Well, we were in Rome for a cool 36 hours, and we didn't waste any time. Our Airbnb was in prime location--a brisk 15 minute walk to the Vatican and easy access to the bus system for everything else. Trev and I once visited Rome together, and more than other places, I had such vivid memories of our time here. I remembered the smells, walking the streets, the restaurants where we ate, and filling up our days walking non-stop. We took the girls to the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and St. Peter's. They walked it all, not just not complaining, but genuinely interested in and amazed by what they saw. Such a lovely short, sweet time in one of my favorite cities!
Honestly, I didn't see a lot of Toulon. Firstly, it is massive, in that sprawling suburban way. Our glorious Airbnb was right in the old town and across the street from the beach; so there already wasn't much reason to stray far--and then I got nightmarishly ill. Thank goodness the apartment was so perfect. I spent a lot of time there.
This I do know. If you go to Toulon, visit the old town, the Rue l'Amalgue, specifically . Rise early in the morning, climb to the top of the hill, and order an espresso to sip outside. Next door, you'll find the vegetable stand. Don't pick up your own veggies! The shopkeeper will do it for you. Then stroll down to the boulangerie. Then the poissonerie. Then the pasta shop. Collect your goods, fresh and local, right along with all the other leisurely shoppers, and it will be the most authentically French morning you'll ever have, I think. (So, be sure to brush up on that shopping market French!)
A very special part of our travels through France this month was a little family reunion in Paris. Stephanie (my sister) and her husband, Steve, are spending three months living in Paris; and since we were in France too, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law decided to join in the fun. It was a really cool experience to all be here together, especially since the one and only time I'd visited Paris before was with my family.
Trevor and the girls had never been, however; and neither had my sister-in-law, Lacey; so we made good use of our time, just being together but also taking in a lot of the sights. Since I'd seen it, but didn't think the girls could handle it, we sent Trev through the Lourve on his own one day. And all Edith and Iris could talk about seeing was the Eiffel Tower (I think they knew it from Madeline?!), so we made sure to make a morning of that. Of course, we fit in some beautiful churches--Notre Dame and Sacre-Cœrs--plus the necessary time one must simply wander the streets of Paris, half lost, totally enamored.
Since we had a few babysitters on-hand, Trev and I got out for some good food one night. May we absolutely recommend Au Passage for a fun night out (with plenty for the vegetarians); it's all small plates, plus traditional desserts and a solid local wine list. If history is your deal, my parents opted for the oldest restaurant in Paris, Procope (est. 1686), where Napoleon once dined and then left his hat because he had no money to pay for his dinner. Trev, the girls, and I also did a lunch at Miznon; we actually waited in line for the spot to open, and it was just absolutely worth it (I almost never say that). The food was so creative and delicious, but just tons of good vibes inside too. We had a blast that afternoon, followed by chocolates and macrons from Maison Georges Larnicol! Typically, I can take or leave a macron, but, when in Paris, you know? And these? Yeah, I'll take these every time.
As our first month abroad was coming to a close, it was time for us to head north a bit. We rented a car and drove to Lyon, by way of Millau, which was a stunning drive and a really fun way to be surprised by the fact that, I really had no idea what France looked like outside of Paris and the sea.
Lyon is one of the largest French cities, and it is a gastronomical capitol for the country. The food did not disappoint, especially our first bouchon experience at Le Val d'Isère, where the mushroom sauce was so rich, I thought for sure I'd been tricked into eating meat. We also found great vegetarian options in Lyon, including the veggie burger at Yabio and vegan fare near the old town at Toutes les Couleurs.
Our Airbnb was very near the Parc de la Tête d'Or, which was a serious treat. We spent two days biking the paths, exploring the zoo, and picnicking in the gardens. The neighborhood itself was really nice and friendly to walk around, full of parks and lots of local shops. Edith even ordered and paid for her own baguette at the boulangerie, all in French, and boy, did the shopkeepers get a kick out of that!
We found the community in the old town to be a little less warm, but the sights made up for it. We took the cable car to the top of the hill to Notre Dame de Fouvière. It was stunning inside--and out, with endless views of Lyon and winding garden paths down the hills. We were on a big hunt for the silk tunnels which run through the historic portion of the city; but in the end, we discovered they were less like secret tunnels and more like hallways from block-to-block. Pretty, but not exactly the mystery we'd been imagining.
