7 Things to Do in Paris Тhat Will Make You Feel the Spirit of Halloween

Happy Halloweek, fellow readers (all 17 of you! hi Mom!). If you, like me, were raised on a steady diet of Happy Meals and American pop culture, chances are that at some point in your life, you felt the urge to put on a scary costume and go trick-or-treating, but were too afraid that your local babushka will call the cops on you or that a group of neo-nazis will denounce you for being “anti-patriotic”. Yup, the early 2000s were a wild ride in Eastern Europe. 

But anyway, you’re all grown up now and have moved away from the Halloween haters, only to find yourself in Paris, where the predominant attitude to the holiday of the undead is…inconsistent, at best. While a lot of small children and their millennial parents seem to have fully embraced it and would dress up, carve pumpkins and even organize trick-or-treating events in their schools or communities, the spectre of the All Saints seems to have passed right through us unfortunate twenty-something souls. 

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Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people still have Halloween parties, especially since November 1st is always a holiday in France, but for the majority of people, it seems like just another casual excuse to party (or, for bars and clubs, to charge you extra for the same services). A lot of people don’t even wear costumes, let alone fully immerse themselves in the spooky holiday atmosphere. 

But fear not, cause I’m here to right those wrongs and bring the undead back to Paris. Here is a list I have compiled of the top 7 activities you can do this week in Paris (or any week, for that matter – Halloween is not a date on the calendar, it’s a state of mind!) in order to feel the spirit of Halloween.

1. Explore the Mysterious and Dark History of Some of Your Favorite Parisian Landmarks With “Sous les Pavés”

Sous les Paves Notre Dame

Photo: Sous les Pavés, Facebook

Uncover the mysteries of the infamous Père Lachaise cemetery with the help of a vampirologist? Find out all about the centuries-old legends of witches and ghosts haunting the Montmartre? Go on a night walk in the Latin quarter to learn about medieval Paris’s history of occultism, worship of the Devil and the danse macabre? No, I didn’t make this up while tripping on acid – these are all recurrent guided walks and visits by the collective Sous les Pavés that you can sign up for online! 

Since these tours are often organized and led by struggling actors with some vague claims of historical background, the authenticity of the presented information may be a bit dubious, but who cares? If you’ve seriously never wanted to get a taste of the darkness that lies beneath the City of Lights (again, not talking about an acid trip at an underground techno club) and the ghost stories that haunt its Gothic cathedrals and dark street corners, you’re either lying or you’re just no fun. 

The Sous les Pavés tours do come at a price though – no, not your firstborn or the blood of a virgin – but a relatively modest price of around 15 to 25 euros. Most of their guided tours this week are already fully booked, but the good news is that they do them all year round, so you can keep the Halloween spirit alive at least until Christmas. Alternatively, you can go through their events for inspiration, then do some research online and go chase the fantoms of Paris on your own for free. Just try not to get sucked into a satanist cult, or worse, a French decadent poet society, while you’re at it.

2. Finally Find the Time to Visit the Catacombs

Paris Catacombs Skulls

Photo by Travis Grossen

Is there anything that screams “chilling Halloween vibes” more than an 18th century underground ossuary which holds the remains of more than six million people who were taken out of their graves or sometimes even murdered and then buried in a dark long tunnel to address the city’s cemetery overflow problem? And if that’s not enough for these damned souls, their skulls and bones are now very publicly displayed as part of a popular tourist distraction to the same people who were shaking hands with Mickey Mouse or taking engagement photos at the Eiffel Tower just an hour ago. 

I don’t know about you, but if I were one of these poor 18th century suckers, I’d be rising out of my common grave and haunting the shit out of the tourists. And even if this doesn’t happen and the Catacombs turn out to be just like any other museum full of dead people, only poorer, at least Halloween would be a good excuse to finally get around to visiting this landmark, which, if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely been putting off since you moved here two years ago. Why not even get a bit wild and go to Versailles or the Bois de Boulogne while you’re at it? Gotta crunch those #cultured insta stories. 

3. Go to the WHSmith Bookstore and Café for a Very Potterhead Halloween

I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s no better time to do the annual Harry Potter marathon and reconnect with your inner Potterhead than Halloween. Okay, fine, maybe winter break is even better for that, but still, I feel like the potential of J.K. Rowling’s franchise for summoning your Halloween spirits is frequently understated. For these lucky wizard kids that live among ghosts, mythical creatures and a constant sense of mortal danger in a cool Gothic castle, every day is like Halloween and every dinner in the common hall is the Halloween dinner party you wish you were invited to. 

You may not be a wizard or a rich kid in a private British boarding school, but you can relive some of that magic in WHSmith, the British bookstore and café in the heart of Paris. Not only do the old wooden staircase and the walls and windows decor remind you of a gothic library, but the careful selection of books, gifts and curious objects will make you feel like you’re on a day trip to Hogsmeade. Finally, for the O.G. Potterheads, WHSmith has one of the best selections of Harry Potter souvenirs and merchandise, so you can go ahead and really geek it out. 

