Paris (Pt. 3)

We’ve been to Paris three times in the last three years; at this point, we feel more comfortable in Paris than we do in Los Angeles. Just like our recent trip to Rome, this trip allowed us to stay in a different neighborhood, redo our favorite activities, and check off any bucket-list items that we hadn’t been able to do previously. Here’s some advice for Paris that we learned this summer:

Take a class at La Cuisine Paris. When we were here in November, we took a wine-and-cheese pairing class and loved it so much that we decided to take a croissant and breakfast pastry class this time. Our adorable French instructor Segolene taught us how to make croissants, pistachio twists, pain au chocolat, vanilla custards, cinnamon almond snails, and more. I eat croissants on a daily basis in New York, and now I have a much bigger appreciation for them knowing how much effort each one takes. We learned to throw our dough at the counter for elasticity — “think of someone you hate; I want you to leave here stress-free,” Segolene instructed us. We delicately added butter onto our dough before folding it and again and again and again. We cut the painstakingly folded dough into long triangles, made little Eiffel Towers out of them, and rolled them into croissants before baking and brushing egg wash onto them. I am always the worst one in every baking class, but I am incredibly talented at eating the final products. In the end, we enjoyed our pastries with coffee and tea and were able to bring our remaining pastries home.

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Naked croissants
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Coating them with eggwash
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Pain au chocolat
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Filling these with our toppings of choice
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Some of our pastries

Stay in an apartment. This was our first time staying in a hotel in Paris, and though our room at the stylish Hôtel Notre-Dame Saint Michel had a spectacular view of Notre-Dame (I made sure to request this view after booking), I couldn’t help but miss our apartment from last November, with its tiny balcony overlooking a sea of grey rooftops. When in any major city, I always recommend staying in Airbnbs or apartments to feel more like a local.

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Each room was designed by Christian Lacroix
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Great view, but no balcony
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Colorful staircases
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Our room faced Notre-Dame

Have tea at Mariage Frères, a French gourmet tea company founded in Paris in 1854 by the Mariage brothers. Tea is huge in France (perhaps that’s why their coffee sucks?), and the Mariage family was sent around the world on behalf of the royal court just to bring tea back home. There are five tearooms in Paris. We went to the one in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing, elegant afternoon. When we sat down, we were given an entire book about tea, which we spent a couple of hours reading. It covered everything, from the history of tea to proper brewing techniques.

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Madeleines and tea

Stroll through Promenade Plantée, an elevated park built on top of old railroad tracks that inspired New York’s High Line. Running nearly three miles from Bastille to Boulevard Périphérique, it passes some very interesting modern buildings. My favorite building is split in half by the park. Most Parisians thought the park was a waste of money when it first opened, but now cherish it, which is similar to their reaction to both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre pyramid. When we were strolling, a sweet Parisian woman stopped her jogging session to randomly ask if we wanted our photo taken. Of course we said “oui”. She took a few from different angles, which I always appreciate, and when we passed by her again a few minutes later she laughed and offered to take a few more in front of this pool. She even directed us to stand in specific spots — and to “Bisou!”, so we immediately obliged. This may have been the best thing about Promenade Plantée. For some reason, many tourists don’t know about it, so we were surrounded by smiling locals (yes! Parisians do smile when you actually stumble across them outside of the touristy zones) who seemed to appreciate that we had done a little more research on our trip.

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My favorite building
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Very reminiscent of the High Line
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View of Paris below
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Bisous!

Visit Shakespeare & Co. once in your life. This was our first time staying on the Left Bank, so we finally remembered to check out this famous bookstore. It’s mobbed by American tourists, but you can understand why when you enter. It’s stuffed with English language books, contains cute little nooks to curl up with a novel, and has a no-photo policy.

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Picnic along Canal St. Martin. This neighborhood has transformed from Bushwick into Williamsburg, and while it’s probably become too glossy for true bobos anymore, I felt at home in Canal St. Martin, which was where we stayed in a tiny Airbnb back in 2015. Despite the change, young Parisians can still be found picnicking along the canal. Buy some cheese from a fromagerie, a baguette from the nearest boulangerie, and a bottle of wine. You’ll feel more Parisian doing this than dining at any restaurant.

