My French Supermarket

Photo on 2013-07-05 at 06.59

Here is a map I drew of my Carrefour supermarket. The one that has random American products and where the stunning checkout girl came out to me. Because our apartment has only a dorm-sized fridge with no shelves inside, I am forced to go here at least every other day.

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Miss Exaptria’s Comprehensive Guide to Paris

Hello chickadees. Two things have happened recently that have inspired this post:

  1. I have many subscribers who are new to the site;
  2. Dearest reader and style icon Ms. Pea is headed to Paris.

So, without further ado, here are my recommendations for living it up in the City of Lights, Miss Expatria style.
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More On All-Inclusive Resorts

Remember my recent trip to Marbella, courtesy of Mr. Apricot? Ever since then, I’ve been thinking more and more about all-inclusive resorts, and why people choose them over other types of vacations. Or, rather, wondering why, since no one seems to be able to give me the answer I seem to be looking for.

Of course, that is completely my fault: I’ve revealed my new obsession with all-inclusives only to fabulous gay Italian men, well-traveled English expats, and my mother. Not exactly a scientific sampling of the vacationing population. But, I’ll share my results with my cherished readers anyway.
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Wow, Huntley Santa Monica, You Messed Up.

I don’t believe I need to express further on this blog how much I love hotels. Some might call me a hotel snob, but really, I’m not. I disdain hostels and a one-star is out of the question, but my only true requirement is that the room is clean and well-maintained. Give me that, and I’m perfectly content.

I’ve rarely had a room that has disappointed me. Sure, my room in Negril was made of bare cinder blocks; I was 35 feet from the Caribbean sea, I wore my bathing suit to dinner and people brought me rum punch 14 hours a day. The room was fine. [I was going to link to the hotel as evidence, but it looks like they’ve completely renovated it – so for your enjoyment, here it is! And, I highly recommend all-inclusive resorts while in the Caribbean; but that is a post for another time, and I digress.]

Right, then, my point – and I do have one – is most likely unfounded, but strongly held nonetheless: The Huntley Santa Monica Beach messed up.

Now, don’t get all excited; I haven’t secretly flown to the States for a sneak peek. My opinion is based solely on their site, which I linked to above, and this totally awesome review by film critic Leah Rozen. Why is that review awesome, you ask? Because it is an evenly written slap across the face. LOVE IT. And love her!

So, let’s take a look at the hotel from Miss Expatria’s point of view, based solely on Ms. Rozen’s review and the hotel’s website:

1. The Huntley is located across the street from the beach. But 62 white fish on a white wall and a rattan-inspired end table do not a beach feeling make. Especially since they are in stark contrast to the 1970s Lake Tahoe theme of the rest of the lobby. I come in off a day on the beach and find this? No, thanks.

2. I enjoy a nice television as much as the next girl. But did you really stick it like a hot dog on a large black pole in the middle of my room?

3. You boast a view of the Pacific, and then give me windows better suited for a motel off the Turnpike? As Ms. Rozen herself points out, the sea was “glimpsed only from the bed or by standing directly alongside the window.” For shame.

4. The bathroom: “Comparable in size and layout to a narrow galley kitchen in a cramped Manhattan apartment. There was no bathtub but instead a capacious glass-enclosed shower. A broken towel rack hadn’t been fixed and, during the evening turn-down service, housekeeping failed to replace used towels.” Ouch. When a room starts at over $400 per night, I would expect it to be at least as well maintained as my crappy apartment.

5. Why the candles at the bar? First off, the ceiling is going to be black within six months. Secondly, the wax will leak and make the bottles stick to their shelves. And finally, the bar looks like an operating room – 15 candles aren’t going to add nearly enough warmth. And I caught your cheeky scallop shells in pressed tin – again, not enough to let me know I’m 100 yards from the beach.

From Ms. Rozen’s review, it seems that the entire hotel merely serves as a backdrop for yet another swanky bar frequented by the glittering masses. Remember when hotels were for the guests?

If you’re into travel as much as I am, you don’t like using travel agents and you never buy travel insurance. Personally, I like to travel by train, and my most trusted travel advisor is myself!

Group Therapy: Renting a Villa in Italy

When I’m feeling lonely for my friends back home, I get the urge to (first, become rich) and (then) rent a villa in Italy for an entire summer, and invite them all to stay with me. I imagine long days in golden sunlight, cooking experiments with fresh food, lazy afternoons chatting and cocktailing by the pool, and at least one crazy night out and about in the nearest major city.

