Category Archives: Shopping

The Sunday Market: Marché Forville, Cannes

DSCF0597Last month I had the great pleasure of traveling to Cannes for work. I spent a great deal of time and effort preparing myself mentally for the fact that there was a very good chance that I would spend the entirety of my trip actually working–a thought that pained me beyond words. So when I booked my arrival on Saturday night and realized I would have an entire day on Sunday to myself before the week began, I vowed to make the most of it.

One of my all time favorite activities while traveling is to wander the aisles of local grocery stores, or better yet, the local market. I can’t think of any other place that can offer such a solid dose of local flavor to satisfy all the senses, and the Marché Forville, Cannes’ main produce market, is no exception. I actually didn’t expect much of it, knowing that Cannes is not particularly known for its rustic charm, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I walked from the glitzy but dated area along La Crosiettte where I was staying, to the old town of Le Suquet on Sunday morning and was rewarded with a super pleasant covered marketplace.

I don’t know if I have ever been to a market with so many beautiful smells happening all at once–basil, roses, fresh berries, melons, and tomatoes–it was actually almost overwhelming, but in the best possible way. The market was certainly bustling on Sunday around 9am, and I would totally recommend going at peak hours to see it in all its glory. Aside from fruits and vegetables, there was also a generous selection of cheese, meats (both fresh and cured), salts and spices, teas, and so many beautiful flowers! I ended up buying some roses to cheer up my apartment since I couldn’t resist, as well as an absolutely bountiful lunch spread. While none of the sellers I bought from spoke any English, everyone was super friendly and receptive to my pointing and gestures, which was much appreciated.

If you are at the market and looking for a little more immediate sustenance, there was also a stand or two selling prepared food, including the very Provençal socca, but for anything more substantial than that you are better off going to one of the couple of charming cafes that surround the market square, where you can enjoy a nice café crème and croissant with your people watching (or a nice glass of rosé!). Also located on the square was a boulangerie that was able to satisfy my morning need for a hot baguette on a daily basis during my trip (as well as the occasional need for some viennoiserie of the custard and chocolate-filled variety).

The market is open daily with the exception of Mondays, when it’s still open, but selling antiques and knick-knacks instead of produce. I am a big time lover of flea markets and brocantes but would take the produce version of this market over the antique one every day. In a city like Cannes where everything is rather expensive and pretty modern, Marché Forville was a breath of very French, very fresh air. It was so nice to get away from some of the foofier, fancier parts of town to enjoy something a little more charming, and in a trip filled with some pretty unreal moments, I still think a simple visit to this market on a Sunday morning was one of my favorite experiences.

More info here.

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Mexico City: Día de los Muertos in San Ángel

San Ángel, originally uploaded by jhoolko.

My favorite ofrenda from the whole trip near the Bazaar Sábado in San Ángel.

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Practical Souvenirs: Shopping for Peshtamals in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

My trip to Turkey was a quick one.

In planning our trip to Lisbon from New York, the only airline offering a fare that was even close to reasonably priced was Turkish Airlines, and, being a Turkish carrier, the majority of their international flights include a layover in Istanbul. Now, Istanbul is most definitely not on the way to Lisbon when you are coming from New York. In fact, it is almost laughably out of the way, but in the interest of saving about $400 on the airfare and getting in a short trip to Istanbul, we decided to take the plunge.

Our layover only gave us 21 hours in the city, so we just decided to see the best known sites and save the rest for another trip. After being there for less than a day I can now say that I will most definitely be back, because even the little taste that we got of the place was incredible.

After a ridiculously short night of sleep in a hot, smelly hostel, and a very early wake-up call facilitated by the azan of the Blue Mosque and some very noisy seagulls, we took off to make our rounds. Our first stop was a quick run-through of aforementioned Mosque, followed by a trip to Hagia Sophia, which was shockingly beautiful. Then we had an obligatory visit to the Spice Market, where we stuffed ourselves with free samples of Turkish delight and some fabulous, sweet apple tea before heading over to the main event. The Grand Bazaar.

I feel like I wanted to go to the Grand Bazaar before I ever really knew what it was. When I was little, the idea of a bazaar, any bazaar, was so exciting and so exotic that I always fantasized about the possibility of exploring one and picking up all kinds of wonderful things to bring home.

