Couldn't be more excited to share this music. It's only 3 songs (for now...another project with a slightly different vibe coming soon-ish), but I've never felt happier with what we made in the studio. Also grateful that today is our 5 year wedding anniversary -- double the celebrations!
*scroll down to the bottom for a video sneak peek of the title track*
Our time in Paris started as a little dream to get some distance from "real life" for awhile. We found an adorable airbnb apartment in the Marais and we decided to take a leap and stay there for a month. When we arrived it was the most magical little spot--a tiny corner of the city that was just for us. There was a bakery on the corner just below our window, and despite what I've heard my whole life about how much someone should eat bread, we bought a baguette every day, just like the French do. No regrets :)
The restaurant on the corner across from the bakery, Les Temps des Cerises (Cherry Season in English) was to me, completely perfect. It's owned by an adorable French woman who seemed to work there every day. She sold us our first espresso when we arrived on the first day, and she also sold us our last. There were lots of sweet visits to Cherry Season and sitting at the tiny round tables that lined that side street. They served escargot, scallops risotto, delicious duck, and several other French delicacies. Click here to see a few pictures of the restaurant and the view of our corner.
We wrote "Paris, or wherever we are" while we were working on our morning pages. There's a super interesting book I've been reading called The Artist's Way that talks about tapping back into your creativity, breaking down walls that we put up when we're afraid of being exposed, and ultimately finding the things that inspire your creative side and staying there for awhile. The author has you write a few pages every morning, stream of consciousness style, just to get rid of the things that make your mind busy first thing in the morning, or to create something before your inhibitions kick in.
Michael and I were sitting in two different rooms, all the windows in the apartment open. He was strumming the guitar and I was writing in my journal. I heard him singing this really beautiful melody, so I got up from writing and sat with him by the window. The street below was already humming with people, the flower boxes hung from every window, the beautiful Parisian rooftops sat there, stained with character and so picturesque. We started writing together and mostly finished that song in one sitting, with a few tweaks once we got home.
Check out the video below for a little sneak peek of the title track...
I don't know if writing about Paris
from Panama City Beach, FL counts as "Paris Journals," but it's a rainy day here and I wanted to wrap up the tales of our time in Paris before I move on to normal life.
The last week in Paris, I spent a lot of time looking at things.
For the first few days everything seemed new. Buildings, bridges, pigeons and interesting interactions between people would catch my eye every time we walked down the street. But, just like it would in any city, the sights started to become typical. The views themselves were still extraordinary, but as we started to build our little temporary life in Paris, we saw these things every time we went out, and before I knew it they didn't catch my eye as often. We had other conversations rather than "Wow, look at that building" or my personal most-used, "I can't believe how beautiful it all is!!!" We took the same paths to our favorite spots until it became our night walk. Oddly, that's one of my favorite things about our trip, and the reason why I wanted to go there. To establish normal life somewhere else.
I wanted to really live in a big city. I'm proud of my background as a small town girl, and I've loved my life in Griffin, and in Athens. But I had always wanted to try a life in the big city. I thought it would be New York, but after some research and "let's talk about our dreams" conversations with Michael, I realized that Paris was that big city. It's a place where artists, painters, writers and poets have gone for hundreds of years to be inspired. The most visited city in the world. Architecture frozen in time.
The goal was to forget that we've been trying to have kids for over a year now without luck. To forget that we had a contract on our dream house that fell through. To gloss over the bumps in life when you've found the groove, but not your perfect fit. To write songs again, after 2 years of writers block. To make something work that seems truly crazy, impossible even. To dive in head first to a new culture, new language, new apartment, city life. To experience the oddly small and often cramped restaurants, tiny tables, interesting food in tiny portions on tiny plates. It's thousands, if not millions of people from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and beliefs trying to co-exist in one place. It's beautiful. And after a year "same old, same old," some pretty decent disappointments, and some good old fashioned "stuck in a creative rut" feelings, we just went to Paris.
Before you start saying that you couldn't do it, you could. You just plan far in advance, and decide to take the risk. It won't solve everything, or maybe anything. But I couldn't be more happy that we went.
But, like I was saying,
I spent the last week looking at things. I stared as long as I could. It's like I believed that if I looked at it for long enough, it would imprint itself in my memory forever--that I could close my eyes and be back in Paris. Six weeks home, and those mental pictures are mostly gone. So I'm glad I spend so much time with my camera in my hand.
We had some friends in town, so we had a blast playing tour guide and exploring the city with fresh eyes. We took them to Chez Julien, which I had been wanting to visit since our first day. It was fancy and very French. In an attempt to eat like the Parisians eat, we split a salmon tartare (they love some raw food). We also showed them our favorite dessert in all of Paris -- Maison Carte D'Or (macaron ice cream sandwiches), and had drinks on one of the river boat bars on the Seine (Rosa Bonheur in all of it's rosé-serving, neon, dance-boat glory).
The last week we also went to see Bruno Mars in concert. It was a glorious blur of fear after the Ariana Grande concert bombing, no air conditioning, dancing, sweating, singing at the top of our lungs, an unforgettable bar purchase of Champagne (which we carried into the concert and later used as microphones to sing along with Bruno). I loved every minute.
We spent our last day at the French Open (!!!)
I don't know what I expected, but it was way better. We got into the stadium a little before noon. There were little food stands all around, some tables, screens showing the matches from the different courts, and a Champagne bar. Michael and I grabbed hamburgers and fries--our first of the trip, and it was so tasty! We realized that even a burger & fries aren't actually "American" food. Then we had a great debate: to Champagne, or not. Simply because it was on the bucket list for our trip, and because the tournament seemed so much more fancy than we anticipated, we got a bottle. It felt amazing. I've never bought a bottle of Champagne at an event like that before, and I probably never will again. But for a minute, as I carried the Moet ice bucket back to our table, we felt like kings.
We got to watch both women's semi-finals matches from the main court. It was so sunny and hot, we were both sweating and dismayed at how cramped the rows were.
I will never forget the two people next to me. As I made my way to my seat I noticed that my seat was beside a man who had his shoes off and feet propped on top of them, shirt pulled up to expose his stomach, and arms straight out -- all an effort to get a tan while watching the match. He came with his partner, who he grumpily spouted commentary to throughout the whole match. How I wish I could speak whatever language that was. Michael and I never figured it out, but I'm assuming German or Dutch. The guys brought no less than 10 snacks. Every time I looked over he was either sucking on a squeezable applesauce, eating a slimy pear, or crunching his way through a pack of some European crackers. We never spoke, even though we spent 8 hours next to each other. But by the end of the match, I felt that we were friends. I still have a perfect picture of him in my mind, and it makes me laugh.
The trip came full circle at our final meal. During the first week, we took a croissant baking class with our dear friends, & the teacher recommended a place called Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie for dinner. We actually forgot about that recommendation until we were in a scramble for our last meal in Paris. We routed our train from Roland-Garros (the tennis stadium) to the restaurant, and even though we weren't able to snag reservations before, they seated us right away at an outside table. It was the perfect night--cool and dreamy.
We had a first and a last -- for the very last time we ate escargot (a personal favorite), and for the first time we ate fois gras (dressed fancy in ravioli with a cream sauce). We shared a duck in balsamic glaze and a chocolate lava cake for dessert. The waiter recommended a great Bordeaux, and since we hadn't bought anything like it at our previous dinners, we splurged for a whole bottle. It was such a memorable, sweet meal. We talked about everything we've learned, everything we've loved. I can't believe, even still, that it's all over.
At the end of the night we made it over to the Eiffel Tower in time to see it sparkle one last time, had a toast with Ben & Madalene and then took one last train back to our apartment.
Thank you, Paris, for teaching us so much in just one short month. I'll never forget you, and I hope to see you again soon.
P.S. Life is good, and God is at work through it all, because we are now under contract on that same dream house that fell through 2 years ago. Patience. Faith. Grace. It all works out.
How did this month go by so quickly??
I can't believe I'm sitting at the Washington D.C. airport typing in retrospect about our trip on the layover. Just like that we're back in the U.S., and almost back to Athens. We can't wait to see Chumplins tonight & sleep in our own bed, but my heart is so sad to leave Paris. It really did start to feel like home.
Before I dive into stories from our last our last week, here's a little recap since Normandy and an update on the best crepe...
After the Normandy trip...
which we will remember and laugh about forever, we visited Marché Bastille twice. We saw the fishmongers, butchers, fromagers (fresh homemade butter and cheese!), wine sellers, all sorts of delicious produce. I read somewhere that it's very impolite to take pictures of the food, so I just snuck these quick iPhone pictures while they weren't looking. They aren't high quality, but you can get the idea of what this market was like -- busy, great deals, delicious options, a bit overwhelming, and yes that's a raw octopus. I had SO MUCH FUN here. This is my wheelhouse, and that booth below that is mostly olives is basically a dream for me. Michael, on the other hand, may not have loved it quite as much. Maybe because he was carrying the basket and I kept filling it up with stuff (hehe). In my defense, we did eat every last bit, and he really was a good sport.
One of my favorite things about the market was a little lady sitting cross legged on the ground playing a violin type thing. The instrument was propped straight up and down on the ground and she had the bow sawing away at one single note over and over again. It was so bad, but for some reason she made me smile.
We also planned a full day of more high class, Parisian activities. We started the day by going to high tea at Angelina's Tea Room. Michael ordered their famous hot chocolate and it did not disappoint! So delicious. But I think I prefer a full American breakfast to a French breakfast (they seem to only eat yogurt and lots of different breads...). As fancy as we felt, we couldn't help but notice that we are too tall for dainty activities like tea...
Afterwards we went walking at the Tuileries Garden and found a perfectly shady spot to read our books. It was one of the best moments we had in Paris, I think. The pigeons waddling by us looking for food, the privacy under the shade of the trees -- it was perfect. We had a 2:15 appointment for a guided tour of the L'Orangerie Museum, which was so fun! Maybe I'm getting old, because I've never described a tour as "fun" before... But because I don't know much about art, it was so entertaining to have a guide telling us the stories and history behind paintings. I particularly loved the stories of the dramatic competition and camaraderie between painters in Paris, and of course all their lovers who were the subjects of the paintings.
The most famous artwork in the L'Orangerie is Monet's Water Lilies. We learned that the large series of paintings was Monet's last work, and he donated them to France while he was still alive. It took him something like 7+ years to finish them. He designed the oval layout for the rooms they would be displayed in, requested sky lights in the building and even requested that specific museum (which is located inside the Tuileries Garden. But sadly he died a few months before he ever saw the paintings displayed. This one below is only one of the 8.
A few days later we booked a train (ahead of time, and made sure there was a hotel) for a trip to Provence. It's a food & wine region in the Alps in the south of France only about an hour away from the coast.
Michael found a breathtaking B&B called Chateau La Roque that we fell in love with. It was the perfect escape from the city, and our hosts Chantal & Jean could not have been more lovely and helpful! They booked us wine tastings at beautiful wineries during our stay there, and found us reservations at 2 of the best restaurants we've been to on our whole trip.
The Chateau itself was breathtaking. It's an old castle sitting high up on the hill, and the owners told us that it once was a fortress protecting the whole town. You can see for miles, and they have a sweet terrace with round tables overlooking this gorgeous view where we sat every morning for breakfast.
Our room was beautiful but simple. A small sitting area, a wardrobe to hang our clothes in, a big comfortable bed, 2 big windows, and a large bathroom with a soaking tub and a walk in shower. I had one of the most relaxing baths I've ever had in my life, complete with a bottle of Rosé and some pistachios from our picnic earlier in the day.
