The Peach and the Pit: Tour de France in Numbers and Superlatives

There many reasons why I love my sister. (Yes, she’s technically Michael’s sister, but I believe when you luck out with great in-laws, you can just freely claim them as your own family.) One reason is that she shares the same enthusiasm I have at the end of a trip for reflecting back on the ups and downs. After an adventure with Dawn, we sit down over a meal and rehash the “peach and the pit” of the vacation. Each time we realize at some point that this exercise is really called the “peak and the pit,” but we inevitably decide that the peach and the pit sounds cuter anyway. We continue mentally narrowing down the experiences until each person arrives at one highlight and one lowlight of the trip that s/he shares with the group.

Last week, I began to recap our month-long road trip around France as seen through our various accommodations. This week is a different way of stepping back and taking a sweeping survey of the trip as a whole before examining each stop in sharp focus. (I warned you, I love reflection time!) Whether you’re more math-oriented like my hubby or a lover of language like me, I think both approaches give a sense of how this journey through France was an emotional release as we ran around the country with open arms, trying to embrace all that we could in our last month before moving back to the US.

Ready for the big picture of our Tour de France? 

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Breaking the ice with London

Do you ever have that feeling when you’re at a party, and there’s someone there that you want to meet, but you’re too intimidated to just put yourself out there? Wishing you had a friend in common to give an introduction to break the ice?

Well, if the party is Europe and you’re staring down London from across the room -- I’ve unwittingly become that friend in common to give an introduction to get things started.  I got my own introduction with a two-week college course on theater and since then I’ve had the pleasure of introducing the city to many of my friends and family (starting with my husband -- London was our first European vacation as a married couple).

Now, I’d like to give you an idea of how to look London in the eye and say “How you doin’?” by way of recounting my most recent London introduction: to my brother, David.  One never knows where he is bound to show up, and so it should come as no surprise that somehow it worked out in our last few months in Europe that David’s business trip to London aligned perfectly with one of Michael’s work trips there. It was David’s first time in London, and he had an afternoon between business meetings to spend with me in England’s capital.

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4 Hours in Paris

Or eating morning pastries in Marrakech, doing laundry in Paris, and going to sleep in Zurich

Bon lundi!

Have you ever had a moment of disorientation while traveling? Like you wake up in a haze, expecting to be in your own bed, and then realize that you are hundreds of miles away from home?

This month, I had that happen to me - except I wasn’t dreaming.  Sometimes planning trips back-to-back can be messy, and when an already-booked vacation collided with a business trip for my husband, I found myself holding a boarding pass for Marrakech to Paris for the morning, and a train ticket from Paris to Zurich that very evening, with only 4 hours between.

We went from this, the famous market square of Djema el-Fna in Marrakesh...

As anyone who has traveled knows, walking in the door of your home after a long trip has a comforting feel -- knowing that after all that change, and possibly turbulence, you’re back to the familiar.  But when I walked in the door, knowing I was just passing through, it felt a bit like one of those dreams.

...to this, a Christmas market in Zurich with a magnificent tree decked out in Swarovski crystal ornaments.

So what did we do with 4 hours back in Paris? Entirely mundane things: laundry, a quick lunch, and a re-pack of our bags for another week of travel.  However, let’s have fun with this and imagine what you can do in Paris with only 4 hours to spare:

  • See an opera at Palais Garnier or Opera Bastille.
  • Indulge in a proper French dinner, all the way from apero to an espresso finish.
  • See 0.005% of the Louvre’s collection.
  • Take a cooking class and then savor the fruits of your hard work.
  • Walk straight across town from the Bois de Vincennes to Bois de Boulogne.  And still have an hour to spare for a break at a café to refuel and re-energize!
  • Take a boat ride from Bastille up the Canal St. Martin to Parc de la Villette, with 1.5 hours left to explore the park or visit the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie museum (huge interactive science museum with an Imax theater and Planetarium).
  • Wait in line for, and climb, the Eiffel Tower - then have a picnic on the Champs de Mars.
  • Enjoy 4 expertly made cocktails at Red House.
  • Ride a bike through Paris on a guided tour.
  • And last but not least, Michael’s contribution: Ride his favorite bus, the 30, between Trocadero and Pigalle continuously for the entire 4 hours.  You’ll pass through the Arc De Triomphe traffic circle 10 times!

