Sunday, April 27, 2014

One day in San Francisco: Top five things to do

Tony Bennett couldn't be more spot on when he sang, “I left my heart in San Francisco”.  As a former San Franciscan, I always get a pang of pride and nostalgia when I am back in the city. Since San Francisco is only approximately 7 miles wide and 7 miles long, (7.5 miles by 9.5 to be exact) it is very easy to get around the city and explore all the amazing things it has to offer. I could write post after post on the wonders of the city by the bay, but instead I would like to share the top five things I would do if I only had one day!

1. Get my burrito on.

One of the things I miss most in Paris is the ability to have a burrito whenever I want. As a native Californian, it's something I took for granted until I lived abroad (and holy guacamole, how I miss them!). San Francisco is littered with amazing Taqueria’s that dish up superb burritos. However, it’s fair to say that most San Franciscan’s have their own special burrito spot and can spend a great deal of time explaining why their taqueria spot makes THE best burrito. My friends who live in the Mission - where many of the best Taqueria’s are (on 24th street) - rave about Taqueria Guadalajara As for me, my favorite burrito spot is Gordo’s. Gordo’s isn’t the best taqueria in San Francisco, but it has my favorite burrito. The burritos are always consistent and you know exactly what you are going to taste with each bite. The Gordo’s I go to is on Geary Blvd., however there are three in the city. Gordo’s has no frills and the menu is simple: the gordo plate, tacos, quesadllia’s, burritos or the super burrito. A burrito with meat (chicken, carnitas, beef, chile verde) will cost you just under $5.00. For a whopping $7.10, you can get a super burrito (the size of most small babies). Because Gordo’s is open between 10:00am and 10:00pm I can pop in and get a burrito at any time of the day!

Veggie SUPER burrito coming right up!
Even these folks are getting their Gordo's on! 
5450 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121
Oh yeaaaaaaa.
2. Spend AT LEAST an hour in the Golden Gate Park.

For me, the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is like Disneyland; it’s one of the happiest places on earth. The look and feel of the park changes so drastically due to the unpredictable micro-climate of San Francisco. You can visit the park several times but depending on the weather, have a completely different experience. In the fog or in the sunshine, there are plenty of activities to do in the park.
Beach entrance 
Springtime flowers
Take a moment to walk through the Eucalyptus trees
Walking through the giant ferns feels as though you have been teleported to Jurassic era 
A Victorian confection of wood and glass, the Conservatory of Flowers, which opened in 1879, is the oldest building in Golden Gate Park
The Music Concourse, between the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum
Sometimes you have to stop, smell the wild flowers and soak up the sun when it's shining! 
Just take a leaf out of this San Franciscan's manual, she looks pretty happy from where I am standing.

3. Visit one of San Francisco’s coffee houses.

San Franciscans take their food and drink very seriously and this of course includes their coffee. Most independent coffee houses focus on the quality of the bean as well as the process but of course aesthetics of WHERE you drink your coffee is extremely important. Most of the “serious” coffee houses have been very carefully curated to provide the perfect environment for their coffee aficionado’s. A friend of mine who takes her morning caffeine kick with a paramount of importance, took me to Trouble coffee shop in the Outer Sunset district. But don’t expect to come to Trouble coffee to catch up on your emails or surf the web, technology is not allowed! Ok, they don’t actually say that BUT they strongly discourage smart phone use and try and promote customers to take time away from technology. There is no wi-fi or outlets in the coffee shop, and indoor seating is scarce (there's two bar stools at the bar). However there is seating in front of the coffee shop, the perfect environment to meet locals and be outside.

That's one tasty cup of Joe!
4. Browse through and pick up a book (or two) from City Lights Bookstore.

Every time I am in San Francisco I make the pilgrimage to this literary landmark. City Lights bookstore (booksellers AND publishers) was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin. City Lights is one of the last great independent bookstores in the United States…and it is a gold mine. Resting in the heart of North Beach, City Lights was also the birthplace, nucleus, platform, and meeting center of the “beats” generation. With three floors both of new-release hardcovers and paperbacks, one can spend an endless amount of time skimming through the collection of books they offer (poetry, fiction, translations, politics, history, philosophy, music, spirituality and more...). The staff themselves have a deep love for the written word and are extremely knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. City Lights also offers a weekly reading by an author. Whenever I go into City Lights I have an idea of what type of book I want, but I always end up coming out with something completely different than planned (and I am so happy I did).

