Paris, je t’aime, comme toujours.

It was important to me on this trip to not overbook/over schedule anything and truly enjoy playing it by ear day to day. I had been lucky on previous trips seeing all the “must see” sights and activities, and with how busy Paris was feeling I was glad to not have to stand in many lines or crowds, aside from the occasional metro ride.

One of the few plans I had made this trip was purchasing an advanced ticket to the Orangerie first thing on Monday morning. I wanted to revisit the zen-like infinity sign rooms containing Monet’s famous water lilies. I was there first thing as they opened the doors and my fellow early visitors and I seemed to have the same idea; to enjoy a quiet and peaceful early visit before the day and people get louder and busier. 

As always, it is just as wonderful as I remember. 

After that I wandered through the Tuileries Gardens, religiously following the pathways of shade on another very warm day. Truly, the trees and dry leaves on the ground felt like we were much closer to the autumn season than I was expecting. Maybe the next time I visit it should be in the fall….

On my way home I grabbed breakfast (croissant, coffee, and iced earl grey tea) and explored a bit of the 9th arrondissement (just south of the Blvd de Clichy. There are so many beautiful small garden areas lining streets or on strange wedges of intersections, with trees and flowers of various shapes and sizes.

Along the way I came across La Musee da la Vie Romantique, and spent the rest of the morning looking at their free collections, afterwards having some tea in their beautiful garden. 

I made my way back through Montmartre and zigzagged my way down other new streets of restaurants, cafes, art galleries and souvenir shops.

One evening I made my way over to the Champs Des Mars to see the Eiffel Tower at night, and though I thought I had seen my fill of tourists around Montmartre, there were even more surrounding the base of the Eiffel Tower; people were lining the side streets, filling the bridges, and crouching between lanes of cars to get the perfect photo of their travelling buddies with the Eiffel Tower as a proof-I-was-here memento. 

The highlight of the week was meeting up with my good friends Hugo and Arnaud at a cafe in Montparnasse as they were passing through from a wedding out of town and then a couple hours later were headed back to the train station for the last bit of their summer vacation.

We met at Cafe Odessa for some iced beverages and to catch up on the 6 years that blasted by us since we last saw each other. Life and love and work and travels were a full list, and we chatted until their had to grab their luggage and book it back to the train station. No matter what, making time to meet friends, if only for a coffee or an iced lemonade, is completely worth it when you are travelling. It’s a boost to your mood for sure!

While I was in the Montparnasse area I took a walk through the cemetery there. A bright sunshiney and very hot day, the mood was much different than the misty, moody visit to the Montmartre Cemetery on my first day here. I also stopped to watch a mason work under the shade of a big beach umbrella, meticulously hand carving lettering into a new granite tombstone. 

I then walked back to Jardin Du Luxembourg for another visit, armed with an iced coffee and my sketchbook, and I found a great seat close to end of my favourite fountain and relished in the shade of the tree canopy overhead, the ivy garlands framing the space, and the sound of the water. I had always wanted to do a line drawing of the shield/coat of arms at the top of the fountain and finally took the time. I can’t remember the last time I had sketched something. It was awesome.

I meandered through the familiar area of the 5th, past the Odeon Theatre, past the Pantheon and Saint-Etienne-du-Mont church, to outside the Odeon metro station for the best beurre & sucre crepe so far in Paris- and for the best price as well. 

On my last full day, which just so happened to be clear skies and a sunny +33 degrees, I followed the suggestions of two other travellers from an amazing travel facebook group. First thing, I took the metro out to the 16th Arrondissement, and visited the Marmotten Monet Museum. The main level had an assortment of beautiful pieces, including a very cool collection of art from the Middle Ages, and a room swords in designed for specific academics and artists and scholars (including Marcel Marceau), but down in the basement was truly my favourite part.

There was an incredible collection of more paintings inspired by Monet’s garden and famous water lilies. This gallery was much quieter than the Orangerie, with so few people it almost felt like a private viewing. 


The collection even included Monet’s “Impression, sunrise”: the painting they say inspired the name for the “Impressionism” movement.

What a coup! I couldn’t be happier than to have followed this suggestion. 

This was my first time in this part of Paris and as I was researching the 16th I decided that next time I am in Paris I want to rent a bike and check out the Bois de Boulogne just west of here, which looks like another incredible park full of nature trails and botanical gardens, lates, and art installations!

It was in this area that I also found a (free) water station that gave you the options of still water or sparkling mineral water! Fancy, Paris. Fancy.

On the second #GLT recommendation of the day, I booked a ticket for that evening to see a concert at Sainte-Chapelle. As we walked in my jaw dropped and I was in awe at the beauty of the wall-to-wall stained glass windows, elegant arches and ornate gilded trim and artwork.

A string quintet consisting of three violins, one viola, a cello, and accompanied by a harpsichord, played an incredible evening including the most passionate, vibrant, and playful version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that I have ever heard in my life and I was in heaven. Between the sound in that space, and the glorious atmosphere I felt transported back to another time. I cannot recommend this enough!

I very happilly headed home through the Marais and Les Halles areas, with every kind of restaurant and bar you could imagine opening and bustling. 

Just like before, I felt safe in Paris the entire time. I’mdefinitely a steretypically ‘nice’ Canadian who will smile at strangers and say hello or good morning, which is not helpful in places like Paris and can lead to glares, confusion, or unwanted attention and so it took some active practice! 

I travelled with my earbuds in (either playing music on low or not at all), and worked very hard on my “Resting Unimpressed Parisenne” face. The more you look un-wowed by Paris,the more you fit in, I feel. 

Other than that I continued to practice my French all week and found that for the most part the locals were quite patient with me, or alternatively assumed I knew way more than I did and started speaking quickly until perhaps my eyes widened a bit in confusion or polite panic… lol

And then just like that, it was my last sunset in Paris, an early rise the next morning, and I was off to the airport to pick up my first ever European car rental to whip out of the city and head to the countryside south west of Paris, where I had last been a whopping 6 (how is it 6??) years ago!

A bientot, Paris!

2022 & at it again! TRAVELLING!

After much-anticipated trips to Ontario for joyous family wedding celebrations the past two summers, I was inspired to go further and head across the Atlantic Ocean again.

Originally anticipating a road trip with a friend, I knew I wanted to include visits with my small town France pals, get some Paris time in, and then explore a country I hadn’t been to before.

I flew out of Toronto’s Pearson airport (‘only’ 3.5 hours delayed, aka a story for another post), slept a little bit on a very full flight with the definite help from earplugs and an eye mask, and arrived only a little ragged at the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris the next morning!

With sheer force of will (and a very durable brand new Osprey backpack), I travelled with only carry-on for this month-long trip, determined to have a trip without any lost luggage strife that seems so common these days. It felt extremely efficient to leave the plane, head through customs (including a lovely albeit brief chat with an Italian customs agent who was quite satisfied when I told him my favourite part of Italy was Sardegna), and then straight to the metro line.

I took the RER train from the airport into the city, which is usually an easy way in and time-wise pretty efficient with minimal stops. As it was, there were train issues so the only option was the regular train that has multiple stops on the way in. I wasn’t bothered at all, and figured that it just meant I had extra time to let it sink in I was really back in France after 6 years!

It still hadn’t really felt real until I got to the top of the stairs at the Blanche metro stop. My first sight was the Moulin Rouge across the street, and in my periphery I saw the glisten of souvenir keychains, the rainbow selection of felt berets, and racks and racks of postcards on the nearby street corners. There was the familiar smells of perfume and crepes and cigarettes, as well as the sounds of passing bicycle bells and chatter in multiple languages as tourists tried to get unique selfies in front of the famous red windmill.

With an hour to spare before checking into my hotel, I walked along the cobblestones throughout the Cimitière Montmatre. The day was overcast but bright, with a drizzle of rain saturating the moss on the oldest gravestones and dropping some drier leaves on the ground making it feel more like autumn than summer.

I stayed at the Citadines Montmartre Hotel, and it was the perfect fit for this week. 

The rooms are simply designed, clean, and modern and I loved the view from my room. 

 

One very cool thing the Citadines do in their kitchenettes is seal the cupboard so you know they cleaned the dishes after the previous guest. Love this.

The lobby and breakfast area has cute style with a great accent wall and a couple of luxurious aubergine-coloured velvet couches. Breakfast was available for an added fee but I either made my own in my kitchenette, or I walked to a nearby bakery or cafe; one of my favourite things to do in France.

But truly, I was drawn to this hotel for a particular reason, and that was the rooftop patio. It sits above the neighbouring tile roofs with numerous clay chimneys and garden terraces, with a stunning view of the Sacre Coeur and the cityscape around it. You can even see the Eiffel Tower if you peek around the building in the opposite direction.

