A Day Trip to Annecy, France

Annecy, France Travel Guide - Pearl Girl

Prepare for photo overload. This post marks my last from my October 2017 trip to Europe, and we’re ending with one of my favorite cities from the visit: Annecy, France. Located not too far from the Swiss border and about a two hour train ride from Lyon, we decided to make a day trip of it since we’d be in the area.

Annecy is a place you visit for the beauty. The city sits on a lake surrounded by mountains — we’re getting into Alps territory, after all. And it’s not just nature. The buildings are adorable, candy-colored and quintessentially European, and between them runs several winding canals, making it something of the French take on Venice. It’s not chock full of museums or major tourist sights, but it what it does have is a whole lot of charm.

Annecy, France Travel Guide - Pearl Girl

After catching a morning train in Lyon, we arrived in Annecy around 11 and headed straight for the (very picturesque) city center. Like I said, Annecy isn’t a city known for its museums, but rather what’s outside. We spent some time just wandering the streets here, and since it was Saturday, there were lots of stalls open selling paintings, rugs and other items.

Since we arrived close to the afternoon, we started getting hungry after a walk around the city center. Because Annecy is so close to Switzerland, Swiss tastes are very much reflected in the menus of their restaurants — meaning there’s lots of cheese fondue to be had! Cheese fondue is pretty much my favorite food in the entire world, so I insisted we go to a restaurant that had it on the menu. We ended up at Ô Savoyard, which was decorated in a delightfully kitschy Swiss style, sort of like an over-the-top chalet. I, of course, had the fondue and it was incredible.

Annecy, France Travel Guide - Pearl Girl

Annecy, France Travel Guide - Pearl Girl
Lake Annecy is without a doubt the city’s crown jewel, and on the day we were there it honestly couldn’t have been more beautiful. We bought tickets for a boat ride, thinking it would be about 30 minutes, but it ended up being well over an hour. Even though it was longer than we were expecting, it was really lovely. You go through the mountains and with it being October, they were covered in gorgeous fall leaves. A must-do if you visit the city.

The lake feeds into this canal, situated just off the shore of the lake. It was one of my favorite parts of the city: Views of the lake and the mountains on one side, and lined with trees on the other.

The sunset has to have been one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The sky was painted in hues of pink and purple. I absolutely love the way it reflected on the water in the canal in the last photo above.

Annecy is seriously one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life, and I highly, highly recommend stopping there for the day if you ever get the opportunity! As I have traveled throughout Europe, I’ve found that a lot of my favorite cities are the smaller, more picturesque ones. I loved Salzburg, Austria, St. Andrews, Scotland, and of course, Bruges, Belgium. Annecy definitely fits within this mold and has been added to to my list of all-time favorite cities!

I hope you’ve enjoyed following along on my trip through London, Belgium and France last October. If you’ve missed any of my recaps, I’ll link them here: London, Brussels, Bruges and Lyon!

Next up on the travel recap front — Southeast Asia!

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A Long Weekend in Lyon, France

Lyon France Travel Guide, What to Do in Lyon France - Pearl Girl

France is without a doubt one of my favorite countries on earth. (At least, ones that I’ve already visited!) And while I’d say my most dominant obsession is anglophilia, there’s definitely a bit of a francophile in me, too. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris several times, to the point where I feel pretty comfortable navigating myself around the city and have favorite spots I like to visit when I’m in town. I’ve seen more of the country throughout my trips over the years: I’ve been on a tour of the Loire Vallery, visited Strasbourg and Giverny, did a few days in Nice, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and even did a day trip to Chamonix when I was studying abroad.

But still, I feel like I’m only scratched the surface when it comes to what there is to see in France. (In fact, I’d love to rent a car and drive around the country for a month, stopping at every chateau I can!) And with a friend living in Paris for six months last year, it seemed like the perfect time to visit. I took the train from Brussels to Paris, where I met up with my friend (and another visiting friend!) at her apartment. I just spent a day in Paris before heading to Lyon on Friday morning, the majority of which was spent either in line for or at the Christian Dior Couturier du Rêve exhibit at Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Sadly, it just closed, but it was incredible and well worth the two hour wait!

