It began with a tomato festival. After our raging success at the Garlic and Basil Festival, we were pretty excited to see posters advertising a tomato festival. I mean, between the two festivals, that's pasta sauce right there. Even better, this one was at a chateau, so we could mark another one off our list. So off we went, camera in hand and raincoat on arm in the event of rain. Thanks to a faulty GPS we went on a dirt road through fields and then onto what we suspect was a bike-only path before crossing the highway at a traffic circle to find the chateau. But we made it, in typical Stevenson fashion.
We were in London. When my brother was there on his (oft-mentioned) Eurotour, he had taken a phenomenal picture of the Eye. But no matter where I dragged my husband in a half-mile radius of that thing, I couldn't figure out where Wes had taken that picture to get the perfect combination of the Eye, greenery, and sky. We had crossed the river to the other side, walked down a little ways, and were crossing back on a different bridge when I absolutely lost it.
"Why can't I just be normal?! Why can't I take three photos with my iPhone and call it a day? Why do I have to lug around this @#$%ing heavy camera and take 4,000 pictures and walk around in circles trying to get the best possible angle/view and never being satisfied with it, anyway?!!"
On a completely unrelated note, my husband is a saint.
Tours is admittedly not the best name for a city.
When my parents told friends/coworkers/acquaintances they were going to visit their daughter and son-in-law who lived in France, the conversation went something like this:
Parent: We're going to go visit Emily in France.
Friend: Oh, how nice! Where in France?
F: But where are you going to go?
F: Yes, but what city(s)?
It's basically the French version of "Who's on First?" And try Googling anything in this city - "Best Indian restaurant in Tours, France" "Hair salons in Tours, France" - and more often than not, you get results such as "Take a tour of France," "Tours of the Loire Valley," etc.
But while it's true my parents came to the actual city of Tours, we also did a mini-Euro tour. After five days in our new hometown, it was time to set out on the rest of the adventure. On June 29th, we set out for Pisa. Although a delayed train on the way to Paris-Beauvais airport caused a full-out sprint through the Paris metro, we managed to make all our transportation on time (if breathless and incredibly sweaty), arriving in Pisa at 10:30 that night.
Pisa wasn't a long stop - merely a cheap(ish) way to get from France to Italy - but we did want to see something there. You know what I'm talking about: that crooked thing. The Leaning Tower of Pisa.
A lot of my photographs tend to come out crooked because I'm right-handed, and I tend to pull down more with that hand while holding my camera aloft. But I am proud to say these pics aren't my fault - that thing really does lean. Heaven only knows why, and how it's managed to stay upright all these years, but it has. Go figure.
Pisa was an adorable little town and I would like to (eventually) spend more time there, but we had a more important destination to get to: Firenze. Brace yourself - you'll be inundated with pictures as soon as I can edit them.
For now, sit back, relax, and take a glimpse of Pisa and the start of our Eurotour.
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)
Somewhere, sometime, somehow, I swear I read that Mont St-Michel was used for exterior/long-distance shots of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. I cannot find anything to corroborate this now, no matter how much I Google, but at some point I promise you I read something to that effect. Can any of my fellow HP aficionados verify (or falsify) this?
So anyway, we may or may not have gone to Hogwarts last weekend. Even without the Harry Potter reference, Mont St-Michel is incredible. It's a tiny town built on what becomes an island during high tide. At the very top of the island/rock is an ancient abbey that dates back to the 700s. We couldn't begin to fathom how in the world they brought the building materials all the way up to the top of this island and then turned them into a huge abbey and church. I mean, just look at this:
We had researched the tide schedules online prior to going, and we could not find anything for the date we went (May 30th). We decided to go, anyway. When we got there, we found out why there was no info: we clearly came at very low tide. There was no tide to speak of. Just sand for a looooong way.
It was a beautiful day. We grabbed sandwiches for lunch, then proceeded to climb all the way up to the abbey. B's dad calculated it later, and he estimated we climbed the equivalent of 32 flights of stairs in order to get up to the abbey at the top. Our legs are going to be in great shape.
