30 July 2015
Let’s jet back to France, friends! On Tuesday, it was time to say au revoir to Paris and hop on the TGV to the countryside. We spent just two days in Provence, but we packed a lot in (and it still felt relaxed!). Get ready, peeps, because this will be the most photo-heavy post in the series.
Pont du Gard:
Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct near Remoulins. It was built in the 1st century!! It’s the highest of all the Roman aqueduct bridges and apparently one of the best preserved. Reading more about this wonder gave me such an appreciation for the precision and skill required to build it so long ago — it’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. We spent about an hour here, walking across the bridge and sitting down by the water. (We wished we had our bathing suits on so we could have gone swimming – lots of people did!)
Nîmes is a city in the Languedoc-Roussillon region with a history stretching back to the Roman Empire. We paid for admission to the Nîmes Arena, which came with an audio guide. The guide was definitely informative, though shocking at times — to this day, there is still actual bull fighting in the arena, which made me a bit uncomfortable. After finishing up at the Arena we wandered the town for a bit. It was kind of mind-bending to be reminded over and over again how much history there is around every corner, not just at the official landmarks. (For example, the Roman temple below was built in 19 BC, and it was just hanging out next to random modern buildings!)
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a tiny town on the Sorgue River. When John planned a trip to France for some of our friends last year, he sent them here, and it was one of their favorite stops on the whole trip, so we knew we had to go, too! We had lunch right next to the river (there are tons of cafes back to back – I can’t remember the name of the one we chose!) and gelato while strolling and poking into a few of the antique shops.
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is feels almost like what I imagine a Gypsy encampment would, but with more permanent structures. The main attraction is the source of the Sorgue River, the biggest spring in France (the fifth largest in the world). We were surprised by how much colder the air felt down next to the pool!
Gordes is a tiny town perched on the side of a mountain. We’re not really sure how people live or work there, because it’s basically a maze of ridiculously narrow streets. Maybe it’s just retirees, who simply enjoy the beautiful view? For a tourist, I think the only attraction is to stroll around and get lost, which we did — and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Not too many photos from our time in Aix, but we had a delicious lunch at O Bagel. We also wandered around the Aix Cathedral and popped into Le Petit Souk, a home goods, party supplies, and kids store from which I wanted to buy everything.
Le Domaine de la Rose:
Finally, I need to tell you about our accommodations! We stayed at an inn in Orgon, Le Domaine de la Rose. It was our biggest splurge of the trip, but definitely worth it. Everyone who’s been to Provence seems to have a favorite place to stay — we got several effusive recommendations when planning — and I know we’ll be doing the same when friends ask us in the future! The grounds were so beautiful, our dinner at the on-site restaurant was perfection, and the kitchen garden was out of a dream. Highly, highly recommended.
If you’ve been to Provence, what towns and sites were your favorites? I’d love to hear!
Up next: Cassis by the sea!
28 July 2015
I’m interrupting our Paris adventure to bring you this past weekend’s big doing: Natalie and Joe’s baby shower! I loved this event so much that I just had to report in ASAP. My co-host for this shindig was the lovely Marget, Natalie’s sister and my sister-in-law. It seems like just last month we were planning Natalie’s bridal shower, so we work together like a well-oiled machine by now!
We knew family would be traveling in for the festivities, so we decided to make it a co-ed shower so everyone could attend. Marget had the idea to make it an adventure dinner party, and picked out the perfect corner of a Lower East side park, right on the water, as the location. Aside from the scenic views, there was easy road access just a few hundred yards away — always an important consideration when toting in chairs and tables!
We batted around a few aesthetic options, including red striped nautical and Liberty print, before settling on a perfect compromise — summer strawberry! We wanted something sweet and a little bit girly (they are expecting a girl!), but not too girly (it was a co-ed shower!). Here’s the invitation I designed:
Our first inclination was to rent chairs, tables, and linens, because we wanted to seat everyone at one long table. After calling around to many rental companies in Jersey City and Manhattan, we could not find a single one who would let us pick up our small order at their warehouse – and the lowest delivery fee was $250. This was a surprise to me, since my local rental company here in Raleigh will let me do this, but apparently it’s not that easy everywhere!
