January 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
Well, it’s only been 16 months since I wrote up part 2 of this trip. One of my goals for this long Christmas / New Year’s break was to catch up on my blogging, and well, there’s only 2 days left of break so I better get going! Looking back through this pictures makes me so happy. When I think about all the trips Drew and I have taken so far in Europe, this is probably still my favorite. It was just exactly what I thought a week in Provence would be like. We visited the Pont du Gard, which has always been on my list of places to see. It’s was kind of odd actually to see a textbook picture come to life. The best part is that it is not walled off anything, you can walk on it and swim under it!
Our next stop was Avignon, which is probably best known to US French students from the song. We also made a half day stop at Arles, which has a lovely Van Gogh Museum. Our last day in Provence ended in Marseille, where we toured the harbour and ate at a wonderful Moroccan restaurant. All in all, it was a perfect vacation. Enough fun stuff to stay entertained, at a slow enough pace to still be relaxing. I’m already planning to come back many many times.
October 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
This was meant to be posted right after the previous post, but I got distracted by something and then between the new job and moving, this just didn’t make it to the priority list. But, I’m back and it’s actually kind of nice to look at these pictures again, since it’s gotten cold and wet now in London and these pictures remind me of what sun and warmth feels like. Anyhow, after leaving the southern coast, Drew and I started our adventures in Luberon. I think this was the day that Drew and I both looked forward to the most when we were planning this vacation. When I think of Provence, the towns of Gordes and Roussilon is what comes to mind. They’re ancient villages built right into the mountains. During August, they’re full of tourists, but that doesn’t take away from their beauty, you just have to drive in circles until you find a parking spot.
We went to Gordes first in the morning, on market day, where we got some bread and cheese for a picnic later as well as my favorite fruit in the world, white nectarines. I thought I could only get white nectarines so sweet in California, but I was wrong, they were just as good in France. For this reason alone, I think as long as we’re in London, we’ll have to come to Provence in summertime just so I could get my hands on these. After the market, we walked around a bit, but the town really isn’t very big, so we decided to leave and head to the Village des Bories. It’s an ancient site where people who lived here thousands of years ago built these dwellings out of stone. It’s remarkbly well preserved so you can see where they kept animals and slept and kept their tools. We found it really interesting.
We decided to head to Bonnieux for our picnic as my guide book told me there was a place there with a great view. Well, it wasn’t really that amazing, but the town was still very pretty. I almost lost my hat when the wind blew it over the wall of the church and down a small valley, but in a moment of pure gallantry, Drew went down there and found it! It might have been the most romantic thing that’s ever happened in our relationship.
On our way to Rousillon, we stopped at Pont Julien, originally built by the Romans in 3 BC. It’s been rebuilt now a few times, I think, but kept the old style. It was very cute and if we had more time, I would have happily sunbathed next to it like some people were doing. But we had more to see, so we headed off to Le Sentier des Ocres, the red cliffs that used to be mined for their colored sand. We arrived just as the sun was beginning to set, which was perfect, as the colors became more intense without the bright sunlight. Much of the town of Rousillon, right next to it is built with this stuff, giving it its distinctive reddish color. It’s beautiful, really just as the pictures in the travel books. That whole day, I think we just felt like we stepped out of the real world and went back in time. I don’t know who actually lives in these towns, as I imagine it’s must be quite expensive to keep a place there, but I certainly understand why people would want to quit everything and run a B&B here.
September 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’m missing the sunny warmth of France so much right now as London is definitely heading into fall. We took a break from traveling in June and July, Drew and I were both a bit tired out and work was a bit crazy (more on that later). But by July we were getting antsy and with ample vacation time, we decided to take a holiday to the South of France for the first week of August. I’ve been wanting to go to Provence since our wedding. We had briefly considered it for our honeymoon, but after looking at our checking account, decided that it probably didn’t fit into our budget at that time. Now that we’re so close, it seemed like the perfect time!
We had a week off and decided to split our time between the sea and the hills. We flew in to Marseilles, rented a tiny smart car, and made our way to through hectic Marseille traffic to Cassis. Once we walked into our rental apartment, we were greeted with simply the most stunning view of the sea. It instantly put us in vacation mode. Cassis is a tiny seaport town where a lot of French tourists make their august holidays. It’s claim to fame is that it’s near the Calanques, which are like mini fjords. We really wanted to kayak to the calanques, but the day we went, it was much too windy so we made do with a boat tour. Once out of the port and into the sea, the most noticeable thing was the color of the water. It was so incredibly blue, and clear!
