(Note: I am working on a slightly different format for my New Orleans recap but in the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of gift curating lately and wanted to share some guides in a timely manner while we’re all scrambling to find presents for the holiday season!)
Happy Chanukah! Are you remembering that Chanukah involves gift-giving and you are scrambling? Do you have a White Elephant gift exchange coming up? Maybe you need to find something for a Secret Santa you don’t know very well?
I was recently tasked with finding some fun gifts to raffle off at a holiday event, with my only real constraint being that it had to come with Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping. While I am conflicted about using free 2-day shipping when it’s not necessary, the holiday season is one of the better times to use it for those of us who procrastinate or haven’t found the right thing in stores.
Without further ado, a list of gifts that were available on Amazon Prime for no more than $20, whittled down from perusing a lot of other online gift guides.
Note: Some of these items may no longer be in stock by the time you go to purchase them. The links included below are affiliate links.
Let me know if you buy any of these gifts and what the reaction is!
Do you have any requests for gift guides? It is late in the year to be asking but I’ll do what I can for you! (And if all else fails, I’ll have it ready for you by next year, or at the next gift-giving holiday of your choice…)
New Orleans has been at the top of my list of American cities to visit for quite some time now, so when I learned last year at RubyConf that the conference would be going back to the Crescent City, I was thrilled.
My time in NOLA was a bit of a whirlwind but I enjoyed the rich culture of the Big Easy. It is a city that everyone says lives up the hype, so here’s my 1 Second Everyday video recap of my time!
I have the wonderful opportunity to do a fair bit of travel but there are a lot of American cities I still have yet to visit and I hope I get the chance to see them. I’m excited to share my little slice of New Orleans soon!
Previously on Paris 2017, we wrapped our last day in Paris with a highly-anticipated engagement photoshoot, stocking up on French skincare items, and exploring Montmartre, mainly the Sacré-Cœur and Moulin Rouge.
TL;DR Disneyland Paris is a fun park to visit for fans, especially European ones, but not particularly impressive for folks who have visited American parks in the past. (I can’t speak to the Asian parks.)
Disney park tip: If possible, book your stay at a Disney property so you can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours and get into the park before it opens to the general public. This is definitely worthwhile if you want to maximize hours spent at the park and want to visit something that has a long line.
Disney day was upon us! Disneyland Paris is the only Disney park in Europe and consists of two parks: Walt Disney Studios Park and Disneyland Park. Disneyland Paris is currently celebrating it’s 25th anniversary, so the decorations have been updated for the occasion and some shows have been changed as well!
By the way, remember how it’s been rainy most days of our Paris trip? We experienced the heaviest rain on our Disney day and were greeted with this view of the castle when we walked into the park.
First stop, Sleeping Beauty’s castle itself in Disneyland Park!
I heard that one of the highlights of DLP (Disneyland Paris) is there is a dragon sleeping under the castle! We were on such a rush mission to see the dragon before a crowd grew around it and woke it up.
We walked around a bit and saw on the DLP app that Pirates of the Caribbean actually had nearly no line, so we hopped on to see if the ride was any different in France. It wasn’t, and I was slightly let down because some people cited this ride as a highlight of the park. Because of the glowing reviews of this ride (by people who’ve been to at least one American park), I started getting worried that this park didn’t really have a lot of novelty to offer.
Afterwards, we grabbed some quick bites via a crepe (Ben loves his crepes) and a star-shaped doughnuts (you know me and doughnuts) (and star-shaped things…) and then actually ran back to the hotel because it looked like it was going to rain and we needed to get more rain protection. We took a fairly leisurely walk back to explore the park but a lot of areas seemed closed (it was off-peak season) and we learned that in a French theme park, even a Disney one, there will be a smoking area. (The French are still pretty strong smokers, judging from the large crowds engulfed in smoke I saw outside of bars and cafes back in Paris.)