Every book you want and more!
And the beat goes on....
An endless sea of beautifully colored stacks of knowledge
Don't forget there is an entire basement filled of books! 3 levels of glorious words.
Open door. Open books. Open mind. Open  heart.:  City Lights-Booksellers & Publishers
5. Have a drink at a dive bar with friends.

A pass time of many San Franciscans is drinking around town.There are countless options when getting boozy in the city. You can take your pick from beer gardens (Zeitgeist), speakeasy’s (or even a speakeasy with in a speakeasy (Wilson and Wilson), tiki (Trader Sams), cocktail (Trickdog), specialty beer bars (Toronado), dive bars (Phone Booth), tequila bars (Tommy’s) and there are even family-friendly soda and ice cream bars (The Ice Cream Bar)! AND the list goes on and on... All are great fun but when I am in the city I love to have one dive bar night with the locals and friends. Since my first encounter in the early 2000’s, Casanova has never let me down. In my experience, the course of the night is always altered at this bar and good things happen. Located on 527 Valencia St, San Francisco, it has stood against the gentrification of the mission and thus far managed to keep all the qualities of a good solid SF dive bar.

Casanova! Hey guy!
Mustaches and hipsters 
Standard dive bar ingredients 
Always a great place to kick back and enjoy the company of friends (heeeey sexeh lady!)
Nothing like a pint of Guinness to end a full day of San Francisco amazingness! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The joys of traveling: The airport - Charles de Gaulle

Like every expatriate living abroad, there comes a time when you must face the consulate (and your visa status!). In my case, I must head back to the Golden State and pay a visit to my friends at the French Consulate in San Francisco. The next few posts will not be from Île Saint-Louis, but from across the bridge and beyond (Northern and Southern California, Canada and the East Coast!). I return to my Parisian island at the end of May! 

Over the years, traveling back and forth from California and Paris through Charles de Gaulle, I have come up with a few airport tips that may aid in your travels.

The first rule of thumb:  Be at the airport 2 hours before your international flight! When I was younger I always "just made my flight"! It was fun and exciting to make my flight by the skin of my teeth. Now, the idea of "just making my flight" gives me minor heart palpitations and stresses me out. So, I make it a point to always be at the airport checking-in 2 hours ahead of time. 

Transportation to and from Charles de Gaulle:  

I typically take a taxi to and from the airport when traveling back to the US (longer period of time = a bigger suitcase for me!). Taking a taxi is certainly the most stress-free way to travel to the airport with large baggage (but its not the cheapest option). I like to use a taxi service called Taxi G7. The taxi company offers great service and drivers are ALWAYS on time (in my experience they have always arrived precisely at the time they say they will). When you call for a G7 taxi, they usually arrive 5-15 minutes after the call, so be ready! The cars they use are comfortable and the drivers are always friendly (and speak English and French). The taxi drivers also accept credit cards in case you are strapped for cash. Prices usually hoover around the 60 euros mark. A taxi from the center of Paris to Charles de Gaulle takes approximately 45 minutes. Of course when there is traffic the time increases.    

A comfortable ride to the airport, yahoo! 
Taxis G7:  Internet available for use at 15 cents/Min
You can also flag a taxi in the street (which can cost you between 45-60 euros).

Attention: When arriving to the airport in Paris, (after you pick up your baggage) you will have several people asking if you need a taxi. Although they may seem nice and legit, do not accept (haven’t you seen Taken people! No, it’s not that dangerous but these taxi drivers are not officially licensed and may try and rip you off or charge you more). When in the Paris airport, wait in the official taxi line. Sometimes the line for a taxi can be long, but you are getting into an official licensed taxi. 

The car service UBER is also used in Paris. If you are used to using this service, it is also a great way to get to the airport.   


Public transportation in Paris is extremely efficient and a very useful way to get to the airport (it’s also the cheapest mode of getting there). With a bit of planning ahead, you can get to the airport by using (RER) or the bus.

