France

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!

Palais des Popes and Goodbye Avignon

The Palais des Popes in Avignon is a main draw of the town, as it’s claimed to be the biggest Gothic palace in the world (according to its website). Thousands of people visit Avignon to tour the huge, beautiful palace, with good reason. It dates back to the 1300s, and was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century (thank you, Wikipedia), and housed nine popes before the papacy returned to Rome in 1377. Jeremy and I didn’t pay the 11 euros each to take a tour of the inside of the palace (a little too rich for our budget traveler blood, and our hosts in Geneva said that the rooms were pretty much emptied out when the popes returned to Rome anyway), but walking around it and up to the gardens to see the view was still worth a visit.

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A closer look at the creepy guy on the left.

A closer look at the creepy guy on the left.

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Inside the first room of the palace.

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The view over the Rhone River from le Jardin des Doms.

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Le Pont d’Avignon from above.

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Reminded me of being behind the waterfall in Iceland.

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Hotel de Ville in the nearby Place d’Horloge.

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The buildings surrounding the palace are wonderful as well.

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This guy looked like he was conducting serious business on the carousel.

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Goodbye, Avignon

Since I’m wrapping up our visit to Avignon, I thought I’d add some pictures from the week that didn’t have to do with Les Halles or Palais des Papes.

If anyone ever visits Avignon, you must go to Camili Books & Tea, it’s so adorable, and all the books are in English. And the people working there are so nice. The lady brought out some freshly baked cinnamon rolls and it was painful how good they smelled. The address is 155 Rue de la Carreterie.

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Look at those cinnamon rolls…

Some more things we ate/cooked:

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Bought this at Les Halles market, it was stuffed with salmon. Holy crap it was delicious.

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Vegetable quiche, also bought at Les Halles.

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One of our meals we cooked in the apartment.

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Heaven on a plate.

It's too dark to see, but there's polenta and grilled mushrooms on those plates.

It’s too dark to see, but there’s polenta and grilled mushrooms on those plates.

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In our Airbnb – we thought the mosquito net was just decoration, but after waking up with a few bites, realized it was a very important addition to the room.

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Another perfect picnic spot.

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The stairs leading to our Airbnb.

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This day was hot and felt like summer. It was wonderful.

We are now housesitting in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, in between Carcassonne and Narbonne, and we’ve already been swimming in the indoor pool our house has, explored all seven bedrooms of the house (not including this crazy awesome stage that is constructed in the old tower portion of the house, which was built in the early 1800s), seen a rainbow, eaten paella and crepes, made friends at the wine bar next door, and had a harrowing afternoon driving a stick shift to the grocery store in the next town over after never having driven a manual car before. I’ll get into that next time…

 

Running in Avignon

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I realize I look a little crazed…

Since we arrived last Wednesday here in Avignon, France, I’ve run 21.61 miles, my highest mileage week so far while traveling. I feel like I’m finally getting into a good groove, running every other day. Like I mentioned in my Running Abroad post, I take precautions when I go out for a run, and only now have begun to listen to music if I’ve run the route before and felt safe and secure. I couldn’t find much information about where to run in Avignon online, so I just started exploring. I would start my runs in the afternoon, which I now know was a mistake. There were so many people everywhere, I was the only one running, people like to walk at a slow pace here, and there was a lot of dodging pedestrians and cars. I finally got up this morning to get out the door early. It was a whole different story. I saw multiple people running (always a welcome sight), there were families walking on the path that I had found previously that seemed deserted, and just the decrease in the amount of people out was a huge relief. I did seven miles, and ran the last mile at 8:30, which I was pretty proud of. It was just one of those runs that feels really, REALLY good. As opposed to the one on Monday that I cut short because I just wasn’t feeling it.

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I start running from our apartment and then right outside the walls of Avignon, to a bridge that crosses the Rhone River. Here there’s a path that follows the river, and eventually leads to a nice bike path.

Tip to anyone running in Avignon: don’t run directly next to the wall because you will be dodging dog poo the entire time and it smells like urine (and I passed two men peeing on it).

These are a few pictures I snapped during a few of my runs:

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There’s that bridge again.

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Running under the bridge.

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The walls that surround Avignon.

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Tomorrow we get back on the train and head to Narbonne, where our housesitting guests will pick us up and take us to a small wine village nearby. I’m pretty excited!

Les Halles Indoor Market in Avignon, France

The view of Avignon from across the Rhone River.

The view of Avignon from across the Rhone River.

Jeremy and I have been in Avignon for about a week now, and we’re really enjoying the historic town. We’re staying in an Airbnb in a seriously perfect location right next to La Place des Corps-Saints (the best Place in town in our opinion), the town is small enough that you can walk everywhere, there are tons of alleyways to explore, and the pace of life is nice and slow. I’ve gotten some nice runs in, and we’ve seen a lot of what the town has to offer. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone or if it was just because my mom is French, but I grew up with my mom singing me “Sur Le Pont D’Avignon” all the time, and now each day when we walk by the bridge, I get the song stuck in my head. Here’s a children’s video of the song in case you haven’t heard it (which is apparently very popular, 3.5 million views!):

Le Pont d'Avignon in real life.