I stopped by some fruit stands and small shops and dove head first into practicing my French speaking with locals, and the rusty wheels of language in my brain started to squeakily turn after the last several years without much practice. 

Feeling a little more Parisian: armed with melon, camembert, bread, grapes, cherry tomatoes and cured meat, I had the perfect simple dinner to enjoy on the patio and my evening with the roof all to myself was a perfect way to end my first day in Paris. 

Day 2 started late as I was catching up on lack of sleep and jet lag from my 12 hour overnight travels, and I only got up at midday, heading to a nearby boulangerie and café for a croissant and espresso. (It still feels strange to go into a Starbucks in Paris, even though they are as commonplace here as back home.)

The sun was shining and the streets were bustling with tour groups and locals making their way along the road and sidewalks.

I walked up Rue du Coulaincourt, and explored streets of Montmartre I hadn’t walked along before, falling in love with the city all over again. I felt like a character in the movie French Kiss, with trailing flowers and vines on windowsills and over walls making every street feel more romantic.

“Beautiful! Wish you were here!”

I thought it would be fun to visit the Sacre Coeur again, as it’s  a wonderful spot to people watch. As I got closer to it, the streets got busier and busier and by the time I got to the base of the church, it felt like the absolute peak of the high season in July, when Paris gets a huge influx of international tourists on summer vacation.

Many people know about the Pont Des Arts “love locks” bridge in Paris, but that memorable place is no longer (bridge sides replaced with glass panels) and now it seems like a new location for this is along the fences across the road from the Sacre Coeur. They are now thickly engulfed a brass textured blanket of locks; some locks are engraved, others have names scrawled across them with permanent marker. 

Multiple sellers are set up around the church with trinkets like miniature twinkling Eiffel towers and wooden toy trains, and a musician with a guitar plays music that echoes on the nearby buildings. 

It was definitely too busy for me so I continued my walk away from the hilltop.

I made my way to Place Du Tertes and I am sure that there were some of the same artists there were 6-8 years ago when I was here last, including several portrait artists with various styles and techniques, surrounded by admirers and keeping very busy. 

The sun was its own artist, painting buildings with a golden hue at sunset, and more street musicians’ instruments and voices underscored my walk home past many restaurants and bars lining the streets with tables and wine and food. 

I headed home to bed for an easy night and proper unpack, but I had forgotten it was Saturday night and the noise from bars and restaurant patios went late into the evening. The city of Paris partied well after I called it a night, but there’s a familiarity to that too, and I don’t really mind it at all.

On Sunday I headed over to the Jardin Du Luxembourg, one of my all-time favourite spots, and took in some wandering, lying on the shaded grass, and lounging in the green metal chairs strewn around the fountains and garden beds.

I revisited the Medici Fountain and sipped an iced coffee as I listened to the water trickling over the steps and admired the sculpture and surrounding landscape and gardening.

I spent some more time in Montmartre, making mental notes of restaurant options, looking at art galleries and shops; finding some old favourite places like the playful Pylones and picking up a couple *tiny* souvenirs (though I really would love a charmingly frivolous toaster and cooking set if I was not travelling with carry-on only…).

At the recommendation of a friend, I searched out Cafe de Luce in Montmartre for a terrace dinner, French language practice (or blatant eavesdropping, I suppose), and being humbly reminded it’s a “carafe”  d’eau, not “bouteille”.

The evening also included one dancing waiter, who sheepishly grinned and shrugged when he saw me watching his impromptu performance. The terrace seating was across the street from the restaurant in a square under the natural canopy of very tall trees, and the sun beams squeaked through the streets nearby as the sun started setting.

I was completely full after a loaded burger with pickled onions and thick bacon, fries with heavenly in-house French mayo (if you know, you know), a rosé, and vanilla crème brûlée for dessert.

A trio including a melodica (or what I first called a ‘flute piano’) serenaded us for part of our dinner and then a solo accordionist arrived just after I finished my crème brûlée. Perhaps he is the same one that I walked by earlier tonight at another cafe… 

Dinner felt delightfully indulgent and special, and I definitely added some longer streets to my walk home to help digest the generous servings of a delicious dinner. 

The sky that night had tufts of magenta clouds and a periwinkle blue backdrop, and the clouds slowly dissolved, the sky fading to more of a powder cobalt.

I strolled over to see the Sacre Coeur and by the time I got there it was lit bone white in bright contrast to a now navy sky.

 

By the end of the weekend, I had heard “La Vie En Rose” played live by wandering accordion players, buskers in train stations, and musicians in the Place Du Tertre, which meant I had heard it each and every day I have been in Paris so far. And I don’t mind in the slightest!

My heart is so incredibly happy to be back here. ❤️

Trying to do it all: my last seven days in Bali

Here it was: my last week in Bali, and I was headed back to Ubud!

I had been looking forward to returning for another week of yoga at the Firefly Resort and when I arrived back, it felt like coming home!

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The rice fields around the resort were in the process of being harvested when I arrived, and over the course of the week the farmers harvested all of the rice plants surrounding us and began tilling for the next season. IMG_9893

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It had a completely different look from full rice plants growing tall and green, though it did allow for extra lovely reflections of the sunrise in the morning.

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I was able to snag the very last room available as it was a full week at the resort (8 other participants plus a family of 4 staying at the hotel), and I got the quietest room at the end of the property with rice fields on two sides and floor-to ceiling windows to frame this peaceful view.

 

It was wonderful to be greeted like family when I arrived. I’d only been gone 7 days but the guys welcomed me back with such enthusiasm I knew I’d made the right choice coming back for another week.

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Celebrating my favourite kind of breakfast in Bali!

I was thrilled to see my friend Laura again and have another week of awesome yoga practice. She greeted me with the best hug when I arrived to set up my yoga mat for our first morning practice.

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This week I planned to focus on yoga, relax in the pool, and explore Ubud and this part of Bali a bit more thoroughly.

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There is lots to discover in Ubud, from the market to the many yoga studios to artisan jewelry shops to unique gift shops to restaurants of every kind, and you can enjoy anything from local cuisine to Sicilian pizza to sushi. One night I enjoyed fantastic Thai food on a cute little side street that was great for people watching.

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Laura convinced me to join the group at Firefly for the “Balinese Experience”. She hadn’t gone before and was excited to join in, and since I had such an exceptional time two weeks prior, it didn’t take much to convince me to come along too!

We started at the elementary school we visited last time and got to peek into the library and office before being invited into a classroom to talk with with the students.

 

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The school courtyard

 

We went around and introduced ourselves to the class, told them where we were from, and told them our hobbies. The kids seemed most enthusiastic when someone mentioned soccer, scuba diving, or dancing as their favourite activities, but the biggest response was when Jessica introduced herself and the kids all freaked out and yelled and cheered and pointed to a girl in the back of the class who’s name was also Jessica. The poor girl definitely looked like a deer in the headlights with the sudden attention, but then Jessica gave her a high five and she beamed with pride.

They excitedly sang us a Balinese song at the very top of their lungs, and leapt energetically into photos people took of the class afterwards.

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We wandered through the banyar (community) to arrive at the same lovely village for a tour of the nearby rice fields, village temple, and the home and traditional kitchen of the family we visited last time, complete with demonstrations, lunch, and entertainment.

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When we watched the preparation for the offering they used different fruit from last time, so we got to have snake fruit and try ambarella for the first time (a firm, slightly sour fruit that reminds me of green mango).

 

Our group was again blessed with water and invited into the family temple and given gifts of the Tri Datyu: the red, black and white yarn bracelets.

 

The weather was a bit stormy so after lunch the band and dancers set up under the covered eating area with us and Laura got to try out some dance moves!

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The next morning while the group did the jackfruit cooking class, Laura and I went into town to try a yoga class at Radiantly Alive Yoga. We were originally going for an Ashtanga class but they changed up the schedule that day and we ended up in an aerial yoga class!

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This was one of the yoga studios here. Not a bad view…

Aerial yoga, for those of you that don’t know, consists of doing moves with the addition of a hanging hammock or sling of fabric that you use to achieve balance poses and allows for a different style of inversion poses as well.

It was something I have always wanted to try so I was excited!

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Thus began the hardest yoga class I have ever taken. 😀

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I survived!

The following afternoon, Laura invited me to join her to visit Tirta Empul (Holy Spring Temple) and handed me a helmet to join her on her motorbike! I had never been on one so I was definitely nervous to begin with.

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This is my nervous/excited “I’m on a scooter!” face.

Motorbikes are cheap to rent here ($3-5/day!) so Laura used it to get from where she was staying to the retreat every day as she was only working at the retreat for a month.