4. Go to a Real Vintage Store

Thrift and vintage shopping are equally great ways to refresh your wardrobe without ruining your bank account, blowing up your carbon footprint or financially supporting child slave labor (#SayNoToFastFashion), but the line between second hand and actual vintage  can be quite blurry. Often times, stores would try to pass off late 2000s items for vintage just to jack up the prices, which is not to say that the late 2000s weren’t an iconic era of its own (leave Britney alone!!!), but it can be kinda frustrating. 

Photos: TheGreenFan, Facebook

So this Halloween, why not go to a real vintage shop? You know, the ones that sell flapper hats from the 1920s and peignoirs that you can only see on the set of Mad Men nowadays. Whether you’re bringing your A-game to the Halloween office party by dressing up as Joan Holloway, or you’re just looking for some retro inspiration for your personal style, with a touch of imagination, going to a nice vintage store in Paris can feel like travelling back in time. My favorite one is TheGreenFan on boulevard Diderot: it’s warm, cozy and has a mysterious aura, so if I were to place my bets which Parisian shop is owned by a secret time traveller, it would be this one.

5. Watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show at Studio Galande

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Here is a special secret for all the pop culture-obsessed camp lovers out there (or is that only me? okay). The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a musical comedy horror movie from the 70s. Although it received horrible reviews, the movie became a pop culture phenomenon when people in New York began showing up to midnight screenings dressed up as the characters, talking back to the screen, singing along etc. The tradition was replicated in movie theaters around the world and in a lot of places, actual theatrical troupes would come in and act as a “shadow cast”, reenacting and lip-syncing live as the movie was showing on the screen. 

If you live in Europe, you might know about Rocky Horror from that emo teen movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but chances are that you haven’t actually participated in a live show. If you live in Paris though, you’re in luck, because the movie theater Studio Galande is the only one in Europe that is currently doing regular screenings, and they have one on Halloween night! 

 

Photos: Studio Galande, Wikipedia

6. Get Some Chillz at a Haunted House..or a Haunted Wax Museum?

You may have noticed from my previous suggestions that I’m not that big on getting actually scared on Halloween. Yeah, horror movies and shows are cool and all, but I already have enough day to day adult anxieties, you know? Still, if you are the type of person who enjoys jump scares and cheap thrills, you may want to check out Le Manoir de Paris, the only “official” haunted house in the City of Lights. 

Or, in case paying 35 euros to get tackled by failed camp counsellors and hearing French children scream isn’t your cup of tea (because honestly, same), you could check out the Musée Grevin, a wax museum that apparently has a special show for the Toussaint where the dead wax figures come to life or some shit. Personally, ever since I saw the 2005 slasher film with Paris Hilton, I’d much rather if wax figures didn’t come to life and pretend to have acting skills, but who am I to judge?

7. Go to an Esoteric Shop and Connect to Your Inner Mysticist

This last one may not be as traditionally spooky and halloweenish as the rest of the lot, and I understand you might have some reservations about going to a shop where a wacky lady who’s not Gwyneth Paltrow will try to sell you egg crystals, but hear me out on this, okay? The key to having a magical Halloween is all about the temporary suspension of disbelief. Sure, most of us don’t actually believe in witches and ghosts, but it doesn’t mean we can’t at least for a night entertain the idea of some form of mysterious forces interfering, if only briefly, with our otherwise boring and mundane lives? 

I personally nurture this, hmm, let’s call it supernatural optimism, by religiously reading my horoscopes and analysing my friends’ birth charts, but if you’re not surfing on that high plane, you might be ripe for a short visit to the good ol’ esoteric shop, my friend. And if by any chance you find yourself drawn to its mystical energy and are in the market for something more, know that I do free tarot card readings over coffee or Skype, just sayin’.

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That’s all, folks! Let me know what you thought of my ideas, as well as how you plan to stick it to the heretics haters and have a very Parisian Halloween. And one last thing: Halloween is all about not being afraid to show who you are, whether this is a 150 year old ghost of a Parisian suffragette or a shameless Slutty Pumpkin. You’re doing amazing, sweety! 

 

The Art of Selling Yourself, Or My Career Dilemma

Hello potential and future employers, nothing to see here. Please direct yourselves to the nearest exit.

A couple of months ago, I was asked to fill out a survey for my upcoming “Brands as Disruptors in Creative Industries” class. Wow, those are a lot of buzzwords in one title. But I guess it makes sense, since, as I would come to find out, the one and only educational framework of this class was “how to use fancy buzzwords and stylish logos to fabricate a fake brand identity”. But more on that later.

The survey our teachers sent us was essentially asking us to list our favorite brands (everyone loves Netflix these days, surprisingly to no one) and our least favorite ones (what do you know, people aren’t big fans of Facebook and the Zucc stealing their data). But the last question really struck a chord: “Do you think a person can be a brand? If yes, give examples.”

Obviously, if they’re asking for examples, then the answer must be yes, my college-educated, eager-to-please conformist self thought to herself. So, the academic research genius that I was, I listed the three first names that pop up when you type “can people be brands” on Google: Oprah, Steve Jobs, Kim Kardashian. It was only about a month later, when I was starting to apply for internships and work/study contracts (the infamous “alternance”) that I realized I had forgotten to put one obvious name in the list of person-brands: me.