I enjoyed learning about the abbey once we made it to the top. After resisting English assaults during the Hundred Years War, the mont became a symbol of French national identity. The religious community was dissolved during the French Revolution, and the abbey was used as a prison until 1863. It was classified as a historical monument in 1874 and has been restored and used for visitors since. Very cool.
Plus, whether from the top of the mont or the bottom, the abbey lends itself to great photography. It was a beautiful day and I had the most fun taking pictures. Click below on the "Read More" link to see all the pictures.
We had a great time taking a family road trip - it was the perfect last adventure before my in-laws left. I'm sad they're gone, and I'll miss their company! Luckily, my own parents will be here in a few weeks to help us undertake brand-new adventures.
xoxo from (maybe) Hogwarts,
Whether you know it or not, or whether you've even identified it yet, you've got a travel MO: that thing you're most drawn to do when you find yourself in a new place. My grandmother really loves cemeteries (my mother complains that's all she saw during her childhood travels). My dad loves art museums and galleries, and good luck getting him out once he's gotten started looking. My mother likes to shop. And I - well, when I travel I love food and drink. I can't resist the siren call of a sidewalk cafe, specials written in chalk on slate, of a carafe of white wine collecting condensation in the afternoon sunshine.
My former colleagues called me a "foodie" with an air of derision, but that's such a joke. Being a foodie is awesome. And for better or worse, it's what I like to do and how I like to spend my time, especially in foreign countries. I think there's no better way to get to the true heart of a location than to: a) sit at a restaurant and observe the goings-on, and b) to try the local foods and drinks...fresh cevice in Costa Rica, crepes in France, homemade potato gnocci in Italy. You learn so much about a people and a place.
For instance, I've learned that lunch is tres important here. Dinner is typically at 8-9 at night, so it's a long time to wait if you have lunch at 1:00, especially for me. My mother and husband will tell you, I am not a fun person to be around when I'm hungry. Last Friday, I roasted an artichoke for lunch, and had a couple of cookies for dessert. That was it. Due to indecision and bad luck, by the time we received our food on Friday night, it was after 10:00 and I was in tears at the dinner table because I was so hungry and tired.
So yesterday I decided, instead of nibbling on bread and cheese, roasting an artichoke, or grabbing a sandwich from a boulangerie, I was going to have a proper lunch. Tartines and Co. came at the recommendation of a French coworker of my mother's at Wake Forest University, who takes a group of students to Tours each summer.
It was a little chilly and the outdoor tables were in the shade, so I decided to eat in the restaurant. It was smaller than I expected, and much more modern. I loved the turquoise walls and water glasses, and the little sparkly white pom-poms strung around the room. I also enjoyed watching the others that were eating there. Even though I couldn't understand their conversations, the two girls about my age to my right seemed to be having a serious, slightly venting discussion about something: irritating coworkers, a jackass boyfriend, who knows. The ladies to my left very much had the appearance of "ladies who lunch," both of them having a glass of wine with their meal and taking their time with it. And one of them had a huge diamond.
Me, well, I skipped the wine, and I decided on the "formule," a common thing here. It's a combination of appetizer, salad, entree, dessert and/or beverage for a set price. What's included varies depending on the restaurant, but this one featured the "tartine du moment" or the "Madras Burger," a dessert of choice, and a bottle of water for 10.50 euros.
I settled on the tartine du moment. It wasn't what I was expecting. I had pictured something like a fruit tart, with a kind of shortbread crust. I think maybe I had pictured a quiche. What I received was a long, narrow slice of toasted bread, topped with ham, cheese, fresh tomatoes, and a little cumin sprinkled on top. But it was more than just plain ham and cheese. The ham was jambon cru, which is a dried, salted ham, almost similar to "country ham" back home. The cheese was St. Marcellin, creamy and delicious, dropped on the long piece of bread in melty dollops. And of course the tomatoes. I love fresh tomatoes.
