Category Archives: MIFM in Europe

Let’s Tour a Parisian Penthouse!

Okay, first up, reading all of your comments about what color Annabelle should be painted (or, in many cases, your horror at the concept that I might even consider such a thing!) was really entertaining. It ranged from a simple, straightforward “I like Option B” to impassioned pleas to not to sully her beauty and character with paint to bold assurances that painting pianos is the best thing ever.

Y’all are awesome. And I really appreciate all the feedback. But, I must warn all of you who are in the anti-painting camp that I specifically searched for a small, beat-up, super cheap piano with the express purpose in my mind of painting her. I’m a piano player myself, and if my boys continue with lessons, then I’m sure Annabelle won’t be the only piano we ever own. And if we ever do invest in a nice instrument, let me assure you that nary a drop of paint will reach her wood. So! I promise to give you fair warning when I do the big reveal so that if you need to skip that post, you can. :)

……………………………………………………………………………………………………

I’ve been bouncing an idea for a post around in my head for a while about tips for saving money in Europe or making your trip go more smoothly. That one’s still in the works, but if I had one suggestion above all others, it would be to never stay in a hotel again if you can help it.

Shaun and I haven’t stayed in a traditional hotel, except a work-related one, (other than the Mission Inn, which I wouldn’t call a “traditional hotel” by a long shot) on any of our recent trips.

If you’re thinking, “But, Abbie, if I don’t stay at a hotel, what do I do? I’m not too into hostels or sleeping on park benches.”

But that’s the beauty of it! Because of an emerging short-term rental market over the last 10 years or so, it’s now possible to get entire houses to yourself for less than the price of one hotel room. You can have multiple bathrooms, a kitchen, a selection of beds, and all other kinds of special amenities, without having to share any of them just because some enterprising homeowner decided to rent out his place for a while.

The two rental by owner sites that we have experience with are VRBO.com and Airbnb.com. We’ve favored Airbnb for our last few trips, including all three of our rentals (in Santorini, London, and Paris) on our great European adventure last month (was it really only a month ago??).

And while we’ve had really good experiences with all of our rentals, all three of the European ones were especially great.

But the one that took the cake was definitely our Paris rental. It was located in the very heart of the city, a 5 minute walk from the Louvre and Pont Neuf and within easy walking distance of most everything else. As I mentioned in my Parisian eats roundup, our street was packed with restaurants, not to mention that a park and beautiful cathedral were just steps away from our door. It really was a dream location.

And also?

IMG_3752

It’s the only rental we’ve ever shared with Superman! Mega bonus!

Okay, so a bit of back story: I trolled Airbnb for a couple of weeks looking for the perfect spot in Paris before a super-funky, light-filled space caught my eye. It was phenomenally priced for what it offered, and the location couldn’t be beat. So, I emailed the owner with almost no hope of its being available. Imagine my delight when she responded immediately that it was open for our dates! I snapped it up and danced a little jig that we had managed such a score in Paris. Of course, one of the most interesting things about it was our host (but more on that in a minute).

When we got to the rental, we got a bit of an unpleasant surprise when we discovered that, not only was it situated on the top floor (the description didn’t mention this), but there was no elevator. We were kind of wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into as we hauled 60 pounds of luggage each (no, we did not pack particularly light) up 5 steep flights of rather uneven, slippery, sloping stairs.

Once we got inside, though, we were sold.

IMG_3780

{I kept calling that awesome contraption you see there the “spaceship chair”}

Sure, the decor was ultra-modern, which is pretty much the opposite of my own design aesthetic. But what’s a vacation for but to experience new and different things? It was kind of fun to live like hipsters (or at least pretend that we did) for a few days.

IMG_3742 IMG_3748

I’m sure I didn’t even catch half of them, but all of the film references in the decor suddenly made sense when we spotted a director’s slate (that black and white clapper thingy that they slap together before yelling, “CUT!” in movies) with our host’s name in the director slot. We talked to her and discovered that not only was she a director, but she was the screenwriter, director, and actress in a relatively well-received, popular French film that is being slated for an American remake. She was such a fun personality too (as you might guess from how she decorated her apartment) and was so helpful and friendly.

IMG_3749 IMG_3755IMG_3751 

She owned the entire top floor of the building we were in and lived in the apartment down the hall from us. She even offered to rent both spaces to us were we to ever return with all our kids! (I couldn’t help but laugh as I pictured all of the moaning and groaning that would happen every time our whole troop climbed all those stairs).

