Fermeture Exceptionnelle

Bon lundi!

Today’s French phrase of the week is: fermeture exceptionnelle. It’s a phrase that I learned early on during our time in France often to my frustration.

When we use the word “exceptional” in English, we are most likely using it to talk about something really good. As in, “wow, that meal was really exceptional!” But in French, it means the literal concept of something out of the ordinary. Hence, I would run into a sign on the door while trying to accomplish my daily errands of a fermeture exceptionnelle - as in, for whatever the reason, we’re not usually closed now but the doors are closed at the moment.

Then August rolled around, and I got an even bigger surprise. It turns out that people in France (and throughout Europe, really) take a month-long vacation in the summer. It usually falls over the month of August, though some take time off in July. Though taking an entire month-long chunk of time off all at once was odd coming from an American perspective, that wasn’t the shocker. The thing that I was unprepared for was that everyone leaves on a mass exodus from Paris.

This means that essential places are still open (supermarkets, cafes, and such) but many smaller businesses hang up a sign on their door, stating the dates they are closed -- which usually is 3-4 week span. This blew me away! I couldn’t believe that shops wouldn’t stagger vacation time for employees so that the store could still make money during the summer.

It’s still hard for the opportunistic American in me to grasp, but on the other hand, I appreciate the way people here approach life. There is value in taking time off, spending time with family, and rejuvenating mind and body. And maybe it’s worth more to sacrifice some business for a month in order that all employees can have that time off. 

So all that to say that I’m taking a lesson from the French, and posting my own fermeture exceptionnelle on my blog. (If you just come by, I’ll fill you in quick - I’ve lived in Paris for three years and am about to move to NYC. Before that though, we’re going on a farewell “Tour de France” trip for the month of May.) I’ve decided to completely disconnect and fully be present on our grand trip through France. That means I’m not going to be blogging, or obsessing  over social media. I’m going to follow the lead of the French, and use my month-long vacation to rejuvenate and just enjoy every last moment I have left in France.

BUT...I will still be active on Instagram! I usually don’t post photos in real time as I travel, but this time I will. So if you want to follow along on our Tour de France, follow me @SimplySaraTravel for live updates! And if you’re Instagram-less (looking at you, Mom!), you can view my feed on the sidebar. Alternatively, you can go to my Instagram page on the web to check out my entire photo gallery.

The scenery will be different than Iceland, but once again I'll be at the wheel for the month of May during our big adventure through France!

Also - just because I’m moving to NYC doesn’t mean the focus of this blog will change. I have entire trips and countries I have never shared about here, so I have plenty to keep writing about within the scope of Europe. (Though let me know if you’d be interested in things related to New York in the comments below!)

See you in June!!

Simply Sara

Simply Sara's European Christmas Market How-To

I have always loved celebrating the Christmas season, and moving to Europe has introduced me to an absolutely wonderful tradition: the Christmas market. For the past two seasons my husband and I have traveled to many European cities during December to experience the burst of holiday cheer and have been anything but disappointed in our findings. 

If you’re off to a European Christmas market, here are 13 tips we've learned firsthand!

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Day trip from Paris: Chartres, France, Part II

10 Things to do in Chartres besides the Cathedral

Let’s be clear. If you are going to Chartres, you are making the trip to visit its incredible cathedral. It truly is something special and deserving of your time and focus while in town. It’s perfectly acceptable to treat Chartres as a stop to see the Cathedral and then move on. But should you choose to hang around longer, there is plenty more to do.

I spent the weekend (a full day and a half) in Chartres. With more than enough time to see the Cathedral, I had plenty of time to explore. Let’s follow my route around town so I can show you what else the city has to offer:

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Day Trip from Paris: Chartres, France, Part I

If you’ve heard of Chartres, you’ve most likely heard about it in the context of one famous building that lies in the center of town. The town of Chartres is a popular day trip from Paris because it is close (about an hour drive or via train) and it has one magnificent star-attraction that towers over the town: the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, or commonly referred to in English as the Chartres Cathedral.