I held tightly to the back as Laura maneuvered through the winding, tiny streets. I was the navigator, getting more and more comfortable to the point of not white-knuckling the frame around the back of the seat and even capturing some video of our ride.

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When we arrived at Tirta Empul it was pretty busy, and there were many locals standing around, waiting to guide you through the process for a small fee. The temple is famous for its holy spring water and ritual purification in the pools there, and we were excited for the experience.

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We walked through a courtyard with a pavilion and this beautiful natural sculpture made entirely of branches, reeds, and woven palm leaves.

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You pay a small fee to enter, and you can rent a sarong if you didn’t bring your own to wear in the fountain. (Sarongs are mandatory, and you must be dry when you enter the water, among other rules.)

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Before entering the water you change, and then create or purchase an offering to place at the waterside. You are welcome to pray, give thanks, or simply reflect before stepping into the pool. The local gentleman that we paid to guide us through the process said that although the Balinese Hindu people are praying to their gods, you don’t have to be Hindu (or even religious at all), as long as you believe that the water is purifying. Everyone is welcome as long as there are respectful, and there was a wonderful feeling of awe and respect by all the people there.

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We arrived after a large group of people went through, so by the time we went in, it was quieter. The water was COLD. Definitely the coldest of any temperature I had experienced in Bali so far. Huge koi fish swam in colourful figure-eights of gold and orange and white around your ankles as you stood there.

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There are 16 fountains in the temple, and you wait in the water for your turn to go up to each one in sequence and perform the following process:

  1. You collect the pouring water in your hands and wash your face three times
  2. You drink the water (it was safe to consume as natural spring water but you were also welcome to simply rinse out your mouth if you were uncomfortable ingesting it)
  3. You duck under the spout and let it pour over you as long as you liked.

Each of the first 12 fountains focus on cleansing different sins, and we were told to skip the 11th and 12th fountains as they are reserved for purification when people die and are only for rituals surrounding death in the Hindu faith. The final four fountains in the neighbouring pool are based around karma; the focus of each of them was both for acknowledging wrongs you have done others and vowing to fulfill promises in the future.

It was a very soothing experience and I would highly recommend this to anyone.

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We had a lovely ride through the rice fields and stopped for lunch at Green Kubu, a restaurant surrounded by rice terraces on our way back to be at Firefly in time for the evening yoga practice.

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The weather this week was the rainiest of this “rainy season”, and there was numerous picture perfect mornings, followed by a mid-day wind that brought dark clouds and rainstorms.

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Occasionally, the power went out, which meant that the wifi went down and for the first time since my few beach days in Bali, I journaled, read, and did a little painting to pass the time.

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I still managed a daily sunrise swim and occasionally a night swim in the infinity pool because why the heck not?!

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A few of the girls and I also went wandering across the ravine from the Firefly to look at local art, and spent some time watching a few of the locals paint, carve and sketch in the afternoon sun.  The famous Mas Village is a local wood carving community in the area of Ubud (Gianyar Regency) and we saw dozens of local shops selling the most incredible wooden sculptures, furniture, and art pieces. I found it fascinating that there is no traditional word for ‘artist’ in Balinese, as art is a regular part of daily life in Bali, and everyone is considered artistic; music, dancing, storytelling, and handcrafted art is a central part of the culture.

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I really wanted this rice field and mountain piece in the middle.

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One of my friends left with two of these painted dancers (yellow and blue).

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The artist told us that his traditional Balinese wood carving is placed over entrances in Balinese homes or shops, and will take over 200 hours of work.

It was difficult to decide on pieces we all wanted to take with us!

On Saturday I said goodbye to all my new (and ‘old’) friends at the Firefly Resort, and Dewa picked me up for an afternoon of exploring on the way from Ubud to Sanur for my last weekend in Bali. I couldn’t believe this incredible month-long adventure was coming  to an end.

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So long, Firefly!

Dewa took me to this gorgeous eco-lifestyle boutique hotel just on the edge of Ubud called Bambu Indah. We bought drinks and one of the staff gave me a tour. From a movie room with deluxe seating, to tree-house style lookouts, views overlooking a ravine and rice terraces, local organic garden and beehives, lofts with basket chairs and hammocks, and a very calm and open-air feeling, I dreamed of staying here even for one night next time I come back to Bali.

 

 

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Treehouse lounge!

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Just a small bamboo ladder to the top….

We also stopped at a coffee plantation and jungle swing spot that was so quiet, when I asked to purchase a swing ride (usually $10-15 for 5 pushes total at the popular tourist spots), I was practically up in the air for 15 minutes, and the guys running it began competing to see who could send me swinging the furthest up into the sky!

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They would actually leap off the ground to get more height as they hucked my chair out over the jungle. I was harnessed in completely so I felt very secure the whole time; my only issue by the end was almost a feeling of motion sickness for how fast I was thrown up there.

 

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I also got a very Instagram-worthy shot up in a cute basket bird nest. How very touristy!

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When we arrived in Sanur, Dewa suggested lunch at a local spot that was unassuming and not a flashy tourist attraction, but had amazing roast pork.

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I arrived at my cute little hotel in Sanur and wondered why I didn’t hear about this city as a place to check out! I had booked two nights there so I could possibly take a day trip out to Nusa Penida (famous island/beaches) and also only be 20-30 minutes from the airport when I left on Monday night.

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My room had a dozen orchid plants outside on the balcony, and a clay rooftop view.

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This was our open air lobby/pool. Not bad. 🙂

I wandered down to the long beach strip and had a hard time keeping track of all the great looking restaurants, spas that looked worthy of visiting, and the many many hotels and various offerings on their beach fronts (from yoga, to dance lessons, to kids parties and beach movie nights, to live music).

It turned out that on the Saturday night, Laura was coming into town for a few days, meeting up with some yoga retreat ladies from the week in between my time there, so we all met up for cocktails and pizza, with vegan desserts to end the night. A salsa dance class in the sand was our entertainment for the evening, along with a gorgeous sunset.

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My sunset mojito.

Sanur reminded me of a more relaxed version of Seminyak, with lots of touristy/souvenir shops, spas, and restaurants, but it didn’t feel quite as busy, or is it touristy.

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And the beach!! You could find shady frangipani tree-covered groves, fancy resort beach chair and wedding pavilion sections, surf lesson areas, popular fishing spots, and shallow areas where families with littles ones splashed around to cool down in the hot sun.

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This table had been recently set with fresh flowers and table settings. Honeymoon?

I managed to book a speedboat day trip with Bali Hai Cruises for Sunday to explore Nusa Penida, Ceningan Island, and Lembongan Island. I had heard about the crystal clear waters and picturesque views and I thought that would be a perfect last full day in Bali, followed by a lazy beach day (and maybe spa afternoon) on Monday before heading to the airport late Monday night.

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Everything started off well for the boat trip, and I was prepared with gravol for the hour and a half ride across the ocean to the trio of islands, as it was supposed to be windy. As we left the dock you could see dozens of parasailing boats starting up, and the wind was definitely strong. As we got out onto open water the waves got bigger and bigger.

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I don’t know how I completely forgot my absolute loathing of speed boats from previous experience, and I proceeded to be white knuckled and stiff with fear for the entire 90 minute rollercoaster ride from the Benoa Harbour to the shores of Nusa Penida.

There were multiple times the wave surges on the water were so high I was reminded of scenes from White Squall and was planning my escape from my seatbelt and the canopy overhead should we (inevitably) capsize as the boat cracks completely in half or one of the waves overtakes us and we are flipped upside down.

When we arrived in one piece (with many additional grey hairs/years off our lives) I practically dove off the boat at Crystal Bay for our first snorkelling stop.

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It was still windy and the water was not still but I managed to enjoy puttering around and saw entire schools of baby barracuda, angel fish, and a puffer fish to boot! Plus, it was better than sitting in a rocking boat on the water like some of our group chose to do, and looked a bit greener for it.

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When I finally looked back to the boat I realized that everyone was on board watching me, waiting to move on to the lunch spot at our midway point, Nusa Lembongan…

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This is the bridge connecting Ceningan Island to Lembongan Island. Only foot and motorbike traffic move across it.

I was still queasy from the ride over and stuck to crackers and bread from the heavily American-style influenced menu of mayonnaise-laden ‘salad’ options, including potato salad, chicken salad, coleslaw, and two kinds of pasta salad. I also shared my gravol with a couple of friendly but sea-sick Italians, and took more myself. We had a bit of rain and storm clouds danced around the peripheral view as if to tease us with the threat of stranding us in this paradise. I’m glad I hadn’t booked this for Monday, just in case.

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The ocean had a hint of gorgeous turquoise colour, but with the overcast sky and turbulent waves, I had to imagine what sun rays and still water would do to enhance it’s beauty, and continued to enjoy getting out of the damn boat and back in the water to get my last snorkelling in on my trip!

