Month: May 2014

Tasting Paris on a Budget

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Tacos in Paris! Truly authentic.

Paris has countless incredible restaurants, and one day I would like to try them all. This time, though, it wasn’t in our budget to go out to nice meals, so I thought I would share some of the cheap (but still delicious) food we got while in the City of Lights. We do splurge occasionally on our travels (not on a Michelin star restaurant or anything, but maybe a brasserie or bistro here and there). I’m awful at remembering to take pictures of food before we eat it, so it is just a sampling. Two friends happened to be in town at the same time as us (not the same ones from the rooftop bar, surprisingly), and their parents took us out to dinner to a delicious restaurant, and my parents have also taken us out to eat. Besides that, though, we rely on grocery stores, picnics, and cooking at our different homes.

Our first meal when we arrived in Paris. Pizza and wine sitting by the Canal Saint-Martin.

Our first meal when we arrived in Paris. Pizza from a little place near République that I can’t remember the name of and wine sitting by the Canal Saint-Martin.

Tacos and chips and salsa are probably the food that Jeremy and I miss the most while traveling. Living in Southern California, there are small taco joints all over the place with insanely good and fresh (and cheap) tacos. And don’t get me started on the guacamole. I was reading up about places to eat in Paris and happened upon a review of El Nopal, a tiny Mexican place walking distance from our apartment. Obviously we had to check it out after looking at some of the pictures, and we started walking north along the Canal Saint-Martin and made it there after about thirty minutes. You can barely stand inside if there is someone else in there, it’s so tiny. We ordered four tacos and tried to order chips and guacamole but they were sold out. It was definitely more expensive than what we are used to (we usually get tacos for $1.50 or so back home and these were about ten dollars for three tacos), but we were kind of desperate. And they were good! Eat your heart out, piratebobcat. We took them to go and sat by the canal and devoured them.

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So happy.

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Two veggie tacos for me, carnitas and asada for Jeremy.

There is one other taco place that is supposed to be really good, and we will make a point of visiting and comparing them when we are back in Paris in July.

We also love falafel. It’s been a staple in our diet for a while now, and Paris had some amazing falafel. There’s a section in the Marais district that has numerous falafel places right across from each other, L’As du Falafel being the most popular with huge lines down the block (we tried to go here once but it was closed), and we ate at two of them. The first we went to was Mi-Va-Mi, which was really good. We sat down at a table and it was a nice change of pace. The falafel was stuffed in some pita and had eggplant on top. I forgot to take pictures. The second was called King Falafel Palace, and we stood in a line to order at the counter and take it to go. This one had different toppings, but was equally, if not more, delicious. We also got a beer to drink while waiting in line (I love Europe), and some fries with mayonnaise on them (my arteries hurt).

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IMG_5468 And who could forget crepes? We got a number of Nutella crepes. They are hard to resist when you walk by and smell them and the guy is making them fresh right there.

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When my parents got into town, we met them at their hotel off Champs-Élysées and took a cab back to our neighborhood to go to a pizza-by-the-weight place I had read good things about. We were kind of confused when ordering, but luckily the lady working was really nice and helped us decide how much to get and then cut the pizza with scissors. All the kinds were delicious, but there was one in particular that had truffle oil that really stood out.

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With all of this unhealthy food, we do make sure to eat a good amount of veggies at least.

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Afternoon veggie platter with hummus at our Airbnb.

Over the weekend, Jeremy and I decided to try a breakfast place near our apartment, which turned out to be more difficult than we were expecting. The places I had read about that served brunch/breakfast didn’t start serving food until noon. That doesn’t really work for us (we get REAL hungry in the morning), so it was kind of a bust. We ended up at Tuck Shop, and were able to get a couple small dishes, but it was too early for the main meals.

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A muffin with an egg inside and baked beans for me, and avocado toast for Jeremy.

And no trip to Paris is complete without eating some macarons (even though we didn’t actually eat any until we got to Normandy, but look how pretty they are!).

