Daydreaming about… Provence

Here’s the thing, people. I’m not much of a color person normally. My wardrobe is laughably neutral, as are my interior design choices. I’m okay with that. (I mean, black is a color. So is white.) However, one ENORMOUS exception is my love of spring and all the beautiful colors that abound in nature because of it.

As we spring forward this weekend, I’ll be daydreaming about strolling through the lavender fields in Provence, with a big, floppy hat and a lovely, white dress. We never made it there while we lived in Europe, but I so crave a chance to see (and smell) it in the glorious spring air.

Provence, France

Lavender

Isn’t that shade of purple heavenly? Maybe to quench my thirst (get it?!) for this experience, I’ll just make this lavender lemonade. What a gorgeous beverage!

Lavender Lemonade

Happy weekend, everyone. We are joining a group run tomorrow morning, might check out some new parts of Portland, and maybe even sneak out to the coast on Sunday. Biding our time until we move into our house!

xxx

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Monday Travel Memory: Paris

Notre Dame, Paris

It might be cliché, but I truly believe there is no place like Paris. It remains one of my favorite cities in the world. No matter what season, it still captivates. In the few times I have visited, I loved finding new angles of famous structures (like this one of a wintery Notre Dame) and exploring some of the lesser known areas to escape from tourist routes. Exactly one year ago, we were there with my parents. One of my favorite memories was tucking into a tiny, candle-lit bistro in the chic Levallois-Perret neighborhood for a beautiful and classic French meal. We were lucky enough to be celebrating my mom’s birthday there.

I will always treasure those great memories. And while it can’t be Paris every year, I’m still wishing my mom a very happy birthday today.

xxx

Road trip: Route des Vins D’Alsace

I’m going to start this post with the assumption that everyone reading it (love you) has seen Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. We all know the opening scene where Belle walks through her town singing, “There must be more than this provincial life” and neighbors pop out of their shuttered windows singing, “Bonjour! Bonjour!” I know, you are all singing it.

I found that town. You’ll see in the pics.

After a brief visit to the Lorraine region, we traveled down to the Alsace region. With a little research (ie: reading travel guides in the car), we learned that there is a wine road that stretches through the region called the Route des Vins. It’s 170km long! That’s a lot of wine. Had to control ourselves and only drink at night when we were done driving for the day. So hard! We started from Marlenheim at the north end and weaved through the rolling hills of absolutely breathtaking wine country (The French win) to Colmar. That is not the entire route, but we had to move on. We easily could have spent the full two weeks here. Main stops were Obernai, Ribeauville, Riquewihr (Belle’s town, I swear!) and Colmar. Just lovely. Like a fairytale. I have few other words to describe it, hopefully the pictures do it justice.

One thing about the local food: We had a delicious lunch in Obernai at La Cloche‘s charming sideway patio. Have you ever heard of a Kentucky dish called a Hot Brown? Jaro has suffered through one before, and similarly, I should probably tell warn you that spatzle baked in munster cheese is the best worst decision of your life. Read: a French Hot Brown. Both the spatzle and munster are local specialties, so we considered that to be the megatron of Alsatian cuisine and as a result, we were all over it. While Jaro clogged his arteries with that, I had the not so much more reasonable spatzle with mushroom sauce. Could not get enough spatzle. Anyway, here are a few pics.

One other thing about food: This was my first extended time in France outside of Paris and something I immediately noticed was that everyone was carrying a baguette (or three). Under the arm, while riding a bicycle, poking out of the windows in their cars… so just plant that pleasant little image in your head. (Again, the French win.) But good luck trying to buy one after noon. Every shop, grocery, market, you name it, was sold out by then. Thankfully, our campsites sold them fresh every morning. Yep, that’s right.

So, I love France. Is that obvious?

Ahead: The Swiss Alps & why I hate Switzerland…

xxx

Road trip: The French Lorraine region

I’m so excited to share this trip with you. It’s different from any trip we’ve taken. As you saw from the post yesterday, we just went on a impromptu road trip through Europe. And as you saw, we were very ambitious. In fact, I wish there was a stronger word for ambitious. Oh wait, there is: CRAZY.

