European Adventure: Paris Day 4 & 5

Day 4 in Paris was our last day of major sight seeing. We needed to wake up early though, to try to beat out some of the crowds, to the Louvre. I knew the Louvre housed the Mona Lisa, some Da Vinci and Monet pieces, but I was not expectation SO many other artifacts, sculptures and paintings. It is, by far, the most amazing museum I have ever been to, and I feel like I only saw a fraction of it. It is definitely on my list to tour again, the next time I am in Paris (and I definitely want to return to Paris!).

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We arrived at the Louvre early enough and were one of the first people in line. We knew we would make a beeline for the Mona Lisa, which generally has a crowd throughout the day.

We went straight to the Mona Lisa when the museum opened. We wanted to see it, pretty much to say we saw it. It was…small, and a little unremarkable. I am glad we saw it first thing, because later on there was a huge crowd.

IMG_2143Then we set off to explore the museum. We started off in the ancient civilization sections and worked our way up to ancient Egypt, before we took a lunch break. The artifacts were absolutely astounding. We were looking at tools, statues, jewelry and relics that were thousands of years old! We also saw portions of temples and palaces that were still remarkably intact.

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After lunch, we went to the Napoleonic apartments. Not only is the Louvre an amazing museum, but it was also the site of the former palace, before it was moved to Versailles. Not only are there amazing things to see all around you, but the building itself is a work of art.

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After looking at the apartments and medieval section, we begin exploring the Italian section. There was so much to take in, but my favorite paintings were by Giovanni Pannini. This was a series of so many paintings, within the painting. He replicated not only paintings, but sculptures and sites all around Rome and Paris. 100_2997 100_2999

At this point, we had been at the museum for over 6 hours. Even though there was so much we would have liked to explore, we had passed the threshold for a 9 year old’s museum interest. He actually behaved remarkably well and seemed genuinely interested in some of the artifacts (but not so much the paintings).

We decided to return back to Tuileres gardens to relax and let the kid roam free, without his hands behind his back and having to whisper (as he did very well throughout the whole museum). He ran amok at the playground, and we planted in the cafe with beer and fries, to talk about all the amazing things we had seen.

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After a few hours, we took the metro to the Bastille district. We explored the colorful neighborhood until we found a bar to plant and watch some of the game.

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Eventually, we made our way back to our neighborhood for a quick dinner, then sleep! We were pretty exhausted at this point from all the early mornings, walking and sight seeing.

The next morning was the first morning in Paris that we did not have to be up early! We slept in blissfully.

I REALLY wanted to take a yoga class at a studio at some point during this vacation. I saw a studio on Yelp when we were in Rome, but was never able to find it. We set off that morning to find one a few miles from our apartment in Paris. My phone only worked at our apartment, were we had Wi-Fi, so we pulled up the map from there and figured out what metro stop to exit from. We made our way to the address and when we got there…it was a Chinese restaurant. We re-traced our steps, re-checked the address, but alas, there was no yoga studio. Since my phone did not work, I could not pull up the map or look anything up, so after searching a bit more, we abandoned the mission. I really did want to experience taking a class in another country, and hopefully, I will get that opportunity someday.

We set off to enjoy our last day in Paris. It was incredibly bittersweet to walk the streets on the final day, before returning back to America. I knew I needed to visit one of the many pastry shops to buy my mom a treat, straight from Paris.

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We continued to savor the city and eventually made our way to Pere LeChais to visit the final resting places of a few noteables.

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Oscar Wilde

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Gertrude Stein

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Edith Piaf

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Jim Morrison

We then made the long journey back to our neighborhood, for a final European dinner. We ended up eating at an Italian restaurant, and I savored my last bit of European wine and pasta.

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We sadly made our way back to our apartment, to pack up and be ready for another early and epic day of travel.

We woke up around 3 AM, to catch a cab at 4 AM, to get to the airport. Once we finally boarded, some of us were in better moods than others.