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I bought Reef Safe sunscreen at The Dive Shop back home in hope of having a less detrimental impact on the environment and was really happy with it. It stayed on, wasn’t greasy, and I knew it wouldn’t be harming the fish and wildlife around me. And for the first time ever I didn’t once get a sunburn while snorkelling on this vacation! #winning

Our second snorkel spot was a large, buoy-marked area and only one other member of our group got in the water with me to explore. I think everyone else just wanted to sit and drink Bintang on the boat.

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I saw hoards of fish and even caught sight of a magnificent blue starfish as I explored the various areas around us, living in absolute denial that soon I would have to get back on the boat and experience near-death yet again for the 90 minutes back to port.

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We spent the last couple of hours of the afternoon at the Bali Hai resort on Nusa Lemongan, complete with access to a pool, showers, free tea and coffee, a bar and restaurant, and a sandy shoreline with plenty of beach chairs.  The sun even came out for a little bit while we were there.

 

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Armed with another gravol pill and determination to be less scared on the return, I got back on the speedboat. Thankfully, even though there were still some heavy dark clouds on the horizon, the ride back was not nearly as terrifying, and there were far fewer screams for our lives as we went over slightly smaller waves. I feel like the crew may have taken a slightly slower approach to make it a bit less stressful…

When we arrived back on land I practically knelt down and kissed it. Reminder for the future, Sara: NO speed boats. No tiny bouncy smashy terrifying little speed boats/rafts/cruisers. Big boats only!

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After a shower at my hotel and a quick bite to eat, I went for a foot massage across from my hotel (and next to an Irish pub playing live music that reminded me of Newfoundland!).

I planned to explore the night life here, as a lot of places seemed to have live music on Sunday nights, and I went back to my hotel to grab a bit more cash, and decided to double check my itinerary to see when I could do online-check-in that night for my flight the next evening.

And that is when my heart dropped into my ankles.

My itinerary said the following:

Departure Date: Monday January 28

Check in: 11:15pm.

Flight: 1:15am.

All this time, all this month, and up until 7:00pm on this Sunday January 27th, I thought that my return flight home was Monday night, focusing on “Check in at 11pm”. I had NOT realized that the check-in was SUNDAY night at 11pm. For a 1AM Monday flight.

So this meant that I had three hours before I had to leave for the airport.

NOT the entire next day and evening. THREE HOURS.

Luckily my pragmatism kicked in: I told the staff at the hotel I would be checking out early, I booked a taxi for 9:30pm, reorganized and repacked all my gear into my (now two!) large bags and backpack, and then was able to jog up and down the main road to find the last few souvenirs I had been putting off getting before I left.

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After passing by twice and hearing great music, I managed to stop and sit on the side of a packed bar for the last 30 minutes before I had to leave for the airport. There was a Beatles Tribute band (called FaceBeat) performing for the evening, and not only was the band exceptional, but the bar was spectacular, filled with interesting art and really cool lighting design that kept changing.

 

Arriving at the airport was bittersweet as I was sad that I ‘lost’ a day at the beach in Sanur, but equally grateful I didn’t completely screw up my 36-hour trip home and have to re-book and pay for another set of tickets back!! I was on my way back through Seoul, then Seattle, then home!

Selamat tinggal & terima kasih, Bali!

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I absolutely plan on coming back here soon, and I am happy to tell anyone who will listen all about the absolute magic that is Bali, Indonesia, and how happy I would be to come back with anyone as their tour guide!

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Stopover adventures in Belgium!

A day in Brussels! Huzzah!

Well, an afternoon, to be more precise.

4 hours in Brussels! Huzzah! 😄


When I found out I had a long layover in Brussels I asked friends for advice on how to spend the time. I was given a list of must-sees/dos in the city, and I decided I would see what I could accomplish in an afternoon.


I couldn’t very well just hang out in the Brussels airport for 5 hours straight when I’ve never been to the city of Brussels before, now could I?

To make sure I wasn’t being crazy reckless leaving the airport, I asked the Brussels-Air staff at the information desk what time I needed to be back for my connecting flight from Brussels to Olbia, Sardinia. I had almost exactly 5 hours between landing and takeoff, and they said that I shouldn’t catch the train back any later than 5:00pm for my 6:10pm flight.
It was a simple purchases of a return train ticket costing about €15 (cheaper than a ticket one-way to the Lyon airport from Gare Part Dieu), and took 16 minutes (almost  exactly). I know, because I timed my whole afternoon. Just for fun. To see how long it took to reach all the “must-see” suggestions I was given.
At 1pm I jumped on the very busy train and it wasn’t until my ticket was being checked that I second-guessed myself and was worried I was heading in the wrong direction.  I casually asked the train agent if I was on the right train to head to the centre of town and without missing a beat he shook his head and said no.
I used every bit of energy to stay cool and calm in the moment and asked him how to turn around and fix my mistake (now that we had already spent 8 minutes zooming quickly away from the airport.) 
He then burst out laughing and said I was fine and could get off in two stops at the correct station. He proceeded to chat up and laugh with several of the passengers as he went through the train car speaking easily in English, French, and Dutch. 

In 16 minutes:

I had arrived at the second stop from the airport: Bruxelles-Centre.

I stepped outside and immediately noticed the architecture here is absolutely beautiful, with new and modern sleek glass buildings slowly filling the horizon beyond the old ornate silhouettes.


(This place is a shopper’s dream.)

At 21 minutes:

I had purchased my first Belgian waffle and chatted with the girl working the stand to get directions of where to go.


At 26 minutes:

I had eaten my first piece of Belgian chocolate, a sample offered at one of the dozens of chocolate shops I came across today. (And for the record it was a speculoos/almond filled drop of deliciousness 😁). 


It seems you can’t even trip in the centre part of town without falling into a chocolate shop. 🙂


As I walked into the centre square I was blown away by all the gold detail on the buildings. It was absolutely gorgeous, and it was immediately apparent there was a festival on! 


I could hear drumming and came around the corner to the main market square with a full jaw-drop reaction to the beauty of this place. 


These drums!! Feniks Taiko is a group of 7 people (3 men, 4 women), dressed in black with gold sashes, and playing huge Japanese Taiko drums with absolute delighted fury. It was powerful and mesmerizing!


I’m not going to lie – all plans do any exploring flew right out the window as I stood there for the better part of an hour watching them perform.  


This girl! So happy!

At 1 hour and 19 minutes:

I bought fries, on recommendation that I “must try them in Brussels”. They were right, and the fries were excellent! (I walked back with them to the market square and watched more of the drumming performance.)


It was at 1 hour and 49 minutes that I bought my first ever Belgian beer. And if you know me, you know I don’t drink beer. The closest I have ever got is drinking cider. This was real beer. Yes, it had fruit in it, but it was beer. Floris Kriek, to be exact. 
And served to me by a man with a pink elephant for a hat. 

And it was delicious.

2 hours and 15 minutes:

I went to see the statue of Mannekin Pis, and honestly don’t  understand the big draw, but it was a very busy corner fountain with people snapping selfies and group shots and silly photos of the tiny figure (currently dressed in a kimono). So I took a picture of them. 🙂

2 hours and 25 minutes:

I tried some traditional chocolate truffles at Leonidas Chocolates, and purchased some chocolate for souvenirs. Whether they make it home is another story… 😳😁

Chocolate chocolate, everywhere. And also lots of fancy candy.



I went into a couple of beautiful old churches (because, of course I did, that’s what I do ☺️), and enjoyed checking out some comic book stores and souvenir shops.




After that I enjoyed more drumming (they were still going!) in the main square, followed by regional music and dancing…


3 hours in: I bought a couple of postcards, stamps, and got them all ready to mail, even! (Let’s not dwell on the fact I then forgot to mail them and will possibly have to send them from Paris….)


Okay, so there’s a chance I had  another waffle… This time with chocolate.😊
On my way back to the train station I came across a street spray paint artist and found a gallery filled with vibrant French art and even ended up chatting with one of the artists for a bit (un peu en français 😁), before heading back to the airport.



I got to the station at 4:45 and with my luck the train arrived just as I got down the stairs. At 5:01 I was back at the airport. The security was extra thorough between the train and the airport so I’m glad I left extra time, and I even had time for an iced coffee before my flight. 
Voila! I spent a day in Brussels, participated in a festival, watched live music, ate waffles and chocolate and fries and drank beer, went to see Mannekin Pis, checked out the local shops and churches, and made it back to my second flight of the day without a hitch!! Huzzah!

A few summer days in Lausanne.

So this one time I went to Switzerland.

