A Weekend in Barcelona Spain

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Travel

My trip to Barcelona was taken somewhat on a whim. After plans to go to Norway to try and see the Northern Lights failed, the hubs encouraged me to enjoy a weekend in Spain instead. I had long talked about going to Spain and was itching for a visit to somewhere warm. Knowing that Jacob couldn’t travel anytime soon, I happily took him up on his suggestion and started researching my options. A few hours later I had purchased my plane tickets, and not long after that, I was on my way.

Having never been to Spain before, and having never taken an international trip alone, I wasn’t really sure what to expect for my long weekend away. I wasn’t nervous about traveling by myself, more so just anxious about whether I would get lonely or bored, and if I am being totally honest, concerned about just how many tapas I could realistically consume on my own. ūüėČ

I am happy to report that I never found myself longing for company, and I had absolutely no trouble at all putting away countless plates of food. My time alone was exhilarating and refreshing, and Barcelona had a certain charm that made me never want to leave.

My trip started with a visit to La Boqueria, a massive covered food market which is truly any foodie’s dream. I spent a few minutes wandering through a maze of cured meats, colorful juices, and fresh fruits and vegetables, before grabbing a spot at the bar at El Quim de la Boquer√≠a for my first round of tapas.

Struggling to keep my Spanish and French (and English for that matter…) straight, I ended up with a plate of patatas bravas that I didn‚Äôt mean to order (this wasn‚Äôt the only time that I would order incorrectly), but in the end, this was totally okay. I ate quite a few spuds that weekend, and those were certainly the best I had, so good in fact, that I can‚Äôt even remember what it was I was trying to order initially.

Alongside my patatas bravas were a plate of fried artichoke hearts, which are easily one of the best things i’ve eaten since moving abroad. I nearly cried tears of joy after my first bite. As I washed them down with a ‚ā¨3 glass of local cava, I couldn’t help but to think how coming to Spain was definitely a really great idea.

After picking up a bright pink juice from one of the stalls nearby, I rushed off to the next stop of my journey where I toured Antoni Gaud√≠’s eccentric and unfinished church, the Sagrada Fam√≠lia.

There is a lot that I can say about Gaud√≠’s unique masterpiece, but i’ll just leave it at this: Sagrada Fam√≠lia is an interesting church, and indeed beautiful in many ways. However, in short, it’s not my cup of tea. There’s something about Romanesque and Gothic churches that really inspire me, and I just couldn’t find that same sense of awe in Gaud√≠’s modern design. The construction probably had something to do with it, as well as being asked more than once to move for someone’s selfie, but hey, that’s not Gaud√≠’s fault‚Ķ

Barcelona - 18

Barcelona - 22Barcelona - 21Barcelona - 23Barcelona - 20Barcelona - 26Barcelona - 24Barcelona - 19Barcelona - 25Park G√ľell

I found it slightly ironic that I left for this trip same day as International Women’s Day. To me, International Women‚Äôs Day represents many different things, but this year, it was a time to celebrate aloneness. So often I think women associate being alone as being a bad thing. We’re not complete without a significant other, we’re not capable of exploring a new place without a companion by our side, we’re not as strong of a leader or an influence on our own, etc.

As I wandered around Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million people, in a country where I don’t speak the language, and in a town where I knew no one, I didn’t feel alone. In fact, I felt very much in the warm company of the 1.6 million Catalonians who surrounded me. I didn’t pity myself as I sat alone at a bar with enough tapas to feed three, or as I drank half pitcher of sangria on my own (the second occasion where my Spanish ordering abilities failed me). Instead, I felt exhilarated. I was visiting a place I had always wanted to visit, and enjoying something I truly loved. Why should being alone prevent me from doing that?

As I walked back to my hostel from the Sagrada Familia, I stumbled across thousands of other women as they celebrated all that International Women’s Day means to them. With the march taking place right in front of where I was staying, I first watched for a while from the street, and then spent my evening, alone, in the hostel, celebrating from the window. Again, something was telling me that coming to Barcelona was a really great idea‚Ķ

Barcelona - 14Barcelona - 5Barcelona - 7Barcelona - 3Barcelona - 9Barcelona - 6Barcelona - 2Barcelona - 13

Sagrada Familia 

I started the following day with a visit to Park G√ľell, another Gaud√≠ project. Though I enjoyed the main part of the park (the paid area), I loved the free trails and natural gardens that surrounded this area even more.¬†Much of Gaud√≠’s work takes a naturalist approach, and what better way is there to experience nature in a large city than with time spent in a park? Being a perfect 70 degree day, I found a secluded bench with a great view of the city and relaxed in the sun until my next appointment.

Next came what was quite possibly my favorite experience of the trip – a paella cooking class in a lovely private garden just down the street from Park G√ľell. Originating from Valencia, a town about 200 miles south of Barcelona, paella is a regional dish that‚Äôs approached by Spaniards much the same way that Americans approach a backyard barbeque. ¬†It is meant to be leisurely prepared over a glass of wine or sweet vermouth, and enjoyed alongside family and friends.