For the first time in our lives Michael and I signed up for the in-room massage. The lady could not have been sweeter, despite Michael and me awkwardly deciding in the bathroom with the door closed who would go first and how much clothing we're supposed to take off for a massage in France. Michael said I should go first so I threw on one of the two robes and went out there. We both decided to leave on our underwear and lets just say that the lady would've gotten quite a show if I hadn't. The sheet on top was more of a beach towel, and I'm not sure it covered everything. I'm laughing just thinking about it. But once she got started and I got comfortable it was the most relaxed I've ever been.
After my massage I got dressed and went down to the terrace to paint while Michael had his massage. The sun was starting to set and the sky was lit up with the most beautiful colors I've ever seen. This picture was taken after I had admired the view for about 45 minutes, so the sun had disappeared a bit. I tried to paint it and failed miserably, but it will definitely be one of my favorite memories from this trip. Our sweet hostess brought me some olives and a glass of wine, and I was in heaven.
Once Michael was finished with his massage we had a really good laugh, because I had accidentally taken the bigger of the two robes. His robe was much too small, and he couldn't even keep it closed in the front. So again, thankful for the decision to wear underwear...
Chantal had booked us a reservation at Jardin du Quai, and even though they close at 9, they were staying open a little late for us. When we arrived, both of us were it awe of the sweetness and elegance of the restaurant. We had a table outside in the garden, ivy growing on an arch overhead, candles lit on every table. The French have long meals, sometimes as long as 3 hours. So a lot of people were still there for our whole meal even though they were technically closed. This was probably my favorite meal of the whole trip. The courses were delicious, but also things that I would never order if I was given the choice. So the pre fixe menu was such a fun choice for us, trying brand new things with an open mind. Each one was some type of seafood, and luckily it was all great! I think there was a tartare, a scallop dish, and a fish. The dessert was a raspberry macaron. The whole night was like a dream. These grainy phone pictures don't even come close to showing how magical it was, but they'll have to do for memories.
Breakfast every morning could not have been more adorable. Chantal would set the table and bring down enough different breads for 4 people, plus some yogurts, jams, honeys, fresh butter, and beautifully arranged fruit. Oh, and of course coffee. As delicious as the food was, this view was the best part.
During our stay there, Chantal and Jean could not have been more helpful with finding delicious food, gorgeous views, and excellent wine. Provence is known for its simplicity, it's beautiful landscapes, and as a place where you can find quiet. I overheard a few conversations about how precious a quiet escape is, especially the challenge of getting away from the big cities that never sleep. The quiet settled into our souls in the best way, and with Chantal planning all of our day trips, there was this wave of relief and relaxation. As much as I love to plan fun trips, the fear of not doing enough, missing something, or (the worst yet), regretting our decisions weighed heavily on me all through the trip to Paris. So this short trip was a stress free few days. The hilltop villages in that area were our favorite for exploring. The ones below are Ménerbes, Séguret & Gigondas,
On the way home we stopped in Avignon (home to one of the original Pope's Palaces) and had a sweet lunch in a little Italian restaurant. We were the only ones in the shop, so the owner fixed us some special snacks--focaccia with burrata on top and an Italian meat and cheese plate, which was really fun because we had mostly had French cheese for the whole month. After lunch we headed back to the train station to catch our train home.
When we arrived back in Paris we were ready to have some normal food, preferably nothing raw, no more smelly cheese, and no more charcuterie. So we ordered pasta from UberEats (they delivered it to our door) and watched 'Oceans 12' on the pull-out couch. It was the perfect night, because after a month of fancy, we're ready to chill.
The trip to Provence was simple in a great way, especially in contrast with our time staying in Paris. We love the city, but life there is fast, busy, crowded. At most dinners, the tables are so close together that the you have to pull the table all the way out to get to your seat without sitting on your neighbors table. At nicer places the waiter will do it for you, but it took me awhile to figure that out. So I accidentally hit a few bread baskets with my butt early in the trip, and got weird looks from the people sitting next to us. But I've always wanted to know what it's like to live in a big city, so I'm getting my wish even if I'm laughing about it the whole way.
P.S. we found the best crepe in Paris.
Last time we were only there for 4 days. On the last night of our trip we realized we hadn't tasted a crepe yet, so we just found the closest stand and ordered one. In the moment I was thinking that it was pretty incredible, but I thought that was just because France is amazing at dessert. But NO, not all crepes are created equal. We've had several fancy people recommend fancy crepe stores. And don't get me wrong, those places are good. But Michael and I did some research and found the crepe stand near the metro station that we stopped at last year. And let me tell ya.
That is the best crepe ever. There's no way around it, you gotta order Speculoos, and adding a little bit of Nutella is acceptable as well. Plus side, it's cheaper than the fancy stuff, and will change your life.
Yesterday was without a doubt one of the most interesting days of my life.
Michael and I woke up a little late, and we sat down over some coffee to plan out the rest of our time here in Paris. We're hoping to take a few little day trips, so we wanted to go ahead and book trains. As we were looking through some options, one popped up for Giverny (Monet's home and gardens outside of the city) that was leaving in 1 hour.
So, on some crazy (honestly pretty stupid) whim, we decided to buy the tickets!!! We skipped the showering, got ready in 20 minutes, grabbed a sandwich from the bakery on the corner, and ran out the door to catch the train.
Our Uber driver could not have been more considerate and polite on the road and Michael and I were refreshing our maps every 10 seconds. But by some miracle we made it on the train (after some sprinting).
The train ride was so lovely, just what we needed. But as soon as we arrived in Vernon (before our 4 minute bus ride to Giverny) we noticed that the sea of people from the train were all funneling through the same tunnels toward signs for Giverny. The line for the bus literally wrapped around the building (Ahhh!)
At this point, both of us were starting to wonder how this was going to go. When we finally got on the bus and made it to the gardens, there were EVEN MORE PEOPLE. Like, I want to say thousands. But maybe I'm overreacting.
On top of the crazy Friday crowds (how did we not think ahead about it being the weekend?!), there's a heat wave passing through France, and the temperature was hovering at about 90°, aka miserable.
Immediately, even before we said it out loud to each other, we both knew we had to leave. We wandered around for a little bit to take in the beauty that is Monet's house. It was truly gorgeous. But all those people!! Just the line to buy a ticket to get in the garden was a few hours long. I kid you not! (It feels so anti-art, but I have to say that THIS IS NOT DISNEY WORLD, PEOPLE!!)
So Michael & his genius planner work went to action. Giverny is almost half way to a city in Normandy that we've been wanting to visit. So on yet another whim, we bought another train ticket to Trouville-Sur-Mer. No bags, no proper items for an overnight trip. But we just decided to go for it!
And so did EVERY other person on France.
It was truly breathtaking. Such a gorgeous beach town with these old French cottages scattered around. It looked almost like they planned them out at first, but as the city grew they kept dropping these magical homes wherever they would fit--some on the hillside, some right on the beach. But right away we noticed that this place was CROWDED.
First things first--we were starving & wanted seafood. So we sat down and shared some Mussels in Normandy Cream at a charming restaurant called Les Vapeurs. HEAVENLY for real. The guy gave us such a cold shoulder for ordering 1 to share & guilted us into an order of fries as well. One of my favorite things about Europe is that if your server is rude you don't have to tip!
I've ordered Mussels a few times at home and I'm always left wondering how they get away with selling 15 shells for like $14. But in Normandy, an order for 1 person is like 100 mussels for $16. Seriously! Michael and I were astounded, wondering how the rude server expected us to eat 100 mussels a piece! So we happily split the order and sipped on our white wine.
When we left Les Vapeurs we were so ready to check into the hotel and shower off, settle in, and make a plan.
On the train Michael had checked a few hotels, which were sold out, but we were sure we could find something once we were walking around.
PLOT TWIST: there were no hotels, no hostels, no airbnbs, NOTHING. Every single place in this city was sold out. Even after asking the hotel concierge to help out, they said, and I quote:
"No no, everything in Trouville, Deauville, all around is completely booked!"
Imagine that charming French accent delivering the worst news ever.
So immediately we started looking into trains home, trains to other cities that had hotels. But there were no hotels AND no trains in any other city. We looked into renting cars, or taking an uber or a taxi. There was nothing. We did find an Uber back to Paris, but for €315 (gasp!) which would successfully multiply the cost of our trip by 8. We debated for so long, but finally landed on the money-conscious (and we were hoping romantic) decision to walk around until sunrise. After all, the place was gorgeous.
The first train out of Trouville was at 7am, and we bought a ticket. Then we started walking.
We grabbed an ice cream cone and headed straight for the beach. It was beautiful. The sand was thick, and the beach itself stretched for miles both ways. In typical French style there were these perfectly designed boardwalks and a wooden play zone for kids. You could barely see the Normandy cliffs in the distance.
Before we knew it, it was already getting dark. As soon as the sun went down we found our way to a sweet little restaurant/bar with some live music and ordered a glass of wine. There was a Santa looking man playing a red guitar, a saxophonist, and a drummer. They were such a delightful way to pass a few hours.
Around 11 we found a restaurant that was still serving dinner. They seated us outside by a loud party of 4. All night I kept wondering what language they were speaking, and wondering what they were talking about. They were laughing and carrying on like it was the best night of their lives. They were even trying to pull the waiter in on their fun.
I always wonder a little about how to interact with waiters here. I can't tell when they're annoyed, happy, having a good time, or hating their life while waiting on us. But I've seen French waiters having a blast with other tables! At the end of the meal (and for free) they always bring out this tiny shot of some sort of mystery liquor. Our friend Alex said that he had heard of it--that it tastes terrible but helps with digestion...must be a cultural thing. Anyway, I asked a waiter once what he was pouring. He smiled and said "Something special for the best customers!" I thought he was about to bring us some, but he never did. (Haha!)
I had decided that we would never get the mystery shot.
BUT last night on the craziest night of our lives, we finally succeeded in being cool enough customers to get the mystery shot! It was just by association, but I'll take it.
Mid way through dinner the fun table next to us started chatting with us in loose English. There was an older married couple and a younger, newly dating couple. The older man and the younger girl were the ones that spoke the best English, so we started laughing and chatting with them. Just as the waiter poured their mystery shots, he saw them laughing with us and poured two more! Little victory for me.
I mentioned to the younger girl that we didn't have a hotel, and she looked up and shouted "Us too! We sleep on the beach tonight! Ha ha!" It's hard to describe how unique and sweet her voice was--just a little hoarse, a lower register while still sounding feminine, and her laugh was almost part of her voice because after anything was said, she threw her head back laughing. She was animated, lovely, smart, and kind.
We talked about her new boyfriend, her previous marriage, her son who was coming to visit in August. She exclaimed, "August, August! Get here soon! I can't tell you how much I miss him". She told me how much she misses Portuguese food and loves the Island that she's from but had to leave after her divorce. We really become friends, at least for the night.
That's my favorite thing about traveling, and something I've missed on this trip up until now.
After a few minutes she mentioned that her boyfriend is French and knows of some other hotel with vacancy tonight. She offered for us to go with them, and we said yes. It was worth a shot.
We assumed that she meant some secret hotel in waking distance, but no! Before we knew it we were crammed into the back seat of their jeep, riding all over Normandy looking for hotels. Of course we were having no luck. I realized right away that her boyfriend didn't actually know of a one place with vacancy, he was just assuming, like us, that SOMETHING had to be available. But Michael and I had already done a desperate internet sweep for hotels and knew that NOTHING was available in any of the towns we were passing through.