Our favorite part of our stay in Cassis has to be our day on Ile de Porquerolles. It’s a little island off the south coast of France. The French government bought most of the land there many years ago and turned it into a nature reserve so it’s mostly uninhabited and undeveloped. We rented a couple of bikes and biked to one of the beaches. The water amazing, a beautiful turquoise blue and so clear! It really was a little slice of paradise. I wish we could have stayed on that island longer, but we had other things to see!
Day after our island adventure, we said goodbye to the sea and headed up to the hills of Luberon. On the way, we stopped in Aix-en-Provence. Unfortunately we picked Monday to be there when the Musee Granet is closed. We were also too late to see much of the famous market. Still, we had the best pizza I’ve ever had and saw some really cool fountains. When we finally arrived at our Airbnb rental near Isle sur le Sorgue, we were greeted with the mostly lovely apartment and in the morning we had a perfect breakfast with homemade yogurt, freshly baked bread, and pears from the garden. Next up, the hills and towns of Luberon!
August 18, 2014 § 2 Comments
A couple of weeks before we went to Barcelona, one of my best friends from College, Janice, messaged me out of the blue and asked what I was doing that weekend. I said, Drew and I are going to Barcelona, and I asked if she was in the mood to travel and want to come too. And she said yes!! When we got to Barcelona, and saw her in the airport, I couldn’t believe that it was for real. I feel sometimes like this whole year has been a bit of a dream, and seeing Janice in Barcelona just really made me question if everything was real. But it was real!
We started with dinner at Tickets!, the tapas restaurant opened by Ferran Arias, one of the Arias brothers who ran El Bulli. I don’t usually bother with hard to get reservations, mostly because I’m just not organized enough to be on the line when the booking opens, but this time, I decided I’d try since when were we going to eat at a restaurant in Spain, run by the guy from El Bulli again? Anyways, the online system opens 30 days in advance and I managed to snag a table for two. And when Janice decided to join us, they made the reservation for 3! The meal was delicious! We didn’t know what we wanted, so they brought us a range of their most popular dishes. My favorites were the artichoke and quail egg with salmon roe, and the razor clams. The atmosphere there is really fun, too. It’s decorated like a fun faire with different booths. Anyways, if you come to Barcelona, I recommend getting online 30 days in advance and booking a spot at Tickets!
I hadn’t realized before coming to Barcelona, how many architectural gems it had. I figured it was mostly a beach city with some pretty good food. We ended up spending most of our weekend exploring Antoni Gaudi‘s influence on Barcelona. We went to Casa Battlo, admiring the cool balconies and ombre blue lightwell (again, I recommend the audio tour). We spent a late afternoon at Park Guell, full of whimsical structures. But, the piece de resistance must be the Sagrada Familia. I had seen pictures beforehand, so I thought I knew what it would look like, but up close, it took my breadth away. I think Drew and I figured it was going to be ABC (another big cathedral), but it’s really truly special. The colors are magical and there are so many details everywhere, I think if we go back to Barcelona in 10 years, we’ll definitely have to go back. Especially, since it’s still under construction!
Of course, touring all the Gaudi stuff made us super hungry. We ate at a bunch of different tapas places, but I would say that Tapas 24 was probably my favorite. I can still taste that bikini sandwich. Yum. Also, the croquettes. We also went to the Boqueria Market, where we picked up some jamon iberico. The market is a bit too touristy for my liking, but the jamon places all give free samples, which almost made it worth battling all the tourists. I always wish we had more time to explore these cities, or maybe I just wish that my stomach was bigger so I can eat more things. Anyways, it was another great trip, and made even more special than usual with Janice!
August 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
We got a 4 day weekend over Easter, and since it fell in mid-April this year, we figured it was the perfect time to go see the tulips in Amsterdam. Turns out, I think the rest of Europe had the same idea :p. Despite the crowds, we had a great time. The city is beautiful and not called Venice of the North for nothing. It’s such a different look from London and Paris. I loved how all the buildings had these big windows to let the light in. We took a boat tour through the canals, which, despite being a bit pricey, is a nice way to see the old city and learn a bit about its history. See those hooks near the top of the buildings? They’re used to hoist furniture and other big items into the upper floors, since the stairways are super narrow.