This “class” was actually called a “cooking experience,” and appropriately so, as an experience was exactly what it was. There was no formal training, per se, just 10 or so strangers who quickly became new friends, enjoying wine and tapas together, and learning a bit about paella along the way.

Our wonderful host shared with us her grandmother’s recipe, and we all cooked together in the backyard of her childhood home. We ate tapas, shaved fresh slices of Ib√©rico and Serrano ham, and learned the art of drinking from a porron, all before enjoying the fruits of our labor with a large plate of paella. I look forward to taking what I learned from this experience and to one day enjoying a backyard, paella barbecue with family and friends back home.

Full and sleepy from so much delicious food, I enjoyed a leisurely walk down a lovely route recommended by my cooking experience host, and then spent the next couple of hours resting at my hostel before venturing out to the old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona to see what I could discover there.

Barcelona - 13Barcelona - 20 (1)Barcelona - 14Barcelona - 18 (1)Barcelona - 16

Barcelona - 26 (1)Barcelona - 22 (1)Barcelona - 29Barcelona - 28Barcelona - 35Barcelona - 15

Barcelona - 32Barcelona - 27 (1)Barcelona - 38Barcelona - 36Barcelona - 37

Jacob and I have this thing when we travel in big cities where we will go out of our way to “get lost.” We intentionally take roads which aren’t the main route, and more often than not, our efforts pay off. Taking that same approach as I wandered around this historic part of town, I found myself in a number of quiet squares, and discovered many quaint streets. Eventually, I stumbled across the beautiful 14th-century Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, and settled in at a fantastic little wine bar across the square. Making friends with the bartender, I tried two fantastic Spanish wines, and jotted notes about my day on the back of a receipt while I let my phone charge behind the counter.

After a quick tour of the church, I stopped in for more tapas at a recommended spot down the street for yet another memorable meal. As I took a seat at the bar, the server‚Äôs first words were “I have just the perfect meal for one person.” After I made it clear that there aren’t really any foods I don’t like, the plates started coming…and it took a long while before they stopped. Some plates of tomato bread, clams, patatas bravas, fried squid, and a couple of other unidentified things later, I left overly full, but again, so happy for yet another great experience.

Barcelona - 67Barcelona - 66Barcelona - 42Barcelona - 44Barcelona - 68Barcelona - 10Barcelona - 45Barcelona - Sagrada Familia - 1Barcelona - 56Barcelona - 53Barcelona - 57Barcelona - 62Barcelona - 48Barcelona - 60Barcelona - 64Barcelona - 61Barcelona - 59Barcelona - 63Barcelona - 65Barcelona - 70Barcelona - 72Barcelona - 73Barcelona - 75Barcelona - 74Barcelona - 77Barcelona - 76

Gothic Quarter and Playa de la Barceloneta

The last day of my journey started with, you guessed it, more good food. Having read about a place known for their croissants, I figured I would give it a try. I had been outside of France for three days at that point, and had started missing my favorite breakfast pastry.

Having the bar set pretty high after seven months in Paris, I was skeptical and only purchased one pastry. However, after just one bite, I regretted not buying two. Glazed and filled with mascarpone cheese, my croissant from Hofmann Pastisseria was one of the best things I ate all weekend. Half way through my first one, I had already made up my mind to go back for a second…

To burn off my pastries, I spent the next couple of hours walking around a new area of the Gothic Quarter, and toured another beautiful gothic church, the Barcelona Cathedral. Though there was a short line to get in, this cathedral was quiet, and evoked that sense of awe I couldn’t find at the Sagrada Familia. A ‚ā¨3 elevator ride to the roof made me love it all the more. Offering a fantastic view of the city, and no crowds, I spent half an hour or more on the roof enjoying the views and sunshine, and thinking about how I wasn’t ready for my weekend in Barcelona to end.

Growing hungry, I left the roof with plans to head back to La Boqueria for another round of tapas, but ended up stumbling in to a very Austin-esque coffee shop and decided to enjoy lunch there instead. I don’t know exactly what it was that I ended up eating (story of my life that weekend in Spain), but it was some sort of Asian rice bowl that was utterly delicious, and the kombucha I washed it down with also wasn‚Äôt bad.

Energized and ready to finish my off my weekend strong, I made my way to the beach to dip my toes in the Mediterranean Sea. After half a pitcher of sangria (I swear I only ordered a single glass – and no, I did not drink the whole thing), I headed back to my hostel to get ready for one last memorable Spanish meal.

I think my first meal in Barcelona was probably my favorite, but what I loved about my last was the fact that many of the tapas served were actually meant for one person. Because of this, I was finally able to try a large variety of things without feeling like a total glutton (but really, what did I care?). After one more plate of fried artichoke hearts (which didn’t hold a candle to my first plate from El Quim de la Boquer√≠a), I toasted myself with one final glass of cava to commemorate a such great solo weekend away.

