Category Archives: travel

Endings… and Beginnings

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When last we spoke, I was alternating between waxing poetic about sunny summer vacations and practically pulling my hair out in anticipation of my move from Paris to California. I am pretty sure that my silence here speaks for itself. As usual, when things got tough, the blog was sidelined. However, I am popping back up to assure you that I made it.

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I want to take a moment to thank all of my friends and colleagues for the time and energy they spent supporting me through the stress of those last few weeks and months of what seemed like perma-crisis mode. I can only hope that our many celebrations were worth it. I still have a backlog of posts I want to write about my last few weeks/months in Paris – to tell you all about the museums, trips and meals I was able to squeeze in before leaving.

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My story has, in practical terms, come full circle. From California, to Boston, to Paris and back again. Emotionally, however, it is a very different story. I left here at age 22, naïve and idealistic with a list of things I wanted to accomplish in my life that, at the time, seemed to equate to happiness. I return, almost 12 years later, a bit more jaded, much more confidant and knowing that crossing goals off of a list in itself is not necessarily success.

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I learned so much about myself living in Paris. Despite all of it’s beauty and splendor, it is not an easy place to feel at home – especially living alone and not exactly speaking the language. I have a kind of innate confidence in me now – I moved there, I made it work – that no one can take away. Much of that came from learning how to share my ups and downs here. This blog gave me space to find a voice and foster my creativity, whether it was with my photos, crafting or a weeknight meal. More importantly, in this space I never felt alone. I am exceedingly thankful to each of you that read these words, especially those that dropped a kind comment now and then to reinforce that, despite thousands of miles, there are ways we can all remain connected and close.

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After all of my international travel and adventures, I am excited to be reinventing myself again, this time with the backdrop of San Diego and the support of my friends and family. I have started a Researching San Diego blog – you can find it here. It may be a bit less exotic of a locale, but there is so much to explore, in the city and throughout California (plus, those last few Paris posts will be posted there soon!). I hope you all will join me for the new adventures yet to come.

Thank you.

Much Love.

Normandy (1) – Road Trip!

After four years of nagging, I was finally able to convince family to take the long haul flight from California and come visit. It was a wonderful opportunity to show off my adopted (for a bit longer) city and a great excuse to take some well-deserved time away from the lab to indulge in a bit of touristing myself.

It was also time to relax, talk long into the night, make tentative plans for visits post-return, sleep, fix stuff around the house (yay to visiting parents), and blog. Since their departure about a month ago, my blog posting frequency has tumbled and is now inversely proportional to the time I’ve spent in the lab – that is to say, I need to go back and read this post (written not so long ago) again and again until it is indelibly etched in my mind.

Rather than stay in Paris for my entire week off (they had arrived one week prior and seen many of the bigger attractions), we kicked off our exploration with a road trip to Normandy. This region of France, found northwest of Paris, is known (among other things) for its coastline (mmm, seafood), agriculture (mmm, butter) and cider (mmm, Calvados). Historically, this region has been under constant dispute, from the settlements of the Vikings in the 9th century, through many centuries of French-English tug-of-war, to the most recent battles between the Allied forces and Germany on D-Day during WWII.

I know now that there is so much more to see in Normandy then the three days I allotted for our trip, but within these limitations we planned to arrive by train from Paris and stay in Caen, rent a car to drive around the area, specifically aiming to see Mont Saint Michel and the American memorials at the D Day beaches, and spend any extra time we had exploring the countryside and local color.

After arriving on a direct train from Paris (2 hours from Gare Saint Lazare), we first spent some time poking around Caen. Unlike other nearby towns, like Bayeux, that were been spared from destruction during WWII, Caen was almost completely destroyed during the German retreat following the Allied landings in the weeks and months following D-Day. This made for a not-so-picturesque skyline of ancient cathedrals and utilitarian housing complexes with very few of the twisty, narrow medieval passageways I have come to love exploring. However, the city was long ago home to William the Conqueror. He built his stronghold here around 1060 and it still can be explored today.