Wait, was I supposed to have an identity?

It all started with a meeting I had with my academic advisor, during which she was supposed to give me guidance and advice on how to find internships. She asked me what I wanted to do and what my “dream job” was. “Marketing director for a progressive digital media company”, I answered without hesitation, even though this was less of a dream job and more of a “dream compromise”, a way to reconcile my passion for journalism and media with my equally strong passion for getting paid a living wage.

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Anyway, the quick “dreaming for cynicists” sesh was followed by an admittedly useful CV boosting workshop and then, the question I had feared all along: “So, what are your hobbies outside of school? What are the things that define your identity and that would make your profile stand out to employers amidst an ocean of aspiring digital marketers?”

Boom! Just like that, the Pandora box of years’ worth of insecurities and illegitimacy fears was opened. What was my identity outside of school? Did I really have one? Does blogging count as a distinctive hobby if everyone else is doing it these days? Do feminism or environmentalism count as real convictions if you don’t have a Twitter account entirely dedicated to that? What good is swing dancing if you’re only doing it for fun and haven’t won any awards?

When-People-Ask-You-What-Kind-Hobbies-You-Have

Those are just some of the implicit questions that my academic advisor raised in what was, I hope, a well-meaning effort to help me valorize my strengths and render my CV more unique. But rather than making me question the utility of all my life choices and time spent in the last four and more years, I think she had another objective in mind: to help me craft my own personal brand.

“You have a lot of interests and that’s good”, my advisor told me. “Now you need to streamline them and caricaturize your online identity”.

Fake it till you fake it

After all, it didn’t really matter to potential employers what I thought about climate change or what kind of books I read, if it wasn’t somehow incorporated into the oversimplified crash-course image of myself that I’m giving them in the form of an A4 piece of paper and a bunch of hyperlinks to my social media profiles. “You have a lot of interests and that’s good”, my advisor told me. “Now you need to streamline them and caricaturize your online identity”.

High-passion

And that, I did. I changed my Twitter cover photo to a Michelle Obama quote about female empowerment. I picked up my zero waste Instagram again. I color-coordinated all my accounts. I put more storytelling and design efforts into my work portfolio than I’ve ever put into any of my actual work.

I just slightly adapted the image of myself that I was going to present to the requirements of the job. Isn’t this precisely what marketing is, anyway?

But I didn’t just stop there. Enter the shapeshifting: I started changing up certain parts of my CV and portfolio according to the job and company I was applying for. If it was an offer for a marketing analytics position in a more tech-oriented company, I’d focus on how “data-driven” I was and reference my (quite disputable) programming skills. If it was content marketing or a position at a media company, I’d highlight my writing skills and my experience working in the industry.

It wasn’t the cherry-picking of “relevant qualities” in itself that bothered me that much. It was how well it seemed to be working. Less than a month later, I had already landed an exciting marketing internship at a leading data software startup. I felt proud and accomplished. After all, why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I actually lied on my CV or on my interview (and don’t we all lie just a little bit?). I just slightly adapted the image of myself that I was going to present to the requirements of the job. Isn’t this precisely what marketing is, anyway?

Okay Google, can I be a marketing person with true convictions, oh, and also make money?

Ironically, my apparent mastering of the tools of my aspired professional field and my subsequent success led to my realization of its hollowness. Yes, crafting and successfully selling a curated brand image of myself was a useful exercise that my “Brands as Disruptors…” professors would be proud of. Certainly, it required resourcefulness and creativity and most of all, I had fun doing it.

But in the end, what was its purpose? Retweeting more articles about gender discrimination or posting more photos of my reusable coffee cup didn’t get me more involved in any of those movements. It sure made me want to get more involved, but I was too busy picking the right insta filters. Marketing may be a fun and creative way to communicate powerful messages (or powerful cat food ads, depending on your industry and your way of looking at it), but ultimately it doesn’t have any other proper value than the one you’re creating for the shareholders.

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This professional nihilism may seem strange coming from someone who just got a great job offer from a great company that is hailed all over the internet for its quality products and services, good values and healthy corporate culture. And the fact is, I am very excited and looking forward to working there. Almost as excited as I am about getting paid and *almost*being able to afford living in Paris!

For the time being, my decision to work in marketing seems a strategically good one considering my living situation, my skills set and my aspirations. In the long term though, I’m not sure if I want my lasting “brand” to be that of the eccentric corporate exec who talks about class struggle and CO2 emissions while driving her Tesla and sipping on her 7-euro soy latte in her reusable coffee cup. Or do I?

As always, thanks for listening to my TED talk.

Featured photo by Kalina Yankova

Two Months of College Abroad: Confessions of a New Sciences Piste

Bonjour, y’all.  

I assume many of our amazing and loyal readers already know, but this August I moved from Sofia, Bulgaria – my home for my humble 19 years on this Earth – to Reims, France, which will accommodate moi for the next two and support me in my attempt to successfully graduate from a French higher education institution. So yes, croissants and other donations are accepted at any times.