I’m pretty lucky in this regard – no, I am not rich; but I must admit that of my closest friends, not one of them would be annoying during this imaginary summer of love. As for as my criteria go, they would be my ideal villa mates:

1. No picky eaters. We use real butter, we eat meat, and carbs are our friend. No one in my gang sits at the end of the table nursing a bowl of weeds.

2. No camp counselors. Everyone enjoys sleeping as little or as much as they want, and doing whatever they want in their waking hours. I will not be awakened and recruited into mandatory sunrise yoga.

3. No slobs. If someone thinks it’s alright to leave food on the floor and underwear on the couch, then they’re springing for the daily housekeeping service.

4. No cheapskates. If we’ve worked out a group budget, we’re sticking to it. No one is going to only drink one bottle of wine the whole week or complain that Katie ate all the cheese. United we stand, and all.

5. No whiners. We are all incredibly fortunate to have the time, the means and the motive to commit this crime of sybaritic luxury. There is no boredom in paradise.

In terms of the actual villa – I’d say these would be the most important criteria:

1. Bedrooms for everyone. You don’t want to have to tiptoe around bodies in the living room.

2. Lots of kitchen space. I personally have visions of a huge stone cook’s kitchen, but I’d settle for lots of counter space for food prep and bottles, and an open plan so whomever’s cooking isn’t stuck away from the fun.

3. Outdoor areas. A large table with plenty of chairs is key – as is that area being covered. You don’t want to be cooped up in the house, and you don’t want to have to run inside with all the plates and bottles if it it starts raining.

4. Check out the possibility for a cook and/or maid during your stay. Many villas offer it, and it’s worth it to work this into your group budget for at least half the time you’re there. You don’t want to experience the chores of a home just because you’re staying in one.

5. Your location. As I’ve said before, sea trumps all – but that’s just me. And the further south you go, the easier it will be to take advantage of their off-season rates while still having nice weather. Many people love the rolling hills of Tuscany, and it is lovely; but I get antsy if I’m not near water. Also, being near the sea can mean foregoing a pool within the villa grounds.

Now that the bitching is over, let’s take a look at this paradise of which I speak:

This gem of a place in Montepulciano has plenty of room for 10 people, a pool, and an open kitchen plan. And at $4758 per week, that’s $67 per person per day. Not bad!

I’m hyperventilating about this place on Ischia. For nine people, it works out to $82 per person per day in the off season. But, their high seasons are very narrow, so it’s entirely possible that this one is very doable.

Cinque Terre boasts this lovely perch, for six people only $70 per person per day. I’ll see you there on that magenta sofa, where I’ll be gazing at the sea.

I’ve actually stayed here. I had the poolside apartment to myself and had one of the ten best sleeps of my life. I don’t want to know how much it is, because I wasn’t paying for it – but here’s a picture to prove it!

The Slow Movement: You Move Too Fast

I’ve been on a kick recently where I make notes on topics I’d like to write about during the week, and then on Sunday I write them all, so I simply have to go online every day and post one.

However, yesterday Cal and I got off to a very lazy start and kind of eased off; we got a lot of movie watching and Internet surfing done, but none of my pieces got written.

And now I’m coming up on several deadlines, so it isn’t going to happen today, either. But! I shall not disappoint Miss Expatria’s fans! One of my topics for this week – and a favorite of mine for a while – is the slow movement. From the world’s informer, Wikipedia:

“The Slow Movement first began when a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome sparked the creation of the Slow Food organization, as well as developing into a subculture in various other areas, Slow Travel, Slow Shopping, and Slow Design, just to name a few.”

I love this idea. I love seeing it in action, as I have in several places here in Europe – some intentional, some having never changed because “slow living” has always just been called “living.”

So, for your perusal, take a Slow Monday to check out the following links on slow living – and then try to put some of it into action!

“Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

“The World Institute of Slowness was created entirely as a medium for those that wish to communicate with others together learning the slow way of life.”

This article talks about Italy’s well over 40 Slow Cities. Inspired by the Slow Food movement, Cittaslow‘s page on Wikipedia lists slow cities in several EU countries.

Slow Food USA! Go get ’em!

“In the tradition of such trailblazing books as No Logo and The Tipping Point, In Praise of Slow heralds a growing international movement of people dedicated to slowing down the pace of our contemporary times and enjoying a richer, fuller life as a result.” (There seems to be another version here, so check out both, I guess. No matter which version you choose, any book that starts with the sentence, “On a sun-bleached afternoon in the summer of 1985, my teenage tour of Europe grinds to a halt in a square on the outskirts of Rome” can’t be all bad.)