Although the actual castle is long gone, its foundations are still visible and the walls around the fortress have been restored and stand high on the only hill in town. Additionally, within the keep there are two museums and a medicinal garden that is still populated with several herbs and plants known (or thought) to have healing properties. Perusing the garden, looking for plants I recognized and learning about those I did not was definitely interesting and educational. It was also slightly frightening to realize that there were more than a few poisonous plants hidden in there.

While I could not imagine having a car in Paris (and would never recommend it), I have missed the feeling of freedom that comes from knowing you can hop behind the wheel and get out of town at any time. The few times I have driven outside of the city, I have found the French countryside to be vast and beautiful. Besides the gradually undulating green hills and endless rows of grapevines (or apple trees, depending on your destination), my favorite part about getting on the road is spotting the ‘what’s special about the next town’ signs.

A few kilometers before the exit to each small village, you can find large, sepia-toned signs that illustrate what that town has to offer the adventurous visitor. I find it to be a fun way to get an idea of what the local region thinks should not be missed (giant oysters apparently) and not nearly as tacky as the standard American billboard. Here are a few of my favorites or, you know, ones I was able to catch in semi-focus from a moving vehicle:

(Vire, home to a castle and many delicious sausages)

(Villedieu-les-Poêles, a one-stop shop for all your pottery and bell needs)

(Bayeux – timbered homes and an amazing medieval tapestry)

In a completely spontaneous move, we decided to drive a bit north and explore the harbor town of Honfleur. My step-father is a big boat lover, so fitting in a visit to a local harbor town seemed like the only fair thing to do after all the medieval castles and churches into which I dragged him.

This tiny coastal town turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

The outer Honfleur harbor was home to fishing vessels, sailboats and super yachts in seemingly equal number and, after finding parking, we hurried towards them, following our noses to the ocean and only pausing to let the ocean breeze temporarily cool the effects of the blazing sun. We eventually turned back towards the center of town in search of dinner and came into the inner harbor area. Cut off from the open water by a narrow passage (and a low lying bridge that is raised for passing boats), this marina, jam-packed with sailboats, is surrounded tall, thin multi-colored buildings whose sidewalks are covered by terrace restaurants serving up overflowing buckets of moules and looked like it could have been taken directly from a fairy tale. It would not have surprised me to see a newly be-legged mermaid or beautiful bookworm swing, singing, out of any one of the vibrantly colored buildings surrounding the water.

After an early evening spent exploring the winding, narrow streets and deeply inhaling the ocean air, we sat down to dinner at one of the many restaurants ringing the small harbor area. My step-father chose salmon with a curry sauce, while I had the more traditional moules frites. We ate quietly, and I allowed myself to finally, genuinely relax – this was what vacation should be – a glass of cider next to the water, the last rays of sunshine peeking over the tops of colorful buildings, stimulating conversation, delicious food and great company.

A little stow-away crab in my mussels apparently agreed (do any of you out there know of this? They were in about 50% of the shellfish and I have never seen them before…)

Timing is Everything

(Empty dining room of Lost Society, site of pop-up dinner)

Sometimes you end up in exactly the right place at precisely the right time. Such was the case with a visit to Washington, D.C. in late February. I had traveled to the Florida for the wedding of a close friend, and decided to take a few more days to travel up the coast to DC to visit a few more friends before heading back across the pond. Upon returning from the wedding I received an email from Catherine, a now-DC friend (and editor of the wonderful Edible DC) whom I had first gotten to know when she interned at Paris by Mouth, “Have to go to this tomorrow night for work. Care to go??”

(Bouillabaisse with chorizo, mussel juice, kaffir lime leaves and hot cream; cocktail – champagne)

What she referred to as a duty was, in reality, a multi-course pop-up dinner, complete with matching cocktails and only 13 other diners plus the chef, who was using this format to test out new menu options for a restaurant in development. There was never a question of my attending. I flew in, dropped off my bags and hailed a taxi just as fast as my little legs (and DC traffic) would let me.