We tried to go to the Anne Frank House twice, but the queue was super long both times :( We did finally make to the Van Gogh museum on our last day, which was really nice. I wish it wasn’t so crowded, but they had a lot of interesting pieces, and with the help of the audio guide, I learned a whole lot more about this very interesting artist’s life. We also spent an afternoon at the Rijksmuseum, the Museum of the Netherlands. It had just reopened after a long renovation, and it’s amazing. It was definitely a highlight. Again, we got the audio guide, which led us through a highlight tour of the museum (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, etc.). I highly recommend the guide, it’s much more informative than just reading the captions.
As it was the height of tulip season, we went to Keukenhof Gardens, the largest tulip garden in the world. I’m not sure it was really worth the time it took to get out there, it was stunning, but also uber crowded. I wish the flowers had been arranged more creatively, instead, it was mostly just laid out in massive patches, which, while still pretty, just wasn’t quite as impressive as it could have been. Still, if you love tulips, it’s probably worth the trip.
And last, but, not least, the food. I didn’t really have super high expectations, but it turns out Amsterdam is a super foodie place! Of course, we had to have Dutch pancakes. I think I liked them more than Drew did, especially the apple ones. We also had apple pie from Winkel, which was filled with tons of apples. We shared an amazing burger and sandwich from Lombardo’s, ate a fancy meal in a converted greenhouse, tried an Indonesian rice table, ate a stroopwafel, and topped it off with getting a bottle of supposedly the best beer in the world. Drew said it was good, but maybe not best :p Anyways, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!
P.S. This was the first time we booked our accommodation through Airbnb. It was great! We rented a studio with ensuite bathroom. It did require going up some steep stairs, but other than that it was bright, clean, and super convenient. And, importantly, super affordable. We had such a good experience, we’ve pretty much gone with Airbnb for all our trips since!
August 9, 2014 § 3 Comments
I can’t believe we’ve almost been in London for a year. We’ve travelled a lot this past year and it’s about time I put some of that down. In February we went to Paris. I had been there when I was 16, as part of a summer learning programme associated with the University of Cambridge. I had spent a month in Cambridge, ostensibly learning neurobiology, but really mostly just goofing around with a couple dozen other 16 year olds without our parents around. Although I didn’t learn much biology, I think the trip made me a lot more confident and independent. I made new friends, in a foreign environment, and together, we ran around London and Paris on our own. I couldn’t wait to go back with Drew.
We only had Friday night to Sunday night, but managed to take in a lot of the sights and thankfully, the weather was very kind for end of February. I think my favorite thing about this trip was going up the tower of Notre Dame. If you get the chance, don’t mind the queue, it can get long, but the view is fabulous (plus you get up close and personal with the gargoyles). We swung by the Sacre Coeur, saw Monet’s water lilies at the Musee de l’Orangerie, browsed some world famous sculptures at the Musee Rodin, and listened to jazz in a cave.
Food was, of course, amazing. We had savory crepes, nutella crepes, hot chocolate, rose croissants, apple tarts, great seafood, and the best polenta I ever had. I love this city, and I think of all the places we’ve been so far, this is one place we’re definitely coming back to :)
January 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
Drew and I started our European adventures outside of London with a trip to Berlin just before Christmas. We didn’t plan on going back to the States this Christmas since we’ve just moved to London, so we figured we’d go somewhere festive instead. Berlin, with its abundance of Christmas Markets was an obvious choice. Neither Drew nor I had been to Germany before, so we were pretty excited for our new adventure. We had 3 days, which I’d say was an ideal amount of time as we didn’t feel rushed but were still busy.
I’ll be honest, when we first got to Berlin, it was cold and late, and as our taxi took us from the airport to the hotel, the city didn’t really look all that exciting. After being there for 3 days, though, Drew and I both ended up really enjoying it. It’s very different from London or New York, much fewer people so you don’t feel like it’s super crowded everywhere. Riding the subway was no problem and the buses were always on time! Most of the time, people spoke very good english so we had no trouble eating or getting tickets. Drew even found some German beers he liked and we both like the food. I wish we had gotten another one of those potato pancakes with applesauce or kebap but we weren’t big fans of the currywurst. My favorite Christmasmarket, I think, would have to be the Charlottenburg Palace one. It’s such a beautiful setting and while it was still crowded, it wasn’t too bad and it had the best selection of food :) We have loads of other locations in Europe we’d like to visit, but I would definitely like to go back to Germany one day.
Day 1: Berlin Wall Monument, Currywurst, Kebap, East Side Gallery, and Gendarmenmarkt
Day 2: Reichtag, Brandenburg Gate, Pergamon Museum, Lokal, Lucia Christmasmarket