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We flew about two hours and landed in London. We had a two hour layover and found some delicious, healthy food. I had not realized how much I missed green juice until I drank this.

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IMG_2185 The flight made me crazy, but there was nothing remarkably wrong with it. I was just tired and claustrophobic. My backpack barely survived the final leg of the trip.

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R.I.P.

We made our way home and gave our puppies huge hugs. It was wonderful to sleep in our own bed that night, but it has been a difficult adjustment back to America. I had an amazing time on our vacation and feel in love with different portions of European and international life.

I appreciate you following along on this journey with me! I hope you enjoyed seeing all the pictures and reading about my experience.

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European Adventure: Paris Day 2 & 3

At the recommendation of our guru Rick Steve’s we woke up early and arrived at Notre Dame before 9 AM. We were able to walk right into the cathedral, without waiting in a line, and explore around before the hoards of tour groups came through.

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I immediately loved Notre Dame. The gothic architecture was intricate and appealing. I don’t know if it was because we arrived before the crowds, but there was a much more sacred atmosphere inside Notre Dame, as opposed to what I felt in the Vatican. There are signs everyone reminding you to keep silent, so a more respectful atmosphere is maintained.

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We looked around the cathedral and were able to witness a mass that was occurring. We then went to get in line to climb the bell tower, which opened to visitors at 10 AM.

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The climb up Notre Dame was much better regulated than the Vatican. They only allowed so many people up at a time, which the experience at the top more enjoyable, since you were not smashed against other people.

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The views at the top were unbelievable:

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Out of all the cathedrals I have visited in Europe, Notre Dame was definitely my favorite. The architecture and energy was more appealing to me and I appreciated how much more organized the visiting regulations were.

After Notre Dame, we went just right up the street to visit Shakespeare & Co. This was must-see for me, in Paris. It is a small, independent bookstore that was the gathering place for many of my favorite authors, such as Ernest Hemmingway, Ezra Pound and James Joyce.

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We grabbed a quick lunch, and begin making our way to the Orsay Museum. I was pretty worn out at this point from all the walking and climbing, so we decided to split up. Our friends went to the museum and we returned to Tuliere gardens to rest and give my step-son time to play.

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Sometimes, on vacation, your husband takes really unflattering pictures of you!

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Once I woke up from my nap, we met back with our friends, and begin making our way to the Montmarte district.

Montmarte is situated on a hill, so we climbed and climbed and climbed. It was definitely worth it. Montmarte is such an eclectic and interesting neighborhood. There are artists everywhere, and the energy is fun and vibrant.

We started off by visiting Basilica of the Sacre Coeur. The steps outside were full of people and there was a small band playing. It was such a fun meeting place and seemed to be the place to be, on that afternoon.

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We went inside the Basilica (no photos were allowed, because a service was in session) and it was amazing how separated from the noise and energy it was, from what was going on outside. The atmosphere was reserved and sacred, an interesting contrast to the bustling right outside the doors.

After the Basilica, we visited Place du Terte, a square where artists gather to paint picture or sketches of paying tourists. It was packed with tourists, but still very interesting to watch the talent unfold in front of us. In moments, amazing works of art were executed right before our eyes. We planted in a café and peopled watched for awhile and enjoyed the buzzing environment (and cheers from the current World Cup game).

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Our energy was running low at this point. It had been the day of climbing and we were pretty worn out. We had a long walk back towards our apartment, and we stopped once more for Falafel at the restaurant near were we were staying. We had another early morning the next day, so we tried to get to sleep between 10-11 PM. The sun did not set till about 10:30 PM, so it was confusing sometimes, to try to get to sleep early.

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The plan for the next day was to visit Versailles. This was another must-see for me, and I was incredibly excited to see this historical, decadent site.

We woke up early enough for 5 people to get ready in a small apartment, with one bathroom and we made our way to the metro station and figured out how to navigate our way to Versailles. We found it easy enough and were in line at the entrance, about 20 minutes before it opened.