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Unless you are really into Louis XIV, skip Versailles. Visit Neuschwanstein in Germany, Himeji Castle in Japan, or Pena Palace in Portugal instead. Almost everything about Versailles — the gaudy bedrooms, the crowded Hall of Mirrors, and even the overly-manicured gardens — was underwhelming. However, we did enjoy renting a boat and rowing in a lake alongside comical ducks and monstrous swans. If you do decide to visit Versailles, go early in the morning to beat some of the crowds.

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One of the first to step foot in the courtyard that morning!
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Getting that bicep workout
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Hall of Mirrors

Pick up pastries for breakfast from your neighborhood boulangerie. My favorite was award-winning Boulanger Patissier, located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It was just a few blocks from our hotel and put all the croissants I made in class to shame. Furthermore, everything here is dirt cheap. It’ll make you upset that the only things this cheap in the U.S. are Dunkin’ Donuts.

Paris still has one of my favorite metro systems in the world. Sure, it’s not as sleek and shiny as Tokyo’s, but I think it works surprisingly well (except for its absurdly tiny single-use tickets) and runs on time, at least in our experience. Take advantage of its numbered exits in the stations. When you look up a route online, Google Maps will tell you which exit to take. These are so helpful! I wish New York’s subway exits were also numbered so I would know which part of the train I should aim for ahead of time. One more tip for the Paris Metro: Always pay your fare. When we were heading to the airport, the ticket machine at our metro station wasn’t working, and the turnstiles were letting everyone through without tickets, so we caught the train without paying. Sure enough, metro workers were at the airport entrance checking each passenger’s ticket, and we left Paris €100 poorer.

Eat at Pierre Sang Oberkampf, one of the most innovative dining experiences I’ve ever had. It offers a blind tasting menu, which means that each ingredient of your dish is explained to you after you finish eating it. For only €39, I had six courses of French-Korean dishes (think steak with gochujang, beet purée, and beans). We booked seats at the bar and had a direct view of the kitchen. Immediately after our dinner, we attempted to book a table for the following evening, but the menu only changes every two weeks.

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The best view at any good restaurant is always of the chefs hard at work
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Steak
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Prawns
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Second to last course was cheese, of course
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Last course

Apparently French-Asian fusion is blowing up in Paris because another fantastic meal we had was at Les Enfants Rouges. Again, we sat at the bar to watch the kitchen as they prepared our fried foie gras on creamy corn and coffee mousse, tempura monkfish, and figs with a coconut sorbet and pistachios over matcha cream.

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Fried foie gras on creamy corn and coffee mousse
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Figs topped with coconut sorbet, on matcha cream and pistachios

Visit in the fall. As much as I enjoyed the extra-long days and leisurely nights sitting out along the Seine (stay out past midnight to see the Eiffel Tower glitter!), I still prefer Paris in the fall, when the weather is crisp and more locals have replaced tourists.

Each time we visit Paris, we eat better meals, know more about each neighborhood, and notice the little changes that have occurred since our last trip. Anthony and I felt so comfortable in Paris that, although we don’t speak French at all, we could easily see ourselves living here. It’s such a diverse, stimulating city with good food — and, most importantly, cheap croissants. Paris was the perfect way to end our Ireland and France trip. I’m not sure how many more times I want to visit Paris, but I am desperate for an excuse to explore more of the French countryside, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself back here soon. If that’s the case, I will most definitely be making another reservation at Pierre Sang Oberkampf. Au revoir for now!

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Paris, Part Deux

My first time in Paris was three summers ago, and it’s no secret that I had not been impressed. We’d just left my favorite place in the world (Positano), and after almost two weeks in vibrant, colorful Italy, Paris felt drab. The buildings looked too uniform, everyone wore black, the skies were almost always overcast, and not all of our meals were life-changing like they had been in Italy. Moreover, I’d made the wrong decision by booking us an Airbnb in the très hip neighborhood of République. I should have enjoyed République, as it has some of the best restaurants in Paris and we were surrounded by cool locals, but for a first-timer, the neighborhood felt a little too far from the touristy sites, and we felt out of place as we had to squeeze past crowds of bobos to get through our front door.

But Paris deserved a second chance.

We wanted to travel during Thanksgiving break this year and figured we should visit a place we’ve already been since it would be such a short trip. I was willing to redo Paris, while Anthony, who had fallen in love with it last time (despite traveling with such a bummer of a partner), was eager to return. So we booked our flights and made sure we did Paris properly this time.

