Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monet's Garden Trip (backpacks + bike lanes)


Por fin! A day trip to Giverny to see Monet’s Gardens! I have wanted to do this for years and I was so happy that Alex hadn’t been to Monet’s Gardens either. We took a little train from Paris to Vernon (about 45 minutes and 30 euros roundtrip) and then bought bikes right next to the station and biked 4 kilometers to Giverny. We were handed maps, but figured it would be easy enough to navigate and took off. We started biking along the highway and I was really overwhelmed because there was no bike lane and lots of huge tour busses zooming by. I thought this was a popular thing people do so where are all the bikers? How do grandmas bike on this dangerous highway? This is not safe! We continued to trek on sloooowly until we saw some bikers pop out of the trees taking pictures about 20 feet up and realized the bike lane is a bit hidden, but parallel to the main highway. The ride was so much more fun/less stressful once we discovered the not-so-secret bike lane.

Upon arriving at Giverny, we found the cutest flea market selling all sorts of imaginable antiques/food/wine/etc. It had everything you never knew you wanted or needed. I saw the most beautiful map of Europe and was able to buy it for one euro. I also bought a really pretty old book in French. I have no idea what it says, but I would like to start buying an old book every country I travel to so one day I can have a collection of books from my time abroad. I’m excited even though it seems a little weird to have a book collection I can’t read. Books are cheaper and easier to transport than wine/candles/paintings though so it’s definitely a more practical collection.

Once we reached Monet’s Gardens, we were in awe. It’s absolutely so beautiful! I took so many photos of the flowers and am so happy I finally got to go visit!

Monet's Garden DIY Day Trip Advice

Buy your tickets to the Monet's Gardens online and then arrive 30-45 minutes early to the St. Lazare train station because you have to buy your train tickets from the information desk because you can only purchase them from the automated machines if you have a French credit card. I also would advise travelling with a small backpack if you decide to bike so you have a place for any flea market items you may pick up and/or wine and snacks you might want for a picnic. I did NOT have a backpack and had to get pretty creative biking back with my book and map.

Really wishing I had a backpack at this point. And spoke French.

Monday, October 20, 2014

36 hours in Madrid

The New York Times publishes recommendations for spending 36 hours in popular cities around the globe. It just so happened that when my sister came to visit, she had exactly 37 hours in Madrid before we flew to Croatia. I wanted to show her the city without exhausting her because it’s no fun to travel if you are burnt out!

So here is what I came up with... 36 hours in Madrid according to a Texas expat…

Day One

Breakfast at Harina by the Puerto de Alcala and Retiro Park.
Walk through Retiro Park
Lunch outside at LaMucca in Malasana
Rooptop drinks at Circulo de Bellas Artes
Dinner at Marieta (*Make a reservation 3-4 weeks in advance.)

Day Two

Plaza Mayor/Sol stopping at Mercado de San Miguel for a tapa
Visit to my school to see my babies
Walking through Cava Baja in La Latina and lunch at La Buha
Drinks in Salamanca

Additional Dining Recommendations

Dinner: Punk Bach, Ten Con Ten, Rita and Champagne, Makilla, Boulevard, Vino Tinto, Lateral, Casa Botin, Entre Caceres de Badajoz, Pan de Lujo
Lunch or dinner: Café Federal, La Morao, Mercado San Anton, Café Murrillo, Bienmesabe, Guad y Cafe
Breakfast: Mama Framboise, Cappuchino, Manolo’s, Café de la Luz, La Bicicleta

Additional Sights

Museo Sorolla; biking along Rio Mazanares/Casa de Campo; Museo Reina Sofia; Real Madrid futbol game at Bernabeu; bullfight in Las Ventas; flamenco show

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lunch in Luxembourg Gardens

Oh, to be Parisian and lunch in Luxembourg Gardens every Saturday! What a dream. While having lunch with Alex, I took a few candid snapshots and these are my favorites...

Also, are there rules for taking pictures of people? Did I break them? If yes, I'm sorry. If no, I'm just creepy!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cinque Terre, Italy (start your lunges now)

Cinque Terre takes the Italian cake for being my favorite place in Italy. We spent our last night on a boulder in the ocean watching the sunset and drinking wine out of plastic cups. We drank a lot of wine and watched a lot of sunsets, honestly. It was pretty romantic. Except we were with each other...