“Slow Cities must comply with a 54-point Charter that outlines the goals of the movement,” says this interesting article.

You can live the slow life, no matter where you are. Start today – pick up the freshest foods you can find, turn off the computer and the news and the TV, and make yourself a slow meal tonight with someone you love!

Travel Books

This delightful article, found on one of my favorite sites, has inspired me to make a list of my very own travel book must-haves. So, without further ado, let’s get started!

The Pillars Of Hercules by Paul Theroux
His only aim was to explore the Mediterranean coast without resort to airplanes.

My favorite quote from this book explains it all: “That was your trip, that was your Italy. This book is about my trip, my Italy. This is my Mediterranean.” Exactly, Mr. Theroux. I’d love to take this trip and write my own book about it.

Green Hill Of Africa by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s lyrical journal of a month on safari in the great game country of East Africa, where he and his wife Pauline journeyed in December of 1933.

My favorite Hemingway. All the floating, airy prose and his dry humor makes sleeping in a tent and bathing in a canvas tub seem like the most luxurious thing on Earth.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds.

I found this by chance during a book-buying spree in Rome, and fell in love with it. It isn’t about traveling so much as it is about languages, cultures, and one’s life being put on hold while another life blooms in its place. One of my favorite books of all time.

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries
The heady atmosphere of Venice and a galaxy of fully realized characters.

No one travels in these books at all, except to Mestre and the Lido. They’re all set in Venice, and I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than stepping into Leon’s world of fog, silence and intrigue in the canals of my favorite city ever.

A Year In Provence by Pater Mayle
Throughout the book, he paints colorful portraits of his neighbors, the Provençaux grocers and butchers and farmers who amuse, confuse, and befuddle him at every turn.

This is the one that started it all for me, and I’m hard pressed to find a book written since that doesn’t completely condescend to the author’s chosen country and its native inhabitants. Self-depracation is a key trait in happy expats – and people in general, I find – and Mr. Mayle has it in spades. I’d be interested in getting my hands on this again now that I’ve lived in the South of France for a while.

Coming soon, travel books I HATE. Stay tuned!

Craving Bagels: A Love Story

Bleeding Espresso is a blog I have come across, and I love love love reading it. Sognatrice is her name, Italy is her game, and she writes with a passion for that country that gives me goosebumps – like this recent one about Calabrianfolk music.

It was this post that took my breath away, as it reminded me so much of my own post on the same subject. And here I am, thinking I’m all by myself in this life!

However, it was her bagel recipe that ensured her a spot in my heart. You see, bagels are pretty much non-existent here, and when you do find them, they tend to be very expensive and not really like you want them to be. But, as she says, sometimes you really crave something to smear cream cheese on – especially in Italy, where one can find the worlds only real cream cheese.

Visiting friends from New York have known to not cross my threshold unless bearing at least six Ess-a-Bagels. I have taught my gay mafia about the joys of these plump little balls of doughy love, and they now crave them too. I am the devil.

My first experience with bagels on this side of the pond was in a coffee shop in London whose name I forget. I grabbed one before flying home to Montpel. It cost me more in sterling than my phone bill that month, but it was worth every chewy, doughy bite.

Next was The Bagel Shop in Barcelona. These are heavenly, and come with a variety of toppings. I eat a bagel every single morning I am in Barcelona, without fail. YUM.

Viola, the only girl I know in Italy and my former roommate, has a carrot cake obsession that has taken her to New York twice, and keeps her ever vigilant for this tasty treat. She breathlessly called me one day to report that not only had she found carrot cake – she had found bagels. In Rome. At the cleverly named Jospehine’s Bakery, in the fittingly named Piazza del Paradiso. Their bagels are teensy tinsy, hellatiously expensive, and absolutely perfect.

Then – like manna from heaven – came the news that our very own chichi patisserie here in Montpel – Louis, it’s called – was carrying bagels. I immediately ran over, and sure enough – there they were, a gleaming fresh stack of bagel sandwiches. I breathlessly asked if I could buy a half dozen of the bagels plain, not in sandwich form.

The girl looked at me like I had half a dozen heads. Then came the answer I have come to hear all too often in this ridiculous country: “C’est pas possible.” This is not possible.

I said I could come back in the morning, before they made them into sandwiches. “C’est pas possible.”

