Archive for the ‘the world abroad (uber vay-cay!)’ Category

Shane and Jack headed out early on Sunday morning for their scheduled zipline tour through the jungle while LaV and I opted for a quieter sort of adventure, heading over to the beach with the kiddos for a day of playing in the ocean and sand.  First, though, breakfast, where Juliette gazed upon her coconut muffin with total adoration.

We staked out a couple of comfy chaise lounges at the beach and sat back while N and Juliette happily scooped and shoveled, collecting little bits of shell and rock which Juliette pretended to feed to the “baby” she had created from a mound of wet sand.  Jules would join me under my umbrella every few minutes, seeking a shady refuge as the sun blazed hotter and hotter, but she couldn’t ever bear to stay put for more than a couple of minutes.  While the sun and the surf and the fruity drinks left me feeling laid-back and lazy, this kid was totally energized by it all.

Swimsuit, sunglasses, and a hat is hands-down my very favorite look on her…

And…she’s in.

Juliette would declare victory every time a wave crashed over her belly and she managed to stay on her feet.

Bring it on, sea!

The kids “baked” a special cake for La Verne and then sang Happy Birthday to her, insisting afterwards that we each take a bite.

In the late afternoons, the day’s fun-fest would catch up with Juliette and she’d succumb to the waves of sleepiness that lapped at her eyelids.  Sleepy-time is one of the very few chances I get to snuggle with my girl-on-the-go anymore.  I’ll take it.

We sun-setted at the beach once again on Sunday, this time seeing more grays and blues than oranges and pinks in the closed-in sky, but still, it was peaceful and lovely and we all got in the ocean for a salt water dip.  Any day that begins and ends at the beach is a good one.

Since the guys had given the zipline tour rave reviews and since we each had an “excursion” included with our resort package, La Verne and I channeled our inner daredevils and made our own trip out to the jungle on Monday morning.  It was an hour-long ride through small Mexican towns and up along remote mountain roads to the Canopy River outpost, where we were each strapped into a harness, handed a pulley, and told to fly like the wind.  And wowsers, we flew, zipping along the course at heights of 200 feet and speeds of 55 kilometers an hour.  Our guides were silly and fun-loving, but reassuring and encouraging as they sent us from one platform to the next.  La Verne and I toasted to our bravery with a couple of cold beers at the beautiful patio when it was all over, dizzy with pride and the sweet relief that comes with being on solid ground.

We rejoined our crew back at the beach, where we lunched on fish tacos and squeezed in a few minutes of ocean play before herding the kids back to the room for some quiet time.  Juliette’s freckles were a bit darker than when I’d kissed her goodbye few hours earlier!

The rest of the day was another haze of swimming and sunsets and mango tangos.  I had wondered if by our fourth day at the resort I’d be a little antsy, wanting to get out with Shane and Juliette and do the exploring and sight-seeing that’s such a big part of our typical vacations, but…NOPE.  The days of bouncing from pool to beach to pool to beach were just so blissfully easy, and it was abundantly clear that Juliette was perfectly content to swim that same stretch of pool and run that same stretch of beach over and over and over.

THIS IS THE LIFE, huh, kiddo?  (Don’t get too used to it, Jules!  Vacations will include sleeping on the ground and fetching our own water come summer.)

Juliette played an endless game of fetch with the ocean, tossing a stick into the waves and retrieving it from the time and again.


We put the kids to bed early on Monday night and settled on a room service dinner – the food was the one thing that had started to feel a bit “tired” at this point, but we got to eat in our pajamas and Cards Against Humanity made for some pretty enthusiastic bouts of laughter.

Tuesday was departure day, but our flight had been pushed back to the evening, which meant:  bonus beach time!  After chilaquiles and cappuccinos, we set up camp at the beach, happily resigned to flying home with a little sand in our hair.


Shane spotted a couple of iguanas near the pool and called the kids over to take a look.  They thought it was funny to see these two “hugging”.

We were told that our all-inclusive experience would end at 2:00, so Shane and Jack put in their request for one last round of gin and tonics at 1:55.

And then Juliette and I took one last dip in the pool.

…and then it was time to peel off our swimsuits and put on real clothes for the first time in five days.  NOOOOOOO!!!

You can see that none of us were quite ready to say adios.

