Firenze: Tuscany's Heart, My Heart
When we learned that moving to France was a reality, B and I frequently discussed where we wanted to travel in Europe. I admitted to him, somewhat sheepishly, that the most important thing to me was not seeing somewhere new, but going back to Florence, Italy. Then again, I'm the kind of person who prefers to re-read beloved books and hang out with favorite characters for a while instead of searching for new ones.
But in a turn of perversion, my biggest fear was also going back to Florence. Why? Well, this:
"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
- Nelson Mandela
To say that I've altered in the 11 years and 10 days since I left Florence is an understatement. I know the city has changed. I also know I've changed more. From a sheltered 20-year-old college student to a 31-year-old married woman, I have run the gamut of ups and downs; more often than not downs. Despite popular theory, my 20s were not what I would consider my best years (blessedly, my 30s are looking far more promising).
To return to this historical city is an anthropological dig, only in this instance I'm unearthing layers of myself. Layers that thought I would get married at 22, not 30 (and God help me, with the candidates I had in mind back then). Layers that thought I would be a magazine journalist living in New York City, not working as an assistant with the cast of Mean Girls in Greenville, SC (thankfully that's over). And layers and layers of naivete that I'd rather no one see.
But life is just that: layers. Freakishly intertwined ones. Had I gotten married at 22, I would not be in Florence, Italy, right now. I would probably be home with a kid or two. If I was living in New York City, I never would have met B. And my life would be so much the poorer for that. Even if I had it to do over, I could never, ever voluntarily make any choice that would lead to me not marrying that man. I cannot emphasize that enough. Anyone who's made a crochet error knows this: you can't take one thread out without unraveling the whole damn thing. Life is not linear.
But my 20-year-old self didn't know that.
She also didn't know how long it would take her to return to Florence. If she had, I'm not sure she could have taken it. She wanted to go back by graduation at the latest, a scant two years away. Eleven would seem like an eternity. Maybe eleven is an eternity. At age 20, it's more than half your life.
Even now, at 31, it's more than a third of my life. But I'm here. Finally. On terra firma, in Tuscany. Even better, this time I'm with my parents, who so graciously funded my trip here last time (fun fact: they only told me I could study abroad because they thought I would chicken out and not do it. HA).
I know things in the city will have changed. I know things will look different to me than to that starry-eyed optimist on her first jaunt to Europe. But Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, which literally means "a revival of, or a renewed interest in, something."
And I have this hunch that when we climb to the top of the Campanile beside the Duomo and take in the red rooftops, the rolling green hills and the blue sky, the wonder and amazement that this city inspires will strike my parents, too. I will see it with their fresh eyes, and fall in love anew, making new memories with the person I am now. No matter how many times I return, the layers will always fall away to reveal my passion for this place, waiting quietly (if impatiently) to be set free again. And for that, I will always be grateful.
xoxo and ciao from my favorite place in the world,
E (and Mom and Dad)
My parents are here! They're finally here in France! And I, for one, couldn't be more excited.
We've had a couple of great days. Thursday was spent showing them the town of Tours and basically keeping them awake until a socially acceptable local bedtime. Yesterday, I took them to the chateau de Chenonceau. This is now my fourth visit there, and I have a feeling if anyone else comes to visit me, that number will keep climbing. They had a blast and really enjoyed all the gardens, not to mention laughing about the "favorite lady."
Today, since B was off work and we had the car, we headed to Vouvray-sur-Loire to sample some Vouvray. It's a type of wine made entirely with Chenin Blanc grapes, and it can be either sparkling or still. We love the sparkling Vouvray. I fell in love with it back in 2011, B hopped on board, and now Mom and Dad are fans, too. We visited two wine "caves," one of which was much larger and more commercial and the other which was small and family-run. Both had great selections, just very different vibes. It was a great day.
Even better, my mother, the Margarita Queen (sans sel) who hates wine, has declared that she likes French wine. According to her, "It tastes better than American wine. It's not bitter and dry. It's not as acidic. It goes down smoothly."
So there ya have it. So grateful to have my parents visit- the only thing that could possibly make this trip better is if brother and sissy-in-law could be here with us. Oh well...September will be here soon enough ;)
E & B (and Mom and Dad)
Velos a Villandry
It took two and a half months, but we finally have bikes! Tours' transportation system, Fil Blu, has a rent-a-bike program for only 7 euros a month - a steal, considering it's roughly 15 euros a day to rent bikes at the bike shops. Sign us up!
