2014 Recap: The Gift Year

I know that by this time, we've all stopped rehashing 2014 and have started looking ahead to 2015. But I can't just summarize last year with pretty photos of Paris and Europe - I need to pause and share my reflections of a special year.

21 Trains
19 Flights
5 Buses
5 Rental cars
14 Countries
21 houseguests
131 blog posts
2 camels 
And countless sheep

2014. I think of this year as my “gift year.” That’s not to say that every day we get on this earth isn't a gift, because it is. I mean it in the sense that when I think about 2014, I think “we shouldn't still be here.” Michael had a contract to work on an assignment in Paris for almost two years, ending in December 2013. Except by the end of that year, we had realized that Paris wasn't merely the home base for our travels throughout Europe. We had somehow built a life here, entered into community, and fell in love with life in the city. Things were looking bleak for a while and it seemed that we did in fact have to move back to the US as planned. Until things turned around and we were able to stay. We weren't supposed to still be hanging around the City of Light this year, but somehow in the end we were gifted with more time.

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Canvas-Worthy Europe, 2014 edition

Last Wednesday I shared my round-up of my favorite photos taken in Paris in 2014. Now it’s time to see the year in review through a collection of my canvas-worthy contenders from our European travels outside of Paris. Here’s where I traveled to during the year!

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Simply Sara's Ultimate European Christmas Market Round-Up

I’ve been making a list and checking it twice...and am ready to reveal which European Christmas markets made the naughty or nice list. This by no means is a conclusive list of markets throughout Europe, but it’s my thoughts on 20 markets spanning 8 European countries. So without further ado, here’s the breakdown by country:

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Escape to Spain

Bon lundi!

"How did you deal with winter here last year?" I asked.

It was my first winter in Paris and I was talking with a friend. I was trying to get accustomed to the days of overcast, gray skies in Paris that winter brings along. I'm a Jersey girl from the northeast of the US so cold and snow don't phase me like my southern Californian friends, but short days with little sunshine do.

"Well...I vacationed in Spain a lot," she answered.

As it turns out, winter isn't the only time it rains frequently in Paris! This July has been out-of-the-ordinary with cool weather and lots of rain. While my plants appreciate the extra water to make up for my lacking green thumb, these days I've been thinking of that plentiful Spanish sunshine. Here's a photo from a trip I took last summer in Sevilla:

 Plaza de España in Sevilla, Spain

Hope you're enjoying summer so far!

Madrid on a Budget

Or how I saved € 50  in a day for two adults.

Traveling can be expensive, but there are plenty of ways to save money with a little planning. My recent trip to Madrid spanned five days but due to New Year's many sights had abbreviated hours or were closed for the holiday. Shortened hours were not going to stop me from seeing the sights though. I enacted a carefully concocted plan of whirlwind sightseeing on a Sunday to maximize what I could see free of charge.

This itinerary is for a Sunday in Madrid, but I've included tips on how to avoid entry fees for sights on other days as well. Michael and I enjoy walking everywhere so the only costs on this day were for food. Factor in a subway ride or two if you don't like walking as much as we do.

The Plan:

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Simply Sara Eats: In Madrid

In the "Simply Sara Eats " series, I recount the my favorite food and drink discoveries .

I spent the last few nights of 2013 in Madrid, Spain. Here are my favorite places to go for a bite or drink in Spain's capital. 

1. Mercado de San Miguel

Our first destination once arriving in Madrid was to the Mercado de San Miguel. We were tired after waking up at 4am to catch our flight, and hungry. This market promised lots of food options. I know now that on a Saturday afternoon, it also promised huge crowds.

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New Year's Flamenco Show in Madrid

Hands clapping, feet stomping, castanets chattering. Add a song that erupts straight from the gut. Those sounds are what I will forever associate with Madrid, flamenco, and my last night of 2013. 

I found myself in Madrid at the close of the year. I've historically had pretty low-key New Year's plans and don't like the pressure of having to find mandatory, expensive fun on the last year of the night. So although I didn't feel the need the go all out, I did want to celebrate in a way unique to Spain.

Option one was to gather in Madrid's plaza Puerta del Sol with many others to participate in the New Year's countdown. But not wanting to deal with the crowds (and besides, it wasn't as warm as you might think in Spain), I ruled that out quickly.

As you already guessed, I went with option two: attending a flamenco show.

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The Magic of Madrid

 Bon lundi!

I mentioned in my year-in-review post that I initially had no real desire to go to Spain. Nothing personal - it just didn't appeal to me like other destinations did. But there are some times in life when you need to humbly utter the words, "You were right." I had to on such occasion last year, on my first trip to Spain, after spending maybe half an hour in Barcelona.  Maybe fifteen minutes after dropping the bags at the hotel in Barcelona, I declared that I could see myself living there. And then I turned to my smiling husband and admitted, "You were right."

When Michael suggested a trip to Madrid to ring in 2014, I had no complaints. Madrid offered lots of sightseeing to do by day, and tapas and flamenco to entertain us by night. 

This picture was taken outside of the Royal Palace of Madrid. Do you want some more proof that I was wrong about Spain? The Royal Palace managed to wow me, which has become increasing difficult when comparing all palaces to Château de Versailles. I'll continue to eat my humble pie for now...

Join me this week as I share how I closed out the year in wonderful Madrid! 

European Adventures in Pictures

We started by looking at our best canvas-worthy photos of Paris and then expanded the scope to all of France. Now it is time to conclude with our best pictures from our European travels of 2013.

There was much to discover on our travels in Europe. The first trip of the year outside of France was to Iceland, a country completely off my radar to visit. Now I can't help hoping to spend more time there enjoying its spectacular natural beauty.  

The summer brought an amazing trip to Sevilla which once again proved just how wrong I was about Spain. I once had no interest in seeing Spain at all. Then I got acquainted with tapas (oh, the tapas) and the warmth of the country. Now I keep trying to scheme ways to return. 

In August I joined my fellow Parisians in a mass exodus out the city. I found myself in Ireland on the most relaxing trip of the year, drinking lots of tea with dear friends in a house overlooking the Dingle peninsula. 

Fall brought a trip to Bruges with good friends who, not coincidentally, were very knowledgeable about Belgium beers. I was afraid that I overly romanticized Bruges from my first trip there in May 2012 but found that I love the city all the more. 

I closed out the year on a Christmas trip making my way through Germany to be in Seefeld, Austria over Christmas. All I can say is I'm already planning to be there next year for Christmas.

Here's the year in review: 

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