I suppose I could buy a sandwich, scrape the shit off it and rebuild it with my own treats. But it’s just not the same.

My Favorite Hotels

I love eating cold sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. It is such a sense memory thing.

I am thinking of great hotel rooms in my time, in no order:

Helmsley Middletown, NYC. My old company booked me in a room when they made me come to NY and I got upgraded to a suite, with a living room and everything. And there was my favorite Indian restaurant downstairs that delivered. I felt like a rock star, or a presidential candidate. I made my best friend Katie come and stay over and it was so glamorous.

Kansas City Radisson. I wish I could find a link, because it was a big, old hotel, but it looks like it doesn’t exist anymore. Three of the moms went in on a connecting suite of rooms that had a living room in the middle. They wanted some semblance of orderly life for us. We would all eat cereal and watch Gidget every morning on the living room’s TV, which I remember being enormous in some kind of cabinet. It was the last of the great old hotels in the grand style. My dad came to visit us and he met someone in the elevator there who he fished with on our beach in OC. This is a common occurrence among the men in my family.

Bellevue Stratford, Philly. We were originally booked at the Drake but it was dark and gloomy and my mom knew people would be coming to visit us since we were so close to home. The room at the Bellevue had an automatic shoe shiner and I remember it looking like Versailles, I remember the ceilings being so high. We used to order room service and it would come up covered in those silver domes and with china and silver and linen. The next city was Boston and the hotel was kind of a dive, and when we ordered room service it came from the diner and was in Styrofoam containers. My mom and I would look at each other and sigh.

La Casa Sul Mare, Procida. All white stucco and light and space, with private terrace overlooking the bay and with a view of the fishing village and Capri beyond. Breakfast:

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That’s taken by ME, that is our ACTUAL BREAKFAST EXPERIENCE.

Hotel Britannique, Paris. I stayed there for one glorious night before being stuck at the Ibis hotel at the airport for a week trying to get a flight home on standby during the end of the Tour de France, the beginning of August vacation, and BA going on strike. Oh and it was the hottest summer ever. Anyway, the Hotel Britannique has deep marble tubs and winsome balconies. Lovely.

Hotel Niza, San Sebastian. I was taken up to my room and they opened the shutters and there was the most glorious view of the Bay of Biscay. I spent an entire afternoon laying on the bed looking out at the bay. This was also during my most glamorous, jet setting travel stint ever, featuring a drive to Biarritz just for lunch and a flight to London just for dinner and underwear shopping.

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Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel, Barcelona. A pillow menu, a bathroom bigger than my mothers kitchen, a view of the cruise ships coming in from the sea, top shelf luxury all the way.

Hotel West End, Nice. See that corner window, on the upper left? The one at the very top? Yeah. Mine. For a whole weekend. Got a great deal on that suite, and it was SWEET. Views to die for. Room service every day. Worth every centime.

Travel in Entertainment – Miss Expatria Reviews

Hello! I was thinking I’d start a review day of my favorite travel-related entertainment obsessions. I’d like to kick off this series with perhaps an unusual choice:

The Jason Bourne Collection. It’s an action film, smartly done, and Matt Damon is easy on the eyes. But, let’s look at the things I absolutely fetishize about these films.

1. “I’ll give you ten thousand dollars to drive me to Paris.”

I wish every day that someone would come up to me and say that – and I don’t even drive. It’s the best line, ever.

2. Bourne retrieves a Swiss bank code from INSIDE HIS BODY and when he is shown to his private room to view what is in his account, he is handed a metal box containing a dozen passports all bearing his photo but different names; cash in a dozen different currencies; a loaded gun; and various other implements of disguise. Where is my metal box?

3. He can speak any language fluently. Yes please!

4. He gives Run Lola Run – yes, I know that’s not her name, but that’s what I call her – money to get away and she uses it to open a scooter rental place and cafe on a beach somewhere. Smart girl. Me, I’d open a bookstore; but the location would be the same.

4A. AND BOURNE TRACKS HER DOWN AND FINDS HER THERE. Fabulous.

4B. AND THEN THEY GO LIVE ON THE BEACH IN GOA. Sigh.

5. Because of the depth of Bourne’s obsession to find out who he is, no matter where it takes him he sees every location in terms of exits, vantage points, sniper’s nests. This is travel-jaded taken to a whole new level. I’ve had to watch every film twice, just to get the plot down because the firs time I was too busy coveting every amazing apartment, farm house, beach-side residence and outdoor market.