Although I’ve been residing in the Champagne and King-Crowning capital for a mere two and a half months, the colorful student life at Sciences Po has already got me pondering about what the student experience could or should be like, whether we’re making the most out of it and how this totally new era in our lives will shape us.

During the week-long October break, I got some extra time to reflect on the first half of the first semester in Sciences Po (according to most sophomores – the hardest), while simultaneously getting an objectively deserved break from it. My first thoughts when trying to summarize the beginning of what feels like a new chapter of not only my ever-struggling academic career, but also of my life in general, were the following:

 “We partied a lot. Didn’t ever drink champagne. Yikes, French is hard. I never imagined that getting 10/20 could make me so happy.”

Yet, lately I’ve been thinking that, although in general I’ve been super happy living in France, I could find ways to be more efficient and get even closer to ‘making the most out of it’. Yes, yes, I know it’s early for New Year’s resolutions and adopting a new-year-new-me mentality mid-semester, but you know what – pourquoi pas? 

Overcoming Fear of Missing Out

So the first objective would be to actually get over that integration week mindset that one should attend absolutely everything: every party and social function, join every association, or otherwise you’d be severely missing out. Might be just me, but upon arriving in Reims, the poor naive two-months-ago version of myself might have actually thought that time traveling and being at two places at a time existed in college. 

Basically, what I’ve come to realize is that early student life is beaming with interesting events, it’s easy to make friends and that’s amazing, but if at some point you start feeling guilty for not attending or participating in an event (because there’s always something happening), then that in a way sabotages all those cool opportunities. Not to say watching Netflix every minute when not studying is a better option, but not being too hard on yourself if you don’t go out every night might be. 

Image result for lorelai gilmore gifs  sleep pretty

Teaching Yourself a Subject

The second thing I realized is that although people, often rightfully, complain about the quality of the education they’re getting even in a renowned school like Sciences Po (hi there l’élite de la nation), you still have endless opportunities to learn stuff that are actually interesting. Yes, some lectures are chaotic or boring or confusing, but hey, I for one need to remind myself on a daily basis that I spent my last 8 years in a math school and I was dreaming of somebody taking history, sociology or philosophy seriously. Now I have this, and although it’s not perfect, at least it’s legitimized and people are all interested in social sciences. 

I think this could be valid in a broader sense – most people go to college because they’re genuinely interested in their subject of choice, and even if you end up having a lecturer who just reads his notes monotonously for two hours, chances are, it’s still at least partially connected to what you care about. Plus, we have all these books in the library and smart French kids who talk about politics so that was a quick self-reminder that although studying political science sometimes equals studying the art of bullshitting, don’t be lazy, Krisi, learn something – get your money’s worth. 

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Yes, I am aware how cliché this one may sound, but there’s something to be said about how starting university at a new place in a new country for a lot of us is already such a big jump out of the well-established borders of your comfort zone; however, it is relatively easy to fall into a new comfy routine and not hold up to all the pre-college promises. I’ve heard people say how they told themselves they’ll really be unapologetically themselves in college or many other admirable goals and honestly, nothing but wild respect if you feel like you’re getting there. 

My pre-college resolution, as far as I remember, was to do adopt a really do-whatever-you-want-text-the-guy-first mentality and be bold, yet the other day at the library, I asked a friend to go to the restroom with me because I didn’t want to pass by everybody walking on my own. But once you think about it retrospectively and you realise that for instance even though X months could have passed in which you’ve been conveniently postponing making those changes, you could still get back on track. That being said – the rest of the semester, here I come!

Livin’ in a material Sciences Po world and I am a material Sciences Po girl

The last of my semi broad semi private advice would be to sometimes take the time and truly get out of the college bubble. It doesn’t mean that the bubble isn’t a happy place, but the thing with Sciences Po is (and I’m betting it’s not only my university) that it swallows you into its particular self-centred universe where everything, for better or worse, moves on its orbit – you talk, party, eat and breathe ScPo. Days could pass and there might be a wild and loud festival in the center of the city, but I wouldn’t know because I live literally in front of the campus and almost all of my friends live within 7 to 10 minutes of that area. It’s definitely convenient and it makes things easier, but sometimes it gets to the point where you don’t know anything else that’s going on. 

For me, going to study in a quiet salon de thé instead of the overcrowded library from time to time was very therapeutic. Speaking to the place’s owner isn’t like being completely integrated into the Reimois community, but it’s something. And another thing: starting a job outside of campus can always be a good way not only to make some extra money, but also to actually feel as if you’re living in a real city and not just on a campus. Say hello to your new Opera de Reims usher! 

And finally, the last thing I associate with the bubble (or the getting out of the bubble) is that when I was applying to Sciences Po, I was reading a multitude of media outlets for at least 30 minutes a day – Bulgarian, French, U.S. news and more, to prepare for the oral exam. Contrary to my expectations, ever since I actually became a student here, I read way less news. It’s true that in college you have way more work, but still I intend on starting to read the news every morning for at least 15 minutes, because lately the only news outlet has been the Sciences Po Facebook group where associations spam events information – so not too sophisticated, I know. Although the Sciences Po Institute for Shitposting for Bourgeois Teens memes are good.