With the language barrier, we didn't exactly know how to tell them and we didn't want to be rude to our new friends! So we rode along, watching the town signs go by, laughing with them. We would make eye contact with each other and squeeze hands from time to time, silently asking each other what to do, but enjoying an interesting way of passing the time.
As they drove from town to town with Michael and I crammed in the back seat, I kept hearing my moms voice in my head warning me, "you really shouldn't ride in the car with strangers," and I could almost picture us waking up in another country with these new friends in a hostel. It was hilarious.
Every hotel we saw (and we even pulled into some weird looking houses that claimed to have a room) had a sign posted that said "complet" which means no vacancy. The whole car would say "complet, ah no!" Out loud. It was like a movie.
After a few hours of laughing, getting in and out of the car at every hotel while the men had their smoke break, and joking about sleeping on the beach, we asked them to take us back to Trouville. The mood in the car shifted a bit from laughing and stories translated into English to mostly Portuguese. I'm sure they were annoyed because it was probably 30 min out of their way by then. But they were kind and they took us all the way back to the train station where we started and we said goodbye to our friends. I hope they found a hotel.
That was about 3am, with 4 hours to go. We sat on almost every bench in town, watched an absurdly large seagull waddle around the town square, smelled a baker making fresh croissants around 4am. We walked over the bridge and back 4 times, exploring the beach side and the town side.
There were a shocking number of people awake late. We found a big square wth a fountain that seemed to be the spot for high school or college students to hang out. At that point we were looking for a relatively safe spot to sit, and watching them flirts with each other and run around the fountain was pretty entertaining.
We spent most of the night walking slow, which I almost never do. It's crazy, but I normally want to walk fast to get where I'm going or to work up a sweat and burn calories. But just knowing that we had 4 hours to stroll was an amazing feeling.
The low point was around 4:30. When you're pulling a homeless all nighter, you have benchmarks to get you through. "In 30 minutes we'll walk to the beach, in 10 minutes we'll move to the other fountain..."
We were thinking to ourselves that the sunrise would be at 6, train leaves at 7. We can do this! But we found ourselves sitting on a bus bench at 4:30 pretty uncomfortable, the sunrise benchmark was still an hour and a half away. We were wishing we could brush our teeth or find a place to fall asleep. We were cold, we were ready to be at home and in our beds, thinking how this crazy this fail was.
But out of nowhere I think God gave us a little gift. Sunrise definitely wasn't supposed to happen until 6, but right there on the bus bench at 4:30, we saw some light gray and dark purple popping out from behind the buildings. I was over the moon about it. We probably spent 30 more minutes just talking about how awesome and hopeful the sunrise is.
The rest of the time really flew by. We made conversation with a few guys working the desks at hotels, and eventually we found our way to the perfect spot to see the sunrise. This spot felt safe, clean, happy, beautiful.
The whole sunrise was a treat. It was like we had a private show to the city waking up. The seagulls make these adorable, almost human sounds. The sky was slowly changing from a dark purple, to magenta with stripes of light pink, to streaks of blue and orange, until the sun had come all the way up and totally bathed the town in bright, white sunlight. I've never felt happier to see the sun.
Once it was light we decided to walk toward the beach. We found a grassy hill that led us up a little higher to look out over the water, the pier, the lighthouse and the town. It was so quiet and still. It made me want to be a morning person.
We passed a ton of people sleeping in their cars, on the beach, in RVs, on benches. It was surreal. They truly didn't have any more hotels, but people came anyway.
The train home was simple and it wasn't crowded. When we finally made it home we collapsed onto our bed for several hours of luxurious napping. Then we spent the day inside, a lovely contrast to the 24 hours spent outside the day before. We watched movies, cooked in, and relished in the apartment life, just for one day.
That what Saturday's are for, after all.
Hello Again from Paris!
I've gotten behind on my blog posts because the internet here is so incredibly slow that it takes no less than 2 hours to upload the pictures for 1 day. So I figure why not wait a few days in between to stock up on good stories and good photos.
And let me tell ya, the past few days have been incredible. Lots of good food, great tales and some good photos as well (even though we didn't bring the big camera on all our trips...sorry, you'll have to suffer through the grainy glory of iPhone photos)
(The "seedy" district, HERO (Korean Fried Chicken), Hotel Du Nord & Canal St. Martin)
Rue Saint-Denis -- one of the oldest streets in Paris. It has these beautiful cobblestone streets, adorable cafes, and a mini "Arc de Triumph" type structure, that sits at the end of the street where a wall around the city once stood.
Michael and I both love Asian food so much, and we had found this adorable Korean Fried Chicken restaurant that we really wanted to go to. So even when he read the reviews that mentioned that this part of town was "seedy", we headed that way.
There were lots of adult stores and questionable looking folks, and Michael and I just kept looking at each other, laughing and saying "seedy". But really it wasn't a big deal, just a good laugh. Although I may not go back after dark...
HERO itself was incredible. We recommend the spicy (Michael's fave) or the sweet garlic (my favorite) chicken, as well as the pork steamed bun. We also ordered some delicious rice on the side to share.
The cocktails were the best we've had in Paris! I had a smoky, refreshing mezcal drink with aloe, and Michael had a pear-ginger whisky concoction that was amazing. Props to HERO.
I made the huge mistake of sporting my clogs for this outing, and by the time we left the restaurant I was hobbling. Somehow we made it over to Canal St. Martin (Which we've been dying to see! It's apparently the hot spot for all the locals). But I needed a place to sit pronto, so we popped in a super cute cafe called Hotel Du Nord.
At the time we didn't realize it was a relatively fancy place. You could eat a full coursed-out meal there and feel like a queen. But we ordered their cheese plate, a half bottle of wine, and ended the night with their Cafe Gourmand (coffee with a sampler of teeny desserts). Man, I love teeny things, so these mini desserts really made me happy. This place was so magical, such an incredible surprise. It's one of the few places that I'd really love to go back to and dig in a little deeper with their menu.
Michael and I left Hotel Du Nord after about 2 hours, and we walked (a little) along the canals before we started to contemplate how to get me home without destroying my feet. #UBER. Side note, uber is really easy to use here, and helps a LOT with the language barrier because they already know where you're going based on the map in your app.
Day 9, you were full of pleasant surprises. Note to self: every Paris restaurant is close quarters, and almost every dinner lasts at least 1.5-2 hours. I bumped into my neighbor at Hero and she gave me the evil eye, so I can only assume that we must try to be as graceful and elegant as possible.
(Avocado toast & iced coffee at Fragments, Long conversations, Taste of Paris Food Festival, and the Eiffel Tower at night)
SUCH A GOOD DAY.
I gotta brag on Michael here: dude is an amazing planner and finder of great things.
I really love to find cute cafes and interesting events too, but somehow Michael is just naturally gifted at these things. We had agreed at the beginning of the day that he would call all the shots. So he had us en route to Fragments (a coffee shop that has some killer avocado toast and baked goods) when he mentioned that he had seen advertisements for the "Taste of Paris" food festival later that evening.
One of our big Paris goals was to eat at a Michelin star restaurant. But the longer we've been here we've gotten a little intimidated by the level of class and FANCY that exists in those type of places. So we began reading about the festival and realized that several Michelin Star chefs were showcasing there! It was the last night of the festival, so we bought tickets right away and decided that this would indeed check "Michelin Star" off the list.
Fragments was incredible. We spent the day dreaming, chatting, and reading our books. The avocado toast was heavenly, and we may or may not have ordered a cinnamon bun later to share... (check out these photos)
We made our way to a cafe that I've been wanting to try (Le Fontaine Sully) in our neighborhood. The marble tables and the cheery faces have always drawn me in a little. So we sat down with a glass of white wine and people-watched for almost an hour. Then we headed home to clean up for the festival.
Taste of Paris was at the Grand Palais, which is a giant exhibition hall that seems to host lots of different events, but it is gorgeous--tall glass ceilings and intricate details. We walked in and were slightly shocked that NO ONE spoke English. For some reason I pictured it as an event that people would travel to Paris to attend, so I thought there may be some English-speakers there. But it seems that most of the people were French. So we grabbed a map and tackled the menu one item at a time. We both put stars by the chefs or the dishes that we wanted to check out, and then started making our way around the room.
It's hard to believe that we tasted 5 different Michelin Star chefs' cooking for a fraction of the price that it costs to eat in their restaurants. We were wandering around like kids in a candy shop. Some highlights were: (* = Michelin Star)
KEI ** - gnocchi with parmesan creme, black truffle and Spanish ham, & lobster ravioli with spicy bouillon
AGAPE * - ravioli filled with Morel mushrooms and foie gras in chicken consommé
MAISON ROSTANG ** - chicken glazed in yellow wine & Morel stuffed potato
MANDARIN ORIENTAL PARIS ** - confit veal shank, macaroni au gratin and truffle emulsion, & supreme of chicken with Morel mushrooms
LA TOUR D'ARGENT * - raspberry compote with a petit beurre biscuit, crème brûlée ice cream, topped with warm raspberry and geranium rosat jam
FRENCHIE (no stars, but very popular here in Paris) - lobster roll + lobster bisque with lemon verbena, and for dessert: banana, pecan nuts and caramelized milk
L'ÉCLAIR DU GÉNIE (most popular eclairs here in Paris) - éclair sandwich with vanilla ganache, caramelized pecan praline, and milk chocolate
honorable mention: THE BEST OYSTERS I'VE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE. (Tarboureich was the name of the farm) OMG OMG OMG. Luckily we were operating on credit here or I would have seen the price tag and realized that these puppies for $3 PER OYSTER...they better be good for that price haha.
After Taste of Paris, we were already so close to the Eiffel Tower, so we walked out on our favorite bridge (Pont Alexandre III) just in time to snap a few photos and see it sparkle. It was so magical that we decided to take a night walk and end up at the tower. (The night walks are Michaels favorite thing we do in Paris, and they really are so lovely).
The Eiffel Tower is so touristy, but there's something freeing and wonderful about that. You can take 5 million selfies, lay on the grass and make out, or speak in silly French accents and there's no shame. You know there are people on the same lawn doing worse, more embarrassing things.
After we sat on the lawn for awhile we decided to take the long way home.
(songwriting day, baguette sandwich from our neighborhood baker, made THE LIST of Paris to do's, and Bateaux Parisiens dinner cruise)
My favorite day yet. It's a Monday, so the crowds have subsided a little, people are at work instead of filling the parks and museums. We slept in and worked on songs all morning. We have been bringing around a little hand recorder to capture the sounds and emotions of Paris.
We've seen an accordion fellow near Sacre Cœur, a violin lady & a harp guy at Notre Dame, a trio of fancy woodwind men on Île Saint-Louis, an opera singer at Place Des Vosges, a cello player in the metro, dinner sounds at our favorite restaurants, and the sounds coming from our windows in different parts of the apartment. It's been incredible.
So we pulled out the recordings and started listening to them, pulling inspiration for the new album. I can't wait to experiment with using these sounds and expounding on these moments.
It's a Paris MUST to get a baguette sandwich for lunch from a local bakery. You see every different type of person walking around Paris at lunchtime with these long, skinny sandwiches. Everything is the most fresh - tomatoes, cheese, fresh cooked bread, lettuce, ham. And they all just walk around eating this sandwich, just the top 3 bites sticking out of the paper wrapping. I've seen it and made a note to myself to find one.
So finally on day 11, we walked downstairs to the bakery on the corner and got a sandwich. Michael and I split it, and then ate some of our leftover groceries (salami, olives, cheese, extra baguette with butter). It was the most perfect lunch yet, and EVERYTHING for under $5.