The tartine came with a petite side salad, with what I believe were crushed, almost powdered, nuts on top, and a sprinkling of cumin to match the tartine. Delicious, and just the perfect amount of food. The tartine looked huge when I got started, but as I ate, it was perfectly satisfying without feeling stuffed and sick.
But the dessert was what got me. Every so often I venture out of my comfort zone and try something new, and it sparks one of my many "obsessions." Last fall it was Bloody Marys. At my sister-in-law's bachelorette party, after staying out until 3 a.m. partying in Nashville on Saturday night, I eschewed my traditional mimosa at Sunday brunch because it just didn't sound appetizing. Instead I ordered a Bloody Mary, which I'm not sure I'd ever had in my life, and Lord, I was hooked after just a sip. For the next few months, I kept inventing reasons to go to brunch on the weekends just so I could get a Bloody Mary. If you haven't figured this out already, my husband is a very patient man.
Anyway. At Tartines and Co., my two choices for dessert were this: fromage blanc or panna cotta. Since cheese does not qualify as a dessert in my book under any circumstance, I went with the panna cotta. I think I had had it before when I studied abroad in Italy, but my memory of it was fuzzy. I vaguely remember disliking it because it wasn't super-sweet and I would rather have had gelato or a pastry (FYI: not much has changed in 11 years).
But this time - oh. Either my taste buds have matured, or this was better panna cotta, because oh. good. lord. I could have eaten another couple of ramekins of the stuff. It was all I could do to keep from licking the dish.
Panna cotta translates loosely to "cooked cream," and it's a mixture of heavy cream, egg whites, and honey, baked on low heat. This had just the right texture. It was similar to creme brulee (minus the crunchy top part, of course), but firmer. It was just sweet enough without being too sickly and overbearing after the large, rich tartine. I was hooked. And now I'm going to drag my husband from restaurant to restaurant to see if there's panna cotta on the menu.
If you find yourself in Tours - well, first of all, if you find yourself in Tours in the next five and a half months, let me know so we can hang out. But if ever you find yourself in Tours, be sure to make a stop at Tartines and Co. And don't forget the panna cotta.
P.S. - My apologies for no pictures of my lunch. I didn't have my good camera with me, and I would've felt awkward whipping it out in a restaurant to take pictures of my food, anyway. So enjoy the pics of the exterior. Maybe it'll help you find the restaurant if ever you're searching for it.
I'm all for independence. I have no qualms about going anywhere I want, hopping on trains or wandering around the city by myself.
But Chambord presented a bit of a problem. It's a chateau I wanted to visit, one that came highly recommended both on a personal level and on various websites, but it's about 8-9 miles from the nearest train station. In addition to the train, I would have had to take a taxi (if I even could've found one). This chateau required a little help in the form of the husband and the car.
So yesterday, we set out on our adventure. This chateau is in the middle of BFE (or BFF, as the case may be). It took more than an hour to get there from Tours, but the drive was well worth it. We saw bits and pieces of the chateau over the treeline as we came down the long road to the parking area, but nothing can really prepare you for the sight of the full chateau and the grounds in their immensity.
Of the four Loire Valley chateaux I've visited, B and I decided that Chambord is our favorite. It earned that distinction based on three criteria:
1 // Size/appearance of the chateau: Each chateau has its own distinctive characteristics. Chenonceaux is actually built atop the River Cher and is easily recognizable by its arches over the river. Amboise is perched high about the River Loire and the town of Amboise, and the actual castle has a bit of Beauty and the Beast-like appearance. But Chambord makes your jaw drop. For starters, it's massive. To be fair, none of these chateaux could be classified as "small," but Chambord is huge. And because the grounds are relatively flat and open, it looks even larger. The chateau itself is intricate and ornate; the towers atop the chateau almost have a Russian or Middle Eastern look to them. I can't imagine the effort necessary to build this thing. All the chateaux have been fun to photograph, but this was my favorite.
