One Week in Provence

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You may have remembered that I mentioned earlier in the spring that my sister and brother-in-law would be living in Geneva for the summer while she finished up her master’s degree. I’m happy, so pleased really, to report that her master’s is completely finished, which comes as a tremendous relief, I know. But, it’s also such a shame because it means she and her husband are no longer in Switzerland and I’m left moping about wondering what in the world we are going to do on the weekends now that they’re no longer here. Honestly, it’s not that bad, but saying goodbye to them a couple of weeks ago sure wasn’t pretty.

To cap off our summer together, and to truly celebrate both Courtney and Jared graduating from their master’s programs, we decided to go to Provence for a week with our parents.  The theme for the week was “relaxation” and we made sure to find an Airbnb with a big pool and lots of areas in which to lounge and nap. We liked that the location was quiet and removed from a big city center. But it was still easy to plan day trips to nearby hill towns and even the sea.

Overall it was a really, really lovely week. We read books, swam in the pool (my dad is the biggest water baby!), played Uno, cooked dinner, went out to eat, shared breakfast in the mornings on the patio, explored and relaxed. We talked about the babies and wondered aloud what it will be like when they arrive, everyone excited for two new family members with which to share all this fun and love. Thinking about that week makes me a bit weepy (not a challenge at all these days) because I love and miss my family so much. Spending such quality time with them was priceless.

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For every nice picture of Courtney and me there are always three that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Adam calls them “outtakes” but we call them “magic.”

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After a long drive from Geneva we decided we wanted our first full day to be spent at the house enjoying the amenities. We slept in and had a long breakfast on the terrace before parking it poolside for the rest of the day. We did venture out that evening for dinner at La Table d’Yves, a fancy restaurant on a vineyard that sits right next to Fayence’s famous aerodrome. You can sip a glass of wine on their beautiful covered patio and watch the gliders land. The food was delicious even if the staff were a bit stuffy.

The next day we drove about 45 minutes to Saint-Raphaël, a beachside town in between Cannes and Saint-Tropez. It was too hot to explore the old town so we spent most of our time at the family-friendly beach. There is a good stretch of public beach—and nearby Frejus has a lot of open sand as well—but we opted for an organized beach with loungers and umbrellas. The staff was very accommodating and we had one of the best beach lunches I can remember. The water was perfect for frequent dips and it proved to be a relaxing day at the beach, ending with a ferris wheel ride!

A quick note: cars proved essential for this trip. We rented them in Geneva and drove the whole way instead of taking a train there and picking up the car in Cannes or Nice. Public transportation among the small towns is unpredictable and infrequent and you’ll be limited to bigger tourist hubs if you opt for this option. I’d recommend renting a car instead and tailoring your countryside trip to include exactly what you want to see and allow for last-minute changes and additions. Just make sure you have navigation or google maps handy on your phone!

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Um, matching hats?? Yes, please!

The next day we went to Fayence, which was a ten-minute drive from our place, for their weekly market–a recommendation from our Airbnb host. We got there early not only to beat the heat but also the crowds and we all left with lots of local treasures and gifts. It’s a really sweet town and I’d recommend stopping there for a visit if you’re in the area.

We had our best meal at Le 8 and I urge you to stop there as much for the fun and gracious company of the hosts as the French food. The menu is limited to five or six dishes but they are all fantastic and the location is charming, to boot.

That afternoon we were all pooped from walking around so we relaxed–where else?–by the pool before grilling that night for dinner. In case you’re wondering, I read Among the Ten Thousand Things while we were there and really enjoyed it. A good, if slightly bleak, summer read.

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We spent a full day in Cannes and had fun trolling the old town and sipping very swanky cocktails (or, er, alcohol-free beer) at a ritzy hotel when the heat became too much. We wanted to go out on a boat this day but it was too breezy and they canceled all the trips. I’d recommend exploring Le Suquet for beautiful views of the sea and harbor and admiring the high-end shops, at least from the street. Before heading back we took a walk to check out the yachts and each picked out our favorite–maybe for Christmas this year!

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Our last full day was spent close to home. Courtney, Jared, and Dad explored a nearby hill town for lunch, while Adam, Mom, and I stayed back to read and swim. Of course, once everyone got back it was time for a little burst mode action by the pool. I need to find a way to get all the images into gifs because scrolling through them is one of my new favorite pastimes. I love the energy!