Once everything was settled with our decision to move to Sweden, we thought we should seize the day two weeks and just explore wherever we felt like pointing the car. With our tent (yes, a tent!), a pile of travel guides and open minds, we set out from Amsterdam… and immediately hit traffic in Belgium. And it was raining. Hooray.

Our first stop was Luxembourg, where one of my besties studied abroad. Since it was raining and since we were super delayed from the congestion around Brussels, we were there for about 20 minutes. Looked pretty though.

We got back in the car and headed to the Lorraine region of France, southeast of Champagne. We visited Verdun where there is a ton of WWI history, including the largest US military cemetery in Europe. I have a thing about visiting cemeteries. I find them so fascinating.

Next, we headed to Metz, which has a similar feel to Strasbourg, with wide canals and beautiful Parisian architecture. Loved both. So charming and friendly. In Metz, Soupes a’ Soups was perfect. We had a lovely lunch there and I promised our adorable server we’d come back someday. Also, the French countryside wins. It’s the best in the world, I’m convinced. Hope you enjoy the pics.

Ahead: The French D’Alsace Route des Vins.

xxx

A hot minute in Strasbourg, France

We had a very brief layover here on our way back from Italy. Instead of relaxing in the airport terminal like normal people, we sprinted to the train, hopped on and ran around this tiny city on the France/Germany border. Within 90 minutes we had speed-walked across the city, eaten both a pretzel and a crepe, and gotten ourselves lost. We ended up racing back to the airport and were those embarrassing passengers that ran up to the gate and onto the plane just before take off. I’ve learned to avoid eye contact with fellow passengers in these situations. I could feel the glares without looking up.

But we did manage to snap a few pics:

It’s such a cute little place. I’d love to go back for more than 1.5 hours.

Coming up: Our first trip (I know) to London.

xxx

Jesus take the wheel: Girls’ road trip to France

Hey kids. I keep talking about how behind I am with my posts and not actually doing anything about it. Until now. Time to stop being polite and start being real and posting on a regular basis. …Once I catch up with all my old stories for you. So hold on to your butts seats, time to get you up to speed on a recent adventure with two of my very best friends from Chicago, S & L. Here they are:

My darlings

These two darlings came to Amsterdam in May for a visit. And, naturally, we carpe diem-ed that shit and made the most of their time here by also planning a little side trip to Paris!! How many best friends do you know that can just casually go to Paris together? How lucky are we!? Ah yes, the benefits to living in Europe. You may remember that I was in Paris recently with my parents. Truly a dream come true to be able to experience that with my family. But now with friends?? Almost too good to be true. Until it wasn’t.

Let’s dive in, shall we? It started off innocently enough, we had printed off all our Google map directions, had plenty of fuel (no, not gas, although we had that too.. I mean, more importantly, road trip snacks), and a sense of adventure. Nevermind the fact that we had celebrated Cinco de Mayo the night before, which may or may not have ended in a chugging mango salsa vodka disaster and we could barely open our eyes let alone walk…..

But, hey, Paris was waiting.

So Jesus took the wheel (as he did many times throughout the trip) and got us going in the morning on Sunday. Everything was going smoothly for about 5 seconds. Then Lizz, my dedicated directions-reader, had to read the first street name to turn on. Ruysdaelkade. You can imagine how this came out of her mouth. Now that I can read/speak Dutch, hearing my poor friend try to sound it out was hilarious. And also so confusing for me. By the time we figured out what street it was, we were already ‘lost.’ As in, not at all following the directions. Since I never drive in Amsterdam, I have no idea where snelwegs (highways) are and how to get on them. So! After about 45 minutes of torturous hell fun & laughs, we got out of Amsterdam and on the road to Paris!! Fast forward 5 hours and 1 stop at McDonald’s later, we were ‘in’ Paris. And got lost in about 10 seconds. After trying to figure it out on our own for about 45 minutes, we gave up, called our host, had her meet us at a metro, and guide us to the apartment. We stayed in a nice flat in Pere Lachaise (20e). While the flat was nice, the area was not so hot. All homes and no patisseries or shops makes a Parisian hood a dull one. Since we still had a bit of daylight, we checked out Notre Dame and the Louvre, and then we went to that magical place as soon as dark set in.