Michael and I are working on an incredible list of all our favorite places in Paris (the baguette sandwich is most definitely on the list) for the blog. So maybe on your next trip you can pop into some of our favorite places.
By far, the highlight of the trip so far was our dinner cruise on the Seine.
Last time we were in Paris we hopped on the Batobus (which is so great!) at Notre Dame for the last ride, packed a baguette and some wine, and cruised up the river to the Eiffel Tower just in time for it to sparkle at 9. It was magical.
But this time we wanted to do a full dinner + evening on the boat. So Michael and I started researching the different options and landed on Bateaux Parisiens. There are lots of different amazing options (we also liked Calife, Marina de Paris) at all different prices. We splurged for a window seat and it was gorgeous.
The meal was coursed out, the live jazz band was playing, they were serving champagne, and the Eiffel Tower had just started to light up as we pulled away from the dock. I swear I was grinning ear to ear the whole night.
We had fancy courses and the big debate about which knife and fork (of the 3 options) was the proper choice.
We've actually had some trouble finding a wine that we love here in Paris. People hype the wine, but it's not like all the $5 glasses at all the cafés are fancy. So we were very pleasantly surprised when we realized a bottle of delicious red wine came with the meal. It was by far the best yet. We're hoping to find a bottle to bring home.
What a sweet, romantic night.
In fact, it was definitely the sweetest, and most romantic I can remember.
(explored the Marais, lunch at Miznon, our first real eclair, painting and reading by the Seine)
Today was wonderfully simple.
We wandered the cobblestone, winding streets of the Marais. It's the district right next to ours, only a 5 minute walk from our apartment. But we've spent most of our time exploring Bastille and other beautiful parts of town that we've mostly missed out on the Marais.
It's definitely a little touristy, but in a beautiful way. There's a walking street that cuts through the center of this crowded string of shops (no less than 10 Falafel shops, plus lots of cafés, boulangeries aka bakeries, and some well known stores like Addidas, JCrew, etc.)
We found our way to Miznon by lunch. It has come very highly recommended, and we were excited to try it. It's a very lively spot -- Middle Eastern dance music (is that a thing? I don't know how to describe it, but it was great) playing loudly in the background, a horn that they blew every time something awesome happened or a new customer came in the door, and our waiter was dancing the whole time he took our order. Such a friendly, awesome place.
It's a pita shop with lots of traditional options, but also typical french dishes like beef bourguignon in pitas. I tried the lamb gyro, Michael had the hamburger. This spot is definitely making the list. On our way out of the Marais, we passed the eclair shop from Taste of Paris and we had to walk in! Michael loooooves eclairs. I like them ok. But I gotta say, this salted caramel one that we split pretty much rocked both of our worlds. Bravo L'Éclair De Génie.
Then we started walking with 2 goals: find Michael a history book (preferable something WWII) and find me some watercolors and a little pocket notebook to paint in.
I've been wanting to paint by the Seine, and Michael has been wanting to read history. So we decided to combine our outing into one. We found Michael 2 awesome books at Shakespeare and Co. -- one about Stalingrad and one about Paris in the 1920s. We're pretty pumped for both.
I found an awesome art store and the perfect little pocket notebook & paints. We checked out & started the 30 minute trek back to our favorite spot on the water.
It was such a hot, perfect day today. From talking to Uber drivers, I think the Parisians love it when it's hot outside. It's typically pretty cold in Paris, so this weather is a treat. On the walk back to our spot on the Seine we were SO hot and thirsty, and stopped in a spot that was selling Berthillon sorbet. We got a scoop just to get the tap water that they usually bring to the table, and to our delight it had ICE in it.
This was our first ice since we arrived, and it was glorious. I still can't imagine why no one here drinks ice water. It just tastes better.
After the ice water and some pretty amazing strawberry sorbet, we made it over the bridge and to Les Nautes. it's an adorable little bar/restaurant near our house, right on the river. The restaurant is on the street level and the bar is on the river level.
People around our age were already spread out in everywhere around the river -- the place is always electric with activity, but somehow it's so peaceful. I guess the French get pretty accustomed to operating in close quarters. But we found a little table with a view of the Pont Marie bridge (the one that leads to Île Saint-Louis), and got some wine. I think this will go on the short list of my very favorite spots in Paris.
Michael began to read his history book, and I began to paint. I started with sketching what I saw, and slowly adding colors. I've never painted before, and this first one wasn't anywhere close to perfect. I wish I could convey with my paintbrush how truly magical the sight was. But I was actually pretty happy with how it turned out, and I can't wait to paint a few more spots in the city!
The best surprise is that Les Nautes serves incredible cheese and charcuterie boards! Ours as complete with fresh salami, delicious goat cheese, greek olives, a little arugula salad, figs, mini pickles, butter and bread.
My favorite kind of dinner (!!)
The diet begins again when we return from France! This stuff is too wonderful to turn down, although Michael and I are trying to take on the mentality of sharing and tasting rather than eating everything in sight.
I think we're doing pretty well.
Au Revoir for now!
p.s. If you made it to the bottom of this post you must either really love us, or really be considering a trip to France ;)
Bonjour & Happy Weekend!
It's late and we're sleepy, so I'll keep it brief. But I wanted to share a few of my favorite pictures and highlights from today...
It was a little rainy, but we decided to head up to Monmarte this evening on the train to eat at a cute little Dim Sum restaurant that we've been hoping to try, and see the sunset at Sacre Coeur.
The food was phenomenal. Note to self: go back to Dim Sum Cantine and order the duck bao, and the dumplings with soup inside. WOWOWOW.
After dinner we walked up to Sacre Coeur, passing a very charming accordion fellow on the way up. We payed him 1 euro to play us a song, during which he kept some super-fantastic eye contact. I can't tell you how much I wish I had a video of that.
By the time we made it to Sacre Coeur it was raining and the crowds had cleared out, so we decided to snap some pictures of the gorgeous light while we had some space. These are some of my favorite shots from the trip so far, of the carousel from under the umbrella, and the church before the storm.
1. Michaels chopstick stills
Dude really got it down after a few tries, and the dim sum was INCREDIBLE
2. "Dessert day"
We (somehow) managed not one, not two but THREE desserts today (I swear that's not normal), and here they are in order of taste: Macaron with ice cream (omg...), crepe, and a weird dessert made to look like meatballs.
(to clarify, it was from this restaurant where dinner is made to look like famous french desserts and desserts are made to look like famous savory French dishes... We got tricked by the name of the restaurant, "Prive De Dessert," because we were looking for an after-dinner sweet and wine place. But by the time we sat down and heard the premise of the restaurant it was too late to leave. Tasted good, and it must be popular because the place was booked up full for the night (we squeezed in for a 30 min dessert) but the vibe was weird...maybe I'm just mad because I got excited about "creme brûlée" on the menu, but it was actually polenta and cheese...)
3. Brunch (yes pizza can be brunch!) at Biglove Caffe
which has such an amazing environment and even better food. Can't wait to get back there soon and have their ricotta pancakes and their avocado toast with aged prosciutto.
Goodnight for now!
Day 7, you snuck up on us.
One week here in Paris. I almost can't believe it's true. The whole trip feels like this strange, beautiful blur between real life and a dream.
Some dear friends were passing through Paris this week and we got to spend some really special time with them. On Wednesday we took a croissant baking class together at La Cuisine Paris, and it was SO FUN.
I'm ignoring the amount of butter that goes into croissants.
We ate most of what we made, but I brought home the one pinwheel pictured above for an afternoon snack & some proof of our new baking skills! Is it possible to be proud of what you did if someone told you exactly what to do every step of the way? Haha, I'll say yes, for this.
We're starting to get our bearings a little when it comes to (the very very) basics of the language, places to hang out in the neighborhood, the general way of life here.
When I'm sitting quietly in a cafe or on a long walk through the city, these subtle thoughts and observations start to slowly hit me and develop in my head throughout the day. One thing I've noticed is that Parisians don't really smile at each other.
It could be why they have the reputation for being rude or stand-offish. But I think it's just a cultural thing, not at all intended to be cold. We've tried to blend into their way of life a little more -- saying "bonjour!" to people we encounter, but not necessarily bombarding our new friends with the southern hospitality that's so deeply in our bones.
Oddly, there's been some peace for me in dialing back the charm a little, which got me thinking a little bit more...
I've been feeling this subtle pressure to prove to the people I love and the people I meet (with my facial expressions, tone of voice voice, appropriately excited reactions) that I love them, or that I'm interested in the conversation, etc..
So funny, because I've never really thought about that before, but it's a pressure that has just sat there and nagged me, for as long as I can remember. I'm always wondering what that person thought of me, if what I said was stupid, and lots of variations on those thoughts.
I'm going to try to channel my inner Parisian this week: love people well, let go of what I can't control, worry less, and see how it all goes.
I know I'm running a bit far with the Parisian analogy, seeing that I don't know any French people and I don't speak the language, so I can't ask them their reasoning behind their more reserved nature. But you get the idea--it's so much more about the idea of letting go of unspoken expectations, feeling free to own your resting face (even if it naturally looks a little frowny), and breathe a little easier as you go about your day, because it doesn't really matter what people think of you.
I know, I know, that sounds a little rude. But seriously, it doesn't matter.
Our first Monday in Paris was sweet and simple.
We woke up late again (jet lag, LEAVE US ALONE ALREADY...), but amazingly, the first thing we did was sit down to work on music. I can't remember the last time I woke up first thing in the morning to write, so this is a really good sign. Maybe the creative recovery process is actually working.
Michael experimented with making some tracks in one room, and I sat in the other working on the melody and lyrics for a new song we started together last night. It feels wonderful to be writing songs again.
After our mini music session, we went out for a walk. We decided ahead of time that the only goal was to make it over to Le Peloton Cafe for some coffee, but that we would take the long way, turning down whatever streets looked interesting to us. We saw some really beautiful little details.
We made it to the river by around 3:00, and just sat there for about an hour. The weather was perfect -- probably around 75 degrees and sunny. The pigeons waddled around like awkward pets begging for food, and the water sloshed up against the walls of the canal every few minutes. I love that everyone minds their own business. It's not that I don't want to chat or make friends, but it's so lovely just relaxing -- closing your eyes and turning your face up towards the sun. Breathing deeply, and only talking when you have something you'd like to say. It's very peaceful. (And that whole paragraph was so introverted of me...)
The city is so much less crowded on weekdays. It's so beautifully calm compared to the chaos and crowds of the weekend. I love both, but there's something about the break in the steady stream of tourists that makes the city feel like a real city and not just a giant museum full of selfie sticks (but to be fair, selfie sticks really do capture a great picture).
When we finally made it up to Le Peloton (which a friend had recommended), we realized that it was a place where everyone spoke English! The owner moved from Tampa, FL about 15 years ago, and everyone sitting in the cafe spoke English as their first language. Never thought I'd be excited about something like that. But we became instant friends with the girls sitting at the bar near us, and the baristas behind the counter. It was a lovely 2 hours of conversation and laughter, especially in contrast to the past few days spent trying to figure out any faux pas to avoid while interacting with the French. We're probably overthinking it, but we don't want to be bothering them. So the conversation was easy, and friendly, and it brightened up our spirits a bit more.
From there, we headed over the market to pick up groceries. This time we found more of a grocery store (as opposed to the Target-like 'Monoprix'), and had so much fun shopping.
We bought pasta for dinner to go along with the fresh peas, garlic, milk, cheese, and butter that we already had at home. We also grabbed some "boeuf" to make hamburgers (we'll see how that goes tomorrow...hopefully it's the same kind of deal), some pot de cremes for desserts, and a few other items to have over the next month (soy sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, ice cream, more coffee etc.).
