My Top 5 Places in Europe

If you’ve read this blog for a while, it’s no secret I’m always looking for excuses to get back to Paris. Or Europe. Or anywhere, for that matter. I have a serious case of wanderlust.

Since this is the time of year for lists, I’m sharing my top five favorite places in Europe:

#5 – Montepulciano, Italy

When my oldest son was four months old, we spent several weeks in Italy visiting my family. Since we’d done Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Cinqueterra on previous trips, Bug and I were eager to explore the hilltop villages of Southern Tuscany. For this trip, we rented a farmhouse as our base and explored. This is where I first discover Brunello wine and cemented my love of reds. Definitely worth a trip if you’re a wine lover.

#4 – York, England

Maybe we’re weird, but for our honeymoon, Bug and I decided to tour England and Scotland. On our way up to Edinburgh, we stopped off in York. The ancient walls and beautiful church are must sees. We day tripped to the countryside for a picnic and the seaside for fresh fish and chips. The history of York is fascinating, and I loved all the viking lore. Oh, and they have jam rolly pollies. So flipping good.

#3 – Nice, France


I can’t say enough about Nice. Sure, it’s a little touristy, but when I’m lounging on the beach with a bottle of Champagne, I don’t really care. The best part is that we tend to go in late July when a music festival is held in the public space below our hotel. Nothing beats enjoying good music from your balcony while a warm, Mediterranean breeze floats across your skin. And if you have time, Monaco is a short car ride away.

#2 – The Dalmatian Coast, Croatia


Seriously, Croatia was the best vacation I’ve ever been on. The only thing that kept it from being number one is that we didn’t stay long enough. The wine, the people, the sparkling Adriatic sea – it all made for a memorable trip. From Zagreb to Split, we experienced city life and tasted wine under the Syrian Consulate, ate incredibly fresh seafood, saw the marvel that is Pliviche, and leisurely strolled through Diocletian’s Palace. The highlight, though, was yachting from island to island and seeing the lavender fields of Hvar, exploring the military bunkers of Vis, and finding a secluded bay to anchor in.

#1 – Paris – the Marais

marais street

I’m 100% a city girl, and Paris, specifically the Marais, holds a special place in my heart. I got to know the ins-and-outs of the neighborhood, made friends, and ate my weight in macarons. Yes, it’s touristy during the summer, but where in Paris isn’t? The nightlife in the Marais is vibrant and restaurants plentiful. You can spend hours browsing antique shops and munching your way down the ancient, twisting streets. It’s situated on the Seine and in the Summer, sand covered “beaches” line the river complete with volleyball nets, lounge chairs, and kid games. There are numerous free concerts, and l’Hôtel de Ville always has something interesting going on. Plus, if you like seeing the sights, you can easily walk to the Louvre and Tuileries, or take the M1.


Paris Day 74: A Trip to Versailles

What do you do when you have a birthday boy who is obsessed with the movie Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola? You spend the day at Versailles.

Since finding out he’d be spending his birthday in Paris, Pudge has begged us to celebrate at Versailles and Bug and I couldn’t refuse. Part fun day out, part history lesson, it was the perfect type of home school experience.

The front of Versailles. Or as my boys informed me, where Marie Antoinette arrived from Austria.

The first thing The Fox did was run up and touch the “gold” gates. The entire train ride, he couldn’t stop telling us about all the gold and marble and “fancy” things he wanted to see. He was a little disappointed that the gold appeared painted and not real, but he still thought it was beautiful none-the-less.

The boys and I in the garden facing the Chateau

Honestly, the château itself isn’t really my type of thing – too gaudy (which is saying something since I love wearing feathers, sequins, and lots of jewelry). Add in the horde of people blocking all the rooms and it really isn’t all that great, in my opinion. But my kids loved it all: the colored marble, the soaring ceilings and over-sized fireplaces, the paintings, and the gold. Bug and I couldn’t get out of the château fast enough, but when you have a kid who looks like this:

Pudge in the Hall of Mirrors

You will linger forever if it makes them that happy.

While the Chateau didn’t wow me, the gardens, the Petit Trinon and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet did. (Side note: there is a house in San Francisco that is a replica of the Petit Trinon, and Pudge and I walk by it all the time. He immediately recognized it and wanted to know why MA copied a house from San Francisco – lol).