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I can’t wait to go back and try all the other goodies in Paris, and hopefully go to some restaurants.

Picture Perfect Paris

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I know I keep gushing about our week in Paris, but it really was just incredible. It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect all week (it had been raining for days but stopped the day before we got there, and started up again the day we left). I haven’t talked much about what all we did, because it was kind of a whirlwind. Here are some highlights!

As soon as we arrived at the Gare de Lyon, we made our way to our Airbnb near République, with a stop at the Canal Saint-Martin on the way, which turned out to be only two blocks from our apartment.

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Place de la République.

Le Perchoir

A couple of friends happened to be in town at the same time as us, and we went to meet up with them at Le Perchoir, which has got to be one of the coolest bars in Paris. I highly recommend going there to watch the sun set over the city. It’s right off Rue Oberkampf, a great place for nightlife with lots of great bars.

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As soon as the elevator doors open, this is your view. It pretty much takes your breath away.

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Beautiful sunset over a tiny Sacré-Coeur in the distance.

An Evening at Sacré-Coeur

I’ve done this the last couple times I’ve been in Paris, and it’s always a highlight (and always SUPER crowded). A great way to spend a Friday evening (or any day of the week, really) is to buy a bottle of wine or Champagne, get some bread and cheese, and have a picnic on the steps in front of the Sacré-Coeur while watching the sunset (a common theme in my life = sunset picnics). There are usually tons of people (many of them tourists, but still worth it), the views are insane, there are street performers, and the walk up to the Sacré-Coeur is an adventure in itself. Then when it gets dark, explore the romantic Montmartre area, and pretend you’re in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

I told you there were a lot of people.

I told you there were a lot of people.

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Crazy performer that climbed up the light pole while doing tricks with a soccer ball.

A close-up.

A close-up.

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The steps were a little too crowded, so we opted to sit on the grass down below a bit.

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Walked by a play going on.

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The streets of Montmartre are so charming. Jeremy and I stopped into a bistro to have a glass of wine and listen to a jazz band.

Moulin Rouge is nearby, of course we had to visit.

Moulin Rouge is nearby, of course we had to visit.

More Parks With Awesome Views

I’m such a sucker for parks with nice views of a city, and Jeremy and I found two more that pleased us both: Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. They are both kind of a ways away from the main center of Paris, which means a lot less tourists. They reminded me of Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco a bit (one of my favorites). You get a really great view of the city with the Eiffel Tower at Parc de Belleville, and a completely different view at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.

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Parc de Belleville.

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Parc de Belleville.

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Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is massive, and includes lakes and lots of paths that I would love to run on next time. You can also climb to this tower where you can see the best views.

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Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

Over the weekend, Paris was celebrating Night of Museums, which meant that most of the museums were staying open until about midnight, and some had free admission. Being budget travelers, obviously we wanted to take advantage of the free admission. We chose Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) because it seemed weird and it’s listed on Atlas Obscura, an online guide to some of the stranger, lesser-known attractions in cities around the world. It did not disappoint.

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Probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in a museum: a tiny room with a ceiling made of owls and feathers.

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Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Also walking distance from our apartment was the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the largest in Paris. It’s so big, there are maps with guides on where to find notable people’s graves, like Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Marceau, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and many more. We didn’t realize quite how big it was going to be, and combined with getting lost a couple times, we only made it to the gravestones of Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde. It’s a beautiful place though, and one worth venturing to.

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Jim Morrison’s grave. Someone had left their band’s demo.

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Sorry to the lady whose butt is prominently featured in this picture.

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We walked around a ton and saw lots of what Paris has to offer, but I don’t know if you could even see everything if you were there a year. Next up: what we ate in Paris.

Dancing in the Metro.

Dancing in the Metro.