So, we regrouped and decided to buy slim Ikea stools (on Jordan’s suggestion) and folding tables from Target. We also purchased Ikea Tekla dish towels (perfect with the red stripe!) and planned to use white tablecloths I already had. Done and done!
Except that the day before the party, Marget decided to check the NYC Parks Department one more time to see if there was anything we missed. To our dismay, there was — the first time around, we had read that if you have fewer than 20 people in your party, you’re okay to have chairs and tables… but in the fine print, it said you had to have a permit — and you have to get permits 20+ days in advance! A quick call to a friend at the department confirmed that our park is patrolled frequently and they would definitely shut us down with no permit :( Agh! Several anxious texts later, we decided we would return the tables and instead group the stools around picnic blankets.
Friends, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When we arrived on Saturday evening to set up, the park was packed, and I think we might have attracted more attention than we wanted had we been setting up tables. The only thing that would have been nice would have been to have one table to arrange the food on – it would have been a little easier to serve if it had been higher up!
Alright, enough details — on to the photos! As you can see, we had the most beautiful day. The weather was perfect!!
Our menu: mild and spicy fried chicken (picked up from Popeyes and plated in a pretty baking dish!); grilled corn salad in mini mason jars (loosely based on this recipe); good potato chips and ranch dip; a cheese platter with fruit; pasta salad with cantaloupe and feta; homemade brownies, strawberry tarts, and strawberry ice cream; and root beer, sparkling water, and strawberry lemonade to drink.
Since we had a group diverse in age where not everyone knew each other, we decided to make conversation squares to grease the wheels. They were focused on childhood and parents — appropriate for a shower, and topics everyone has experience with!
We sent guests off with cookie treat bags – everyone got a sugar cookie shaped like a strawberry (the Gianna’s brand at Whole Foods!) and either a black and white cookie (in honor of New York) or a chocolate chip cookie (because everyone loves them).
It was so good to spend time with some of my favorite people. Just T-one month until baby girl arrives! (Hopefully!) Can’t wait to meet our new niece!!
24 July 2015
Today’s post will be less heavy on words than my first France installment! I wanted to split Versailles off into its own post because although it’s close to Paris, it’s definitely its own destination. We spent half a day on the grounds — about 6 hours — but could have easily spent a few more. If you’re planning a trip to France, I would most definitely recommend a visit to this tres belle palace. Let’s take a peek at why!
Our tickets for Versailles were one of the few entertainment purchases we made while still in the States. We opted for the Passport ticket, which gets you in everywhere (the Main Palace, the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, and the Hamlet). It was about $58 for two. I used these very specific instructions for getting us from Paris to the gates of the palace. However, I have one major bone to pick with Lauren’s advice, as well as others I read: everyone made it sound as though if you bought your tickets in advance, you’d breeze right in, bypassing all the suckers in line who still had to purchase theirs. NOT TRUE (at least when we went). There was one huge line of people waiting to enter, and then a much smaller line of people who still needed to purchase a ticket (and then join the big line). Anyway, we probably waited for about 45 minutes to enter, so just be prepared, since the line is in full sun!
After making it through the turnstiles, we opted to have lunch before setting off to see the sites. There are several cafes on site that we felt were reasonably priced, and delicious! I think you might also be able to bring food in, but I’m not sure.
When you’re ready to start your tour of the main palace, make sure you pick up an audio guide first. It is included with your ticket price and we really enjoyed it.
We’d recommend moving more quickly through the bottom floor of the tour — it feels more like a museum than the house recreated, and we didn’t find it that interesting. Up the stairs, however, the rooms have been restored to their original purposes and furnishings, and you learn lots of fun tidbits through the audio guide! It was definitely crowded, but I expected that and it didn’t really bother me. The hall of mirrors (above) was stunning, but I think my favorite room was Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, with its lovely flowered wall coverings. It’s crazy to think that all the gold you see in the palace is real – 18k or 24k!