By the time we went to check out we had a problem. The French don't have free bags at the register, for some reason. Everyone brings their own bag to take the groceries home (I actually saw one woman putting her groceries into a rolling suitcase...). But since we didn't have a bag with us, we wound up shoving as much as we could into my tiny purse and carrying the rest down the busy street in our arms, stacked up high. The lady at the checkout counter didn't seem pleased with us at all, and we got some second looks while we were walking down the street toward home.
We passed a wine shop, so I popped in and grabbed a cheap white to have with our creamy pasta, and luckily they sent me home with a bag. So we stuffed all the groceries into a pretty small plastic wine bag, and were so grateful.
Last stop was grabbing a baguette from the bakery right below our apartment, and then we headed up to cook dinner. It was so tasty. Now we will take it easy and go to bed early so that this perpetual tiredness will let up a little (I've almost fallen asleep twice while typing this.)
Now that we've really explored our neighborhood and I've written in detail as we've settled in, I'll probably move to 1 picture every day - just something to sum it all up. Who knows, maybe I'll be inspired to post more, and if so I will! But with slow internet and a beautiful world waiting on the other side of my screen, I feel compelled to sit here for a little less long.
Goodbye for now!
Hello again from Paris!
Today we tried to start the day out right by making a short list of things to accomplish:
- Write a song
- Have lunch at Marche des Enfants Rouges (The covered market in Le Marais)
- Buy butter, eggs, bread, cheese & flowers
- Go for a long walk to take pictures in the neighborhood
- Read & have a glass of wine at a bistro
- Sit and chat in Place des Vosges (neighborhood park)
- Stop by for dinner at Cafe Hugo (we discovered it last night when passing by)
- Try not to nap for 4 hours again...
And believe it or not, this may have been the first entire To Do list that I've ever checked off. The list made for a lovely day with good food and inspiration. I can't remember my last Sunday that was this relaxing for us.
Here's somewhat of a walking tour of our apartment/street:
OUR STAIRWELL /
THE LOBBY (haha) & COURTYARD /
EXIT COURTYARD: LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD /
LOOK UP /
LOOK RIGHT /
LOOK LEFT /
The market today was quite a surprise. We went expecting a grocery market sort of place, and it was really a bunch of food trucks. The individual vendors also had wholesale booths behind their retail booths where you could buy the cheese, cream, pasta etc. for the ravioli you just ate. But we went expecting to buy groceries for the evening, and wound up eating lunch there.
It was really such a pleasant surprise though, I think we'll go again and try a few other vendors. We ended up leaving with some beautiful butter, cheese and eggs, but had to go elsewhere for the bread & flowers.
Ended up finding an open bakery on the way home, and a sweet little flower shop selling these beautiful peonies. I can't wait to see them open all the way up this week.
Our evening at the park was lovely. We brought our books and our journal, and made a little list of our Paris to-do's. I'm hoping the days start moving slower so we can get it all done--somehow these first 3.5 days have FLOWN by.
The Place des Vosges doesn't seem like it will ever get old. Only a 3 minute walk from our apartment, I'm hoping it becomes our little spot to rest and dream and chat. Today we sat by this beautiful fountain:
After we had been sitting for awhile and the sun was beginning to sink behind the buildings, we got up and wandered to Cafe Hugo around the corner. It was our first French cafe experience -- sitting in woven chairs at a marble round-top table, sipping wine and people watching. I love how the French always have both chairs facing the street, even when they're eating with someone. But I particularly love seeing people sitting alone, having a tea or a cigarette with the newspaper. They don't stare at their phones, they sit and enjoy.
I'm hoping to learn something about that while I'm here.
P.S. I've been so embarrassed at my rusty French that I downloaded an app and I've been doing French exercises every night. I'm really hoping that by the time we leave here I'll be a little closer to that old dream of speaking the language well.
It's day 2, and even though I thought we had slept off our jet lag, we in fact had not (more on that later).
It's Saturday in Paris, which we discovered means that most of the bakeries open late or are closed all together, people sleep in (9am is legitimately a ghost town), and everyone hangs out in the parks.
We decided we were going to cook breakfast at home first, and then head out for an adventure. The strawberries we picked up at the supermarket were phenomenal. I've never tasted anything like them. That sounds silly, but they sort of changed my life this morning. Red and juicy all the way through.
Ok enough about the strawberries.
We felt so French running down to one of the bakeries that we knew would be open and picking up a couple of chocolate croissants (learning to say 'pain au chocolat' without sounding like a couple of losers), and whipping up some quick eggs and tea.
Breakfast put a big smile on our faces this morning. The apartment is so bright and cheery. What a great reason to paint every wall white for the rest of time and even buy a white table.
One thing I forgot to mention yesterday is that our apartment building is super old and adorable. I'm one of those people that really loves old things, so as we were settling in, I kept discovering more nuances about this place that I love.
The lift barely fits 2 people, and the spiral staircase could not possibly be any more charming.
But maybe my favorite thing about the apartment is that there are 3 different worlds outside each of our windows.
Kitchen window: Lunchtime recess & kids playing in an echoing gym. Laughter and squeals.
Living room window: People cordially greeting each other in the courtyard. I haven't heard anyone speaking in English yet. You can see the cobblestone, the different window gardens hanging from each persons apartment, doors closing, polite hellos.
Bedroom window: cars driving by on the little side street, slowing down when they get to the speed hump right in front of our window. Dogs barking as they leave the grooming suite below our apartment. Friendly chatter from people sitting at tables at the corner bakery which is called "Les Temps des Cerises" or "Cherry Season".
It's all so inspiring -- things that are common to someone who has lived here for awhile, but so new and wonderful to us.
The rest of the day was simple but wonderful. We sat in Luxembourg Gardens and did some people watching. We ate lunch at our favorite place from our last trip here, Au Pere Louis (the snails are still delicious). We wandered around the neighborhood until we could no longer stand, and then we came home for what was supposed to be a "short" nap.
4 hours later, we woke up and headed to dinner. Luckily a 9pm dinner is actually early for most Parisians.
We found our way to Chez Janou, an adorable bistro where we ordered duck, scallops risotto, and of course tons of wine. I knew it was the perfect spot right when we walked in, because their bar snack for waiting customers was a tiny bowl of greek olives (my favorite).
The one mission we fell a little short on today was finding flowers. So hopefully tomorrow we will have better luck, and less of a need for naptime.
Today's view from our iPhones...
As much as I love my big camera, there's something to be said for just truly grabbing a quick snapshot--no edits, not frills. Today we decided to leave the camera at home and just snap a few photos here and there of things that made us happy.
Place des Vosges: We noticed that this beautiful park is only steps away from our apartment. So, on our way to dinner tonight we decided to detour a bit and pass through it. It was was small and peaceful. Today we just passed through, but I think tomorrow we may go and read for awhile, or just lie on the grass.
Jardin du Luxembourg: Today we wandered over to the hotel where we stayed during our last visit. It was so sweet and nostalgic. We ended up spending the afternoon at Luxembourg Gardens, which was just steps away from the hotel. People watching, drowsy afternoon sun, those green chairs spread out all over the park, and even a children's boat race in the fountain. It was dreamy.
Je t'aime: We passed this little red door on the way to dinner with "I love you" written beside it in what looked like crayon. There was something so charming about it, and it made me smile.
The tiny lift: hehe, these teeny elevators make me giggle. Gotta squeeze in, press 4 and hope we don't cause the thing to break.
Even though the flight was slightly miserable, compared with our last trip (United losing our bags and us going 3 days without them, wearing the same clothes the whole time, etc....) this one has been flawless.
We took off from ATL around 4:30pm and were standing at our front door by 11:30am Paris time (5:30am ATL time...with only a few hours of sleep. But still, a success!).
Even in my totally exhausted state, all I can think about is how perfect Paris is. It's old and charming, picturesque and elegant--it's entirely lovely. We're excited to call this little corner of Paris home for a little while.
We pulled into the city around lunchtime, but our host was a few minutes behind us.
So first we wandered down the street to a little cafe. We stopped in for a coffee and croissant, sitting at a charming little table with all of our luggage (2 suitcases, 2 carry ons, a guitar, a book bag, and a purse). The cafe is only 2 doors down from our apartment, and the waitress didn't speak any English. So that must mean that this part of town isn't too touristy, which is great news. I'm hoping to brush up on my French while we're here.
Around 11:45 our host arrived to let us inside and show us around the apartment. She was lovely and charming, just as you would expect, typically French. Plus the apartment is perfect. SO much better than we thought it would be. (AirBnb win!)
There are big, 8 ft. windows in every room, wood floors with beautiful detail, a tiny kitchen with everything we'll need to cook this month, and a cobblestone courtyard. It's so dreamy.
We went to the French version of Target tonight to stock up on soap, toilet paper and other necessities (i.e. wine), and we felt so odd trying to read the french on the bodywash bottles and trying to find the detergent section without asking anyone (because we don't know how). I'm hoping that our blending-in skills will improve over the next month.
But we did find one gem--some delicious looking fresh Ramen, that we ended up eating tonight for dinner alongside our $4 bottle of wine. French life so far is good.
I'm hoping to sleep off this jet lag and jump into French life tomorrow with a market in the morning. The goal is to get some fresh flowers for the apartment and something to cook for the next few days!
Life in Paris is lovely so far, can't wait to see what this month holds (hopefully many delicious meals and new exciting songs...)
If you're a romantic like me, when you think about New York you get a feeling.
It's the big city. The place where so many of my favorite movies are set, or were filmed. The place where my favorite jazz musicians got their start in those old famous clubs below street level. The city where my favorite actors and actresses have a second home, and pop over to the shop around the corner get their morning juice. The place where my favorite writers have lived, or been published. The place with some of the most delicious food, some of the most beautiful and unique clothing, and some of the most exquisite inspiration and history.
I love New York.
Michael and I take some sort of trip for our wedding anniversary every year, and this year we decided we'd love to see the Big Apple for a few days. While Manhattan is wonderful, and is quintessential "New York", we wanted to give Brooklyn a try this time.
Brooklyn is booming, hip, and wonderful. We had a blast exploring, trying lots of food and drinks, and staying in the most lovely hotel that is literally worth a trip in itself.
What a city, what a trip.
My favorite thing about Brooklyn was The Wythe Hotel.
It's in the middle of Williamsburg, which is my favorite part of Brooklyn. The hotel was walking distance to most of our favorite spots. When our uber pulled up and dropped us off about a block away, it set us up for the most picturesque reveal. We walked around the corner to see this gorgeous brick building, with a tiled courtyard covered in twinkle lights. Inside there were exposed brick walls, thick wooden beams, intricate tile, big, bright windows. There is a gorgeous coffee shop/restaurant and the most lovely, classy rooftop bar. Our rooms had hand drawn wall paper, all white linens, and a soaking tub.
We arrived mid-morning, so brunch was the first item on our itinerary. The main floor of The Wythe is open to the public for meetings, coffee, and food. The restaurant is called Reynard, and it was a highlight of our trip, for sure. White marble cafe tables lined the room, there were these gorgeous tiled floors, a solid wood bar. The whole place has this perfect natural light. This dish with black rice, poached eggs, sweet potatoes and curry aioli was absolutely perfect.
Checking into our room was a treat in itself, and we both seriously considered spending the whole day there. The mini bar had everything we could need, including the ingredients for a little cheese and charcuterie plate (the way to my heart). But there's a tradition of ours that began with the dream of opening our own donut shop, and ended with us attempting to taste all of the best donuts in the United States. A lofty goal, I know. But in every city we ever visit, we research the donut happenings and try to make our way there. We've had donuts from several other places in NYC, including one of our favorites of all time, The Doughnut Plant. But there's one famous donut shop in Brooklyn that we had never made it to, and always wanted to. So we decided to go ahead and catch a train over to DOUGH.