 

Running in Paris

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I can’t stop thinking about our week in Paris. It’s a good thing we’re going back; I’m not done with that city in the least. Jeremy and I have a housesitting assignment for an entire month there starting late July, and I can’t wait to explore more. Prior to our trip, my runs in Zurich really stood out to me, but running in Paris was something really special. I don’t mean to compare them – pretty much all my runs in Europe have been really fun and memorable – but there was something incredible about seeing the City of Love in that way.

Les Berges

I had done some research, and found a section of the Seine called Les Berges (which has a really great, interactive website) that has lots of shipping containers made into pop-up ateliers, food trucks, obstacle courses, etc. And a 100-meter track. It is basically between the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, so I knew it would be the ideal place to run. We had to take the metro from our Airbnb in the République, so we headed out somewhat early to make the trek to Les Invalides, which would land us close to Les Berges.

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Pretty much every time you get off a metro stop in Paris, you go up the stairs and walk out onto the street to see something so beautiful you can’t believe your eyes.  After getting off at Les Invalides and walking a couple blocks, we came to the Pont Alexandre III covered in gold statues.

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On the Pont Alexandre III with Les Invalides in the background.

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IMG_5314We walked down to the Seine and saw Les Berges right away. A little ways down, we saw an obstacle course and the 100-meter track. There were tons of people running (which I love), and we ended up walking to the Eiffel Tower to check out how far it was (not far at all) and soon after I left Jeremy to get my run started.

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I have a picture of me climbing on here, but it’s way too cheesy to post.

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A plaque with instructions on proper sprinting form.

A plaque with instructions on proper sprinting form.

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I ran along the Seine to the Louvre, past the Musée d’Orsay, stopping to take lots of pictures along the way. There were a ton of people out, but it didn’t feel overwhelming. The weather was perfect (albeit a little windy), and I even ran around the Place de la Concorde among all the tourists. Normally I wouldn’t like to do that, but there were so many other runners out, I felt like I could do whatever I wanted (strength in numbers, right?). At one point I got caught in a cluster of tourists at a red light, but I saw an older French man running fearless through them and I sprinted to get right behind him so he could lead the way. He met up with other running buddies and I tried to push myself to keep up with them, but their pace was too fast.

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Little head, big tower.

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Musée d’Orsay.

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When I was done running (I ended up doing four miles), I met back up with Jeremy, and he took some totally candid, unplanned action shots of me sprinting slowly on the 100-meter track.

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Perfect weather, beautiful scenery, strong-feeling legs… It really doesn’t get much better.

Parc de la Villette

When I was looking around online for things that were going on last weekend in Paris, I found a 10K that started near our apartment. I got really excited, and we planned on getting up early on Sunday and making our way to the start so I could register. I’ve been itching to run a race, even though I’m fairly out of shape compared to my fitness levels this time last year. But I figured it would be fun to run a race in Paris, and explore the different areas the route went through. The night before the race I was reading up on details to make sure I had everything I needed, and I noticed that the website said every runner needed a note from a doctor clearing them for running. I had seen this when I was looking around for a marathon to register for earlier in the year, but was surprised to see that it was necessary for shorter races too. A quick Google search made it clear that I was not going to be able to run without the note, and I was disappointed. Since I was pretty set on running 6.2 miles, I decided to head out from our apartment and run up along the Canal Saint-Martin. I came across the Parc de la Villette a couple miles in, and it was really great. I wouldn’t have visited this park if it hadn’t been for my run, and it was fun to explore the different paths and huge art sculptures. There was a different race going on, and I could hear the announcer cheering people on, so the finish must have been close. It made me want to run a race even more. On my way back, I actually ran alongside the 10K I had planned on participating in, and people were cheering for the runners, so I pretended they were cheering for me too. I was, however, running the opposite direction as the racers, which a man kindly informed me of in French.

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Parc de la Villette, with a huge bicycle tire in the ground.

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The rest of the bicycle… and some goats.

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It was a beautiful run, and I was able to explore areas I wouldn’t normally have visited. I don’t think this running in new cities thing is ever going to get old.