We decided to go into Walt Disney Studios Park from the hotel because it was open to the public (no magic hours there) and we learned that there was a French food festival happening!
Each region of France was represented with its signature foods. Basically, it was the perfect little tour of French cuisine for us, and it may have been the highlight of our entire park visit.
We tried a little bit from most regions, aside from Bretagne (thanks Breizh Café) and Savoie (with long lines for raclette, which we had zero interest in because we’re not cheese fans), and had a pretty positive experience with this, despite the fact that they did have to microwave a lot of the food for us. It was still some of the better food we ate in the parks. (The rumors are true: DLP does not have good food despite being in France, a country known for its great cuisine… as evidenced by this food festival.)
We weren’t able to try food from everywhere, but I’m really grateful that this food festival happened during our visit because we really did learn a lot about the different regional cuisines of France!
In addition to Hyperspace Mountain, we rode the really fun Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, featuring Aerosmith and a lot of really cool rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia and history. There is also a very random (and not very good) ride based on the 1998 Armageddon movie, which I think Disney thought would be a longer-lasting hit than it was. From there, we hustled back to catch a Star Wars stage show that ended up being kind of disappointing… it wasn’t interactive, there was no story…? It was just a parade of characters and then it was over.
It was around this time that I learned that maybe European Disney guests are pretty different from American ones. For example, I didn’t see many Disneybounders at all. (The few I saw… I’m pretty sure were American.) Also, I would see great photo opportunities with no wait for them at all and then watch as a line formed behind Ben while he took photos of me. Apparently, the behavior I learned from American Disney fans on Instagram (specifically, posing in front of Disney’s plentiful photo-ready walls) made me something of a trendsetter that day in Disneyland Paris?
I don’t know why Toy Stor[e]y is misspelled here
We were really excited for our dinner reservation at Chez Rémy, the Ratatouille-themed restaurant that is modeled like Remy’s little rat-sized restaurant in the movie. The concept is very cute, decor-wise, but this was one of the most disappointing experiences we had at DLP.
The food was extremely meh-to-bad tasting, and a lot of it didn’t even photograph well? I expect Disney to at least value style over substance, but never did I imagine they would execute neither well. The MOST disappointing thing was when our waitress recommended the chocolate cake to us and it came out looking like a literal mug cake that got dumped on a plate, with a cloying yet not sweet enough sauce. It was mushy and also cloying but not sweet enough and just terrible and ugly. I don’t know why the waitress recommended it to us. Maybe she hated us, she didn’t seem very happy.
Walt Disney Studios Park actually closes at 6pm, and with our dinner going over, we had to wait for every party to finish dining so that we could be escorted out the empty park by a park employee. It was a super surreal experience, walking through an empty park!
We went back to Disneyland Park as the sun was setting, aka my favorite time of day anyway but especially in a Disney park.
We rode Haunted Mansion, as I had heard that it’s a bit different here and very special and unique but… it… was not? After that really disappointing meal, I was starting to feel really jaded about all the tips we got for things to do at DLP…
Nothing could really ruin golden hour, though, so we headed over to what has become my favorite Disney place during golden hour: the Tomorrowland/Discovery Land/whatever has the Astro Orbiter.
I like that Paris has a Jules Verne-theme instead of a what-the-future-looked-like-in-the-50s theme, it did add a unique spin and didn’t seem as dated since it is not a prediction of the future but a projection of a specific vision of the future.
We revisited the classic Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast (I finally beat Ben!!!!!!!!) and also toured the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. (I fear this is the kind of attraction that will get replaced by something from a more recent movie someday soon.) From there, it was time to get ready for the evening fireworks show in front of the castle! I told myself I would just enjoy it and not take photos but… it was just so gorgeous. I would put the camera away and then find myself frantically getting it out to capture a shot.
Despite feeling a bit let down by the overall experience (and how salty I was that the castle show featured all these classic Disney animation clips and then a clip of live action Beauty and the Beast………….), it was really hard to not walk away from DLP feeling a bit of magic. I cry during the castle show every dang time.