Dough was everything we hoped it could be.
A little out of the way, but the staff was friendly, the donuts were fresh, and the service was quick. We bought a little carton of milk and took our box of donuts to a park bench to taste a few different flavors. I didn't expect to like this one, but the Hibiscus was by far my favorite.
I blame Michael Harrison for my love of donuts. Man, they're so good.
The first night we ran into our dear friends (who both have just moved to New York and both happened to be in our wedding almost 5 years ago) Alysse Whatley and Aaron Chewning. What a perfect evening.
It's so wonderful running into friends when you're traveling.
Is it just me or does it feel so surprising and meant to be?
I love catching up with an old friend in new city. Dinner with Alysse and Aaron in Brooklyn was so fun, and completely picturesque. We found a restaurant in Brooklyn that sold $5 Manhattans and slider burgers. That's so cheap for New York. So we were soaking in the good deals and the fact that we all happened to be in the city at once. Oh and of course some ice cream afterwards. It was so lovely.
What's my favorite spot in all of Brooklyn? Without a doubt, Maison Premiere.
Most of my favorite travel stories have come from our Wild Sam Travel Guides. These folks know how to tell a city's history, and they really know how to find good food. We were digging through the Brooklyn book a few trips back, and we found Maison Premiere listed as an oyster and cocktail bar. Because I love both of those things with my whole heart, we decided to make a trip out there. We were so pleasantly surprised.
The oysters were so delicious, and they have really great happy hour prices. This was also my first place ever trying an absinthe cocktail. I had a drink that they call the Walcott Express, which has absinthe, fresh mint, creme de menthe, and some other delicious ingredients. It was so fresh and perfect for my taste. Absinthe has a very unique flavor-- not everyone likes it-- but I definitely recommend you trying it! I like how their vintage absinthe drip makes it feel like you're in Paris in the early 1900s.
The next day we had brunch at Marlow & Sons,
which I highly recommend. They had homemade sausage patties and biscuit sandwiches that were to die for. They have great coffee, and a cute little general store in the front. It's definitely worth a visit, and they also sell some oysters and main dishes when they're not serving their delicious brunch. I mean, look at those pastries.
We did end up taking a train into Manhattan to see a dear friend. Kevin had promised to show us "his New York", so he took us to his favorite spot in Central Park near the reservoir.
He was right, it was absolutely magical.
We stood on the edge of the lake and watched the city light up and talked about our hopes and dreams (what else is there to talk about in New York, in Central Park, at night?). I can see why so many New Yorkers spend a lot of their time in the park, it's truly a sliver of peace in the middle of one of the craziest cities in the world.
Later that night we ate some incredible Thai food that Kevin said represented "his New York" because of how often he had ordered take out from there on the way home from work and eaten it at home. We laughed and shared Pad Thai and Green Curry. He took us to a little bakery down the street and we brought home a few pastries to have with our coffee. He showed us his apartment on the Upper East Side, where we had to teach him how to use his own coffee maker. He makes me smile. We sat and listened to music, catching up on all the changes in our life.
It was such a sweet, New York memory.
You're not doing your New York trip justice if you're not trying some sort of heaLth fad.
NYC is famously ahead of the curve, especially with their diet and wellness trends. I had been hearing about matcha smoothies and matcha lattes for months, and I had to see what this green super-food was all about. We stumbled on Matchabar, because it happened to be near our hotel. It was flawlessly decorated and the baristas were really friendly and helpful.
For those of you wondering, matcha is an oriental tea with wonderful health benefits, and it's made from grinding all parts of the green tea leaves into a fine powder, which you make into a tea, latte, smoothie, etc. It's better for you than green tea because you're consuming the whole leaf.
Let just say it's a taste I'll have to get used to. But I do want to continue having matcha. It's said to make your skin lovely and balance out your body chemistry a bit. Add some honey if you want to make the experience enjoyable. If you are already a green tea fan, you may like it right off the bat!
Oh New York,
I love you so much. Thank you for delicious food, for health trends, for jazz music, and for some of my very favorite movies. I hope to visit many, many more times.
Next on the list in Brooklyn is Red Hook.
It's a little further down south, so for our one-day trip it was a little difficult to get to. But for our next visit we hope to make there, as well as to:
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Stumptown Coffee Roaster
Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
& Brooklyn Bowl
Check these spots out before we do if you're interested!
Since we last spoke, I had a birthday...
I'm getting to the point in my life where I can't decide if birthdays are exciting or emotional. But either way, I turned 27 on April 7th. As per our usual tradition, Michael and I decided to throw a big party to celebrate. My birthday serendipitously fell on a Friday this year, so we used it as an excuse to celebrate all weekend (and actually for a few days during the week as well...bc YOLO).
As I've mentioned before, brunch is pretty much my favorite thing. In years past I've thrown a brunch for my friends on the Saturday of my birthday week (it's a super fun tradition, you should adopt it as your own). We bake something with cinnamon (we've done everything from cinnamon toast, to cinnamon rolls, to cinnamon donuts, to churros...), have lots of fresh fruit, and of course mimosas.
Even just thinking about brunch right now makes me so happy. I hope you'll plan one for this weekend. Here are some recipes...in case you need a few home-run menu items...
Pineapple Mint Mimosa
2 bottles of Brut champagne
2 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup orange juice
4 Tbs mint simple syrup*
4-8 sprigs of mint, for garnish in the pitcher and in the cups
The best thing about Mimosas is that you can't go wrong! Champagne is delicious on its own, but the key to this famously classy brunch drink is to give it just a hint of tropical sweetness. So my perfect mimosa tastes like champagne mostly, with mint, and a little pineapple-orange juice, as notated above. But YOUR mimosa may need to taste a little more like OJ to suit your fancy! So experiment until you find the perfect mixture. What a good excuse to test it out the day before!
*I like my mimosas ever so slightly sweet, so my secret ingredient is a little mint simple syrup. (or this year I made rosemary, as you can see in the picture). You can find mint simple syrup at the grocery store pre-made, or you can simply combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil while stirring until there are no more grains of sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Then add 5-10 sprigs of mint, letting the mint sit in the mixture and wilt. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator, or if you're making it the day-of, try cooling it quickly in the freezer before adding it to the mimosas.
Mushroom & Feta Skillet Frittata
1. In an oven safe skillet, heat 1 Tbs olive oil. Roughly chop the spinach and cook it over medium heat. After it's wilted, transfer the spinach to a colander and press all of the liquid out of the spinach. Let it sit for a few minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper.
3. While the spinach is resting, heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in the skillet. Then add the yellow onion to the skillet, cooking until translucent. Stir in the garlic, spinach, and mushrooms, cook until fragrant. Gently fold in the egg mixture. Cook until partially set, about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle feta cheese and remaining parmesan cheese over the top.
4. Place skillet in oven and bake until frittata is puffed up and golden, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve.
8 large eggs,
1 cup of half-and-half
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt + pepper to taste
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
10 ounces fresh spinach
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms
Caramelized Vanilla-Cinnamon Toast
Ah, cinnamon toast! The very first thing that inspired our brunch tradition. It's simple, but intricate. It's comfort food that can be mouth-watering. Follow the steps closely, but as always, you are the chef! Tweak and experiment based on what you like.
4 Tbs Cinnamon
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 sticks of butter
Soften butter, whip ingredients together in a stand mixer until completely combined. The texture should be crunchy with cinnamon and sugar, but spreadable.
1. Find a fresh, uncut loaf of bread at the grocery store. The Fresh Market makes a really nice white bread that is uncut, if you can't find that you can use a sourdough.
2. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cut thick slices of toast, about 1 inch per slice, and lay them out on a large cookie sheet, covered with foil. Butter the top side of the toast & stick it in the oven until the butter is melted. Remove from oven and spread the butter evenly over the surface and return to the oven for about 3 minutes, until golden.
3. Remove toast from the oven and flip. On what used to be the bottom side of the toast, spread a thick layer of the cinnamon spread, all the way out to the crust. Place back in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the cinnamon is bubbling.
4. Set the oven to broil and leave the toast for a final 1-2 minutes on high heat. Be careful not to burn, and monitor the toast based on your own crunchiness-preference.
5. Remove from the oven and serve with fresh fruit and fresh whipped cream (unsweetened or sweetened, adding vanilla is always nice). If you want to get crazy you can always drizzle some syrup on top.
The backyard movie
This year we decided to switch things up a little and have the birthday brunch with my family, and then celebrate with friends by hosting an outdoor movie neighborhood party. The weather has been beautifully warm for the last few weeks, so we felt like it was a perfect night to celebrate the first of Spring. Michael and I have talked for years about throwing something like this together, but we hadn't found the perfect excuse to do all this for just the two of us until now.
This is the kind of weekend activity that can be an adult birthday party (throw in some mojitos & a popcorn bar), a kid birthday party (think candy and Finding Nemo), or just a fun neighborhood gathering to welcome Spring.
What you'll need:
1. A projector, laptop, and speakers
We used the speakers from our studio, Michael's laptop and an Epson projector from Best Buy. The higher the quality the better (we splurged for 1080p). Michael set it all up on a coffee table and it worked like a charm.
2. Black fabric + White fabric, plus a frame (or something to nail it to in the backyard)
We found some cheap fabric by-the-yard at Hobby Lobby that worked perfect for this. There is a little wooden shed in our backyard, so luckily for us it was as easy as measuring the size of the shed and buying fabric to cover it. We nailed the black fabric behind and the white fabric in front, doubled. Easy set up, easy tear down, plus a cute little roof on top of the movie screen.
3. Outdoor furniture
Because our party was a couples party, we set up little sections of two chairs with some sort of table in between. We knew people would have drinks, candy and popcorn, so its a good idea to give them something to put that on. Michael brought down his old futon from upstairs which was PERFECT. We had lots of cushions, and a fire pit going behind the movie area in case people got cold. Don't forget to tell everyone to bring blankets galore unless you're having your movie night in the middle of summer.
4. Candy + Popcorn
Kroger was having a beautiful candy sale--$10 for 10 boxes of candy. So my sister and I went through and grabbed every type of candy we've ever wanted to try, 4 different flavors of popcorn salt, regular popcorn and kettle corn. We planned for 1 bag per person and it seemed to work out about right. It's never bad to have a few bags of popcorn left for your movie nights at home later.
5. birthday cake
There has never been, and never will be a better cake than this. Michael and I actually ordered this Caramel Brown Sugar cake from The Grit here in Athens for our wedding cake. We love it so much. I haven't had it since our wedding almost 5 years ago, so we decided this would be a fun occasion to have it again. (Also, I grabbed this cute cake topper from Target).
What's better than having a reason to celebrate?
Get festive this weekend and have brunch with your friends, or maybe even host an outdoor movie. Here's a list of my (current) top 10 movies in case you need suggestions. This list is heavy on the RomComs because what's better than a little laughing, crying, and falling in love on the lawn under twinkle lights?
10 Things I Hate About You
Midnight in Paris
You've Got Mail
Pride & Prejudice
When Harry Met Sally
Harry Potter (all of them, sorry can't choose)
Well friends, I'm writing to you from my couch, huddling by my space heater, underneath 4 layers of clothing and 3 blankets.
The heat decided to die on us 2 days before we got hit with the coldest weather of the year, so here I sit, bundled and blogging.