IMG_3756

Her apartment was so great because everything was painted white and there were huge skylights, so it was constantly full of light and felt so airy and cheerful and huge. IMG_3758 IMG_3761

We didn’t cook once while were there because we were always on the move during eating hours,  but the kitchen was a pretty sweet set up with stainless steel cabinetry hiding everything from the fridge and freezer to the dishwasher and even washer/dryer and all the necessary gadgets (I always feel a little sad that my husband and I don’t drink coffee whenever we stay somewhere with a fancy espresso machine). 

IMG_3762

In case you’re wondering where Shaun was while I was taking these pictures…

IMG_3764

{Okay, he wasn’t there the whole time; I just told him to duck so I could photograph the kitchen and then tricked him out to get this shot}

Even the bathroom was super-luxe (I got to use Bobbi Brown facial products for the first time in my life!) with a cool stone wall and a large, glass-walled shower.

IMG_3766

Oh, and EVEN the hallway was fun!

IMG_3769

{That’s Reem’s door}

IMG_3774 

{I wished I’d nabbed a better shot of this print; it was my favorite}

And there you have it, friends. A tour of the coolest rental I’ve ever stayed in.

Oh, and in case you were wondering…

spaceship chair

…I sat in the chair!

So, what do you think? Would you stay in someone else’s house instead of going to a hotel? I guess you know our answer is a resounding YES!

Have you tried Airbnb or VRBO? We used VRBO for years before we tried Airbnb (we even used it for our honeymoon!), and we’ve been really pleased with both.

Ever had an unexpected celebrity run-in? I think this is really our first, although I do have friends who got engaged on a beach in California and were congratulated immediately afterwards by Pierce Brosnan who just so happened to be sauntering down that same beach with his son. (Well, that and I think I almost collided with Gemma Arterton as I was coming back from viewing the sunset in Santorini…but I’ll never know that for sure).

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

MIFM in Europe: London

Ready to head back to Europe for a bit? After 5 days of either being sick myself or nursing a sick kid, I know I am. (But I am very grateful that it’s not sick kids, plural).

As I’ve already mentioned, we were only in London for about a day and 1/2 (two nights), but we hoofed it pretty much that entire time (minus about 12 hours to sleep), and we crammed a fair bit of fun into that short time period.

We arrived at King’s Cross/St. Pancras station a little before 2 PM and dragged our luggage to our rental, which was blessedly close.

st. pancras

(That black and white, graphic print wrapped building was pretty much the first thing we saw when came out of the station; it was under construction and was definitely the coolest “work zone” I’d ever seen}

The guy we rented from lived in the downstairs apartment and was there to meet us, show us around the space, and give us some helpful neighborhood pointers, starting with directing us to Charlotte street for food.

charlotte street

{We found some awesome food there, but even without it, it was a charming neighborhood}

Sujoy (our host) is a native Londoner and was the one who pointed us to Camden Markets, which turned out to be our favorite (remember the world tour of food?). But more about that in a minute.

We had been traveling and site-seeing in Greece so much that, by the time we got to London, we really just wanted to veg for a bit. We decided the perfect way to do that would be to see a movie, and Sujoy recommended either the Odeon or the Empire theaters in Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square, since those are London’s premier cinemas where they host all the, well, premieres.

IMG_2475

We walked to Leicester Square from our rental, which would have taken about 20 minutes if we hadn’t stopped to eat and wander a bit along the way. (Sujoy said he could have made it in 15 doing his “London walk,” and we proceeded to refer to walking fast as a “London walk” the rest of the trip).

When we got to the theater, we discovered that they were having a premiere THAT NIGHT!

Only, rather than a real live sighting of Angie and Brad, it was a rather disappointing satellite chat with Kevin Spacey about some movie I’d never heard of.

You’ll be super-surprised to know that we didn’t stick around for that. Instead, we saw Edge of Tomorrow in REALLY LOUD surround sound on their IMAX screen. Honestly, it was the perfect way to reset after a long day of travel. (Other than the REALLY LOUD part).

When we got out of the movie, it was raining—the only rain we saw on the entire trip—and we didn’t have an umbrella or any British pounds to buy one from the souvenir stand nearby.

IMG_2478

{It wouldn’t be a trip to London without a shot of folks hustling to get out of the drizzle, right?}

After we’d huddled under the movie theater awning for a while, it let up a bit, and we decided to venture out.

We spent the rest of the evening viewing all of the usual London sights.