We were one of the first ones in and had the opportunity to explore around, before it got too crowded.

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Versailles was pretty breathtaking. It is elaborate and completely over the top, complete fit for royalty. You definitely get the sense that Louis XIV thought highly of himself, there are paintings and statues of him all over in various heroic stances.

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Each room was more ornate than the next, and it was a challenge to try and see all the details of the paintings, sculptures and furnishings.

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Once we had explored the Chateau, we set out to start touring the immense gardens. We walked and walked and walked and awed over the expanse around us.

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After touring both Grand & Petite Trianon (other living quarters of the royal family when they wanted to escape the formality of the Chateau), we set off to find Marie Antoinette’s estate. This was my favorite part of the grounds. The hamlet village was incredibly charming and quaint. It is so far away from the Chateau, that you would not even guess you were on the same grounds. It was secluded away and easy to see why she utilized it as an escape.

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The farm was still active and adorable. I could have spent the whole day just watching the animals.

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After exploring the hamlet, we walked all the way back to the Chateau and made our way back to the train station. We rode back into the city and walked around the Latin Quarter. It was a fun, energetic neighborhood.

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We found some delicious street food (I really could not get enough falafel) and planted in a bar to watch some of the World Cup.

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Eventually, we made our way back to our neighborhood, because, as I am sure you guessed, we had to be up early, once again, to beat the crowds for our next site.

European Adventure: Paris Day 1

I am going to break up the posts about Paris, because there was just so much to see and do. I appreciate if you have hung in for these travel posts. I know it can be tedious and I go back and forth between wondering if I am babbling and realizing how much I am leaving out.

To get to Paris, we left early in the morning from Beaune, to drive to Dijon, drop off our rental car and take a train to Paris.

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I was SO excited, and anxious for Paris. We would be there the longest of all cities in our trip, 5 days, and yet even in that time, I knew I would not be able to see everything I wanted. I was also nervous about the pace we would be keeping.

Plainly speaking: I was tired. We had been traveling for over two weeks at this point and although I was having an amazing time, I was craving a day to relax and not worry about if we would make a certain train time, would my backpack would hang in there for another day, did I pronounce thank-you and please correctly in another language and did I make sure to take pictures of that amazing thing that I may never see again. Traveling does take it’s toll after awhile and although I was a long way from wanting to go home, I did want to slow down a bit.

Paris would be the exact opposite of that. It was an energetic city with so much to see. Luckily, I was revitalized by the life from the city and it kept me going for the next 5 days, with some bouts of exhaustion, here and there.

We arrived in Paris and immediately purchased the Paris pass from the train station. Our guru Rick Steve’s recommended it, and I definitely concur. It got us access to most of the sites we visited and public transportation. It ended up being much cheaper to purchase the pass, as opposed to purchasing all these things separately.

From the train station, we took the metro and found our next apartment pretty easily. This apartment was the smallest of the whole trip. It was a small studio, all one room. There were bunk beds, which my husband I slept on the bottom, and our friends slept on the top. There was a small, pullout bed that came out of the wall, where my step-son slept. As small as it was, it was perfect for what we needed. It was affordable and centrally located, and we knew we would hardly be in the apartment. Plus, we had a small view of Eiffel Tower from our balcony, see it way over in the left corner?

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Steps away from our apartment building, we found a Mediterranean restaurant. I was SO happy to see this sign. Food options in Paris were definitely looking up and I quickly devoured this flavorful falafel wrap. We may or may not have eaten one nearly each day we were in Paris.

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Speaking of the Eiffel Tower, after dropping off our bags at our apartment, we headed right to it. We had to walk a few miles, but eventually we found it and took a billion pictures.

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After the Eiffel Tower, we headed in the direction of The Champs Elysee, where my husband history nerded out over seeing The Arc of Triomphe.