Georgia can never decide what season it wants to be in. Growing up here has made me somewhat accustomed to 80 degree days in February and 20 degree days in March. Typically days go on as planned, no matter the weather. But unfortunately, being without heat is really hijacking my productivity this week.
So, as long as the thermostat in my house is reading 48 degrees, I'm going to sit here, bundled on the couch with my coffee, and I'm going to write about the only other recent time when I was this cold -- Montana.
Being a Georgia girl, I have this specific picture painted in my mind when I think of NATURE.
I see red clay, green fields with perfect rows of cotton and corn, thick, pine tree-lined forests that stretch for miles and miles.
I see the mountains--these red-brown, rocky hills that, although they are tall, for some reason seem manageable. And there's so much color here: all shades of green, brown and red make up our fabric.
Georgia wildlife is almost dainty. The cutest animals fill the forests--bunnies, foxes, squirrels and deer. The most intimidating creature Georgia boasts is a black bear, and honestly they're also pretty cute.
Georgia is WARM, Earthy. it feels like home.
But Montana is different.
When I saw it for the first time I didn't want to close my eyes. The scenery was exquisite. It felt magnificent.
The colors were an artist's pallet of deep blues and calming yellows. From horizon to horizon all I could see was sky. The mountains were a gray-blue, dusted with years of collected snow that would never fully melt, and there they stood, towering and majestic in the distance. The fields were blanketed with long, golden grass that blew and bent at the mercy of the wind. There were massive rocks scattered at random and sitting alone, as if God dropped one here and there just for fun. The animals are thick with fur and equipped to survive the most brutal of the elements.
Montana is rugged, it feels like an adventure.
The first time I visited Montana was in late August, Michael's parents have a beautiful cabin in a tiny town called Nye. In the summertime people hike, hunt, fish, and kayak. It's the most wonderful place that I've ever explored. But since that first trip, I've mainly visited in the winter, and I love it most during those cold months.
Winter in Montana is skiing, it's drinking scotch by the fire, it's dressing in layers upon layers simply to go to the grocery store. It feels like the faint of heart perhaps should not tackle it. But to those who do, it's worth it.
For a lot of the year Montana is covered in snow. Sometimes the winds whip through the valleys and blow all the snow away, only for it to fall again later that night when all is still.
There's this quiet, whisper-like noise that the snow makes when it falls.
Once the white blanket has completely covered the ground, the tops of the trees, and the rails of the porch, all is quiet. You'll hear the crackle of the fire, and the occasional crunch of snow beneath the hooves of a mule deer passing by--nothing more. To me, it feels like peace.
There is so much rest, fun, contemplation, whimsy and adventure to be had in Montana, and I'm particularly fond of the winter.
So how did this wintry trip even come about?
To me there's something special about an experience. A memory lasts longer, and a lot of times means more than a gift does. I had been wanting my family to see Montana for years. So this year, after much deliberation, we decided that we were all in for a snowy Montana Christmas.
My mom is amazing, and she was the one who really worked out all the plans and the details. Before we knew it, we were boarding a plane for Montana on Christmas Day.
There were 3 things on the docket: Cabin days (for hiking, sitting by the fire, reading, snowball fights, etc.), a day in Yellowstone National Park, and a day of skiing.
The skiing in Montana is beautiful.
We decided to spend a day at Red Lodge Mountain. The best thing about Montana skiing is that it's not as crowded as Colorado or Utah resorts, but it's just as wonderful. At Red Lodge there are almost never lines at the lifts, you can just ski right up to the front (praise hands!!). So for people like me (who may or may not enjoy warming up at the lodge and grabbing a snack more than the actual skiing...) the short lines really helped me stay warm.
There's almost nothing more fun than driving up the mountain, bundled up in all your warmest clothes, next to the people you love, ready to ski all day. My favorite Red Lodge, Montana tradition is hitting Bogart's after a long day of skiing for a hot queso and happy hour drinks.
As wonderful as skiing was, my favorite day on this trip was in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone is one of the most incredible places I've ever seen. Two years ago was my first time visiting. There's one road open to cars in the winter, so we got to drive straight through the middle of the park. I was awestruck. There were elk grazing steps away from us. There were herds of bison that walked up to the window of our car and then kept moving as if we weren't even there.
It's a really special place.
But this year we got to do my favorite thing I've ever done in Montana. We took a tour of Yellowstone National Park on snowmobiles.
My sweet grandparents gifted us the tour for Christmas, and it was perfect.
We were slightly worried about the cold. Depending on the day, it can be anywhere from -20 degrees to 45 degrees (which feels almost warm). But our day started around -10 degrees and peaked around 30. I wore more layers than I've ever worn (yes, even more than I'm wearing right now with my thermostat reading 42...) -- 2 layers of long underwear, a wool sweater, my ski pants and ski jacket, the one-piece suit that they gave me at the snowmobile place, 2 socks, layered gloves, insulated boots, and a helmet. It was epic.
The snowmobiles were two-seaters that had heated seats and handles, which sounds luxurious, but is almost necessary for survival. I was comfortable, and even bordered on too warm once the weather got above freezing. But boy was I glad to have those layers on our way back that night.
While you're wearing all that gear, it's almost impossible to turn just your head. I remember swaying from side to side, trying to take it all in. It was a winter wonderland. I felt like we had been given a backstage pass into the lives of these wild animals--it was breathtaking. We saw bison, coyotes, wolves, elk, trumpeter swans. We walked by hot springs and got to see Old Faithful erupt at noon. It really felt so picture-perfect in the moment. (So perfect, in fact, that I caught a rainbow in the picture I took of Old Faithful.)
We ate our sack lunches in a heated igloo-tent near Old Faithful and hopped back on our snowmobiles to head back toward the bus.
We rode 200 miles that day. It felt like we were a grizzled biker gang, riding through Narnia.
I sat on the back of the snowmobile while Michael drove for the first half of the day. But when I took over the wheel, I remember my thoughts slowed down to a crawl. It was the first time in a long time that my brain didn't feel busy. It was almost cleansing. There was nothing to do but drive the machine and take in the scenery.
We rode in silence for most of the day, because you can't really communicate from underneath those thick helmets. We would tap and point when we wanted our partner to see something special, and other than than we just rode peacefully along. I started to see all the reasons why taking a motorcycle trip would be therapeutic. At first I was so afraid it was dangerous, but after a few hours it felt like second nature.
Our guide was so precious, we really became friends. He's been tour guiding these snowmobile trips for years, and lives near the park all winter just for this. He told us about the rivers, about the wildlife, about how the hot springs send up steam that blankets the trees with thick, crystallized snowsuits.
I think all day we only saw about 100 people, maybe less. I hear that during the summer they get something like 4 million visitors. So if you're an introvert and animal lover like me, you may consider piling on the layers and visiting in the winter.
I remember thawing out with my family afterwards, just gushing over how amazing it was. What an honor to get sneak peek into that romantic, wild world.
It was so worth it.
In the future, I hope to visit Glacier National Park in the summer, I want to go white water rafting, maybe do some fly fishing, and I'd love to do the 3 day hike from our cabin into Yellowstone.
Lets just say this,
I hope I'm never done spending time in the beautiful big sky state.
Ps. for those who noticed, Michael has a shiner on his head in that last close up of him, because he was trying to roll boulders down a hill and got in a tussle with a mountain lion.
He was trying to roll boulders, but he just ran into a branch. We laughed about that a lot.
(proud of my boo.)
When you see or experience something every day it starts to feel ordinary, even if it's not.
The clutter, the detail, the good and the bad all mesh together into one thing -- your backdrop. For me, I have times when I'm too obsessed with the details, and times that I'm too neglectful of them. I know it's one of those things that you learn as you grow older, how to balance your life.
I'm on that journey today, and I think the most important thing to focus on right now is gratitude.
Sometimes I get so tired of my daily routine that I miss little nuances that make everyday life so beautiful. I find myself making lists, planning ahead for the next trip, and sometimes even zoning out watching the same old tv shows on Netflix that I've already seen.
There's nothing wrong with tv shows that make you happy, or the next trip. But I hate that it makes me miss out on what is extraordinary right in front of me.
I decided to walk around yesterday and just snap 10 quick pictures of what I saw. I didn't want to stage them or take a long time to focus them, just 10 snapshots.
It was simple, and the things I saw brought me joy. I'm really grateful for our little backdrop and our little life here in Athens.
So here was my yesterday in 10 photos.
I'm choosing to stop and appreciate the little things about our sweet home and an 80 degree Friday in February.
Rome was so surprisingly wonderful.
I knew I would like it, but I couldn’t have possibly predicted how much I would love it.
We stayed in a cute little hotel in the square right next to the Pantheon. It was an adorable part of the city-- walking distance to all of the popular sights, but just quaint enough to make you feel like a local. This was our entrance:
There were these winding cobblestone backstreets made for pedestrians, bicycles and scooters that made the city feel like it was full of secret passageways. We saw everyone riding these scooters through the city and backstreets and we felt so inspired. Michael found a rental hut, and we rented a moped to share. We weren't quite ready to jump in, especially driving a tiny scooter through one of the most crowded cities in Europe. So we took it up to a less busy area to drive it individually before we jumped on together (and that was a good move because I almost wiped out twice).
Once we got the hang of it, we took off down to the main roads. Everywhere we looked there were scooters—hundreds, I’m not kidding. When the cars and buses would come to a stoplight, ALL the scooters would fly past us, riding through the TINY space between the cars and big buses to get in front of the cars. I felt pretty sure we were going to die if we tried that.
What's funny about being married is that right when you've made up your mind about something, you look over at your partner and can see it in their eyes -- they're sold on the other thing.
And the best part is deciding which plan you're going to go with.
Before I knew it, we were blending in with all the other mopeds riding inches away from buses and saying little prayers through our giggles, screams and smiles. Riding all over the city was pure magic.
We loved having the scooter because we were able to see most of Rome in the 2 short days that we were there.
We found authentic Italian restaurants, delicious gelato, parks just outside of the city center, rode by the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, we hopped the curb and rode through the cobblestone sidewalks in front of the Roman Forum. Every moment was exhilarating.
Those two days play back in my mind like an old movie.
The day was absolutely gorgeous—sun shining and not a cloud in the sky. I remember wandering the cobblestone backstreets and finding a tiny restaurant that was full to the brim with locals. They were booked solid, but we squeezed in a reservation for the next night because we agreed to sit at the table right by the bathroom.
I remember how every piece of pasta we ate was handmade, how the gelato was so rich and refreshing after a long day of exploring the city. I remember eating pizza in Piazza Navona and people-watching for hours.
I loved every minute of walking through the old city, totally in awe of the ruins and the history.
I loved finding that little espresso bar and eating a cannoli while we sipped coffee out of our tiny mugs. I loved when we finally found that spot that they called the "best view in Rome" after walking for an hour inside the park at Villa Borghese.
I remember the serendipitous mistake of getting lost on the highway at night, only to find ourselves in front of the perfectly-lit Vatican. Then we drove around the city trying to pretend that our short stay in Rome wasn't coming to an end, and found ourselves at the Trevi Fountain. We bought a polaroid from one of those crazy guys that sell junk at every major landmark, threw a coin in, and made a wish to return there someday.
The pictures in themselves tell a story:
When Michael and I started planning our trip to Europe we had no idea where to go.
A trip overseas is laced with pressure to do something amazing, because anything that requires a 16 hour flight and puts that kind of a dent in your bank account needs to be amazing. We racked our brains for the right cities, the best deals on hotels, the shortest amount of time that would be enough time to really see a city. We were out of our league.