2 // Contents of the chateau: There's no comparison here. The amount of furniture, household goods, clothing, paintings, sculpture, and general accoutrements is overwhelming. Every time B and I thought we were finished with a floor, we'd realized we'd missed a room...or two, or three. Nooks, crannies, passageways, walkways, large salons and tiny closets; all are crammed with stuff. You could spend days in there looking at everything. Chambord certainly gave us the most comprehensive view of its various owners and what their lifestyles might have been like. This collection is not to be missed.
3 // Overall estate size: Chenonceaux is a close second, but something about Chambord is just special. The long tree-lined road leading up to the chateau. The moat/river around it. The biking trails in the woods. It's just spectacular, and by far the largest. The only thing it's missing, in my opinion, is a garden. The other chateaux all have some pretty nice gardens. But the size definitely wins.
Below are some pictures we took. I've tried to restrain myself, but it's so hard. It's just so beautiful. We hope you enjoy these pictures as much as we enjoyed exploring the chateau and taking them.
E & B
Y'all, I have no idea how this has happened, but somehow I made it to the age of 30 before I ever tried ceviche. If you don't know what ceviche is, you can read all about it here. Basically, it's fish that is uncooked, but NOT raw. I'm not a fan of raw ANYthing, but this was different. It was divine. And trust me - when it's 90-something degrees and humid in Costa Rica, it is ALL you want for lunch.
We had it the first day for lunch, and it was so good, we tried it from different restaurants every single day of the trip. Not kidding. Ceviche for lunch, 6 days in a row. It was amazing. This is not something I will EVER attempt to make (I've already had food poisoning once in my life, and believe me, once was enough), but I thought it would be fun to give you a little culinary tour of our Costa Rica honeymoon.
Day #1: Habanero's
The first time I ever had ceviche in my life. I was stunned at how good it was. This was my favorite one of the bunch, although maybe that was just because it was my first, but Brian really liked this one, too. In addition to the regular citrus juices, this was marinated with tequila and dill, so it had a nice little kick to it, too. And with the creamy avocado on top, served with the super-crunchy chips? Win.
It was meant to be merely the appetizer to my mahi mahi tacos and Brian's shrimp tacos, but it stole the show and ignited in us (okay, in me) an obsession. And so the quest for Costa Rica's ceviche began...
Day #2: BJ's Restaurant
This ceviche was a lesson in humility and American snobbery on my part. It was another overcast day, so we explored the peninsula a little, driving quite a bit. "Towns" are easy to miss in Costa Rica, because they are often no more than a restaurant or two, a market or grocery store, and maybe a shop. They are incredibly tiny and of course there are no road signs. So we wandered. We thought we might have lunch in one town, but somehow we had missed it. Breakfast was wearing off. I was getting crabby. Out of sheer desperation, we just picked a restaurant.
The "town," such as it was, was almost completely deserted. The restaurant, which was open-air, was definitely deserted, except for us and the couple who ran it, and their two little girls. My inner monologue ran something like this, "Oh my God I can't believe we're eating here there's no one here why are we ordering uncooked fish they probably have no standards and then we're going to get food poisoning and die or worse ruin our honeymoon and why couldn't we have stopped in the other town oh my God I'm going to kill B if we don't die of food poisoning first."
Let me just say - I stand corrected. The couple, who spoke very little English, was incredibly sweet. We may have been the only ones in the restaurant, but that's everyone else's loss. We saw the seafood delivery come up as we were sitting there at our picnic table. Our complimentary clam amuse bouche came right past us into the restaurant, then showed up on our plate.
And the ceviche was fantastic. Absolutely amazing - flavorful and delicious. Instead of tortilla chips, this one was served with hot fried plantains. It was delicious and fortifying. The sautéed vegetables were also amazing, and the melon (cantaloupe) "refresco" I had was out of this world. You may not want to eat at a completely empty restaurant serving uncooked seafood in America, but foreign countries sometimes do certain things a little better than Americans.
Lesson learned, indeed.
Day 3: Restaurante Chicos Playa
This wasn't our favorite ceviche. It was GOOD, but not GREAT. It was ordinary. No tequila-dill sauce, no piping-hot fried plantains. It just didn't have that "stop you in your tracks, this is the best thing I've ever put in my mouth" taste going for it. Maybe it was that this was our third day having ceviche and the novelty had worn off. Maybe it really was sub-par. Whatever the case, it wasn't our favorite. Tasty and edible, but nothing to write home about.