At the end of our time in Lyon, we caught the high-speed train to Paris, and even the Lyon train station was clean, beautiful, and easy. I really enjoyed our time in Lyon, and if you want an amazing city to explore history and food in France, it is definitely worth the stop!
While we were staying in Canet-en-Rousillon, we took a day trip with a new friend to Montpellier and Nîmes, just to see more of the southwestern region of France. Montpellier felt like a much bigger city compared to Canet, and we enjoyed the culture that comes with city life for a few hours that morning. We broke a baguette with cheese for breakfast in the park (and Iris finally lost that second front tooth!), then made our way to the town square, where Trev and I enjoyed an espresso while the girls danced to the most quintessentially French buskers there ever were. Of course, we took a spin on the carousel before catching the electric train to the other side of town.
There, we met our friend and made the quick drive to Nîmes, which felt very historic. There are ancient Roman ruins throughout parts of the city, including a coliseum. We grabbed a massive Greek lunch at Les Cyclades, then wandered through the library, which has lovely art exhibits, and through a few paper shops before our last stop. We had the honor of meeting artist Jorge Colomina in his home, and we even got the first preview of his new exhibition which was bound for Brussels when we met him. Jorge and his wife, Joëlle, were very welcoming and their home was beautiful and inspiring. It was also a fun way to introduce abstract art into the girls' lessons.
While we were staying in Canet-en-Rousillon, we heard from everyone that we simply had to make it to Collioure. Now, when you're an American traveling abroad, it's hard to find out about all the little must-see towns. You hear about the resorts, you visit the major cities, and anything else you're just sort of lucky to stumble upon (like our trip to Norway). This is one of those places.
Collioure is a popular destination for Europeans on holiday because of its rocky beaches, protected in a natural harbor of the Mediterranean. It keeps the winds down and the temperatures hotter. The town, built into hills and cliffs, once housed some of the world's most famous artists--Dali and Matisse, for starters--who loved to paint the brightly colored buildings against the stunning turquoise water.
We hopped a sailboat from Canet-en-Rousillon for a gorgeous two-hour journey into Porte Vendres, where we caught a "touristic train" (basically a bunch of golf carts hooked together) into Collioure, which, to me, felt like all the Mediterranean dreams come true--the outrageous plants growing up the age-old buildings built over narrow cobblestone streets and wide open markets and squares. Also worth mentioning: tons of gelato options, and a cute little toy shop and olive oil store.
There is a lot of Catalan influence, especially in the food. We enjoyed sangria and lunch at Casa Gala. We also toured the Château Royal, which I thought was a great experience for the views and also the accessibility--you could walk through all the rooms and secret tunnels in a way I don't think would ever be permitted in the States.
We liked Collioure so much, we went back the next night for dinner at The Sails of Neptune with our new friends, Kristoff and Elodie, and the town is just as charming at night. Someday, we'd love to return to Collioure to stay longer.
Canet-en-Rousillon was our first French destination, and an easy Uber ride from Perpignan. The town is small, and, honestly, strikes a resemblance to the tourist beach towns of Florida; but the water couldn't have been more beautiful and the people were warm and helpful.
Our Airbnb was a great setup--just a two minute walk to the beach, near the town center, and with the cutest boulangerie around the corner. (Shoot! I just tried to link our place, and it says the listing is no longer available!) We enjoyed the fresh markets, which run nearly every day, especially for local cheeses and olives. Wine flows like water in the south of France, so it's easy to pick up a bottle for less than five euros; but we especially enjoyed visiting the Chateau l'Esparrou.
Being in a tourist town, during the last week of season, had its perks and its drawbacks. For example, there were a lot of silly little things for the girls to do, like a trampoline village and a "touristic train ride". We rode the double-decker carousel right on the beach, so many times; and it was fun to peek in on all the carnival games. We also took a sailboat ride to the nearby town, Collioure, which was such a worthwhile splurge.
However, it made things like finding good restaurants a little trickier. Thankfully, we made some great friends and they took us to La Cantina, which was perfect for Italian; and also Frayettes, which had amazing burgers and fries, but is run by an incredibly tough woman named Benedict. So, if you don't speak French, be prepared to not understand the insults (maybe that's better?!), and you better go hungry, because it's a rule that you MUST finish your plate.