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We literally skipped down The Champs Elysee like a bunch of tourist a holes and stopped for some overpriced, watered down drinks, but we just HAD to stop and sit on The Champs Elysee, for awhile. It was bustling and vibrant and a great opportunity for people watching.

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We walked all the way down The Champs Elysee and ended up at Tuileres gardens. We planted in a café within the gardens that was located right next to a playground. Jackpot. We appreciated the opportunity to rest our feet and drink a beer, and my step-son appreciated the opportunity to play with other children. I am certain he was tired of traveling exclusively with adults, at this point.

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Chips + guac in Paris. Heck yes!

Chips + guac in Paris. Heck yes!

Eventually, our hunger got the best of us, and we tried to figure out how to navigate the metro back to our apartment.

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We knew we wanted to eat at the Indian food restaurant that was literally on the corner, from our building. I hungrily dug into fresh naan, spiced rice and curried lentils. Deeeeeeelicious.

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After dinner, we were exhausted from our travel and all the walking. We headed back up to our apartment to get some sleep, because the next day, we had plans to be up very early.

European Adventure: Beaune

We took a bus to Lyon and were supposed to take a train to Beaune. However, there were train strikes occurring and we found out our few hours of travel could now potentially take us the whole day. We decided to rent a car instead, and drive to Beaune.

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We squeezed ourselves into our rental car, and were on our way.

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We arrived in Beaune and settled in to our next apartment, which was located on the outskirts of the city. We choose Beaune because of it’s proximity to wineries within the Burgandy region. We were definitely excited for all the local, delicious wines.

The center of Beaune is located within the walls of the former castle of the Duke of Burgandy. It had an incredibly historical and quaint feel to it.

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We unpacked in our new apartment, and walked into town to explore.

Eventually, we settled in for dinner, which was…salad and French fries.

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We had a spacious balcony at the apartment, and we enjoyed many bottles of delicious wine from the region. I loved these moments of slowing down, sipping wine and taking the whole trip in.

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The next day, we slept it (it was much needed!) then walked into town. We explored around some more, and visited the local cathedral.

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We chose a café in town for lunch and ordered…..you guessed it! Salad and French fries. The salad was not even listed on the menu, my husband asked if we could have a green salad and we received some lettuce, with olive oil drizzled on. This actually cost a ridiculous amount of money, to top it off. Needless to say, we were pretty hungry at this point.

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We decided to take a trip to the local market, and our friend announced he would be making a vegan risotto for dinner.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing in our apartment, drinking amazing wine and feasted on a great dinner of risotto, salad and grilled vegetables! My friend Mischa definitely saved me from being hangry!

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The next day, we took Rick Steve’s advice and set out on a wine tour. Rick Steve’s France guidebook gives a detailed tour of the wineries in the Burgandy region.

We took a breathtaking drive through vineyards and hillsides, to visit three different wineries.

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I found I definitely prefer French wine over Italian, and I feel in love with a few different white wines, which I normally do not care for.

On our tour, we found Chateau de la Rochepot, a restored castle from the 1400s. It started to lightly rain when we arrived, which made for the perfect setting to explore the castle.

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After the Chateau, we drove out to a few more amazing spots, then made the turn around back to our apartment.

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Beaune offered us so much charm, history and information on wine, but it was time to move on. We tried to get to sleep pretty early, because we had to be up extra early, to make our way into Paris!

European Adventure: Annecy

We left Venice early in the morning to start a major day of travel. We took a vaparetto to the train station, and took a train first from Venice to Milan, then Milan to Geneva, Switzerland.

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Most of the train trip I spent like this:

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Fortunately, I woke up a few times to catch some of the beautiful scenery. Our views were of the Swiss Alps and Lake Geneva.

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Once we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, we waited a few hours for the next bus that would take us to Annecy, France.

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We walked around Geneva for a bit. I found it to be incredibly clean and diverse. I wish we could have spent more time there, but it just did not work out with the other cities we were traveling to.

