Life Lately and a Liebster

It’s somehow September already, which means it’s the time of year I’ve fondly come to know as “la rentrée.” If you’re not familiar with the French term, it literally means “the return,” and is closest to the American concept of “back-to-school.” The difference though is that it applies to everyone. The French come back from their typical month-long vacations and the adults go back to work, the kids back to school, and life back to its normal rhythm again. 

This year, though I’m no longer living in France, I’m still feeling a bit of that la rentrée spirit. This summer saw us in temporary housing in Manhattan, and with the turn of the calendar to September, it came time for us to relocate once again. Now we’re in New Jersey, and are hopefully in the last leg of our string of temporary living situations before we have a place to call home. The pieces are starting to come together. I recently went back to work as well, and slowly we’re settling into normal routines that solidify “the return” - to America, to NJ, to our jobs, to our church, to all our loved ones who waited for us to come back. 

A lot has been going on in my life, and I’ve realized I’ve missed a few weeks of posting on the blog. To get back into the swing of the things and have a little rentrée back to writing here, I decided to keep things on a more personal note and finally respond to my Liebster award nominations. (For those who are unfamiliar with what this is, it’s basically like a big blogger chain letter. You get nominated and are asked to answer a list of questions, and then you share the love and choose other bloggers to answer your own questions.) I can be a procrastinator at times, and as the months have slipped by, I’ve gotten Liebster shout-outs from three lovely bloggers - Marcella from What a Wonderful World, Sara from Sara Sees, and Nikita from Life in Transience. They each asked 10 questions, but I’m not sure how long I can talk about myself so I choose to respond to 5 questions from each. If you're ready to learn more about the girl behind Simply Sara Travel, keep reading!  

Marcella's questions

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1. What is your favourite thing to photograph?

(I retained the spelling because it makes me smile, so please read that question aloud in your best British accent...)

I have three things I love to photograph: Vibrant sunsets (and sunrises in theory, but the whole not-being-a-morning-person in the slightest means that sunrises aren’t a frequent theme), street art, and flowers, particularly with a monument / building in the background. Give me one of those subjects and I’m a trigger-happy photographer!

Michael and I can't pass up a sunset. This photo is from our visit back to Paris in August - just out of the frame are our 2 friends who were eager to move on from our picnic to the next activity, but we had to snap a few shots because the beauty of the moment demanded us to stop right in our tracks.

2. Which magical power do you wish you had while you were travelling?

It would be this: I would be able to produce some sort of magnetic force field as I walk. This force field would repel slow-moving people over to the right and free up space for us faster-moving folks to walk around them. And when my force field encounters those special folks who like to stand still and block the way at the top of stairs or the escalator, it gives them a forceful “go-go gadget” style boot to the butt to move them out of the way. 

This might sound a bit of an aggressive superpower, so I’m going to cite three months of living on the edge of Manhattan’s Theater district and way too close to Times Square as a contributing factor. If I had this superpower, I would use it all the time, not just on vacations!

If we all were more considerate of others, there would be no need for my "superpower" // NYC as seen this summer from the Whitney Musuem

3. Which song reminds you of a great travel experience?

The one that immediately comes to mind is “The Lazy Song.” I remember driving through Hawaii with my family when we heard that song come on the radio for the first time. At the time, Bruno Mars wasn’t the well-known artist he is today, so we assumed it was some Hawaiian singer drawing on island life for inspiration. Whenever I hear Bruno start singing “today I don’t feel like doing anything,” I immediately am mentally transported to Maui - and am left wishing I could brush off the day’s responsibilities and have some tropical beach time with my family.

4. Which book would you recommend from the past twelve months?

I have a confession: I was an English major in college, I’ve loved to read from a young age, and...I have an awful memory when it comes to books. I’ll get really into the book I’m reading, and then ask me a month later for details of the story and I draw blanks. With that said, there is a book that I’ve read within the later year or so that has made an imprint in my head. It’s called Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz, and is an incredible story of survival despite all odds. I’ve always been interested in the Holocaust because it has left me with so many questions - I just can’t understand how this hatred for a people festered in the hearts of so many, and swiftly killed off millions.

As I’ve traveled through Europe, I have made it a point to visit related sites, like Anne Frank’s house and Auschwitz-Birkenau. While it is powerful to be in these places in person, this account has made the realities of what occurred more clear to me. Whereas Auschwitz-Birkenau felt a bit sterile, the images that still haunt me from Rena’s story filled in the gaps during that visit. Now that summer is over and we’ve finished reading our light-hearted beach novels, consider this book as we all get more serious and studious for la rentrée. It’s a powerful story and proof that love overcomes all.

