Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wardrobe: Nice, France

Grey dress, scarf, sandals, sunglasses, bracelet, cream dress, wedges, scarf, handbag

When thinking about a wardrobe look for a trip to Nice, I couldn’t help but think of the late Grace Kelly. Not only was she a local, being the Princess of Monaco and all, but Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, which was filmed in Nice, is one of my favorite films.

Her style was feminine, elegant, and modern - always sophisticated and put together with minimal, deliberate accessories, and simple hair and make-up. I wanted to take inspiration from her without posting a vintage looking too outfit, because if she were here now, I bet she would have dressed in today’s best fashions.

Here are two looks, one for day time sight-seeing and one for dinner on the town. I looked at the classic lines in her style – soft neckline, defined waist, and a-line skirt and translated them with pieces we would wear now. Simple leather sandals, and the new classic Reed Krakoff bag. I couldn’t resist throwing in a Hermes scarf as a nod to her relationship the brand. Instead of wearing it around your neck, wear it as a headband/turban just like Ms. Kelly did in the beach scenes of To Catch A Thief.

Destination: Nice, France

It was my first time leaving the United States. I was going on a road trip through the CotĂȘ d’Azur and Provence regions of France, then taking the train to Nancy and finally Paris, where I would be studying abroad. I would be accompanied by my mother. And we would land in Nice, France on a cool summer morning.

As soon as we landed, chaos ensued. We hurriedly followed the crowd to our luggage carrousel and dragged our bags off the moving belt. I could feel my mother’s anxiety heighten as we searched in vain for the rental car stand. All of my life she was such a strong leader, always knowing the direction to take, but in this moment she was ill and she didn't know what to do. I remember time slowing at the same time it quickened. I barely understood the chatter around me; the signs were all in French. But somehow I knew where I was and how to get to where I wanted to be. Instincts took over and I headed to the exit. She followed me. As we arrived at the rental car stand, the English speaking employee was on a break. I had to get the car, pay, and get directions to the hotel all in my shaky French. And I did. I’m sure he could tell I was nervous, but I was able to communicate.

It was such a tiny moment in my life, full of so many others more significant. But this moment was a turning point for me. I was challenged. I became calmer as the situation grew more stressful. I took the lead in finding a solution, and I took action. I made decisions, communicated, and triumphed. All while having a loose grasp of my foreign surroundings. I thought, if I can do this, I can do anything. Any nerves I had about being in a foreign country were quelled.

Once in the car, my mom took over again, as she is a skilled driver of stick shift (I am still but an amateur). Things were different between us. I could feel that she was proud of me. She wouldn’t have to babysit her tiny daughter on this trip – we could be friends, peers.

Nice was stunning. I felt like I was on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief as we walked through the streets. It felt luxurious and timeless. Nice is one of the oldest cities in the world and has been a vacation getaway for centuries because of its perfect Mediterranean climate. There were a lot more people than I expected, between the local population and tourists the number was near a million. Buildings were a mix of styles, some Italian, some French, and painted coral, with shades of blue and green for trim, they were bright but white washed from the sun. The streets smelled like salt water, fresh coffee, and wafts of that familiar smell of someone’s dinner escaping through the windows and fireplace. Old women hung out of third floor windows, watching passersbys and tending to their window gardens, while old men stood in groups in the streets, smoking cigars and talking. Tourists searched for an English speaking restaurant downtown.

Our activities included a visit to the Museum of Modern andContemporary Art, where we learned about the Nice School of Art in the 1960’s, represented Yves Klein, and the troves of artists, like Matisse and Marc Chagall, who have been attracted to Nice’s soft light over the years. Most of our meals were enjoyed in the sidewalk cafes. Meals lingered here; even lunch was served in courses, finishing with an espresso. I’d always wanted to eat a meal like that.

I was determined to speak French, even though a lot of people spoke English and I was timid. Each person I spoke to was so kind about helping me. My pronunciation and understanding grew with each meal or shopping trip.

A must in Nice is to walk along the Promenade d’Anglais which spans the length of the waterfront. Their beach was much different than ours in Florida. It didn’t have powdery white sand but instead grey rocks. I found it strangely alluring, although it was definitely not as comfortable for tanning. 

I also experienced one of the worst tours I’ve ever been on. It was pre-arranged through a travel agent and neither our driver nor guide spoke English. We had to hop into the backseat of a shady van to drive from scenic place to scenic place. The guide had a script that she read from but could not answer questions. Between her accent and reading the script like a robot, not taking breathes or pausing between sentences, to this day I’m not sure what I was looking at or why.

One of our destinations on the tour included a candy making factory. We didn’t see people making candy, but apparently it was made there and it was famous and American tourists like those types of things, so we went. The gift shop had hoards of middle aged women in white sneakers attempting to secretly pull their money out of their passport fanny pack, which was underneath their clothes, to buy candy in bulk. The sales women were aggressive too. The whole scene reminded me of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. My mom and I still laugh about it to this day.