What really impressed us, though, was the "shrimp cocktail." Lots of shrimp, served with hearts of palm and fresh avocado. America, are you listening? Can this be common for our shrimp cocktail, too? I LOVE hearts of palm!
Day 4: Restaurante Playa Carmen
We actually had two different ceviches at Restaurante Playa Carmen. One was a snack after ziplining; the other was lunch the following day. The ceviche was just okay. Again, it was good but not exceptional. The real draw of Restaurante Playa Carmen was their drinks. B's "Palo Verde" featured cachaca, cacique (basically Costa Rican moonshine), cas, passion fruit, mint, and lemon juice, and it was incredible. Strong and refreshing. My sangria was good, but just okay. Not nearly as good as my dear friend Fleming's sangria.
But still - we had to get ceviche. We had to try.
Day 5: Restaurante Caracolas
On Friday of our honeymoon, we had to give up the car. We were only supposed to have it until Thursday, but we extended it a day. And once we gave up the car, we had exactly two options for lunch: eat at the resort (most likely good, but expensive), or walk to the one restaurant within walking distance (or, rather, in walking distance for the two American kids who were NOT used to the oppressive heat and humidity). So for the next two days, lunch was to be at Restaurante Caracolas.
For Friday's lunch, we ordered the regular ceviche. And much like the past two entries, it was, well, just regular. Tasty and filling. Enough energy for us to walk back up the GIANT steep hill that our hotel was on.
Day 6: Restaurante Caracolas, Take 2
Lunch was not EVEN as appealing on day two at Restaurante Caracolas. This had nothing to do with the restaurant's cuisine. Instead, it had everything to do with us knowing exactly how painful walking up the huge hill in the pressing humidity was going to be afterward.
But lunch...well, lunch itself was phenomenal. Lunch was a little different. Because we were so full from the previous day's ceviche and fish tacos, we only ordered the "superceviche" and guacamole this time. The guacamole came out with the chips stuck into it like petals of a flower, and it was perfectly ready-to-eat and delicious.
The superceviche lived up to its name. This was no mediocre ceviche. It was a mixture of shrimp AND fish, and was molded into a tall can-shaped mound and mixed with avocado. I've decided you really need the creaminess of the avocado to cut the acidity of the ceviche. It was served with a HUGE fried plantain "pancake" (that's what it looked like!).
We washed that down with a couple of Imperial beers and toasted our amazing honeymoon and my newfound obsession with the deliciousness that is ceviche. Costa Rica flies under the radar when it comes to cuisine, but if you ever have chance to go, I highly recommend you eat your way through the country and focus on ceviche.
Pura vida, indeed, my friends.
Anybody who's ever used a camera knows you have to take a LOT of pictures to get those few precious shots. My brother and his fiancee's engagement session was no different. They are SUPER photogenic, but every now and then someone blinks. Or the wind blows a stray hair in someone's face. Or the photographer neglected to focus the lens juuuuuust right (guilty). You get the idea.
I promised my future sis-in-law that I wouldn't share too many of these pictures so that the picture on their save-the-date would be a surprise, but I'm guessing she won't be using any of these. I hope.
Love you guys - I had the MOST fun being your photographer!
Ever since I've graduated from college, fall has always made me wistful, and not a little bit nostalgic. Every year when the air starts to cool, my heart aches as I remember those four precious years I got to spend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Specifically, I remember the Septembers and Octobers. I'm typically a "spring" person instead of fall (hence my impending April wedding), but fall is just THE time to be in Chapel Hill. For years and years I missed it, and I still do. But...
There's always a "but," isn't there? Ever since I went to France with B in October two years ago, when the air gets cool I don't think as much of the Quad on a sunny fall day. Instead, I think of, and yearn for, our rainy train ride from Charles de Gaulle to our hotel in Paris. I think of the gorgeous crisp, cool, sunny day I visited the Chateau du Blois and Chateau Amboise. And I desperately, desperately, want to be back there again.
