Kew Gardens

for our “In London” series

FIMG_3911or a lovely afternoon in the city, why not visit Kew Gardens?  The price might seem steep, but I can say that it is definitely not only worth the money, but the train ride out there. Famous for its collection of plants from around the world, Kew has a lot more to offer than catalogues of botanicals. When you first enter Kew, turn left.  You are now headed toward a part of the grounds that is less frequented by visitors than if you turn to the right. You will walk down a tree lined path and on your left you will enter into the small house which stores hundreds of drawing by Marianne North who traveled around the world drawing and studying plants.  Wherever you are from, you are sure to find something familiar.  I even found a drawing from Lake Tahoe, an hour from my hometown in Sacramento, California.

Continue on the IMG_3854path around the border of the park and you will come to a badger hide.  The chances of seeing a live badger are slim to none, but it is cool to see their habitat.  The path makes a sharp turn to the right.  You will see the famous pagoda on your right and you can cut through to get a closer look.  For £3 you can climb it.  When we were there, Kew was just finishing up its summer festivities (“Plantasia”) with the Healing Giant, a modern living art installation of sorts describing the uses for medicinal plants from around the world.

IMG_3894Cutting across the park now toward the treetop walk you will pass the rhododendron area and some beautiful ponds where you can watch the swans and also the jumbo jets flying over, since unfortunately, this beautiful place is smack in the middle of the Heathrow flight path.  Continue to head toward the direction of Kew palace now, when you can spot many interesting trees and hidden gems along the way.  Kew palace and the accompanying kitchens are worth a visit if you’ve never been, but I’ll probably never go back.

NoIMG_3910w you are at the main part of Kew where you can go inside of the climate controlled conservatories and view a variety of plants, including an amazing orchid display in the Prince of Wales conservatory.

After this, we got a little lost and found my favorite part of the gardens which is the edible beds.  They grow all kinds of veggies and fruits.  Bonsai trees are in the back of the gardens and they are very old and amazing.  Photo opportunities abound at Kew, but pack a picnic to avoid the overpriced and mediocre cafes.

Bonus:  Why not have a pint at the “tap on the Line” pub overlooking the district line on your way back into town?  And if you’re craving something natural, there is a killer natural food store back in the little high street of Kew neighborhood.

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Paris, France

This was our second time together in Paris although both of us have been to the French capital many times before when we studied here in college.  When we go on vacation together, we like to just BE together, however Paris pressures us to feel we need to DO a ton of things.  Although each time we travel we end up making a few mistakes that involve touristing around until we keel over in exhaustion or avoid eating proper meals in order to force ourselves to see that last museum, we are constantly working on how to make the most of our adventures.  Here are some ways we found to just chill in Paris:

Really long French dinners 

We’re talking apéritifs et digestifs every time! Here are some great places to settle in for the night:

IMG_2212Swann et Vincent.  An Italian restaurant but with a French vibe.  Order a Martini (a Martini in France is actually just vermouth with a twist of lemon) and the Soissons (HUGE white beans) or Carpaccio to start. For your meal we recommend the Agneau (lamb) and a bottle of wine recommended by your waiter.  Don’t forget to round it off with an espresso.  This is a relaxed place that feels friendly and cosy.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_4_jms.svg Paris_m_6_jms.svg RER.svg Paris_rer_B_jms.svg Denfert-Rochereau  Nearby:  Les Catacombes

chez-janou-restaurant-paris

Chez Janou.  I know it has been written up in all of the tourist guides and I know that if you go there you will find beaucoup Americains, but it is really really good.  Don’t let your pride keep you from this Provencal restaurant with over 80 types of Pastis on the menu!  Definitely start with pastis and an appetizer, possibly raw tuna or the special.  For dinner, I’ve had the escargot pasta, the gambas, duck confit and ratatouille (on different visits!) and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them.  Save room for dessert: Chocolate mousse that comes in a serve-yourself-as-much-as-you-want huge ceramic bowl! You can even get more when you’ve cleaned your plate.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_8_jms.svg Chemin Vert  Nearby:  Place des Vosges, Maison de Victor Hugo