6. Julia Stiles’ character. I keep tapping on my walls, hoping to find a hi-tech room hiding behind the charming French stucco. I want to be part of an elaborate trap involving the tram system in Berlin. And as my mother well knows, nothing would please me more than walking away from a cafe table while dismantling my cell phone and leaving it in pieces behind me.

Miss Expatria’s book and movie reviews. The Roger Ebert for the travel addict in us all.

World Maps, Pregnant Women in the Antarctic, the Azores, and Flags

As my gentle readers will know, Miss Expatria has a deep and abiding love for maps.

I particularly like having a map of the world very near my bed. I fall asleep looking at it, and laze around in bed after waking up, looking at it. And when you do that as much as I do, you notice some things:

1. The named locations in the Antarctic crack me up. It’s not like there were ever any indigenous people there, so everything is named after whoever first step foot there. The most interesting of these, by far, is Dome C.

2. The second picture on this link pretty much sums up how I always saw Dome C in my mind. Either that, or the X-Files movie.

1A. I just read that link above. Did you know that children have been born in Antarctica? First off, holy passport problems. Secondly, if I was a pregnant woman in the Antarctic, at some point I’d look around and think, “OK, ‘bye.”

2. During the last century, when I lived in an enormous loft in TriBeCa with three other girls in what family and friends could only describe as a very Friends-like existence, I had a world map on my wall, and one day while gazing at it longingly, I noticed the strangest thing. I called one of my roommates in to ask her if she had ever known there were a bunch of islands in the middle of the Atlantic. “Yes,” she replied. “I’ve actually dated someone from there.”

Anyway, James Martin from About.com makes it sound like every flight in the world stops there, which is not true, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

3. Many world maps, and I think all of the ones I have ever owned, have a strip across the bottom that shows the flags of the world. Don’t click on that link unless you are a dork like me and have a lot of free time. I find flags fascinating, and you should, too.

Oh, crap. It’s Monday, and I forgot Monday Morning Coffee Stories. Oh well. Y’all probably just came back from traveling anyway for the holiday weekend. I’ll give you a good story tomorrow when you’re more awake!

How to Sound Like an Italian, Miss Expatria Style

As promised, I’m including some phrases one should know when one visits God’s living room, also known as Italy.

This has been a favorite obsession of mine ever since I was in Rome in 2001 with Pavlov Memento, the ex. We had just finished dinner and were walking down via Cavour, when we passed a knot of Americans who mentioned a town very close to where we were living back in the States.

Pavlov, being Pavlov, stopped and spoke to them. During the course of our conversation, one of the women complained about the gelato shop they had just come from. She said the kids behind the counter were rude, and pretended not to know what she was saying when she was talking to them.

After some cursory questions, we ascertained that she had in fact been speaking plain old English to them, and these high school-age kids had no idea what she was saying. I suggested, as kindly as I possibly could, that maybe she would be better off learning some basic phrases to make her time in Italy a bit easier.

“I can’t be expected to learn the language of every country I visit,” was her verbatim reply.

Sigh. Grit teeth. Smile. Walk away.

No one is expecting you to learn THEIR ENTIRE LANGUAGE when you’re visiting a country. While you’re snapping a photo of the wife and kids in front of a famous monument, a native of that country will not run up to you and ask you to discuss political theory. Your waiter does not want to know your opinion on stem cell research. You will not need to sing the national anthem, sign formal documents, or conduct any business there.

They just want to see that you have an ounce of respect for the fact that you’re on their turf.

OK OK, enough ranting. Here are the key phrases you should know when visiting Italy. I’ve included the very basics here – the vocabulary you will need to look up yourself. The information is found in a phrasebook you can buy for about seven bucks, or the back cover of your guidebook.

As I said yesterday, learning these things will take you about an hour and will go a long way toward having a better experience.

Ms. Pants, I’m not yelling at you! You have the Gay Mafia’s full endorsement.

Here we go. These might be a little different than you read in your guidebook that’ because they’re REAL.Oh, and I did not bother with accent marks, because frankly I don’t know how to do that on my Mac.

