Luxury of a Girls Trip

Exactly one year ago, I landed in Paris, France to begin my study abroad adventure. Little did I know, it was the beginning of a love story. I fell in love with Paris. I fell in love with its sights, sounds, smells, and despite their reputation, its people. While I tried to make the most of each day, I left the city still feeling as if there were still sights to be seen, neighborhoods to explore, and foods to try. 

Yesterday, my mom suggested that we take a girls trip to Paris. When she threw out specific dates, I knew she was getting serious. In true Jodi fashion our flights were booked in less than 24 hours…off to Paris we go. The Hardy Girls will take on the City of Lights from March 24th to April 1st. Paris en printempts…oui merci! 

The next few weeks will be filled with pre-vacations posts: outfit ideas, prospective itineraries, books, and other trip inspiration. Please feel free to contribute any suggestions you may have! Now, off to brush up on my French…. 

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Luxury of a Snow Sunday

The snow keeps falling in Chicago, which has been aptly renamed “Chi-Beria” by some clever residents. If you listen to the news, snow certainly seems to make life more difficult. Flights are delayed, traffic is a nightmare, and simple tasks like running to the store turn into mission impossible. However, it does make staying under the covers and ignoring errands much easier! 

I finally dragged myself out of bed to get some coffee at one of my favorite coffee shops in Chicago: Julius Meinl. Julius Meinl is a coffee house chain that began in Vienna in 1862. Walk into the doors and you are instantly transported to Europe. You are seated at marble topped tables and wood chairs that are cozily arranged in that almost too close fashion that Europeans love. Everything is delicious, but a large Mélange coffee and baked eggs are a must. The Mélange is a delicious blend of espresso topped with warm, frothy milk that is lightly dusted with cocoa powder. There are several varieties of baked eggs; no matter which version you choose you can’t go wrong!

Julius Meinl and cuddling up to Moulin Rouge on TV helped me survive Chi-Beria by pretending I am in Paris 

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You just can’t get rid of me…

I am very happy to share that two blog posts I wrote for Girl’s Guide to Paris have been published. Anyone considering a trip to Paris should check out their website –it is full of hotel, shopping, touring, and restaurant advice. It makes for great light reading if you are bored and want to plan an imaginary trip to Paris (ahem…like on your lunch break at work). 

Check out their website here: 

http://girlsguidetoparis.com/ 

And you can find my articles by searching “Victoria Hardy” in the search function or click here: 

http://girlsguidetoparis.com/?s=victoria+hardy 

 

And the fun just continues with my new blog: http://toriantoinette.wordpress.com/  I enjoyed writing in Paris so much that I thought I would continue blogging! The “About” section explains the purpose of the blog. Happy Reading (or not…) 

Au Revoir et a Bientot!

A month ago today, I sat in my nearly empty Paris apartment packing up the clothes, bedding, toiletries, and knick-knacks that helped make it a home away from home. I had a 50 pound bag, a carry-on suitcase, one very stuffed longchamp, and my purse (the cab driver was thrilled). I carried with me so much more than these items, however. Returning with me were many memories made, lessons learned, and new friendships (…maybe a few pounds but I like to think of these as “culinary souvenirs”)

Studying abroad had always been a dream of mine. I initially chose my major, International Studies, because it allowed me to combine my passions for history, language, culture, and travel into an academic pursuit. Never has my study felt more complete than while abroad. Although classes were admittedly much easier than the typical Michigan class, I was learning as I rode the metro on my daily commute, grocery shopped, dined in cafes, socialized at bars, visited new countries and cities, explored neighborhoods…my lesson began the moment I hopped on the plane and is one that will continue for years to come.

In addition to all the cultural, historical, and social lessons learned; I learned  about myself. I learned that my best French is spoken after a glass of wine (or two) and I am annoyed about something (it helps me acquire the necessary Parisian attitude and minimizes my wholesome Midwestern tendencies). I learned that I am capable of being spontaneous. As someone who typically likes to have everything planned out, learning just to take things as they come and “go for it” is a valuable lesson that I hope to apply back home as well. I learned that traveling with someone teaches you more about their personality than anything else could.

One of my favorite things about abroad is that I woke up excited for each morning; I always anticipated a new experience. I learned that this sense of opportunity and excitement need not be exclusive to abroad. I am lucky enough to live in an amazing city that is waiting to be explored.

There is so much that I will miss about Paris and the abroad experience. I will miss walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, seeing the Eiffel Tower every day, two euro wine bottles, Pierre Herme macarons, free access to any national museum, meeting new people from all over the world, exploring new cities with old friends, and the constant sense of wonder.

Thank you all for taking the time to read my blog. I loved being able to share it with you! But for now dear readers and the city of Paris…

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Chateau Chenonceau

We didn’t want to waste our nice weather inside a building so we saved our final chateau visit for Saturday morning. Chateau Chenonceau was located just minutes from our hotel. We packed up, checked out, and made our way over to the chateau. 

