Paris café chair love

Café and bistro chairs are one of the iconic items that make Paris Paris. For years I’ve been collecting my favorites on Instagram with the hashtag #Pariscafechairs (which is now contains far more photos than just my own). The colors, the patterns, the forms. Swoon. I thought it’d be fun to take it a step further, with a blog post to dig a little deeper.

There are at least three main houses that make the chairs, which are still made by hand until this day. There’s Maison Drucker (since 1885), Maison Gatti (since 1920), and Grock (who up until recently had a shop on Boulevard Beaumarchais). I always like to check the back of the chair to see which maison created each chair. I’ve become quite good at recognizing each style over time. It’s a fun guessing game.

Messy Nessy Chic captured how the chairs are made on her blog, and in this video she made:

Chairs are often custom made for a café. This one is at Café aux Deux Moulins aka the Amélie Cafe on Rue Lepic.

There’s a lot of room for variation on a single chair.

With matching tabouret stools, bien sûr!

For outdoor, or indoor use.

Unique forms…

Even folding versions.

Or a series of colors.

Or monochromatic.

Or more intricate patterns.

The chair below is the one that caught my eye in a shop window and I knew it had to be mine! It’s a Maison Gatti x Philippe Model Maison. 💙 You can check it out in more detail over on my business blog where it makes several cameos.

How fun is this hand embroidered Paris café chair pin from Macon & Lesquoy? I think it may just have to be the next edition for my collection.

Looking for a unique way to explore the city? Check out my Navigate Paris tours!

The many faces of Merci

There’s a reason I kick off my Paris Design Tour at Merci. Every ~3 weeks the Parisian design/concept store store changes and takes on a whole new look and feel. Even for a regular, it’s always fun to see what installation they’ve cooked up next. The store is housed in a former textile factory, meaning it has more space than your average boutique. When Merci first moved in the 3rd arrondissement the area was not at all what it is today. But the risk paid off, and for the time being the area still is dominated by more independent shops than chain stores. The other fun twist is that Merci—which means “thank you”—has their own endowment fund where proceeds go towards the well being and education of children in Madagascar. It’s the side of the store that’s hardly mentioned, but I think it makes the creativity of what happens inside the store even more exciting!

You’ll know you’re at the right place when you see the signature red Fiat in the courtyard with the MERCI license plate. As you’ll see below, even the car knows how to have a little fun…

Step inside and you never quite know what you will uncover.

You know I loved when they transformed the shop into a swimming pool to celebrate the invention of the bikini!
The installations are a great way to discover new brands. The ‘So Wax’ installation is where I first discovered Maison Chateau Rouge.

The car got transformed for that one too!

The many sides of the red Fiat.

Simple yellow stripes set the stage for the tartan installation.

Floor to ceiling tartan!

While some installations lean more towards interiors, others take on a fashion twist. (There’s men’s and women’s clothing in the shop, as well as jewelry.)

When les Mauvaises Grains teamed up for the installation, there was a yellow farm truck in the courtyard (along with chickens) and a two story verdant structure full of plants inside.

Plants have been popular. In another installation, the main wall was transformed into a living wall.

The wall has transformed into the ocean, with a navy scene.

And that one time it was the beach!

Sometimes product lines dominate the theme. This was a wall of Ateliers Maximum chairs—a French brand using recycled plastic in creative ways. (I bought the one on the left after seeing them make them in the store.)

It’s also been transformed into a global hunt for explorers.

In August, when most Parisians leave town, Merci usually takes on a Paris theme. ‘Merci aime Paris’ (Merci loves Paris) integrated graphics by illustrator Vahram Muratyan a few years ago.

More recently, it became more like a Parisian market with Parisian themed trinkets for sale.

In many ways the store feels more like a curated museum. It’s quite fun! Even the tables the products are displayed on change. It’s not uncommon to have products from brooms, to headphones, to lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

Even big brands like Muji are known to team up with Merci for a one of a kind installation. (It’s the only shop location, after all.)

The rest of the store changes too, but not at the same frequency as the entry area. Often products from the main installation will be distributed throughout the store during future installations. Even place settings change, so you always get new ideas for styling combinations.

There are also three cafés on site. The soft boiled eggs in the Used Book Café is always a favorite of mine. In fact, I recommend clients have breakfast there before we kick off our tour.

Believe it or not, these are just a small handful of the various “looks” Merci has taken on. There’s always something fun to discover. You can visit the shop at 111 Blvd Beaumarchais 75003. Or if you’re looking for a guide to show you the inner workings of Paris from a local perspective, all my Paris tours are customizable according to your interests as we explore the city in creative ways.

You can find more information on my tours here.


Best app for navigating Paris: Citymapper

What’s your favorite app? What’s the best designed app you use? What app do you use every day? What’s the app you recommend most to other?

For me the answers to these questions is a no brainer. It’s also the same answer to all the questions: Citymapper! In short, it’s the best app for getting around Paris (and other major cities).

Anyone who has taken one of my tours knows I rave about this app. I also often give a little demo to show the fun features like the number of pain au chocolat (depending on the time of day) burned while walking, and catapult or teleport options that only appear some of the time. In addition to being an app that’s not afraid to have a little fun, it’s a highly practical tool for getting around. From the design of the app, to the use of real-time data Citymapper makes navigating the city a breeze—even during strike season in Paris!

While I’ve been a fan of the app from day one, yesterday I attended an Ask Me Anything with Citymapper founder Azmat Yusuf at Station F (one of the recommendations in my previous post) which made me love it even more. It was fascinating hearing him describe the app as a tool to combat congestion, as it was built around the idea of mobility, and not just maps. In fact, Citymapper is interested in the layer above the map and how people move through a city. What started with busses only expanded to public transportation, cabs, and bikes, is now expanding to including floating transportation, like the electric scooters you see around the city. Citymapper takes the time to clean up open data to help ensure we have the best experience getting around. This is good news for cities too.