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That night we drove back to Fayence for dinner at Restaurant Le France, how typical! We had an excellent dinner here and celebrated our parent’s 35th wedding anniversary exactly one month early. It was fun to hear them talk about their wedding day and some of their favorite moments throughout their marriage. We also talked a lot about our childhood and it is so funny to hear what everyone remembers–it’s often so different from what is crystalized in your own memory. I would highly recommend this place for dinner, and snag a table outside if you can.

That was Bastille day, July 14th, and we purposely stayed close to home that day and night to avoid crowds and traffic. We woke up early the next morning to hit the road and were devastated by the news that 84 people had been killed in Nice the night before. It was heartbreaking and incredibly sobering after an idyllic week spent together. The world is a very scary and confusing place right now and it’s hard to imagine a time when we won’t be bracing for the next tragedy. It was a chilling reminder to hold your loved ones close and not take for granted all that we’ve been given.

Expecting

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While we technically found out in March that I was positively pregnant, it wasn’t confirmed at the doctor until April and this specific calendar page felt fortuitous in the most glorious way. Yes, I’m pregnant!

And after finding out (the day before we left for Copenhagen, actually) we had several weeks to imagine our life with a new little one, an approved tiny life, who would join us late in the fall. We were blissed out and nervous and eagerly anticipating our first ultrasound.

The day of that first ultrasound will forever be one of the wildest of my life. We arrived at the doctor’s office early in the morning and got right to business. As my doctor scanned my belly looking for a sign of life his brow furrowed and my heart went into overdrive. Adam squeezed my hand tighter as the doctor looked at the screen, looked at me, back at the screen, and back at me. He held up two fingers.

“What does that mean?!” I stammered. “Twins,” he calmly responded with a sly smile.

Twins. I burst into tears and Adam burst into laughter. TWINS!

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I joked that finding out we are having twins was the biggest shock of my life, but it’s really true. It took me a few weeks to wrap my head around the idea of two instead of one, and to be honest, some days I still can’t believe I’m even pregnant, but now Adam and I can’t imagine anything else and we are over the moon, thrilled beyond belief. Two little ones! Here with us!

I had a really rough first trimester, which is why this blog was so quiet beginning in April: intense nausea that lasted all day, fatigue that would wipe me out, and a general feeling of ickiness. Looking at my computer would actually make me motion sick so I spent a lot of time laying in bed, dozing on and off. I did have a huge deadline right in the middle of all this and couldn’t talk about being pregnant with my editors. I would write 100 words and take a nap and then do it again until all the pieces were finished. It was exhausting! I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to hand in assignments. It was a tough time, but I’m glad to be out of that phase and into the more pleasant second trimester. I’m just over halfway through the pregnancy and starting to enjoy that “glow” I’ve heard so much about : )

I’m so glad we’ve had so many family and friends here this summer to celebrate with us. It’s hard to be away from them during this extra special time, but we are welcoming more visitors (next week, even!) over the coming months and I’m glad for their support and love.

I’ve got a lot of pictures to share of our week in Provence with my family that I’ll put in the coming days, and I’ll really try to be better at updating the blog regularly. There is a lot to discuss, after all : ) Two babies!

The Tour de France in Bern

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Yesterday afternoon the Tour de France blazed through Bern, finishing the sixteenth stage just one kilometer from our house. Some friends from Zurich and Geneva came for the day to cheer on the cyclists from a perch on the hill just in front of the Rosengarten. It was a fast and furious ride for the leaders and the peloton, which followed closely behind and eventually overtook the leading three. You can see the video here. What excitement! I think we were all amazed by how quickly they rode up the massive hill—the Aargauerstalden—after having already cycled 198 kilometers that day.

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Today is a rest day for the cyclists but they will pick up the race again tomorrow for stage 17, beginning here in Bern and finishing in Finhaut-Emosson. It’s expected to be an exciting finish so tune in if you’re able and interested.

In case you missed the footage yesterday, here’s a 9-minute clip of highlights and the finish, as well as some beautiful sexy shots of Bern. You can see the hill where we sat beginning at around 3:40 in the clip. It was the perfect spot to catch the action.

I’m so impressed at the skill and athleticism demonstrated by these athletes. Go sports!

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Three Days in the Cotswolds

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After a few days in busy London we made our way to Oxford where we picked up a rental car that would get us further into the Cotswolds, a rural area of rolling hills, thatched-roof homes, and endless charm, where we would stay for a few days. The drive was smooth (if not effortless–thanks Adam for braving the “wrong” side of the road!) and beautiful and we were so happy to arrive at The Lamb Inn in Burford.

