What I Wore: Summertime Sadness

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This is my last outfit post from my birthday trip to France…I know I’ve milked it for months now, but I guess I just didn’t want to let it go. And now that it’s October, it feels pretty appropriate to say good-bye to summer, and hello to fall. Those of you that follow me on Instagram, already know that I dyed my hair, so the next outfit post will definitely show off that new side of me…but in the meantime, here’s the last bit of summer in October. 

I’ve always thought of Monaco as a very glamorous place. Before visiting, the word brought on visions of Grace Kelly, fancy hats, fast cars, and gleaming sailboats. But reality wasn’t quite as fabulous. Perhaps rainy weather had something to do with it, or maybe the fact that we visited on a Sunday, when all the shops and restaurants were closed, but I just didn’t love it.

Sure, there are a few pretty buildings to look at, and the views of the sea are pretty breathtaking, but underneath it all, it felt more than a little gauche – the casino that charges an entrance fee, show-offs in their tricked-out cars, horrible food at the only restaurant open for business, over-the-top yachts…none of it felt glamorous. Perhaps I would have a different view of the place, had we stayed overnight…apparently the parties and the clubs are a must-do in Monaco, but something tells me I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed those either. Do I sound like a crusty old lady yet?

Either way, we made the best of our little day-trip, enjoying the views and the public art, but to be quite honest, we couldn’t wait to run back to the train station to catch the next train back to Nice and our cozy, yet decidedly not-so-glam apartment.

Have you ever been to Monaco? Did you have a different experience? Share in the comments.

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Shopping: La Vallee Village Outlets Near Paris

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For a shopaholic like myself, a visit to Paris is never complete without a shopping spree or two. But you really don’t have to spend a fortune in order to get something memorable to commemorate your trip, there’s always La Vallee Village to help you get the most bang for your euros. What’s La Vallee Village, you ask? Well, it’s a designer outlet mall, located a quick jaunt away from Central Paris, and just a skip and a hop from Disneyland Paris, and last June, I had the pleasure of shopping there!

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GETTING THERE

From Disneyland

Since we were staying at Disneyland, getting to La Vallee Village was a breeze! Direct shuttles are available from each Disneyland hotel, you just need to request one at the concierge desk. However, on our trip, we opted to take the RER instead. We got off at Val d’Europe/Serris Montévrain station, before walking through Les Terrasses shopping mall that carries all the usual suspects from H&M to Zara, as well as a few European brands that have yet to make their way to North America. Entrance to La Vallee Village awaited just outside Les Terrasses - super quick and easy.

From Central Paris

RER is a great option if you want to visit from Central Paris (destination station Val d’Europe/Serris Montévrain). The trip will take around 40 minutes, depending on where you board. But if you want to ride in style and comfort, then La Vallee Village Shopping Express is your best bet! This daily bus departs from Central Paris (near Louvre) and takes around 30 minutes. If you plan on buying a lot of things, I would highly recommend this shuttle. We took it at the end of our shopping day and loved everything about it. And the best part is, it’ll only cost you EUR22 both ways. Can’t beat that!

And finally, if you prefer the luxury of riding solo, then Chauffeur Drive might be for you. I am not exactly sure how much that service costs, but you can definitely inquire here.

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DESIGNERS

For all the brand obsessives out there, La Vallee Village has a seriously great selection of designers on offer – from Armani, to Burberry, to Celine, to Valentino – if you’re looking for designer deals, this is your place. The day I was visiting, I saw great deals on Celine leather totes, Carven dresses, Kenzo leather jackets, and Marni necklaces. They even had Valentino rockstud flats in fun colours, but limited sizes. After spending what felt like an eternity deciding between a dozen cool Marni necklaces, I finally settled on just one (even though I wanted them all), while my friend picked up a travel bag from Longchamp for a steal! To refuel, we stopped by Natalie’s Cafe for some delicious lunch, before heading out again to do some more shopping.

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If you’re wondering whether the deals are worth the trek, in my experience they were, but it really depends. As with other outlet malls, selection can fluctuate, and depending on the month/week/day, you can either leave with bags of loot, or with only a couple of things. Prices of certain goods aren’t necessarily cheaper for North American shoppers (don’t go expecting to buy Ralph Lauren wares for less than in the US), but a lot of European brands are. Just like with my much-adored Florence outlets, La Vallee Village is now part of my must-visit spots in Europe…and I can’t wait to come back!