The RER Line B (suburban train) departs every 15 minutes from terminals 1 & 2 and arrives in central Paris within between 25-35 minutes (depending on your stop). The trains run from 5 a.m.-12:15 a.m. A ticket costs € 9.50 (Navigo's accepted).

From Terminal 1, take a line 2 Aeroport de Paris shuttle bus (free) departing from gate 22. Get off at Roissypole-Terminal 3 and follow the signs to the RER.
From Terminals 2A and 2B, take a line 3 Aeroport de Paris shuttle bus (departure gates 8 at 2A and gate 6 at 2B) and get off at the "TGV/RER" stop.
From Terminals 2C, 2D, 2E and 2F, follow the signs marked "Paris par train" until you reach the RER ticketing area. 
From Terminal 3, take the footpath (about 1/4 mile) and follow the "Paris par train" signs.
The RER B stops at the following stations within Paris:
  • Gare du Nord
  • Chatelet-les-Halles 
  • Saint-Michel/Notre Dame
  • Luxembourg
  • Port-Royal
  • Denfert-Rochereau
Roissybus is an express bus service that departs every 15 minutes between 6:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., from Charles de Gaulle airport terminals 1, 2, and 3. Roissybus arrives an hour later near metro station Opera in the 9th arrondissement. A one-way ticket costs 10.00 Euros. Follow the signs to "Roissybus" and purchase a ticket from an RATP vendor near the gate before boarding. The bus is equipped with space for your luggage.

Roissypole bus lines 350 and 351 leave from Charles de Gaulle terminals 1 and 2. Bus #350 goes to Gare de l'Est in northeastern Paris. Line 351 goes to the Nation metro station in the southeast. From terminals 1 or 2, follow the signs to ground transport. From terminal 3, take a free airport shuttle to terminals 1 or 2.

Air France operates two shuttles ("Cars Air France") that leave from Charles de Gaulle terminal 2 every 15 minutes and serve 5 stops in Paris. Follow the signs to "Cars Air France" at terminal 2, or take a free shuttle to terminal 2.

The first shuttle runs from 5:45 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and stops at Etoile (on the Champs-Elysées, 1 Avenue Carnot) and Porte Maillot (Blvd. Gouvion St. Cyr), both in Western Paris. The trip takes 35 minutes. 

If you managed to snatch up some good buys in Paris and spent over €175 within one store on the same day, don't forget to ask the shop for a détaxe form (not all shops honor this but you can ask before you make your purchase). Non-EU residents are eligible to receive a refund of the Value Added Tax (VAT, or détaxe TVA in French) on goods purchased in France (this is 20% in France). When you request this form at the shop, the person helping you will ask if you want your tax-refund on your credit card or cash at the airport. I always go with the tax-refund credit card option as is the quickest (and the currency exchange rate is usually better). When you bring your détaxe form with you to the airport, make sure it’s filled out BEFORE you get to the airport to save you time. You can only get your tax-refund by making sure you have the form stamped at the airport customs desk before leaving Paris (or anywhere in the EU). The customs agent may ask to see the items you have purchased so be sure to have them accessible. You will also have to have your plane ticket in hand to show the customs agent. After you receive your stamped détaxe form you can either get your cash refund back on the spot (but you must then wait in another line to receive this). If you choose to get your tax-refund back on your card, you simply take your form to the special détaxe mail box (right next to where you just got your form stamped by customs). The form is already in a self-addressed envelope and you do not need a stamp (the store typically gives you both the form and the envelop). You should receive your tax-refund on your credit card within three months. I would give yourself an extra hour at the airport for this (trust me, if you are going to take the time to do this, make sure you have enough of it).

This is a very "tame" and unusual day at the Tax-refund 
Estimated wait times to get your form stamped by the customs agent
If you didn't have the opportunity to get a little souvenir for that favorite co-worker or for friends and family back home, don’t fret! There are many shops which sell Parisian goodies in each terminal. Even before you go through security and into your gate there is a kiosk of the famous Ladurée, the luxury French bakery created in 1862 known for their exquisite macarons. I usually pick up a box before getting on the plane (and usually half of the macarons survive by the time I get to California ;)
We have our food trucks in California and the Parisians have their mint and gold encrusted carriages
Unmistakable packaging (and prices...but each bite is totally worth it) 
An army of colorful and delicious bite sized delights!
Now that you have made it to the airport in one piece and on time, turned in your tax-rebate on the pair killer Parisian kicks you are wearing and picked up some French souvenirs with ease, its time to sit back, relax and catch up on all the movies you missed while you were away. It's nothing but smooth sailing from this point on...