Well, it's hard not to, with views like this:
Or, you know this. Oh, wait. I'm marrying this view. Anyway.
Whether fortunately or unfortunately, my love of France does not extend solely to its aesthetic and architectural properties. It's kind of a good thing, because there's not much I can do about that. I live in South Carolina, and it is what it is. I can drive to Asheville to see an old estate, or I can drive to Charleston to walk around a historical city, but that's about it. I cannot take a 15-minute train ride, hop off the train, cross the tracks, and find myself at a giant castle estate. I just can't.
But like I said, it's not just about the views and the sights, and in this case, it's a good thing. It was more about how I felt there. And yes, I will be perfectly honest - a large part of it had to do with being on vacation and not having to go to work. Unfortunately, much like the lack of chateaux in the southeastern United States, there just isn't a whole lot I can do about that, either.
But there are other, more subtle things to be done to recreate that feeling here at home, without having to purchase airfare. So my goal, or resolution, if you will (because September has always felt more like a new year to me than actual New Year's), is to incorporate some of these things into mine and B's lives. Even if, um, you know, I haven't actually filled him in on this yet. Oops.
Even more than just to remind us of France, it's occurred to me that these could be valuable suggestions for our marriage as well. Right now everything seems all hazy and dreamy and new, but I'm not so naive as to think that won't wear off eventually. Putting good habits in place now seems like a smart start to a marriage, plus a way to have more fun. So here goes.
**And disclaimer (if you haven't figured it out already): this is not a short post. You've been warned.
1. 86 the technology. I think this is the biggest one. In France, we didn't have smartphones. We didn't have television. We had B's laptop but we didn't have internet except our first night, in Paris. I had three books and he had...nothing. So I bought a deck of cards at one of the castles and we played high/low while drinking a bottle of sparkling Vouvray wine (AH-mazing) that we bought for 6 euros. He invented a drinking game while looking at the many pictures I'd taken one day. We talked to each other. A lot. Because what else was there to do?
I'm not one to turn on the TV, but I have been guilty of bringing a book or my phone to the dinner table. There are some days I get home from work and all I want to do is sit by myself in silence and play Candy Crush. But I/we need to limit that. And yes, I see the irony in the fact I'm saying we need to get off the computer as I'm sitting here at a computer typing this to you, but you get the idea. Purposeful blog posts? Good. Mindless web surfing? Bad.
2. Get our butts outside. Especially this time of year. This is a throwback from both France AND Chapel Hill. In both places, I walked everywhere. And aside from the obvious health benefits, it was just nice to be outside. These days I dash from my house to my car, my car to my office, and then I repeat the whole process in reverse after work. Some nights we go on a a longer walk with the dog, but that's about all the fresh air I get. It's a far cry from being outdoors all day, having coffee in outdoor cafes, and taking pictures like this:
And yes, once again, the whole "job" thing gets in the way of being able to be outdoors photographing all day, but I can sit outside at Starbucks and read during my lunch hour. I can sit outside and read on Saturday afternoons. And the dog is pretty much always up for a walk. To recap: move it outside.
3. Stop waiting for "special occasions": As I lay awake unable to fall asleep this week, I started thinking about all the fun things we registered for. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy when I thought about how I could have a dinner party for friends and serve everything up on our fine china. But then I remembered we're going to be living in my tiny townhouse for a few months, and my happy balloon deflated. My thought process went something like this: "There's no room in my house for all B's stuff AND all our new stuff. Besides, I should wait until we get a bigger, nicer house together before I bring out the good stuff and have people over."
Um, why? We might be a little cramped for a couple of months, but why shouldn't we invite friends over for food and fellowship? Yes, space will be limited, but I'm pretty sure we can spare some room for china, and maybe even a serving bowl or two. In France, I had a glass of wine every afternoon while sitting outside and reading Harry Potter, just because I could. It didn't stop me just because it was a Tuesday or it was raining. Any day can be a special occasion. Bust out the china and invite the gang over.