"I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany."

5. Can you cope with cold showers?

Marcella asked this question with oddly coincidental timing. When I first read the question, my response was, “Yeah, I mean, I can suck it up for a couple of days right? Who can’t?”

Then the water heater debacle of 2015 hit. It happened a mere week after her post went live. We returned in the beginning of March from a trip, and the water heater in our Paris apartment just stopped working. Day one was lukewarm water. Day two was frigid water. We frantically sent off an email to our French landlady who dealt with the situation with amazing speed. That week a plumber came to assess the situation, and then when the necessary part came in, she got him to come back to finish the repair - on a SUNDAY. This might sound like it was merely a nice favor, if you haven’t had to conduct business in France on a Sunday. Hint - the supermarkets, ALL of them, close by 1:30pm on Sundays. This country doesn’t mess around with the Sabbath. Or with any time off, for that matter.

That said, even with the shocking speed of the repair, we went a few days with no hot water. So back to the question - if alternating between skipping showers and crying under the spray of ice water counts for “coping,” then yes, I can cope with cold showers.

Sara's Questions:

[see original post here]

6. Coffee or tea?

Anyone who has stayed over at chez moi in Paris knows the answer to this one. It’s a daily sight to see me beeline to the coffee machine first thing in the morning and quietly drink my coffee before functioning like a human being. But I will say, I have come to appreciate tea a lot more since I’ve moved to France. My visits to England have convinced me of the merits of a good pot of tea (and who can bash tea with a production built around it like this?), though it will never replace coffee off its throne of preferred hot beverage.

Afternoon tea can be a game-changer for the staunchest of coffee-lovers...and besides, there are other beverage options if you do it right.

7. If you could learn a new language, which would it be and why?

I used to get mad at my hubby for claiming that Italian was the most beautiful language when it clearly was French. But over time, I’ve come to see where he’s coming from, and I have gone as far as to agree. Speaking Italian is like making music with words as they flow and mesh together so perfectly. After struggling with my pronunciation of French, I think it’s safe to say it would be an easier language for my mouth to master. The only thing holding me back from learning how to order my cappuccinos and to ask for directions to the next gelateria is my fear that I’ll erase three years of hard work permanently. I’ve forgotten most of my Spanish when I learned French and I’m afraid my mind won’t be able to make room for another if I seriously attempted to learn Italian. Multi-lingual folks out there, how do you do it??

8. What’s your favorite foreign cuisine? (Indian, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, etc)

I feel like I’m pulling the Jersey card, but I may have to go with Italian food on this one. My one gripe with Italian food is that the bread in Italy is tasteless. I’ve found that the happy medium is to get Italian food in the Côte d'Azur of France. The area around Nice used to be part of Italy at one point, so they know how to prepare some delicious Mediterranean/Italian food. The bonus is that being in France, they can also produce a mean baguette, perfect to sop up those delicious Italian sauces with. So there you have it - Italian food in the French Riviera is some of the best ever!

Michael has gone as far as to declare the pizza in Antibes, France the best he's ever had - a statement that really sets off my fist-pumping home state in a fit of anger.

9. What is your #1 travel essential that you can’t travel without?

If I could only bring one thing with me on my travels, it’s my Clear Care contact solution. I have sensitive eyes, so I need this specific solution to clean my contacts really well each night. (It’s used in a special container that produces little bubbles to massage the dirt right off the lens.) I know it sounds unglamourous as my #1 travel essential, but besides my wallet, passport, phone, and camera, it comes on every single trip no matter how long or short.

Fun fact - both my hubby and I use Clear Care, and we’ve managed to import all of it from the US for three years and change - the entirety of our time living in Paris! Whether we bring it back with us after visiting the US or ask visitors to pick up a bottle or two, we’ve been able to make it solely on what we and others have transported in our suitcases.

10. Mountains or beach?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years, and I have always answered “beach.” I love the soothing rhythms of the water, the idea of relaxing all day and reading in the sand, and the bonus benefit of adding a little color to my ghost white complexion. I’ve wondered though if my answer growing up has been in part a little rebellious. My dad loves the mountains, and took the family hiking on countless occasions. The mountains have been categorized next to bluegrass under the “not-cool things that Dad likes” label.

This May during our Tour de France adventure, I considered my preference yet again, and came to the conclusion - why not both? I appreciate the majesty of the mountains and the vastness of the sea. When I have to make a decision on which of those elements to stay near, sometimes the perfect situation is simply to find a place that offers the best of both natural beauties. 