Unfortunately, after a week in Portugal where I eagerly snapped up all kinds of ham, canned fish, seasoned salt, and other goodies, I had very little room left in my one bag. In the end, that didn’t stop me, but the initial hope of finding the perfect compact souvenir from Turkey led me to a few stalls selling these:

After a bit of poking around, I learned that these are peshtamals (peştamal in Turkish), or hammam towels. They are basically vey soft, very thin towels that come in a variety of beautiful colors and shapes, and they can be used for just about anything, from actual towel to scarf to beach blanket to tablecloth. They are made to be portable, lightweight, absorbent, and fast drying, which makes them awesome for all kinds of things.

One of the most practical souvenirs I ever brought home was a picnic blanket that I bought on a whim in Paris and now use ALL THE TIME like six years later, so I thought this could be a very useful gift to myself. It also is overall a very practical travel item as it can be used for a million different things without taking up too much room in your suitcase. I’ve gotten used to traveling with some kind of lightweight cloth that can be used as a towel or blanket while traveling, starting first with a cheap sarong, then graduating to a more durable microfiber camp towel (quite possibly in one of the best purchases I’ve ever made), and it’s shocking how convenient it can be to have something like that with you on the road. I love my REI towel, but a peshtemal is a much more fashionable alternative, and almost as compact. If there is any possibility of having a beach visit or an impromptu picnic, either at home or while traveling, I love to have something like this in my bag.

I ended up buying a lovely, soft, white and light blue one and my friend picked up two more in other colors. They packed down into nothing and were the perfect soft blanket on the lonnnnng plane ride back to San Francisco. Even better, they were cheap! About $6 or $7 each, which, for the quality that we got, is a lot better than what you can find online in the states, though there seem to be some good deals available on Etsy.

My only regret is that I didn’t get more! I ended up buying a set of actual Turkish cotton bath towels that were not very practical for packing into a tiny suitcase, but I probably should have invested in a few more peshtemals instead. Right now I’m using mine as a throw in my bedroom, mainly because I don’t want to get the pretty little thing dirty, but I might have to bust it out and use it as an actual towel come summer.

Istanbul was absolutely overflowing with wonderful things that could be brought home as gifts, but if you’re looking for something easy and practical that’s not a food item, a peshtamal is the way to go! For more information on where to get them while at the Grand Bazaar, see here or here, or just look around for a while, you’re bound to see them all over the place.

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Oktoberfest: Shopping for Dirndls in Munich

Last year some friends and I planned a trip to Munich, to go to Oktoberfest. We had a lot of questions while planning the trip, most of which were answered through the services of Google, Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forum, and the incredibly helpful but oddly named ToyTown Germany Forum. Honestly, if you are planning a trip to Germany, or even better, if you’re moving there, that website is incredibly helpful. It’s an English-language site maintained by expats living in the country and it’s an absolute goldmine for visitors.

Still, despite all of our research and excellently well-laid plans, I never felt like I had the answer to one of my most burning questions: To wear a dirndl or not wear a dirndl??

If you don’t know what a dirndl is, it’s a traditional Bavarian costume, based on historical Alpine apparel that is now largely worn in Germany during festivals and celebrations, such as Oktoberfest. You can find that out easily enough through a simple Google search, and you can find out much more about all the beautiful varieties you can buy in Munich, how expensive they are, and see pictures of attractive German girls all decked out. But what about the American girls? Would it be obnoxious to show up all Bavarian-ed out when I’m not Bavarian at all?

A girl, decked out in full dirndl, watching surfers ride the waves of the Isar River in Munich’s Englischer Garten

I was traveling with two guys and two girls and the different sexes took different approaches to this question. The males decided to go for t-shirts with suspenders silkscreened on like these, and the girls decided to wait it out and try our luck in Munich.

An Oktoberfest-appropriate t-shirt and one of the most amazing charcuterie plates I’ve ever eaten!

Based on what I had heard, there was a dangerous chance that we were going to get to Munich, find all of the trachten shops completely cleared out, and 500 euro dirndls as our only option (which would not have been an option at all considering our budgets). What we found instead was an abundance of shops selling dirndls of all colors, styles, and a huge range in quality and price.

We had set our budget at around $150, which ended up being spot on because there were a lot of 99€ specials going on for Oktoberfest. We were there opening weekend and had no problem finding a great deal of variety in all the stores we stopped at. Most of the smaller specialty stores had dirndls of higher quality, more intricate styles, and more “designer” trachten (think punk-rock dirndls, etc), but at 400€ plus for a complete look, those were way out of our price range.

A man in trachten drives a horse-drawn cart in the Oktoberfest parade through Munich.

