Possibly an unpopular opinion, but I like winter. Crisp air, moody grey skies, a fluttering of snow — it’s magical. That said, as I stomp through the slush of three-day-old snow, I have to admit that a tropical vacation doesn’t sound so bad (this is why spring break was invented, right?). Though I do have a warm locale on the books, that’s not for a couple of months, so I’m looking back to spring break last year and a belated but much-deserved coffeeshop feature: South West Collective in the Cayman Islands. If you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean, both this little group of islands and this hip coffeeshop are definitely worth a visit. If not, just pretend you can feel the warm tropical sun on your face and a tasty latte on your tongue.
For fruity cocktails and cabanas selling fresh fruit juice, the beach is a pretty sure bet. But this may not be exactly where you’d expect to find a hip coffeeshop. Luckily, South West Collective fills all of the aforementioned needs (and considering the size of the Cayman Islands, it’s pretty easy to make a trip there no matter where you are on the islands). Located in Georgetown, the capital of the largest island, Grand Cayman, this hip, light-filled spot is right in the middle of most of the hustle and bustle going on in the islands. In case you’re (unsurprisingly) not familiar with the Caymans, this tropical paradise is a trio of tiny islands in the Caribbean Sea, just west of Cuba. A British territory, they’re known for their beautiful beaches and abundance of sea turtles. Hardly a wonder, then, that many cruise ships stop off on Grand Cayman. South West Collective is right in the middle of Harbour Place, the bustling, colorful area of Georgetown where the cruise ships come to dock. As you sip your coffee, peek into the many shops nearby, or take a look at the local markets going on most days (trust me, there’s more than enough to look at!).
The coffeeshop itself is on the second floor of a collection of shops and restaurants. With naval-inspired blue and white décor, comfy seating, and stunning ocean views, it’s the perfect place to take a shopping break and watch the magnificent cruise ships glide into port. The menu is stocked with all your favorite hot and cold coffee drinks, plus fresh juices and smoothies and a mouthwatering selection of housemade toasts, sandwiches, soups, salads, and more. There’s even a chill bar and foozball area in back if you’re in need of something stronger than coffee!
I know hot coffee isn’t exactly tropical, but even in the heat, it was well worth ordering a latte, in my opinion — it was delicious enough to be worth a little extra sweating. And Cayman may not be the most common tourist destination (though I would argue that equals extra points in its favor), but I would highly recommend adding it to the vacay list. With a surprisingly diverse crowd, gorgeous beaches and water, and lovely hotels and restaurants (and of course, those turtles), it’s definitely worth a stop. And hey, you already know where to get your coffee there.
It’s that time of year — the manic dash to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Frenzied shoppers, mile-long to-do lists, packed stores … it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ok, actually, it is my favorite time of year, and I have to admit I even love crazy holiday shopping (though my wallet doesn’t as much). But I always get stressed out trying to find that “just right” gift for each person (what can I say — I’m a perfectionist) and part of that is that so much out there is so generic. When I’m looking for a gift, I want something unique and special. Luckily, the local and craft market is booming these days, and there are an increasing number of sources to find decidedly un-basic gifts. I’ll admit it: I’m a craft market addict. In case you’re still on the prowl for gifts, I rounded up a selection of the best spots to shop local in Kansas City (some also have online stores, if you’re not in the KC area). With local and handmade items, these are the perfect places to find outside-the-box gifts for that special someone (and maybe a treat for yourself as well).
Made in KC is essentially the Mecca of local KC goods. They now have several locations across the city, each a marketplace stuffed with local foods, clothes, accessories, and more. Each item comes from a local maker or small company, and with a variety of different makers in one market, there’s a little something there for everyone. From jewelry and clothes to candles, plants, and liquor, you can find nearly everything here. The Plaza location even has a coffeeshop, beer on tap, and an ice cream counter inside, so you can sip or munch as you shop!
If you’re looking for a unique gift, Cherry Pit Collective has you covered. Cherry Pit Collective, a communal workspace for women artists, makers, and creatives in KC’s Tower East district, is getting merry this year with a special holiday pop-up shop at the nearby Objects space. Check it out weekends through December 23rd for one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry, ceramics, fine art, vintage goods, and more, plus pop-up eats like Swoon Cookies and Dead Beet Tacos (hey, shopping requires fuel!).