Bon Voyage! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spotlight-The Art passionista: Rebecca Taylor

Miss Rebecca Taylor looking fly and enjoying a Parisian Spring before heading to London (at  le saut du loup)

I met Rebecca Taylor while working at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Although we worked in different departments, (I for the Museum and she for the Trust) we still had the opportunity to work together before exhibition openings. Even then she was full of energy and I wondered if she ever slept as she had so many projects outside of work! After leaving the J. Paul Getty, Rebecca moved to the big apple to become the communications director of MoMA PS1 (all well before the age of 30). There she worked closely with seasoned big wigs in the field such as the director of MoMA PS1, Klaus Biesenbach. There she established herself as a social media queen (among other things) and The New York Times took notice and published an article on the art and social media scene in New York entitled, "Rendezvous With Art and Ardent" (of course noting her as one social media savvy sista!). Unfortunately the walls of the museum could not contain Miss Taylor and she moved into a new role becoming the Vice President at FITZ & CO (a strategic communications and marketing firm specializing in contemporary arts and culture based in NYC). She now oversees the media (jointly with Meg Blackburn) and social media teams, and leads key international accounts of some of the biggest names in the art world. AND when she isn’t traveling the world meeting with clients etc., she is a contributing arts writer at the Huffington Post and the Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Miss thang was in Paris for a few days so we were able to catch up for a drink (OK...more like two or three ;)! 

* ***************************************************
KG:  What brought you to Paris this trip?

RT:  I was in another European city meeting with a big client. After my meetings were over I decided to take the train to Paris to meet potential clients, get in touch with media, see what exhibitions are on view, and of course to reconnect with good friends who live in Paris!

KG: What is the most significant difference working in a PR agency for the Arts as opposed to in a museum?

RT: For me the thing I love most about my job is that I get to help people. I get to go in and see what is not working for someone (a museum, a gallery, a company-all relating to art), I look and see what is broken and I help them figure out how to fix it. I help them share good news when they are doing amazing things and I help make sure the world knows about it.  Being able to do this is really a gift and I am able to work with brilliant people from all over the world. I think that is the added advantage I am finding working in this agency rather than a museum. While in the museum (I LOVED being inside a museum) I would be working on a very specific group of projects in a single brick and mortar location. Now I am working with museums in New York, Aspen and in the Hamptons. I am talking to museums in Paris and I am working with a foundation in Sharjah.  My whole world view has just exploded and it’s so much more international now. I get to work with all of these different cultures on a daily basis and talk to six different time zones in one day. The education and experience that goes along with that is just unparalleled.

KG:  When you come to Paris, what are your “must do's or must see's"?

RT:  For me Palais de Tokyo is a must. It’s usually one of the top things that I do. The Pompidou of course is high on the priority list and I love Mac/Val which is on the outskirts of the city (Musée d'Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne). It takes about 45 minutes to get there via public transportation but they always have really REALLY interesting stuff there. At one point I saw an Elmgreen and Dragset installation that I still think about all the time. So whenever I have an extra spare minute in Paris, I always make sure to trek out to Mac/Val because it is always worth it.

I also love the Musée d'Orsay. I have a deep and abiding love for Manet and there is just no better place to go and bask in his brilliance and his brush strokes than at the Musée d'Orsay. So I will definitely find myself a few minutes to go visit Olympia and Le déjeuner sur l'herbe.

There are a couple of rooms at the Louvre that just slay me. In one room there is Ingres, Une Odalisque

Louve Museum Denon Wing (1st floor room 75) 

In the other is Delacroix's July 28: Liberty leading the peopleThe Death of Sardanapalus and my favorite, Géricault'sThe Raft of the Medusa. 

Louvre Museum Denon Wing (1st floor room 77) 

Louvre Museum Denon Wing (1st floor room 77) 

Louvre Museum Denon Wing (1st floor room 77) 
I can spend hours in these rooms just moving from painting to painting and back again because those works are (sigh) just so compelling. The narrative, the composition, the brush strokes, everything about them is just so beautiful- a history lesson also. They really tie together history and literature. That was actually the first reason why I fell in love with art because it was the one thing that really united all my passions (politics, history and literature). It was about understanding the historic but also being contemporary at the same time. All those paintings I mentioned are perfect examples of that (she chuckles) I know, I am such nerd! 