That’s it! That was our last day in France! We were kept awake by a crack in the window, which led to a screeching howl every time the wind gusted by (aka every 5 minutes since it was storming out) and then waited until 3AM for a maintenance person to come by and basically… tape it shut.
Needless to say, we left France a little tired and cranky but really grateful for all the adventures that we had.
I can’t believe I’ve somehow managed to visit a different Disney park every year for the past few years! I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have had the opportunities to visit and compare these theme parks in a fairly short span of time.
What are your favorite things about Disneyland Paris? What’s your favorite Disney park? I’ve heard some good things about the Asia parks, although I believe they are also not run directly by the Walt Disney Company, right? That might be why their merchandise game is so different… and adorable!
What did we miss out on while we were in France? I think it’s really likely that we’ll return, so I’ll try not to ignore my Duolingo and practice that French so I can do even better with it the next time I go!
I’ll also try to get vlogs up because I have been diligently recording videos but… well, I have a lot of vlogs to get up and I take a long time with them… But I’ll do my best!
Can you believe it’s December already? Do you have any posts you’d like to see in particular? I am aiming to get my New Orleans recap up soon and maybe a gift guide or two so that you have someplace to start brainstorming as we get into gift exchange season!
Previously on Paris 2017, we did as many things as we could with our last day on the Paris Pass, including hop-on/hop-off, two side-by-side sights, and a river cruise… all after a photoshoot at 8AM in front of startingly empty landmarks.
Better photo captions and Yelp reviews for the below spots to come soon
Monday morning, Ben and I got most of our things ready to check out of the hotel and then headed off to the Bir-Hakeim bridge (made famous by movies like Inception) for our official engagement shoot with Sasha Lannier. Sasha was so fantastic to work with because she truly had our best interests at heart. She told us to bring our valuables in as small a bag as possible because pickpockets are brutal and she just puts valuables in her backpack that doesn’t leave her back during the shoot. She is very candid about what will look best for you, so if you don’t know how you look best, this could be a little bit blunt. For example, I know I have a good side (which is why in most photos of me with Ben, I stand on the same side), and Sasha agreed. Ben was very confused and she reassured him that he is a lucky one with a symmetrical face. (That man should be a model, I’m telling you…)
She was also hilarious and told us about what the photography industry is like right now in Paris. Photographers love relocating to Paris because there is no shortage of clients. A lot of foreign couples, like us!, have been coming for engagement, wedding, and anniversary shoots, as evidenced by the plethora of women we saw wearing bridal gowns with a photographer trailing behind them. And there are so many shoots happening now that landmarks are getting overcrowded to the point where people want to do something to somehow keep your photos of the Eiffel Tower from being of the Eiffel Tower and 10 women in wedding dresses with 20 photographers behind you yelling in French, Korean, Russian, English, Arabic, and Chinese.
After the shoot, we checked out of our hotel and stowed our bags with the front desk before walking out to enjoy our last day in Paris. First stop: FOOD. We walked to Banh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich shop that was highly recommended to me by my friend Margaret. The lady who runs the shop is so jovial and the sandwich was freaking delicious, I really regret forcing us to share one.
Mouth aflame from the “mild” spiciness (… how spicy is regular spicy…???), we got up from the park bench we enjoyed our little bite at to grab some Amorino Gelato. I first had Amorino 4 years ago in Paris and I just love the little roses they do with the gelato, plus the delicious natural flavors they offer. There is an Amorino near Broadway in New York but somehow, we never make it.
Cooled off by the gelato, we enjoyed a really leisurely walk because it wasn’t raining (yet) and walked a long way to L’Avant Comptoir, which is famous for their tapas and for being standing-room only. (There are literally no chairs in this tiny shop.) However, the menu is presented via each item hanging from a string on the ceiling, with no English translations, and Ben really should’ve been given his own banh mi instead of being forced to share with me (sorry!) so he was really hungry and my neck started hurting trying to translate menu items for him. We wound up leaving and finding a Breizh Café location about a block away, where we had yet more delicious galettes in a much more spacious location.