On Friday morning, we caught an early train to Lyon direct from Paris. It was an easy two hour trip on the TGV (France’s high speed train) and we were in the city before noon. We stayed in this AirBnB in the first arrondissement, and I couldn’t recommend it more. Not only was it beautifully decorated, it was well located and in a large building, so it felt very safe!

After a wonderful lunch at a restaurant, near our apartment (sorry, I can’t remember the name!), we set off on a walk through the city. Two rivers — the Rhône and the Saône, run through the city. Our apartment sat in the spot of land in between the two rivers, so first we went left towards the Saône. The sun was shining and it was absolutely beautiful. The river is lined with candy-colored buildings and it just looks so perfectly European.

On the other side of the Saône is my favorite area of Lyon, Vieux Lyon, or the city’s old quarter. It’s a bit touristy, with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops around, but the architecture is just gorgeous. Cobblestone streets lined with yellow, orange and tan buildings. We spent a couple hours just wandering the streets here!

That night, we went for a very traditional Lyonnaise meal at Le Café Des Fédérations, a bouchon in the city. Eating dinner at a bouchon is a quintessential Lyon experience, and one I wanted to have, but I honestly can’t say I was a huge fan of it. It’s pretty affordable, at 20 euros for a three course meal, but the food just isn’t really to my taste. It’s basically consists of meats with very thick, heavy sauces. I had the sausage with red wine sauce and I just didn’t love it. However, it could be more your thing, and it is very Lyonnaise, so I think it’s worth a shot to try it!

We spent the next day in Annecy, about two hours away and closer to the Swiss border. That’ll be my last post recapping this trip, so for now I’ll skip to our second day in Lyon. We started off with brunch, which as I learned, is more of a buffet affair in France. It’s pretty epic — lots of cheese, quiches, pastries and breads. We also paid a visit to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a food hall filled with lots of stalls to visit. We just got macarons, but it would be a cool spot to sit down for a quick meal or afternoon snack if you have a chance!

Next we headed back over to the Saône side to take the funicular up to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, a massive and beautiful white church at the top of a hill. Also at the top of the hill are the remains of a Roman theater. And as you might imagine, the views from the top of the hill are pretty incredible, too!

A note: We used Lyon’s metro system throughout the day, and it was fairly easy (aside from one mistake switch — make sure you pay attention to what direction train you’re getting on!) to use and very affordable. The funicular is a part of the metro system, although you do have to buy a different ticket to access it.

My friend Alison had to leave to head back to Paris that afternoon, so I went off to the Institut Lumière, a museum about the Lumière brothers, who invented the film camera and essentially, movies as we know it. I’m sure this museum would have been great if you spoke French, but as my high school French is rusty (to say the least) I really couldn’t fully appreciate it. They do offer audio guides in English, but I just prefer to read so it wasn’t the ideal museum experience.

I actually found Lyon to be more unfriendly to English speakers than almost any other city I’ve visited. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it was clearly just less touristy than a city like Paris.

On my last morning in Lyon, I visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, which is sometimes nicknamed the Mini Louvre. They have a gorgeous collection of paintings and sculptures, and it didn’t take too long — about two hours — for me to get through. I then had an incredible lunch at L’Entrecote. They serve only steak and fries, and oh boy, they were the best steak and fries of my life! Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the city.

Another thing to see in Lyon: All the passageways and frescos that dot the streets! They feel like something out of another era, and it’s a cool way to spend an hour or so poking your head around to get a peek at them. Lyon is truly beautiful, and a wonderful alternative if you’re looking to see a bit more of France!

Next up, Annecy!

