Location: Paris, France
Paris, the City of Lights: So much has been said about this city that it’s difficult to bring in something new. Yet, there always is - little things, places that make you realize just how much more there could be in this cauldron of charm!
Here is what we did, and a little extra we could do the next time.
Check in at Hôtel du Prince Eugène located at 247 Boulevard Voltaire. This hotel has the benefit of being directly connected to all corners of Paris as well as to Disneyland, thanks to the neighbouring Place de la Nation subway which is a central transit stop, and being relatively better value for money because it’s not in the more popular touristy areas of the city. The front desk can offer quick tips on how to find your way around.
We began with the Latin Quarter, heading first to La Capanina located at 64 Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève for an early lunch. What’s special about this place is that it is located opposite the steps of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church where Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) takes the cab to 1920’s in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris! Oh, and the Italian restaurant lets you take the bottle with you if there’s wine left over.
We continued our walk to the nearby Le Jardin du Luxembourg. Keep walking and you’ll soon reach the banks of River Seine and across from you, Notre-Dame de Paris.
Towards sunset, we made our way to Eiffel Tower. With a pass worth 25 Euro, you can head to the top of the tower and get a panoramic view of the city. The yellow-lighted tower shimmers in sparkling white lights once every hour - a must watch experience! Do not miss it.
Our dinner was the surprise hidden gem of the day. Steps away from our hotel is an unassuming Pozzio Cafe located at 256 Boulevard Voltaire. You’ll likely not find it on any Paris list, but this place has some of the most “undescribable” pizzas: buttery, dripping with flavour and melting away despite its crust. If you’re in the area, it’s a must try.
Lunch at Bustronome: a double-decker touring restaurant on wheels with a panoramic glass roof. This gem is hidden in plain sight, moving about the streets of Paris and a must try if you can shell out some extra bucks for a worth-it experience. Bookings are at 85 Euro per person and Tour starts from 2 Avenue Kléber. Read more here.
We explored the Louvre Museum, followed by a stroll along the banks of River Seine till the Pont des Arts (the bridge with love locks).
A quick subway ride leads you to the photogenic Pont Alexandre III. If you arrive here around sunset, you can watch the majestic yellow lights come on, while also catching a unique view of the hourly sparkle on Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Take an evening stroll around the nearby Champs-Élysées.
For dinner and in our quest to discover new places, we arrived at Lotus de Siam on Rue la Boétie, for some Thai food. Conclude with a glass of hot chocolate from Jeff De Bruges back on the Champs Elysées at 102 avenue des Champs Elysées.
Breakfast at Le Comptoir Voltaire at 253 Boulevard Voltaire, next door to our hotel.
And then, Disneyland! Details are for a different blog post. If you’d like to dine at one of its many themed restaurants inside the park, be sure to make reservations in advance. Our dinner was at Rainforest cafe, which we could access without reservations.
Le Marais. The area is best discovered by walking along its narrow streets - from cafes nestled around corners to the Picasso museum, from otherworldly falafels to visibly different architecture. Read this blog on how to best cover the area on foot.
Montmartre. The fierce competitor and legendary artists’ paradise, Montmartre is best discovered on foot too, through its equally narrow sloping paths. Visit the Wall of Love in the Jehan Rictus garden square or the cutely nestled-in Cafe La Maison Rose at 2 Rue de l'Abreuvoir. A little further away is the Place du Tertre square where tons of artists can sketch you up. Each place is at a higher elevation than the other, all of it en route to the final destination, Sacre Coeur. Once you’ve visited inside and if stairs are not an issue, buy a ticket and go to the top of the dome for yet another panoramic view of the city and yet another sunset view of Eiffel Tower.
It can get chilly up there, which is why, once you climb down, a truck selling Hot Wine is likely to be waiting. If you do not fancy it so much, don’t worry. A unique wine experience awaits a short distance away. Keep descending some more to arrive for the hidden gem of the day - a dinner at Le Refuge Des Fondus at 17 Rue des Trois Frères. Read here for their claustrophobic fondue, table jumping and wine-in-a-baby-bottle experience.