(Roasted sunchoke, blackened onion aioli, Arbois foam; cocktail – gin with vermouth, peach bitters and caramelized grapefruit zest )

Summed up? It was more than worth every harried minute. Dinner was extraordinary, the cocktails creative and perfectly paired with the flavors of the food, the company delightful and the chef, Aaron Silverman, down-to-earth, humble and excited about his cuisine. He was especially generous with permissions for photos and details about the preparation and ingredients of the food itself. I scrambled to record his descriptions on my iPhone and to get the best photos possible in the low light of the lounge restaurant our group had taken over for the evening. I promised, at the end of the night, that I would write all of this up, including the photos and email it around to the staff and guests ASAP.

(Dungeness crab, artichoke, sabayon, dill)

And then there are those moments in which you find yourself at exactly the wrong place at the precisely the wrong time. One week after returning from DC, while riding the metro home from work (at a completely reasonable hour and on a ‘safe’ line, I promise), I was mugged. My iPhone was snatched from my grasp and yanked out of the car, taking me along with it, as I was still connected by the big, nerdy headphones that Parisians – and now me – favor. The thief and I tussled on the train platform before he was able to break the cord connecting us and run off. I spun around, discombobulated and feeling not a little violated. The other passengers stood still and silent, necks bent out of the open car doors and windows from where they had watched our fight. It was not until my shoulders slumped in defeat and I got back on the waiting car that they all started speaking at me, at once, commiserating and exclaiming how awful the crime in the city has gotten – although not one of them had stepped out to help me only a few minutes before.

(Caramelized cauliflower with greek yogurt, country ham, truffled breadcrumbs and raisin purée; cocktail – Calvados, ghost and habenero pepper-infused, brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, i.e. AMAZING)

A few days later I sat down, my (mostly) optimistic outlook restored to finally record my amazing DC meal and realized that all of my notes from that night were gone. Lost, along with the rest of what I had stored in that machine, which had become a notepad, address book, music collection, photo repository (oh, the FFFFPs that I had for you all!) and phone all rolled into one. Dejected and angry, I kept questioning myself: Why did I sit right next to the metro door making me such an easy target? Where was all that self-defense training when I actually needed it? Feeling disappointed all over again, I put the photos and the beginnings of my post away.

(‘Caesar salad’, fried brussels sprouts, parmesan and caesar dressing; cocktail – rye whiskey, tamarind, brown sugar syrup, allspice, lemon)

Miraculously, just a few weeks ago, I was poking around my email account – looking for an old, unrelated message when I realized that, somehow, all of my iPhone notes had been synched by Gmail. This included all the details and contacts from Aaron’s amazing dinner, as well as my optimized pattern for the perfect knit beer coozy, clearly two priceless recoveries. Good on you Apple and Google – I know you both are tracking my every move, charting my personality for advertising purposes and probably invading my privacy in ways I cannot even begin to understand, but for today I am totally A-OK with that. Under my nose, in an attempt to make my life easier, you had stored up all those notes and thoughts I had made and, by doing so, brought back the memory of one of the best meals I have eaten in recent memory. Sweet.

(Chilaquiles, Modelo especial) 

(Menudo, roast pork and tripe)

In reality, all credit for this meal go to Catherine (for the invite) and Aaron (for the chef-ery). As I thought I had lost Aaron’s email – I have not kept in touch – but am hoping that the arrival of this much belated post in his inbox will gain me an update on how those restaurant plans are progressing.

(Cheese course, mini monte cristo with housemade raspberry jam)

To all my DC folk – if there is the possibility, please seek this one out. He knows his way around the kitchen and and has a great time with it. It is more-than-about time that I owe him a thank you. Maybe we can all make the trek together when I return to DC in October?

(Apple pie, Ritz cracker ice cream, Ritz crumbles, caramel, roasted apples, apple syrup, Cabot cheddar)

(Aaron (left) and Co. after the dinner, deservedly smiling) 

FFFFP on Vacation – Mont Saint-Michel

I am a fan of catching FFFFPs while on vacation (or wandering around particularly touristy places) – I can turn my camera directly towards them and they are either so caught up taking in the sights themselves, or do not question my aim.
While in Normandy, my stepfather and I stopped to have lunch at one of the many crêperies that line the windy street climbing Mont Saint Michel. Our patience in waiting (and trying to catch the eye of the host – an impossibility if they do not want to see you) was rewarded with a window table overlooking both the bay and an outlook on the defensive wall where visitors stopped to marvel at the speed of the ebbing tide.