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How to Handle a Long-Haul Flight: Products

Best Products for Long Flights - Pearl Girl

ONE Silk Eye Mask TWO Lip Balm

THREE MZ Wallace Tote FOUR Lululemon Align Pants

FIVE Cozy Socks SIX Noise Cancelling Headphones

SEVEN Ostrich Light Travel Pillow EIGHT Cashmere Travel Wrap

NINE Laptop Case TEN Earbuds

ELEVEN Truffle Travel Case TWELVE S’well Bottle

Over my years I’ve traveling, I’ve done quite a few lengthy days (and nights!) on planes. Especially at the end of 2017, when I did six transatlantic or transpacific flights, including the longest day of travel I’ve ever had in my life. And with that, I’ve learned a lot about how to survive a long-haul flight without A. ruining the first few days of the trip you’re about to go on or B. wanting to die. As such, I wanted to share my advice for handling long flights. I decided to separate this information into two posts, because I think what products to bring along only tell half the story when it comes to traveling long distances.

Products, of course, are essential. My mantra when it comes to long flights is to make the experience as easy on yourself as possible. To me, that means focusing on two things: Making yourself as comfortable as possible, and making sure you’ve got plenty to occupy your time.

As for comfort, it obviously all starts with how you’re dressed. I never used to undersetand the Lululemon obsession — I thought their products were overpriced. And while they’re definitely expensive, a few pairs of align pants are worth the investment. You seriously feel naked (but in the best way!) and now I really won’t travel in anything else. I snagged a cashmere travel wrap during last year’s Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and I seriously wore it constantly during my first trip to Europe last fall. It serves as a blanket (one that’s way softer than whatever the airlines are giving you!) and then once you arrive, a very warm, very chic scarf. On top, layers are key. I usually wear one of the jackets I’m taking with me on top (but stow it under my seat) and a cozy sweater or cardigan. This waffle tee has become a go-to of mine as well — it’s thick but still cozy and breathable.

They’ll likely serve you food on the plane (unless you’re flying Norwegian Air or another budget airline!) but still, either bring a snack from home or pick something up at the airport. You can also buy a big water bottle or bring one of your own, like a S’well. The perk to the S’well is you’ll be able to use it throughout your trip. Another comfort essential? Lip balm! Literally, having dry lips on a flight that you still have another six hours to go on is TORTURE. Save yourself the heartache.

And then there’s the not-so-little task of occupying yourself. Thankfully, modern airplanes have solved a lot of this conundrum with their touch screens with dozens of movie options. However, older planes are still in circulation. Last fall on my flight from Paris to New York, my plane only had the screens that hang from the ceiling. In that case, come prepared. Download a movie or two onto your laptop beforehand as well as several books onto your phone, iPad or Kindle. Options are key here people!

But when it comes to how to spend your time on a flight — particularly an east coast to Europe flight — you’re going to want to sleep for most of the flight, if not the entire thing. On a long flight, you’re going to want to sleep as much as you can. This travel pillow makes it so much easier to do just that. It blocks out light and (some) noise. And, it gives you a cushion so you have something soft between you and the plane wall. (Anyone else a window seat lover for this reason?!) At the very least, make sure you have an eye mask to block out the light in your carry-on.

And where do you put all this stuff? My favorite carry-on is the MZ Wallace Medium Metro Tote. It has lots of interior pockets, is very spacious and has a zipper. Although if you’re going on a really long trip that involves a lot of moving around, I’d also recommend a North Face backpack, as it’s easier to carry around heavy weight on two shoulders rather than one. (I still have mine from high school!) Sometimes, I’ll bring a smaller crossbody bag with me to have my essentials — passport, wallet, phone — close and easy to access.

Also, a note on passport cases. I use one, and while they can be very chic and make for a nice ‘gram, they’re actually incredibly unpractical. You constantly need to remove it from the case to go through customs, security, etc. I’d love one day to invest in this travel wallet as it’s chic and looks very practical, but I have yet to take the plunge on that purchase!

Any questions — or any products you’d recommend yourself? Let’s talk in the comments below! And stay tuned for my advice and tips on surviving long flights, to come later this week!

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A Day Trip to Bruges, Belgium

When I planned my three days in Belgium, I knew I needed a day in Bruges. Nicknamed the “Venice of the North,” it’s a very small city (only 117,260 people — a little over double the size of my hometown!) but an absolutely beautiful one. My mom and brother went here for spring break my freshman year of college (our breaks didn’t line up so I couldn’t come with) and ever since seeing their photos, I’ve been dying to make the trip myself. And even after nearly seven years of anticipation, Bruges lived up to the hype.