Sometime flights get delayed or even cancelled. Paris has a way of turning even that into something romantic. The little airport town of Roissy-en-France is that charming little French village that truly completes your visit. Walk around the little town to your satisfaction. For dinner, I’d recommend The Place located at 58 Avenue Charles de Gaulle, because nowhere else will you ever find a tastier and more fulfilling foam of bubbles!
If you’d like more ideas on truly unique romantic escapes in Paris, here’s another blog to satisfy those cravings!
Location: Stratford, Ontario
Weekends often leave one wondering what could be done. A classic Canadian way is to explore one of the country’s many little towns on a Saturday or a Sunday. One such gem located at a 1 hour 50 minutes drive from Toronto, is Stratford: one of those quaint towns where it's locals live their life around friendly neighbourhood hellos and sweet smiles that make you feel at home! We experienced just that when we decided to spend the Saturday before Thanksgiving at this tiny town.
Stratford is bathed rich with festivals and events all through the year, ranging from theatre plays, kayaking/canoeing upon the steady stream of River Avon, trips around the Bieber trail (yes, this little town is the home of Justin Bieber!) and so much more. One of them is the deliciously titled Chocolate Trail! We for one believe religiously in the concept and found that it is perhaps the best way to see Stratford. At a cost of 30 CAD + taxes, it offers you 6 passes and a guide-map of all the gems on its list - from designer candies to the more sensually-naughty Sinvention. The passes entitle you to sample decadent treats at places of your choosing. At other spots, you still meet the makers who craft these indulgences and, for a nominal charge, buy their goodies if you’d like. The best part? This mouth-watering trail-walking burnt enough calories to not make us feel guilty of all the sweet indulgences.
Here is a route that we highly recommend! Now keep in mind that we had a total of 12 tickets since there were two of us.
Our first stop itself disrupted our chosen list of stores, but boy was it worth the disruption! Rheo Thompsons Candies seems to be the crown jewel of Stratford chocolatiers. It left our eyes glittering by its magnificence. With over 40 years in the business, this celebrity store serves over a 100 varieties of handmade chocolates, hard candies, specialty nuts, nutty pop, and so much more. We got to pick 4 pieces with each pass. After an ensuing lip-curling mental battle, we walked away with Mint smoothie, Marshmallow, Rose Petals, and Pecan.
Next up was the Boar’s Head Pub. Serving for over a 150 years, this Queen’s Inn is a good lunch spot, and they serve a mean plate of Battered Button Mushrooms! Follow this up with their chocolate trail freebie, a flourless chocolate brownie, served warm with fresh fudge sauce, berries and French Vanilla ice cream, all melting away in your mouth. Yumm!
Store number 3 on our list was Treasures. Co-owned by two best friends, this store has been in the works for over 12 years! Showing support to art, Treasures sells artifacts inspired by the fine craftsmanship of the area’s Amish, Mennonite and artisan communities, as well as the abundance of other local talents. Our gift was their creamed cocoa honey jar. Spread it on toast, or add it to milk. If that pairing sounds fun, Bradshaws, our next stop, quickly threw in a match. While we had heard of wine and cheese tastings, wine and chocolate tastings was a new one for us. Curious what this would be like, we hurried to our destination. We were a little disappointed at the offset as we realized that they don’t literally offer a tasting session since it is primarily a gift store. However, their offering to each pass holder is a stylish Govino wine tumbler with three types of chocolates inside it - milk, medium dark and extra dark. The wrappers of these chocolates have notes on it detailing which wine you can pair it with, helping you create your own chocolate and wine pairing sessions at home.