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First off, Paris in the fall is a hundred times better than Paris in the summer. To me, Paris isn’t true Paris in the summer — too many of the locals are away on vacation, and herds of tourists have taken their place. But in the fall, the crisp air accentuates the architecture, and Parisians’ commitment to wearing only neutral colors finally makes sense.

Second of all, our apartment was perfect this time. I found us a charming penthouse studio located in the 4th arrondissement, just a block away from Notre-Dame. It came with a small kitchen, a washing machine, lots of light, and, most importantly, a tiny balcony overlooking Parisian rooftops. We even woke up to church bells every morning! The location was centrally located — walking distance to some of my favorite places, and just a few blocks from both the Metro station and the RER.

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Thirdly, Anthony actually planned out one of our days to celebrate my birthday again — because why have one birthday when you can have another in Paris? He decided where to pick up pastries early in the morning, booked a professional photography session with Flytographer, paid for a wine & cheese pairing class, and made reservations for a fancy dinner. He was so certain that he’d never be able to top my birthday gift to him (a surprise trip to Morocco earlier this year), but I have to say, this was probably one of the best days of my life.

I can’t recommend our Flytographer photographer enough. Olga met us early on a Saturday morning and took stunning photos of us around my favorite neighborhood, Le Marais. She gave us clear directions, made us laugh throughout the shoot, and took us to lavish gardens and quaint courtyards we didn’t even know existed. Over the years, we’ve hired a handful of other professional photographers, but Olga was by far the best. Anthony only paid for 30 photos but she ended up sending us 66!

Here are some of our photos from the shoot; for more, click here.

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Roaming around Le Marais
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A secret garden
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Fall in Paris
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Obligatory cafe shot

After the photo shoot, we had a wine & cheese pairing class at La Cuisine, just a few minutes from our apartment. We started at a fromagerie called La Ferme Saint-Aubin on the island of Île Saint-Louis, where our teacher is a regular and ordered some samples for us to try. I learned that my favorite cheese is Comté, while Anthony learned that he will eat any cheese, even the incredibly smelly one that was aged for two years. After getting enough samples, our teacher, who is also a private chef and journalist, bought some cheese for us to take back to the school. There, we sat around a dining table and paired the five cheeses with five glasses of French wine. Our classmates were incredibly interesting — one was an American living in Amsterdam, another was a Navy pilot living in Italy with his wife, and another was from India but has been living in Paris for the past few months. They were ideal classmates, with a fairly impressive knowledge of wine and cheese (so they could ask all the intelligent questions that Anthony and I couldn’t), but still eager to learn more. By the end of class, I was full and tipsy, and utterly enchanted by Paris.

My birthday dinner was at a two-star Michelin-rated restaurant called Le Clarence, housed in a grand 18th-century mansion, and was probably the best meal of my life. It was definitely the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to; it easily surpassed the only three-star restaurant I’ve been to (Jean Georges in New York). When we arrived, the doorman confirmed our names and led us inside. After coat check, we walked up a gorgeous marble staircase to the second floor, which comprised three intimate dining rooms decorated in slightly different styles, each with only four tables generously spread out. Our dining room was a plush, wood-paneled library, with a fireplace and walls lined with shelves stuffed with books — some of which are secretly menus.

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We began with some amuse-bouches of breaded clams, bite-size puff pastries, and fried langoustine, then shared three varieties of bread, and continued onto sea scallops served two ways. After that, we had the best fresh brioche of my life. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat another brioche ever again. Our next course was squid, gnocchi, and langoustine. After that, our server brought over a beautiful baked puff pastry for us to admire before he returned to the kitchen to divide and plate it for us. The pastry was filled with pigeon and foie gras, served with an oyster consommé and lettuce with marinated duck heart. Perhaps my favorite part of dinner was when a man wheeled over an entire cart of cheese to us — because why not have more cheese after our wine & cheese class? This is France! He asked about our cheese preferences and gave recommendations. When I told him about my favorite cheese, he essentially said the French equivalent of “Comté is too basic for us” — in the most unpretentious way possible, of course — and gave me three alternatives. (Apparently Comté is the most highly produced French cheese in the world.) Meanwhile, adventurous Anthony was given his own assortment of cheese. Anthony particularly enjoyed one of them and asked the cheese man if he could have the name of it; at the end of our meal Anthony was handed a thick envelope containing an official note card from the restaurant with the name of the cheese. After the cheese course, we were served petit fours, followed by vanilla macarons and chocolate truffles. Three hours and nine courses later, I was in heaven.

