Thursday, June 25, 2015

Free Time and a Fresh Perspective

Sometimes we receive the gift of unexpected free time. I recently had such a day and took full advantage of it. The weather was beautiful, I knew I was in need of some alone time, and I was feeling the urge to explore; so I headed into Paris, because sometimes the best place to find solitude is in the midst of a crowd.

The Biblioteque National de France - the National Library of France - was my destination, based on a recommendation from a friend... a library, a park, and a collection of artisan markets and restaurants. Yes, please!

The first surprise in my day of exploration was a delightful garden store just outside the metro stop. I spent some time wandering amongst the plants, and found a little organic market inside. They also had a kitchen section full of fabulous cookbooks. I could have spent hours in there, but I also wanted to be outside. I pulled myself away from the shop and walked along the river until I came to the library, where I walked into the courtyard and was speechless.... I felt like I had entered a movie set.

There is a forest planted in the middle, and when you walk up you are in the tree tops. When I finally found my way inside I was a bit disappointed - it was hot and crowded - not nearly as peaceful as I had hoped, so I went back out to the sun deck and enjoyed the forest a bit.

Next I headed across the river and walked through Bercy Park on my way to Bercy Village where there is a collection of artisain shops and restaurants. I wandered up and down the aisles soaking in the ambiance of this quaint neighborhood. I found some organic sorbet and enjoyed it in the park - sitting on the grass like a true Parisian.

My view at the park
The rose garden
Then I found some stuff for a little picnic and headed back to the Library where I had a great view of the Seine river and some nice background music coming from one of the house boat restaurants.

Picnic by the river

Houseboat restaurant

This was a wonderful day: My thirst for exploration was satisfied and my need for solitude was met. Throughout the day I gained a new perspective not only of Paris but on life, and thus, my soul was refreshed.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

French Macarons

Not too long ago I discovered the truly amazing, delicious French pastries called Macarons. So, when I made the decision to move to France, one of my "must do's" was to learn to make authentic French macarons. And finally, six months into this adventure it happened! A friend of mine is a pastry chef, and she has a friend who gives classes so, she arranged a private class. Five of us spent two hours learning all of the tips and tricks to make the perfect macarons.

This was "the real deal" -  the class was taught in French, and of course the recipe was in French too! I was too busy having fun to take pictures, but thanks to our great teacher we had a delightful time and ended up with some beautiful and delicious macarons.

They look and taste as good as those from a fancy patisserie
The next weekend we decided to try out our new skills and make our own batch of macarons. There are a LOT of details to remember, but we managed to put together some pretty good macarons.

Placing the dough on the sheet for baking

Almost as good as the professionals

I am thrilled that I finally got to try my hand at making these delicacies, and look forward to perfecting my skills and developing some fun and interesting flavors.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Family Vacation - part 3

We had a whirlwind visit of Paris, but in the midst of all of the walking and sight-seeing we did manage to find time for some good food and drinks too!

The Louvre, with the Eiffel Tower in the background

Feeling strong and ready to conquer Paris

There she is, THE icon of Paris

On top of the Arc de Triomphe

Cheers to a great vacation

All smiles as we enjoy Paris
We packed a LOT into a few days, but sure had a lot of fun doing it all. It was a great family vacation, and maybe only the beginning of many more to come!

Family Vacation - part 2

When we started planning this vacation to Brittany/Normandy, I had one "must see" and that was Mont Saint Michelle. I was under the mistaken impression that it was a cathedral on an island - when in reality it is a city on an island, topped by a cathedral.

 The streets were narrow and wound around the mountain as they went up to the cathedral. It's amazing to think about the horses and carriages making their way through this city. We poked around a bit, checking out some interesting passageways and then headed out, as we had a long day ahead of us. Next on the agenda were the Landing Beaches and some of the villages which had significant roles in WWII. We went to the town of Bayeux which has a famous tapestry. However, after exploring this church we decided to skip the tapestry and head on to the beaches.

My brother is a history buff and so he had put together the itinerary for this part of the trip. I wasn't sure what to expect at the Landing Beaches, but found them to be beautiful, sobering, and informative.

I learned way more about history in just a few hours on these beaches then I ever did in any of my history classes. I guess I'm a hands-on learner!

Family Vacation - part 1

I think I was 16 the last time I went on a family vacation. Sure, I go visit my family because we all live in different states, but I stay at their home and enter into their daily lives. I'm talking about a "real" family vacation with parents and siblings, where you're all  traveling somewhere together and staying together for more than a day.

Being the youngest of five kids, my siblings all moved out by the time I finished high school, and thus family vacations no longer happened. And now that  we are all scattered around the country (or at the moment the world) and there are more than 20 of us with nieces, nephews and significant others, we just don't do family vacations.

However, I recently had the pleasure of having some of my family come visit me here in France and then we went on a real family vacation! We rented a car and drove out to Normandy for a few days and then spent a couple of days in Paris.

We had a grand adventure together - my dad, my oldest brother and his significant other. In France, WiFi is not nearly as prevalent as it is in the US, so we were navigating without GPS or a good map; nevertheless, Linda did an awesome job of getting us where we wanted to go. Warren was our chauffeur for the trip and had nerves of steal while circling the roundabouts and navigating Paris traffic. I was the translator for the trip and Dad was just along for the ride!

First stop, Saint Malo, which was purely an accident. As we were trying to find our way to Cancale for fresh oysters we stumbled upon this stunning medieval city. My pictures don't really capture the impressive magnitude of this walled city - it was so compact and dense that it was difficult to get the necessary perspective.

After a few hours of exploring, we were back on the road headed to Cancale, and once we arrived we walked the length of the city until we eventually found THE oyster stand that the guide book recommended. Unfortunately, we found them just as the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down, but that didn't stop us from huddling under an awning and slurping up our fresh oysters! We enjoyed a delicious dinner at a little restaurant on the seashore and then we were back on the road to find a place to stay for the night.
The village of Cancale
Fresh oysters!

The oyster stand
The pier at Cancale
You see, we are all adventurous and free-spirited, and so we had chosen not to make hotel reservations so that we could be free to roam about and explore, and then to land wherever the wind blew us. That night, it was getting late and we were still driving around in the vast countryside looking for a place to stay. I think we were all beginning to regret our decision to not have a reservation when we happened upon a tiny village with a fabulous little hotel. The price was reasonable, the rooms were clean, the people were kind, and breakfast was superb!
The view from my room
Our first day of family vacation ended well and after a good night's sleep we were ready for our next adventure.