Wandering Through Paris

Jeremy and I have been in Paris for a week, and have been having an incredible time. I’ve been here many times, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved it as much as I have this time. Everyone knows it’s a magical city, and one of the best things to do is to just walk around and get lost. The last time I was here was 5 years ago, and Airbnb didn’t exist yet. I stayed in cheap hotels in more touristy neighborhoods, and even that was fun. This time, however, I wanted to find an area I’d never been to, and was away from the super popular spots. I decided on an apartment in the République neighborhood, on the border of the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements. I want to do a full recap of our time here (and all the crepes we’ve had), but we’ve been having so much fun, I haven’t found a chance. My parents arrived in Paris on Sunday, and we’ve been spending a lot of time together walking around, and went to a delicious pizza place last night (Al Taglio). Today, we walked around for hours, and I finally brought my camera out. Here are some pictures of our day strolling through the streets and along the Seine.

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Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

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Inside Notre Dame

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Me and my parents!

 

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What a beaut

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On the Pont des Arts

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We’re off to Honfleur in Normandy tomorrow for a week, and I’m hoping to have some time to catch up on the past week!

How Not to Learn to Drive a Manual Car

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Jeremy and I just finished our third housesitting assignment, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It was a very small, sleepy town, and it was pretty much the exact opposite of where we’ve been since yesterday afternoon: Paris. We were there for 11 days, and spent those days walking in the vineyards, reading outside, cooking healthy meals, and mentally preparing ourselves to get in the car to drive to the grocery store.

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When we first applied for this assignment, we had just joined TrustedHousesitters.com and it was one of the first listings we contacted. We didn’t realize how lucky we were to get it, seeing as how we had no references and no experience on the site yet. We were so eager to accept the offer, we didn’t ask any questions. All we heard was: small wine village, Carcassonne and Narbonne nearby, we’ll leave a car for you. We said yes to the offer without thinking twice. When our hosts picked us up at the train station in Narbonne and drove us to Azille, they told us about all the spectacular things in the region and all the places we needed to go drive to see. As soon as they left, we were excited to start exploring the area. It finally dawned on me that we never asked if the car was manual or automatic. They had parked the car in their friends’ driveway to avoid the craziness of the feria, and as we walked to the car, all I kept thinking was, “please let it be automatic, please let it be automatic.” Well, it wasn’t, so we went back to the house to start watching Youtube videos and reading wikiHow on how to drive stick. Everything said to practice in a big parking lot with no one around, but obviously that was not possible. When I finally got my courage up, we headed to the car and I attempted to maneuver it out of the tiny space it was parked in without hitting the cars/plants/garages it was wedged in between, and drive it to the grocery store in the next town over. After stalling a bunch of times and profusely sweating, I finally got the car going, and I thought the coast was clear.

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Feeling good for a minute.

Shortly after taking this picture, we entered another village, and I got stuck on a hill. It takes some skill (and practice) to start the car on an incline, and unfortunately I did not have those skills yet. I had to turn on the hazard lights and wave people around me (while trying to ignore their shaking fists), and just kept stalling over and over again. I was on the verge of tears and about to give up and leave the car there, but luckily Jeremy spotted two British guys we had met the night before that were friends of our hosts, and he ran them down and asked for help. They drove the car into a neighborhood, gave me a thirty-second whirlwind driving lesson, and we were on our own again. I was able to practice some around the neighborhood and finally got up the courage to turn back on the main road in the village and head to the grocery store. We made it unscathed and back to the house (the whole ordeal took about three hours, and the village was only about five miles away), but I was a little shaken up, and nervous to attempt it again. The roads are fairly narrow, and there are many spots where one must wait to let another car pass before going. I never quite mastered how to drive really slowly without stalling, unfortunately.

I finally mustered the courage to try again a few days later, and we had grand hopes of making it to Narbonne, about 40 minutes away. We ended up taking a wrong turn and found ourselves in a little cute town called Homps, and after stressfully maneuvering it through the very narrow streets and back on the main road, decided it was best to just go back to Azille and call it a day. Sadly, we never made it to anywhere else but the grocery store and Homps, but I feel like I now know how to (sort of) drive a stick shift, and I feel proud that I didn’t smash their car into anything.