Bellies appeased for a bit, I put my foot down and decided we were going to do the French skincare thing. We walked over to CityPharma, which has become internationally famous for their discounted French skincare products that are priced way higher abroad. I was expecting it it to be a madhouse with tourists clamoring over each other grabbing at shelves and staff members shouting answers to their questions above the din. But I was really shocked to see that it was really orderly and quiet inside CityPharma. These French pharmacists managed to keep a sense of calm despite the number of eager tourists filling up their baskets with creams and sprays. I panicked a bit at how much of a price difference there was and filled my basket way more than I walked in planning to do, thinking Ben would roll his eyes at my skincare impulse buys. He was actually enabling me, exclaiming at the discount and encouraging me to throw more bottles into my basket. I walked in wondering how many little items I’d have to try adding to qualify for the VAT refund and walked out easily doing so.
Shopping tip: VAT changes from time to time, but essentially, if you spend a certain amount in one visit, you can apply to get the tax refunded to you. This can be really crucial if you are buying French luxury goods (think designer handbags, etc.) because the luxury tax is really high and the price only beats domestic prices when you get that refund.
At CityPharma, I was able to get my refund back on my credit card, minus a small processing fee. Most people opt to get their refund at the airport for the full amount. You will need to get your paperwork while you are paying for your goods and get to the airport early as there is frequently a line for VAT refunds.
With two plastic bags full of products, we took the metro over to visit the Sacré-Coeur. Let me tell you right now that this journey involves a lot of stairs. Even getting off the metro, there was a sign indicating that we were in for a 200-step journey out of the metro station. 200 steps! And then, of course, there is the uphill journey through the winding alleys of Montmartre to get to the base of the hill that the basilica sits on.
Then… so many more stairs. (270 of them.)
There were many signs clearly stating no photos, but people were taking pictures in front of those signs, in front of security… clearly that rule didn’t apply anymore but I didn’t feel comfortable breaking rules in a scared place so I abstained and tried my hand at some prayer.
Entry to the basilica is free but tickets to climb up more stairs to the top of the dome are €6 for adults. (The crypt was closed when we visited.) So… 300 more steps.
But those views… wow. This was the best weather we had in Paris yet and it was absolutely stunning.
By the time we descended, it was growing pretty dark and we were really hungry again. (It didn’t seem like we ate too little but when we got hungry, we got STARVING.) We walked down the alleys of Montmartre towards the Moulin Rouge and stopped by the Café Deux Moulins because I had a hankering for buttery escargots again.
It wasn’t until I had walked in and noticed how familiar things looked and how excited people were to take photos with a movie poster that I realized this restaurant is the café from the movie Amélie!
The café was so toasty and warm and we were so full and content with our last meal in Paris. It was hard to get up and leave to go check out Moulin Rouge, just for a look, before it was time to head to Disneyland Paris! Family-friendly fun sounded really good after walking past the Moulin Rouge and seeing a bunch of strip clubs and adult stores. (It was a high density area of adult entertainment on this block here.)
We took the RER to Disneyland, and that was a bit nerve-wracking because it was so late and we didn’t want to accidentally get on the wrong train at 11pm. But eventually, after rolling our suitcases a few blocks, riding the subway one last time, and anxious waiting at the train station for a long while, we arrived at our destination.
(It still took us quite a while to find our way to the hotel because the signs were arrows that pointed to general areas and not specific paths but we made it eventually!)
Next up, Disneyland Paris!
What are some sights we missed that you would recommend? I had a lot of people recommend the catacombs, which I had not considered before but it was really highly recommended! There were also a lot of sights we passed but didn’t go into. Also, we stayed in the same general areas but didn’t even get to go out to the financial district or the Quartier Latin!