Where is…/Dove…/DOE-vay
Do you have…/Lei c’e l’ha…/lay-tchay-la
Can I…/Posso…/POH-so
I would like…/Vorrei…/voh-RAY
Help!/Aiuto!/eye-YOU-toe
This is delicious./E’ squisito./ay (as in bay)-squee-ZEE-toe
Hello. (til after lunch)/Buon giorno./bwone-joor-no
Hello. (rest of day)/Buona sera./bwone-ah-say-rah
Have a good day!/Buona gionata!/bwone-ah-joor-nah-tah
Good night./Buona serata./bwona-ah-say-rah-tah
Fabulous!/Favolosa!/fah-voh-low-zah
I’m in love with this./Sono immaorata di questo qua/ so-no-een-ahm-more-AH-ta-dee-quay-stow-kwa
Thank you./Grazie./grahtz-yay
You’re so nice./Lei e’ molto gentile./lay-ay-mole-toe-jen-teal-ay
I’m not crazy about this./Non mi fa impazzire./known-me-fahm-pahtz-ee-ray
Sorry./Mi dispiace./me-deess-pyotch-ay
Excuse me (interrupting)/Mi scusi/me-skooz-ee
Excuse me (to pass)/Permesso/pair-mess-oh
Does this go to…/Questo va a…/quayss-toe-va-ah
Please/Per favore/pair-fah-vor-ay
Check please?/Il conto, per favore?/eel-cone-toe-pair-fah-vor-ay
I’m just looking./Sto solo guardando./stow-so-low-gwar-dahn-doe
I’m looking for…./Sto cercando…/stow-chair-CAHN-doe

Tomorrow, we’ll go over some customs, and a quick lesson in how to be rude AND charming.

How to Leave Amsterdam – Step Away From the Brownie

Miss Expatria received a request yesterday from gentlest reader and dear cousin, Mr. Fab. He’s headed off to Amsterdam in a few weeks, and wanted to know if I knew of any places that were easy to get to from there, for a day or overnight trip.

Why, yes. Yes I do.

First, I’d like to clear something up, right here, right now, that really annoys me when people get it wrong: Holland and the Netherlands are two different names for the same country. The language they speak in this country, as well as the people who speak it: Dutch. Dutch people call their own country Nederland. Amsterdam is a city in Holland, and in fact, it’s the capital.

Are we all set? OK.

(Oh, except I just want to say that The Hague has always captured my fascination. How cool is The Hague?)

OK, here we go with the advice.

Within Holland, there are many interesting places that are a short train ride away from Amsterdam, and are very, very…Dutch. I mean, we’re talking windmills here. Utrecht, Volendam, Zaanse Schans. So step away from the brownie and go see some stuff! This site has excellent information on these trips.

Berlin is a bit of a haul, but with a bit of creative scheduling is totally doable. This site teaches you, step by step, the very Googleable task of How to Book Train Travel From Amsterdam To Berlin. Brilliant!

Ryanair flies out of Eindhoven airport, approximately 120 km from Amsterdam, and flies to Rome, London, Madrid, Milan, other places.

Easyjet flies out of Amsterdam airport, which is definitely not 120 km from Amsterdam, and goes to Milan, London, Geneva, and a lot of not-London cities in the UK.

My personal favorite trip, which wouldn’t really be to GET TO anywhere but just to take it, is the combination train and ferry to London. They even have overnight voyages! Love it.

Mr. Fab is going for just a few days, but I know now he’s reading this and calculating how feasible it would be to stay longer.

The Tough Decisions: Hotel or Vacation Apartment?

Miss Expatria’s gentle readers already know of my fierce and abiding love for hotels. But today, I came across an interesting argument for vacation apartments – and this has prompted me to give full disclosure:

I LOVE HOTELS.

AND I ALSO LOVE VACATION APARTMENTS.

It’s like a mother’s love for her children – I love them both equally, and I’d defend either one of them to the death. For me, it comes down to why I have chosen to go on a particular vacation.

There are times when I need to forget about my life for a few days – and so I book myself into a fabulous suite on the beach (yes, I’ve had that corner room on the top floor, darlings) and order room service and have maids pick up after me and just zone out and look at the Med. I’ve also done this here. Oh, and also, here. Then there was that one time when I stayed here.

I’m a big fan of this type of vacation.

However, there are times when I choose to spend a week or more in a city, and really get a feel for it. I want to know what it’s like to blend in and become anonymous in that place. I like doing familiar tasks and chores in a new living space, and feel like I am living someone else’s life for a while.

For vacations like these, you want a really beautiful apartment in which to set up your week-long pretend life. For example, I once rented this place for almost a month, and it was delightful.

I urge you to keep vacation apartments in mind when planning your next trip. But, don’t forget the advantages of a hotel!

Some parting words to help you decide – the most important thing to think about is how you see yourself each morning while on your trip. Are you traipsing through the local market carrying a wicker shopping basket filled with fresh produce and flowers, then joking with the locals at a cafe? Or, are you awakened by the arrival of someone bringing you a $30 omelet?