Moral of the story: if you’re going to learn to drive a manual car, save yourself some panic and stress by listening to the internet and practicing in a big empty parking lot if you can, and preferably not in a foreign country.

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The House

Even though the house we were watching was huge (7 or 8 bedrooms – I lost count – and just as many bathrooms), the three-story space felt really cozy. There was a jukebox, an indoor pool, a nice terrace, two friendly dogs and two super talkative cats, and more. We had a really nice time enjoying the home, and even though we felt a bit isolated at times, it was a good chance to relax before taking on Paris and the next few weeks of traveling.

Here are some pictures from our time spent in Azille!

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Lily the mastiff watching the town below from our bedroom.

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Watching some live music at the wine bar next door.

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Some red wine made locally.

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Lily and I bonded.

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The feral cats we’d see on our walk through town every day. They were constantly being fed, so they would all gather together.

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These looked like Dr. Seuss plants to me.

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Whatta ham.

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Canal du Midi.

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Hanging in Homps.

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The center of Azille.

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Inside the house.

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This was also inside the house, an 18th century tower that the previous owners converted into a stage area for their children.

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What can I say… we had a lot of time on our hands.

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heyyyy

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Running in Azille

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The picturesque vineyard setting of Azille, France has provided the backdrop for some really nice runs this week. My left knee has been a bit sore since my 7-miler last week (not sure why I’m surprised, I didn’t stretch afterward at all and haven’t been doing any kind of strength training), so I have been taking it a little easier lately. Jeremy and I have made a sort of 180 in our eating habits the past few days, which has been a very good thing. We realized that we can’t continue eating baguettes and blocks of cheese and pain au chocolats and drinking multiple bottles of wine daily (sadly), or we’re going to outgrow all of the clothes in our suitcases. So we stopped buying baguettes, wine, and cheese, and are saving some of those for special occasions (like the weekend). I, for one, feel so much better, I feel like my moods are more stable, and I have more energy. Not to mention I’m not bloated all the damn time. We’ve been making super healthy meals, consisting mostly of vegetables, quinoa, and fish. We’re pretty much just getting back to how we used to eat in Santa Barbara.

Less of this:

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Is that not the prettiest pizza box you’ve ever laid your eyes on?

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The cute pizza truck that visits the village on Mondays.

Pizza with white asparagus and artichoke hearts.

Pizza with white asparagus and artichoke hearts.

And more of this:

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Of course, these rules may not apply next week when we’re in Paris because come on, who are we kidding.

The village of Azille is surrounded by vineyards with multiple public paths going through them. I haven’t encountered anyone else on my runs (people or cars), and there are no houses around, so I have been playing my music from my phone as loud as it goes, without wearing earphones. It is wonderful. I am still completely aware of my surroundings and can hear if a car is coming from anywhere. I highly recommend doing this if the option arises.

The one thing that has not been great on my runs is the wind. It has consistently been pretty windy, with a nice tailwind on the way out, and a horrendous headwind on the way back. The first run was the worst. I don’t know what was going on, but it made me ANGRY. Running is supposed to release stress, not cause it. It was blowing so hard that I was barely moving, and I may have screamed obscenities out loud. The wind today wasn’t as bad, but I was confused as to why I looked at my Garmin and it was showing a 7:45 pace (which is unheard of for me) and it felt really easy. I realized when I turned around that it was the strong tailwind, and I slowed down considerably on the way back. Even so, I managed to run all my miles under 9 min/mile, which I felt good about.

Windy grass that looked really neat.

Grass that looked like water in the wind.

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Vibrant poppies.

Vibrant poppies.

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You know it’s windy when your ponytail is completely horizontal.

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Got the knee strap back on.