I cannot recommend this little bed & breakfast highly enough. It was located on a side street, meaning it was extra quiet, and all the quaint touches around the inn made it feel so special and cozy. In the sitting rooms two fires were regularly stoked each day (despite temperatures in the 60s and 70s…we didn’t mind!), and it was full of over-stuffed chairs and sofas perfect for nursing a pint of local brew or a cup of tea and reading a good book. There was also a pub with delicious food and a restaurant that would be a perfect spot for a bit of a fancy dinner. I loved the cheery and comfortable rooms and the staff couldn’t have been more lovely. Can you tell I loved this place?! I would go back in an instant.

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After a late lunch of fish and chips and bangers and mash, we all went out for a walk through town to check out the adorable cottages and shops that were already closing up for the day. That night we ate at The Highway Inn, which is a local favorite. Unfortunately they were out of all the best things on the menu but overall it was a pretty good dinner.

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The next day we took some recommendations from the staff and headed to Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, and Broadway—all little villages dotted throughout the countryside. We took our time in each spot and enjoyed window shopping, walking the narrow streets, and stopping in pubs and cafes for a break. It was a leisurely day with little agenda; I loved it.

A few snaps from Stow-on-the-Wold:

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Taller than Adam for once!

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One tip would be to bring rain gear wherever you go. A sprinkle or mid-day rain is not uncommon and it’s best to be prepared with a rain jacket or umbrella. Also, comfortable shoes are a must, as are layers. English weather has a tendency to turn drafty and cool so come bearing layers.

Also I would srecommend you rent a car for a proper visit. There are a handful of tours you can take that will stop off at many of the towns in the Gloucestershire area, but it was so nice to have our own car and to make our own itinerary. You’ll just need to remember to keep to the left!

And a few snaps from Chipping Campden

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We ate dinner in Broadway that evening at The Swan, which was tasty. In fact, I wish would could have spent a little more time there as it looked very cute and full of fun shops. But there are so many little towns in the area that it’s hard to go wrong with any of them.

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The next day we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and I’m sorry to say that this was one spot that actually did disappoint. For such a small place it is so overdeveloped and cheesy that I didn’t actually enjoy walking around there too much. It might have been nicer to spend more time walking along the river but the pouring rain drove us out of town early. Of course if you are hoping to see something from the Royal Shakespeare Company then it is worth a visit, otherwise I’d recommend skipping it.

That afternoon I had tea and scones in our room while Adam explored Burford a bit more and we had a nice (anniversary!) dinner at The Bull (order the rarebit as a starter). We took off early in the morning to catch a bus from Oxford to Heathrow and made it back to Bern in time for summer to arrive! Boy, we are so happy to see the sun here. It’s like a different place.

I’d love to come back to the Cotswolds sometime and imagine renting a place in the country for a couple weeks with family and friends. It was so relaxing and peaceful and everyone was so friendly. Have you been? I’d definitely suggest going there for a country holiday after a bustling London tour.

Foggy London Town

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Last week Adam and I spent a week in England with Adam’s best friend Kyle and his wife Katie. We hadn’t seen them since we attended their wedding last October (in which Adam was best man, ahem) so it was a treat to catch up with them overseas. They are both so funny and easy going, which made traveling fun and low-key. We passed around a bit of a summer cold (that actually knocked me out all this week…), but despite feeling under the weather at some points, we had a great time exploring London and the Cotswolds.

While in London we stayed in an Airbnb in the Notting Hill/Kensington area, which was beautiful and quiet. Our flat was pretty close to Portobello Road with all its markets, shops and restaurants. We did some poking around in the area and had a great meal at e&o on our first night. I’d highly recommend ordering just about everything on the starter menu and the fried brown rice with whatever unique main you choose.

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We also gobbled up very juicy burgers covered in American cheese and something called “freddar” from a chain called Byron. It’s certainly unexpected and not at all sexy to get cheeseburgers in England, but a really good one (washed down with root beer!) is a rarity here so we like to grab one while we’re out of the country. It turned out to be great fuel for moseying around the British Museum in the afternoon where we saw ancient Egyptian artifacts and dozens of very cute little British children in matching uniforms.

Of course no tour of the city is complete without popping into a dark, carpeted pub in the middle of the afternoon. We found a cozy one in the Lamb’s Conduit area and spent an hour there catching up. Resist the urge to sit outside, even if it is lovely. The whole point is to belly up to the old wooden bar or hunker down in a corner booth : )

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We also spent a little time around some of the bigger highlights, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. One could spend a lot more time at these places than we did, but there is just so much to see in that gigantic city and we wanted to keep moving.