All in all, during the break, as I got to visit friends outside of France and discuss with them our college experiences – some of whom just starting and others living abroad for more than 4 years, I got inspired to actually be aware of how I spend my time here. Those past two months passed so quickly that they made me think ‘Hey, before I know it, it will be over’. 

So to get back to my initial thoughts, I shared: We partied a lot. Didn’t ever drink champagne. Yikes, French is hard. I never imagined that getting 10/20 could make me so happy. What I would try to do from now on  is to find that balance between going out, but not just for the sake of going out, studying and reading outside of class, staying engaged in the campus life, but also getting out in the city and being informed about news beyond the college newspaper, and generally just be happy. Oh yes, and start drinking champagne!

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London: Stuck in an Eternal Struggle Between Shabby and Chic

This is the first part of a series called “Summer in the City” in which I’ll be casually pretending to be Carrie Bradshaw and writing about my summer spent between three of the major cosmopolitan centers in the world: London, Paris and New York. Yes, you may call me Mrs. Worldwide now. 

In my last article (which was a lifetime ago, I knooow, I’m sorry!!), I wrote about my impostor syndrome and feeling like a sell-out because I had recently gotten a fancy content marketing internship instead of directly pursuing my journalistic ambitions. If anyone had told me back then that in this new job, not only would I get to work with amazing people and feel intellectually and creatively stimulated, but also go on actual work trips to exciting new destinations, I would’ve immediately swallowed the blue pill and tattooed “capitalism rules” on my forehead. Okay, maybe not, but you get my point. 

So what has an accomplished business woman a summer intern got to do in London, you’d ask? The short answer to this question is pretty simple: do a social media live coverage of EGG, the annual conference on human-centered AI that my company organizes across different cities. The long answer is the rest of this article. 

Crossing the Channel to Escape a Heatwave and Accidentally Bringing the Sun to London

Despite having multiple friends there and living only a two-hour train ride away, I had somehow managed to get through my 22 years on this planet without having set foot in London. Okay, this is technically a lie, since I did pass by it once on my way to Oxford. But trust me when I tell you, I actually thought the Tube was a Brit rock band until about a month ago, and my only perception of London Bridge was through the hit 2006 Fergie song. 

I guess the British capital had never really been on my bucket list until now. I mostly associated the city with 325 days of rain per year, rising knife crime and a bunch of depressed Love Actually character look-alikes talking about the weather and shagging. However, after a week of suffering in my tiny air-conditionless apartment in Paris during one of the worst canicules in French history, I was ready to take my chances with the knife attacks for some cool rainy weather. 

Little did I know that the heat would follow me all the way across the Channel. You know that silly dad joke that goes “I love summer in England. Last year it was on a Wednesday”? Well, this year it was a wet hot English summer in London (and by “wet hot”, I mean a solid 25°C with a light breeze) for the entire week I was there. Thanks, climate change!

Ah, I See You’re a City of Culture as Well

While even just getting out of Paris and staying at a nice air-conditioned hotel room for a couple of days would’ve been a good deal at this point, I was actually able to combine business with pleasure and arrive in London the weekend before my work event. I stayed at a friend’s place, at a charming red-brick terraced house in Archway, in the north of London. While he was quite busy hustling lab practice and a late-night job at a downtown ramen place (like only a true Londoner can), I set out to explore the city by myself, in the hopes of getting some good instagrammable #solotravel content. 

I was in luck, since I had arrived just in time for the Friday Lates: the last Friday of each month, most of the biggest museums around the city stay open until late in the evening and host numerous free special exhibitions and events. So I put on my The Smiths Spotify playlist, hopped on a double-decker bus for the first time in my life and crossed the Thames, ready to immerse myself in high culture. 

What followed was a surprisingly calm walk along the South Bank, an impromptu tasting at a food market and a brief flirtation with the Tate Modern, where the free exhibit options were so many and all sounded so fascinating, that I couldn’t make up my mind and commit to any one of them. I finally gave up and settled for the V&A, short for Victoria and Albert, one of the world’s leading art and design museums.  

Who’d Know that Chatting With Strangers is not Frowned Upon in Some Places?

While the edgy-sounding “FOOD: Bigger Than the Plate” exhibit I chose was highly instagrammable yet overall underwhelming, my night at the V&A turned out to be so much more than I’d hoped for. I was sitting by the fountain in the museum courtyard and swiping through insta filters, when it suddenly hit me: what was I doing? This isn’t what solo travel is supposed to be like! What’s the point of being in one of the world’s most famous cultural hubs, if you don’t actually talk to the people and experience culture first-hand?

Living in Paris, I had gotten used to the most acceptable form of talking to strangers being saying “bonjour” in the elevator and then proceeding to awkwardly avoid eye contact for the rest of the ride. But this was London, things had to be different here. And so, I gathered all my courage and actually did it – I struck a conversation with a couple of random strangers! 