What are French foods we missed that you would recommend? I posted almost all of the food we tried, and we will get to try just a bit more in Disneyland Paris, but what are some food items we have to try next time?
What are places you want to see when you [next] visit Paris??
Many photos incoming, Yelp reviews for the below spots to come soon.
Sunday morning, we woke up super duper early because we had a photo shoot scheduled at 8AM! While we ultimately wound up staying in a hotel, we did a lot of AirBnB browsing before coming to Paris and discovered that AirBnB offers “Experiences”. These range from tastings to bike tours to yoga on the beach, and one that caught our eye in Paris was a photo shoot. We had a great time with Alex, who took photos of us at the Louvre and the Palais Royale, which were both startlingly calm and empty in the wee hours of the morning before the museums opened up. We noticed during the evenings that Paris gets quiet very quickly at night and we learned that it stays quiet for longer than we would’ve expected.
And that was just our first Paris engagement shoot!
After shivering through the photo shoot, as people swarmed on these picturesque spots (we saw another woman in a wedding dress being photographed), we strolled through the Jardins des Tuileries before stopping by Angelina (review soon) for breakfast and their famous hot chocolate!
Breakfast really hit the spot and we were very hesitant to leave the toasty tea room but we wanted to do some more strolling though the expansive Tuileries before… going straight to lunch. (Spoiler, we were not nearly hungry enough for more food at this point.) Since we weren’t able to visit while we were in New York, we hit up the Ippudo Paris location and had a really lovely bowl of ramen. It reminded us why Ippudo was such an enchanting first-ever ramen experience that maybe remains our favorite. Also, it was fun to hear people switch between French and Japanese, and Ippudo was one of the few places where we heard Japanese being spoken (by both staff and diners) versus English and French.
Completely and totally full at this point, we started walking our food off and decided to take our Paris Pass day to the hop-on/hop-off bus tour. For readers who remember my first Europe posts (I realize that I have now been back to Paris before finishing the recaps with London and Paris… but they’ll be out!), I am a huge fan and proponent of doing hop-on/hop-off as a first day/only day in a city way to explore. (I also like calling it a ho/ho bus but I don’t know if that’s catching on…) (I’m going to be calling it that in this blog post though.)
Ben was at first fairly lukewarm about the ho/ho bus idea but glad to have a place to sit and rest. He didn’t realize that the buses all come with a little audio tour, so we’re still engaging with the city as we ride around! We had been doing some fairly intense walking the past 3 days in Paris, so being able to just sit on our butts while still exploring the city was blissful. Having the little audio tour made that rest all the better because there is just so much to learn about this city. And one of my favorite things about ho/ho specifically is that you can get off, explore on foot, and get back on. Usually, I like to start my trips with ho/ho but ending with the bus tour was exactly what we needed.
We rushed to get back on the last ho-ho bus and high-tailed it to Sainte-Chapelle to see the famous stained-glass windows and squeeze more value out of our Paris Pass.
Sainte-Chapelle tip: It is recommended to visit early in the morning for a quieter experience with morning light or at sunset to see the light come through the rose window. However, on overcast days, like the day we visited, the light comes through the windows more evenly so don’t despair!
From Sainte-Chapelle, we walked next door to the Conciergerie, which was originally part of a royal palace but is now famous for its role in the Reign of Terror, during which time it served as the main prison for those suspected of being enemies of the republic.
Reign of Terror fact: During the 10 months that the Reign of Terror lasted, 2700 people were sent to prison in the Conciergerie, with most of them going to the guillotine. 1 in 5 people in Paris could find themselves going about their days, being charged and imprisoned in terrible conditions, and then being executed the very next morning.