You also must know if you've spent any amount of time in Europe that cathedrals and grand churches exist all throughout France and the rest of Europe. I’m at a point in my European travels that I have a bit of “cathedral fatigue.” I know, the three-years-ago-me would have rolled her eyes and be tempted to slap the present-me at even the thought of how that could be possible. Just think what she would do knowing that I admitted it. But the point is, after a while, one huge old church seems similar to the next and the novelty starts to wear off.

So hear me when I say that despite my church fatigue, Chartres Cathedral is something very special. Special enough to plan a weekend trip around it, even considering that we had seen this very cathedral three years ago.

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This Week: Chartres, France

Bon lundi!

If you've been following my adventures, you know that on the last weekend of August Michael and I went on a surprise trip. I am really bad at giving surprises because I’m that person who is just bursting with excitement. My Grammy is the same way, pulling me aside before my birthday to show me the gift that I would be open months later. We just can’t help but share the joy of gift giving. But this year for Michael’s birthday I held it together. I managed to surprise him with a weekend trip to a town nearby that he’s been wanting to return to: Chartres.

To be honest, as I was concocting my plan only a few days prior to the weekend I had a moment of panic. Most people do Chartres as a day-trip from Paris, seeing the famous Cathedral, stopping for lunch, and heading back out. Was it a mistake to go for a weekend? Would we run out of things to do?

Nope, not at all. This week is all about Chartres, how I fell in love with the magnificent cathedral all over again, and what lies beyond the town’s star sight. Oh, and there was a light show too. See, so much to share this week, I can barely hold it in!

Find out where to find a house decorated entirely in mosaics this week!  

Have you ever been to Chartres, France?

Strasbourg, King of the French Christmas Market

I have a personal rule that each holiday should be enjoyed and savored in its moment. It's why I was upset that the Starbucks in France decided to do away with pumpkin spice lattes on Halloween instead of allowing them to stick around through Thanksgiving. It also explains why my husband waits for me to start listening to Christmas music each year. (I may or may not have accused him for "ruining Christmas" on a car ride one November years ago.)

This year Thanksgiving seemed to fall so late that it's been especially hard to hold back my excitement for Christmas. But at last I can tell you all about one of the most festive places you can go this holiday season: Strasbourg, France. 

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Five Highlights of Dordogne

Foie gras. Walnuts. Prehistoric caves. Canoes. Cepe mushrooms. Cobblestones. Castles. Medieval villages.

This is Dordogne. About a five hour drive south from Paris, this lovely region of France is one where the eating is good and some of the best activities just require bringing your heart rate down and enjoying the moment. This region seems to be often overlooked to more popular areas of France like Normandy and the Riviera so here's a peek at what Dordogne has to offer:

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When a Hôtel is not a Hotel

If you are like me, an initial visit to France can leave you quite confused what the meaning of the word hôtel denotes in French. I felt encouraged my first short vacation to Paris when I seemed to be picking up on a few French words. I got off the line 1 metro stop at Hôtel de Ville, looked in amazement at the building in front of me, and turned to my husband asking, "Wow, how much do you think it costs to stay there?" Then I looked across rue de Rivoli and saw a department store called BHV (Bazaar de l'Hotel de Ville). And a little later I found that many museums in the Marais neighborhood are housed in hôtels. It appeared that the French just called anything a "hotel" in the city.

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Something Old, Something New

I love that Paris encompasses a mix of historical sights alongside new concepts. There is a timeless beauty to this city yet it isn't stagnate, but breeds inspiration to create and innovate. 

Take the Jardin des Tuileries for example. These gardens between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde were originally created by Queen Catherine de Medicis in the 1500's. Fast forward to the present where the gardens still exist (albeit different in style) and hosted part of a contemporary art fair on its historical grounds.

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In Her Natural Light

 Bon lundi!

Paris is widely known as the "City of Light," or La Ville-Lumière in French. During the Age of Enlightenment, Paris played a central position as an intellectual hub. Later in the 1800's Paris was one of the first cities to adopt street lighting.  

However this nickname came about, I am most inspired by the beauty of Paris in natural light. Like when I got to unexpectedly catch a sunset over Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and the Seine river.