36 Hours in the French Riviera

France, Photography, Travel

A day and a half really isn’t enough time to see all the great sights that the French Riviera has to offer, but with a little research and proper planning, one can make the most out of a quick visit to almost any region of France.

With just a week to spend in France, lots to do in Paris, and a quick trip already scheduled to the Christmas markets in Alsace on the French and German border, I had no idea if I would be able to meet my mom’s request to also see the south of France during her all too short visit back in December. However, after finding very cheap tickets and discovering that Nice is only an hour and a half flight away, I decided that for the price, and distance, even 36 hours in the sunny Riviera would be worth it. My mom and I left Paris on a wet and cold Sunday morning, and by lunch we were sitting on a sun-soaked patio overlooking the¬†Cours Saleya flower market in Nice,¬†eating pizza, salad Ni√ßoise, and sipping a crisp ros√©.

Wanting to make the most of our short visit, after a quick stroll through the market, we headed back to our hotel room overlooking the Ligurian Sea, changed, and set out for a four hour, private tour of the coast.

On our tour we walked the sleepy streets of the medieval town of √ąze, toured the Fragonard perfume factory, walked a section of the Grand Prix race route in Monaco, and played a few slots in Monte Carlo. We were back in Nice by dinner where we enjoyed ravioli and pork mignon in a cozy space in Vieille Ville,¬†the city’s colorful old town center.

On Monday, we woke to cloudy skies which turned the water into a new, beautiful shade of blue, took a stroll along the¬†Promenade des Anglais¬†and stuck our toes into the sea,¬†browsed the stalls of an open air antique market, enjoyed a delicious Mediterranean sandwich for lunch, and checked out a few of the shops in Nice’s¬†New Town,” all before hopping a plane at 3:00.

Nice - 2Nice - 3Nice - 5Nice - 7Nice - 4

(Snowy) Snapshots From Paris

France, Photography, Travel

I had plans today to finally post about my trip to Nice, taken when my mom was here in December, however, the weather in Paris had other ideas. As I sat next to the radiator, watching snow fall out the window, I couldn’t quite get in the mood to talk about somewhere warm. Instead, as giddy about the snow as a small child, I sat there wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot chocolate, and scrolling through the pictures I took in Paris this week.

They say even a dusting of snow in Paris uncommon, and that a few inches, like we received this week, is very rare. I would have been happy with a dusting, but I am certainly not complaining about the few inches we did receive. Each morning I would wake with eager anticipation, peaking out the window to see if, as forecasted, the sky actually dumped a blanket of thick snow. While this was never the case, snow did indeed come during the day, leaving me distracted and excited, putting off other obligations, and running around town taking it all in.

My favorite views were of the backside of Notre-Dame, as I would wander down the Île Saint-Louis, and see that majestic cathedral jump out around a corner. I could see that  every day, and it would never get old. This week, I found my already favorite view to be even more beautiful, covered in fresh, white snow.

Photos of Nice will come soon, but for now, enjoy with me this month’s round of snowy snapshots from Paris.

Snowy Paris - 32

Snowy Paris - 14Snowy Paris - 16Snowy Paris - 23

Snowy Paris - 8Snowy Paris - 31Snowy Paris - 22Snowy Paris - 34Snowy Paris - 20Snowy Paris - 10Snowy Paris - 21Snowy Paris - 12Snowy Paris - 38Snowy Paris - 42Snowy Paris - 30Snowy Paris - 27Snowy Paris - 28

Snowy Paris - 13Snowy Paris - 11Snowy Paris - 33Snowy Paris - 36Snowy Paris - 37Snowy Paris - 40Snowy Paris - 43Snowy Paris - 41Snowy Paris - 9Snowy Paris - 2Snowy Paris - 1Snowy Paris - 8

Not Home for the Holidays

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

The hubs and I have missed a lot of big family events since we first moved away from Arkansas, however, we’ve always done what we had to do to make it home for Christmas. 

This holiday season (2017) I felt a bit torn. In many ways I was my same ole jolly self, starting my Christmas playlist the day after Halloween Thanksgiving, watching Christmas movies on repeat, eating festive holiday treats, etc., but in others, I was slightly dreading my favorite day of December. 

Knowing, that for the first time ever, I wouldn’t be home for the holidays, I found myself a bit anxious over what’s otherwise a wonderful time of the year.¬†Anticipating that I would need a good distraction on Christmas day, ¬†I set out researching.alps hike - 1.jpgalps hike 2 - 1.jpgalps hike 3 - 1alps hike 4 - 1Alps - 38Alps - 43Alps - 54Alps - 34Alps - 18Alps - 36

Alps - 51Alps - 92Alps - 57Alps - 30Alps - 23A few years ago Jacob and I watched a Rick Steves’ Christmas special where Steves’ and his family spend Christmas day in one of the prettiest places we’ve ever been, Gimmelwald Switzerland, high up in the Swiss Alps. After finishing the special, in awe, we pledged to one day return and have a white Christmas in those lovely mountains. Little did we know then that that Christmas would come so soon.