I had my camera out anyways, in preparation to record our meal (I think anyone who travels with me must quickly get tired of this routine) – and I am so lucky I did. If not, we may have missed one of the best FFFFPs I have ever had the good luck to catch for posterity (made even more inexcusable and flabbergasting when you are reminded that this was taken at a holy pilgrimage site – one that has been standing for more than 1000 years). I was at the time (and still remain) without words. Seriously. However, The Boyfriend was capable of coherent thought and summed it up perfectly:

“What the actual f*&%?

MOM, put on some pants!”

 And, that was before she did this:

The only things left to the imagination after this are:

1) What type of caftan did she whip out of that tiny bag to actually gain entrance to the church at the top of the mountain?

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2) What will it be like looking through vacation photos now, and in years to come, as one of those children?

 

 

An hour from Paris – Giverny

Paris is, (mostly) figuratively, an island (the region is named Ile-de-France after all), isolated as the capitol, a tourist destination and somewhat ironically, for (let’s say) the cold demeanor of its people. Yet, it doesn’t take much to get out of the city – just a few euros and a quick train ride and you can find yourself beyond the hustle, hurtling through green fields, watching the Seine expand and become the dominant force flowing through the countryside.

At some point early in my time here, I purchased an excellent tour guide entitled “An Hour from Paris”, full of off-the-beaten-path trips, easily taken from the Paris hub and ideal for exploring on a quiet Saturday afternoon. I pledged, upon spending €30 on this slim volume, that I would use it at least once a month to see what lies outside of the city. I have to admit, somewhat guiltily, that this weekend was the first time it at least three years that it has been opened for purposes beyond the wistful planning stage.

In the end, all it took was some sunshine and an enthusiastic and patient guest, until I found myself spending my Saturday on a train platform, leaving the city (and work) behind, and heading to Giverny in order to explore Monet’s famous gardens, lily ponds and country home.

Refreshing. Inspirational. Beautiful. Claustrophobic. The gardens and home were all of these things; although the latter only because of the incredible number of visitors, all carefully scooting around each other in a garden with only a few open access paths. The variety of blooming, intertwined flowers was beyond anything I had ever seen. Lilies and poppies, roses and honeysuckle, irises and violets, not to mention varieties I have never imagined, let alone learned about in my high school ornamental horticulture class. Maybe learning about a place teaming with so much life, beauty and creativity would have inspired me to pay a bit more attention? Probably not.

The estate was extensive, including Monet’s home (covered, wall-to-wall with Japanese prints and off-limits for hobby photographers, unfortunately), the flower gardens directly below and, across the local main thoroughfare, a water lily garden. This was my absolute favorite place on site.

Although jam-packed with people, I was able to find a seat on a bench beyond the throngs and daydreamed of coming here, years ago, for solace, contemplation and motivation. More than the overgrowth of flowers around us, it was the deep, earthy greens of the willows, ferns and lilypads that dominated this part of the gardens. At one point during our tour, it began to rain and, from seemingly nowhere, rose a chorus of croaks and ribbits. We had no idea until that moment that the lily pond was, in fact, filled with large frogs – that apparently loved the rain. Everyone stopped, smiling ridiculously at the cacophony of sound and tried to catch a glimpse of the impromptu performers. I had my fancy lens out, so I was lucky enough to be able to zoom in and catch one, startlingly green, mid-croak, amongst the reeds.

After a few hours, the color and perfume of the flowers all seemed to blend together and the pulsing sun and pushy visitors took their toll. We boarded the bus to take us back to the main train station in Vernon, the small village ajoining Giverny. We spent the remainder of our afternoon peacefully enjoying a panaché at the local bar before our train to Paris arrived. There was so much to take in, absorb and process: the riot of color, crush of people, and echo of past genius kept us both quiet for a while – contemplating the wild garden, which seemed to reflect a restless, maybe cluttered, yet masterful mind that has inspired artists (and the rest of us) for generations.