Trafalgar Square…

IMG_2506

{Majestic lions!!}

IMG_2512

{Giant…blue chickens???}

IMG_2517

Big Ben…

IMG_2553

Buckingham Palace (I don’t know if we just saw a bad shift or what, but we were both kind of surprised by the fact that the famously stoic palace guards were whispering back and forth and noticeably out of synch with their drills)…

IMG_2543

The London Eye…

IMG_2556-001

and the River Thames.

IMG_2562 IMG_2573

My mom and I were in London 10 years ago for several days (although I don’t remember very much except being so jetlagged that I fell asleep every single time I sat down), and then I was there (briefly) on the other end of the same trip with my mom, my brother, and Shaun when we all met up before my bro, Shaun, and I headed to Spain.

During that time, I did a lot of the touristy stuff you’re “supposed” to, so since I’d already done it, and Shaun and I aren’t super touristy sorts, we were satisfied with our informal evening walking tour of the “must-sees.”

We didn’t make it back to our rental until almost 1 in the morning, so, as you can imagine, we crashed right away.

The next day, we spent the early morning in St. Pancras station, eating breakfast on a bench and people-watching. We both had expected Londoners to be “posher” than they were (meaning, more elegantly dressed on a work day; instead, everybody was pretty “normal-looking,” even by East Texan standards), so we (okay, I) made up a game where we gave ourselves 5 minutes at a time to each peg the best dressed person in the station and then see if we agreed. I realize this sounds like a ridiculous way to spend your time, but it was actually really fun (and, strangely, one of my favorite memories from the trip), and ultimately, out of about 4 rounds of this, there was one particular standout that we both agreed on—a girl with a voluminous braided bun whose outfit was perfectly coordinated from her immaculately coiffed head down to her gold-sandal clad toes. Even Shaun, who doesn’t care about fashion and isn’t interested in pattern mixing, had to agree that she had nailed it.  (And, yes, I wish I had a picture, but this was a train station, so these people were moving).

Afterwards, we set off for Camden Markets, taking our time as we wound through various neighborhoods.

IMG_2578

{“HOPE”…love it}

IMG_2582

{I also love that you can just walk down the street and randomly stumble across a cool-looking church like this}

When we finally got there, we worked our way deeper and deeper into the maze of shops.

camden shops

Everywhere you turned, there was something unique and eye-catching and just flat-out cool.

IMG_2703 IMG_2720 IMG_2732 IMG_2741 IMG_2745 IMG_2747 IMG_2762

Between the browsing and that food market I mentioned the other day, I think we spent about 5 hours there.

IMG_2783 IMG_2608  After we’d finally gotten our fill, we headed to Granary Square, which is a rather new development. Honestly, it doesn’t have too much to offer, unless you’re a mama of littles who wants to let your kids run through the ground fountains or a foot-weary couple who just needs a bench to lounge on for a while.

IMG_2818

{Of course, lounging with your head on your husband’s lap as you gaze into a blue, blue sky is hardly something to sneeze at}

There was a college on the edge of the square, and we decided to saunter inside the commons area, where we discovered to our delight…

IMG_2824

PING PONG!

We both love ping pong. So, when we saw that they had several public tables set up with paddles and balls provided, we spent about an hour there playing 6 games (Me: 4, Him: 2…because I know you wanted to know ; )). Honestly, I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to go to London to sit in train stations and people-watch or watch movies or play ping pong in random universities, but all 3 of those are memories I cherish. So, I don’t guess I mind that it wasn’t the typical London thing to do.

After ping pong, it was back to our rental to change before heading to Notting Hill, which is known for its charm and good eats (oh, and markets, but sadly, they were all closed down by the time we got there).

We walked through several beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods full of townhouses until we finally settled on Finch’s Dining Room for dinner (which I told you all about in my London eats recap).

IMG_2915

{I spy a cute boy eating cheese!}

IMG_2827IMG_2826-001 IMG_2856 IMG_2938IMG_2867

{Nothing like hanging a giant teapot outside your establishment to attract attention}

In both Notting Hill and the Camden Market area, they had All Saints stores, which are decorated with hundreds of Singer sewing machines.

IMG_2871 IMG_2880

{Hol.y. Cow. And that’s only one wall}

IMG_2931  IMG_2954

After our jaunt through Notting Hill, we caught the metro back to the rental to sleep a few hours before we took the Eurostar to Paris (at the crack of dawn).

But more on that another day.

Hope you enjoyed our rather unconventional London adventures. We sure did!

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):