After running to and fro in Spain, I would say the best part about this stop in France was how quiet it was. It was easy to slow down, enjoy our own garden, visit the beach every day, and find a little bit of a rhythm. The girls began school when we arrived, and we needed that slower pace to get in the groove with that as well. I think, though we were ready to move on when it was time, I will always think of Canet fondly, the way it welcomed us into the whole adventure, really.
After nearly two days of travel, we arrived in Barcelona. We spent the night in a real bed before taking off for Igualada, where we planned to spend a couple of days before meeting our friends. It was more than just a place to pace the time, however; and we had so much fun participating in the festival of Saint Bartholomew, watching the "giants" and traditional parades. We ate at (and highly recommend) the Michelin-star rated Somiatruites, right near our Airbnb (Montse and her daughter were incredible hosts).
Next, we moved to Capellades, where our good friend Gabri was born and raised. It's a beautiful and friendly village, and served as home base while Gabri and his girlfriend, Marta, took us on a driving tour of Catalonia. We visited Vic, and saw Roman ruins from 1000 BC; Rupit, a gorgeous Medieval village built into the hills with stone; Olot, built beneath four inactive volcanoes; and Cadaqués, the most idyllic seaside town. We also spent a day in Barcelona, particularly in the El Born neighborhood, visiting La Paradeta, the Born Cultural Center, and Santa Maria del Mar.
We knew from our drive last March that we'd find an incredible watering hole in Wilson, Kansas; what we didn't expect was to still have it all to ourselves, even in July. We spent less than 24 hours by this pretty, isolated reservoir, and it was well worth it. We explored the town for that small town feel I love; had dinner in a neighboring town at Fly Boy Brewery; and rested our heads at the historic Midland Railroad Hotel, which had the best breakfast I had on our entire month-long road trip. It was such a relaxing last night of our journey. Don't shy away from experiencing any place, big or small. Sometimes the littlest finds are the best.
We wanted a few more days on our road trip--a month on the road, but we weren't ready to go home yet. It was so lovely to buy ourselves some time, just us four. And we found that time in the Power + Light District of Kansas City.
Don't get me started, or I'll rave. The beautifully preserved architecture was enough to keep us entertained; not to mention all the free stuff to do, like the train exhibit at the gorgeous Union Station (it might put Denver's to shame?) or Hallmark's Kaleidoscope (seriously, it's a wonderland)! We stayed at Hotel Phillips, where I felt v fancy in the best, old-fashioned way. We had delightful (and vegan!) dinner at Cafe Gratitude; breakfast the next morning at Cosentino's; and (more vegan!) lunch at Füd. I also grabbed at coffee at Goat Hill, cute and blue, on the way out of town.
I don't know why we haven't made this a stopping point on our westward drives before; but Kansas City, I think I'll be seeing you in the future.
It's always a little funny, isn't it? Going back to where you're from. There are some pieces I'm so deeply nostalgic for, I wake up to those Indiana mornings feeling I've been whisked back through time. That I'm still a child, wondering what lies ahead. But then I'm confronted with other pieces, the little telltale signs that informed me long ago: the place I grew up wasn't the same as being home.
For the nostalgia's sake, Pizza King. We cooled off with Jimmies, too. In Noblesville, the farmer's market, Courtney's Kitchen, and Noble Coffee and Tea. Do a little shopping at Wilson's Farm Market; explore history at Conner Prairie; watch the boats go by at Morse Park. Catch fireflies.
The thing is, once you live in a place, no matter how magical the place is, to go back is about the people and the homecoming more than anything. We are lucky enough to have just about the biggest, most soulful collection of friends you could ask for, all reside within a few blocks of each other in Park Slope, Brooklyn. What's even luckier, is that a couple of those friends, on summer adventures themselves, offered up their apartment for our Brooklyn stay, putting us just three doors down the street from where we used to live. So aside from sleeping in someone else's bed, all of our steps felt eerily ordered and deliciously familiar.
I didn't say no to anything, didn't miss one chance to spend all our seconds with this unique collection of people; so much of our time was spent just meandering the park, or admiring the skyline and my gorgeous friends from an enviable rooftop patio.
Of course, that doesn't mean I skipped out on my favorite places all together. It's just to say that these links are more a map of where we went than the absolute destinations should you be visiting Brooklyn. And I'm okay with that because these adventures are about the memories, and I've got plenty of those associated with each of these spots.