Pleasant as they are, the suburbs aren’t exactly known for their unique, non-chain shopping (hey, I can say this — I grew up right in this neighborhood). That said, Leawood is getting a little extra local flair this holiday season with an artisan pop-up in the Town Center Crossing shopping center. Stop by on weekends until Christmas for fine art, jewelry, and more from a selection of local makers. If you have a creative or art lover on your list, this is the perfect stop. And don’t forget to treat yourself as well: yummies from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs are available as you shop!
Strawberry Swing leads the pack when it comes to craft fairs — each season they host a pop-up extravaganza of handmade, local, and vintage goods in a spot around Kansas City. These fairs are perfect for gift-shopping (or, ahem, treating yourself), but they only happen a few times a year. Never fear — the Internet is here. In case you missed the holiday craft fair, Strawberry Swing now has an online marketplace to shop many of its creative goodies. Clothing, jewelry, home and bath goods — you name it, they likely have it. It’s not exactly the same experience as visiting a cute little shop, I know, but it is local, handmade, and a plethora of unique gift possibilities.
Kansas City’s artists and makers have another home base in CollectiveEX, a workshop and store for local artisans to create and sell their work. You’ll find a host of locally made items here, from clothes and accessories to fine art. For a little extra shopping fuel, stop by Thee Outpost, the latest coffee creation from Thou Mayest’s Bo Nelson, also located inside CollectiveEX.
Venture into the eclectic Westside neighborhood for this funky little shop housed in an old 1920s dry goods building. With over 20 local artisans and makers, plus vintage goods, you never know what you’ll find in here. Cheeky enamel pin? Check. Classy handmade candle? Check. Vintage sword? Check. On top of that, Westside is its own little adventure in of itself, so it’s well worth making an afternoon of this one. Stop by the cheerful Bluebird Bistro for a scrumptious organic brunch, grab coffee at the charming Goat Hill Coffee & Soda, and wander around the wonderfully bizarre medley of houses in the area after you do your shopping.
An ancient castle, perched on top of a rocky island surrounded on all sides by the sea — sounds like a fairy tale, right? And really, Mont Saint-Michel is a bit like something out of a fairytale. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go Google Mont Saint-Michel — I’ll wait. Stunning, isn’t it? I took a day trip from Paris, and I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.
Located in northern France where Normandy and Brittany meet, this ancient island settlement dates back over a thousand years. As the story goes, the Archangel Michael told Aubert, bishop of nearby Avranches, to build a church on the island in 709. A community of Benedictines settled on the mont in 966, and the Romanesque abbey church and first monastery buildings were built in the 11th century. In the following centuries, the spot became a great spiritual and intellectual center and a major pilgrimage site. The monastery and surrounding town were built up throughout medieval times, including protective ramparts added during the Hundred Years War. It was even used as a prison during the French Revolution! Today, the monastery is once again a working religious community, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site that welcomes over 2.5 million visitors a year.
As you might have guessed, the only caveat is that by these days, this site is a big tourist attraction. That said, it’s still spectacular, and I would highly recommend it. I went in the off-season — in October — and while it was definitely full of tourists, it wasn’t nearly as packed as it would have been in the summer (though prepare for rain if you’re there in the fall). In any case, the crowds really didn’t dim the magic of the place. The trick is to get off the beaten path of the little town (after you’ve grabbed your crepe and souvenirs) and up into the winding paths of the upper town and monastery. The village is mostly one narrow cobbled path lined with bustling souvenir shops and restaurants — like something straight out of Harry Potter (think Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley). All around this area, quaint little homes and hotels perch on the hillside, all the way up toward the monastery at the top.
But as charming as the town is, the real magic is in the narrow cobbled paths that snake up the cliffside toward the monastery. Pick a path and start exploring — I can guarantee you’ll get lost, but that’s the fun of it. Wander past charming little homes with colorful shutters, peek into an ancient graveyard, say hello to a meandering cat, and the next thing you know, you’ll be standing on top of ramparts looking out over the steely grey ocean. It’s a maze of unexpected discoveries, and while you’re likely to bump into fellow explorers, the entire area is surprisingly peaceful.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of wandering, climb to the monastery at the very top of the island (you’re likely to end up there anyway if you keep heading upward). Honestly, I almost skipped this part, reluctant to pay extra to get in. Luckily, I went for it anyway — don’t miss this. Yes, I have a penchant for turning everything into a Harry Potter reference, but I promise, this looks just like Hogwarts. You wander through a maze of vaulted stone ceilings, spooky corridors, and a stunning church, all nearly a thousand years old (some of it older). Even with other tourists around, the entire place is hushed and almost haunted, like stepping back into history. You half expect a monk to amble past or a medieval knight to be waiting in the knight’s hall. At the end, you emerge from the dim corridors onto a platform overlooking all of the village and surround ocean — the highest point visitors are allowed to go — with only the bell tower looming above you. It really was spectacular, and definitely worth the 10 euros to get into the monastery.