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When we finally arrived in Annecy, France, it was raining and a bit of a culture shock. Even though it was logical, it was still jarring to switch from Italian to French, and try to figure out how to contact and meet our next host. After about a confusing hour, we figured it out and settled in to our next apartment.

I am embarrassed to say that I did not practice as much French, as I should have. I only knew the basic pleasantries, and in Annecy and the next city we visited, Beaune, very few people spoke English. Fortunately, my husband practiced quite a bit before the trip, and he was able to get us around.

We settled in to our (spacious!) apartment and after washing the day of travel off of us, we set out to find dinner in our new city.

Annecy looked like it was straight out of a storybook. The town was incredibly charming and must have been the inspiration behind the little town Belle sings about, in Beauty and the Beast.

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Dinner that night was another culture shock. I barely understood the menu and saw pretty much no vegan options. France proved to be much more of a challenge in finding things to eat (until we arrived in Paris). However, the wine was AMAZING. We had a grapefruit wine seasoned with rose.

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Dinner was a basil tomato crumble, with salad and sorbet. It was the safest thing on the menu, but I can honestly do not know if it was 100% vegan. We definitely tried the best we could, throughout France, but it was a very BIG challenge, especially with our lack of language skills and desire to not be difficult tourists.

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Most dishes were laden with cheese and meat. For example, this was our friend’s meal. I think it contained bacon and potatoes, swimming in cheese. According to her, it was absolutely delicious.

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We were pretty exhausted after our day of travel and culture shock, so we walked back through the cute city and turned in early for the night.

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The next morning, I woke up early and was able to get in some good yoga time. Fortunately, this apartment had the space that allowed me to do that, without disturbing everyone else’s sleep.

Once everyone was up, we decided to walk to the local market, and get some picnic supplies. This was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. We bought delicious food and wine, and enjoyed a picnic right along Lake Annecy (only a 10 minute walk from our apartment), with views of the Alps. It was another “I can’t believe where we are” moment.

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We continued to walk around and explore the city, and eventually decided to head back to the apartment for a nap (my favorite!).

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In the evening, we found a place to have dinner pretty close to our apartment (we were situated in a very central portion of the city.)

For dinner, we found virtually nothing on the menu, and ordered our first, of MANY rounds, of salad and French fries.

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After dinner, we set out to see the city at night. We found a local band playing and plopped down to enjoy them.

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Annecy had a wonderful community like feel. There did not seem to be many tourists while we were there and it felt nice to be amongst the friendly locals and absorb their culture.

The next day, I woke up early, to go for a run along beautiful Lake Annecy. I only did 3 miles, but there was no way I could miss the opportunity to run in such a gorgeous location.

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Our plan for the day was to rent bikes and take a ride around Lake Annecy, picnic and ride back. We loaded up on more essentials at the market and were on our way.

The bike ride was another of my favorites of the trip. The views were absolutely breathtaking and we were able to see so many charming lakeside homes, with luscious gardens.

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Our destination was at the other side of the lake, just over ten miles. After the long ride, we were so ready for our picnic and dug into our food; baguette, sundried tomatoes, THE best mustard, tabouli, olives, fig spread and hummus.

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The ride back was just as amazing and we arrived back hours later having ridden just over twenty miles.

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We went back to the main street that our apartment was on and hopped around cafes, people watched, and talked about our observations and the things we were learning. These are some of my favorite moments when traveling. I love sitting down to take it all in and reflect on what I am learning from being in a new culture. I always find that some of my current views are challenged and I learn so much by just sitting and observing.

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The next morning, we were set to leave Annecy. Luckily, the fresh market was occurring, just outside our apartment and we were able to load up on provisions for our train trip to Beaune.

This market absolutely blew me away. It stretched on and on and was filled with so many beautiful fruits and vegetables, fresh olives and amazing spreads. We found out this market occurs THREE times per week! I would give just about anything to have something comparable where I live.