It felt amazing to be back on a bike, although I do hate having to ride with traffic around the city. But never mind - we had another destination in mind this weekend - Villandry. It's a chateau situated along the River Cher, and you can bike there on the Loire a Velo path. For our fellow Greenvillians, it's incredibly similar to the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
It's also a bit further than our usual trip from the Children's Garden in downtown Greenville to Traveler's Rest. It was 28 miles round trip, and on the way back, I. though. I. would. die. We've been doing a ton of walking and our bodies are used to that, but the pedaling? Haha, no.
When we returned to Tours, we immediately took showers and went straight to dinner (an amazing three-course gourmet dinner, omg) because we knew that if we stopped, even for a minute, we would go right to sleep.
It was worth the pain, though (I think), because Villandry is stunning. Many of the chateaux have a fortress or military feel to them. Not Villandry. It would remind you more of someone's summer home. The gardens are easily its highlight, and they are all different and beautiful. However, they're all very formal and very French. I personally prefer the more natural English-style gardens, but these were beautiful. Pics below. And enjoy them, 'cause I'm not sure we're going to be biking back here again!
xoxo (and ouch),
E & B
Something new squared
There's something new at Something New, Something Different today! Those of you who are particularly observant might have noticed the little "Travel" button I added to the header.
And if you were curious and clicked on it, it would show you a map. An interactive map of our travels, to be exact. The green pushpins indicate places we've gone together, while the Carolina blue (turquoise) pushpins are places only I have been. If, somehow, B winds up going somewhere by himself and then writing a blog post about it, that will be notated with a Furman purple pushpin. But I would strongly suggest not holding your breath for that, k?
If you click on each pushpin, you can see where we've been and follow the link to the corresponding blog post. This is an easy way for you to find what you're looking for if, say, you were curious about a restaurant we visited in Reims, or wanted to catch up on what we did in Germany. It's also a great way for SNSD newbies to catch up quickly without having to scroll through all the posts, especially if they're only interested in the travel ones.
You can zoom the map in and out to see all the places I've tagged in a specific country, or you can see an overview of where we've visited in the world.
I will, of course, update the map as our travels take us far and wide. And since we just booked our 17-day August Eurotour vacation last night (God bless France's holiday schedule!), we've got Italy, Greece, England and Ireland coming up on the agenda, plus the potential for weekend trips to the Netherlands, Belgium and the south of France. Not to mention Italy and Austria coming up with my parents. To say I'm excited is an understatement.
Check it out and let me know what you think. Y'all should know by now I'm the anti-techie, so if you find any bugs or kinks let me know. Not that I'll know how to fix them, mind you, but at least I'll be aware. And keep in mind that this technically works on an iPhone, etc, but it's easier on an actual computer. Go forth and enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!
E & B
Of course we expected there be to a cultural difference. But that still didn't prepare us for some of the signs, sights, and products we've seen around the city and region. Below are some of our favorites, the ones that made us laugh the most. We hope you're as amused as we are (but then, we're pretty easily amused).
E & B
There are days when our being in France feels like one very extended vacation. Then there are other days that bring me back down to earth and remind me that we do, in fact, live here. And when you live somewhere, there are just things you have to do. Personal care things. Like haircuts. And waxing...lip, eyebrow, bikini. I mean, amirite, ladies, or amirite?
PSA: If there are any men reading this, I really, really, really suggest you just skip this post. Go back and re-read the Le Mans post.
I had put this off as long as I could. Our trip to Tampa to Greg and Kristie's wedding in May had allowed Brian to get another haircut and me to have my monthly waxing ritual with service providers who spoke English. For the next three and a half months, however, we are, to put it bluntly, rather screwed.
So today I set off, bravely, to the salon I had seen that accepted walk-ins. I should have known that this was going to be difficult when they asked my name, and I said, "Emily," and they struggled with that. The lady at the front desk finally wrote down "Amelie." Okay, cool, so I'm Amelie now. Great.
Then she tried to explain there would be a wait, only I did not understand what she needed me to do. Did I need to come back, say, at 3:00? Tomorrow? Friday? Eventually she said "quarante-cinq minutes," which means 45 minutes. I understood that. I'm getting really good at numbers. And I could wait 45 minutes. I was afraid if I walked out of there, I wouldn't come back.
So I waited. And a really cute bulldog came in with his owner, so that was a nice distraction. Finally, a girl called "Amelie?" That was my cue. She ushered me into a little room, but didn't tell me what to do (not that I would have understand her if she did). Then she left.