My victims of choice turned out to be two really cool Northern Irish guys. We ended up getting drinks from the V&A bar (yes, apparently they have bars in London museums!) and spending the whole evening talking about topics ranging from the history of haute couture to the Babe dot com fallout. We exchanged contacts and even though I don’t know if realistically we’d ever hang out again, I was happy to have overcome my social anxiety and to have met people I could have a real conversation with (to be honest, I was getting kinda tired of the Parisian crowd and the ça-va-ça-va-let’s-talk-about-obscure-French-cinema-and-nothing-else drill). 

What’s the point of being in one of the world’s most famous cultural hubs, if you don’t actually talk to the people and experience culture first-hand?

All in all, my first night of cultural exploration in London was a resounding success. And the best part? The guys gave me a long list of local insider tips and ideas of interesting places to visit, and more importantly, good food. 

Is This What a Melting Pot Tastes Like? Cause I’m Into It

Over the course of the next few days, I got a taste of real London. By this, I mean I got to taste a lot of cool inexpensive ethnic food. The degree of authenticity may have varied, but in any case London cuisine was much more diverse than anything I could get in Paris, where even *real* Asian restaurants usually don’t serve spicy food to cater to white Frenchies. 

The rest of my trip was characterized by a constant struggle between shabby and chic.

One of my favorite experiences was the Brick Lane market, where I had Chinese bao buns, Turkish-Indian fusion, and a smoothie, for a total of under 12 quid. The whole Brick Lane neighborhood, with its funky crafts shops and hidden vintage bookstores was a hipster paradise. The surroundings screamed “gentrification”, but I suppressed my white privilege guilt by marvelling at the city’s vivid celebration of Pride month and by accidentally taking part in a Bengali New Year festival. 

The rest of my trip was characterized by a constant struggle between shabby and chic. One minute I was drinking bad wine from the bottle and considering moving to a boat by the canal at Angel Station, the next I was sipping equally bad but 10 times more expensive wine and watching Fiddler on the Roof at the Playhouse Theatre. At one point I was scouting for the best street food options for under 5 pounds, next thing I know, I’m ordering a four-course meal on my company’s expense at a fancy Turkish restaurant (if you’ve read our blog before, you’d remember my obsession with Turkish food). 

Even the neighborhood where I was staying for my work conference seemed to exude this curious shabby-chic dichotomy. Squeezed between the corporate glitz of the City and the supposedly “dodgy” Whitechapel, I wasn’t sure what I should be more worried about: getting stabbed to death on my way home, or having to endure a conversation about stock bonds with another guest of the hotel. 

Luckily, neither of those things happened. Instead, it was right in this strange area that I stumbled upon one of the most exciting places in London – the Barbican, a contemporary performance art center, where I got to see a fascinating exhibit on AI and futurism (and later earned street cred by referencing it in multiple conversations at my own company’s AI conference). The center itself and the buildings surrounding it were remarkable sights on their own, combining brutalist architecture with a softening touch of flora that could make Kew Gardens turn green with jealousy (pun absolutely intended). 

At the end of the day, the chic element prevailed, as I ended my journey with champagne at a corporate after-party on a rooftop overlooking the Shard, the Gherkin, among other famous skyscrapers with bizarro names. Yet, if you asked me to go to Brick Lane again for those 1-quid bao buns, I’d be jumping on a Eurostar train back to London faster than you can spell “gentrification”.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the “Summer in the City” series, in which I’m crossing the Atlantic to continue my shameless participation in gentrification, this time in NYC

Hipster cafés and Democracy Talk in Prague

Maintaining a steady blog content while also applying for university is something I am objectively bad at and I hereby apologise for the long absence and unfulfilled new year’s promises. But for those of you who are still with me, I’m going to share one of my most memorable travels so far in one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to – Prague.

Why was I in the magnificent capital of the Czech Republic? Well, you all know that, being Bulgarian, it is my second nature to exploit European money and naturally, most of my experiences outside the motherland are financed by the EU – this one is no exception. 

pay me bitch better have my money GIF

Jokes aide, I became part of an international campaign, which aims to raise the turnout of young people at the upcoming European Parliamentary elections (May, 2019) and contribute to lessening the political apathy all over Europe. So one can imagine that my trip was filled with political debates, democracy praise, long discussions of voting habits, corruption and, weirdly enough, Maltese politics. However, all of that is probably a topic of another post – now let’s talk Prague. 

Prague

Photo by @alemarmur –

 

A capital city often compared to Vienna and Budapest, I found Prague even more stunning than the last two. Okay, I might have already mentioned how easily impressed I can sometimes be by cute, well-preserved Western architecture, like I was in Utrecht, but damn Prague is on a whole new level. It doesn’t take you that much time to notice that the city is a one of a kind museum of architecture – you can see Romanesque buildings as well as Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and literally every architectural style you can google. That said, Prague’s charm is undeniable, inexplicable and absolutely everywhere. From the beautiful cobblestone streets, historical buildings and cathedrals all the way to the hipster cafés, co-working spaces and I guess bars (I was on a ‘work trip’ so there were no pub crawls for me, but you get the idea).