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The cheese cart

Despite being stuffed, I pretty much floated back home — wearing my ballgown on the Metro — and cried in bed about how much I love Paris. Typical.

Paris is one of those places you need to visit multiple times to really appreciate. There are so many characteristic neighborhoods to explore and layers of history to uncover. Paris rewards those who do their research. Because we’d been there before, we felt comfortable as soon as we landed, and we didn’t have to waste time doing some of the things we did last time, like waiting in line for Notre-Dame, trekking up to Montmartre, or wandering around the Louvre. We got to see some of the things that we hadn’t seen three summers ago, like the stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle, the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower from Bir-Hakeim bridge, and the stunning Palais Garnier theater. And then we got to return to our favorites, like the black-and-white columned courtyard at Palais-Royal and the excessive dome at Galeries Lafayette, which is even more ostentatious with the Christmas decorations.

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Palais Garner
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Palais Garnier
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Sainte-Chapelle
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Galeries Lafayette

I finally get it. Paris, you deserve all the hype.

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Tips for future travelers:

As with all major cities, I try to stay at apartments instead of hotels because they allow you to feel more like a local and give you more privacy. I didn’t find good options on Airbnb so I eventually used HomeAway, which is a more legitimate source for apartment rentals. Here’s a link to our exact apartment. Patrix was a wonderful host!

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Breakfast pastries on our balcony

We booked a dinner with a local French couple through Meeting the French. Sharing a meal with locals is usually one of my favorite parts of traveling, but the couple we were assigned to was a little strange (and may have been conservative — yikes!). They didn’t speak perfect English (and we Americans spoke little to no French, of course), so conversation was stifled. Nevertheless, we did learn a lot from each other, and it’s an experience I would still recommend.

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Dinner with a Parisian couple

Take the Metro. The subway system in Paris is fantastic; it’s clean, organized, and efficient. The 10-pack of tickets saved us a lot of money because it’s slightly discounted, and we could share the ten tickets between the two of us.

Some of the best things we ate (besides everything at Le Clarence): île flottante (soft meringue floating on crème anglaise) at Les Philosophes, turmeric latte at Cafe Kitsuné, chocolate cramique (breakfast pastry) from Aux Merveilleux de Fred, and chocolate mousse at Le Royal.

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My favorite French dessert

How to dress like a local Parisian in the fall: Black or camel coat, flat boots or loafers, thick scarf, and a baguette in your tote (seriously!). It’s true, Parisians don’t wear color. Also, you can tell who the tourists are because they’re the only ones wearing three-inch heels.

Make sure your apartment or hotel room has a balcony. You’ll thank me immediately.

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Drinking a bottle of wine on our balcony at dusk

Paris

11737901_10206536273022122_919776619389307333_nPoor Paris. The city never had a chance. After vibrant, chaotic Italy, Paris felt drab, with monotonous architecture, excessively wide avenues, and food of variable quality. It was the start of “The Rest of Our Trip” — our post-Italy vacation — and Brighton, Oxford, London, and Madrid would have to deal with this unfair comparison, as well.11750632_10206511006030463_6132587985024735098_nWe stayed in République, which we were told was “the Williamsburg of Paris.” When we arrived, we could see why. Our Airbnb was right by a popular hangout for bobos (Parisian hipsters). The apartment felt just like our apartment in Brooklyn — extravagant on the outside, dated and tiny on the inside, with a view of another building. Just like home!

Our neighborhood
Our neighborhood

We felt like locals in Paris more than in any other city on our trip: We did our laundry there (after spending about ten minutes trying to figure out the laundry machines, until a kind Asian woman came to our rescue). We picked up pastries from our neighborhood boulangerie and ate them at a nearby park for breakfast. Best of all, we got to celebrate Bastille Day, or La Fête nationale, surrounded by proud, well-dressed Parisians. I highly recommend planning your travels around each country’s independence day; you’ll see each country at its best.