Family Travel, Bagels in New York, Books in Europe

Oh, my readers, what a treasure trove I have found for you today!

First up, a fascinating look into taking your family on the road. These parents have my greatest respect – and I sincerely hope their kids appreciate the opportunity they’ve had.

I was “on the road” from the ages of 10-12, albeit only in the States and for work, but it was an experience that made me who I am today. I wish more families would do this. I wish it was mandatory – actually, one year abroad and one in the States. Imagine how different a world it would be.

Next is a post about a topic near and dear to my heart, and my home – BAGELS AND LOX. And for once, I am in agreement with the person who’s writing about this gastronomic feast: it’s all about the Ess-A-Bagels and Russ & Daughters lox. Although, if you must know, my personal favorite comes entirely from Ess-A – everything bagel, cream cheese, whitefish salad. All together. All heading for my tummy. Yummmmm.

We end this links bonanza with a website I immediately bookmarked (no pun intended, surely) – The Bookstore Guide! I’ll let this site speak for itself:

“Hello! We are Sonja and Ivan. And this is our Bookstore Guide. The idea of writing a guide to bookstores all around Europe was conceived while we were on a vacation in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Having a passion for reading and traveling, we have encountered various bookstores throughout Europe and thus have decided to make this blog and write about our findings. If you happen to find yourself in, let’s say Amsterdam or Berlin or any other city, we hope that this Bookstore Guide will help you find the books you are looking for so make sure you stop and browse for some of your favorite books in these bookstores.”

How can you not love them and their vision?  Sonja and Ivan, right on!

Austin Considine, You Had Me at “Sheikdom”

Miss Expatria has a fetish for newspapers. Sure, it’s nice to get news online, what with the links and all – and I love the immediate gratification of an email to the editor. But noting beats the smell, sound and feeling of unbridled power of snapping a fold into an actual, real-live newspaper.

The New York Times is, of course, my paper of choice. The Old Grey Lady and I go way back; we’ve spent many lazy Sundays in bed together, pausing in our pleasure only to curse the existence of Will Shortz.

Now that I am far away from bagels, Barney’s and boroughs, I take solace in long, sunny afternoons with a citron presse and The Lady’s more worldly sister, The International Herald Tribune.

But all of this may change, thanks to you, Austin. Your article of 10/14 is a model of travel writing: a touch of glamour, a lot of useful information, and one delicious photo that says it all.

Also, you use words like “glitter,” “sparkle,” and “superstars” – all above the fold of my scroll button. Fabulous!

So, thank you, Austin – and see you at the Rotana!

Decadent Hotel Weekends

Choosing a hotel for a vacation is fun, and an important decision – it will be your home away from home for a length of time, and it will influence how you experience that city.

However, as attentive readers will know, Miss Expatria has another use for hotels – getaway weekends for no reason whatsoever. And for this purpose, gentle reader, there is an entirely different set of criteria that is taken into account.

The first thing one must realize when planning a hotel getaway weekend is that the destination is of little importance. You are going to spend almost all of your time in the hotel, not traipsing around the city. You might head out for a meal, or for a walk, or for vital supplies like cigarettes and Sunday newspapers. But the point of a weekend like this is to hole away from the world and interact with as few people as possible.

The destination should only be a consideration if it is at all possible to get a hotel room with an unobstructed view of the sea. Sea trumps all!

The other factor regarding the destination should be that it’s easy to get to – you want the weekend to be about the hotel, not the long and arduous voyage to the hotel. If you have a car, great – I don’t drive, so I consult transportation schedules and routes constantly during my search for the getaway hotel.

Normally, for vacations, I like little hotels that aim to please and are attentive to my comings and goings. But for getaway weekends, I prefer the larger hotel chains – the rooms are usually bigger, and they have all the whistles, horns and bells that hotel rooms should have.

Which brings me to hotel amenities: Does it have a decent pool? Does it have 24-hour room service? Check out the menu online, if you can. I’ve chosen one hotel over another because there was something on the menu that I just had to have.

Bathrooms are a big factor in my choosing a getaway hotel – you want a big, deep tub for soaking, and good lighting for taking care of all the things you can’t see in your bathroom light at home.

While I love staying in bed all day during these getaway weekends and bringing everything into bed with me and having everything set up around me like a princess, an extra bonus is a room that has another, comfortable area to sit in when you feel like you might be getting bed sores.