Ummm...okay. There's a table. I assume I need to...ahem...disrobe now? I mean, that's how my waxing salon does it in America. So I did. Only the table was facing toward the door. My apologies to the ladies getting manicures outside the door. I assume you weren't anticipating The Emily Show this morning when the esthetician walked back in. Nor was I anticipating giving it. Je suis desolee.
So then, I'm lying there all awkward and stuff, and she starts on my lip. Then my eyebrows. I'm like, really? Could we not get the other part over with, and then do the lip? That's EASY. But alas, we're in France. And they start with the face and work their way down, apparently. Noted.
I will spare you all the gory details, except to say that I'm still seeing about four spots from where I stared at the lights for 20 minutes. I can't decide if I should have had a drink before, or if I should go get one now.
Although I will say, this was far less painful than in the US. I don't know what kind of wax they're using, but they legit need to export that stuff. It was very gentle. And for lip, eyebrow, and bikini, it was only 32 euros. Bikini alone costs more than that in the US. So I suppose if I must go through this monthly embarrassment in which I flash random ladies and "quarante-cinq minutes" is the extent of my language comprehension, at least it's cheap? What can I say, I'm a glass half-full kind of girl.
So for those of you who think I'm living a fairy tale life, rest assured that reality comes crashing in every once in a while, k? B is due for a haircut soon, so I'm sure that will be another awkward cultural disaster. Stay tuned. And I sincerely hope your morning went more smoothly than mine.
Eat, sleep, race, repeat
When you're doing your required pre-marital counseling, one of the things they like to emphasize is compromise, the ever-present give-and-take of a relationship. The thing is, this is all done in rather vague, theoretical terms. They don't tell you what it actually looks like.
One year, one month, and 19 days after saying "I do," I can tell you exactly what it looks like. It looks like me going to a 24-hour car race at Le Mans. And spending the night in our own car. Pretty sure Mrs. Valerie would never have thought to cover this eventuality in our counseling sessions.
But the hubby loves cars. Me? Well, I don't even like driving them. I like living in France because I can walk or take public transit everywhere. But B loves cars. He is an automotive engineer, after all.
We've seen the 24-hour Le Mans race on TV. Or rather, he's seen the race; I've sat on the other end of the sofa with a book and heard the race, along with the dog snoring between us.
But my hubs is the king of patience (you really have to be, to be married to me. I mean, I know my shortcomings). He never complains when I hold up our travel progress with my incessant picture-taking. He never, ever complains when I want to stop and look in a bookstore, poke my head in H&M, or buy another Longchamp purse. So to say I owed this to him is an understatement.
Besides, Patrick Dempsey races at Le Mans. Did I forget to mention that part? I may not be into cars one tiny bit, but I'm into Dr. McDreamy quite a bit. Yes, I'm aware I'm married, thank you, but he's on my list of 5. And my mother loves George Clooney, so apparently being attracted to fictional doctors runs in the family. It was only with a teeny bit of trepidation that I accompanied my husband to this race.
It was actually kind of fun, although I do wish we had bought the tickets that actually included seats in the stands. It was a LOT of walking and standing. Several of you know we are fairly obsessive about monitoring our steps each day. Well, in 24 hours (mostly on Saturday and a little on Sunday) we both got something north of 35,000 steps. My feet are definitely feeling it. And on Saturday, it was HOT. We are all a little sunburned now (I actually got color. Red is a color, right?).
Sadly, I did not get to see Dr. McDreamy, although this was not for lack of trying on my part. Our fellow race-goers must have thought I was an owl - a very demented owl. I was constantly turning my head, looking in every direction, everywhere we went, just in case he happened to be walking by. But I never got that lucky. Maybe next year.
However, he did get lucky - Porsche, the team he races for, won. So yay for Patrick! Not so much for me, unfortunately. Maybe I'll just see if Grey's Anatomy is on Netflix...which is what I potentially should have done for 24 hours instead of attend the race. Ahhh, life experiences...and compromise. ;)
E & B
How to prepare for France
I wanted to thank you all for your support following my last post. I hope I didn't come across as having a pity-party, because that wasn't at all the intent. I just wanted to share with you some of the struggles and the behind-the-scenes, as well as to thank all of you for continuing to follow along. You all really do rock.
