLSHIT stress proved that I was SOMEBODY.  And, hell, if I could keep up the perfect mom and wife stuff, then I was SUPERSOMEBODY.

Scratch fallafel I now have time to make well
But my priorities were ALL FUCKED UP.  I've spent the past nearly 10 years working in very cool jobs, mostly in hospitality and consumer goods, that were made for either young people or people without kids.  I have worked for tyrants. I have worked for great bosses who had lousy bosses. I have worked impossible all-nighters.  I have made magic with no budget.  I've, literally, even, worked through a tornado.
Choosing health over pursuit

Don't get me wrong.  I've had a lot of fun in many ways (running marketing in restaurants and event venues is the but the never-ending work week, the late nights, the all-weekend emails, the middle-of-dinner texts, the lack of boundaries are not a healthy experience for anyone, and definitely were not an exercise in work-life balance for our brood.

Unconventional assortment of ingredients 
Never mind what we were spending to keep it all together.  $100 a month in pet insurance so the dogs could have every immunization possible to go to doggy daycare at $60 a day, twice a week so we could both work.  $90 a week for the housekeeper because who wants to clean after working 80 hours per week? $50 a week in dry cleaning because I had no time to iron. A Weight Watchers membership at $50 a month that I never even had the time to setup online, let alone attending meetings. A virtual NWT gym membership, again, because who the hell can get to the gym??? The $300 yoga card totally unused because, although I need yoga more than ever, I can't ever make a class.  Out of pocket chiropractor expenses BECAUSE I can't get to yoga.  Nevermind missing every fun thing happening in our community and in her school and in general because there was no time off for me and even in time off, I could never be off. Missing every lunch with the girls because my 9 hour onsite workday didn't include a lunch break, ever.  Gel nails, hair every 4 weeks, pedis, and a whole bunch of impulse shopping with our friend Alexa because we could afford it and, although in the past, if I wanted to spruce up a room, I'd make new curtains and recover pillows I had NO TIME, so I'd buy new stuff to satisfy the urge.

Happy new curtains in our pretty new kitchen

So I am done.  I left my last contract gig and am settling into this new me who is taking back the time I've lost.  This month, we are having the first floor redone.  I just made new curtains for the kitchen. I can't wait to get to the living room pillows. I cancelled WW and the gym and have spent every morning in the woods with the dogs.  I polished my own nails and toes while helping my daughter with an English essay.  I had lunch with my mom.  I ironed Ryan's work stuff.  We eat nightly dinner, crammed into the kitchen because the dining room isn't quite done but we didn't answer texts or emails.  Ryan's company doesn't expect him to have work email on his phone.  They are Fortune 100.  They obviously know a thing or two about success. And he's been there a long, long time.  So they obviously know a thing or two about retention.  When he's home, he is off duty.  And now, so am I.
Blissful pups in the woods

And, I am on to new endeavors.  I am shifting gears to do something that  I love that won't eat my life.  I am going back to working my life AROUND our daughter, just like we agreed to in the past. I am learning a new skill set that plays to my strengths and my primary role as a parent. I am soaking in every free minute with my teenager who will, before long, be off to college.  I am planning dinner parties with my husband and our favorite couples in our beautiful new dining room.  I am reupholstering the dining chairs where our guests will sit.  We are binge watching shows on Mondays and Tuesdays without picking up the phone every time it beeps.  I am going to those fun local events that were the very reason we moved back here.  I am hanging out with my people.  I'm posting on my blog.

I am remembering that healthy people work to live, and not the other way around.

I did the math.  The economy of balance is a beautiful thing. Worth it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Art, the essence of Frenchness

I'm just back from a journey to Paris and London.  Although I've traveled extensively, have visited Nice and Monaco, and am a self-proclaimed Francophile, I have, oddly, never been to Paris.


We rented a beautiful, sunny, 3rd floor flat in the 12th for 5 nights for a steal.  The neighborhood was perfect, cozy, and packed with lovely little shops which we shopped daily for our grocery needs. Browsing the fromagerie, patisserie, boulangerie and epicerie are the gems of life that made our decision to go with an apartment versus an hotel a no-brainer. 

Days were jam-packed with touring.  
With 5 days to cover so much, we were on the run for 12-15 hours, drinking in the flavors and aromas, the wines and the hospitality. Hours and miles were banked visiting the museums and  monuments and wandering the crooked little streets for hours on end.  It was HEAVENLY.

From a double-header at the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay (we were pleasantly surprised to find a visiting Degas exhibit including his sketches and The Little Dancer!) to our French "day of the dead" visiting both Pere LaChaisse cemitiare, final resting place of so many famous artists including Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and Jim Morrison, and the Catacombs, a morbidly beautiful gallery of some 6 million Parisians past whose bones and skulls have been artfully arranged into dizzying patterns marked with grizzly reminders that you have truly entered the "Empire of the Dead", we were on the move to do it all.

What struck me most profoundly, at every turn on our trip, is how tirelessly French the experience of evoking beauty in everything truly is.   

From the plating of the charcuterie boards to the elaborate detail of the sarcophagi to the arrangement of the wares in the street side markets, everything in France is, well, more beautiful. It's no wonder I have always wished I had been born Parisian.  It truly is a life made of crushed red velvet where every moment is drunk in slowly, as though it was 90 seconds long.

Travel notes , if you go... We got our tickets CHEAP.  Because it's February and not so warm, 3 round trip tickets with direct flights into CDG and out of LHR (I'll get to my London post later this week) were only $1800 for all three, including insurance.  The AirBnB was only $650 for 5 nights, but the area would be tough if nobody in your party spoke any French (I do). But look at flats, it'll save you all around. Most museums in France consider anyone under 17 a child, and offer free entry.  Also, there is no charge to enter Notre Dame.  

The Big Bus Tour is a great way to see a LOT of monuments in one day and learn a ton about what you are seeing.  The routes cover a lot of ground with both a red line (Paris proper including the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Champs Elysee) and a blue line (Montmartre with Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge).  

The Metro is VERY easy to navigate and will save you both a bunch of dough AND the hassle of traffic you'd suffer in a taxi or Uber. Plus, the French, apparently hate to drive in rain or snow so these New Englanders were stuck in a cab for an hour because of the drizzle, not uncommon in winter.  A light down coat will keep you warm and not burden you with carrying a bulkier one.  Also, pickpockets are a real thing, especially in crowded museums. Pay attention to your surroundings.  The French are friendly, despite what you've heard.  Make an effort to at least greet servers and merchants with a pleasant, "Bon Jour" - it goes a long way.  

A Bientot!