I'd so missed collecting small groceries and picnic needs at Union Market + The Ploughman; breakfasts, respectively leisurely and fast-paced, at Couleur Cafe and La Bagel Delight; lunches with my loves at Ha Noi Vietnamese, Primrose in Clinton Hill, and small bites for an earlier dinner at Prospect Bar + Grill; coffees at DuJour and Colson Patisserie and Blue Bottle (because NOW Park Slope gets one); and the slow kind of browsing shopping that is the best in New York at Lion in the Sun, Modern Anthology, and The Strand, with LaTonya, talking about books while we perused the books.
I've only been to Montauk one other time, and it was practically another lifetime ago, back before it was the cool place to go. But recently, one of my dearest friends helped to open the new Hero Beach Club, so I couldn't not check out her brilliant interior design. Across a quiet street from the beach (with beanbag chairs!), this reimagined surfer lodge was such a treat in the smack-dab middle of our super-long road trip.
For lunches we popped into Joni's and Naturally Good Cafe (so nice to have some fresh, organic food!); dinners at Salt Box (great for kids after a long day in the sun because it's off the water and not as crowded), The Dock, and Duryea's (right on the water, at sunset, yes please); and we grabbed the girls' first Italian ices at Ralph's before heading to Ditch Plains to watch some surfers!
Nashville was beastly hot and humid for our whole stay; and though it was hard for us mountain-dwellers to take, it somehow seemed a part of the experience. The heat and the wet, heavy air made the city's rainforest climate shine, illuminated every species of plant just casually creeping up the telephone poles or in a meadow across the street.
There is no shortage of food, drink, or entertainment in this burgeoning city; and most of our activity revolved around spending time with family or friends who feel like family. Still, that included breakfast at Marché and Dose (get the rosemary biscuit, omg!); lunch at Fido; pizza at Five Points; ice cream at Jeni's, of course; popsicles at Las Paletas; and coffees at Frothy Monkey and Bongo.
We shopped at Project 615, and not just because the owners are our friends but because it's a cause worth supporting; caught a Despicable Me 3 matinee at Opry Mills; visited Sevier Park (which has great playgrounds!); and dominated the incredible [free!] play place at Cornerstone Church.
A drive to Pegram is worth it, even if you're not visiting my brother--it's beautiful. While you're there, pop over to Kingston Springs which is super cute, and you can grab pizza and a giant cookie skillet at Skyking.
(If you need more to do in Nashville, my sister and sister-in-law did the 5 Things Travel Guide for Nashville on Hither and Thither!)
We crossed the border from Oklahoma to Arkansas, only to stumble right upon the Park at West End in Fort Smith (which, by the way, is the cutest little town). We had incredible, authentic tacos and Mexican sodas at Miguel's Taqueria after cruising the main street for its murals and other street art.
Our destination in Arkansas was a one-night stay in Hot Springs, originally famous for Bathhouse Row--which did not disappoint, especially if you find art deco as alluring as I do. We did beer flights, pretzels, and dinner at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery after walking through the grounds and trails around the springs and the original bathhouses.
This year has already been a tectonic shift, the marker for when my status changed. I am still daughter and I am still mother, but the balance has perhaps moved to favor the latter.
My grandmother passed away on Trevor's birthday, her last breath on the day he added a year. My mother's mother abdicated her earthly role; and where did that leave me? In my mother's shoes? I'm never sure I can fill them, walk around in them. They are hers, and she wears them so well.
In one journey I said goodbye, and I also traveled home to say hello to the pieces of my childhood that still exist. I know them, but they do not recognize me. I can find them tucked inside myself and I am comfortable; but they cannot speak to me. Maybe they don't like how tall I am now that I wear my mother's shoes.
Aren't we all drawn of circles? We are beginnings and ends, looped into ever-changing shapes. If you draw lines around me instead, I will outgrow them. On the same day someone takes their last breath, I will add another year.
I will always be a woman, made from a little girl, trying on new pairs of shoes.
Never underestimate the power of jumping in the car and driving off to a wilderness you've never seen before. It's a privilege I try never to take for granted, in the journeying and in the cleansing and buoying of my spirit.
(We decided to #optoutside for #blackfriday--a wise choice, I'd say.)