Though it wasn’t the Swiss Alps where we spent our Christmas, i’d say the French Alps are sufficient for fulfilling that pledge, and they were just as pretty, if not even better, than the region of the Alps we explored a few summers ago. Alps - 41Alps - 35Alps - 26Alps - 59Alps - 27Alps - 2Alps - 52Alps - 15Alps - 17heidi alps 2 - 1.jpgWanting to have for the first time in my life a relaxing holiday, I got to work finding a place to stay where we could truly unwind. However, unfortunately, I quickly came to find that everyone else seemed to have the same idea. 

For a while it looked like we had two options: we could either stay in a small condo in a major ski town, or in an even smaller cabin in the foothills, likely away from the snow.

Wanting two things, well, really three, a fireplace, guaranteed snow, and seclusion, I persevered until the perfect option came about: Ma Cabane en Montagne, a lovely little traditional, eco-conscious log cabin located in the stunning Vanoise National Park. Alps - 8Alps - 65Alps - 61Alps - 62Alps - 73Alps - 77Alps - 66Alps - 68

heidi alps - 1.jpgAlps - 82Alps - 78Alps - 73Alps - 72Secluded, covered with a beautiful blanket of thick, white, sparkling snow, and containing a wood stove,¬†Ma Cabane en Montagne was the perfect spot for us to spend our quiet holiday. The location was unbeatable, the cabin was cozy, and best of all, dinner (unfussy, yet delicious, traditional French Savoyarde dishes – think raclettes, fondue, sausages… basically good, hearty, and comforting mountain food) was included each night, taking any hard work off our hands, and allowing us more time to relax.

Though there were ski resorts nearby and plenty of Alpine activities available, we decided instead to take things as easy as possible, and really enjoy a low key Christmas break. Alps - 91Alps - 85Alps - 93Alps - 94Alps - 90Alps - 86Alps - 87Alps - 74Alps - 70Alps - 76Alps - 80Alps - 79Alps - 75Alps - 67We watched Christmas movies, read books, drank hot chocolate by the fire, went sledding, played with Heidi in the snow (who had never before seen such a thing, making the whole experience that much more fun), explored nearby villages, and on Christmas day, took a lovely hike through the mountains.

On Christmas Eve, the big night to celebrate here in France, we drank champagne and ate foie gras, steak, potatoes, chestnuts (literally roasted over an open fire), and cheese, and then fell asleep half an hour into Elf. On Christmas day, we slept in (a first for me!!), enjoyed a quiet breakfast, and then set off for our hike. We FaceTimed with family later that day, enjoyed dinner, and then fell asleep by 10. For the first time ever, it was a quiet, relaxing holiday, and really such a perfect way to spend the day.

Though I wouldn’t want to do it every year as we certainly missed family and friends, this peaceful way of celebrating was incredibly memorable, and such a nice change of pace. Here’s to more relaxing holidays in our future, and though a little bit late, a very happy new year for us all!

 

Snapshots from Paris

France, Photography, Travel

While September took us to Normandy, and October to the Loire, November was spent exploring Paris, falling even harder for our new home. From cathedral and mosque tours, to numerous cafe visits in search of Paris’ best hot chocolate (blog post on this coming soon), to early evening walks around Montmartre sipping warm wine, to Christmas tree shopping and our first Parisian snow, our first November in Paris was a lovely one.

Now with the days growing even shorter, the weather colder, and the city all the prettier with decorated trees and sparkling lights around town, my focus has shifted to Christmas, and all the fun our December will bring. Nice and Alsace next week with my mom (yay!!), and then to the French Alps with Jacob and Heidi for our first ever quiet holiday.

For now, here are snapshots from Paris, highlighting some of our favorite November memories.

123547891012131415171619202122232425262729303132333435

A Weekend in Normandy France

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

This time last year we were eating tacos in Mexico and hiking 14.5 miles through the beautiful Big Bend National Park. Today, I’m celebrating the holiday in my pajamas, reminiscing about the trip we took to northern France in September, and thinking about the BBQ we are going to eat tonight.