I do wish we would have spent more time in the east part of the city, which is apparently “where all the action is”. But we did get an afternoon to walk the streets of Shoreditch and I liked seeing all the people knock off work with a beer and spill out onto the sidewalks during happy hour. We found a lush beer garden through an alley, which proved a popular spot for locals. There are cool boutiques and restaurants in this area and I think it might be a fun place to stay should we visit the city again.

That night we had the best dinner at 8 Hoxton Square and I can’t recommend that place highly enough. It was the perfect evening to sit outside and share some small plates before digging into bowls of pasta, juicy steak and perfectly cooked sea bass over panzanella.

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Our time in London felt very brief and honestly I’d like the chance to return for a longer period of time with a more condensed itinerary. I felt overwhelmed with all there is to do and see!

Have you been? What was your favorite part of the city? And what would you recommend for others planning a trip?

Day Trip to Blausee

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Our friends Claire and Brendan were here for a week and I’ve just recently received confirmation that they are back in the loving arms of their three beautiful, hilarious children. And while that makes me blissfully happy, I do sorta wish they were still here. They are one of my very favorite couples and their bright energy and non-stop laughs make them ideal guests. Claire and B, you are welcome any time.

We dodged a lot of rain while they were here but managed to get out for long walks around the old town, a trip up the Gurten for disc golf and trail walks, bocce in the Rosengarten, many a beer at our favorite local bar, and a couple of day trips, including one to Blausee. It was originally Claire’s suggestion, and Adam and I had never been so it was the perfect place for us all to explore.

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The mineral-rich lake is one hour from Bern, reached via train and bus. You can also drive there easily and park in the big lot in front of the entrance. I think we were all a little surprised to find a turn-style entrance into the lake and forest but it’s become a popular destination, meaning there’s a small CHF 8 entrance fee and opening/closing times you’ll want to be mindful of. Inside the forest you’ll find a restaurant, hotel, and spa, all of which are beautiful. Each summer they hold an open air cinema, which looks like a fun night in the woods.

There’s a local organic trout farm that feeds into the lake, though you can’t fish or swim in it. But you can go out on a glass-bottom boat and see through the crystal clear water nearly to the bottom of the lake.

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We packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed sandwiches by the lake before taking off on the connection of trails and pathways. All the walks are very easy and would be fun and suitable for little ones; it took us just over an hour to walk all the trails. We relaxed at the restaurant with some cold drinks and a beautiful view of the lake before catching the bus back to Bern.

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I loved this day! Blausee (which literally translates to “Blue Lake”) is a very easy day trip from Bern and was so relaxing and peaceful. We had perfect weather and great company, making it an afternoon to remember.

Tuesday Book Club: 2016 Update

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It’s been a big year of reading for me! I don’t know exactly what got me so in the spirit, but I feel like I’ve been on a roll, moving from one book to the next and feeling inspired by recommendations, bookshop browsing, and buying on a whim.

I’d like to read 50 books this year and my current track record suggests I just might make that goal. Below is a list of what I’ve read so far this year, and I’ve starred the books I’d highly recommend.

  1. Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
  2. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
  3. How to be Both by Ali Smith
  4. Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
  5. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  6. It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell*
  7. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  8. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
  9. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  10. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  11. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter*
  12. Franny & Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  13. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  14. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi*
  15. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  16. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett*
  17. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
  18. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
  19. Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff
  20. Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
  21. The Psychopathy Test by Jon Ronson
  22. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Started but didn’t finish or read entirely: Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith and Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins.

A Little Life has been the real stunner this year–this book blew me away. So did When Breath Becomes Air, for that matter. I think this book is so important and the discussions that can come out of it are necessary and meaningful. The Versions of Us was such a quick read for me, so compelling. It’s very Sliding Doors-esque and would make for a great beach read.

For as much as I loved Life After Life, Kate Atkinson’s follow-up novel, A God in Ruins, felt like such a disappointment. And I completely give up on Salinger. I just won’t do it anymore; life’s too short! And the two I didn’t finish: simply not what I was looking for, and I’m trying a new-to-me concept wherein I put down books I don’t like instead of muscling through them just to say I finished them. That’s not quality reading (at least not to me at this point).

I’m currently reading The Best American Travel Writing 2015 and I love how it’s opening my eyes to new forms of traveling and the documenting of such. It’s a great nightstand read. I’ve got a fresh stack of books sitting on the coffee table and I’m looking forward to making my way through it this summer. What about you? What are you reading? Anything you’d recommend?