My confidence grew throughout our trip. I had never felt so liberated. I loved learning new habits for eating breakfast (coffee and a bit of baguette) or having long lunches or speaking a new language. I liked to watch people and see how they dressed differently or acted the same. Sure, it was frustrating at times when I couldn’t communicate or when we just needed toothpaste and couldn’t find a drug store (Oh, it’s around the other corner…) but the sense of accomplishment and the excitement of seeing such an amazing place were addictive. It was then that my desires changed from “sure, I like to travel” to “I must find a way to do this the rest of my life.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Weekend Recap: Oscars and such

This weekend started out right with a fabulous Friday night happy hour, followed by a date with Gman and Saturday brunch in Alexandria. We spend the rest of the weekend cozied-up inside avoiding the insanely windy weather. The images above are shots from around the house.

In the spirit of the Oscars, Gman and I watched Citizen Kane, arguably one of the greatest movies of all time. I had no idea what to expect and I loved it! The style of filming, the story line, the superb acting came together brilliantly. I'm not going to spoil it for you by telling you the story. Go move it to the top of your Netflix queue, ASAP!

What did you do this weekend? Did you watch the Oscars or gawk at the red carpet? Did you predict the winners?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Shoe Love: JCrew Ballets

After writing this Fort Myers, Florida wardrobe post, it was all too tempting to not to purchase these darling JCrew ballet flats. I stalked them for a while, then tried them on with everything in the store, as if I needed convincing. Finally, I snatched 'em up last weekend during the 20% off sale.

I bought them with the intention of using them as commuter shoes, but they were so cute with my work clothes that I ended up ditching my heels two days in a row (gasp)!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: The Larchmont Hotel, NYC

Tammy of A Loyal Love and I decided to head up to NYC almost on a whim. It was New York Fashion Week. Everything was booked or prices doubled. Our friends living there already had guests or plans that weekend. Where would we stay? I remembered reading this post on Cup of Jo and she recommended The Larchmont Hotel. The location was in the neighborhood I have always wanted to live, in the heart of everything on 11th St and 5th Avenue. But was a room available? A double bed for $130 a night?! I booked it without reading further.

When we arrived in NYC it was cold and windy, but not snowing as we were expecting. Our rubber wellies suddenly seemed heavy. Encouraged by the awesome deal on the hotel, I decided it would be worth our time to take the subway down from Penn Station, versus hailing a taxi. Our luggage was cumbersome as we tried to navigate the turn styles and down the stairs while hurried New Yorkers sighed loudly as they had to walk around us. We were both sweating now, hot in our coats and boots.

Flustered, we finally exited the Subway and started walking, only 5 blocks to the hotel. Her suitcase kept tipping over, my handbag's strap was on the brink of breaking, and every step was carefully planned. By this time we are starting to laugh at ourselves. Where are our husbands/porters to carry our luggage? Our arms were sore from it! Pathetic!

We stopped at Garden of Eden to grab some snacks and beer which seemed like a good idea but made the rest of our trek even more difficult. We arrived at The Larchmont Hotel barely in one piece.

Check in was smooth and the staff friendly. We headed up to our room just as an older woman was going into the same door with her groceries. I noticed mailboxes by the elevator and got the strange sense we were in an apartment building. Then the woman asked us where we were from and said she lived here, on the 3rd floor! Tammy and I looked at each other.

Getting out of the elevator and navigating the hallway was exasperating with our two trips' worthy load. Not wanting to leave beer or shoes behind we forced our way through. Then we noticed that the bathroom was in the hallway. We started getting the giggles. We got to our tiny tiny room and notice that there is just a wash bin. That was our bathroom we passed. I went back for a second look. Tammy was now glaring at me. We laughed uncontrollably when her husband called to check on our arrival status. I could only hear her side of the conversation:

"Hi, we're here."
"No, it's nice. It's just... the bathroom is down the hall. It's an efficiency."
"No, it wasn't random. I'm following the High Heeled Traveler!"

I laughed so hard that I could barely stand. Up until that point, I had never stayed in a space with the bathroom down the hall. Even in college I only shared my dorm room bathroom with three other girls. On all my trips to Europe I've stayed in bed and breakfasts or hotels, never hostels. How did I miss this in the descriptions on Joanna's blog and the hotel website?! We were on our own, roughing it for NYFW. No husbands to carry our luggage, no luxurious bathroom. It was bare bones here. A libation was needed.