KG:  Well, as my dad always said, “Nerds shall inherit the earth!" 

*You can keep up with Rebecca (and all things art) on Twitter at "Rebecca TaylorNY"*

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Don't get caught in a hairy situation! Maison de Coiffure to save the day!

When I left Venice beach to move to Paris, I also left behind a portfolio of tried and true beauty folks including my hair stylist who kept me looking trimmed and proper. When it was time to get my mane tamed, I went to a very expensive salon in Paris (of course we all know expensive doesn’t always = good!) but I had no idea where to start! I walked out of the salon with some sort of bowl fridge cut that looked straight out of the movie Dumb and Dumber (I would have been the little Thai boy extra)Although that may have worked for Jim Carry, it was not ideal for a newly single gal in Paris. After more trial and error my dear friend Rachel whispered one magical word that fixed my worries (and my bowl fringe cut) forever…Hugo.

The miracle worker:  Hugo (right after he cut my hair and still smiling)
Hugo and his business partner Diego are the owners of the beautiful salon, Maison de Coiffure, which is located just around the corner from Place de la Concorde. 

Très Chic
Upon first walking in, the salon is a little bit intimidating as it is very chic and the staff is extremely good looking (and are the coolest dressers)! I was expecting the air to be filled with pretentiousness, but all you breathe in is kindness (and the smell of Opalis and Leonor Greyl, the luxurious silicon-free products they work with!). The staff is welcoming, professional and they always offer you a coffee, tea or water.

Representing part of the male hottie staff contingency at Maison de Coiffure

A cost of a cut/color ranges depending on what you want and on the length of your hair. Maison de Coiffure is not on the cheaper end of the spectrum but from my experience, it certainly isn't at the outrageously expensive end either. I feel as though the cost warrants the cut. You definitely pay for quality as that is all Hugo and his staff provides. 
Tastefully designed, the Maison de Coiffure is extremely clean and modern. One of my favorite parts of getting my hair cut is having my hair washed (as well as the mini head message that goes with it). The chairs have a built in message system for double awesomeness. 

5 minutes of total relaxation!
Hugo himself is not only an artist, but he is humble, thoughtful, funny, genuine and extremely smart. He always has a light and happy disposition and I feel as though that wonderful energy is transferred into my hair! Although Hugo speaks English, he has been helping me along with my French as well (yes, he is also patient ;)

29 Rue du Mont Thabor75001 paris 01 45 26 08 04 -
And if you aren't happy with the cut, you can always grab this amazing head dress and make a run for it! (I wish there was one of these lying around when I got my first hair cut in Paris!)

Monday, April 7, 2014

I love Sunday spring time on Île Saint-Louis!

I love Paris in the springtime and Sundays are simply the best. Everyone is outside enjoying life. On the island cafés are bustling with activity as lazy Parisians bask on the terraces soaking up the sun. Parisians from the island and beyond flock to the quais to have picnics and drink with friends. 

On the flip side, many active Parisians take advantage of the great weather and exercise. Every Sunday (and public holidays) the road along the quais between the Musée d’Orsay and the quai Branly (Pont d’Iéna) is closed to cars (from 9-5). This giant stretch of car-free tarmac allows a perfect and safe place to roller-blade, run, walk or bicycle. It’s a wonderful way to see the city. 

This entire route is car -free on Sundays! 
I bet that guy with the beret is thinking, woo hoo! I wish I were running!
Even on the nicest of Sundays, you can always find a free bench  to sit and take it all in on île saint Louis!

Have a seat and stay a little while! 
Ah the flowers of Printemps! 
Looks like Frenchmen CAN jump! Just across the Pont Marie bridge (in the Marais) is a basketball court set against a medieval fortress wall built by Philippe Auguste in 1190. You can often find youths playing soccer and using the medieval wall as the goal.
And sometimes when it's a beautiful Sunday spring day on the island, you just have to put on your top hat, stand on an edge of a bridge and think about how great life is. 

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