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Travel: Overnight Stay with Hotel Tonight

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Last month, a small group of Toronto media members gathered at Toronto’s DaiLo restaurant to nibble on Big Mac baos and learn all about a cool app called Hotel Tonight from the company’s COO Jared Simon. As someone who travels quite a bit, this was an awesome new discovery – an app that lets one find a last-minute discounted hotel room for a night.

This easy to use app allows users to search for hotels in over 500 cities in North America and Europe, as well as in Mexico. All hotels are vetted to ensure the highest level of  satisfaction, and users can post photos and reviews of the hotel after their stay. To test it out, we were all given promo codes to book our own rooms using Hotel Tonight. Le bf and I chose Thompson Hotel, and after a couple of swipes, a few taps, and tracing the Hotel Tonight logo to confirm, we were all booked! You know we love our staycations, and this one was great! We had dinner at Buca, enjoyed a romantic stroll along King St West, sipped drinks on Thompson’s roof, and the next morning had a leisurely swim in their rooftop pool, before grabbing delicious pastries from Colette. So relaxing!

So next time I’m downtown and too tired to schlep myself home during Toronto Fashion Week, or after a super long dinner with friends, I will know to check Hotel Tonight’s rates – it may be worth it to just stay downtown once in a while. And if you’re curious about the app – here’s a little incentive to check it out – if you use promo code NBELKOVA, you’ll get $25 credit on sign-up, making your stay even more affordable!

So tell me, have you ever used Hotel Tonight to book a hotel room? Share you stories in the comments!

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*Hotel stay was complimentary. All reviews and opinions are mine.

What I Wore: Saint-Paul de Vence

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I am so hopelessly behind on posts, that even though I don’t even look like the photo above, I still have a few of these to go. And while it’s currently 13 degrees in Toronto, this post is all about summer heat and vacation glow. Seeing these pics makes me want to pack up my bags and hightail it out of Canada for a destination much warmer than Toronto. Alas, I just got back from New York, and as a 9-5er, vacation days are a precious, precious commodity not to be trifled with…so, I suppose fall is inevitable.

These photos were taken while on a day trip to Saint-Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns in the French Riviera. There were beautiful art shops on every corner, delicious honeys and jams sold at charming little shops…The sun was scalding that day, so we made a pit stop at a small gelato shop, watching a local wedding at the nearby church. Happy faces, delicious ice-cream, honking limo, and lots of bougainvillea bushes is what I remember the most from that day. We walked up and down the winding cobblestone streets, completely charmed by this tiny town, and all of a sudden, the lengthy bus ride from Nice seemed really worth the hassle. If you’re ever in the area, try to stop by Saint-Paul de Vence. It won’t take very long to see, but you’ll be glad you did.

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What I Wore: Nice Would Be Nice

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This summer has been a bit of a letdown…at least weather-wise. Augtober is nearly over, and we maybe had 10 hot sunny days this month. All of this Canadian weather yo-yoing is making me wish I was still in Nice, soaking up the sun, lounging around on the pebbled beach, and eating way too much delicious food. I didn’t expect to like Nice as much as I did…but truth is – it was lovely – a perfectly relaxing getaway after the craziness that was Paris. And now, I am itching to get back to the South of France. Does anyone want to buy a little villa near Nice with me? Anyone?

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What I Wore: From Odette to Colette

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While I usually tend to avoid the touristy Latin Quarter in Paris, this year, it was on my “to go” list. Why? Odette. After seeing countless photos of those photogenic French puffs on Instagram, I knew I had to try them. So after a leisurely stroll from our Airbnb apartment, we found ourselves in front of Odette. The place was tiny with limited seating, so we grabbed some petit-choux, and began to devour them right on the street. My verdict – they were ok. The coffee ones were my fave, but in general, I found them way too soggy and not as good as the ones from Nadege in Toronto. Nadege offers petit-choux that are light, fresh, decidedly not soggy, and so very flavourful. They may not be quite as pretty as Odette’s, but in my opinion, they are way superior in all other aspects.

After our petit disappointment, we walked back towards our Parisian apartment, exploring rue Saint Honoré. As some of you may know, rue Saint Honoré is home to one of the coolest shops in Paris – Colette, so of course, that’s exactly where we ended up. We nosed through the store’s trendy book selection, picked up some souvenir postcards, featuring Anna Wintour and other fashion notables playing soccer (it was World Cup season after all), and gawked at the gorgeous clothes displayed on the second floor – designs from Christopher Kane, Carven, Kenzo, Mary Katrantzou, Comme des Garcon, and so much more. There wasn’t a huge breadth of items available, but the curated pieces were enough to set my heart aflutter.