Luckily for us, Michael has some amazing family members that have lived in Milan for years. We reached out to them and they gave us some extraordinary recommendations, including the ever lovely Villa Bordoni.
The villa itself was gorgeous down to every detail -- the pool, the open-air workout room (check out the view from the treadmill), the food, the staff, and the wine was the best I have ever tasted.
When we first got there, we had to pick our jaws up off the floor and pretend like we fit in. Ha! It was gorgeous, and ELEGANT. We noticed the hand-painted tiles on the floor of the bathroom, the floor-to-ceiling windows that opened out onto a balcony overlooking the rolling Tuscan hills. There was an adorable garden with little tables for two where we ate breakfast and had several glasses of wine during our stay. Right outside our room there was a shared sitting room where you can play chess (...who has time for chess on the reg?) and enjoy a cocktail. The bar looked like a scene out of the roaring 20's. Everything about this place felt like a breath of fresh air.
Click through all the pictures below:
The first day, Michael and I took a cooking class with their chef where we learned to make handmade pasta, a rustic marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes from the garden, tender Veal Osso Buco, and classic Italian Tiramisu for dessert. We love cooking so this was a real treat for us, not to mention that all-you-can-drink wine was being served all afternoon. The pasta process was almost therapeutic. The chef gave us tips on how to chop vegetables correctly, how to find the best olive oil, and how to cook in-season. His broken English and the glasses of wine made it more of a lighthearted Italian experience rather than any sort of real cooking school.
And we were great with that.
The next day we visited the Antinori Vineyard for lunch and a flight of local wines. The whole place reminded us of a James Bond movie -- the towering concrete building with a vineyard literally built on top of it. The entrance was lined with swirling barbed wire, and you can't help but to feel fancy (and underdressed) when you're there. We kept catching each other’s eye with that “play it cool” but “I can’t believe we’re doing this” look.
When you're trying to pack light for a 10-day road trip across Europe you don't typically bring a whole lot of fancy clothes. But man I was so glad I brought that one dress.
On our last night, we cuddled up in our room, opened the floor-to-ceiling windows to our balcony, and we watched Under The Tuscan Sun (my first time ever seeing it). We laughed, we cried. It was absolutely perfect.
The next morning we picked out a case of local wine to preserve all the dreamy memories (never gotten a case of wine before...wow) and headed on our way to the train station. As sad as we were to leave we could LITERALLY not afford one more night (hehe). So we got the heck out of there and headed to Rome where our hotel was tiny and crappy, which is pretty much what we can actually afford.
So here's my blog tribute, to hoping that we’ll be able to return one day, but grateful for the beautiful moments we had there.
As beautiful and extravagant as Villa Bordoni was, there was something more that really impacted us when we were there.
IT WAS ALL ABOUT TAKING IT SLOW.
We all have an everyday pace that is so fast-- it never stops. We can even feel guilty for having a lazy Saturday. But everything about the place was designed to help you retreat for a day or two from the usual stresses of life and just be. I don't just think that's nice--I think it's necessary.
Up until this trip, Michael and I hadn't really taken a vacation, we were always traveling for work. As wonderful as that can be, and as blessed as we were to be able to travel together for work, we realized we had never really de-stressed and enjoyed ourselves like we did there.
But I don't think we were able to relax just because Villa Bordoni was a swanky place to vacation.
I think you can tune into that feeling wherever you decide to go. Maybe it's a retreat to the mountains or to the beach for a weekend. Maybe it's a stay-cation at home. Maybe it's saving airline points and eating Ramen Noodles instead of eating out so that you can go live it up for a weekend. Go somewhere you've always wanted to go, or buy a bottle of $30 champagne because there's something worth celebrating.
I know it's not possible to do this stuff all that often, or to rush off to Italy, but it is always possible to enjoy yourself, be grateful, and relax. I hope we all decide to do that sometime soon.
In May of 2016 we decided to put everything on hold and take a crazy 10 day trip to Europe. The plan was to hit Scotland, England, France and Italy all in this time. Ambitious? Yes. Memorable? A thousand times yes.
It's so difficult to choose a favorite, but I'd say that Italy took me the most by surprise. I didn't expect to, but I fell in love with it.
Italy is romantic, magical, rugged.
It's been almost a year now since we were there, but I can remember it all so vividly. The plan was to hit a few of the highlights in just 5 days. Michael and I have a lot of experience with making the best of 24 hours in a city, so we figured why not hit Italy road trip style.
Here was the itinerary:
1 Night in Florence
(rent a car and drive to Tuscany)
2 Nights at a villa in Tuscany
(followed by a train ride to Rome)
2 Nights in Rome
(fly home to GA)
It was crazy, it was stressful at times, it was completely beautiful, and it was the perfect way to end our trip.
Over the next few days I'll share details and photos with you, one city at a time >>
Day One: Florence
They say that every trip has a hiccup, and Florence was ours...
Here's my recommendation for anyone who loves to travel: go ahead and expect at least one bad entire day.
On that day for us, the bad stuff just. kept. happening.
Go into it ready to laugh, and even ready at some point look at your travel partner and say..."Ok, so this is the day. Lets see if we can make some of it good!"
If you go into it with that mentality, your chances of still having a good trip are so much better.
I think we all know this, but it's worth saying out loud...
A good attitude changes everything
I wasn't able to jump right away into the good attitude...as you can see in the picture above.
To sum it all the Hiccups up quickly:
We were traveling from Paris to Florence, and by some CRAZY airport language miscommunications (even though we were there on time) we missed our flight. The next flight was 6 hours later. Too short to leave the airport (Paris is about an hour away), and TOO LONG to sit at the airport.
Flight was delayed twice. When we landed the line for a taxi was 2 hours long. So we decided to wait for a bus...which also took 2 hours.
So we didn't get into Florence until about 10:00pm. Who knew that all the restaurants in Florence closed before 10? Except one, "late night" pasta place, similar to Olive Garden, but much worse. (seriously, it was bad)
We left the next afternoon, but not before we got lost in Florence and were late to check out of our hotel, because we were lost. With no phones. And Michael got a $200 ticket. Cool.
So now for the FUN stuff
The most exciting thing was that our apartment was right beside the Duomo. We were truly in the heart of the city. The view was incredible and the winding cobblestone side streets right outside of our window were so whimsical. It made our initial travel misfortune a little less painful.
The next day in Florence was only a half day, but we made the best of it. We found an adorable little family owned restaurant called Trattoria Mario. The seating was limited, so Michael and I got seated with two other solo travelers. At first we felt awkward, but once the server came and took our order there was something so beautiful about sharing a meal with these two strangers. Our food was so homemade and delicious. Couldn't have asked for a more authentic experience.
Then we explored the town, popping in to get some gelato, some coffee, and to see the famous Ponte Vecchio--the old bridge with colorful buildings and shops built on it. The scenery and the atmosphere were incredible.
We wandered around and found an adorable little Italian man painting with watercolors, and he happened to be painting Tuscany, where we were heading that same day. So we bought a few of his small paintings to bring home with us. It was dreamy.
I really believe that every bad day has something to celebrate.
For us, a sweet little surprise came in the form of a FREE upgrade to a super fancy rental car. I was lost, running (and sweating) back to our Airbnb trying to check out on time. I didn't check out on time. BUT I was waiting on the curb for Michael to come pick me up with the car, expecting something cheap and grungy. And he drove up in this:
Looking back Florence was lovely, and even though it was our hiccup, it was so special.
I love Georgia
I was born and raised here, and for my whole life I've lived here. In fact, I lived in Griffin, GA for 18 years, and then I moved 70 miles up the road to Athens, GA where I've lived for 8 years, which brings us up to date.
I was always such a homebody, never wanted to be too far from home. So sometimes it blows my mind that I ended up as a touring musician, spending most of my life away from home. And even though the tours and the traveling have been exciting and even life-changing, they've always reinforced the idea that Georgia is home.
But Michael and I were talking the other day about our Bucket Lists. Both of ours are pretty simple -- we want kids, we want to buy a house, I want chickens (I know it's weird but I do!), he wants to do a big building project, we both want to see the first sunrise of the country at Acadia National Park in Maine, maybe eat some lobster while we're there (hoping to check that one off next year).
There was one list-item that I couldn't get off my brain. As much as I love Georgia,
I want to live somewhere else.
Not for long, not forever. Just to be able to say I lived outside of this (beautiful, adorable, homey) 70-mile radius for awhile.
So we started brainstorming together -- where could we move? What is long enough to be considered living in another place? When could we realistically do this?? And we landed on a plan.
1 month // May 2017 // Paris
It's my favorite city in the world, the one place that I would truly love to say I have lived, and a time that happens to perfectly work with our schedules. So we're moving to France for a month.
We're renting a furnished apartment and while we're there we'll be writing our next album from our tiny Paris residence.
So in honor of our plan (which I'm calling moving to Paris because it's more fun)...
10 things you must do in Paris //
1) Eat Berthillon ice cream
The best. Hands down. You have to try their Salted Butter Caramel and sit in the tea room.
2) Try Snails at Au Pere Louis
This sweet restaurant was walking distance from our hotel, and it was our instant favorite. They cut fresh charcuterie in the front, they have delicious cheese, a spectacular wine menu, risotto that will kill you dead because it is so amazing, and of course, snails (don't worry, the green is pesto).
3) See the view from Sacre Coeur
The highest point in the city, and a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower and all of Paris' architectural glory. We went all the way to the top for the view, and we were so glad we did. Out in front of the church there are famous street performers, and on some weekends they will hold a market there.
4) Go to a Marche
You absolutely must find one of the open air markets and go shopping. Buy a fresh baguette, several delicious cheeses, a bottle of wine, some fresh berries, and some salami and take yourself to a park for lunch. This is my favorite Parisian experience.
5) take wine to the Eiffel Tower at Night
It's so beautiful. Bring a bottle of wine from your marche finds and soak in the sights. Beware of all the other people doing the same thing, but even if you hate crowds it's SO WORTH IT.
6) Ride the river cruise to see the city
There are several different river cruise companies that will take you around the city on the Seine. Although you can find really nice ones that include dinner and drinks, I'd suggest the basic boats that are somewhat like a taxi. The boats are mostly windows so that you can take in the sights as you ride. Michael and I brought our bottle of wine and a few snacks, caught the last boat of the night, and rode our way around to the Eiffel Tower and got off in time to see it just as it lit up.
7) Go to Shakespeare & Co.
The most amazing, inspiring book store. If you've ever watched "You've Got Mail" and thought to yourself that you'd love to own a bookstore or explore a magical little book shop, then simply walking into Shakespeare and Co. will actually blow your mind. There are shelves full of special editions, multiple different covers of each book. There's a section of rare books, where no pictures are allowed and you can just cozy up and read. I think anyone would love this store, and it's walking distance to Notre Dame.
8) Eat all the sweets
Crepes, Chocolate Croissants, Eclairs, truffles, YOU JUST CAN'T GO WRONG. Try the chocolate croissant at Boulangerie Jocteur, it was my absolute favorite. And if you stop at a crepe stand, order it with speculoos inside.
9) Relax in Luxembourg Gardens
Truly breathtaking gardens. Michael and I stayed next door and spent every morning taking a stroll through the gardens before we went anywhere else. My favorite place in Paris.
10) Smoke a Cigarette
Now this might not be everyone's cup of tea, but there is almost nothing that is more typical French than smoking a cigarette while standing next to the french floor-length gorgeous windows (or in our case, by the Eiffel Tower). I've never felt more chic, honestly. You should try it if you're ever in Paris, just to say you did.
Paris, I love you. Can't wait to see you in a few months.