Station F is a former train station turned into the world’s largest start-up campus. They regularly host AMA sessions with founders and innovators. Azmat Yusuf is pictured on the right.

Azmat sees the importance of having players from tech meet with those of the public sector to create something that truly has an effect and impact. Furthermore, it ensures you’re responding to an actual problem. GovTech Summit is one place where these conversations are starting to happen (the first one happened a few days ago in Paris). He believes to truly combat congestion in cities and shift the mentality around saving the city, there need to be more public sector incentives such as a $2.50 surcharge when you’re not sharing a taxi in NYC. He also made the point that innovation tends to come from the smaller players and then is extracted away (ahem, Google), but when it’s for social good, that’s not a bad thing.
Running late? Citymapper tells you where to stand on the platform to make sure you can make your connections as fast as possible. 

The first version of the app was released as Busmapper, believing that busses are one of the best ways to help alleviate congestion in cities. In London, their latest project, Smartride, goes beyond the digital where Citymapper has become part bus operator with shuttles. They’re expanding their scope to real world experiences, looking to innovate and create an experience around shared transportation (yet within the strict regulations of busses both in the UK, and even more restrictions that are specific to London). Like many companies—Netflix with their own productions, Airbnb with their own hotel, and Deliveroo with their own restaurant—Citymapper is going “full stack” in order to have the full experience and continue to challenge the status quo.
No detail unturned. Walking instructions are always converted into local food that change throughout the day. In Boston you may encounter “lobstah” 😂. 

The —based in London—started with cities that had complex transportation (Europe makes a good target), that has been adapted for each market. Launching in new cities was never the real challenge. It’s the maintenance, and understanding what a city needs as infrastructure is added that is key. While initially users voted on the next city Citymapper should conquer, for now the focus is on improving the cities they’ve already created a base for.
Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Boston. Even if you’re not traveling anywhere, it can be fun to switch cities just to see the local “mascot”.

During the Q&A session, Azmat also addressed the “fun stuff” recommending surrounding yourself with a team that is highly motivated and passionate about the subject. Find people you can geek out with around the mission and then let them have fun. It’s not only how you’re able to differentiate your product, but it’s also how you get through stressful days.

Always scroll down to see all your transportation options. Click ‘catapult’ for a good laugh. Read the fine print when you do. And look for the smile in the moon :)

So what’s next for Citymapper? They’re looking at anything that will help get users from point A to B in a way that becomes seamless and disappears into the natural experience. They listen to user needs, while also considering bigger picture goals like multi-modal routing (train to cab), sustainability (emissions), and accessibility (which has proven to be one of the bigger challenges). What if an elevator is down? Or something isn’t working as they expected. There are plenty of people with wheelchairs, parents with strollers, and travellers with heavy suitcases that could benefit from a more accessible system. That’s the challenge of building these digital products, sometimes you have to ship it and see what happens.

At the end of the day Citymapper is more concerned with the user than the competition. That’s how they keep innovating. Turns out my favorite app is even more awesome than I thought, and doing great work to help cities thrive. If you’re still intimidated by public transportation—or just want a fresh look at the city—consider booking one of my tours :)


P.S. If UX (user experience) design sparks your interest, check out the UX courses I created for OpenClassrooms. (You can take them individually as well).

P.S.S. For buying train tickets within France and Europe, check out Formerly known as Capitain Train (a French startup with phenomenal customer service), it’s another favorite app with a clean, easy to use interface. It completely changes the experience of travel.

For more on creative entrepreneurship, check out my new business blog here. I’ve also started a new weekly newsletter exploring the intersection of travel, design, and creative entrepreneurship. Sign up here to get it direct to your inbox. (You can peak at past editions here.). As always you can find me as @pretavoyager on Twitter and Instagram.

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, I offer my own creative ways to see Paris on!

Networking, co-working, and crafting in Paris

Let’s face it, whether you have a business or not, it can be a bit challenging to meet people in Paris. I often joke that it took me 10 years to meet French friends. The world it changing, and social media is making it easier to to connect, but still we’re all looking for those strong, true connections.  This was one of the topics that came up in my multiple “calls with strangers”, so, inspired by those conversations, I thought I’d put together a little guide to meeting people and trying new things in Paris. Getting out of the house is one place to start. Whether you’re planning to move to Paris in the near future, or have lived here for your entire life and you’ll looking for a new twist, there’s something in this post for you. And while we’re talking Paris here, many of these ideas can be easily translated to any city.

I broke it down into three sections: networking, co-working, and make & do. There’s a lot of overlap, but sometimes it helps to think about trying something new in a different context.

The whole idea of networking makes me cringe, but I’ve always loved the idea of making friends, rather than networking. In the midst of my own career pivot, I find myself more drawn to meeting new people. I did jump on calls with 13 strangers after all. I’ll write about that another time, but for now, here are some places you may want to consider for meeting new people or trying new things. Most of them are in English, but you should always cross check if you don’t speak French.