Across the road, there are a few other options. But one worthy of your next pass would actually offer a pleasant little break from the chocolates. It was time for olive oil tasting! Olive Your Favorites is another unique concept that is a part of the chocolate trail. Run by a very sweet lady, Michelle, and her husband, Olive Your Favourites is Stratford’s first Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Tasting Bar featuring award-winning fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oils from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as well as a variety of Flavoured Dark and White Balsamic Vinegars from Modena, Italy. While the store’s original offer for the trail pass holders is a 60ml Aged Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar bottle, Michelle was kind enough to let us substitute it with any other one of our choice! After a whole lot of sampling, we decided to take the Basil Olive oil and Cranberry Pear bottles. Little did we know that Michelle had a surprise for us. It was only back at home when we opened our bag that we saw what Michelle had left as a gift in it - Key Lime and Baklouti Green Chile Pepper. These were, after all, the sample we had pondered long and hard over! Thank you, Michelle. With a small gesture, you won the top prize in our hearts!
It was now tea time on Mr & Mrs. Fly’s watch! Distinctly Tea was our next destination. This store offered a large selection of Green, Oolong, Black, Pu- Erh, White, Yerba Mate, Rooibos, Fruit, Herbal, and single Herbs teas. Pass holders receive a 50-gram bag of one of their chocolate teas. Choose from a Rooibos tea, Yerba Mate tea or Black tea. A delectable alternative for dessert!
And finally, the dessert! “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM.” We didn’t, really, but Jenn & Larry's Brittle & Shakes, nestled along Stratford's scenic Avon River beckons you with its little pink Papa bear, Mama Bear and Baby bear patio seatings. Owned by the father-daughter team of Larry and Jenn, this ice cream and candy shoppe offers Jenny’s handmade Peanut Brittle, and Larry’s hand-spun, frozen custard milkshake. For those with a trail pass, be sure to stop by and try a cup of their soft-serve vanilla ice cream sundae smothered in rich hot chocolate fudge and topped with Milk Chocolate Peanut Brittle. But do leave some room for the neighbouring store too!
Kandy Cakes fashions designer cupcakes on its shelves. In the modest selection is a divine Lavender cupcake. Try it. True to it’s name, it actually feels like munching on spongy lavender!
The Chocolate trail includes many other shops, including three in the neighbouring towns of Shakespeare and St. Mary’s. We recommend visiting the latter, not for more chocolates but a little walk of its own that leads to the Sarnia Bridge. This is where we concluded our long day of sugar overload, in a quiet lost-in-time trail that led us to the quietest moment I can recall. As you stand on the bridge, the river far below meanders away - so slowly that it almost looks to be standing still. At a distance, on one of its banks is a lush green sloping landscape with cows grazing away in peace. On the opposite hilly bank, houses stand nestled in thick tree cover.
Let the moments pass in quietude. And just look on. In that moment, in this little town not so far away from the buzzing Toronto, you’ll realize you could be anywhere - from Scottish highlands to Swiss slopes. That’s how we concluded the day, unearthing St. Mary’s as that vacation spot to go to when one can’t find time for a vacation.
Location: Toronto, Canada
A hundred steps and a hundred turns we walked this sunny Sunday. In all fairness, it was much needed after a delicious brunch at Cafe Belong at Evergreen Brick Works. Our story of the day came from Augusto. In a bazaar close to the cafe, among all the stores of fancy jewelry, dresses and food stores serving steamed momos, hot chocolates, noodles and more, was stall-owner with a smile as bright as the day. This stall, Brave Soles, sold wallets and purses of beautiful designs made from recycled leather. As we soon discovered, Augusto stood admiring his creations perhaps because each had a unique story of its own. Among them was a blue wallet. It was made from Airplane seat covers! How many stories had this little piece been witness to in its lifetime! The excitement of a lover flying to meet her partner after a long separation, a family chatting about the beautiful vacation they were headed to, an old man reminiscing the many highs and lows of life. As I held that little piece in my hand, I almost wished it could talk. Close by lay a black purse, made from the tyre-tube of a bicycle - one that once helped a young girl learn her first ride in the protected arms of her father, or perhaps one that a young lad rode miles on a countryside journey in a most distant land. People gathered and heard about these wonderful tales while wondering which set of stories to make a part of their own.