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The Chateau was first built in the 11th Century. The original chateau was burnt down in 1412. The Chateau began to be rebuilt in 1513. The work was often over-seen by the owners wife, Katherine Briconnet. We all agreed that there was a definite feminine touch to Chenonceau. It was more elegant and refined than Amboise and some of the other Chateau’s I have visited. 

One of the absolute best parts of Chenonceau was the unique flower arrangements in every room. The chateau has a special committee dedicated to creating replicas of floral arrangements in keeping with the style of the room. Here are some of my favorites: 

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The kitchens were spectacular. There were over 150 pieces of gleaming copper cookware. The Chateau was used  as a hospital during World War I for soliders and it is during that time that they installed the large stove top to cook for all the patients. The “staff” dining room was as pretty as any dining room I have seen in any houses back home! 

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My favorite room was the “Estampes Room”. This small room was used as a study. It had 3 windows looking over the beautiful Cher river. The blue walls were covered with frames featuring sketches of the Chateau and its owners. It also had a beautiful floral arrangement filled with my favorite flowers: Gardenias. If only I was writing my blog post from there…it wouldn’t be 2 weeks late :) 

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The audio tour was an hour and a half. It described the Chateau’s architecture and the history of its many residents. It was the perfect way to spend our morning. After the audio tour we took a long stroll around the gardens and ate lunch at the chateau restaurant.  

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Chateau Chenonceau was a unanimous favorite sight! 

 

 

 

Biking, Chateaux, and Wine…OH MY!

After a very long drive to the Loire (shout to Steve for his excellent driving and Jodi for her top notch navigating, I helped out occasionally whenever French was required…) we made it to Chenonceau. Our hotel was lovely. The ivy covered Auberge de Bon Laborer did not disappoint! We set out to explore the town…which took approx. 8 minutes. It consisted of one main street. Of the 7 restaurants in Chenonceaux 3 were closed. One was haut cuisine. We settled on getting quiche and salad at a cute hotel’s restaurant. Over dinner we reminisced on our other trips to Europe. I feel so lucky to have traveled with my family and while abroad. 

The next morning a miracle occurred: we woke up to sun! It was forecasted to be in the mid-60s so perfect biking weather. We drove over to Amboise to rent some bikes. Armed with a map, we made pedaled off towards Chaumont-sur-Loire. We rode along the river, through quaint country towns, and vineyards until we finally reached our final destination. “Caves de Vin” (wine cellars carved into the rock) tempted us as we rode but we resisted and continued on. 

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After our 3.5 hour ride, we re-hydrated with pichets of regional wine while sitting outside in a cafe that faced the Chateau Amboise. A perfect day spent in Loire! Our evening concluded at Chez Bruno, a wine bar where we had one of the best meals of the trip. I finally tried duck, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Thursday morning we had a brief spell of “deja-vu” as we headed back to Amboise and once again rented bikes. This time we decided to head up the Loire in the opposite direction. To our surprise and delight, we stumbled upon a market. Markets are one of my absolute favorite things about France. It is so fun to browse the fresh produce, cheese, meats, fish, bread, pastry and trinket stands. 

After our quick shopping stop, we continued on our way. Our ride took us past this interesting little garden wall lined with all sorts of teapots: 

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We had the brilliant idea of getting off the bike trail in order to take a different way back. I use the word “brilliant” with every ounce of sarcasm I can muster. After a quick detour ON TO A HIGHWAY, we decided to hop back onto the bike trail. *I would like to note that I advocated for staying on the trail the whole time…Parents, they think they know whats best ;) 

Once back on the blissfully car, truck, and motorcycle free trail we stopped to enjoy a picnic underneath a tree on a wine vineyard. Tres francais, n’est-ce pas? 

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Later we laughed over our detour while once again enjoying some pichets. For the first time in France, we indulged in a full “menu” for dinner. We dined at a very charming dinging room at the Relais Chenonceau. Despite American’s reputation for being fast eaters we were the first table at the restaurant and the last to leave! It was our last chance to have a long and leisurely meal and we really took advantage of it. 

Mont St. Michel

After a fascinating and special visit to Normandy, on Wednesday we headed out to visit the Loire Valley. After Jean Luc (B&B owner in Paris), James (B&B owner in Normandy), and an employee at a tourism office told us that a visit to Mont St. Michel was a must see, we decided to make it a stop on our trip. 

Mont St. Michel was built as a strategic fort on the Northern coast of France. It was established in the 6th century. It became a monastery in the 8th century. It remained as a monastery and tidal island until it became a historical sight. Each year over 3 million visitors go to the island. It was certainly crowded. It sort of felt like a mini-version of France’s Disneyworld, but it was still special and interesting. Unfortunately the rain that made our tour of Normandy special did not really enhance our experience of Mont St. Michel.  

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Little did we know our little excursion would add almost 3 hours to our drive to the Loire…