I went back into the hallway to find a bottle opener and I heard the most beautiful opera music coming from the room next door. I was lead by the sound and headed in that direction. I passed a tiny kitchen. There was a tiny table, tiny fridge, tiny sink and a bit of counter space. A place setting for one was set up on the table and dishes freshly washed were drying next to the sink. As I snooped around a man came in and said hello. I turned on my heels and introduced myself while asking for a bottle opener. We chatted for a few minutes before he kindly retrieved his nicest one for me.

If this wasn't perfectly clean, in the perfect location, and so highly recommended, then we might have left. And that would have been a shame because it turned out to be one of the most fun adventures I've ever been on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tips to Travel by: Going Solo

When my cousin came to visit me in NYC, it was her first time on a plane by herself. When she finally arrived at my apartment after navigating the airport, subway system, and the streets she was so proud of what she accomplished.

The first time I traveled alone was scary. I didn’t know if I would be able to navigate the airport terminal, find my bag, and get to my destination without a companion. It’s not that I wasn’t sure I was capable, just that in the past it was always easy to travel with a group and it felt safer. If I forgot something someone else had an extra, people took turns deciding what to do each day, where to eat, or when to meet up. Like my cousin, I also felt safer with a male companion by my side to watch out for me.

Not only that but traveling for work is easier alone than for vacation. When you are going somewhere on business, usually your hotel, car, and food is prearranged by your company and companions are built into meetings and networking dinners. It can be overwhelming to consider a trip planned by you for you, all by your lonesome.

But now I find traveling alone to be liberating. You get to do what you want, when you want. You are on your own schedule. You get to decide what your priorities are, if you want to sleep in or work out or take an extra hour at lunch.You can lay on the beach for 5 hours reading a book and no one interrupts you or whines about being bored.

My girlfriend Rachel, a fellow High Heeled Traveler, doesn’t let being single stand in her way of seeing the world. In 2011 she went to Dublin, New York City, Boston, Italy, Costa Rica, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Georgia (USA) twice. Some of those trips she planned with family and friends.

I know many of my dear readers are fab single ladies. So I asked Rachel for her tips on traveling solo.

How do you decide on a destination?
It’s not easy to choose and doesn’t help that I want to go everywhere in the universe! Usually I don’t have to worry about making the decision since I typically meet friends at the destination. They are much better at making plans and the conversation goes something like this:

Friend: We should go to
Me: That would be amazaballs! We’d frolic around and explore and have many adventures.
Friend: Duh!
…continued chatting about all the things we’d do…
Me/friend: Wait, we’re only 20-something and have jobs and no babies and vacation time. LET’S GO!

If I had to choose I’d make a list of a few places I want to go most and check flights. I would see when the off season is, there will be fewer tourists and less expensive tickets.

Do you have any tips for staying safe, especially overseas?
The first time I wasn’t meeting anyone, I was a wreck. No one meeting me at the airport, to blindly follow to the bus/train stop, and to lead me to where I was staying, it was intimidating. My apprehension was due to the “what ifs” I kept asking myself (that and I watched Taken a week before I left – I would not suggest doing this). Once I landed and bought a bus ticket I immediately felt more relaxed and was able to feel more of the excitement which had been overshadowed by anxiety. I think that feeling of being unsafe/vulnerable is not as scary as your imagination leads you to believe.

I would say be aware of your surroundings. And have a few phrases memorized or written down, at least to ask someone if they speak English. Oh yeah! I also liked having a map and an idea of how to get where I was staying. Even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned at least you have a vague idea of which direction you should be facing.

I know you consider yourself on the shy side, how do you meet other people while away?
It is rare that I will strike up a conversation but I’m not against talking to someone if they approach me. For instance, helping someone fold a map which leads to being told I’d make a good wife, taking vodka shots with the bartenders, drawing pictures on coasters, receiving free souvenir shot glasses, and ending up at a secret club for a bit of dancing (true story). Meeting people is usually pretty random I’m not sure I do anything specific; I just try to be/look friendly and see what happens.

Where do you recommend staying, for instance, in a hotel or hostel?
Hostels are typically less expensive and since I have learned to pack light this works well for me. I think you’re more likely to meet people at a hostel which is nice if you’re alone. I haven’t stayed in hostels much lately because my travel mates book hotels.

What is your favorite thing about traveling by yourself? 
That I've learned traveling alone is not as scary or overwhelming as I thought in the past, it's actually super awesome. Also, I have to plan activities on my own, like renting a bike to ride around medieval walls (and almost crashing of course).

What is your favorite item to travel with? 
I seem to take this one Target jacket everywhere and lately a tiny notebook. I have a terrible memory and as soon as I’m home I realize I can't remember many of the details from my trip. I don’t write a lot, just places visited, things eaten, and silly quotes. You can also get people you meet to write in it!

Other travel essentials include my Elizabeth Arden lipstick and my Tom's shoes.

