Ringing in 2018

Bonne Année! Happy New Year!

Believe it or not, Simply Sara is back from the long hiatus. To give a brief snapshot of what went down behind the scenes after moving back from Paris, it went something like this: bought a house within 4 months of returning to the US, embarked on a big home renovation project, and started (and ended) a full time job because of stage 2 of the house project - fill the rooms! Our family expanded to three with the addition of a sweet baby boy - and the past year has involved a lot of trying to keep up with a now-toddler! 

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Bon Paris-versaire

The other day, a feeling came over me that I was forgetting to do something. You know that familiar sensation when a to-do list item is just out of reach from your mind’s grasp. It’s common for this to happen to me these days, between managing work and major house renovations and day-to-day life in general. Finally I looked at a calendar and realized what it could be this time.

I should be planning my next Paris-versary party. And I would be, if we still lived in Paris.

Let me explain. 
Paris-versary (n): The festivity that ensues on the weekend nearest the calendar date of moving to Paris, marking another year of life in France and celebrating the friends that made it wonderful. 

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2015: A Year of Wander

2016 has arrived and everyone’s looking ahead  to new beginnings, fresh starts, and wish lists for the upcoming year. I am too - but I’m a little behind, and I can’t fully move on until I take a long pause and reflect on all that 2015 was before I catch up with the rest of you.

Some years slide by us, and as the calendar flips to January, it just marks the passage of time. Then there are some years that are so life-changing and momentous and exhausting yet exhilarating all the same that as that last digit changes, you try to peer out of the wild haze you are surrounded in, wondering aloud, “Did that just happen?” That was this January 1st for me. And because of that, more than anything I need to recap it all for myself so one day in the future I remember what was built in the tumultuous year of wander that was 2015.

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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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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!  

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London: My Gateway to Europe

Change is hard. But so necessary. If we were to always be in our normal rhythms and safe comfort zones, we wouldn’t experience all the lessons that new challenges hit us over the head with at times.

As I prepared myself for my move from Paris, I started trying to mentally prepare myself to leave this city that I loved so much. And something else unexpected came out of those months of turmoil. I realized that I needed to also have closure with London.

It sounds a bit weird, I know. Why would I feel compelled to bid adieu to a place I never lived? A place that I wrote about just last year when I was in a slump and wished I were in Paris instead- why now take away valuable time from Paris to spend it there?

I needed to go to London because for me, London was where it all began.

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Live from...New York!

Bon mardi!

Today I’m writing live...from New York! After three years and three months of living in Paris, Michael and I finally moved back to the East Coast. We stayed in Europe a good year and a half longer than we intended to, and we’ve finally ended the jokes about us never coming back as we packed up and headed stateside on June 3rd.

So what is it like to be back? Well, let’s just say that living in the midst of Midtown is a bit different than the Marais. (And if you’re interested in the Marais, check out my guest post on Expat Edna to see just why I loved my neighborhood so much!) It’s noisy, both on the streets and in restaurants, life is fast-paced, and it’s crowded. But it’s also air-conditioned, spacious, and convenient living with stores open 24/7 and English being the primary language and all. It’s been less than a week and I know it will take many more to transition back to this American life.

And while you may be wondering about the move, you might also be questioning the future of Simply Sara Travel. It’s a great question, and one that I would love to answer today. New York is now my day-to-day reality, and I may be sharing some of it occasionally here. But my primary focus still remains - I intend to use this space to continue writing about Paris, France, and all the places I have traveled to in Europe. There is so much still to share - just wait until we start to talk about our amazing “Tour de France” we embarked on during the month of May! (I should mention, if you are ever moving, I highly recommend taking a month off for travel if you can swing it! But more on that later.)

More to come on our month-long adventure through France! Here we are, celebrating our 12 year dating anniversary in the adorable town of Gordes, France - a place I never dreamed we would be together 12 years prior! 

Thank you for patiently waiting for me to get things in swing again! I hope you will follow along even if my adventures aren’t unfolding in real-time. And in the meantime, please let me know if you have any tips for Manhattan! I’m looking for cute coffee shops to write in, little parks and quiet corners to get reprieve from the noise, smaller museums to discover, rooftop bars, and...I’m on a quest to see if I can find a bagel that compares to New Jersey’s! And any ideas for things to do in the city this summer :-) It’s good to be back!

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

My "Souvenirs" of France: Part 2

If you missed the last post explaining my awesome pun, I'll fill you in: "Souvenir" in French can mean that knick-knack you need to buy for family and friends back home to show you thought of them on vacation, but it can also mean "memories." So in light of our near departure back to the US, here's Part II of my mini-series reminiscing about my favorite souvenirs I've acquired during my travels in France.

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My "Souvenirs" of France: Part 1

Yup, I had to name this little series with a pun! "Souvenir" in French also means “memory,” and some of the best things I will be carrying back to the US with me after three years of life abroad are the memories I hold of this place. Last week I painted a picture of some of the places we’ve traveled to within France. This week, as promised, is the first batch of my favorite moments experienced within the country.