Pastries from our neighborhood boulangerie
Pastries from our neighborhood boulangerie
Feeling very Parisian on Bastille Day
Feeling very Parisian on Bastille Day
Vive la France!
Vive la France!
Epic fireworks show
Epic fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower

Meanwhile, we made sure to do the obligatory touristy stuff. We visited the Louvre, where we saw everyone’s favorite statues, Venus de Milo and Nike of Samothrace. We took photos with the Eiffel Tower, both from up close and from afar. We ate macarons from the original Ladurée and were disappointed (am I the only one who thinks the Ladurée in Soho is better?). We roamed around Montmartre and walked on the same cobblestone streets of art legends like Picasso and Renoir.

Louvre
Entering the Louvre
Mona Lisa and crowds
Mona Lisa and crowds
Montmartre
Montmartre

As with all touristy activities, some were overrated, while others I’d adamantly recommend. Here are those that were completely worth the hype:

  1. The view from Notre Dame. Don’t be daunted by the two-hour wait, which one local warned us about as we stood in line. It was a nice day, plus it gave me enough time to walk across the river to the Pierre Hermé in Marais and pick up a box of macarons. When we finally entered Notre Dame, the wait seemed negligible. You not only have the best view of Paris, you also get up close and personal with the gargoyles and chimera on top of the cathedral. My favorite photos taken in Paris are from the top of Notre Dame, with the gargoyles — some silly and some intimidating — in the foreground, and the iconic skyline of Paris in the background.

    View from Notre Dame
    View from Notre Dame
  2. The view from Arc de Triomphe. Because it is located at the center of a dodecagonal (12-sided) intersection, the observatory gives you an interesting perspective of twelve avenues and the city’s contentious urban planning. Paris is so symmetrical!

    View from Arc de Triomphe
    View from Arc de Triomphe
  3. Batobus. Parisians do rivers well. The River Seine is more like Venice‘s bustling Grand Canal than New York’s East River or London‘s Thames. You can find cool Parisians having picnics right on the edge of the river, and numerous private and tour boats sailing across. We bought a two-day Batobus pass, so we could hop on and off. The boat is slow but is a picturesque way to get to different sites around the city.

    View from our batobus
    View from our batobus
  4. Île Saint-Louis is an island in the middle of the Seine, connected to the rest of Paris by four bridges. Originally a place for grazing cattle and stocking wood, it has become quite touristy due to some famous restaurants and its charming 17th- and 18th-century architecture. Île Saint-Louis quickly became one of our favorite neighborhoods.

Oddly, one of my most memorable experiences in Paris was having an argument with Anthony (yes, we do argue sometimes, which I know surprises everyone who knows us personally). The argument was trivial, as they always are, and you’d think it would be a bad memory — but it wasn’t. We felt very Parisian, bickering and philosophizing as we meandered through the 9th arrondissement. It was like a scene from one of our favorite movies, “Before Sunset,” which, of course, takes place in Paris.11231092_10206841459171585_3478290316693055700_nIn the end, our time in Paris wasn’t bad — in fact, Anthony loved Paris — but it didn’t make my heart swell like Milan, Florence, and Positano had. Lesson to learn? Go to Paris before Italy. Up next? England. Hey, Brighton!11892106_10206856011495384_6094143515559220022_n Tips for future travelers:

  1. Don’t buy your tickets too early. I know, this goes against my usual advice. It’s typically a good thing to make reservations far in advance, but at Musée d’Orsay, it turned out that I had purchased our tickets so early that they were expired by the time we tried to use them. I should have read the fine print that they would expire three months after purchasing them. I guess a safe rule would be to make reservations 2-3 months in advance?
  2. Contrary to the stereotypes, the French are not rude or snobby to tourists at all — just don’t act like an arrogant know-it-all when you butcher their language. In our experience, most Parisians were charmed that we attempted to speak what little French we knew. This is especially true in touristy areas.
  3. For you Brooklynites: Tell a Parisian you’re from Brooklyn, and they’ll think you’re the coolest person ever. It’s true! Many cities in Europe (e.g., Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen) wish they were Brooklyn because Brooklyn is supposedly the hippest label right now. While our default answer to the question “Where are you from?” has always been New York, we learned to specify “Brooklyn” when we were in Paris because that answer is much more impressive to them.

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