It has been a few years since we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving the traditional way, with huge plates of food, naps, and watching football with family and friends, but that’s okay. Though I miss loved ones back home, being in France certainly makes up for the lack of turkey and stuffing on our agenda today. However, I still intend to make a pie and a nap is definitely in the plans…

With that said, reminisce with me for a moment with snapshots from our trip to Normandy, where we admired Monet’s lily pond in Giverny, sipped calvados where the Seine river meets the English Channel in Honfleur, visited the D-Day landing beaches and paid our respects at the Normandy American Cemetery to the 9,385 Americans who were killed during the invasion of Normandy, learned about the Battle of Hastings admiring the Bayeux Tapestry, toured the beautiful Bayeux Cathedral down the street, wandered the narrow, sloping streets of the medieval island town of Mont Saint-Michel, swooned over eerie, foggy views of the surrounding mudflats, and lastly, toured the magical Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, an early-medieval monastery perched on top of a hill in the center of the island.

Whether your day is full of food, adventure, relaxation, or reminiscing, may it be a day of gratitude and love. Happy thanksgiving!

IMG_0275IMG_0306IMG_0316IMG_0358IMG_0391IMG_0392IMG_0443IMG_0417IMG_0413IMG_0407IMG_0464IMG_0399IMG_0462IMG_0458IMG_0478IMG_0474IMG_0467IMG_0495IMG_0501IMG_0517IMG_0512IMG_0528IMG_0534IMG_0536IMG_0589IMG_0592IMG_0597IMG_0568IMG_0572IMG_0560IMG_0629IMG_0642IMG_0684IMG_0688

IMG_0699IMG_0649IMG_0674IMG_0729IMG_0752IMG_0745IMG_0754IMG_0765IMG_0778IMG_0776IMG_0833IMG_0834IMG_0832IMG_0828IMG_0848IMG_0935IMG_0952IMG_0965IMG_0979IMG_0967

P’tit Weekend in the Loire Valley

France, Photography, Travel

“Parisians all get sick of Paris after a while. So they regularly choose to leave the city for a few days. Those expeditions are called p’tits weekends…

It is important to realize that in the Parisian’s mind,¬†le p’tit weekend¬†is not a luxury or treat. It is a necessity. A need he feels deep inside his body. A sound door to escape momentarily the oppression of the big, fast, and loud city:¬†J’en peux plus, faut que je parte m’a√©rer. Tu veux pas qu’on se fasse un p’tit weekend?¬†(‘I’ve had enough, I need to leave the city to get some air. You want to go on a¬†p’tit weekend?’)”

Olivier Magny, Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi

The idea of a¬†p’tit weekend¬†is a universal one. A long weekend, quick escape, weekend getaway, short vacation… whatever you call it, the idea behind it is the same.

Jacob and I know all too well the importance of a¬†p’tit weekend.¬†When we first moved to Boston back in 2011, as excited as we were to be there, it didn’t take long for us to desperately crave a weekend away. We were newlyweds, newly employed, newly in graduate school, and biggest of all, newly living in a big city. After just the first few weeks of settling into our new routines, we needed some time away. A time to rest. A time to reset. A time to step away from our new norm, and as Magny says, “to leave the city to get some air.”

IMG_1177IMG_1227IMG_1197IMG_1222IMG_1228IMG_1219IMG_1262IMG_1288

Though city life quickly grew on us, we still deeply valued those long weekends each time we were able to sneak away. We’d leave Friday after work or bright and early Saturday morning, and head back to the city late Sunday night. Every chance we got we were leaving the city. Not because we hated where we lived, but instead, because we understood just how much of a necessity those weekends away truly were.

Now, living in a new, and even bigger city, we value¬†p’tits weekends¬†all the same, if not even just a little bit more.

I think this time around we handled the transition into city life a bit more easily, however, I will say that our first¬†p’tit weekend¬†in Normandy, taken shortly after we arrived in France, was just as refreshing as that first trip we took out of Boston quickly after rolling into town. Arriving in Paris was exciting, yes, but after a summer full of stressful planning to get us here, and then an overwhelming first few weeks once we finally arrived, a relaxing weekend away was called for. (Belated blog post about Normandy coming soon…)

IMG_1295IMG_1321IMG_1327IMG_1335IMG_1336IMG_1345IMG_1351IMG_1352IMG_1354IMG_1358IMG_1362IMG_1368IMG_1384

Having traveled back to the states early October, then fighting jet lag and a nasty cold for the week or so after I returned, by the end of the month, I was eager to get out and explore somewhere new. Not wanting to throw off Heidi’s routine now that she finally seemed settled, we decided on an easy dog friendly destination that could quickly(ish) be reached by car so that we didn’t have to introduce her to another new and potentially scary mode of transportation, the train, so soon after flying.

Jacob and I had already spent some time in the eastern portion of the Loire Valley on our last trip to France, but being a large area, we figured there was still plenty left to discover. This time around we headed to the western side of the region which was just as lovely as the area we had already explored. ¬†It was geographically similar with the Loire River gracefully meandering through the region and a number of stunning ch√Ęteaux littering the countryside, but what was different this time were all of the golden vineyards decorating the hillsides.

