A French connection

Golden sunset view from the top of Notre-Dame

As I strolled along the Rue Rambuteau on my way back to my rented apartment, I searched for a patisserie (a French bakery specializing in baked goods and sweets) to indulge my craving for a Parisian dessert. My obsession with all things sweet had exploded since arriving in the French capital- a city-wide buffet of hand-crafted, detailed and high-quality confections mine for the taking. Having experienced a significant struggle trying to adapt and find a way to blend in in this glamorous city, a ritual had begun to take shape which gave me great comfort- my daily ‘pastry runs’ as I called them. My only hang-up was my extremely modest grasp of the French language, a barrier that weighed heavily during my explorations.

A typical pastry run 😍

Up ahead on my right, I saw a gleaming sign with the words Pain de Sucre and decided to stop. My French may be elementary, but I know the word ‘sucre’ was exactly what I was looking for. I entered the shop tentatively, as this moment of stepping away from the veiled anonymity of the bustling street and into the intimate specialty shops of Paris always gave me a pang of anxiety. There is a custom in France of promptly greeting the employees of a store when you enter and they will greet you back as a measure of acknowledgement and respect- it is seen as quite rude if you miss this step. However, this set me on edge knowing that my language skills would be put to the test momentarily. Behind the counter at Pain de Sucre, a clean-shaven gentleman asked me in rapid-fire French for my order. I felt the heat rise in my cheeks as I awkwardly gestured to the gleaming displays to indicate that I still needed to look around. I was instantly exposed as a tourist and felt a cold divide between us. I pointed to a lemon tart which he swiftly packaged in a specialty box for me to take home (‘a emporter’). After having to ask him to repeat the amount I owed more than once, he switched to slow, heavily-accented English and my mortification was complete.

Pain de Sucre (photo credit: parispatisseries.com)

On subsequent days, I always passed by Pain de Sucre on my way home and saw the same employee working inside. I felt an unavoidable urge to redeem myself in his eyes. I began practicing my French with more zest in the evenings, mastering certain phrases that were likely to be used in the bakery realm. When I entered Pain de Sucre a second time, my confidence had improved and I smiled and greeted the same shop worker. He did not appear to recognize me whatsoever. Our interaction proceeded much like the first, although I was able to anticipate the questions and had my answers, in still-shaky French, better prepared. I left still feeling as though I was an intruder on Parisian territory and would never belong.

Another favourite stop: La Pâtisserie des Rêves or”The Bakery of Dreams” 💕

Eventually, with subsequent visits, I started to notice a shift in our dynamic. On one occasion there was an unmistakable a flicker of recognition in the shop employee’s face and a level of warmth in his greeting that did not exist initially; I felt thrilled and triumphant as I walked out the door with my selection of macarons. On another occasion he welcomed me back and asked, in French that I could now understand, about my visit to Paris. He smiled at me and proceeded to recommend a new pastry that I had yet to try. I left the shop that day feeling content and accomplished, a joyful energy in my step. I will always remember that moment of breaking through the cultural divide; that first feeling of connection and acceptance taking place at a pastry shop on Rue Rambuteau as a clean-shaven gentleman smiled at me and wished me a good day (bonne journée) before I hurried home with my packaged treat.

An Umbrian Retreat

Perched high on a lush hilltop near the medieval town of Gubbio in Umbria, Italy, exists a haven the likes of which cannot be replicated. Arriving at the Borgo di Carpiano- the name rolling off the tongue with a sense of romanticism that embodies the Italian language- is like stepping back in time. This feeling is evident in every detail, from the remoteness of the location to the ancient wooden wagon displayed out front of the main house.

Arriving at Borgo di Carpiano
Dreamy outdoor dining area

Upon arrival at the Borgo, you are immediately encouraged to sink into a comfy outdoor lounge area with a refreshing drink in hand to take in the expansive view of olive trees and clear skies, with streaks of sunshine casting a patterned glow over your limbs. The peaceful silence will rest both soft and heavy on your shoulders, encouraging a deep state of needed relaxation. The familiar and welcome sound of gravel crunching underfoot will narrate your continued exploration of the storied grounds, while admiring the palette of neutral and terracotta tones that contrast with the viridescent green of the rolling hills. In the evening, the horizon takes on a soft lilac hue within which you will see the glowing moon rise, instilling a sense of the inspired and ancient soul of the Borgo.

That Italian colour palette 💕
Full moon rising beyond the hills

Marilisa and Riccardo Parisi are the proud owners and hosts of this Italian villa, affectionately referred to as the Borgo for short- an Italian term for a small village or hamlet. This married couple became enamoured with the history of the previously abandoned property, which dates back to the tenth century; they spent years lovingly restoring it to the enchanting retreat it is today. Along with their wonderful staff, Marilisa and Riccardo are passionately devoted to providing a true taste of quintessential Italian hospitality. Their rich and utterly charming accents, warm smiles and genuine nature feel like a warm embrace as you are welcomed into the paradise they have created.

Gorgeous breakfast enjoyed outside
Pool area with heavenly view

Their vision come to life, one can only imagine the level of dedication and passion of Marilisa and Riccardo when they decided to restore this bygone hamlet, all the while honouring the original architecture. For those lucky enough to experience their warm reception and congeniality you can only express deep appreciation and awe, with the hope that one day you will return. As a small parting gift, you are humbly provided a small tin of homemade olive oil, stamped with the logo of the Borgo. Tuck it safely away in your suitcase and anticipate the joy of being transported back to this Umbrian retreat each time you open the cap and breathe in the scent of faring la bella vita.

Rolling hills of Umbria

What lights you up?

Sunset on Lake Erie

I first caught a case of wanderlust back in high school when I joined the travel club and went overseas with a group of classmates- it opened my eyes to the inspiring experience of exploring the history, culture and wonders that exist in the world. At the time, I did not even consider the possibility of a career in travel as I felt that if it were part of my job, it might take the fun out of it. Thus, I never pursued it. Fast forward over a decade and I now have a successful career in healthcare; however, I have never felt quite settled or content- often moving jobs every couple of years when restlessness inevitably creeps in. I tend to always be yearning for more from life- even if I don’t know exactly what that ‘more’ consists of. All I can do is make space in my life for the things that bring me the most joy and travelling is what I always turn to for a spirit and energy refresh. I have taken many trips over the years and am always dreaming about my next desired destination.

Exploring Paris- one of my favourite cities

Often this simply means exploring my own backyard. My home province of Ontario, Canada has many hidden treasures, enchanting small towns, vibrant cities, beautiful lakes and beaches, stunning hikes and endless other opportunities for adventure. A long weekend getaway every once in awhile to explore places close to home can be just as rejuvenating and restorative as a far away jaunt (not knocking Italy of course- it is magical). Travelling, however far away, simply makes me feel alive and as long as I am able I will continue to dream and plan and travel as often as I can.

What lights you up?