Bruges Belgium Travel Guide - Pearl Girl

Bruges Belgium Travel Guide - Pearl Girl

It’s about an hour on the train from Brussels to Bruges, and I booked mine on Rail Europe (though it was a Thalys train) about two months in advance. However, I later learned this was seriously unnecessary — you can just buy them from a kiosk at the station! The tickets can also be used for any train, and there’s tons that run along this route so if you miss one, there will be another in about 15 to 20 minutes. On the way there, I walked to the train station (Gare Nord) from my hotel near the Grand Place, which was about a 25 minute walk. But on the way back, I stayed on the train and went to the Gare Centrale, which was right near the Grand Place.

Once you get into Bruges, it’s a quick walk from the station to to the city center. And a gorgeous walk, at that. Sadly, I was there on a pretty gloomy day, but it was still so picturesque. I can’t imagine what it would look like on a day when the sun is out.

Honestly the biggest appeal of Bruges is just how charming the city is. I spent most of my time there walking the streets and snapping photos. But since it’s a city filled with canals, the best way to Bruges is by boat! There’s plenty of boat tour companies located around the city, I just hopped in one that I saw on the street. It cost about 15 euros, and lasted about 30 minutes. It’s well worth it for the views that can only be captured by water.

Another great way to see the city? From the top of the Belfry tower, which sadly, I didn’t do. By the time I made my way over there there wasn’t much time left in the day and honestly, my feet were tired from all the walking and it was quite the climb up there, so I was okay with skipping it.

The real highlight of Bruges? THE FRENCH FRY MUSEUM. Yes, this is a thing. It’s called the Frietmuseum, and it’s all about the history of French fries — which, fun fact, are actually a Belgian thing. American soldiers in World War I were fighting in Belgium and ate fries, thinking they were French because French-speaking Belgians served them. The name stuck! But I kind of feel for the poor Belgians, not getting the credit they deserve for creating of the greatest foods of all time.

The museum was honestly well done and interesting, so different from your typical museum stop! And of course, they serve fries in the basement. I knew I was going to Fritland back in Brussels that night (and I ate them for lunch that day too…) so I skipped, but my mom said they were amazing! The museum is located just off the city’s main square, called the Markt.

Bruges Belgium Travel Guide - Pearl Girl

I ended my day walking to the outskirts of the city where I caught a glimpse of the windmill before grabbing a waffle to go. Though it may not be packed with sights to see like Paris or London, Bruges is truly so lovely — and the perfect place to spend a day wandering around (and eating fries!)

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Two Days in Brussels, Belgium (Solo!)

brussels belgium travel guide pearl girl

There’s so much travel content I want to share this year. Beyond my recaps, of which I have so, so many still to write, I really want to write posts on my tips for traveling alone and how I pack for international adventures. But first, I need to get through the set of recaps for my first big trip, which happened last October.

If you read about my trip to London last fall, you likely know that was only the beginning of my European trek. After a lovely weekend in London with some of my closest friends from high school, I took an early Monday morning EuroStar to Brussels, Belgium. I spent my three days in Belgium by myself, as two of my friends had moved onto Paris and one was still back in London. It was the perfect stop during my trip, as it’s not really a big enough city to justify a solo trip from the U.S. I did three days in Belgium — two in Brussels and one in Bruges in between.

Isn’t this the funniest thing?!

One of my favorite things to do in European cities where I’m not super familiar with the big sights (the way I would be in Paris, London, Berlin, etc.) is to go on a Sandemans New Europe walking tour. It’s a great way to acquaint yourself with the city, learn a bit about its history and make a mental list of places to go back to and explore more later.

After a quick lunch of a Belgian waffle, I took an afternoon walking tour with Sandemans. We met in the Grand Place, which is likely the most famous site in Brussels. It’s a gorgeous square filled with gold-accented buildings and important landmarks to the city, like the Town Hall (seen in the first photo above.) There’s lots of restaurants around the square, but they’re definitely tourist-y and a bit overpriced. However, I still recommend sitting on the patio of one of them and having a beer, especially at night when you can watch the town hall all lit up.

brussels belgium travel guide pearl girl

The tour took us through the Brussels city center, up near the Royal Palace and the E.U. Headquarters, so we got a big taste of the city. There are tons of amazing murals in Brussels, so that was fun to see, and it was a great way to learn a bit more about Belgian history — a topic that I admittedly don’t know a ton about! Another highlight? The Mannekin Pis! It’s a tiny fountain/statue of a little cherub-esque boy peeing. It’s sort of hilarious, but you need to see if you’re in Brussels.