  • Look for alumni associations and groups you’re involved in and see if there’s a Paris chapter. Think university, interests, hobbies, etc.
  • Follow groups and organisations on social media. I recommend creating Twitter lists to keep them all organized. Or you can follow the “Paris network” list I created.
  • Sign up for newsletters for any organizations that spark your interests. It’s often the best way to be the first in the know. Facebook pages and Instagram accounts are also worth checking out and following.
  • Sign up for Eventbrite emails and check in regularly to see what events spark your interest. Don’t be afraid to do something new. Same goes for —look for groups that interest you.
  • Creative Mornings is an international free talk series with chapters around the world. There’s one in Paris too. (Even if you’re not in the same city, all the talks are recorded and shared on the CM website. I’ve also caught some in other cities on my travels).
  • Station F (@joinstationF) is Europe’s largest start-up campus. They often host events open to the public. Same goes for start-up incubator, The Family (@_TheFamily) and NUMA (@NUMAparis). Hardware Club (@hardware_club) has also been known to host their own “F Conference” (where yours truly spoke last spring). Most of the events hosted by these groups are posted on Eventbrite and Facebook.
  • For UX, follow Hexagon UX (@hexux_paris on Twitter). Women who run their own business, check out Paris for Her. Parents check out Message Paris, an English-speaking organization. My French Life is an online community.
  • To build your language skills check out Franglish. 🗣 It’s like speed dating, but for language exchange. You speak half the time in French, and the other half in English. 🎬 Also check out Lost in Frenchlation—French movies with English subtitles.
  • Expat leads: FUSAC, the American Library in Paris, Democrats Abroad, the American Church in person message boards, American Cathedral.
  • Libraries and bookstores often have events. Check the American Library in Paris, Shakespeare & Company, W.H. Smith, who regularly invite authors for readings. (These are all English speaking, but French bookshops do it too.)
  • Scout out people on LinkedIn who seem to be like minded. Send them a short, but thoughtful email that is enough to capture their attention. Normally I ignore most of these requests, but recently a designer reached out to me, and we ended up meeting for coffee, and it was awesome! (It was the way she wrote the initial message that piqued my attention; she didn’t suggest coffee, I did. Here’s great advice for an awesome coffee meeting☕️).
  • Every time my friend Olga travels to a new city she reaches out to a developer she follows online. She does this by speaking directly about an article they’ve written or project that they’ve worked on. She gives them a reason to respond. (Networking can get really generic and boring, but it can be fun—if you make it interesting, and make a little effort!)


I’m not going to lie. I haven’t really fallen in love with the Paris co-working scene, but putting this post together suddenly made it more exciting. There’s still a lot I have to try, and it all depends what you’re looking for. If you’re like me, sometimes you just need to get out of the house! Here are a whole bunch of ideas:

  • NUMA is a city run start-up space where the ground floor is a café and free co-working space, and the upper floors are home to various start-ups. It’s very central and can be an interesting place to catch events.
  • Many of the coworking cafés and spaces have multiple spaces around the city, and involve a fee of some kind (for coffee or for the day/week/month): Anticafé (pay by the hour, multiple locations), Café Craft, Coworkshop,  NuagesStation WMorning Coffee, SPACES, WeWork. I’m a huge fan of Time Work Space (pictured above) but it’s not in Paris proper, and it’s by monthly membership. My friend Cécile did all the interior design. It’s also home to an incredible recording and podcast studio if you’re looking to rent a space for sound.
  • Any café or coffee shop. ☕️ The challenge here is space. Some places are less computer friendly than others (especially on weekends, when seats are limited). You may have better luck finding a big bistro/brasserie and hiding at a table in the back. Avoid lunch and meal times to ensure you have your space. Increasingly, some restaurants are opening their doors to freelancers and remote workers during off hours. (My friend Lindsey has a great list of specialty coffee shops. More keep opening regularly too.)
  • Public libraries are the original co-working spaces. 📚 Paris has some incredible libraries. It will be easier to get a library card (and seat) at some more than others. You likely will need proof of residence in France + a photo. Even museums like the Centre Pompidou have incredible libraries to work from. The American Library is a great place for English language books, and a place to work (it’s close to the Eiffel Tower!).
  • Hotel lobbies have become another favorite of mine. The Hoxton and Hotel Grand Boulevards are a couple to start. Look for the ones with the more spacious lobbies or restaurants with people with laptops ;) (Hoxton hotels are also known for regularly hosting events.)


In recent years, Do-It-Yourself culture has really taken off in Paris. Keep your eye out for “ateliers” (workshops) and “cours” (courses) being offered in the city. They’re also a fantastic way to unplug and do something different. I actually didn’t realize there were so many cool options until someone asked me about it. This is a short list, which I’ll be happy to keep updating.

  • Seize Paris is a crafty place in the 11th for all things DIY.
  • Adeline Klam is a shop in the 11th that regularly hosts creative workshops (atelier) to make fun paper creations.
  • Klin d’Oeil is yet another great shop in the 11th that often opens their doors for screen printing, and other activities where they invite other creatives in their doors for workshops for kids and adults.
  • Les Petits Points Parisiens is a small knitting shop in Montmartre that offers classes.
  • Cours municipaux d’adultes (municipal courses) are affordable courses offered by the city of Paris that open twice a year. The language classes fill up fast, but there are tons of other subjects too. Chances are you’ll meet other people in the classes too.
  • La Cuisine Paris is a cooking school where you can learn all sorts of tricks and recipes to take your skills in the kitchen up a notch, from croissants to savoury dinners. (They have a great monthly newsletter that keeps you in touch with events around Paris in addition to a mouthwatering Instagram account.)
  • Keep an eye out for pop-up shops in Paris. They often have “animations” and events associated with these limited edition events.
  • Follow these kinds of places on Instagram! Instagram is another great networking tool. Check out who my @navigateparis account is following for more ideas of things to do or places to visit in Paris. I’m constantly finding great new businesses in Paris to follow to help you go deeper than the surface.


This post just brushes the surface. Share all your secrets! Where are your favorite places to work? network? and get crafty in Paris? Share them in the comments. Let’s do our part to help support small and independent businesses in the process. 😊

In case you didn’t hear, I’ve kicked off a new newsletter. Sign up to make sure you don’t miss anything I’m posting around the web. I’ve also started a business blog over on 

The State of the Blog (and Business)

This summer marked ELEVEN YEARS of blogging! For me blogging has never been about traffic or big numbers. It’s about sharing ideas and making connections. I’ve always said my blog is my best business card, and as I put together this post that statement rings more true than ever, even when posts were not as regular.  This week I had lunch with my friend Vahram (whose work I first featured back in 2011!) which was a good reminder of all the good things that have come from having my blog. I think it’s pretty amazing to think about all the inspiring people I’ve met through this little “side project” and the awesome opportunities it’s led to. I’m excited to get back to it a bit more, and start building out some more ideas…

So I thought I’d share what I’ve been up to when I haven’t been blogging, and a couple exciting things to put on your radar. (Spoiler alert: I’m starting a newsletter + there’s an opportunity for you to jump on a [free] call with me!).