Following a quick trip into town to pick up provisions for lunch, our weekend kicked off with a visit to one of these beautiful vineyards, where we were able to take a peaceful, self guided tour around the property, and walk through the rows of vines. Being the only two on the tour, we took our time, enjoying the lovely, cool morning and stunning views, while Heidi sniffed around for the cat. After the tour we enjoyed a generous tasting and left with three bottles of organic wine. It’s easy to do when the wine is delicious, and incredibly cheap… (Or at least comparatively. One bottle we bought, a nice 2011 Cabernet Franc, was only ‚ā¨15, or about $18. Maybe we should have purchased a few more… ūüėČ

IMG_1497IMG_1465IMG_1477IMG_1478IMG_1495

After our winery tour we enjoyed one of our new bottles of wine and a simple picnic lunch on the banks of the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire. It was slightly chilly, but sunny, and really such a perfect day to be outdoors. From lunch we headed to the nearby town of Villandry, where we spent the rest of our afternoon walking through the impressive ch√Ęteau gardens.

Finally, after a long day of exploring, we headed back to our Airbnb to finish off our lunch wine and watch the sunset from our balcony. Heidi, exhausted from such a big day, quickly fell asleep while Jacob and I snuck away to a local farm for dinner where we enjoyed more local wine, wild boar, venison, and cheese from the goats next door. Eaten in a lovely old farmhouse warmed by a crackling fire in the fireplace, this meal was the perfect way to end our relaxing, yet busy day.

On Sunday, we got an early start and drove 45 minutes west to tour a monastery. It wouldn’t be a weekend away with Jacob if we didn’t do such a thing… After a few hours at Fontevraud we headed back to our Airbnb to pick up Heidi and our bags, and moved on to the final stop of our weekend getaway, the lovely town of Chartres, where we toured the massive Chartres Cathedral. We had to tour it in turns since we had Heidi, and the stained glass wasn’t at its best since we arrived after dark thanks to daylight savings (which comes earlier here than in the states), but still, we were both blown away by this Gothic masterpiece.

After some annoyingly heavy traffic, we returned home late Sunday night a bit tired but also so glad for a nice weekend away. I love living in Paris, but Magny says it best when he says “Le p’tit weekend¬†is not a luxury or a treat. It is a necessity. A need he feels deep inside his body.”

Two¬†p’tit weekends¬†down¬†for us, one for Heidi. We look forward to where our next journey¬†will take us next!

Until next time!

Bonjour From Paris

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

When so much has happened since your last blog post, it’s really hard to just dive right into a new one. Even with the best intentions to write about our travels, share tasty recipes, and update you on other fun life updates, my schedule the last few years hasn’t really allowed me to do so. However, I expect that to change over the course of this next year.

Since it’d be impossible to cover everything that’s happened since January 7th, 2017 (the date of my last blog post) in just one post, let’s just jump ahead to the biggest news of all…

Two weeks ago yesterday, the hubs and I MOVED TO FRANCE.

That’s right. From Fayetteville, to Boston, to Austin, to PARIS, we’ve made our biggest move yet, and it has been a whirlwind of a process as well as a total dream come true.

In short, in May Jacob was awarded a grant to fund dissertation research for his PhD, and since most of the manuscripts he needs to study are here in France,¬†fast forward four months, and here we are; two excited expats with just a few suitcases of belongings living in a 193 square foot apartment smack dab in the middle of the city…

The process to get us here hasn’t always been easy and many tough decisions had to be made along the way, like giving up a great job, leaving behind friends and family, and temporarily saying goodbye to our best girl, Heidi (the dog). However, this is only one small chapter of our lives (we’ll return to Austin August 2018) and we couldn’t be more excited to be here.

IMG_0192

Since arriving our time has been filled with long walks, buttery croissants, endless baguettes, cheap (but delicious) French wine, amazing ethnic foods (of all kinds), riverside picnics, beautiful sights everywhere we look, museums, churches, leisurely reads in the parks, lovely fall temperatures… the list could go on and on. But also, let’s not to forget about stressful apartment hunting, language barriers, lots of work for the hubs, sleepless nights on an uncomfortable pullout couch, homesickness, missing our girl terribly, and SO MUCH cigarette smoke.

Really though, the few negative asides, being here so far really has been a dream. While we long to be reunited with our girl (she’ll arrive in just a few weeks!) and to move into a space a little bigger than what we’re in now (We’re moving into a more permanent space in October that’s a whopping 484 square feet!) I say to myself at least five times a day “What!? I live here?!” because being here truly is surreal.

I look forward to the adventures we’ll go on this next year, the memories we will make, and blogging about it along the way. It’s good to be back.

Until next time, mes amis!


In a city like Paris, there’s literally always something to take a picture of. With that said, I have unfortunately missed the opportunity for some really great photos these last couple of weeks, simply because I don’t carry my camera with me 24/7. HOWEVER, there is one thing I do always have on me, and that’s my phone. For live updates, funny crisis moments, and more beautiful Parisian sights, be sure to follow me on Instagram, @jndoss.¬†

Thanksgiving in Big Bend, Pt. 2

Culture, Photography, Travel

Though day one of our Big Bend vacation was one of our trip highlights, days two and three certainly did not disappoint.