In terms of searching for the actual hotel online, I use opposing tactics than my normal routine – I sort by number of stars, start at the five-stars, and work my way down. For a vacation, I try to see how close to a hundred bucks a night I can get, and never spend more than $150. But for getaway weekends, I go to $200 for a truly spectacular hotel – although I rarely need to spend that much, because the deals are so great.

This is also where consulting the hotel’s actual website comes in handy – you would not believe how many large hotels, for whom business travelers and conferences are their bread and butter, practically give away their rooms for weekend stays. And don’t be put off by staying in the hotel on Sunday night, especially if it’s part of a great deal. For one, it RUINS the idea of a decadent hotel weekend if you have to get out of there by noon on Sunday. Who the heck wants to break up their Sundays like that? Also, it merely increases the decadent factor when you glide into work an hour late on a Monday after having a long bath and room service omelets. (Not that I’ve ever done that. Ahem.)

The most important thing to remember when planning a hotel weekend is that it’s going to cost you some money. You’ve got to fork over the bucks if you really want the weekend to be a mini-vacation. I know plenty of New Yorkers who think nothing of dropping $600 for a weekend at a friend’s summer share in the Hamptons – complete with nasty traffic, ignorant rich people, and lumpy sofa beds. Why not stay in town over that weekend, or book the nicest room at a hotel in the opposite direction, order the entire room service menu, have someone else pick up after you, and have unlimited use of a pool and gym, which are hardly ever used?

Try a decadent hotel weekend. You’ll be glad you did. Tell them Miss Expatria sent you!

Hotels, And My Love Of Them

Hotels are my passion. From Motel 6’s to five-star luxury resorts, I love everything about them.

I love maid service. I love room service. I love turndown service. I love having a drink in hotel lobby lounges, even if I am not staying there. I love hotel restaurants, with their overpriced comfort food and poor attempts at creative cuisine. I love the anonymity. I love checking for messages at the front desk. I love the consistency. I love unexpected surprises. I love indoor pools. I love reading the guest information folder. I love the stationery in the desk drawers, which always makes me want to write either winsome letters to long lost loves or coded messages of international intrigue.

Hotels are magic. When you’re staying in a hotel, your real life is on hold and very far away. You can be anyone you want while you’re staying in a hotel – or you can finally be yourself.

I can trace this back to two specific things in my life:

1. My parents used to take a vacation every Presidents’ Day weekend with another couple. They’d rent two hotel rooms at the Port O Call , at the other end of our island. February is waaaay off season for the island, so I’m pretty sure they were among the only guests in the hotel.

My mom and Carol would sit in one room all weekend, do crossword puzzles, and watch old movies. Jim and my dad would sit in the other room, surrounded by their favorite junk food, and watch sports. They always had the best time, and came back refreshed and relaxed. No airports, no heavy suitcases, no traffic.

2. From 10 to 12 years of age, I was in two national touring companies of “Annie.” The first company stayed in major U.S. cities for an average of seven weeks at a time; the second tour went to decidedly less major cities ( Lubbock, anyone?) and stayed for a few days, sometimes up to a week. I’ve seen a lot of hotel rooms in my time, and they were my home away from home.

These experiences have manifested themselves in my life in a variety of ways:

I love to rearrange the furniture in my living space. When I was growing up, I’d do it every two months or so – which my mother directly linked to my moving into a new “home” at roughly the same frequency during my formative years. Now that I share my life with Cal, for whom consistency is everything, I satisfy this urge by rearranging the objects on a bookshelf, or the clothes on my side of the closet. (Hey, I never said I was sane.)

I like to book hotel rooms nearby for a weekend, and get away. The most recent was quite some time ago, I am sorry to say – summer of 2005. Cal and I were sweating in a basement apartment in Williamsburg during a blistering heatwave, and we decided we had had enough. We fled to the ice-cold Hyatt in unglamorous but nearby New Brunswick, NJ. We watched cable, ate at the delightful Clydz, and read the Sunday New York Times in climate-controlled peace.

Another hotel getaway highlight, several years back, was the honeymoon suite at the Holiday Inn in Piscataway, NJ. It was something like a hundred bucks a night, and had a hot tub directly in the middle of the room. Laugh you might, but it was AWESOME.

My most treasured skill as a result of this fascination with hotels, however, is the ability to choose the perfect hotel in any city in the world. I value this gift, and rely on it heavily during my travels.

Check back tomorrow for Miss Expatria’s secret to choosing the perfect hotels!