A page from my summer notebook. I feel like the diagram I created above will be a perpetual work in progress.

As part of my summer travels unplugged (inspired by this post) I used the time to reflect a lot around what it is that I do, and more importantly, what I wanted to do. I kid you not, the best idea came to me when I was painting a canoe. This was my one task of going to Maine, having to re-live my last visit back when I was 9 years old!

Maine canoe painting: c. 1990 + 2018 

Not distracted by my phone (I didn’t get reception, so it wasn’t even an option), my thoughts were redirected. Even though I’d been living my business since 2011, it took painting a canoe to realize that I’m no longer focusing solely on the intersection of travel and design, but also that entrepreneurship is the third key component (see top Venn diagram; I already updated it from my initial post to “entrepreneurial spirit” which I feel captures it better). I realized this has woven itself naturally into the work I do, but moving forward it’s something I’m going to be more intentional about. Here’s some fun stuff I’ve been up to recently. It’s so crazy to think everything here (with the exception of the canoe) happened thanks to my blog or social media. That’s awesome!

I (and my tours) make a cameo in the September 2018 issue of Inside Out magazine.

In September my Navigate Paris tours were featured in the popular Australian interiors magazine, Inside Out. It was such an honor to be included, and in such good company. I started offering my tours through on my own two years ago, and it’s been cool to see them getting noticed. I even had my first booking from the article two weeks after it came out! I also started a @navigateparis Instagram account if you want to follow a feed from me that’s devoted to snapshots Paris. I’m actually toying with putting together an e-book of my tours as well.

Renée put the cutest touch on her Instagram photo after our meeting.

I have my 5+ year old Skillshare map making class to thank for connecting Milwaukee/L.A. based illustrator Renée Graef to me. She took my map course (as well as Art of the Travel Poster), which helped her on some maps she was working on for her book, and is also how she discovered my work. She came to Paris this fall (her first trip to Europe!) and booked a creative consultation with me to talk about her new book, Lulu and Rocky in Milwaukee, which launches in November. I love how two fictional characters can help connect us through travel. Renée also was the illustrator of the Kirsten books in the American Girls dolls series that I grew up on, so it was such a treat to be able to work with her.

I’ve actually been working towards doing more creative coaching and consulting for a couple years, but I still haven’t had a chance to update it on my website yet. I’m hoping to update in the coming months with more offerings, but don’t hesitate to reach out if this is a service you’d be interested in knowing more about! I’m also looking to create a new offering that combines my tours and coaching in one, for a deep-dive day of inspiration as we work through your own project(s)! I’ll probably start blogging more business over there. And I want to create some online creative workshops too (but once I recover from everything I did in my next update below 😉). Be sure to sign up for my new newsletter linked below to get all the updates!

Behind the scenes teaching UX design in the OpenClassrooms video studio. It was so fun working with professionals to take my courses to the next level!

One of the other reasons for the relative silence on my blog is the past several years have been consumed with creating content for clients. While I learned a ton, it took a lot of energy I’d typically give towards my own endeavors. I just wrapping up one of the biggest and most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on: developing masters level UX design curriculum, projects, and related courses for OpenClassrooms, which is Europe’s largest online education platform. Co-founder Mathieu Nebra started the company when he was 13 and he wanted to learn how to make a website. He had to teach himself the hard way, so he built a platform to share what he learned with others, but in a much easier way to grasp than the technical books he read. Fast forward to today, and it’s OpenClassrooms. You can watch the courses for free, with a membership, or work towards a diploma with mentor by your side.

While working on my path I lived and breathed user experience (UX) design, and got to build a lot of new skills, from developing a deeper understanding of psychology, metrics & analytics, content strategy and UX writing, and the importance of design research and talking to users, to how to speak with a teleprompter (not as easy as it looks)! To say I geeked out was an understatement. 🤓 I learned that when you teach a subject you learn it at the next level. Making videos that were 2-minutes or less added to the challenge, and made it even more rewarding in the end. The other good news is that now that this project has wrapped up, I can’t wait to adapt everything I’ve learned into future projects!

When I wasn’t busy teaching or writing, I kept myself busy reading!

Over the summer I was able to have a lot of fun, not just work. The strangest thing was meeting people who had been long time fans of my blog, only to discover it years later. There are two pictured in the photo below (one was the talented photographer!). It touched me when they told me how helpful my blog was in their own journey. This was amazing to hear, because as a blogger and creator we don’t always get feedback for the work we do. It was also a good reminder of how nice it is to connect with readers. So this is a friendly reminder to say, don’t be shy when it comes to telling someone you appreciate their work. (I’m working on being better about it myself from responding to newsletters, or tweeting my favorite podcasts and tagging the creator).


Posing during my friend Haleigh‘s birthday at a chateau (there are an excess in this country!). Captured by Katie of The Travelling Light.

Now that my focus has shifted back to my own projects/business, I’m all ears for what you’d like to hear more about from me. (Leave a comment below, or send me a tweet!). I’ve also been having fun with the AMA [ask me anything] question feature on Instagram Stories—they’re saved to my highlights if you want to check them out. I plan on making it a semi regular thing. I also like how your question is likely something that others were curious about too. I’m still figuring out what to focus on for my main content, but you can count on me for some random Stories (including entertaining/depressing updates of my never ending hallway renovation 😂).

