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.

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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Nice for the Weekend

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IMG_3970A couple weekends ago I met up with my friends Laura and Claire, who are sisters, for a quick weekend in Nice, France. They were there for a whole week but I was more than happy to crash their sister time for a little exploring around the Cote d’Azur.

Unfortunately the weather was less than cooperative and days that promised to be sunny were rainy and days that were forecasted to be rainy were…rainy. So we had a few moments of sunshine and warmth, but we also spent a lot of time dodging rain and thunderstorms. Apparently the rest of the week had fabulous weather, so I suppose I’ll just have to go back!

I arrived in town in the early afternoon and spent a couple hours people watching and lounging at the local beach club Castel Plage & Restaurant while waiting for my friends to arrive later that evening. The beaches in Nice are very rocky and not comfortable but they will certainly do in a pinch if you’re looking for the last rays of sunshine and a place to take a warm nap. Do note that if you choose to go to a private beach club you should expect to spend about €15-20 to rent a chair and umbrella.

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Our first full day was cloudy and misty so we spent some time lounging around the apartment and putzing around the city. The old town, Vieille Ville, looks decidedly like a movie set with its crumbling buildings and balconies spilling over with plants. It’s a fun place to simply wander around and get sucked into the little shops and alleys.

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IMG_3967One morning we spent walking around Èze, a medieval mountaintop commune about thirty minutes outside of Nice. You can catch the 82 bus at the Boyer stop, just beyond Place Garibaldi, if you’re staying in Vieille Ville as we were. It’s a crowded ride, but thankfully it isn’t too long.

Èze offers beautiful views of the surrounding Alpes-Maritimes as well as the sea and coastal towns. The entire commune is surrounded by walls and the narrow, winding pathways make for a fun morning of discovery. The Jardin Exotique at the top is also worth a visit. They have beautiful cacti and of course those views. Wowsa.

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IMG_3983That afternoon we walked around a different part of the city and made our way through the port and along the boardwalk just as a giant thunderstorm rolled in. We found refuge at Le Méridien, a very swanky hotel along the Promenade des Anglais. They have a rooftop bar with beautiful views and tasty drinks. We ended up staying here for dinner because it was just too convenient to leave. I’m glad we stayed.

IMG_3995The storm had blown through and we spent the evening walking along the promenade, watching street performers and artists and sitting in the city’s iconic blue chairs. We also stopped in the very grand Le Negresco. Their cozy bar was a perfect place for fancy tea, though their menu is quite extensive if you’re looking for something a bit more potent.

My sister-in-law had been the week before and offered up lots of great suggestions: places to eat, day trips (Antibes, Moncao, Monte Carlo, etc.), beaches (Paloma beach on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Coco beach in Nice, etc.), and markets, specifically the Cours Saleya, which I walked through on my way to catch the bus to the airport. I only scratched the surface, but I’m grateful for the list of things to keep in mind for return trips.

It was a quick trip but I’m so happy I spent a couple days down their exploring a new city and seeing some of my favorite people. I’m looking forward to taking Adam there with me and checking out Saint Tropez, Antibes, and Cannes. Ooh la la!

(p.s. you may have seen some of these images earlier this week. thanks for indulging me : )

Strasbourg for the Weekend

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Last weekend Adam, Phil and I went to Strasbourg, France to celebrate our birthdays, and also just to take a trip together. Strasbourg was recommended to us by a friend who was charmed by the old timber-framed houses, numerous sidewalk cafes and excellent shopping options. Though it was a bit too chilly to dilly dally outside, Strasbourg truly was a beautiful place, especially around the holidays.

I didn’t fully realize that the city is commonly referred to as the Christmas Capital of the World, but once we arrived we realized how seriously Strasbourg takes that special distinction. Christmas markets popped up everywhere and lights were strung with almost careless abandoned. Every restaurant, shop and bar was fully outfitted and it would have bordered on the kitsch if it wasn’t so earnest. If you’re looking for the sweet nostalgia of Christmas, this is the place.

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On Friday night we had dinner at Winstub S’Kaechele, a tiny nine-table restaurant near Le Petite France. Typically, a winstub serves traditional Alsatian food and wine in a warm, cozy atmosphere. Wood paneling, checked tablecloths, low-beamed ceilings and several variations on pork are all standard at these places. There are a few restaurants of note in Strasbourg, but the winstub will offer the most authentic and delicious experience, in my opinion.

The main specialty of the region is charcroute, pictured above. A large helping of homemade sauerkraut sits buried underneath at least five variations of pork and sausages, if not more. Boiled potatoes and a side of mustard accompany this dish, along with a hearty appetite. I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut but I was promised that this would have none of the vinegar-y tang that is usually so off-putting. This was sweet and almost creamy in its consistency and was a beautiful complement to the rich, fatty pork. The guys had potato gratin and pork shoulder; everything was so delicious. We’d highly recommend this place, but bookings are essential since it’s so small. There was a sign on the door turning away everyone who didn’t have a reservation.

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^^^nothing wrong with a little post-meal burst mode session outside the restaurant

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After dinner we walked around the town to check out lights and the giant Christmas tree that had been lit earlier in the evening. We stopped for a couple drinks along the way but really soaked up the Christmas spirit.

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The next morning we woke up to find a farmers market right outside the apartment we were staying in. It was full of the usual suspects: fresh produce, stinky cheeses, warm bread and pungent seafood. It was fun to stroll through on our way into town.

We walked through a few of the Christmas markets and stopped for flammkuchen and coffee on our way to the cathedral. Once there we walked up over 300 steps to enjoy the view from the top.

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We walked further through the markets and some of the shops in the more popular part of town, around the cathedral that is, before submitting to the cold and heading into a nearby bar. We had a deck of cards and played round after round of golf in La Mandragore, a very cool bar near the Galleries mall. It’s full of taxidermy and oddities and makes for a great place to relax and gear up for the next tour of markets.

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That night we went to Restaurant Au Pont du Corbeau for dinner. It was another winstub-like place with dark wood walls and checked tablecloths. It too was completely booked for the evening so I would recommend reservations here. We shared wild boar, pork cheeks and salmon after devouring foie gras, escargot and quiche for starters. We were beyond stuffed but very happy indeed. Everything we ate was so, so good.

We visited Le Petite France to walk off dinner and see more Christmas lights. This is definitely the most picturesque part of town and I wish we could have seen it during the day. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 13th century.

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On Sunday we visited the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. They had a couple of interesting exhibits and it was a nice place to stroll through on a quiet Sunday.

We headed home shortly after that. It was a quick trip, but a fun and festive one. It’s nice to get out of town every once in a while, especially when there are so many neat places easily accessible by train. This was our last trip of the year, besides our trip back to the States for Christmas. Nothing is exactly on the books for next year, but we’ve been brainstorming like mad and 2015 looks like another exciting year for travel. Visitors welcome and highly encouraged!