4. Get up and get dressed. This is sort of a subset to #3. Every morning when I'm looking at my closet, I think, "Oh, I don't want to wear that to work, that's too nice. I'll save that for the weekend." And then every weekend, I'll think, "Oh, I don't want to wear that, I might get it dirty and then I can't wear it to work." Instead, I invariably pick the most boring things I own and wear them over and over again. Let's get real: this is the 21st century. I have a washing machine. If, heaven forbid, I spill something on my outfit, I can get the stain out..
But when I'm on vacation, I bring my cutest outfits and wear them. I get up, get dressed (NOT in yoga pants and an old Phi Beta Chi t-shirt), and hit the town. Funny, isn't it, how I automatically feel better when I'm dressed in an outfit I actually like? It's not selfish or vain to want to look nice in an outfit you enjoy if it puts you in a better mood and makes you more optimistic and motivated. Here I am rocking one of my favorite outfits at the Chateau de Chenonceau, the cardigan of which I bought at H&M in Tours:
5. Make "down time" count. I am the queen of fooling around on my phone and finding out that an hour or so has passed and I have done nothing productive. When I'm at work I think longingly of all the things I want to do when I get off, but when I get home I take a few minutes of "down time" that somehow always turns into a big chunk of time gone with nothing to show for it.
In France, I had a ton of time and no phone to waste it with. I walked endlessly around Tours while B worked, taking pictures like it was my job. I wrote in my journal or read while I had delicious cafe au lait every morning and my glass of wine each afternoon. That trip felt so robust, and I think it's because I can tell you pretty much how I spent each day. And yes, a few days included sleeping late or naps (thank you, jet lag), but there wasn't much wasted time. Having a job does constrain my time, but I want to make our free time more meaningful.
6. Embrace spontaneity. B's birthday fell on the Wednesday we were in France. By that point he had been working for three days, while I got to sleep late and have coffee and wine. When he got home from work that day, he took a nap that lasted a couple of hours while I read. When he finally awoke, I was super-excited to take him out to dinner at one of the many resaurants I'd scouted out that day. But he was groggy and exhausted, and just didn't want to go out to eat. We wandered from restaurant to restaurant, looking at menus, him getting more unenthusistic and me getting more exasperated the longer we searched.
Finally, in a fit of frustration, I snapped that I had found a grocery store the day before and would he like to just go get some fruit and bread and cheese? Turns out he would. We loaded up with delicious blue cheese, crusty fresh bread, sliced meat, pre-packaged caprese salad, olives, and I can't even remember what else. We then hit a convenience store for two bottles of wine (one red, one sparkling Vouvray...seriously, that stuff is amazing). And we went back to the hotel, sat on the bed, and had what became the first of our patented meat-and-cheese dinners. Yes, dinner at the fondue restaurant would've been nice (and if we ever go back, B promised me he'd take me there). But we made an indelible memory that night that has led to a unique tradition. If we had gone along with my plan, we would have missed it. B was wise enough to see that, and I'm grateful for it.
7. Eat well, treat well. Let's be real here. I ate enough Nutella crepes, macarons and chocolate croissants in France to put a diabetic in a coma. We also had a ton of decadent, amazing meals. But - the portions were small. And the food was fresh and real. Combine that with all the walking we did, and we didn't feel a bit guilty. This is definitely a trend we need to start/continue here in good ol' SC. Admittedly, this is one of the easier resolutions. I try to cook a variety of healthy foods, but portion control tends to be an issue. So do mindless calories. Quality should always take precedence over quantity when it comes to food, even dessert. It may be more satisfying in the moment to eat a giant bag of M&Ms, but I know I'll be much more satisfied in the long run waiting for a really good dessert, like so:
So that, in a nutshell, is my list of 7 handy steps to try to make myself feel like I'm in France again. I would've made that the title, except, well, it's a little long. Faithful readers, if you have stuck with me until now, I raise a glass to you. Cheers to a fun-filled, fulfilling life!