In other exciting news is I’m (finally) starting a newsletter! No promise of exactly when the first one will go out, but the more enthusiasm I see, the faster it will happen 😉. The newsletter will be an extension of my overall brand and professional work, and not just limited to Prêt à Voyager travel style posts. I’ll be sharing stories from my own experiences, insights from podcasts/books/movies/articles that have inspired me, introducing you to awesome people, interesting things happening in travel and design, and cool opportunities you may want to take advantage of. There’s no set plan, so join me on the journey to see where it takes us. (Don’t hesitate to let me know what kinds of things you’d like to see from me in your inbox too). 💌 SIGN UP FOR THE NEWSLETTER HERE! 💌

And in even more exciting news, I’d love to connect and chat with YOU! Inspired by something a Twitter friend did recently, I’ve decided to open up a handful of slots in the next couple days, so sign up while there are openings. This will be an unstructured call and we can talk about anything you’d like to talk about. Just click the Calendly link to sign up! First come, first served. Consider it your reward for reading this far. Don’t be shy, I look forward to connecting! 👋 (UPDATE: Fully booked. That went better than expected and was SO MUCH FUN! Thank you to all who were willing to take the risk and join me on this little experiment!)


The conversation continues on Twitter + Instagram as @pretavoyager.






From Paris to the Moon

Ever dream of a night swim under the light of the moon? It’s possible right now in Paris.
Every summer the city of Paris puts together events around town to encourage people to get out and have different experiences, particularly if they can’t afford to go anywhere. Someone on Instagram asked how is Paris so cool? Answer: significant social charges and taxes. 😂 But money well spent if you ask me.
Festival Paris l’été (été= summer) is just one of the organizations hosting events around the city. (Paris Plages the Paris “beach” along the Seine and Bassin de la Villette, and Cinema en Plein Air at Parc de la Villette with the largest outdoor movie screen in Europe are two more). As part of the summer festival that included a tight rope walker to Sacre Coeur, dancers, and more, UK artist Luke Jerram was invited to showcase his large scale Museum of the Moon.
The moon which is 7m in diameter has been displayed in interesting places around the world from churches to public parks (see if it’s coming near you any time soon).  When you’re in the water you also get to take a closer look of the incredible NASA imagery (1:500,000 approximate scale, where each centimetre represents 5km of the moon’s surface). It’s completely mesmerising to look at and see all the detail.
In Paris it found a home Piscine Pailleron, which also happens to be the swimming pool where I attended an awesome underwater party years ago where everyone wore white and we danced the night away in the empty pool.


Those who have spent summers in Europe may also recognize Jerram’s name from his “Play Me I’m Yours” pianos that were placed around cities to encourage people to play.
There are two ways to catch the moon before it sails off to it’s next destination after August 4th. For 5€ you can pay to visit the moon (tickets are for sale on the festival website; there are only morning slots available). However, I recommend option B: going for a swim under the moon. Piscine Pailleron is one of the few pools with decent opening hours (you pay a small price for that too). If you never been to a Paris pool, it’s an experience for sure so read this blog post before you go. And as always, cross check the opening hours online. The pool itself is beautiful, so the moon is a nice touch. Seriously, though, when can you swim backstroke under the moon and be so close?!?


Warning: All swimmers are required to wear caps, and men must wear tight fitting speedo style suits at Paris piscine (pools). The lockers use a pin code system at this pool so you don’t need change to lock up your stuff.

p.s. I can’t claim the title of the post. It’s actually the title of New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s 2000 Paris expat memoir. Still, despite not being original, I had to use it for this post.

Champions of the World

For me travel is more than going places, it’s about having different experiences. In the case of the World Cup I never grew up following it. Heck, as an American, I barely knew it existed, nor how all consuming it is for the rest of the world. Thankfully, with the help of a couple World Cup obsessed friends, I started to get the fever too. It also helped that France made it to the final, which was next level. (Their last World Cup win was in 1998, when the now coach of the French team—Didier Deschamps—was captain of the winning team). This is how the win unfolded for me…

The World Cup lasts for a month, and for many fans, it completely takes over their life, planning their life around games. Bars spill out into the streets, as Parisians love to enjoy being en terrasse.

When the local team plays, it’s even harder to find a seat. One secret was finding restaurants that took out of their tables in favor of seating. (That’s how we watched the semi final match when France beat Belgium—note the celebratory beer on the ceiling!).
For the final, it was a scorcher of a day in Paris, a city that is not very fond to air conditioning (and honestly doesn’t need it most of the time, in addition for having high electricity bills). Final game day was like Bikram soccer (or “football” if you will). But it was worth it. So was the fresh air when the game was over ;) !
While watching the game at a friend’s apartment (I don’t own a TV) would have been cooler (temperature wise), and less crowded, there’s something about the energy of watching en masse that is so exciting. You’re in it together. From when there’s a goal, to the moment the TV freezes, there are highs and lows, screams and groans, and even grown men shedding a tear in public.

That’s not to say that some people didn’t get very creative with their “home” viewing set ups. The funny thing too was that even if your windows were closed and you didn’t leave they house you still knew what was going on based on the screams from every direction.

On Sunday, July 15 2018, the game started at 5pm, but terraces of bars were already overloaded hours in advance. The spirit was high, and never fleeting for hours.

After the win, I could have done without the smoke bombs and seeing public property destroyed, but in general, everyone was just happy. Horns honked for hours, and hours, and hours. My head is still buzzing.
Strolling the streets, you kept happening about different celebrations. People watched from their balconies. Songs were of all types, but “We are the Champions… of the world” seemed most fitting.