What would you do with 4 hours in Paris?

Paris Practicalities: 15 Ways to Maximize Your Budget in Paris

In the "Paris Practicalities" series, I lay out some basic advice for the foundation of a trip abroad for the well-informed and savvy traveler.

Paris has a reputation for being a notoriously expensive city to visit. While it is pricey - especially when compared to neighboring countries Spain, Italy, and Germany or even the rest of France - it doesn't have to be a ridiculously pricey destination. Here are 15 ways you can maximize your budget during your time in Paris:

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Simply Sara Eats: at 5 Paris Favorites with Visitors

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

Hosting friends and family from the US in Paris presents me with a quandary every time. Do I take the opportunity to try new restaurants or do I gravitate towards places I know are solid choices to get a proper food experience in France? While I occasionally try out a new place or two, I inevitably can't hold back my excitement to share some of my favorite bonnes adresses. My aunt and cousin were here in the beginning of July and as I reflected back on their trip, I recounted some of my favored Paris haunts.

Here are five food experiences I love to share with any guest visiting Pars: 

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C'est Beaune

I moved to Paris with the idea that I would travel as much as I could to “get it out of my system.” The problem I've found with that theory is for each place I go, three more get added to the wish list.

Take Dijon. Michael and I went on a weekend trip there in August 2012 and have been wanting to revisit Bourgogne ever since. Like anywhere in France, it can be characterized by delicious food, as well as pretty towns and plenty of vineyards. 

All it took for us to plan a return trip was confirmation that Michael’s sister was coming to visit. She was hoping to go on a weekend trip that included a vineyard tour, and that was all we needed to go on. This time we would travel just south of Dijon, to Beaune. And unlike last time when we took a train to and from Paris, we rented a car to be able to explore more.

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The Loire Valley in a Weekend

My husband handmade a scrapbook to propose to me. There was dinner, dessert, flowers, a limo, the works. But the fact that he took a hobby of mine that I loved and created a scrapbook really touched me. Especially when I realized later that it had involved many evenings of scrapbooking, not exactly a popular college senior male pastime. (His friends graciously marathon-ed through some TV series so he could craft and still participate.)

That’s exactly the way I was touched this past weekend. Not only did my brother and his girlfriend choose to visit us on the precious little vacation time they had, but after the big surprise of their presence in Paris, they announced that that was only the beginning. Michael and David had planned a weekend to the Loire Valley for us four, completely on their own. I love travel planning but I well know all the work, time, and effort that goes into it. Needless to say, I was sincerely moved by their gift to me.

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A Few of my Paris Favorites: Valentine's Day

Absence does make the heart grow fonder. After eight weeks away on an epic trip through GermanyAustriaMadridLondon, and the United States (NY/NJ), coming back to Paris felt comfortingly familiar, yet refreshingly new.

We landed in Paris on Sunday, February 9th with new visas in hand, mission accomplished. Once I came out of a jet-lagged fog, I realized that Valentine's Day was quickly approaching on the horizon.

What to do? As much as I love to eat out, I had been almost continuously chowing down at restaurants for two months. There were days of catching up with dear friends and family in the States that meant eating out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner...and one exceptional day that included a coffee and dessert break. It was wonderful, but returning to Paris made me really look forward to getting back into my kitchen.

I started running errands off to some of my regular places in my neighborhood of the Marais (and the nearby Oberkampf neighborhood in the 11ème for an open-air market). Then it hit me - without intentionally thinking it through, I was frequenting some of my favorite spots to bring together a romantic meal chez moi.

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Union Jack

It's time to share a little about my two weeks in London. But first, let me back up and properly explain the past few weeks. 

My travels began in mid-December with a Christmas trip through Germany and Austria. I've shared bits and pieces, like the Mercedes-Benz museum Michael and I saw in Stuttgart, the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and the small village of Detwang (all in Germany). And then there are two German cities that we visited which I haven't even touched on yet: Cologne and Munich. The holidays came next. We made our way to Seefeld, Austria to celebrate Christmas and then to Madrid to ring in 2014. Two and a half weeks later all said and done and it was time to settle down in London for two weeks.

I love London and was looking forward to having lots of time to discover new things about the city and revisit favorite places. But London caught me at an odd time. I was just not quite myself.

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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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