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We purchased this sun-dried tomato tapenade, accompanied with a white wine artichoke spread. Those paired so well with a baguette, during our travel time.

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I could have easily stayed longer. I absolutely loved Annecy! I adored how easy it was to be active in the city. There was a well established running and bike trail, that runs right alongside the lake with the stunning views.

Alas, it was time to move on. We headed to the train station to make our way to Beaune…

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European Adventure: Venice

We drove from Noce to the airport in Venice, where we dropped off our rental car, and boarded a vaparetto (water taxi) to get to our next apartment.

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I loved the look of Venice, right away. The architecture and surroundings felt so historical.

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We met our host close to our stop and were relieved to find she spoke Spanish! My husband and I are much more comfortable speaking Spanish, instead of bumbling through Italian, which is what we had been doing, up to that point.

We unpacked, and set out to explore. Venice felt like a maze, it was easy to get lost and just when we thought we knew where we were going, we would run into a water dead end. We still had fun though, while being lost, it’s then that you see the best parts of a city.

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Our guru Rick Steve’s warned us that the restaurants right near the water were mostly tourist traps, with poor, overpriced food. When we were ready for dinner, we found a restaurant that was not close to the water, but in a busy piazza.

Unfortunately, this was our first disappointing meal of the whole trip. The grilled vegetables and salad were OK, but I ordered gnocchi in tomato sauce that was way overcooked and mushy. Everyone else had similar feedback about their food.

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After dinner, we continued to explore and decided to bring one of our bottles of wine that we purchased the previous night in Castellina to Piazza San Marco. This piazza was bustling and lively and we sat on the steps of Basilica San Marco, slowly drank wine and people watched. The piazza was absolutely beautiful at night, and I am so glad I got to see it in the at glory because the next day, I was not as impressed.

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Eventually, we made our way back to our apartment and settled in for the evening. We slept in the next morning and slowly eased into the day. My husband and friends left to the train station to make our travel arrangements to France. I stayed behind in the apartment to get some yoga in. I tried to fit yoga in where I could. I brought my travel mat along, but space was limited in some of our places, so it did not always happen as often as I wanted. Finding these moments alone was also important for my vacation time, as well. I am a natural introvert and absolutely need my time alone. This was not always easy when travelling with others, but I tried to find small ways to still take care of myself, so I was not worn out and grouchy. (I did a class from YogaGlo. My laptop is literally, glowing.)

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Lunch was another disappointing meal, unfortunately, that doesn’t deserve much more of a description than that. Unfortunately, Venice was so compact and touristy that it was hard to find restaurants without a tourist vibe.

We then made our way back to Piazza San Marco. It was too late in the day to tour the Basilica, the crowds were pretty out of control, and honestly, we were a little cathedral-ed out. However, we were able to observe some bizarre behavior in the piazza.

I had heard the piazza was famous for it’s pigeons, but I was still appalled to see people encouraging pigeons to land on them, so they could take a picture. I was also equally appalled to find people playing and splashing around in the water in the piazza, which was coming from overflown sewers. It was all very concerning behavior, to me, and I am glad I have the memory of the piazza from the previous night, which is how I prefer to remember it.

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We people watched some more and watched more bizarre things that tourists do. Eventually, our hunger and determination to find good food moved us along. We explored around more carefully, and found a restaurant near our piazza that (finally!) had good food. We had incredible luck with restaurants near our apartments, and we should have remembered that, in our searches.

For our last meal in Italy, I ordered pesto pasta and my husband had a pizza marinara, with pesto drizzled on. It was a great meal!

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The next morning we were up super early for a massive day of travel. We were going to be making our way to Annecy, France through vaparetto, 2 trains and a bus. We said Ciao to Venice and Italy and were ready for a new adventure and country.