A clock, a wall and a bridge 

I mainly got to explore the city either in the super early mornings or in the evenings. While that’s the main reason why you won’t be reading about any museums (they all close at 6 pm), the schedule allowed me to see Prague without the huge flow of tourists. My newly-found partners in crime and I, led by an EU-obessed Czech activist, walked around the old town numerous times each one finding something new to admire. 

The famous astronomical clock was an original and eye-pleasing thing to see, but more interesting was to find out its history/legend – apparently in the 1400s the Czechs were seeking attention and wanted something cool that only they could have and so they ordered the clock, but then after it was done they overreacted by blinding the clockmaster so that he could never repeat his work. And I though Bulgarians are extra, am I right?

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@s.c.brancaleone

Another place worth to be mentioned is definitely the John Lennon Wall in Mala Strana. It represents the ‘cool’ yet still touristy side of Prague and further, my experience there was accompanied by a street singer who in my view couldn’t sing that well, but was awkward enough to be hipster and his chill repertoire actually matched the atmosphere.

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After all, Charles Bridge convincingly won in my personal ranking of tourist attractions. I know, I know – that’s the most famous one and I’m basic, but I have an affinity for bridges that should never be underestimated and in my honest opinion of a ‘highly educated bridge connoisseur’, Charles Bridge might just be the prettiest one in Europe. 

Sightseeing vs hipsterseeing 

In the time when I wasn’t out admiring Prague’s architecture or in – discussing how to reinvent young people’s faith in democracy and rule of law, you could have found me in one particular hipster not-so-overpriced café – EMA espresso bar. I can say that for those 5 days spent in Prague EMA became me and my multiculti friends’ second home. We went there to grab coffee in the morning then drank tea instead of having lunch and after 6 pm…well, I think we sometimes had another coffee. Just like us, ЕМА was also multiculti, which means the baristas actually spoke English ! Plus, it was less overpriced than expected and as I said, the EU paid for us to go to Prague so we could afford to treat ourselves and spend an extra euro on that heavenly mint tea.

As far as the hipster culture is concerned, Café Jedna, which was right next to our hotel deserves an honorable mention. We went there on our last day and I found it was aesthetically pleasing and definitely fitted in the hipster category with its atmosphere being somehow super cosy even though the place was spacious. And something that’s always a plus – it had some  pretty delicious vegetarian and vegan options.

All in all, Prague won my heart with its history, charm and EMA. An analogy – if my home town of Sofia was a guy it would heave been kind of the fuckboy who incorporates architectural styles that should never be mixed and who obtains its charm mainly from the contemporary youth culture, but Prague would most likely have been that good guy who has style, is well-mannered, cultural, classy and knows stuff about history, but ultimately you know he’s most probably gay. Which is my way of saying that as a proven fag hag I found my perfect match. I think I could never get enough of just aimlessly walking around its old town streets, admire its architecture or just drink a cup of mint tea in a hipster café. So please, Prague, be my gay best friend.

 

 

P.s. I can’t portray an accurate image of my Czech experience if I don’t give a special shout out to all of the amazing people who were also funded by the EU to drink tea* – love you, guys

 

*to save the European project of peace

NИYA – the Bulgarian Artist You Want to Hear

First things first – in 2019 we’ve decided to talk not only about our travel experiences, but focus a little bit more on lifestyle and pretty much everything we consider to be worthwhile and potentially appealing – from book reviews, zero waste tips all the way to interviewing new hip artists… That said, may I present you Niya Petrova (NИYA) – the winner of The Voice of Bulgaria 2018 who just announced her first single “By myself”. In fact, I met her 2 years ago when she was singing at a friend’s prom and since then it turns out she has adopted the ‘why not’ mentality, which led her to auditioning and eventually winning The Voice! 

What’s her style? Well, the way she put it: “I would describe it as constantly changing. I get hooked on different genres depending on my current mood. These days though I feels it more like soul. “

 

“I get inspired by everything – starting from people, places, my travels, my work. I believe everything around us can be inspiring in the most amazing ways, if we only give it a chance.”

She told me that she’s happy to draw inspiration from her work as well. Apart from singing in bars since she was about 17, Niya works for two charity organisations – “Probudnik”, which focuses on supporting kids in risk, and “Single Step” – a well-know non-profit supporting the LGBT youth in Bulgaria. Inspiring, ain’t she? 

Her debut song “By myself” was shot in Jordan and isn’t the typical song produced for a commercial singing competition winner. Unlike many mainstream pop pieces, Niya’s single is authentic, enchanting and quite fresh, I would say. 

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“There hasn’t been a moment when I felt some kind of pressure to change who I am thanks to all the people around me. They were the ones who always supported me to be myself. Not staying true to my style and what I envision is not an option. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be real.”

That’s what she told me when I asked her about how she managed to stay true to herself… For Niya it seems unquestionable (and that’s how it should be), but most listeners who have encountered Bulgarian pop would understand my genuine appreciation of her rare wilfulness. She’s precisely the type of Bulgarian artist I would brag about to international friends and readers.