Following are some of my favorite images from the day. There are so many more photos – what an amazingly picturesque place…

FIFFP #16: On Vacation – Shiny, Sparkly and See-Thru, Oh My!

(Credit where it is due? I guess this will help maximize the cooling potential of that breeze off the canal)

As I keep mentioning (and not delving further), I took a short break in August to travel to Italy with one of my dearest friends. We had a great time taking the overnight sleeper train to Venice, exploring the art and canals, making our way to Rome and eating our way through the Eternal City.

(Apologies for the horrid iPhone photo. Unfortunately, to protect her privacy you are missing the matching lavender felt fedora, but I think the color-coordinated flip-flops give you an idea). 

I tried to stay focused on ogling ruins, slurping pasta and contemplating contemporary art, really I did. Yet, I am (admittedly) easily distracted. Especially by metallic chains, giant sequins and endless amounts of netting. It was hot. No doubt. Somehow even the 100F heat does not seem to justify all of this.

(Those are not sparkly threads, but actual loose chains draped over her shoulders. Similar to chain mail. Except not at all protective. We saw this girl randomly at least three times that day in different parts  of the city – the photo was clearly meant to be.)

(So much elastic. So much metallic.)

(Again with the iPhone apologies – the camera of which is normally so good, I think I was overzealous with the zoom function – however, it still captured the netted back, stopping just before the point of no return, and maybe a Spanx line?). 

(This girl deserves special mention. She uttered the most inane line overheard during our trip, “Does the sun set on the west everywhere?”. From the OC, she made these fellow Americans cringe in fear, knowing this is who the rest of the world thinks we are). 

(No fashion post about Rome would be complete without a photo of the Swiss Guard. Despite the colorful outfits, it would not be wise to challenge one of these men, supposedly the men of the Guard are some of the most well-trained security forces in the world.)

And, in case you have ever wondered what it is like to travel with me when I get pulled away from admiring real art and am on the chase for a fashion forward photo, my travel companion snapped this:

 

Yes, I agree. Someday that person is going to turn around, and I am going to be in heaps of trouble. I will take my chances until then…

 

 

On vacation: Tour de gelato

After two years, it is easy to see that starting (and maintaining, for the most part) this blog has altered the way I observe and interact with the world around me. Rather than walking down the street blindly, lost in thoughts of experiments that did not work or fighting pangs of homesickness, I find that (on good days) I am alert, looking for an anecdote to share or photos to take that will sum up where my mind and heart are at that moment.

Father/daughter self-portrait – 1981ish

More than a mere change in my day-to-day perspective, capturing these moments has enhanced and expanded my personal confidence and allowed me to develop skills and hobbies that now bring me great joy. Nowhere is that more evident than my growing love of photography. This is hardly surprising; as the daughter of a photographer there was never a lack of appreciation for this particular art form in my home. Until recently however, taking the pictures was always Dad’s purview – I was usually the one in front of the camera, deftly posing in ways that had become second nature over the last 30-some-odd years. Today my burgeoning interest in getting behind the lens is not only about capturing the beauty of everything around me, but is also providing a new and engaging way for my father and I to connect across the thousands of miles between San Diego and Paris.

Since arriving in France almost three years ago, I have sent hundreds of photos back home from all over the globe, always interested in (and slightly nervous about) the feedback on color, composition and image quality I know will come in response. For some reason it was the photo above, of an afternoon snack taken while visiting friends Strasbourg in 2009, which captured my dad’s imagination. That gelato shot, he would recall repeatedly as time went by, was fantastic. As any only daughter of an exacting father can attest, that kind of final approval and appreciation of a job well done is priceless.

When he heard of my plan to spend a week in Italy this summer with one of my oldest and best friends, he returned to that photo. “Have a great time”, he said, “and be sure take pictures of all the gelato you eat!”

This is for you, dad:

Melon (orange) and Rum Raisin (yellow)

 Mandarin (yellow) and Pear (white)

Strawberry (pink) and Yogurt with Red Fruit Swirl (white)

Cinnamon (brown) and Coconut (white)

Pistachio/Almond and Red Fruits/Zabaglione

Hungry yet? More vacation stories and photos to come…