On our second day, after a foggy, relaxed morning at the campsite drinking coffee and eating pumpkin pie, we headed down the mountain to explore the valley below on our first ever desert hike.

A moderate hike to a series of prominent volcanic dike formations, the Chimneys Trail is well-known for Indian rock art marks at the base of its iconic, chimney pinnacles. Surrounded by various types of cacti and other short, brushy desert plants we were unfamiliar with, the first bit of this hike was interesting, but in all honestly, I was over this hike halfway before it was done. Once we made it to chimneys and explored the petroglyphs and evidence of camp settlements, we high tailed it back to our car and ventured on to the more exciting part of our day.

img_2141img_2160img_2155img_2159img_2184img_2165img_2179img_2187img_2185img_2182

From the desert we headed along the¬†Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive¬†for more beautiful views¬†and a visit to the¬†Santa Elena Canyon. Towering 1,500 feet over the Rio Grande, the Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most dramatic canyons in the park, and was a breathtaking site to see. We’d originally planned to take a rafting trip down the river through the canyon, but not wanting to jam pack our schedule, we decided to save that trip for our next visit. Now after seeing just a glimpse of the canyon’s beauty, that’s a rafting trip¬†I can hardly wait to take.

img_2229img_2255img_2224img_2210

On our third and final full day in the park, we woke before the sun and set off for one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes I have ever done. The South Rim Trail,  a strenuous 14.5 mile loop along the south rim of the Chisos Mountains, was well worth the 2,000 foot elevation gain, steep and never-ending switchbacks, and a nerve-racking bear encounter.

Starting off brushy and dry in the basin of the Chisos, the hike soon turned green as we quickly ascended a couple thousand feet into the mountains. Next to cacti we saw Pines, as well as Firs, Aspens, and Maples. The first couple of hours our feet saw red dirt, and then suddenly the bright colors of Fall.

Finally, when we thought our knees could no longer take it, ¬†we made it to the mountain ridge¬†where we were rewarded with panoramic views of the mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert. Fighting with the fog, we took our time on this part of hike, resting and eating lunch, and peeking through the clouds into the world below. Then, just before we descended the mountain, the sun finally won, offering us front row seats to Big Bend’s most stunning vistas.

img_2265img_2277img_2292img_2287img_2302img_2297img_2329img_2327img_2352img_2343img_2319img_2337img_2322img_2367img_2374img_2368

Though the second half of the hike was just as pretty as the first, I barely remember it as I was just ready to get off the mountain. With a bad knee, hiking downhill is much worse than going up, and if we’re being totally honest, we both just couldn’t wait for a burger and an icy cold beer.

The last mile of the hike I felt exhausted, yet energized, as I powered my way back to the car proud of what I had just accomplished. After a visit to our campsite and a quick decision that we were too tired to cook, we headed to the Chisos Mountain Lodge and ended our adventure with that well deserved burger and beer.

We went to bed that night exhausted and sore, and woke the next day surprisingly rested. Trying to extend our trip just a little bit longer, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and bacon, and then eventually, knowing we had to go home, packed up camp and made our way back to Austin.

Though I was tired on Monday and still a little sore from our hikes, our short trip to Big Bend was well worth it. Each year our Thanksgiving celebrations seem to get a little more unique, and I am totally okay with that. A plate of turkey and stuffing is just as good in the great outdoors, if not even just a little bit better…

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Big Bend, Pt. 1

Culture, Photography, Travel

 

The first time I ever experienced a major holiday away from home was our first year living in Boston.

Though my heart longed to spend that Thanksgiving with my family, knowing we’d ¬†soon be heading home for Christmas, we instead went¬†to New York where we spent¬†the holiday with some of Jacob’s relatives.

That Thanksgiving was a bit unusual for me as we celebrated as a party of 10 or so,  instead of a party of 50, but it was quiet, and relaxing, and truly one of my most memorable holidays.

Living in a big city at that time, I was quite used to cooking in a kitchen the size of a closet, so spending a long weekend¬†in a spacious,¬†country home was a dream. I still remember vividly making my first totally from scratch green bean casserole, and some amazing brussels sprouts dish I prepared from one of Jacob’s¬†aunt’s magazines.

I spent most of that day in the kitchen with his aunt, laughing and talking and getting to know her more closely. By the end of that day I no longer felt so homesick, and settled in that night grateful for family, when the rest of mine was so far away.

img_1963img_1970img_1976img_1984img_1980img_1986img_1989img_1987

Last year marked another interesting holiday. Back to a small celebration, we spent Thanksgiving here in Austin with our pup, my parents, and their small dog L.E. A table of four felt so small, but it was a memorable experience to be able to cook my first full Thanksgiving meal and host my own family.