😁

One of my friends from my 2014 French class lives in Lausanne with her husband and their daughter. Chinatsu grew up in Japan and went to university (and learned English) in San Fransisco, where she met Stephane from France, and they ended up falling in love and moving to Paris. Stephane was offered a new job in Lausanne this year so they moved in the spring to Prilly, just next to the city of Lausanne. 


Chinatsu invited me to come visit her this summer, and since there was no direct train or bus from L’Isle Jourdain (or Poitiers or Limoges) to Lausanne, I booked trips with Blablacar. 
Blablacar is a ride-sharing travel option in Europe and I think it is BRILLIANT. I booked one trip from Limoges to Lyon, and the following trip from Lyon to Lausanne. Both drivers had excellent ratings and no actual cash has to exchange hands – it’s pre-paid, and the website you sign up on gives you a code to give them at the end of the trip so you get where you want to go.
The fun part was, my drivers were French. And spoke only French. So I got to put on my focus-and-concentrate face and really exercise my French communication skills for about 7 hours over the two trips. 😁😳


I arrived in Lausanne to beautiful weather and was picked up by Chinatzu at the downtown train station. It was excellent to catch up and meet her adorable 21-month old daughter Nanako.


Nanako was shy at first, but I soon won her over playing with a hand fan and some of her stuffed animals. We had the best time  playing together all week and Nanako is an absolute joy to be around because she gasps in delight at just about everything. Birds, people, planes, lightbulbs, dogs, the sky in general, the floor…..


I went off exploring on my own for a couple of days, and walked down to the Ouchy harbour, on the shores of Lake Geneva.


Seeing the mountains across the lake was wonderful. I have also never seen so many swans (and grey swans too; like ‘ugly ducklings’ that grew up to be swans, but kept their duckling colour).



Also, you can rent a paddle boat here, but not just any paddle boat: a paddle boat with a SLIDE! Amazing. 

There were a bunch of highschool students that just jumped into the lake as I was walking by.

I walked further down the shoreline and into the Olympic Museum, and it was really fun to see old Olympic torches, posters, team uniforms, costumes, and the current temporary exhibit all about Rio and the life and culture there. 


The old town centre has an animated clock that goes every hour during the day. I walked through this square 5 times while I was in Lausanne and the time was always 1:25, or 5:31, or 3:20, or 4:18…. Never near the hour, so I never saw it working! Whoops!


I walked the Market Steps up to find the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral at the top of the hill above the Old Town.




Oh yeah, there are a lot of stairs and hills in this city. Wow. 
Apparently the steepest existing metro track runs north from the bottom point of Ouchy-Olympic up to the main train station. Did I take it? No, I did not because apparently I’m deserving of some sort of punishment so I walked up the entire uphill length of Avenue D’Ouchy on this 28 degree day…. 😅


I arrived in St Paul’s square and had a look inside the large church. Then I sat outside and enjoyed some free wifi. 🙂


On Chinatsu’s suggestion, I went to the Musee D’Art Brut, where work is displayed by artists who were never famous or formally trained, and often they were outcasts or people in institutions. It was quite unique and there were some really amazing pieces.
My favourites included some beautiful pottery, driftwood sculptures, pen and ink detailed portraits of women, and found material miniature bus sculptures… 


I think the most memorable part was a small display of three eccentric and ornate costumes with an accompanying video about an Armenian 76-year old gentleman who would make elaborate hats, canes, and outfits out of everything from feather dusters to Christmas ornaments to lawn darts to shower curtain rings, then get dressed up and go on a one-man parade around his neighbourhood. 

There was also a room full of art by a man named Paul Amar who builds the most incredibly detailed sculptures entirely out of shells (clams, mussels, oysters….) and other pieces of shellfish, and paints them bright saturated colours with nail polish and paint and hot glues them to create under the sea scenes, or groups of animals, or dioramas of explorers and sailing ships.  

I wasn’t allowed photos inside or else I would show you a hint of some of the awesomeness. 

Postcards in the gift shop.


I came across a free exhibition that was part of the”Festival De Bande Dessine”, and it was titled “Migration”; and the subject surrounding immigration, emigration, war, and refugees. This particular exhibition had posters of short cartoons and images. Some had full stories and dialogue, while others were more abstract.



I made it to the Palais de Rumine, and the free (!) Archeology and  Zoology exhibits. 




Chinatsu and her family were wonderful hosts and treated me to some delicious homemade meals. The second night I was there she made us traditional Swiss fondue and we stuffed ourselves with cheese and bread and potatoes and vegetables. We also had a great Japanese dinner of miso and pan-seared pork with ginger and rice.  

Before I left at the end of the week we decided to go for a chocolat chaud at Le Barbare, just at the top of the Market Steps.

It was a rainy day and also the coolest weather since I’ve been in Europe, and a rich chocolat chaud was just perfect to warm us up before a walk around Old Town and down to the ‘new and modern’ area of Flon. (We had our chocolat chaud ‘nature’, which meant just the classic chocolate, without any added cream mixed in and whip cream on top. )

 




This city is beautiful and it’s wonderful to have friends here *that I absolutely plan to come back and visit*! After all, all it takes is a couple of blablacars to get here from France… 🙂


  

Grand Lyon! Je suis revenue !

Lovely Lyon!!


When I was last in Lyon it was pouring rain and we spent our time under umbrellas and ducking in and out of shops and boulangeries in the Old Town area. We even loved the city sopping wet, and grey, and gloomy, so I looked forward to seeing this place again, and I got to see it in sunshine! 


I stayed at the beautiful airbnb of Carine, a French music teacher in the 7th Arrondissement, and she immediately invited me out to a concert that night of Armenian and Persian music. 

On our way we walked past the Lyon Opera.

 

The group was called NaZani and was a trio, with one musician playing several hand drums and a lute-type instrument, and one playing a Qanoun, and the third dancing. 

Not an exceptional photo, but you get the idea. 🙂


Small space, an excellent little black-box theatre venue, it ended up with a full house, most of whom had a subscription to the music series here. 

We met up with a friend of Carine’s at the concert and walked around Lyon afterwards, to have drinks at Place Bertone in the 1er Arrondissement. 


There were absolutely loads of people out (it being Saturday night), and the streets and squares and all along the Rhône River were busy. There were groups of people having riverside picnics and drinks and we walked past a hearing-impaired meet-up group right by Pont de la Guillotière ( I saw ads for it on the metr- as a regular thing.)


I spent two sunny days exploring Lyon, starting with taking the verniculaire up through Vieux Lyon to the Cathedrale, my favourite church in the world.

You are welcome to walk up from Old Lyon, but this way is soooooo nice. 🙂

Just as I stepped out of the metro entrance, the bells started ringing. 😊
I went inside just before the 11’oclock Mass began, and I sat at the back where the tourists/guests sit. Basically, unless you are there to attend Mass, if you only want to ‘see’ what it’s like and stay for only part (or even the entire service), they ask you to stay in the back pews. 

That is fine with me, and was perfect to gaze up in quiet awe at the breathtaking ceiling and walls adorned with detailed mosaics, rainbows of stained glass, and carved statues, wood and marble, gilded and gorgeous. No photos are allowed inside, which just makes you appreciate the moment even more.


I actually stayed through the entire service (my very first Mass).
There was beautiful choral music, a feisty sermon (some of which I understood) delivered by a passionate priest through a mic that offered just the right amount of reverb to sound extra formidable, and I had the sudden  understanding of the strength of burning incense filling a space (*cough cough*). 

 

Some exterior photos give you a hint to the detail inside, but this is as close as I came to taking photos inside this grand place. Outside an accordion player greeted tourists at the gate, and a small church group (of unknown denomination to me), sang a Capella over by a statue in the courtyard in front of the church.

And then of course, there is this view.

Following that start to the day, I found the ancient stage and ended up standing on the stage all by myself for a brief and awe-inspiring few minutes. 




Old Lyon is full of boulangeries specializing in anything and everything praline, meaning a lot of pink pastries. 

I think the last time I took a photo of this Boulangerie stain glassed sign, there was nothing but dark grey clouds above.



The Musée Miniature et Cinema  was recommended to me by Carine and I spent the better part of two hours inside. From the actual very-aromatic (and totally creepy) sets from “Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer”, to original movie costumes, animatronics, and props (like guns and wands), to the most intricate movie set miniatures I have ever seen, this place is fantastic!!!

Believe it or not, these are ALL miniatures. Every single one.

 

I then discovered that though I had missed the usual Sunday market hours (that finish at 2pm or earlier), there was a HUGE pottery market/festival in Old Lyon spreading out in all directions from Place Saint-Jean. 

Dishes, sculptures, jewelry, art… Happy place. 🙂

Oh if I had room in my suitcase…… There was something for everyone here. Sooooooo fantastic.