Hey, I know you!

That’s right, the Eiffel Tower. As I mentioned in my other post about Paris, first timers just have to see the grand Eiffel Tower on their first day… preferably their first night when she really shines! I think it really helps get everyone in the mood. A Parisian mood. S&L loved it, right then they realized they were really in Paris! Of course, getting there included someone running through red lights, breaking her purse strap and nearly getting hit by a car, but it was worth it. Right? (Jesus took the wheel there.)

Day 2. Completely revitalized from a sober decent night of sleep. Time to hit the Louvre! We metro’ed over to it after some croissants and lines were surprisingly light for a Monday (it’s closed on Tuesday so I’d expect Monday to be super busy). Checked out the heavy hitters: Mona (always underwhelms, btw), Venus, and some others. I’m always struck by the Greek god/goddess statues, I dono why. After we Louvre’d, we lunched in Jardin du Luxembourg. This was my favorite part of the trip! Munching on cheese, baguettes & sandwiches, sipping white wine in the sun… it was the perfect afternoon!

Cheers to Paris!

After our lunch, we headed over to Les Invalides to see a must do on Stacy’s list – The War Museum or Musée de l’Armée. We wandered around Napoleon’s tomb for a minute, confused about were the museum entrance was and by the time we found it – they wouldn’t let us in! I guess we only had 10 minutes before closing and needed “at least” two hours. C’est la vie. 

So, we hopped back on the Metro and headed to one of my favorite hoods – Monmartre. Here we are having wine in Painter’s Square:

American girls in Paris

Eventually headed over to a place we had read about for dinner to find out it was closed! Again, c’est la vie. We ended up at this other cute place nearby where we had onion soup and foie gras. Oops.

The next morning, we went back to the War Museum. A few things: It is massive. Way bigger than I expected. We only walked through WWI and WWII and it took over two hours. There are a bunch of other war stories in there as well! I was really impressed, they have so much memorabilia and information- It was a lot to take in. Highly recommend! After a speedy lunch of crepes and vin, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. Since we were already on the Champs Élysées, we hoofed it to the top of the Arc du Triomphe for some amazing views at sunset!

Arc du Triomphe

It was my first time up there and I’d say it’s the best view of Paris. Better than Notre Dame, Eiffel or Sacre Coeur, but that’s just me. Had dinner that night in the Latin Quarter, which is on par with the Istanbul/Barcelona/Marrakech chaotic dining street scene. Hosts harrassing you to choose their place, etc. Great for people watching (even the crazies that troll around). Decent enough food (although I was disappointed in the onion soup). But most importantly, wonderful conversation with my girls. Le sigh!

Next morning we bid adieu to Paris, hopped back in the car and got to the Champagne region (without incident). Epernay first. What a cute little town! Of course we enjoyed some a dis:

Champagne in Champagne

At a cute restaurant with al fresco seating. After strolling through town for a bit, we realized it was sort of… deserted. Not in a spooky way, just in a quiet, mysterious way. We ended up driving over to the big houses (Moet & Chandon, Perrier Jouet, etc) and it was just so quiet. So we humbly entered the tourist office and asked where small houses were that we could check out. He pointed us toward Rheims (where we were headed anyway) and off we went through magical fields of yellow flowers, and of course, rolling hills of grapevines.

Along the way, we passed through many small villages and, while beautiful and charming, none seemed to be catering to tourists at that time. Maybe we miscalculated our timing (I did forget my guidebook after all), but it was weird. We stopped in Mailly for a tasting, but it was a ghost town so we chugged our bubbles and split. And by split, I mean left. Not the mini bottle. 😉 Once in Rheims, we walked the streets and went into the shops. It’s an ordinary French city with shopping, dining, etc. Had a nice dinner on a pretty square with a fountain then it was time to make the long trek home. Luckily, we did NOT get lost and all got home in one piece. Even the car. Phew!

We hit France like a tornado. Not the kind that drop houses on witches, more the kind that is in your bathtub as the water drains out. We floated around the whole city in a constant whirlwind and just like that, we were gone. And now my friends are gone too! Up and back to Chicago …why I oughta. Was hoping they’d stay. ❤

xxx