**All photos in this post courtesy of Rachel.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Discovering Art and Art History: Buying Art

People often ask me to advise them on art purchases. They want to know where they can find high quality works for a good price. It's hard to explain "a good price" or "high quality" but once you've looked at thousands of pieces you start to sort the good from the bad from the ugly (I couldn't help saying that!).

People who ask me about art are interested in owning original works to display in their homes. They might not necessary want an entire collection, but perhaps something to hang over the couch or objects to put on the coffee table that are unique and stimulating. Most of the people I know are my peers too and they are still young and finding their way in the world. They might not have $50,000 to blow on one painting or at all.

Taste in art is highly subjective. I love that there is something for everyone. When starting a collection, buy pieces that you like. Don't buy something as an investment. You are going to have to look at it! You might find great art at flea markets, outdoor summer art/craft shows, or even through friends and family.

One of my favorite places to shop for high quality original artwork is through highly reputable art schools, like the Savannah School of Art and Design that I briefly mentioned here. The paintings below are some of my favorite ones for sale in ShopSCAD. Click the artist name for artist's bio, more details about the work, and how to purchase. All of these paintings are less than $10,000, which seems like a lot but oil painting is still one of the most expensive mediums.

**SCAD also has just about everything design related! Gman and I bought our dishes here and several gifts for friends and family. (These photos are not my own.)

Katherine Sandoz
Waterway Low Tide
Water-based media on birch
7.25" x 7.25"

Monica Cook
Yo Yo
Painted with ink on frosted mylar, framed
24" x 19"

Russ Noto
The Child, the Future, and the Unfamiliar
Oil on canvas
6 ft. x 6 ft.

Jane Winfield
Industrial enamel. latex house paint, acrylic on wood panel
36" x 24"

JenMarie Zeleznak
I Fade From Myself, and Miss You Again, 2011
Watercolor pencil on paper
55” x 51”

Monday, February 20, 2012

Weekend Recap: Great Falls, VA

Who would have ever thought Gman and I would have almost the same shoes on?

Alright, I'll admit it. Last week was a totally bust. I was exhausted in every way possible and totally lacking inspiration and time to write. I was on the brink of a breakdown and in dire need of down time and some fresh air. It's about this time when Gman usually suggests we go hiking.

Saturday morning, we left D.C. early and drove out to Great Falls Park. The park is only 30 minutes out of town and nestled in the middle of McLean, which is a magical place where wealthy, powerful people live in castles and drive Escalades.

If you plan on going out into nature, I recommend going in the morning. Not only is it less crowded, but it's cooler and there is a better chance of seeing animals (babies!). When we arrived we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

The main attraction at Great Falls Park is, as you might imagine, the waterfalls. The visitor center is conveniently located next to them, so this is where our escape began - after Gman pried the coffee out of my hand. The rushing noise of the water was soothing to my weary soul and the color of the water and rocks are the same ones I fantasize about decorating my apartment with. I started to breathe deeper.

Most of the hike was effortless, we walked along pre-designated paths some even paved or wooden. However, I did get to try out my climbing skills for some of the rougher bits. Gman was proud of me.

We found a perfect perch overlooking the Potomac. We sat there for a while quietly listening to the rushing river, wind blowing through the leaves (which sounds like a softened wind chime) and looked for chipmunks in the rocks (that's where they like to live and hide).

We lost track of time and my mind was finally blank. I felt relieved and peaceful. Sometimes it seems like the only way to get through the mountain of to-do is to face them straight on. But in this instance, the best thing to do was to take a step back and refresh my mind and spirit. Let's hope this feeling stays with me throughout the week!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Weekend Recap: friends and fashion

Sorrelli jewlery

TJMaxx shop

photo courtesy of A Loyal Love
A Loyal Love

fellow DC ladies, Allix of The District and Cheralee of Lyle Style

As you may know, I went up to New York City this weekend. I had the intention of stalking fashion week and attend the Blogger Night Out event on Friday night. I did attend the event (with A Loyal Love) but I decided it was more important to spend the rest of the weekend with my dear friends in the city. Also it was snowy and we wore rain boots all weekend. 

Some of you asked me about Blogger Nigh Out, here is my list of pros and cons:
Pros: great music, handsome bartender, stylish women, beautiful jewelry, and delicious ginger vodka drinks
Cons: most of the attendants weren't as friendly as I was expecting and it was too dark to actually shop for the jewelry. However, the ladies I did meet were lovely and I enjoyed myself over all.
On Saturday, after a long brunch, shopping (I want everything in the JCrew spring line. Also JCREW AND MANOLO COLLABORATION?! Yes please), and napping, Tammy and I met up with the ladies for some pizza at Keste, beers at Wilfie and Nell, and finally grabbed some Tecates at the Rusty Knot. It turned out to be just what we needed and I didn't even miss the fab shoes on the runways (well, maybe a little ;)!

I'll have to tell you about our hotel experience later this week too...
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