As we arrived near closing, I was really speed-reading the informational placards. (I always read every placard in every museum/gallery/aquarium/zoo I’m in.) (Or in this case, I try to.) This was a particular challenge because the sheer quantity of historical content for me to consume was enormous but also because half of the placards were written only in French and I read a lot slower in French than I do in English! (I also had to slow down a bit to make sure I could then give Ben a briefing of what I learned as he enjoyed things like videos and interactive exhibits.) It was pretty sobering walking through and seeing prison cells and artifacts from before Marie-Antoinette was executed.
From the Conciergerie, we hustled over to Notre-Dame even though the cathedral was closed, just to see it again, before hopping back on the very last ho/ho (close call!).
Although it had been raining while we attempted to endure the open-top seats, the weather had cleared and we were enjoying just really beautiful scenes in Paris, where the trees leaned down to kiss our heads (and drop big spiky things, what were those?!) and a cool breeze blew through the open air markets and cobblestone streets. God, Paris is so beautiful. And before we knew it, we arrived near the last Paris Pass thing we wanted to do: the Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise.
I really do have to recommend this river cruise, because you can see so many of Paris’s most famous and most iconic sights from the Seine. We loved going at night because the sun was setting and the monuments were all illuminated. It was pretty freaking dreamy, let me tell you.
While the sun was barely setting when we set out on our river cruise, it was completely pitch black when the boat docked and we were super cold and super starving. With a quick internet search, we quickly became really interested in eating Moroccan food so we found ourselves at Essouira, which is about 2 blocks from Trocadero but was on a super quiet street.
The interior of the restaurant was incredible. We felt totally transported, especially when we considered that a few blocks away we were pushing through crowds and vendors trying to sell us things, thanks to the lush decor, the soft music playing, and the warm emanating from the smells, the music, the textures, the foods, and the people.
Except for the people sitting next to us. I have never felt my heart break so much for strangers I was so close to before. I don’t want to overtake this travel recap with this anecdote, but we were sitting next to a Chinese-American girl who was about our age and her mother. The mom would enthusiastically ask about certain sights and the daughter would just shoot her down repeatedly, venom with every single word she spat out. Even then, the mom kept trying to connect and get her daughter excited about something but the daughter was SO MEAN. And it was painful for us to hear because we could understand both the English and Chinese frigidness and pain, and for me it was extra painful because I know that sometimes I lose my patience with my parents and don’t sound too different from that girl. I really wish I had done something to comfort that mother, somehow, but it just wasn’t my place.
That experience aside, we had a really lovely meal and felt so warmed through that we went back out to Trocadero to take in some more Eiffel Tower sights. Trocadero is one of the best spots to get photos of the Eiffel Tower, so coming really early in the morning or really late at night will get you some amazing shots without too many people in the shot. There is a lot of room, though, so you may still luck out.
With that, our day ended and we headed back to the hotel, feeling so satisfied with how much we maximized that last day of Paris Pass value! Without having to run around too much to do it!
Do you get a thrill out of maximizing value like we did? The value of maximizing value is up there with the actual value of sightseeing we got out of this, no joke. It was so much fun and we felt really proud of ourselves, if a little exhausted at the end.
What are your favorite ways to cover a lot of ground when you’re sightseeing? I love love hop-on/hop-off, and I also really liked the river tour. I also got a kick out of hop-on/hop-off boat tours in the canals in Copenhagen. (That blog post will eventually come up!)
Have you ever intervened when you saw strangers in an awkward situation? Nothing really bad was happening but I felt like I wanted to do… something. It was just so not my place that I didn’t know how to do something, but I literally cried in the restaurant for a while after that mother-daughter duo left because I felt so sad for the mom and so sorry I couldn’t do anything for her and so sorry that I couldn’t make the daughter see how terrible she was being.
Anyway, the Paris recaps are coming to a close very soon! I am actually heading to New Orleans for RubyConf today and am so excited because New Orleans has been at the top of my list of American cities to visit for the first time for quite some time now! I will try not to drop the ball with the Paris recap update schedule.