I shared a clip of the singing at the location above on my Instagram post, and if you’re quick, you can check out my Instagram Stories before they disappear. I also recommend watching the Stories of the French players, particularly @paupogba and @k.mbappe29 for a peek behind the scenes, and the joy and friendship of these guys (why by the way, all the players are donating portions of their winnings to charity). The New Yorker also had engaging coverage, reading sports from a different perspective. The Guardian wrote about what 19 year old Kylian Mbappé has done for kids in the banlieue (suburbs) of Paris. And I loved this photo by Alexei Nikolsky of the moment Emmanuel Macron realized France had WON! 🏆 🇫🇷

Celebrations keep rolling on. Today (Monday) in Paris there will be a parade on the Champs Elysées and the RATP metro system had a bit of fun renaming 6 metro stations (just hope too many tourists don’t think they’re in the wrong place 😉).

There are so many wonderful stories to come out of this World Cup, so share your favorites in the comments.

What living in France has taught me about burnout

Nine years ago when I was still living in the U.S. I had a job where I received 10 vacation days a year (cue European jaws dropping!). After three years at the company I tried to negotiate for another week. I knew a raise wasn’t an option given the state of the economy. For me time has always been the bigger luxury. I was also well aware that every time I traveled I not only came back refreshed and inspired, but I came back with loads of photos that directly benefited the projects I was working on. Alas, despite my valiant effort, I didn’t get either more time, or money, during my annual review. But I still should thank those bosses, because it was just the boost I needed to get me to move to France.

I’ve often struggled with the unspoken American mentality of “the more you work, the better you are.” I’m not sure exactly where this idea came from. My best guess is seeing the crazy hours people in finance or law worked became a badge of honor (albeit it a twisted one). If you’re not working insane hours or sitting behind a desk, it means you’re not doing your job!?! Social media also hasn’t helped, as it seemingly rewards those who never pause to take a break. Behind the scenes, they’re burning the candle at both ends, but instead society and algorithms reward more is better, quantity over quality. It’s dangerous, particularly when the reality is rarely shared, so everyone else lives with a complex that they’re not doing enough.

I started my business two years after moving to Paris. I’d just finished my second Masters degree, and despite all the schooling, starting a business was something that I was not prepared for.

The afternoon of the day I graduated in 2011 I got a horrible migraine like never before, and a stiff neck. My body started to shut down with the realization that I no longer had the crutch of saying I was a student, despite the fact that I had been freelancing while I did my studies to cover my cost of living. I am a pretty easy going person and not one to overly stress, but the act of graduating set off something physiological in me that was out of my control. Now it was time to figure out what I was going to do for work. I wasn’t drawn to full time jobs, so I got a freelancers number (SIRET) so I could start working in France.

Grad school did teach me a lot of things, namely that I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of being a student and setting my own schedule. It helped that a lot of my French friends at the time were doing their own thing too. To be honest, before moving a France, having my own business is not anything that had really ever crossed my mind. Maybe it was that I didn’t have any role models leading the way. Or maybe it was knowing the price of U.S. healthcare in the back of my mind.

Still, it took me a year or two to realize that while society seemed to be pressuring me work more, that my secret sauce was working less. And it’s not always working less, but giving myself enough time to process, or as I like to call it, percolating. My best ideas weren’t coming in front of a computer, but while walking down the street, swimming, or literally making connections in the metro. These days I’m appreciative of my AppleWatch which reminds me to stand up every hour, because sitting at a desk all day is not healthy either.

Several years into my business where I thought I was in a good groove, my body decided to remind me to slow down again. This time the physiological response was that my tongue turned white and I couldn’t eat anything acidic, so my diet turned to ice cream. Know what’s the worst when you’re already stressed? Figuring out what’s wrong with you! Eventually a colleague convinced me to go to the hospital. During my follow up doctors visit after my 7€ visit to the Urgences Stomotolige (mouth ER) I received the best advice I’d ever receive from a doctor: cut the toxic people out of your life! Not typical medical advice I realize, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. This time while business was in order, I hadn’t realized how toxic my landlord situation had become (and it was probably time to graduate from that 7 floor walkup 16m2 shoebox apartment).

Self care needs to happen in every aspect of your life. And while most people go to the gym to stay in shape, I realize I do it for mental health more than anything. As much as I can, I try to go three times a week. I used to be into intense cardio, but I’ve come to appreciate a good stretch and core strengthening class too. (Hello BodyBalance: a mix of yoga, pilates, and tai chi set to music, but I also enjoy punching and kicking in BodyCombat – very therapeutic!). I also walk to work, which is the perfect amount of time to be inspired by one of my favorite podcasts.

With time I’ve come to the realization that what works for everyone else wasn’t necessarily working for me. (Or maybe everyone else is just covering everything up too, or assuming it’s normal and OK.) For the past 7 years I’ve stuck to contract work in order to help ensure I have the balance I need to succeed. Traditional work environments guilt me into being at my desk and in front of a computer, and being an introvert at the core can make offices draining for me. (The irony is that my last two long term gigs I’ve completely embedded myself like a full-time employee!). I know full-time jobs have their benefits (and stability), but I also see friends burn out from full-time jobs too, which scares me more because it’s harder to step away when you know you’re running on empty.

One of my super powers has come from working on different projects, and the nature of doing that gives me the opportunity to zoom in and step back from what I’m working on instead of getting lost in the mania of deadlines. The tours I offer (I prefer to call them experiences) are awesome because they get  me outside. Not only am I unplugged from my computer, but it means I’m connecting with people—in real life!

When I give tours people often ask me what drew me to France. The year after undergraduate I spent a year teaching English in a French high school. I was contracted to work 12 hours a week with two weeks of vacation every six weeks. As you can imagine I didn’t make a lot of money (but hey, French salaries are already notoriously low because companies have to pay large amounts in taxes to the State). However, there was something in that experience where I saw the value in this less traditional schedule. The irony is that after that year I thought I didn’t want to be a teacher at all. Funny how things change. I just needed to teach in my own way, and on my own terms.