The turkey was flavorful and moist, the pumpkin pie was divine, and again, the peace and quiet was amazing.

Growing accustomed to these small and peaceful Thanksgiving celebrations, this year, we decided to have our most untraditional Thanksgiving yet, spending it in the desert for a long weekend of camping.

Still wanting a somewhat traditional holiday, I decided to cook a full Thanksgiving spread before we left town to enjoy on Thanksgiving day. Having roasted a 12 pound bird (for only two people), preparing stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, a casserole, and a pie, I had big expectations about our Thanksgiving meal, and even bigger ideas about what this blog post would look like.

I envisioned pictures of our plates¬†with jagged¬†mountain peaks in the background; shots of the cheese course centered on the picnic table surrounded by cups of wine. I thought¬†i’d show artistic photos¬†of our tent and the campfire, and then talk about how fun and manageable it was to celebrate a holiday in the great outdoors.

This is not how this post is going to go.

Instead of  this romanticized, idealistic Thanksgiving I had envisioned, we spent the holiday in Mexico, where we had our most memorable Thanksgiving yet.

img_1993img_2003img_2008img_2011img_2033img_2029img_2037img_2048img_2022img_2051

Settled in Southwest Texas, Big Bend National park features sweeping¬†desert landscapes, dramatic canyons, rugged mountains, and shares 118 miles¬†of its park boundary with Chihuahua and Coahuila Mexico. Knowing that there was a border crossing located within the park, we knew that stepping over into Mexico was something we wanted to do during our trip, we just didn’t expect our time there¬†to be all that is was.

An isolated and primitive outpost amidst a vast wilderness, 150 miles from any major town on either side of the border lies Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

Once a town of around 300, because of the border closure in 2002 (due to the events of 9/11), by 2006, the population of Boquillas dropped to around only 90 residents. Eleven¬†years later in 2013, the border reopened, helping to revive Boquillas’ population, which is now home to about 200 people.

Besides for two small restaurants and one bar, there’s not much to see or do here, but wanting this tiny¬†tourist town to succeed, the Mexican government has done what they can, providing supplies to fix older buildings, and paint to freshen up the look of the place. And finally, in 2015, solar panels were installed so that residents could enjoy reliable electricity…

Our journey to Boquillas started at the U.S. Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry where we learned the rules about crossing over into Mexico (don’t bring back alcohol, rocks, etc…) From there, we hopped an “international ferry” and were transported 15 yards away across a knee deep river. After politely saying no to a¬†man with a burro offering us a ride, we walked the quarter of a mile into town and started¬†our adventure in Mexico.

Once arriving to town and checking in with customs, we decided on one of the two restaurant choices (both I believe are owned by the same family, serve the same food,  and are are literally just across the dusty road from each other), and grabbed a spot outside in the shade to enjoy the views and excitement.

For lunch we had tacos with teeny fried flour tortillas and a plate of tamales, and washed it all down with a couple of potent margaritas. We enjoyed live entertainment, AKA a man with a very out of tune guitar, made friends with strangers (who just happened to originally be from Austin), and enjoyed the company of a lively local.

Esteban was the man who originally offered us a ride on his burro, and after spending lunch talking with him, I was disappointed we didn’t accept. Over a peach juice and a couple of Carta Blancas, Esteban told us about his time¬†in Boquillas (he has lived there his entire life), about his mountain guiding services, and about how he walks four days¬†through the desert each year to the nearest town for some extra work.

In the midst of all the hatred we’ve seen towards immigrants and minorities this election season, Esteban was a breath of fresh air.¬†His authenticity and kindness was refreshing, and our time spent with him was one of the best parts of our day.

img_2055img_2053img_2019img_2066img_2076img_2074img_2097img_2122

img_2123img_2100img_2128

After buying a copper scorpion from Esteban and bidding him farewell, we left with our new Texan friends and their guide to take a short tour of the town. We saw the small church and school, water supply tank, and solar panels before finding ourselves¬†in the town’s only cantina where we enjoyed more good conversation over a couple of shots of Sotol. Coming from an unmarked bottle behind the counter, similar to tequila, Sotol is distilled from the dasylirion wheeleri plant native the Northern Mexico. It was smooth, tasty, and was probably safer to drink than the water. Even if the bottle did look a little sketchy…

After an hour or so of getting to know our new friends and a round of Carta Blancas, we hurried our way back across the river, just barely in time for the border closing, and continued our random Thanksgiving day at some hot springs nearby.

Finally, around 7:00 pm when the sky grew dark, we drove the hour back to our campsite to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal. After quickly reheating the food I worked so hard to prepare, I took one lame picture of my plate in the dark, and then crawled into the tent for bed before 9:00. By the time Jacob had returned from cleaning the dishes, I was sound asleep, dreaming of tacos, and our Thanksgiving adventure in Mexico.