My friend Mischa, in his Venizian maska

My friend Mischa, in his Venizian mask

European Adventure: Rome

My husband, step-son and two friends left from LAX, flew ten hours to London, had a short layover, then flew another two hours landing in Rome. It was a long day of travel! Our friends’ luggage ended up getting lost (they eventually got it back the next day), and we were tired and hungry.

But,…we were in Rome! It was an exhilarating experience to pull up to our rented apartment and see how alive our piazza was, even at 2 AM.

Fortunately, there was a cafe, literally right outside our door, and the food was amazing. We ate here a few times, during our stay.

Our welcome to Italy meal: sauteed spinach, bruschetta, penne arribiata 

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I was extremely relieved to find how easy it was to find vegan food. Cheese was not automatically added on to as many dishes as they are in Italian American restaurants. I found this to be true through all of Italy and I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh, simple ingredients.

Our first picture in Italy. We are exhausted, but excited!

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On our first full day, we started with a visit to The Colosseum.

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It was absolutely amazing and interesting to see history come alive. Unfortunately, I felt all the travel catching up to me. I had a migraine, felt like I was seconds away from throwing up and was sweating up a storm.

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And, so it goes with travel, sometimes. I hung in there for our next stop, The Forum. We explored around and tried to imagine what it must have been like as the center of Ancient Rome.

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I was pretty done after this point. We walked the sweaty miles back to our apartment, where I blasted the air conditioner, chugged some water and took a nap for a few hours. I think I was mostly tired and dehydrated. It took me a few days to find the correct appropriate hydration/lack of public restroom balance. Public restrooms are not as easily available in Europe, and I was not drinking as much water as I should have been, for fear of not finding a restroom.

Water and rest did the trick, and I was finally feeling like myself again. I met up with my family and friends in our piazza, and settled in

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We finished up our first full day in Rome by hanging out in our Piazza Santa Maria. It was bustling and full of energy. We enjoyed drinks, while my step-son played soccer with kids he met. We ate more delicious food and exhaustion caught up to us soon enough.

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On our second day, we slept in and leisurely explored our neighborhood, where I had my first of MANY pizza marinaras. It is such a simple dish; thin, crispy pizza, topped with marinara sauce, olive oil, garlic and spices. We ate this all over Italy.

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We took it little easier this day, but still explored around. We made our way to The Pantheon and walked around the surrounding area. We also saw the Trevi Fountain (which was turned off!) and a museum. We eventually found a nice park to relax in the shade for a few hours were I took a welcome nap. I can’t recommend how needed this is, during busy vacations!

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Dinner was at Popi Popi, a place recommended to us by an ex-pat we met earlier in the day. I had spaghetti with tomato sauce. Again, the ingredients were few, simple and fresh. It was absolutely delicious.

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The next morning, we woke up early, to make our way to The Vatican. According to Rick Steve’s (our travel guru, who never steered us wrong the whole trip) Italy guidebook, The Vatican gets pretty packed, so arriving early is optimal.

We all wore pants, since shorts are not allowed and I brought a sweater to cover my shoulders. Even though it was early in the day, we already started sweating on our walk over.

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I was pretty blown away by how elaborate The Vatican was. It was a work of art in it’s own right, with embellished architecture, ornate decorations and murals, frescos and sculptures all over.

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However, it all struck me as a little bit….much. It felt more like a museum more than a place of worship, which I realize may have been the idea, I guess my expectations for it where just…different.

Still, I was awe struck several times. We climbed and sweated to the top of St. Peter’s Cupola (the staircase up was narrow, windy and harrowing), and although it was extremely crowded at the top, we still had a pretty amazing view.

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We spent some time exploring the inside, but the crowds were growing and growing. It was hard to look around when there were tour groups crowded around certain sites.

As we left The Vatican, we saw the line just enter stretching all through the courtyard. I was definitely glad that we got there early!

We enjoyed our last night in Rome back in our Piazza (it was definitely our favorite neighborhood). We are dinner one more time at our café right across from our apartment.