My journey so far had already been a calm and enlightening one - one that made me think of all the tiny tales with their own cauldron of beautiful emotions that chance around us every day. All that I needed to witness these wonderful tales was a heart of adventure and a deep breath keen to stay still and feel the universe around me.
Crossing through the chatter-filled bazaar we reached the hikers trail. a bride & groom with their troops had gathered for a photoshoot, a family had come to spend an evening exploring the wilderness and then there was us, in search of hidden treasures in the form of stories amidst nature’s beauty.
While walking along the regular paved trail, you may miss an unpaved, narrow, hidden climb. Take it and you’ll brave through outreaching shrubs on both sides until you begin to hear the gentle sound of a stream. The paved path would be far beneath you on the other side by now, but you likely wouldn’t notice. We didn’t. For, if looked at closely and with a mystical eye, one can observe the depiction of the seven chakras formed by the seven mini pond-like formations in the stream - each one clear and letting the water flow smoothly through them. Looking at this tranquil site, a two minute meditation session isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound.. By our side at that moment was a beautiful butterfly with grand orange wings and a thick beautiful back frame line, sitting just as calm and basking in the sunlight.
There are several opportunities at a diversion on this trek until you arrive at a bridge. Immediately beyond it, just like any truly worthy experience in life, we were faced with the challenge of a tricky off-path climb.. Mr. Fly stood right behind me through the climb, making sure I made it all the way to the top. Afterall, behind every successful person is their special someone! And it was worth it, for the other end of the short climb puts this trail in its true perspective. It is at the highest point with an unobstructed view of acres of greenery, water sitting calmly and birds flying, that one also sees the distant skyline of downtown Toronto. And at that moment, you realize how you have effectively stolen minutes of solitude and nature escape even as the busy life of megacity goes on all around you.
If you’d rather avoid the unpaved climb, you can also reach this spot from the other side. Just follow the unpaved trail past the highest point that the paved trail leads you to. We could see that gently meandering paved path at a distance below. As we began our descent to it, however, little did we know that we’d never reach it. On our way down, we came to an open area with another curious unobstructed diversion. This one was a very short steep drop to weed-laden railway tracks! A chance encounter with another hiker - a kind man with his friendly dog who had come out for some exercise - revealed that it had been abandoned. As if to underline the storied theme of the day, it reminded us of the time when trains would have taken passengers across this serenity, filled with stories and conversations of their own.
We descended down to the tracks and began walking north, opposite to the Evergreen brick Works where we had begun our trek. As we walked on the track for another half hour, shrubs gave way to bushes and trees, one of which had an eerie cobweb-covered travel bag hanging in one of its branches. How many more years would pass before it revealed what secret it held inside? Eventually, we entered Crothers Woods! We hiked through the woods, walking across a tiny bridge made of a few logs of wood, and at one point, we even decided to wet our limbs and sip on water flowing between two trees in half-a-meter wide stream. The hike concluded with a wooden stairway that opened up to what was the main entrance to Crothers Woods.
Bikers and walkers, all trace these steps every summer day. And yet, the two sets of trails are together hiked upon by few. We did it by accident. What held our hearts strong were the occasional passers-by, greeting a simple “hello” in true Canadian fashion. They reminded us that among the citizens rushing through the offices of this megacity, there will always be those on the other extreme, welcoming you, should you too ever lose your way into beauty.
Who are Mrs. & Mr. Fly?
Mr. Fly is a central character in the ongoing Kalki Evian series of books. Originally conjured in the fictional narrative to describe an unbiased view of our everyday world, he was soon joined in real life by a jolly Mrs. Fly who taught him how to truly discover pleasures in little things often missed while living out fast-paced lives. As they began exploring, this blog took shape with a view to share what they saw.