If you are going to take a Sandemans tour, remember to bring cash! The walking tour is technically free, but these guides work for tips so it’s pretty rude not to give them one. I usually give 10 to 20 euros depending on how much I have in my wallet. (And if you don’t have a chance to grab cash before you go, your guide will gladly direct you to an ATM.)

Without a doubt, one of the best things about Belgium is the FOOD! For such a small country, they have so many signature foods: Chocolate, fries, mussels, beer, to name the most famous ones. I had a bunch of amazing meals in Brussels. I adore mussels, so my two dinners in the city were spent at Chez Leon and Aux Armes De Bruxelles. Both are located just off the Grand Place, and are actually across the way from one another, so very easy to locate. Chez Leon is a bit more affordable but Aux Armes De Bruxelles is more formal. I believe I had the white wine mussels at both, which were both excellent. If you have to pick one, I’d say go with Chez Leon because it’s a bit more affordable but the food is just as good. Mussels at both places are served with fries and bread — perfect for dipping into that delicious broth!

After my day trip to Bruges, I arrived back in Brussels hungry, but not starved. So I went to Fritland, very casual eatery where (you guessed it!) fries are the speciality. There’s tons of sauces to choose from, the fries are amazing. Crispy, but potato-y. So, so good. Worth a trip for an afternoon or late night snack — even though you’ll get fries with pretty much every meal in Belgium.

Of course, you can’t go to Belgium without eating a Belgian waffle. My mom thought they were too sugary sweet on her own trip to Belgium a few years ago, but I loved them! (And ate three throughout my three days in Belgium.) This is the best place to get a traditional Belgian waffle — according to my Brussels native tour guide — is Dandoy. I had breakfast there on my final day, and ate a light and sweet waffle covered in strawberries and ice cream. You can either take yours to-go or eat in house in their upstairs dining room.

On my last day in Brussels, I ventured further outside of the Grand Place area to visit the Royal Palace and the European Union headquarters. I walked to both, but if you’re coming from the Grand Place, be prepared for about a 30 minute trek. (It was no big deal to me, one of my favorite parts about traveling is all those extra steps you get in!) Sadly, the Royal Palace was no longer open for tours (it’s open in the summertime!) but it was still very impressive and imposing. Did you know that it’s bigger than Buckingham Palace? Crazy, right? The architecture reminded me a bit of Buckingham too.

Being a big fan of Europe and having an interest in politics, I was super excited to check out the European Union headquarters. I really went all out here, visiting three of the spaces that are open for visitors: The Parlamentarium, the hemicycle (seen above) and the House of European History. The hemicycle is definitely the best-known of these, as its where the E.U. representatives meet — sort of like the U.S. Capitol. The Parlamentarium was a detailed visitors center that gave a ton of background on how the E.U. came to be and the purposes it serves today. The House of European History is what you’d expect. This was probably my least favorite stop on the tour, even though I’m a huge history nerd! I think at that point in the day I was getting a little E.U.-ed out. (However they did have a chart showing European royal family trees going back like, 600 years, and I probably stared at it for 10 straight minutes!)

I stayed at the Hotel Aris, a no-frills, but definitely comfortable hotel right near the Grand Place. It was a really great spot — affordable, good-sized rooms and an incredible location. I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a place to stay in Brussels and want something that’s a step above a hostel. It’s also very close to the Gare Central, which is not where the EuroStar trains go to but an easy enough transfer to get there.

And that’s my time in Brussels! It’s a great city with even better food. I feel like Brussels flies a bit under the radar when compared to its high profile neighbors Paris and Amsterdam. However, it would make a great two-day trip if you find yourself in this area of Europe!

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