It’s not just teachers who get a lot of holiday in France. French vacation leave is closer to 5-9 weeks a year. If you work a job were you rack up a lot of overtime you get additional time off known as RTT (Réduction du Temps de Travail). In the start-up sector I know a company where you only get your bonus if you take 3 weeks off in a row during the year. Don’t worry, you can take other time off too! Civilized, right?!

Along with my reframing of what it means to work, I’ve also had to rethink how I work. Tech companies are the poster child for digital workflows. But that limits you to tabs and files. In the last year, I’ve turned to my trusty paper notebooks first. I buy unlined notebooks intentionally, so I don’t have to fit my ideas into a framework that exists. I’ve given myself permission to get messy, I move ideas around ideas on sticky notes, and I buy nice marker pens so it makes writing even more fun (cheap thrills). There are studies that prove that writing things down by hand lead to better retention, yet we don’t do it enough. I’ve fully embraced not being the cool kid, embracing old school paper vibes, and being OK with not working the way everyone else does. It also makes my desk feel more like home when I’m working from a client’s office which is an open floor plan with undefined seats. I even find myself going to my shelf and digging through old notebooks, thankful that I took the time to write things down. It’s fun to be able to integrate the things I’ve learned in the past into projects I’m working on now.

I’ve lived in France for nine years, and have been French for two, but this is the first summer I feel like I’m truly embracing being French and taking a proper holiday. In the past I’ve just stayed in Paris, opting to travel in off-season for better deals. I’ve always thought that I’d work on my own projects, but the reality was that I was always too burned out from the rest of the year to accomplish much of anything. No work happens in Paris starting in late July through most of August. It’s clear that the French step away. But it’s convenient because everyone knows no one is going to accomplish much of anything during that time. The summer I was a nanny years ago I learned that the French really don’t work while on holiday. They also don’t try to go and do million things, instead opting for time by the pool in-between meals that last for hours.

After the month of June that nearly destroyed me, I knew that I needed to have some travel on the horizon, and an actual trip. While I knew the month was going to be ambitious and intense, you don’t always know how to plan for the unexpected things that add up. (My friend Lauren recently told me that everything takes 3x as long as you expect, and I totally believe it!).

I know I’ve done the work, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done. As a reward, I’ve sought out vacations where I’m forced to unplug: Iceland and Maine. Turns out those low luggage weight limits and added fees are good for something — traveling light = sans computer! I think an email can go 5 days without a response for the betterment of my mental health. My second getaway involves going to somewhere remote, where the bathroom is an outhouse, and I’m fairly certain there is no electricity.

The other perk of planning travels is that it means you have something to look forward to. It’s the best incentive to get things done so you can enjoy the time away. While I’m still not taking a solid three weeks off in a row, or a month for that matter, it’s still more than those 10 days a year! And I already feel a little more French for it. 🇫🇷

p.s. For more on creativity and mental health, check out AIGA Eye on Design.

Dîner en Blanc

Nine years ago, when I was still living in Baltimore, I discovered a magical event that takes place in Paris called dîner en blanc and posted about it on my blog. The secretive event by invitation-only happens every June where all the invitees wear white and invade a different location around the city. 2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the event, and much to my surprise, yours truly scored a ticket this year!!

Between social media or the fact that the event has spread to cities around the world, the event is not so secret anymore, but somehow they still manage to achieve some level of mystique around the event. Guests are divided into groups of 40 and assigned a team leader you communicates information. The day before the event guests are told where their meeting place is. But even the team leader doesn’t know where the final destination for the event is until they receive the message around 8:30pm.

Our group meant in front of the Air France terminal along with another group. Pairs were assigned their table number as they arrived. We quickly started to make friends.

When the location was announced, we were on our way!

Mind you, this is all after traveling in the metro while carrying tables and (white) chairs along with real dishes, glasses, and whatever meal you plan to eat. As this is France, three courses is the minimum. 😉

Traveling via metro is always entertaining, but it’s fun spotting people going to the dinner. I thought the laundry basket method was a clever touch.

As you approach the location you start to see more and more groups in all white. Some may seem far off, but before too long, the patches of grass nearby quickly disappear as new groups arrive and set up. Alas, the poor families who had hoped to have a calm picnic on a Sunday evening were in for a rude awakening! We quickly took over… Invalides.

Invalides as we started to arrive, with people enjoying a beautiful Sunday evening.

The dinner this year took over the entire esplanade between Invalides and the Seine, on both sides of the street!

Set up is quick and efficient. Before you know it, it seems that every table is suddenly outdoing the other with flowers, candles, and decoration. So many details across the board I wish I had thought of (including wearing a fascinator). In my defense I did have two giant bags with dinner.

Everything you bring you have to take away when you leave too. At least bags are lighter once the champagne has been drunk!

Our table was made up of more foreigners than locals (one story I heard was the event really is a way to introduce new people to the city). We were surrounded by Americans who had flown in for the occasion, but one American couple came from Grenoble where they live. Another table removed, the women from Trinidad and Tobago and currently live in the UK. Further down there was a Frenchman, and many more. I admit on my way I feared it’d be a slightly snooty event of high class locals. I was pleasantly surprised that it was one of the more diverse events I’ve attended in Paris — refreshing! Paris isn’t a city where I find myself talking to strangers much, but I loved the event, and how we befriended everyone around us. Several people had attended the event in different cities around the world too. This night proved to be their favorite.

I’ve never seen a dinner party come together so fast!

Apèro complete. Let’s eat!

To officially kick off the dinner, there was the napkin twirl (something I first encountered at French weddings; I also had specifically gone in search of white cloth napkins the day before!). We were also given bubbles which we forgot to use before it got dark. And then there were sparklers, which lit up the entire esplanade in front of Invalides! It was magical.

