This year has been special in many, many ways. I’ve learned so many new things, grown as a person and have begun to appreciate many things I may not have cared for in the past. I’ve said it before – I find it very hard to look forward to travel without being a little bit nervous and out of my element. It’s odd because I’ve been travelling a lot since I was a child, visiting my brother and sister in the US, pretty much every other year. With every vacation around the corner, I get nervous and begin to wish I didn’t have to go away. Most travel lovers who hear this, my husband included, think it’s the strangest thing. Everytime my husband brought up the topic of our upcoming trip to France in August, I’d run away and refuse to discuss details. I don’t know why I find it so hard to get excited about travel – I’ve always wished I could change that about myself. I’m probably always going to be this way but I am grateful that PK is passionate about travel because after my vacation in France, I understand the allure and thrill of travel. I am so excited to recap my top moments of this trip because there were so many. We started off our vacation in Paris, took a day trip to Bruges, Belgium and ended our 16 day trip in the Cote d’Azur area. Let me take you through my wonderful first trip to Paris! Warning – This post has many pictures!
My favorite way to get around and explore places is by walking. We live in a very walk-friendly neighborhood of Chicago and never feel the need to own a car. Occasionally, we take public transport but on most days I walk at least 30-40 minutes to get around the city and love it. We’re big fans of walking tours when we visit big cities – This time was no different. One of the first things we did after we got to Paris was taking a walking tour to explore the city. We couldn’t have picked a better day for this – the clear blue skies and light breeze in the air seem to leap out of my pictures while I write this in dreary November weather. The 2.5 hour tour took us around various monuments in the heart of Paris and the part I enjoyed the most was the emphasis on learning about local culture. Every now and then we’d park ourselves at a spot where our guide, Pierre would discuss customs, habits and quirks of the French. It got me thinking about how much of our personality and perception of the world at large comes from our culture.
Baking on a Vacation?!
I belong to the category of people who’d rather eat a basket of bread than eat dessert. I’ve forever wanted to try out a baking class and while I was looking for good culinary schools in Chicago for this, PK secretly signed us up for lessons at a Parisian cooking school. In the first class, PK and I made croissants and some other traditional breakfast pastries. The class was fast paced but very detailed and I was quite surprised at how straightforward it is to make croissants. We are planning to try these recipes in December – I can’t wait! The second class was a French baguette and boulangerie class that I attended by myself where we learned to make baguettes, buns and a traditional bread called fougasse from the Provence region. I won’t forget the first taste of the baguette I made dunked in the most yummy olive oil – Divine.
My definition of a good day is one spent in a garden. This vacation was full of many, many good days. Our hotel was right opposite the gorgeous Jardin de Tuilleries and we took every opportunity to walk through the park to get to places.
We also spent an afternoon at Jardin du Luxembourg where all we really did was to sit around and people watch. Time well spent, in my opinion!
My favorite of them all were the Versailles Palace gardens (Jardins du château de Versailles). Almost immediately after arriving at Versailles Palace, PK decided we would skip the crowds and lines and check out the gardens instead – I am so glad we did that because I’d pick a garden over a palace any day. The highlight of the day was the Queen’s hamlet (Hameau de la Reine) which was a collection of rustic cottages built for Marie Antoinette.
Birthplace of Impressionism
Out of all the Parisian neighborhoods we explored and loved, I think the village of Montmarte is one of my favorites. We explored Montmarte on a rainy day on a walking tour. The tour was a huge learning experience for me because suddenly the art that I mindlessly looked at and walked by in museums had stories, people and places behind them. The art took on a new life and shape in my mind. I was suddenly excited about going to a museum (something I don’t usually say often).
We decided to skip the Lourve museum and checked out Musee d’Orsay instead. Going to a museum is like going to an ‘all you can eat’ buffet – You want to pace yourself and devour what you love while trying some new things in between. You’re likely to burn out pretty soon, otherwise. The Lourve, with its almost impossibly huge collection seemed too intimidating to accommodate and enjoy on a first trip. Musee d’Orsay was a perfect place to go to after our trip to Montmarte because we saw the art for what it was and understood many of the stories behind them. I came back from the trip with a book on Impressionist paintings that PK grudgingly paid for. 🙂
One can always plan vacations to perfection, like my husband tends to do but I’ve found that sometimes the most memorable occasions are the ones you don’t really plan for. Like the evening when we skipped our planned boat ride on the Seine river, decided to walk around instead and found this adorable bistro on a boat by the Pont Alexander III bridge. Or the unexpected generosity of fellow patrons at a tiny, non sit down restaurant on St. Germain, who pitched in with suggestions of vegetarian dishes on the menu while the guy who worked there couldn’t think of any. The meal turned out to be one of my most favorite meal on the trip! I was also pleasantly surprised that a warning from an acquaintance that I wouldn’t enjoy my vegetarian food turned out to be utter rubbish – Every single meal I ate in Paris was delicious. I tried something new almost every meal and loved everything on my plate. And no, I wasn’t just drinking wine and eating bread and cheese!
Reading this post again, I feel like I am inundated with so many other memories that I haven’t captured here. I won’t be able to talk about them all here but I won’t ever forget them. 🙂 J’adore Paris – Can’t wait to go back someday soon.