With “By myself” she wanted to show “what and how exactly goes through my mind at the time being” and somehow it just worked.

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“It’s great to see how the casual humming of a melody, some words written down and some thought put into from great musicians, transforms into a song.”

When I asked her what does she think should be next, she said “Only good things are coming! I hope to sing more original pieces and even dare to write herself, as well as more performances and… more from everything let’s put it that way!”

All and all, Niya is the type of person we need in the Bulgarian music scene! So, go listen to her new song and The Voice performances 😉

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2018: A Year of Almost Adventures (Part 2)

In case you’re still in the mood for reflecting on 2018 (as I will probably be till June), then you might want to get a short break from your to-do-listing, goal-setting and new dieting in order to enjoy my briefed 2018 adventures around the world. Even though I always want to travel and explore more, as I look back I realise that I did, in fact, visit more cities in that year than I have in any other year of my life… So, I’ll share with you the ones I was too busy/lazy to write about at the time being – enjoy. 

Check out Nancy’s part one of the 2018 recap here

St. Petersburg, Russia

Our first stop finds itself in mother Russia. It might sound familiar as at the time I managed to put my stay in Moscow into written form, but St. Petersburg is another story. ‘Piter’, as many young people are used to calling it, was absolutely beautiful, deserving of all of the hipster praise, noticeably more European-like than Moscow and surprisingly English-speaking. Visiting the Peterhof Palace, I got to indulge in my Romanovs obsession that I’ve been suppressing since early childhood. But by drinking coffee on rooftops and overeating at a Georgian restaurant called Kazan Mangal, I believe I truly vibed with the city despite not being stylish enough to meet its standards. Thank you, next.

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yes, I do resemble Russian royalty, thanks for noticing 

Athens, Greece

The summer of 2018 started with a short trip to Athens, which was meant to mark my 18th birthday. My friends and I decided to celebrate that, but also the end of the school year by doing something refreshing and as traveling with friends is always a good idea, we chose the cheapest and nearest destination available, #squadgoals. Being one of these rare Bulgarians that do not vacation on the Greek seaside, I actually surprised everybody by stating that it was my first visit in Greece ever. However, I found Athens to be exactly what I needed – pretty, ancient and hot. What I’ll remember most is probably how I hiked to the Acropolis on platforms and the magnificent view from there – truly one of a kind. Long story short, my friends and I, we wandered around the ancient town then went to a shisha bar and ate gyros. Would repeat. 

Perpignan, France

After my trip to Athens, I worked all summer in order to complete my #DiscoverEU journey  in September with a high school friend – Alex. For those of you who don’t know that’s a EU-funded initiative that gives many 18 years olds a free Interrail Pass, allowing them to travel for free by European trains. That said, we started from Paris and then traveled to a small French city near the Spanish border named Perpignan. Although it was, in my view, more Spanish than French and definitely the most random of all our destinations, it turned out to be super colourful and with an undeniable southern charm. Plus, despite being dirty af, the city was generally picturesque and the locals were welcoming, especially the two Bulgarian gypsies that gave us directions! So, if you’re passing by Perpignan I definitely recommend going there, but like, not for more than a day – it has a limited sightseeing potential. 

Barcelona, Spain 

Speaking of sightseeing potential, the one in our next stop – Barcelona was unbounded. Alex and I spend there about 4 days and as effective as we tried to be, one can never get enough. The first day was rainy, so I learned Barcelona’s charm does not hide only in the sunny weather. On the second day, we rented bikes and, as basic as we were, listened to Ed Sheeran’s Barcelona while exploring the city. After that, I lost the chronology, but we went to a chill local beach outside the capital of Catalonia, drank lots of sangria, met another Bulgarian gypsy and I personally became Gaudi’s biggest fan. Before we know it, we found ourselves on the next train station heading to Valencia. 

Valencia

Valencia quickly became my favourite. Our Airbnb was amazing and as central as it gets. The city itself was the perfect combination of typical seaside town and stunning architecture. Ah, the palms and the Gothic buildings… but mainly the palms. I am an exotic persona now, just so you know. Moreover, if I’m not getting it wrong, we drank a thing called horchata, which was a Valencian healthy non-alcoholic drink that you must try if you visit the city. Overall, it was the most vacation-like destination that was perfect both for the ‘I worked all summer, I deserve this” mentality and for providing me with strength and a positive attitude to face the new school year (my last one).

Madrid, Spain

Last but not least, we finished off by spending a day and a half in Madrid. Obviously, it was not nearly enough to explore it to its fullest potential, but still, I was charmed. For the Bulgarians reading this, I can put it that way: if Barcelona was the Spanish Varna, Valencia – Sozopol, then Madrid was Sofia. It was objectively a cool and fun place to be especially thanks to its big city vibe. Alex and I spent the last night of our Spanish crusade by going to… a 50’s-themed American diner, showcasing globalisation at its finest. Don’t judge us, we ate enough paellas and drank enough sangrias to feel authentic. 

 

I hope you’re as happy with your traveling experiences from 2018 as I am with mine! If not, hey, heads up, you’ve got 2019 ahead.

Read Part 1 here