Sadly, I limited myself to postcards, and a fragrant melon that I picked up at a fruit stand nearby. The melon was sweet and the postcards were adorable, and even if I didn’t buy any fab clothes, my day was still quite perfect. As cliche as this may sound…I don’t need much when I’m in Paris…a walk through its charming streets is all it requires to make me realize just how freaking lucky I am.

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Inside Coco Chanel’s 31 Rue Cambon Apartment

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Coco Chanel – designer, muse, visionary – was one of the world’s most complex and enigmatic fashion powerhouses. One whose life and life’s work still transfix and inspire hordes of fashion lovers (myself included) decades after her passing. So when I received an invitation to sneak a rare glimpse at Mademoiselle’s private apartment on rue Cambon in Paris, I may or may not have done a few cartwheels around my living room to celebrate.

On the morning of my appointment, I stopped to enjoy the anticipation of the big moment by grabbing a coffee and some viennoiserie at the nearby café, watching the rushing passerby, completely oblivious of my big day. The enormous grin on my face did nothing to conceal my joy.

Upon arriving at 31 rue Cambon, I was treated to a private walkthrough of the Parisian flagship boutique, where one could find an impressively extensive selection of Chanel pieces. Looking for that rare bag? Boutiques on rue Cambon and rue Montaigne are your two best bets. However, word to the wise – it’s ridiculously easy to get distracted from your original mission and end up overspending. It’s all just too tempting, and as I mentioned, the selection is amazing. Proceed at your own risk.

After having the boutique all to myself (crazy, I know), I was warmly welcomed and taken up the winding mirrored staircase on the chicest tour of my life.

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On the second floor above the Rue Cambon boutique, I was guided into the Haute Couture salon floor with its large sitting room, several salons, and piece-de-resistance – the haute couture closet. Hanging inside was the spring 2014 Haute Couture collection, worn by the likes of Keira Knightley, Diane Kruger, and Rihanna. And since those exquisite pieces are one-of-a-kind, I actually got to touch the exact outfits that those beautiful celebs got to wear. Don’t be fooled by Rihanna’s seemingly curvy bod, that purple dress she wore to the fall 2014 show was definitely an XS or smaller.

Seeing the actual haute couture pieces inside the closet was pretty surreal. I got to see just how intricate every detail is on each and every single piece, and how dazzling haute couture is in real life. Oh, to one day be able to wear one of those dresses…what a dream!

Before I could embarrass myself by asking to try on one of the dreamy haute couture gowns, I decided that it was time for the main event – The Apartment. One more flight of stairs later, I found myself sitting on the exact step Coco used to favour while her collections were presented below, silently observing reactions of the attendees – the mirrors weren’t there for aesthetics alone. After several photos on said step, we proceeded to the entrance door, ready to walk into the heart and soul of Chanel.

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Right away, I was transfixed by the abundance of patterns, textures, and colours –  ornate lacquered Chinese screens attached to walls like super fancy (and expensive) wallpaper, golden baroque mirror in the shape of both Place Vendome and the infamous Chanel no. 5 bottle stopper, a pair of Venetian Blackamoors (Coco’s “friends”) welcoming all guests, mixed with decidedly modern sand-coloured carpet. I take refuge in beige because it is natural, and red because it is the colour of blood”, Chanel said once, and that’s precisely what I remembered, standing in that entrance hall.

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Highly superstitious, fond of crystals, camellias, stars, lions (she was a Leo after all), and other animals (always in pairs), Chanel filled her apartment with a myriad of knick-knacks – symbolic treasures that she collected over the years, and that inspired her. She designed the crystal chandelier in her living room, also full of important Chanel symbols – interlocking Cs, W for Westminster, number 5, camellia flowers (makes for a fun game of I Spy!). And that suede beige sofa that could easily belong in a modern living room – also Chanel’s custom design – one that inspired the iconic quilted bags.

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As the tour went on, I learned many fascinating tidbits from Chanel’s life, about her childhood, her lovers, her friends, her work…nearly every piece in that apartment had a story to tell. Virtually untouched, the east-meets-west apartment still serves as a place of inspiration for Chanel’s designers and staff, and no wonder – even though she’s been gone for over three decades now, Mademoiselle’s presence is still felt inside the ornately decorated rooms. And every bit and bob from the apartment could pop up unexpectedly in a bag, a clasp, a garment print, or even influence an entire collection, as some have in the past.

At the end of the tour, standing in the now familiar entrance hall, I was invited to sit down in the infamous Horst chair. I tried to look pensive as Chanel had in the iconic photo, but all my face could do was smile…awed and happy.