The goldmine for us ended up being the department store C&A. It’s a chain that can be found around Europe and is similar to an American Sears or JCPenney. They have a huge trachten department with specials from 49€ up, with most prices hovering around 79€ or 99€. I picked up a red gingham knee-length number with a red apron (pictured below in the middle on the bottom row), and my two companions opted for the slightly cheaper mini dirndls in light blue and a natural tan color. The selection is great and it seems like THE place to go for tourists looking for an affordable outfit, but the quality is just not going to compare to what you can find in the specialty trachten shops. They had great options for men around the same price point, and my friend, whose silkscreened T ended up being too small for him, found a great button up shirt with fabric suspenders sewn right onto the shirt! Bottom line, go to a place like C&A if you’re looking for an Oktoberfest outfit that won’t break the bank but will also be similar to a higher-end polyester Halloween costume. If you really want a beautiful, hand-made dirndl to bring home, be ready to drop some coin. Also if you expect to spend less than $50 on a complete outfit, it may be best to get something online before you leave, and to start shopping now before prices get inflated for the Weisn.

So we had found our dirndls. Great. Now, was it cool to wear them? We had our question answered pretty much as soon as we left the house on the first day of the festival. ABSOLUTELY! An incredible majority of people are fully decked out for Oktoberfest, and it’s not just limited to the festival grounds. You see lederhosen in restaurants, dirndls at the grocery store, and all kinds of trachten-accessories all around the city at this time (I assume you don’t see it other times of the year, but I have nothing to base that on!). I felt much more involved in the festivities because I was wearing a dirndl, and I never once felt silly for deciding to don one, even though I wasn’t German. Everyone is so happy and positive and celebratory that they could care less that you’re not German. I would highly recommend wearing whatever degree of dirndl you can get your hands on for this experience. It makes it so much more unique and wonderful and it’s a really great accessory to bring back. Pictured below are some styles you can find at C&A, some you can find online, and in the top right corner, an example of a non-polyester, high quality piece. Accessories for these getups also abound, so if a full-on dirndl isn’t in your price range, there are always other options out there, like a crazy hat or super flattering leather shorts!

Dirndls for Oktoberfest

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Want List: Map Pillows from mybeardedpigeon

I am always looking for ways to incorporate travel into my daily life when I can’t actually get away. I’ve been eying these map pillows on Etsy for quite some time. The Antarctica one is a favorite. Unfortunately they match neither my house nor my budget, but for anyone looking to incorporate a personalized memento of a special place in the world, these could be quite lovely in the right space.

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Carry On: Vacation-Worthy Tote Bags

In June, I went to Portugal and Turkey. We decided to fly Turkish airlines because it was way cheaper than any other airline. Actually, I never would have gone on this trip had I not found that affordable airfare, so thank you, Turkish Airlines for making this vacation happen! But considering our very short layover in Istanbul on the way to Lisbon (and yes I do know that Istanbul is not on the way from New York to Lisbon…gotta save money, people!!), and the fact that I was unfamiliar with Turkish Airlines outside of the terrible reviews they receive online, I was a bit nervous about our baggage making it along with us (more on my experience with the airline later). I packed everything I could into a domestic-sized carry-on wheelie, but alas, it was rejected when I tried to check in at JFK. After a brief catty exchange with the attendant (sorry, attendant), we boarded, and our bags were promptly lost.

Luckily we got everything back on our second day in Lisbon, but after being there for two days without all of my clothes, makeup, toiletries, and other personal effects, I realized two things: 1. I do not need as much stuff as I thought while I travel and 2. The stuff that you actually need should be carried with you, and chances are it can fit easily into a tote bag. The tote bag I brought on my trip, which cost me a whopping $2.95 at H&M three years ago, was an absolute lifesaver on this trip. Lightweight, collapsible, and cheap enough that I didn’t mind getting sand/food/street dirt all over it, it was the perfect daily carryall when I wanted to tote around my DSLR and everything else that I “need” on a daily basis. I’ll detail all of those necessities in a later post, but for now, here’s a roundup of vacation-worthy tote bags of all styles, shapes, and sizes.

Vacation-Worthy Tote Bags

Clockwise from top left: Everlane Striped Tote ($35), Thursday Friday Birkin Tote, Similar Here ($65), Madewell Transport Tote ($168), Rennes Riley Tote ($220), Zara Ombre Tote, Similar Here (on sale now in stores for $70), Ann Taylor Loft ($4.88!! Sold out, but there is a DIY here)
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