Along with grilled veggies, olives and bruschetta, I ordered the pesto penne. Again, all deeeeeelish!

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We were able to find soy gelato and enjoyed hazelnut and chocolate. It was a nice way to end our Roman Adventure!

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The next day, we took a cab to the rental car station at the edge of town, and started our journey to the Tuscan region….

Aaaaaand….I’m Back!

I am back from my European adventure. I have been back for about one week, and it has been hard to adjust back. I definitely experienced some reverse culture shock and lows that set in after realizing I am no longer in a different country.

I was happy to be back with my dogs, see my family and friends, return to my yoga studio, sleep in my own bed and shower in my own shower, but, I deeply miss the experience of being somewhere new, exploring and learning.

I loved trying to speak a new language and being corrected by locals. I adored seeing the sites, delving into the history and wrapping myself in a new culture. I absolutely live for these experiences, and it has taken all of my willpower not to re-pack my bags this past week, and run across the nearest country border, into Mexico, just to have that experience all over again.

Our vacation was amazing. I am still digesting everything I saw and learned. If you are up for it, I am happy to share my pictures and experiences. I took over 1,700 pictures and I will not subject you to all of that nonsense (a big thank-you to my friend, Eddie, who sat looked at every.single.picture with me!), but I am happy to share a little but from each city, if you are interested.

I am oh so fortunate to still have another month off of work, so, the remainder of my summer will be spent hiking, camping, dancing at the beach and trying to train my dogs (I read one of Cesar Millan’s books while on vacation, and man, do we have a lot of work to do!).

A great big THANK-YOU to all of my guest bloggers who filled in for me, while I was away. If you have not already, please check out these posts from: NicoleBarbJessicaMelissaKristenMarcella and Karen.

Thanks for hanging in there with me, as I adjust back to reality. I am slowly coming back, although mentally, I am sometimes still back in the cafes:

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Guest Post: Visiting Peace by Jessica from Far From Kansas

If we are on schedule, I should finally be in France! I am scheduled to be in Annecy today and extremely excited to explore the French countryside.

I was fortunate enough to be paired up with Jessica from Far From Kansas, for a book exchange, a few years back. She introduced me to Barbara Kingslover and I truly reading about her travels and life abroad. I will turn it over to her to describe one of her most recent trips.

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Last year I visited Oslo, Norway. Despite it being October the weather was sunny and warm-ish…warmer than should be expected for late-October. In other words, it was beautiful!

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I arrived on Thursday and the friends I was visiting had to work Friday so I was left to wander the city on my own. No problem there! Oslo is very walkable if you don’t mind walking and given the aforementioned nice weather I didn’t mind at all. Once I made it downtown from my friends’ apartment one of the first places I came across was the Nobel Peace Center.

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The Nobel Peace Center is the museum about the Nobel Peace Prize. Our permanent installations tell the story of Alfred Nobel and the Peace Prize laureates and their engaged and groundbreaking work.

Our changing exhibitions provide insight into the fields of war, peace and conflict resolution, often presented in new and surprising ways.

Through exhibitions, guided tours, various events and family activities, we are a venue for reflection, debate and involvement.

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They had an exhibit titled, “What the World Eats.” Not surprisingly, we in the western world consume a whole lot more than most other parts of the world. I’ve lived in some of the non-western world and the consumption and waste here in the west is staggering and heartbreaking.

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There’s also a little restaurant on the side of the building. The awning made me immediately think of Angie!

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“Food for Thoughts. Thoughts for Peace. Peace for All. All Peace.”

I highly recommend a visit to Norway if you get the chance (warning, though, it is the most expensive place I’ve ever visited!). Oslo is beautiful. The harbor, the museums, Fronger Park… and the Nobel Peace Center.

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Don’t tell Angie, but I just might have brought something back for her from the center. Shhhh!!! I haven’t mailed it to her yet so it’s a surprise!