If you’re feeling adventurous on the way out, you can actually venture out into the ocean at low tide. The entire mont is surrounded by a flat plain of grey muddy sand at low tide that you can wander across. In all honesty, this was a little too messy (and cold) for me, but many people were pulling off their shoes and doing it when I was there. I’m not sure how high the water rises at high tide, so it’s worth checking the tide times before heading out, but if climbing the mont doesn’t quite satisfy your adventurous streak, it’s definitely worth a try. Just only go if you don’t mind getting a bit muddy!
How to Get There
In the art of full disclosure, I should mention that this journey wasn’t what I would call stress-free (in my experience, at least). The trip itself isn’t complicated, but in my experience French train and bus stations aren’t always the most clearly marked. I certainly wouldn’t consider this a reason to forgo this trip, but I would recommend giving yourself plenty of extra time and not being afraid to ask for help (even if your French isn’t perfect).
As for the nitty-gritty details, the trip is about three to four hours (depending on your connections) each way from Paris by train and bus. There’s no train station actually in Mont Saint-Michel, so the last leg of the trip will be a bus ride. Visit raileurope.com and search for tickets from Paris to Mont St.-Michel. There are usually several time options and various price options — most tickets are around 70-100 euros round-trip. I left from Paris Gare Montparnasse in the morning, took a shuttle bus, a train, and another bus to get to Mont Saint-Michel around noon for 78 euros (obviously, the more flexible you are with times and the more you’re willing to pay, the better connections you can get). Both the buses and trains are actually quite comfortable, and the trip isn’t difficult. Again, I would just recommend you give yourself plenty of time, especially if you’re leaving from a major Paris train station.
Once you get to Mont Saint-Michel, you can either take a shuttle or walk the 30-minutes or so on the bridge out to the island. Remember that the buses out of Mont Saint-Michel leave from where they drop you off, so pay attention to where you are when you arrive and leave plenty of time to get back to the bus stop from the mont (I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything here…).
I have a confession: I have a bit of an obsession with doors. Not your average everyday door necessarily, but colorful doors, intricate doors, eccentric doors. Have you ever noticed how many different types of doors there are out there? (No? Just me?) And it just so happens that Paris is particularly up on its door game. There’s a vast array of colors. There are intricate designs and incredible art. There are knockers in every design imaginable (Paris also has — pardon my French — great knockers). Some are ancient and a little worn, some are polished and shiny new, some are amazing Art Nouveau works of art — you get the picture. As a result, I became that crazy tourist stopping every few steps to take a picture of yet another door. What can I say? I’m obsessed.
I don’t actually know the stories of these Paris doors, which in a way maybe makes it more fascinating. How old is the door? What lies behind it? Who chose that lion or hand door knocker, and why? I’ve heard enough histories of specific doors and buildings in France to know that every flourish has a history and a meaning.
The one I do have some context for is the stunning Art Nouveau creation at 29 Avenue Rapp (first image, third row, first from left). Built in 1901 and designed by Jules Lavirotte, this intricate doorway tells an erotic tale of Adam and Eve, including peacocks, bulls, reptiles, and insects symbolizing sin (not to mention several other erotic motifs). It’s a gorgeous building teeming with symbolism that shocked viewers of the time.
Likely not every door in Paris packs such a metaphoric punch, but I’m positive they all have their own tales. Unfortunately, I’m no tour guide. I wish I could write an entire post about the stories behind these doors, but most remained closed to me. So we’ll just have to imagine, create histories and characters for them. All I know is, I took pictures of 39 doors in Paris, and no two looked alike, and I wandered by many more that I forced myself to keep walking and not snap a photo of.
If you’re wondering, “Why is she still talking about doors?” — well, I’m surprised you made it this far. If, like me, you enjoy a little quirkiness and mystery, then take a look at the collage of all my Paris door photos, enjoy the art and color, and create your own version of the stories they tell. And I’m positive they have many — it is Paris, after all.