I then walked across the river to a music festival in Place Bellecour. 


With tents from around the world, and information about the culture, music, local products, and food of each country.

 The winning tents in my opinion: Pakistan- for live music and dancing, Belgium- for samples of cold beer on this super-hot day, and Turkey- free Turkish ice cream samples complete with a performance!


There were performances on the main stage every half hour, and I caught a group of dancers performing J-Pop (from Japan), and a Swedish choir that included a couple of my host Carine’s voice students.

This city has so much charm I’m happy I got to come back and see it again. 


And now, on to Switzerland!!

A summer in French heaven, part two… or six.

I am soon to be homesick for a place I just discovered. 

The summer is quickly turning into autumn, and with two weeks left in L’Isle Jourdain, I switched locations (a 2 minute stroll down the street) to Barbie and Andy’s house.  They are good friends of Corinne and Gilles, and they needed a little help with some home renos.


Their house has a huge yard (complete with fig tree overloaded with much-to-my-chagrin-just-not-yet-ripe figs), a view of the valley and the church and town across the river, loads of beautiful hydrangea and hibiscus bushes, and a lovely terrace that was excellent for morning tea, stargazing, and card games and wine.


The yards on all sides are full of fruit and olive trees, chicken coops, vegetable garden so, grape vines, and a big sweet grey donkey two gardens over. 


Their next door neighbor, an older gentleman named De-De (nickname for André), has a lovely large garden as well as chickens and rabbits, and several times during my stay with them he came over with a bucket of tomatoes and a dozen eggs; sometimes he just leaves them on the front step. He also gives them loads of green beans, potatoes, and onions throughout the summer. One afternoon he even came to the door with a freshly-made jar of plum jam, still warm! The sweetest!

Captured on a morning walk over by the church.


We always started our mornings with a walk over to Café de la Paix or to Le Dix, the bar next door (and it definitely it should be noted that they have the most delicious cakes; my good friend Victor can vouch for every single flavour 😊).

The owner Fanfan has our usual orders memorized and brings us ‘un petit café et deux grandes crèmes’, and we eat pain au chocolat and chat with all the regulars/neighbors. 🙂 A lovely ritual. 

Back at the house I started with some small jobs like painting window frames and installing curtain rods and baseboards upstairs, and one afternoon we had the adventures of cutting a hole into the wall under the stairs in order to make use of the possible storage space. The hope was that we would not find anything too scary, or dangerous, or complicated to remove. Luck was on our side as all that was inside was rocks and earth. AND a century-old whistle! Oh yeah, and part of a sheep leg bone. (Yes, I am sure. I checked. It was just a sheep bone.)
The bigger jobs of my stay were re-varnishing their living room floor (only because we had to move all the furniture around) and I cut and installed (and started the painting process) of a new wood floor and baseboards in their kitchen. 

The kitchen floor was definitely the trickiest as it is the very centre of their home. They access the rest of the house (including the stairs up to the bedrooms) from there, and they have two dogs. 😁😳

the old tile floor is in great condition but is absolutely freezing in the winter.


Practically everyone has dogs here, and my new friends’ pups are two other hilarious personalities. 

This face.

 

Pedro is the little shaggy sausage dog with freckles across his nose and a growl-purr when he is playing or getting attention. He loves to be cuddled and often falls asleep in Barbie’s arms.

Lottie has the colouring of a Rottweiler, and is the look and somewhat size of a slender German Shepherd. She is the sweetest, sneakies, cheekiest dog ever, and I absolutely adore her. 


In my last week much to my delight: Another invitation came for a delicious dinner at the Chateau Jourdain!

Six countries represented at this table! (New Zealand, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Canada, Great Britain)

 

We were invited for homemade falafel and hummus and chips, and yet again had weather right out of a storybook. 

The most beautiful skies of the entire summer, without a doubt. 


That night I met two more workawayers (from Leeds, and one of them has family IN CALGARY 😃). What are the odds??

Moyad was holding Dolly up so she could see a paddleboat go by.

 

One Friday night I drove to the nearby village of Queaux with a couple friends, Zara and Kane (both from the UK), to have dinner and watch a jazz concert down by the river. 

Queaux has fresh spring water running through the village and there is an old clothes washing station still intact on the main road. 

The water is freezing, but clean enough to drink! 

The wooden washboards used to scrub clothing.

This village also has an incredible view of the river valley.


 It was a gorgeous night and there were still people swimming in the rive at 8pm as we ate our picnic dinner. We should have know the 8pm “start” was just a loose guideline, and the show began around 9. 🙂

It was brilliant- they just set up everything under some trees in the park area and people brought their own chairs or pulled up benches from the picnic area. 

There was a keyboard, guitar, saxophone, drum set, bass, and trombone. (The bass player also played the trombone, because, of course she did). 

Of course you never remember to take photos while it is still light out!


It was excellent music and we had the best time! They were a talented group and when the drummer started playing with brushes, that was it for me: I was in heaven. (My dad would have just loved it.) Found another happy place!
Barbie and Andy are real estate agents so they have gotten to know our region of Poitou-Charentes quite well. They have been enthusiastic tour guides and have taken me to some beautiful spots (there are just so many!) in our area.

The first weekend I was staying with them Andy and Barbie took me to Lake Pardoux, about an 80-minute drive away. They had never been there but had heard it was nice, so I was a great excuse for them to be touristy and go.
The lake is absolutely huge and clearly a popular spot. There is camping nearby and you can rent paddle boats (“pédalos”), go sailing, boating, fishing, and enjoy swimming off a lifeguard-supervised beach.

We packed a picnic and found a spot in the grass facing the lake. It was a beautiful day and just hot enough to warrant a swim!! 

This Canadian girl was the only one to go take the plunge, and it was glorious. There was a great floating dock to dive off and the water gets to a nice depth pretty quick and is very refreshing.

After coffees and chocolate ice cream at the little restaurant just up from the water, we went further down the shoreline for a walk along part of the hiking trail that circles the lake, and decided you could easily make a day out of hiking the area here. I will remember that for next time. 🙂


Poitiers Day Trip!


We spent one Saturday in Poitiers  exploring the city.  This was fantastic as I had only really seen the airport and the train station!

Nôtre Dame du Poitiers.


Saturdays they have a street market going, and we wandered past stalls of clothing, food, and some artisan items, and while stopping for coffees on a patio a travelling band walked by playing fantastic music on tuba, trumpet, sax, banjo, and drums. 


We wandered around from the Nôtre Dame Du Poitiers in the Old Town area, and enjoyed the tall old buildings and architecture, turning up and down tiny side streets to finally arrive at Francois Frères.  

There are only 5 places in France that hand-make umbrellas anymore, and one is in Poitiers! Barbie and Andy have one beautiful umbrella already and wanted to show me the store. We were so happy to find it open we practically skipped into this shop filled with a full rainbow of parasols and umbrellas of every design and shape you can imagine, and even each wooden handle is  gorgeous. 


The owner came right out of the back room (where he makes them all himself) to talk to us. He clearly takes pride in his work, as well he should. His family has been making umbrellas since 1882! 

I want a newsprint umbrella. 🙂

If I could have fit a full-size umbrella in my backpack, I would have splurged and bought one right there! 

After my first croissant amande of the trip 😁, we headed to see the majestic Cathedral de Poitiers, which was absolutely gigantic and a definite must-see if you visit Poitiers. 


Gorgeous and vastly tall ceilings, beautiful frescos, stained glass windows for days, and crazy cool/creepy gargoyles outside.

On to Confolens!


The second weekend we went to Confolens, and this city is absolutely darling, and even more romantic on a grey and cloudy day.

Many medieval aspects to the old buildings reminded me of Carcassone that we visited 2 years ago on our Viking Cruise tour. 



On the way back home we stopped into Confolens-St-Germain and the old castle ruins up on the hill. 


It’s absolutely beautiful, and felt well-timed, as my friend Leslie was travelling in Ireland at this point and posting all these beautiful photos of Irish castles and I felt due for some castle time. 🙂

There was also a fantastic gift shop at the bottom filled with local artists’ work, from jewelry to soap to ornaments to honey. Absolutely beautiful things. 🙂

We ended up going for pizza in the charming river town of Availles-Limozine the next night with clients/friends of Barbie and Andy. I immediately liked these three friendly Brits: Gary, who is selling his vacation property home, and Jarvis and Lindsay, who are buying it! The sale was complete this week, so we went out to dinner to celebrate. 

Side note: Real estate is a good example of how nothing happens quickly in France. The sale of a house in the countryside takes anywhere from 5 months -and that’s speedy/optimistic- to 5 years.