IMG_3608Breizh Cafe.  An amazing lunch spot with branches in Paris, Cancale (Brittany), and Tokyo, this place serves up tasty Breton gallettes (like crepes, but savory and made with buckwheat flour).  “Breizh” means Breton in their regional language, and the cafe also sells a variety of products from the region in Northwest France, including various types of sea salt, sardines, and a great variety of ciders.  Breton cider is really good and different from English cider – less alcoholic and a bit sweeter, it’s traditionally served in a stone bowl called a bolée.  The gallettes are very filling and in addition to the delicious traditional ones (ham, eggs, cheese in various combinations), they serve a bunch of innovative takes on the genre, including one with brie, honey, and almonds which is really exciting. Very colorful decor and a modern but homey atmosphere combine to make it a perfect spot for a leisurely lunch.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_8_jms.svg St Sebastien-Froissart. Nearby: Musée Carnavalet

Strolling in Les Jardins

One of the most amazing things about Paris is the free access to the gardens and parks, which can feel like museums in and of themselves.  You may have been to the Tuileries and been bombarded by canvassers, con artists, and vendors, but take some time to explore some of the less overrun parks and enjoy a false sense of privacy.

IMG_3049Jardin des Plantes.  Yes, it means “garden of plants!”  It’s a pleasant garden, seemingly popular with runners, with long maincured beds and other areas cultivating vegetables and obscure varieties from around the world.  There are also huge old-fashioned conservatories but they cost a few Euros to enter.  A chill place for a stroll or picnic, especially if you are taking a train in or out of Gare d’Austerlitz, right next door.

Metro-M.svgParis_m_5_jms.svgParis_m_10_jms.svg  RER.svgParis_rer_C_jms.svg Gare d’Austerlitz  Nearby: Quartier Latin, Panthéon

10582814_10100168999221205_3082564478931810624_oJardin du Luxembourg. Nice fountains, gravel that gets all over your shoes, pleasant green open spaces, and a model boating lake create the quintessential Parisian park.  Afterward, you can wander around the streets north of the park, filled with antique and jewlery stores and interesting bookshops (though mostly in French).  The cafe outside the Odeon theatre is also very pleasant.

RER.svgParis_rer_B_jms.svg Luxembourg Metro-M.svgParis_m_4_jms.svgParis_m_10_jms.svg Odeon  Nearby: St-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Sulpice

IMG_3594Canal St. Martin and Parc de la Villette.  Take the Metro to Stalingrad and walk the canal north, finishing at Parc de la Villette, Paris’s largest park.  You will see some characters along the way and even cross over the “petite ceinture,” an interesting old abandoned railroad track encircling the city.  The park itself is very modern and is famous for its 26 red follies, modern-day gazebos.  There’s also some play areas, a little carnival, and a large convention center.  Altogether a slightly strange place but with nice aerial walkways and green spaces mixed in.

Metro-M.svgParis_m_2_jms.svgParis_m_5_jms.svgParis_m_7_jms.svg Stalingrad  Nearby: Cité de sciences et de l’industrie, Père Lachaise

Slightly obscure museum 

IMG_3543Musee Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris.  Located in the marais, a former palace is now devoted to displaying a weird collection of artifacts from the history of the city.  Although the upstairs painting collection can be a bore, the downstairs contains amazing signage from before the advent of address numbers (“Where’s your shoe repair shop?” “Four streets down, the one with the huge iron ox above it!”).  If anything else, it’s a nice cool place to go on a hot or rainy day with free admission.  Also, the gardens are very nice.

Metro-M.svg Paris_m_1_jms.svg St. Paul Nearby: Places des Vosges, Picasso Museum

à bientôt!