Pays Basque (Basque Country) in France has such varied landscapes - you can admire the grandeur of its mountains and minutes later be at the beach.

Nikita's questions

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11. What is the most important aspect of writing to you?

For me, writing is a way to organize my thoughts and process information. I don’t see myself as an eloquent speaker - I need some time to polish all the noise in my mind before it comes out. Writing  is how I share, and I love having this blog as a venue to tell the tales of our European adventures that rattle around my mind and scream to spill out and be heard, but need some time to be shaped into form.

12. What travel experience has altered your life the most?

I have to single out our vacation to France in the fall of 2011 because that trip was truly life-changing. We fell in love with the country in some inexplicable way. We have a friend who likes to joke that on the trip we had one too many glasses of wine and decided to move to Paris. It makes for a good story - but the truth is that we came back from that vacation and couldn’t get that city out of our minds. That trip was altering in the most subtle of ways. There was no sequence of crazy events that rocked our minds, but the little beauties of French life slowly took hold of our hearts. Not even a week later, two people who had always thought New Jersey would be our state of residence made the spontaneous decision to move abroad. I still can’t wrap my head around how this huge change happened as a result of that innocent trip, so I suppose the possibility that wine was involved still isn’t out of the question.

With the countryside dotted by château after château in the Loire Valley, how can one not start a love affair with France?

13. Where is home to you?

Home is where the bagels are - so clearly, New Jersey! I was born and bred in this lovely state, and I’m lucky that both my husband and I have tons of family who also call Jersey home.  

14. What’s your sharpest travel memory?

We’ve seen lots of really incredible marks that man has left over the centuries during our travels. But one memory that left me in awe was experiencing the mark of the Creator in a way like never before. Michael and I slept in the desert of Morocco one night in a Berber camp. Before bed, we scoured over a big sand dune in the company of two Scottish girls. We emerged to the top and laid down. It was pitch black, and quiet, save for the drums out in the distance of other surrounding camps. There we looked up, and saw the sky blanketed in glittering stars, interrupted by shooting stars dancing across the expanse. The entire desert excursion was breathtaking, from riding camels to and from camp, waking up early to see the sun creep over the horizon and light the sand golden, and having that peek into the very edge of the universe. It’s one of the travel moments that I need to reflect on from time to time when I’m bogged down within my finite box of stresses. I think we all need these internal snapshots ready to be called upon to put into perspective how big the world is when we get caught up in ourselves.

It feels crazy, looking at this photo, to suggest that climbing these sand dunes at night offered even more breathtaking scenes to behold...

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose?

When you go through a transition, I think this question naturally arises. I think about it a lot, as I’m often missing my life in Paris yet enjoying being back on American soil. I am thankful to say I am truly content with living in New Jersey. I thought if not Paris, I would fall in love with city life in Manhattan - but this summer has shown me that was far from the case. My heart has been filled with a joy to be back in New Jersey that I honestly didn’t know would emerge. I know this is where I’m meant to be right now, and I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else. Though my love of travel has anything but died down (quite the opposite!) so if the question was where would I like to travel next, I could supply an ever-growing list! 

We still enjoyed our New York City summer days! Champagne on the rooftop at the Met isn't a bad addition to a weekend :-) 

I’d now like to nominate a few bloggers I’ve been following to answer my questions! While they go off writing their own Liebster posts, if they so choose, for the rest of you, please go ahead and check out their blogs! These lovely ladies write about countries that are dear to my heart, France and Poland, as well as other destinations :-) Happy reading and writing!

Marina of Imaginibus
Mélodie of Silent Joy
Anda Alexandra of the Twisted Red Ladybug
Joanna of Me and My Itchy Feet

My questions:

  1. What's the one ingredient you can’t live without in your kitchen? (Mine is olive oil!)
  2. When you travel, what is your accommodation preference and why (couch-surfing, apartment rental, hostel, hotel, etc)?
  3. What’s your favorite blog post that you’ve written?
  4. What inspired you to start your blog?
  5. What is a destination that you loved, to your surprise?
  6. Two part question - Do you have any book recommendations you could share? AND/OR Do you have any podcast recommendations? (I have plenty of time to pass on some bus rides into Manhattan these days!)
  7. If we had a day to spend together in your hometown, what would we do?
  8. What are your go-to weekday (read: easy and simple) recipes?
  9. What are your “happy” places? 
  10. What place would you never get tired of visiting, regardless of how many times you may go there?