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Santé to France!

Bon lundi!

I’ve been enjoying reflecting on my time in France lately. Last week I wrote that Michael and I both need some time to process together our “unexpected love affair with France,” and I truly mean that. I like to remind Michael from time to time that he never wanted to visit Paris, or France, ever. Five years ago we were planning a vacation to Italy, and Michael was really excited to share with me some of his favorite places he saw when he had studied abroad there one summer in college. I really wanted to see Italy too but got in my head the idea to tack on Paris to the end of the trip. Michael didn’t seem to see the draw of Paris, but finally struck a compromise to go for the last three days.

I throw this little “I told you so” at my hubby every now and then as I tease him that we now live in the city he once turned his nose up at. But the truth is, I didn’t have it completely right either. My debate point was if we went to Paris just that one time, I would forever get it out of my system, check off the box next to the Eiffel Tower, and move on. Neither of us had any idea how much Paris would get under our skin. Life’s funny that way.

Living in Paris for the past three years, we've also had the opportunity to do a bit of travel around France. Last week I gave you the big picture of our travels, mainly through photos. This week I’m continuing to reflect on our time in France, but this time it’s about the specifics. Last week was the photography-focused post that I hope offered some travel inspiration. This week is about the accompanying stories that need to be told. There are so many beautiful places in the world, and France is just one of many. But to me this pretty face stands out among so many others and I want to show you why France has forever impacted me. This week is about the fondest memories I have of France I will always carry in my heart, no matter where I live. 

The theme this week is story time throughout France - with a sub-theme of vineyard visits in France!

So more on this later in the week. For now, keep those France tips coming (and thank you to everyone who has helped me brainstorm our Tour de France)! 

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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Falling in love, or failing to love, Paris

Bon lundi!

I was going to write a typical, short Monday post with a picture to show you just how beautiful Paris is as autumn is settling in. But then a string of incidents hit, and I decided instead to get some things off my chest. If you don’t want to read my embarrassing tale, I included three photos, instead of the standard one, just for you. 

For those who want a laugh, or a Paris-reality check, let’s have a glass of wine and laugh this off together.

The trees of the  Jardin du Palais Royal hanging onto their leaves for just a little longer

I love Paris. But I don’t want to skew reality and portray only la vie en rose. Paris is sunsets at the Seine and picnics in the park, but it’s also crowded metro rides and dog droppings on the sidewalks. If you've been following me on Instagram, did you notice halfway through the summer that I stopped showing picnic pictures on the Île Saint-Louis and relocated to Canal St. Martin? Let’s just say Remy and friends moved in on my spot. But unlike the movie Ratatouille, he isn’t doing the cooking - these rats are waiting for me to bring an extra treat.

Anyway, onto this past week. You need to know the backstory of how I somehow broke a power converter and nearly electrocuted myself on a massive spark. I tripped the circuit breaker and Michael had to leave work early to fix the mess and replace the broken fuse.

Imagine what his coworkers thought the very next day when they heard Michael’s end of another phone conversation: “No, if the carbon monoxide alarm is going off, you MUST leave the apartment. Right now.”

Yup, the carbon monoxide alarm that we hooked up in our apartment went off. And it was loud. Extremely.

Now for a confession. I have a bad habit of drinking coffee and doing work on the couch until I fully wake up, afterwards showering and getting ready for the day. So although it was mid-morning, I was still in my pajamas and about to take a shower. And I certainly didn't have time to deal with a disruption due to the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I opened the windows, threw on clothes, and left. I then had to stumble my way through an apology to the artisan who has a work space in my building directly under my windows. (I’m telling you, this alarm was BLARING.) Once Michael came home, yet again, to deal with another mess, we determined we had to call the pompiers (firemen) because we had no way of knowing if there really was a problem or not. 

Luckily I support the firemen by buying champagne each year at their ball over Bastille Day weekend. But since this is the second time they've had to come chez moi, I think I owe them a drink next year.

I called, failed at communicating the problem in French, and then tried again in English. Then they showed up….to the wrong address….because apparently I did not make that clear enough. Try #2 they arrived to our house - and where most girls would be thrilled to have three pompiers in her bedroom, I was less enthralled in that moment. It probably had something to do with my bed-head and unbrushed teeth. 

Anyway, despite being a bit confused why we owned a carbon monoxide detector (especially when we only have electric) they gave us the clear. We were not in danger after all of poisoning. So I was good to proceed with getting dressed for the day.

If you ever need an occasion to check yourself and be humbled, just move to a country where you don’t speak the language.  It’s been a rough week (coupled with French bureaucratic paperwork we’ve had to deal with) and it’s been one of those low points of living abroad. But I can be grateful that Paris has been exceptionally beautiful this week (and that I was not harmed by carbon monoxide inhalation), reminding me of why I persevere to live here. And just like that, I’m under Paris’ spell again.

A September day in the Jardin des Tuileries

So...who’s laughing with me? At me?