Vernazza is absolutely exquisite, although it hasn't quite recovered from the hurricane a few years ago. It's not as lively as it once was and some of the damage is still visible on the buildings. We only hiked between Vernazza and Monterosso so I can't speak for the other villages, but I feel pretty good about saying I'm sure they're fabulous, too.

The most important factor in planning Cinque Terre is having good weather, which no one can predict. It was sunny and gorgeous when we hiked and layed on the beach, but when it rains they close the hikes most of the time. So, check your farmer's almanac and cross your fingers. Ciao bella!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dreaming of Tenerife in the Canary Islands

As happy as I am the weather is cooling down and Madrid is starting to look like fall, I'm still hoping for a last-minute beach trip. (As if I'm not spoiled enough after living in Cadiz this summer.) Filled with beautiful beaches, tropical forests and averaging 25 degrees year-round, Tenerife is the ideal holiday. The island is perfect for relaxing, but is also popular for scuba diving, hiking, wind surfing and parties. If you are looking to indulge, I recommend trusting a tour operator like First Choice for planning your stay. The largest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife holds extraordinary diversity and can sooth, inspire and entertain every type of traveler.

Locals and tourists alike recommend taking a cable car to the top of the highest point in Spain, Volcan El Teide, for beautiful views of the forests, green vallies and beaches 3,700 meters below. In 2007, the national park was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco. The best time of year to go is May and June when the flowers are blooming. The snow-covered mountain can be seen from everywhere on the island and the park is ideal for hiking or exploring. Detailed hiking information and guided walks can be found in the visitor center. The best time to visit is early in the morning before the tour busses arrive and the area becomes crowded.

In addition to hiking, Tenerife offers several idyllic beaches, ranging from the picture perfect views at Playa de las Teresitas to the famous black volcanic sands and stunning botanical gardens of Playa Jardin. Playa de las Teresitas stretches almost 1.5 and is regarded as a relaxing beach with calm waters at the north of the island. For those who enjoy water sports, Puerto de los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas offer jet skiing, wind surfing, parasailing, surfing, snorkeling, whale watching and scuba diving.  From shopping to surfing or hiking to reading a book on the beach, Tenerife is a gorgeous Spanish paradise. Disfruta!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Venice, Italy (pants not optional)

From Florence, we rushed off to Venice not sure of what to expect, but Venice blew my mind. The sparkling water reflecting off these historical, decrepit buildings is just stunning. My favorite moment was when we happened upon St. Mark's Square in the morning while the sun was shining and making everything gleam and look larger than life. I expected to see some angels floating by on a gondola or Disney elephants dancing across the water. It just looked like a fairytale to me. 

Our trip was a bit of a whirlwind. I guess I'm to blame since I was the trip planner... rut ro. We had heard you only need 24 hours in Venice, but I would recommend 36 instead.  We were pleased with our bed and breakfast, Hotel San Samuele. Venice is a bit pricey and it was a clean, cute place for a good price. 

Our Venice trip ended the same way it started, chaotic. I have spent the last few years feeling pretty confident that I would be excellent on The Amazing Race show, but that was dispelled when I was sprinting through the train station while my useless yoga pants kept falling off (come on elastic, you have one job to do here and one job only: keep my pants up) running crazily trying to catch our train. 

Sadly, we missed the train that day, but on a happier note I donated those yoga pants to charity.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Florence, Italy (carb heaven)

This Italy post is a little tardy to the blog party because our trip took place last April. To me, Italy is magic. Nothing about it seems real. There’s just so much beauty… and history… and food… and wine… gelato… See what I mean? My bellisima friend Shannon met me in Florence, where she lived and studied during college. We stayed at Hotel Dali, a cute bed and breakfast around the corner from the Duomo. The owner, Marco, couldn’t have been sweeter or more helpful.

One of my favorite memories from Florence was having coffee and croissants on top of Café La Terrazza overlooking the Duomo with Gianna and Laredana, who were Shannon’s Italian teachers when she studied abroad. They were both the most beautiful and stylish people I’ve ever met. We talked about life, love, Italy, food and wine (of course). It was such a beautiful spring day and perfect morning.

If you go to Florence, I have four food recommendations: you must have wine at the O bar in the afternoon or at sunset, eat dinner at La Giostra, buy gelato from the corner of the Ponte Vecchio bridge and pick up amazing (and inexpensive) cheese and fresh fruit from San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale. Ciaooooo!