The difference between the formal gardens of Versailles and what MA created just a few miles away at her private retreat is jarring. Having grown up in the relaxed Austrian court, Marie Antoinette wanted her children to have a similar experience and had lavish English-style gardens installed around the Petit Trinon. But she didn’t stop there, she also had a small village with thatched cottages, a menagerie, dairy, ponds, and meandering paths installed nearby. It couldn’t be more different from Versailles stuffy and regimented environment.

Compare this background:

Pudge in the formal Versailles Garden.

With this:

On the stairs of one of the thatched cottages.

Or this:

In the Hamlet.

After we finished at the Petit Trinon, we headed back to Versailles for the fountain show. To get around the vast property, you can walk, rent a golf cart, or take a train. We elected to take the train because heels – even stacked heels – are not cobblestone friendly and I lived in constant fear of twisting my ankle. Which begs the question of how the heck did the old courtiers walk around? Their shoes all had heels. It must have take forever to get anywhere.

The fountains are only turned on during certain times.

By the end of the day, we were all exhausted and still had an hour ride by train back home.

Taking a break on a sunny hill.

Finally, Happy Birthday, Pudge!!! I love you more than all the gold at Versailles 😀

The birthday boy, Bug, and me.



Paris Day 62: Normandy

The beaches of Normandy.

Omaha. Utah. Juno. Gold. Sword.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know what D-Day was. Maybe I was that kid – the one obsessed with history – but I remember pouring over pictures of World War II and searching the faces of the soldiers who sat in the boats waiting to disembark. I’d stare at them and wonder what they felt and if they survived. I marveled at their bravery and cried sometimes when I thought about their fear.

One of the main things I’ve wanted to do since arriving in Paris is visit Normandy, so yesterday, Bug and I drove the boys to the coast. Our first stop was Le Mémorial de Caen. Here we found a detailed exhibit of life in Europe, America, and Japan from World War I up to post-World War II. Pudge, having studied World War I and the period leading up to the Second World War, impressed Bug with his knowledge and helped me guide his younger brothers through the start of the exhibit. The museum has a “children’s room” where parents can leave their kids, but we decided against it, wanting our kids to learn about the horrible impact of war. While our boys did fine in general, the part discussing the  Holocaust was difficult for The Fox. He kept asking if he’d be safe, why didn’t anyone try to save the kids, and why didn’t anyone stop the Germans from hurting all those people. Tough questions and I’m not sure I gave the best answers.

The German Cemetery at La Cambe was nearby, so we headed there. The boys immediately scrambled to the top of the monument (there are stairs in the back) while I wondered around.

The entryway to the German Cemetery.

I know the Germans were the aggressors, but as I read the grave markers, I noticed that most of fallen soldiers were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years old, and my heart broke. They were boys, probably off on a grand adventure, not fully understanding what they were signing up for, or even the politics behind it.

Reading the gravestones of unnamed German soldiers.

Our next stop was La Pointe du Hoc. If you have a chance to visit Normandy and want to see – really see – the effects of the bombardment, visit this place. Artillery craters, while now covered in grass, dominate the landscape.

A crater created by the artillery bombardment.

Broken chunks from concrete bunkers litter the bluff and rebard pokes up randomly from the walking paths. The command center still perches over sheer cliffs that American Rangers scaled under heavy gunfire with rope ladders. To everyone’s surprise, the Rangers took the cliff faster than anticipated, secured the site, and were able make sure the guns (which turned out to be nothing more than logs) wouldn’t be fired on nearby Utah and Omaha beaches. It was a huge strategic win for the Allies on that long day.

The ruins of the German Bunker system at La Point du Hoc.

Looking into the lookout of the command center where the gunners aimed toward the ocean.
And looking out.

After leaving La Point du Hoc, we drove to Omaha Beach. It wasn’t anything like I expected. People frolicked on the beach, fancy ocean front homes lined the area, and tourist shops dotted the street along the main drag. I know that time marches on and it’s been nearly seventy years, but to me, it felt a lot like building a house on a graveyard.

Instead of tanks, there are now tractors and boats on Omaha Beach. Notice the chunk of concrete in the foreground.

We next drove to the Musée Mémorial d’Omaha Beach. Here, the boys spent a great deal of time studying the exhibits of American GI gear, guns, and ammo, as well as a breakdown of the D-Day’s events on Omaha. Bug and I read the first hand accounts from survivors and studied an impressive collection of pictures from the invasion and the liberation.

It was a long day, but one I know none of us will ever forget.