You also offer great inspiration. A dear, dear friend of ours who has previously lived in France told me a while ago that I should write a post about how to prepare people who are moving to (or even visiting) France. I don't claim to be any kind of an expert, since we did this rather on a wing and a prayer, but I felt like I could scrounge up some tips. Some things have been at the forefront of my mind lately, since B's parents just visited, and mine will be here in a few weeks.
So you want to know how to prepare for a trip in France? Here goes:
1. Let your dog do his/her business in your backyard for several days without picking it up. Practice power-walking through the backyard while avoiding the piles. Bonus points if you can do it while talking on the phone or otherwise distracted.
2. Climb up and down the stairs at your home/office until your quads burn. Then do it some more. Then just a few more flights, just for fun. You'll be ready for several major monuments/tourist attractions. Just ask my mother-in-law.
3. Find a telephone booth (if such a thing even exists anymore). Mime washing your hair and body until you can do it without bruising your elbows. Then time yourself until you can do it in 5 minutes or less before the hot water runs out. This is preparation for surviving our shower.
4. Find someone with a selfie stick. Attempt to take pictures of things while they repeatedly jump in your way. You lose points if you slap them, but gain points if you manage to capture your intended image without them in it.
5. If you partake of alcoholic libations, especially wine, practice drinking out of Dixie Cups. If you can find one, a thimble works even better.
6. Coffee, ditto.
7. Wait until you get hungry. Then go sit at a table and wait for 30 minutes for someone to acknowledge your presence. Then wait 30 more minutes for your food. Pretend that isn't your stomach making those awful alien growling noises. Try to restrain your hanger.
8. Don't use your dishwasher, clothes dryer or air conditioning for a week. Or ever. And remove a leg from your washing machine so it walks all over the kitchen. Loudly.
9. Download a recording of drunken youth screaming, singing and/or fighting (there has to be something on the Internet). Set it up on a timer to play several times throughout the night. The longer it takes you to fall back asleep, the more points you lose.
10. Forget all the previous rules, because the minute your plane touches down at Charles de Gaulle, you'll already be in love with this crazy and amazing country.
Now - fellow Francophiles, is there anything I've forgotten? Feel free to leave a comment with any other preparation tips you think my parents (and other visitors) might need!
Although I love blogging and this style of writing, there are days when it's discouraging. I only have 28 subscribers. My daily hits remain fairly low. Sometimes I wonder if the only people who actually bother to read this are my mother and mother-in-law. Even the hubby doesn't subscribe (of course, I guess since he usually co-stars in my blog posts, he doesn't really need to read them. I mean, he was there).
Five Years in Heaven: A Review
I have a confession to make.
I have a Kindle app on my tablet...which I'm using...and even...liking. A little. While nothing - and I mean nothing - will ever replace the feel and smell of a true book in my hands, I can't deny the ease of use with an e-reader, especially now that we're living in France. I read so fast that it's simpler (and lighter!) to carry one tablet versus 2-3 books - and yes, I read two books going to and from Tampa last month. I've dragged the tablet to Bordeaux, Champagne, Tampa, Milan/Bergamo, Paris and Munich.
But more than just being handy for travel, my tablet has allowed me to continue participating in Blogging for Books. They don't ship traditional books outside of the U.S., but you can receive the e-books from anywhere. Even though I would prefer having a physical book, this will do..for now.
Not that this has anything to do with my review of the book, mind you, but I did feel the need to mention it. When you live abroad you have to get creative and make sacrifices, and sometimes you surprise yourself.
Anyway. I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't what I expected, but then, I'm not sure exactly what I expected. I expected more religion and less life stories, but it was more about the friendship between the author, John Schlimm, and Sister Augustine. It was a really, really lovely story, and yes, the end made me cry. I wish that they had gone deeper into the religious questions, because I'm sure that Sister Augustine's answers would have been something that I (and most of the world) probably need to read. That was what intrigued me to choose this book in the first place.
John is a very relatable narrator, and I especially identified with him as I am 31, the age he was at the start of the book. I understand all too well life's failures and ups and downs in your 20s, and I only wish I had had a Sister Augustine to offer advice, wisdom and guidance. I felt like at times he was describing my struggles, so maybe I'm biased for his review but then, aren't we all biased whenever we read anything?
The verdict: This was a great book that I highly recommend. I give it four stars - the only thing keep it from a five-star rating is the fact that in my opinion it could have gone deeper into religious questions and issues. Otherwise, it's an incredibly sweet story, and now I want some of Sister Augustine's pottery.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.