There is a canal nearby called the Canal du Midi that is 150 miles long and runs all through southern France. It is a popular destination for river cruises and bicyclists, and I’m going to try to run along it tomorrow. We drove to it today to check it out.

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The Canal du Midi.

I can’t believe tomorrow is Friday already; this is the first week that has flown by since we got to Europe. I am really excited to get to Paris on Tuesday!

Feria d’Azille: Five Crazy Days

Happy May! I’m really excited that it’s May because we are meeting up my parents this month! After living across the country from them in Georgia for years and then moving back to Santa Barbara, I got used to seeing them all the time. I am really missing them, and can’t wait to spend time in Europe together. Not to mention go out to some delicious dinners.

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This delightfully awkward picture of me and my parents in a hole was taken in 2009 at the Normandy beaches.

When our time in Avignon came to an end, we said goodbye to our apartment and got back on the train to head to Narbonne. It was quite an eventful two hours; we got to see the Mediterranean Sea, fields of poppies, and this couple next to us got into a passionate fight and the woman ended up hitting the man in the head and storming off. It was a little awkward for us, but we pretended to not be staring at them and watching intently.

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Continuing our tradition of wine drinking on train rides. We didn’t spill any this time!

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Pretty poppy fields.

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I loved seeing the ocean so much.

Our housesitting hosts picked us up at the train station and brought us to their house in Azille. It is a tiny wine village surrounded by vineyards, but once a year it hosts a big feria where hundreds of people swarm the town for five days and things get a little crazy. There is a stage set up in the village square with dancers and DJs at night (that would last until the early hours of the morning), and food vendors offer duck and steak and paella and crepes, and other things (our hosts offered to buy me a “chip sandwich” since I don’t eat meat – literally French fries and mayonnaise in a bun. I declined). There are bull runs and horse parades as well. There is an outdoor bar where you can get a big cup of red wine for one euro, and a PITCHER of wine for five euros. Glorious.

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Our British hosts took us to get wine from the wine bar next door on our first night and introduced us to the owners, and everybody else inside the bar, all of whom were speaking English. This village is so small that everybody knows each other pretty much, well, all the British people do at least. We then headed over to the festivities and they bought us dinner: fresh paella that a guy was making in a huge pan. It was delicious, and felt so good to eat a hearty dinner with some seafood.

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(I gave my chicken to Jeremy.)

It was hard to sleep at night while the feria was going on because the music from the DJ was shaking the walls of the house until at least 2am. People like to get pretty crazy at night apparently, and Saturday we were up super late, because a group of drunk guys decided to hang out right under our bedroom window and proceed to destroy a truck that was parked there (luckily our host’s car was parked down the road to avoid the madness of the feria).

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Pretty much every day we have been heading over to the festivities and watching some sort of dancing or music, eating Nutella crepes, and walking around town.

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Brazilian dancers at the feria.

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Jeremy feeling a little feria’d out.

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Nutella crepes for days, literally.

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Friday night we really got into the spirit of things, and danced to a polka/ska band playing on the stage. There was a photographer that took a picture of us dancing, and I am on a mission to find it on the internet somewhere. I did make it on the official feria website from when we were watching the Brazilian dancers, so I’m pretty much famous around here now.

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I’m over near the left side of the photo… if only I knew how to draw a circle on a picture.

(source)

I’m pretty glad the feria is over now, honestly, because we can get a good night’s sleep and see how the village functions normally.

Since I’m from Southern California, I’m used to celebrating Cinco de Mayo, so I had my own little celebration yesterday by taking a dip in the indoor pool and laying out with a glass of white wine (even though it felt kind of wrong to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in France… after all, it’s a day to commemorate the Mexican army defeating the French army in the Battle of Puebla).

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Stealthily celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

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My set up, with Lily the mastiff accompanying me.

I’m hoping to get my courage up to take the manual car out again, and head to Narbonne for its market on Thursday. We also want to take a trip to Carcassonne before we leave. I really want to feel a bit more comfortable driving that car before taking it to a town 40 minutes away!