The pizza was absolutely excellent (I had le Trois Fromages), the company was entertaining (stories of Jarvis and Lindsay from when they were stationed in Saudi Arabia, and hilariously bad jokes by Andy and Gary), and we even got in a walk down to the gorgeous Vienne River to see the early start of fall and some of the most beautiful reflections in the river I have seen so far on this trip.

They tell me that in the winter the river is much faster flowing and they say looks quite dynamic and different than the summer, as in the winter they open the dams all along. 
Maybe one day I will buy an apartment here and find out. 🙂
On Friday night my friends Jamshid and Jo cooked up a big dinner to send me off, and Gilles and Viktor came over to join us and we had a perfect evening of food and great company, complete with favourite music video sharing and star gazing in their fantastic back garden. (It was here we had a fabulous ‘sky-watching party’ back in August when the Perseid meteor shower was happening.)

On my last day I even (finally) got in a swim in the river down by the island. Viktor paddled us out in Moyad’s row boat and we swam in the middle of the river near the chateau. It was fantastic! It made me wish I ventured down there more often when we had our crazy few weeks of 33+ degree weather!

Thus ends my incredible time in L’Isle Jourdain. I have never felt more at home in a different country. Luckily, now I have numerous friends to come back and visit…. And if I’m looking to buy a small French countryside apartment, I know these fabulous real estate agents…. 🤔😎

Up next: a weekend in Lyon and 5 days visiting my friend Chinatzu in Switzerland!

A summer in French heaven, part one!

  

So, imagine you are offered the opportunity to stay in your first choice spot for a volunteer holiday. And imagine it sounds too good to be true, and at the same time, charming and imperfect enough to seem real.

And then you arrive and it’s everything you hoped it would be and better.

The Plan: spend my summer volunteering in the French countryside. 

The Process: join workaway.info and search for a host. 

The Result: connect with a British artist named Corinne who owns a 200+ year old house that she wants to renovate and turn into an international artist retreat, book and take a bus from Paris to Poitiers, and then drive to the small village of Bourpeuil across the river from L’Isle Jourdain, soon to be my home away from home. 

As Corinne drove along, the view of the countryside and houses reminded me more and more of what I loved in Provence. Terra cotta roofs, sheep wandering across the fields, rolling hills and tiny gardens, brightly coloured doors and shutters, window boxes and potted plants, lavender and sunflowers…. and the sun ever so slightly dipping into the evening sky made everything more than picturesque.

My delight simply grew as we arrived in the small town and I saw the grand viaduct, the town across the Vienne River including a church on the hill, and we pulled up in front of an old unassuming old house. 

Corinne was already a kindred spirit and I immediately felt further welcomed by her partner Gilles, and their two friendly terriers, Duke and Major. 

This is Duke.

This is Major


Our first meal (stewed lamb and grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes) was served on the long wood table in the warm and inviting black and white kitchen, one of the most complete rooms in the house. This is obviously the heart of the home, and we have lunch and dinner together here every day. 

Gilles is a fantastic cook (who reminds me of my dad) and he always has delicious meal ideas, and Corinne loves to cook as well!! Between the two of them we have had everything from pan-seared vegetables and sausages with couscous, moules frites (mussels with fries) with homemade mayonnaise that is so good I actually eat mayonnaise here, to vegetarian curry, beet and chèvre risotto, and the best potatoes au gratin I have every had. 

Right away I fell in love with the house, my room, my hosts and the dogs. I am the second of three volunteers to arrive this summer; the first is Viktor from Hungary, and soon to join us is Sini from Finland.

There is a long to-do list here, from plastering and painting walls and ceiling, tiling, flooring, sewing curtains, and furniture building/reupholstering, to building a terraced courtyard, installing a kiln, and helping furnish and decorate the guest rooms.
For the first week every morning after breakfast (and coffee, bien sûr!) I was on painting duty. The old grey shutters on the front of the house had previously been sandblasted and needed priming, rust-coat painting on the hardware and then painted a fresh new colour. 
(The name of the colour Corinne has chosen? Picasso Blue. 😊)

The back terrace in painting progress.

The finished shutters and doors!

Other than joking I have been painting anything that doesn’t move over my first several days here, I did also help clear out and organize a newly purchased
(fully furnished house) in the village for friends of our hosts, and  we took several loads of items like furniture, clothing, linen and dishes to local charities and also to a “Vide Grenier” to sell some particularly nice/interesting things.

A Vide Grenier literally translates to “Empty Attic”. Every village has these big yard-sales/garage-sales once a year, and this one was quite huge and included a carousel, carnival games, a hot lunch, a free coffee and beer for each registered seller, and two football fields of knick-knacks and antiques, artwork, clothing, lamps, toys, and collectibles. Everything you can imagine (including several kitchen sinks)!

The neighbors here are all so friendly, and just like everywhere else I have been in France, the small community atmosphere of people is hugely friendly and warm-hearted.

Right away we were introduced to a bunch of Brits that have relocated, or retired, or vacation several months of the year here. 
The most idyllic night so far was spent on the island at the home of Helen and Moyed, and the house that the town is named after. 

It was a beautiful evening, and the originally casual plan of hummus and bread for a light dinner turned into a huge delicious meal including chips and curry, olives, preserved lemons, dolma, burgers, and plenty of wine and beer. 
We sat under the tree in their front yard with their pet chickens wandering around, a view of their olive grove, the river, the viaduct, the bridge, and the villages on either side. Heaven.

This is Dolly, apparently the queen/guardian of the household.


More to come…. This is only the beginning! 

4 days in Paris and a packed schedule, of course.


After a nice and easy flight from Toronto and upon finding my Airbnb in the City of Lights, I did what any good returning Parisian-at-heart would do – I bought a croissant and a coffee and sat in a park to take it in. 

can you see why you’d want to have one of everything? 🙂

Four days in Paris and then off to the country I go!

On my list of things: go to the Jardin Du Luxembourg, see Monet’s Water Lilies at the Orangerie Museum, buy cheese and a baguette for dinner, and people-watch in one garden or another. 

My Airbnb host Émilie was lovely to practice my French with and spoke almost entirely to me en français the whole time I stayed with her. We actually both had a craving to go see a movie and decided to see La Monde Du Dory (Finding Dory) O.V. avec sous-titres. (Meaning: “Original Version in English with French subtitles.) Pixar excelled again, of course, and the movie is wonderful and touching and adorable.

Émilie also suggested that before I return to the Luxembourg garden, I should check out Le Jardin des Buttes-Chaumont only a ten minute walk from her apartment. 

yes, there is even a waterfall.

Well I was not prepared for the fact that it may be my new favourite place in Paris. Multiple pathways, grassy hills, and big beautiful trees to sit under, I was delighted for the recommendation. This is why you ask locals!

After spending the entire afternoon there, walking every pathway, across the bridges, along the man-made streams, checking out the waterfall, painting a bit, and doing a lot of people watching, I was content to have a night in. I was determined to have an earlier start the next morning.
I’m on vacation, right? So I was all packed up and leaving for the afternoon at about 1. 😁😳
I decided to focus on the Orangerie visit, with a meander through the Tuilleries Garden, and anything else would be a bonus. The garden was busy because it’s the yearly festival/carnival and there are rides all along the north side of the garden. 



Following a delightful (and surprisingly not-too-crowded) visit to my favourite water lilies in the Orangerie, I indulged in some gelato (du mange, du framboise, et dû noix du coco) sat by one of the fountains, and definitely was in my happy place. 🙂


It was time to move locations, and get my gear to the FIAP Jean Monnet hostel in the 14th arrondissement. 

By far it is the absolute nicest and cleanest hostel I have ever been in ever. High security and a big place, this is clearly a regular spot for large school groups, conferences, and teams. I got to my 6-bed dorm room and had 3 quiet roommates who all arrived just as I was heading to bed.
That night I met up with my friend Robert from the French classes I took in 2014 and it was like no time had passed (and truly, two years seem to have just flown by). He has since finished school and an apprenticeship in marketing and is now fluent in French! I’m super impressed and a little jealous. 🙂 We met at La Rhumerie for drinks and the evening just whizzed by as we caught up on what happened in our respective lives over the last 730 days… 

The cool courtyard at the hostel- and a giant garden chess game.

 

A free breakfast at the hostel started my day early whether I wanted it to or not – breakfast was only served until 8:45am. Ha! That bumped up the beginning of my day a fair bit! 
I decided that I needed to return to the Orsay museum, sit by the Seine, and then go see the Rodin Museum


The garden at the museum is absolutely gorgeous.