Once we finished the tour (after maybe an hour?), we headed down the back steps to the gardens! There are so many alleys, hidden corners, and fountains to explore. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around – probably close to two hours. A few of our favorites: Apollo’s Bath Grove, the Queen’s Grove, and the King’s Grove. Many of these spots we were totally alone in, so don’t despair if you hate crowds.
There’s not much else I need to tell you about Versailles — you’ll figure it out with no trouble, I’m sure! — but I hope these few pictures will convince you to go if you have the chance! Again, we would have happily spent several more hours here, rented bikes, made it out to the Hamlet and the Petit Trianon, eaten more ice cream, lay in the grass and people watched, etc., so I’d really encourage you to spend the whole day, if you can.
Versailles often came up as a favorite when we chatted with those who had already been to France, so if you’ve had the pleasure of going, I’d love to hear: what was your favorite part? How much time did you allocate, and was it enough?
Up next: Provence!
20 July 2015
It’s been about a month since we returned from France and I have all our photos sorted, so it’s time to share our adventure! Instead of sharing day by day, as I did with our California trip, I’m going to share by location. First up will be Paris, then Versailles (it deserves its own post!), Provence, Cassis, and finally Mougins.
This was mine and John’s first trip to Europe, which meant it was our first trans-Atlantic (and overnight!) flight! We took off from Montreal around 10pm on Air Canada and landed at Charles de Gaulle around 9:30am local time. We stayed awake long enough to sample our hot airline dinner (surprisingly delicious), then attempted to sleep for the rest of the six hour flight. One tip: we packed a few Burt’s Bees face wipes as well as Wisps, and both helped us feel much fresher going to bed and then again in the morning!
From CDG we took the RER (commuter train) and then the Metro into Paris. This was easy – there was a kiosk to buy tickets right in the airport. The ride to Cambronne, our stomping grounds in the 15th arrondissement, took about 45 minutes. Once we hopped off at our stop, I was amazed when John strode confidently in the correct direction! His trick? He had “walked” the route from the station to our apartment on Google street view. That man is a genius! We successfully met up with our Airbnb host, dropped our luggage, and made outfit changes.
And then we dove in! We walked from the 15th toward the Seine, stopping at a stall along the river for a foccaccia, tomato, and mozzarella sandwich (yum!). Along the way, we saw the Invalides, the Ecole Militaire, and even got a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!
Our destination was the Musee d’Orsay. We didn’t have a ton of time in Paris (really only two days, since most of one of our days was spent at Versailles), and we knew ourselves: while we appreciate art, we are not the biggest art history buffs. So instead of the Louvre, we chose the Musee d’Orsay, which came highly recommended by many people for its art, its architecture, and its more manageable footprint.
We walked the Orsay for about an hour. Sadly, we were feeling the effects of an overnight flight, 24 hours of travel, and the time change at this point, and were dragging pretty hard, so I don’t think we quite did this lovely museum justice. We did, however, love the observation patio on the top floor – the view was completely majestic! If I were to go again, I would listen to an audio tour while walking, because there wasn’t much context for the pieces from signage.
After exiting the Orsay we crossed over the Seine and wandered through the Tuileries. So beautiful! I would love to spend an entire afternoon reading in one of the reclined patio chairs that cover the grounds. One surprise: the Tuileries, as well as many other parts of Paris, were very dusty! The paths are mostly finely crushed gravel, and the wind really whips it into the air. Both John and I had mildly sore throats for our three days in Paris (a small price to pay, though!).
As we walked toward the Champs-Elysees, the crowd definitely got thicker and thicker, and a bit more touristy. But we didn’t mind, because we had a destination in sight: Laduree! We splurged on a sample box of eight, including lemon, chocolate banana, rose petal, and raspberry. The store was as elegant and lovely, and the macarons as delicious, as everyone makes them out to be! A little jewel box. I would definitely recommend a stop, though beyond that I wouldn’t spend much time on the Champs Elysees.