My ticket came to me by my friend Jen. We represented the “local” contingent of our section. At some point we realized many of our neighbors had disappeared. Clearly the Americans weren’t used to the long, leisurely meals we’ve become so accustomed to in France!

The perfect evening for dîner en blanc.

Throughout the night bands showed up, there were incredible costumes, and many guests had considered how they—and their tables—would light up at night.

The dinner lit up with sparklers! ✨

The biggest downside? The complete lack of bathrooms—a trend I encounter in everyday life in France!

Eventually the party took to the streets, which had been blocked off by the police. Amusingly, there was an NYPD cop car on the scene too! Not quite sure how that got here 🤔

The pictures can’t quite capture everything. For me it was the perfect excuse to be outside, and enjoy the company of friends, both old and new. Also, the nine years of being patient really paid off! I never thought this day would actually come… 🍾 🥂 ☺





The best worst travel story ever

We were four hours into our journey when they made the announcement: we were turning back and returning to Paris. We all pulled up the location map on our monitors and let out a collective groan. We were HALF WAY THERE! They have to be kidding, right!?! Our flight still was going to be 8 hours, except now we were going to end up the same place where we started.

How to get jelag without actually going anywhere.

I knew weather delays could be an issue. This is just not how I expected it to unfold. My mom‘s wise words came in handy: I worry about the things I have control over, I don’t worry about what I have no control over.

Truth be told, I think some of my Facebook friends were more mad about the situation than I was. The way I see it, you can either complain, or make the most of the situation. I mean, how many people can tell the story of how they traveled halfway over an ocean, only to turn back to where they started?!? I tell everyone I meet now. 😂 I’ve found it’s a good conversation starter, and makes other people feel like their day hasn’t been so bad after all.

Thursday night I had questioned the fact that we were even departing, but I also was relieved to know the worst of the blizzard cyclone storm was supposed to be over by then. Alas, despite different previous messages, our pilot announced that JFK had indeed closed, and they tried everything but no other airports had space to accept us due to the crazy weather. (We also needed an airport with a long enough runway, and one that was still open at midnight).

At that point I also realized how much worse it could have been. I didn’t go swimming in the ocean. We didn’t skid on ice when landing. I’m not traveling with kids or a baby (but my seat mates were!). And I didn’t have to deal with wet luggage from a water main break (that really did happen the day after we arrived at JFK and an hour after I departed for my next flight).

On the bright side, we were put up in a hotel at the airport and had free meals. And we – the self proclaimed “Norwegian [airlines] refugees” – had a common story. It made me realize one of the realities of living in Paris: I don’t talk to strangers like I do in the U.S. And I admit, I miss that. On the plane, no one could use turn to their phones – our new normal force of habit – so instead we had to talk to each other. I’ve never heard such chatter on an international flight, let alone at was 2am.

The conversations with strangers continued as we waited in line to check into the hotel, and to pick up food vouchers, and ate meals together. Each step of the journey we continued to bond. Suddenly our new 2pm departure later that day (by the time we got our bags and checked into the hotel it was around 7am), became a 7am departure the following day. The story kept getting “better” and better.

Through it all I chatted with people throughout the day with interesting stories I would never otherwise met. More than complaining, we laughed. A lot. In one case I met someone waiting in line for a dinner voucher, but when someone else joined the conversation an hour later, they assumed we’d known each other for years. Ha!

Waking up at 4:30am was not the most fun. Neither was the disorganized wait in the airport. Or the two hour late departure. But we had a bigger plane and empty seats, so that wasn’t so bad. When we FINALLY landed in NYC ~50 hours later there was applause. Then we we sat on the tarmac for 4 hours. It only added to the best worst travel story ever. It could ALWAYS be worse. 😉 Between hearing/seeing stories of friends trying to travel and social media, there was another dose of perspectivel. I’ll take 4 hours vs. the 13 hour wait on the tarmac we spotted on Twitter any day!

You can’t make stories like these up. So, yes, I’m telling the story about a plane turning around halfway to our destination. But it’s also a story of perspective and making the most of what comes your way.

From these adventures, I learned a few valuable lessons:

  • It’s all about attitude. You can either be the bad attitude in the room, or the good one. Being pissed isn’t going to do much. It made my day when other passengers thanked me for helping put things in perspective for them.
  • If you’re traveling in winter know that weather delays are real and your plans may be affected by them. The people you yell at are human too, and it’s not their fault. (I’ll give the Norwegian airlines flight crew props for being so lovely and professional through it all.)
  • Be patient + set low expectations. I often joke that through living in France I’ve learned to set my expectations low, and that way it only gets better from there. We had a few naive moments – like when we landed and then waited on the tarmac forever (it’s not over until it’s over 😉). One look on twitter showed that some other flights waited seven or thirteen hours that day. Perspective.
  • Pack carry-on only in winter. That ensures you don’t have to deal with waiting for baggage on top of flight delays. If you are checking a bag, move a couple pairs of underwear and some makeup (or whatever will make you feel human) into the bag you’re traveling with – just in case!
  • Buy a liter bottle of water once you’re through security. This is a result of my traveling budget airlines who keep you less hydrated (for free), than most, but I never regret it. Staying hydrated is also my secret to combatting jetlag.
  • Go to the bathroom before you land. You never know how long you’re going to be sitting on the tarmac, and they may not let you go to the bathroom for the first hour!!
  • Bring snacks. Again, you never know when you’re going to be sitting on a tarmac for four hours. The airline doesn’t have enough extra meals for everyone, so instead you get nothing. Hungry, frustrated people are no fun! You can make friends too if you share your snacks.
  • Share the humor on social media as it unfolds (well, when you’re back on land). Tell a story. Your friends will be rooting for you! And it’s a good way to laugh at the situation.

Ok, everyone has some travel horror story? What’s yours? Share them in the comments!

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