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And while the apartment may not be open to the public, I recently learned that Sam Taylor-Johnson’s photographic exhibition of the private apartment of Mademoiselle Chanel, “Second Floor”, will open at Saatchi Gallery in London this September. The series of 45 photographs captures the private rooms of Mademoiselle Chanel at 31 rue Cambon in Paris, giving visitors a glimpse at Coco’s fascinating life. “Shooting at Coco Chanel’s apartment was an unexpectedly absorbing experience,” says Taylor-Johnson. “The essence of Chanel is firmly rooted there in all of her possessions and I truly believe that her spirit and soul still inhabit the second floor.” I couldn’t agree more.

“Second Floor” Exhibit
Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ King’s Road
Friday September 12th, 2014 until Monday September 22nd, 2014
London, SW3 4RY
Free admission

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What I Wore: Let Them Eat Cake

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The Palace of Versailles has always been a place I wanted to visit eventually…what with all the drama, intrigue, excess, and history surrounding this royal château, I knew it would be worth the trek. The only reason that I have avoided visiting Versailles for so long is the fear of endless line-ups and tourists. Usually, with the exception of the Eiffel Tower, we try to stay away from crowded and touristy places, but this time around, we decided to just go for it.

As expected, the place was teeming with people…SO.MANY.PEOPLE! But not to worry, after about 30 minutes of waiting for our tickets, and then lining up to get in, we were finally inside Marie Antoinette’s stomping grounds! The palace was definitely very impressive, with rooms full of beautiful art, ornate doors (and ceilings, and floors), and of course, plenty of historic tidbits to glimpse and learn – totally worth it the wait.

But as cool as it was to see the Hall of Mirrors and the grand apartment de la reine in person, the gardens were a highlight for me. After hours of frolicking around, lying in the grass, sipping iced chocolate on Angelina’s terrace, and taking way too many photographs, I don’t think we covered even half of the massive grounds. I guess another trip to Versailles is in order…maybe next year!

Have you ever visited Versailles? What was your favourite spot? Share in the comments.

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What I Wore: Eye See Paris, Eye See France

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As you can see I am stretching my vacay posts out…mostly because I want to relive those fun moments over and over again, and that’s what these blog posts help me do. So, I hope you don’t mind too terribly.

This dress is one of my absolute faves. It was love at first sight, and after a quick alteration (it used to have a mock turtleneck), it was perfect – eye-catching and fun. I wore it in Paris to celebrate my friend Al’s birthday (Gemini sistahs), and after yet another visit to the Eye-ffel Tower, we spent the rest of the day in a leisurely state of bliss – enjoying a delicious lunch with a perfect view at Frame, grabbing a dessert at Laduree, hiding from the rain at CHANEL on Rue Montaigne, enjoying the scenery at Les Invalides, after hours of wandering around the city. It’s so easy to just do nothing in Paris. Every street oozes with charm, and every streetside cafe beckons you to seat down and take in everything and everyone around you. The city makes you both speed up and slow down, and I couldn’t love it more.

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What I Wore: Disneyland Paris

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Last year was the first time I’ve ever gone to a Disney park, and it was everything I dreamed it would be and more. Both le bf and I had such an amazing time that we were itching to go back. So when the opportunity to visit Disneyland Paris presented itself, we couldn’t be more excited.

To kick off my birthday celebrations, we stayed at Disneyland Paris’ Sequoia Lodge for 3 nights while visiting Paris, and it was lovely. Surrounded by lush greenery, the lodge was tucked away in a quiet spot a brisk walk away from Disney Village and both parks. Staying this close really allowed us to take advantage of our time at Disneyland, and visit as many attractions as we could, while still being able to visit Paris every day (city center is only a 40 minute train ride away).

On our first day, armed with VIP Fast Passes (free if you stay at a Disney hotel), we made a dash for the Tower of Terror, before jumping on the Rock’n’Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, Space Mountain: Mission 2, Big Thunder Mountain, and Indiana Jones™ and the Temple of Peril. After getting our thrills, we ran around the Alice in Wonderland labyrinth (so fun!), explored Agrabah, and just wandered around Main Street, USA, devouring ice-cream and feeling like kids again.

At night, we watched Disney Dreams! show, complete with fireworks, water fountains, fire, lasers, lights, and some of my fave Disney characters and songs, alongside hundreds of other visitors from all over the world. It was magical.

I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend a few days in Paris – we had a wonderful stay at Disneyland Paris, and I am now determined to visit every single Disney property in the world. I still haven’t been to the ones in Orlando, Tokyo, Hawaii, Hong Kong…2 down, 4 more to go!

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