Le Pont d’Avignon in real life.

One of our favorite things to do has been to visit the indoor market Les Halles and get makings for a picnic (because you guys know how much we love picnics) and go sit across the Rhone River with a view of the town and eat our food. Avignon has had some pretty nice weather, but it has been getting pretty windy quickly (thanks to Le Mistral, the infamous wind that often takes over Provence), and although there have been blue skies pretty much all the time, there have been a few sudden rainstorms as well (seemingly as soon as we step foot outside the apartment). When the weather is perfect and surely not going to rain, we have been stopping into Les Halles and buying cheese, bread, and dessert for our lunch. It’s a really fun place to wander around and try testers that the vendors are handing out. You can buy pretty much anything you need there, including produce, seafood, baked goods, herbs, olives, flowers, prepared foods, meat, cheese, wine, etc. And there are cooking demonstrations anyone can attend for free every day at 11:00am. The market is open every day except Monday from 6am-1:30pm on weekdays, and 6am-2pm on weekends (we still haven’t gotten used to it closing so early).

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A really cool vertical garden covers the entirety of the front of the building that houses Les Halles.

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The first thing you see when you walk in the main entrance... aka heaven.

The first thing you see when you walk in the main entrance… aka heaven.

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The herb selection is incredible.

The herb selection is incredible.

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I LOVE OLIVES SO MUCH.

I LOVE OLIVES SO MUCH.

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So much fresh fish to choose from.

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And who could forget cheese? No one.

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We opted for some prepared foods for one of our picnics.

We opted for some prepared foods for one of our picnics.

And of course there's dessert.

And of course there’s dessert.

The square that Les Halles is in, Place Pie, is also charming with lots of good-looking restaurants.

The square that Les Halles is in, Place Pie, is also charming with lots of good-looking restaurants.

There's a flea market that has been going on in Place Pie most days we've visited Les Halles with some really interesting vendors.

There’s a flea market that has been going on in Place Pie most days we’ve visited Les Halles with some really interesting vendors.

I think Avignon is a great stop for anyone visiting Provence, which is a beautiful region of France everyone should see at least once (in my humble opinion). And Les Halles is an absolute must once you’re in the town that dates back to the 12th century.

One Month in Europe

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À votre santé!

As I sit here in Avignon, France at the kitchen table in a house that dates back to the 1800s with the windows open, listening to the French TV coming from another apartment in the courtyard that has been blasting nonstop since Thursday, I realize that things can’t get much better. Today marks one month since Jeremy and I arrived in Europe, and it feels like an important milestone. I keep hearing people say, “I can’t believe it’s May already.” Well, I can’t believe it’s ONLY about to be May and that we only stepped foot in Iceland four weeks ago. We have done so much, seen so many things, and traveled so many miles that it feels like we’ve been here six months already.

My office currently.

My office currently.

To recap the past month in numbers:

4 – countries we’ve been in (Iceland, England, Switzerland, France)

4,821 – approximate number of miles we’ve traveled (by plane or train, including flight from NYC to Iceland)

2 – places we’ve housesat

18 – pets we’ve taken care of

46.83 – miles I’ve run (20 of which in the past week)

100 – approximate number of picnics we’ve had

2 – glasses of wine spilled on the train

Avignon, France.

Avignon, France.

Time Doesn’t Move Fast Anymore

I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune when this whole trip is over and we’re back in California reminiscing over tacos and guacamole, but right now, it feels like time is moving slowly, which is a completely different story than when we were back home. It felt like every time I blinked, a year had gone by, and I’d wonder, “What did I even do last year?” Sure, Jeremy and I had a lot of fun the past few years in Santa Barbara, had some incredible sunset beach walks, made really good friends, took some great weekend trips and a long road trip to the Pacific Northwest, spent quality time with my family including two new nephews, but all in all, it felt like we weren’t actually DOing anything, but instead just working and waiting for the weekend, which would be over before we knew it. It just felt like something was missing. I think I can put my finger on it now: adventure.

La Place Des Corps Saints in Avignon, next door to our apartment.

La Place des Corps-Saints in Avignon, next door to our apartment.

I realize how fortunate we are to be doing what we’re doing. We are lucky to have extremely supportive families that encouraged us and didn’t make us feel like we were making a huge mistake, I’m lucky that my parents took me traveling almost every year growing up and it’s always been an important part of my life and has made me confident that I can navigate foreign countries by myself, we’re lucky that Jeremy and I have similar interests and get along so well that we can hang out 24/7 for months on end and still have a good time every day, etc. We were also at a point in our lives where we were able to leave our jobs and start a new chapter, which I realize is not common.