I completely see why the Rodin Museum was highly recommended, so along with that  addition to the itinerary, I added a return trip to the Orsay, for more time with my favourite impressionist art (including Renoir’s dancers, Cezanne’s portraits, and more of Monet’s garden and water lilies), and a wander past the Eiffel Tower (tricky to do as it the Champ de Mars is currently entirely surrounded by fencing as part of an event for the EuroCup.)



My last half-day in the city included a quick but sweet visit to the Jardin Du Luxembourg, and some time at my quiet spot by the fountain before the mid/day crowd arrived. 


Then it was time to head to the country via the OuiBus (at the budget-friendly cost of €15) for the next couple of months, if all plans were to turn out. My first Workaway adventure. 🙂


A bientôt, Paris! 

A long overdue beach vacation.

The bahamas are a highly underrated tropical destination by Canadians. Not that I’m a regular visitor or anything- I haven’t been here in 20 years…. But it is amazing. The Caribbean waters are warm and refreshing, and it’s ‘winter’ here right now, and about 28 degrees Celsius.IMG_7576

My best friend and her husband gave me the most generous gift- a one-week slot of her timeshare at any of the participating hotels and resorts they belong to. They had offered it to me last year when I was in Europe, but it wasn’t to be. As a result we decided it would be best used for an escape from the winter in Calgary; by early March you just don’t want to be cold anymore, as it has been winter for almost 6 months…

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The view as we left Calgary: a fresh dusting of snow…

On our descent: beautiful ocean!

On our descent: beautiful ocean!

It was going to be a family trip with my mum and sister, and when the idea was suggested we go somewhere with a beach, the unanimous decision was the Bahamas. We had been twice before for family reunions to a smaller island my aunt and uncle have property on, but with the relatively new non-stop Calgary-to-Nassau Westjet flights, we jumped at the chance of staying on the island of New Providence for the first time. About a month before we booked, however, my sister got a new job at a company she had been hoping to work for, and she couldn’t get the time off, so we adjusted the plans and it became a mom-daughter trip for two.

At Compass Point resort

At Compass Point resort

So: timeshare booking. I’ve never owned a timeshare and have very little knowledge on how they work, but basically they entered in the week we hoped to travel (online), and the search began. Once we got a booking at the most incredible looking resort we have ever seen, we decided to book a second week of accommodations somewhere to make the best use of our travel time.

We found a room on Airbnb that I would recommend to everyone! Our hosts, Sarah and Derek, have several rooms to rent in their property about a 25 minute drive west of Nassau. You are far enough from the city to feel more like a local than a tourist, and there are so many beaches on this island (including across the street!) that we never had to go far.

The first morning at the BnB we awoke to beautiful guitar music. Two of the guests were writing a song on the balcony while having breakfast. We joined them!

The first morning at the BnB we awoke to beautiful guitar music. Two of the guests were writing a song on the balcony while having breakfast. We joined them!

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Our favourite beach, thanks to Sarah’s recommendation, was (Nirvana) Love Beach, a ten-minute bus ride down the road. We spent almost every day there. It was so quiet on weekdays it almost felt like a private beach.

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Our new friends Kelsey and Nigel walking along the beach.

Our new friends Kelsey and Nigel walking along the beach.

There were a few excellent restaurants near Love Beach, and we made a couple trips to the grocery store to get some snack food and lunch items to picnic on the beach.

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Dino’s Conch salad! Delicious and refreshing!

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The all-fruit version: mango, apple, pineapple, covered in lime and orange juice.

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First time trying conch!

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They make it fresh to order chopping up onion, green pepper, tomato, and conch, and it is served doused in lime juice with fresh pineapple on the side.

We met so many incredible people at the B&B, and now have friends in Austria, Washington, Missouri, Montreal, Louisiana, and Germany.

From left to right: Tyler & Renee (Louisiana), Kelsey & Nigel (Edmonton), Marianna & Maria (Montreal), Kamel & Hasan (-with guitars,  Washington), Katrin (Austria)

I can easily see visiting any of these people on future trips, and love the camaraderie shared between travellers that you don’t have with anyone else.

It also makes me want to travel more, of course. 🙂

We spent a couple afternoons with Derek snorkeling along the shoreline and got to see a sunken plane, numerous sunken statues, several colourful starfish, a beautiful turtle, and even came across a couple of nurse sharks (!!) resting in the coral. (We felt a little better having two experienced Bahmaians on either side of us with fishing spears in case the sharks became agitated.) We didn’t bother them and after a while they gracefully swam away and we went back to ogling the smaller sea life.  We saw dozens of different colours of fish, though we never saw the infamous spiny lobster of the Caribbean… Well, we did eat some (and it was delicious!) but we never saw it in its natural habitat. 🙂

This was right across the road!

This was right across the road!

We felt like part of some crazy extended family at the B&B and had a couple barbecues on the beach out by Clifton Heritage Park on the west end of the island, and one included almost an entire evening of dual guitar music by two brothers who are also musicians. It was incredible. Everyone on the island is so friendly and generous, and we fell in love with it there.

At the first beach BBQ; talented musicians included!

At the first beach BBQ; talented musicians included!

Our hosts were happy to show us the best local spots and activities, and even gave us a tour of the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise island, which is the gargantuan resort with its own golf course, water park, aquarium, casino, shops, and the “Michael Jackson suite”- a $25,000 USD per night room in the hotel.

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The main lobby.

 

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The “Michael Jackson Suite” is that centre piece between the two buildings.

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Aquarium sights…

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Every day has been absolutely beautiful, and the sunsets and skies and jewel turquoise waters have been the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen since Provence. Every day we would wake up and look outside, and say ‘looks like another beautiful day in paradise’. Because it was.

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The dock out at Compass Point… *sigh*

We do so love hibiscus flowers.

We do so love hibiscus flowers.

After one slow-motion week that seemed to be at half-speed for the amount of time we were there, we said goodby to Sarah and Derek and arrived at our room at the Sandyport Resort.

We were greeted with friendly front desk staff and the happiest bellhop I’ve ever seen helped us to our room, which was a deluxe suite facing the canal, with a king size bed and full kitchen. It was unreal.

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The Sandyport beach

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Piña colada, anyone?

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The view outside our door.

Lunch on our patio

Lunch on our patio

After the first week of major exploring mixed into beach days, we felt like we had seen a lot and could easily relax. It didn’t stop me from joining a group of folks from our Air BnB and head to karaoke one night, nor did it stop us from checking out the local Fish Fry street of restaurants, where we had the most delicious grouper, fantastic cracked conch, classic baked macaroni and amazing jerk chicken and pork (though not all at the same time). We went to Twin Brothers fish fry restaurant and tried their ‘world famous’ daiquiris, and let’s just say we went back for those more than once….

With Maria and Katrin!

With Maria and Katrin!

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this was the second time…. or was it the third? mmmmm… strawberry and pina colada daquiris …… 🙂

Derek picked us up the second Saturday and took us to see the Junkanoo Parade down by Atlantis and it was so much fun!! It’s a small sample of the kind of music and costumes and dancing they do twice a year in the Bahamas, where hundreds of musicians parade through the streets for hours twice a year: on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Tubas, trumpets, drums, and cowbells thundered through the streets and you couldn’t help but dance along. Great photo opportunity!

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We made it into Nassau a couple of times, and were thrilled to discover the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas and some of the strongest and thought-provoking social art I have ever seen. (No photos from inside the gallery, of course.)

The most beautiful old house converted into a gallery.

The most beautiful old house converted into a gallery.

The statue of a Junkanoo costume outside

The statue of a Junkanoo costume outside

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Some pieces for sale in the gift shop.

 

We also visited the Graycliffe Hotel, the oldest hotel on the island. It was grand and decadent, and the garden and pools were beautiful. We also tried a couple of handmade treats at the chocolate shop there.

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The larger pool with hand painted tiles

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Posing by the pool, of course. 🙂

Our last few days included dinner at The Poop Deck, where we had the most incredible seafood dinner, another visit to the Conch restaurant but this time for a tropical salad and conch fritters, and several batches of piña colada with the best coconut rum I have ever tasted.

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Spiny lobster: WAY more expensive than Maritime lobster, and no claws… but very very flavourful!

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this way…

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Our view at dinner

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Dressed up with somewhere to go! My beautiful Mama!

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I caught the sunrise our final morning and felt like I had stumbled upon a secret beach. I made sure to walk along the water’s edge so my footprints would be washed away when I left and the next person to arrive would feel like I did.

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We packed up our luggage, enjoyed French toast at the breakfast bar by the pool, and then made one last piña colada blend and headed to the beach for the last few hours. To dry off we were happy to swing in the resort hammocks and dream of coming back.

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No final morning beach time is complete without one last batch of pina coladas with Bahamian Coconut Rum!

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Already dreaming.

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A bientôt, Bahamas, a bientôt.