After a brief glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe, we hopped on the Metro (we had purchased unlimited rides, which I would also recommend) to the Trocadero. We got a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower from on high, and successfully avoided all of the selfie stick sellers!
From there, we walked down under the Tower to Cafe Constant, a restaurant that was one of the most often-recommended in our pre-trip research. We arrived right when they opened, as recommended, to avoid a long wait, and were seated promptly. The meal was very good and reasonably priced – classic French food (I got boeuf bourguignon). Our night ended with a walk back to our apartment past the lit-up Tower.
There’s that Paris light – this was taken at 9:30!
On Sunday we started the day with worship at Hillsong Paris. It was similar to the Hillsong NYC service we went to this spring (also in a theater), but a smaller crowd. The whole service was delivered in both French and English (aside from the songs, which were in French). Such a neat way to experience true Parisian life!
After church we headed to Versailles, which I will report on in my next post!
I do have to mention, though, that on Sunday we had dinner at Les Cocottes back in Paris, a restaurant owned by the same chef as Cafe Constant. We LOVED our late (10pm!) dinner at Les Cocottes – definitely one of our favorites from the whole trip. The vibe is kind of like an upscale diner, the food was absolutely delicious, and the whole experience felt very Parisian. Highly, highly recommended.
Even though people always split Paris into the Left and Right Banks, we split our days a little differently: on Saturday we stayed to the West of the Louvre, and on Monday, we were mostly to the right of it. We started our second day in Paris (third day in France) with an escargot (not the snail – a pistachio pastry that looks like a snail!) and a pain au chocolat from Du Pain et Des Idees, another boulangerie that had come highly recommended. We ate them on the bank of the Canal St. Martin, then wandered Le Marais until it was time for lunch. (Can you tell our days were structured around food and sights? But what else is there??)
For lunch, we split from the French fare we had been enjoying and indulged in street-style tacos at a true hole in the wall, Candelaria (recommended by our friends as well as Anthony Bourdain). The “kitchen” was a teensy galley on the other side of the counter from the bar stools where we sat, and the food was delicious.
Fortified, we walked across Pont Neuf to Ile de la Cite.
For our first foray into a Paris historic site, we waited in line for about a half an hour to see Saint Chapelle. It was most definitely stunning, with more than 1,000 Biblical scenes depicted in stained glass!
However, for me, our next destination, Notre Dame, was even more beautiful. Even though the line outside looked long, it moved briskly (we probably only waited five minutes), and there is no entry fee. They’ve done a wonderful job with signage and description inside, and I loved learning more about the cathedral’s history as well as drinking in the amazing architecture.
What’s that? Time for a snack! Next up was Berthillon ice cream, on Ile St. Louis. Warning: as you approach the actual Berthillon location, you will see signs for many, many other shops advertising Berthillon. It’s like the ice cream district! These other shops actually do sell Berthillon, but if you want it from the original location, keep walking. It’s delicious – more icy than creamy, and very intensely flavored.
With our ice cream in hand we strolled around the Jardin du Luxembourg area (beautiful! I liked it better than the Tuileries) before heading back to our apartment to clean up for dinner. En route, we stumbled across a Longchamps store, and I was able to replace my seven-year-old bag (tip: the same bag goes for MUCH less when bought in France!).
Dinner was at Le Coupe Chou, a perfect date night spot. From the outside, it looked like it belonged in England; the inside is a maze of cozy rooms with fireplaces galore.
These two city skeptics were completely charmed by Paris — John especially. Despite the Parisian reputation, everyone we met was INCREDIBLY friendly; there was beauty and history at every turn; and we loved walking everywhere (45 miles in three days!). I also loved that all of the stereotypes about French people and baguettes are 100% true – there was one sticking out of almost every tote bag we saw, or being munched right on the sidewalk! To conclude, we would go back in a heartbeat.
Even though this is a long post, I left out a lot of detail, so please ask questions about specifics if you have them! And if you have been to Paris, I would love to know: did we make it to one of your favorite spots? And if we didn’t, what did we miss?