[Side note: I love to read others’ stories about how they dropped everything to travel the world and how it’s totally possible for anyone to do it. Here’s a good one on a travel blog/resource site called Nomadic Matt about how a guy saved up $14,000 in six months working at a pizza place to travel for a year.]

Tarte aux Framboises from Ginette & Marcel.

Tarte aux Framboises from Ginette & Marcel.

What We’ve Learned

Packing Light is Easier Said Than Done

For a trip this size, it was hard to be fully prepared for it. The couple months before leaving were filled with questions like: What should we pack? How much stuff should we bring? What kind of luggage should we get? If we’re there for different seasons, how do we pack to be prepared for the extreme temperature changes? I’m a creature of habit, and wear pretty much the same thing almost every day, even when I’m home with an entire wardrobe in front of me. I still like to have options though, and didn’t know if I would lose or gain weight, rendering some of my items useless. We learned from our packing mistakes early on, and have since downsized and changed luggage situations three times, and sent a big box of stuff back to America from England (even though it was really expensive, it was worth it). I kept repeating “pack light” in my head, but then defensively thinking, “well how am I supposed to pack light but still be prepared for glaciers in Iceland and hot beach weather a few months later?” I think we’ve come to a good compromise with luggage: I have a backpack that I put my laptop, camera bag and purse in, and a suitcase that rolls (that is unfortunately too big to be a carryon). Jeremy has a backpack and a duffle bag. Right now, it’s still been fairly cold when we travel, so we wear many layers on our bodies, which leaves room in our suitcases. Soon, though, it’s going to be hot and we’ll need to stuff our jackets in our bags, which might cause problems. Luckily, my parents will be meeting us in a few weeks, and hopefully they will have some room to take some of our winter clothing back with them. BUT, what if we’re here until winter at the end of the year? I think it’s more important to shed these items now, rather than hold onto them in the case of that happening. We can always buy cheap jackets when that time comes.

Slow Travel is the Way to Go

We’ve also learned that slow travel is best for us. We don’t feel the need to stay in a hostel in a city two nights and try to cram as much as possible into those two days, then move onto the next place. I’ve done that a couple times (minus the hostel-staying), and we’re going for quality over quantity this time around. I’m not saying we’re old, but we’re also not 18 and looking to party. It’s more cost efficient to stay somewhere for a week or a month (places on Airbnb have rates that go down the longer you stay), and it’s also just more pleasant for us. And we don’t have to be in a major city; discovering smaller cities and villages has been really fun, and even here in Avignon, I feel like we know our way around and people recognize us at the bar in the square downstairs we’ve been frequenting (this may be wishful thinking). This is another reason discovering housesitting has been so great; we never would have gone to the small village outside Geneva, the country house in Kent, and the one we’re starting on Thursday is in a really small village in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France.

Another view of La Place des Corps-Saints.

Another view of La Place des Corps-Saints.

How to Travel on a Tight Budget

The only way we’re going to be able to stay over here a while longer is to be very careful with money. In the past month, we have learned what to spend money on and about how much we should be spending on food and lodging, how to avoid expensive countries from now on (I’m looking at you, Switzerland), how to survive on the cheapest food you can find at the grocery store for two weeks [which will probably be pasta and bread (again, damn you Switzerland)], how to celebrate not being in Switzerland anymore by splurging on bottles of French wine for €2 as soon as you step foot in France, and how we need to spend more time places to get better rates on rental apartments. It’s also currently the off-season, so things are cheaper. As we get into June/July/August/September, things will begin to be more expensive and good deals will be harder to come by. We’ve been planning ahead to secure rentals now instead of being forced to spend a lot at the last minute due to a lack of options. Luckily we secured a month-long housesitting in August, and we won’t have to worry about finding a place during the busiest summer month.

A perfect picnic.

A perfect picnic.

As far as food goes, it is much more cost efficient for us to go grocery shopping and cook our own meals (which is one of the main reasons we rent apartments instead of staying in hostels/hotels), and unfortunately this means foregoing eating at some delicious restaurants. Dining out wasn’t even an option in Switzerland (the “cheapest” lunch we could find was about $30 a person, and that was considered a really good deal), but here in France things are less expensive and Avignon has some delicious-looking  options. The first night we were here, we did go to to a restaurant and get pizza, but we made sure to take enough home so that it would be our dinner the next night. We’ve decided we’re going to get a nice, not too expensive dinner on a few special occasions: our birthdays and wedding anniversary.

A rare dinner out.

A rare dinner out.

Another important thing we have learned is to never, ever leave your errands (especially grocery shopping) for Sunday, because everything in town is closed and you will be SOL.

These are just a few of the things we’ve learned so far, and I can’t wait to find out how we feel after month two. Thanks for following along and all of your encouraging words!

Pretty boats on the Rhone River.

Pretty river cruise boats on the Rhone River.