It was a long trek home with multiple flight delays and we rolled up to our front door after midnight sleepy and stiff, but fully-dosed with Vitamin D.  And tequila.  Mission accomplished.

2017 has been pretty epic for us, vacation-wise.  We didn’t really set out to go quite so big this year, but gosh, when your brother asks if you want to join him and the family for a few days at a lovely house on the Hood Canal, or when flights to Paris drop to $500, or when your friends scout a deal at a beautiful all-inclusive Mexican resort, you seize the day.

So then, HOLA, MEXICO!

Our flight landed in Puerto Vallarta last Thursday evening and we wound our way through the hoards of eager cabbies to the friendly shuttle driver that awaited us curbside.  It was a quick drive to the resort, where we were ushered into the sparkling lobby and handed a round of margaritas before we’d even checked in.  This all-inclusive thing was looking promising!

We ate dinner at the rooftop bar and then headed back to the room to get settled and tuck in the kids.  Juliette begged to take a dip in the pool that adjoined our back patio and I told her she could put her feet in the water for a minute while I unpacked a few things.  She stripped off her clothes and grabbed her swimsuit as I was rooting around for her pajamas – I protested for all of thirty seconds and then shrugged my shoulders in happy surrender.  We were on vacation!  It was 9 pm, but it was 80 degrees outside!  Go nuts, kiddo.  

And then…this.  (Funny how a four-year-old can occupy an entire King bed!)

We rolled out of bed to discover a beautiful breakfast buffet set up just steps from our back patio, so we headed down to pile up our plates and dine pool-side.

This celery-cactus-pineapple concoction became a morning staple (and Juliette’s daily dose of veggies).

Shane headed out for a morning bike tour after breakfast while Juliette and I hung back and laid low.

I got out for a jog along the beach before lunch, thrilled to discover that our resort sat on a miles-long stretch of wide open shore.

And then, having all gotten our exercise, there was nothing left to do but…lounge.

And drink.

And swim.

We wrapped ourselves in our towels around 4 pm and walked over to the beach to catch the sunset and feel the squish of sand between our toes.

Shane and Juliette assumed their typical beach stance, hands held while the waves broke at their feet.


Juliette was delighted to discover how much warmer the ocean water is down in Mexico.

There was a lovely pool perched just over the beach, so we took a quick dip to compare pool temp with ocean temp.

And then the skies got golden and the clouds got all purply-blue so we jetted back down the shore.  Juliette met up with a couple of girls that she had befriended at the pool earlier that day and chased the tide with them, running and splashing and giggling, adding a whole other layer of glow to the magic occurring on the horizon.

MEXICO!  You are so, so bueno.

We went back to the room to change out of our swimsuits and check on poor Nico, who had come down a terrible cold the day before.  Shane, Juliette and I ate dinner at the beach club and took our time meandering back to our room, reveling in the warm breeze and the glittery lights and the absence of any reason to hurry.  This. was. vacation.

La Verne and I kicked off Saturday with a beach jog, in preparation for a full day of all-inclusive gluttony.

Breakfast was chilaquiles and pancakes and mimosas and some of the sweetest, juiciest pineapple I’ve ever tasted.

Thankfully, N was on the mend and ready to romp, so all hopped in the pool after breakfast.

We spent much of the morning in the oversized hot tub, tucked into an idyllic little enclave off the main pool.

“Mango Tangos”:  the beverage of champions!

Juliette was a total fish, paddling up and down the pool in her little purple floaties.


We lunched pool-side, luring the kids out of the water with plates of burgers and fries.

And then, more swimming!  This girl was insatiable.

We all dozed in the afternoon and then strolled over to the beach for another sunset show.

I tell you, this Mexican tide was magnetic.

Gah!  She was just SO HAPPY.  It was just SO GOOD.

Juliette’s new buddy appeared on the scene just as we were heading for our lounge chairs, so Juliette about-faced and was back at it again, chasing waves and being chased.

I keep trying to put words to just how magical this particular sunset was, but I’m coming up short.  So I’m just gonna let these pictures speak for themselves…

Once the last hues of orange had faded to gray, we all walked back toward the lobby to watch the 7 pm tree lighting.  It felt a little strange, listening to a guy in a Santa hat belt out Jingle Bells while we sat around in tank tops and sipped champagne, but we rolled with it, certainly feeling merry through it all.

Each of the kids got to light a candle (flip a switch) for the lilies floating in the lobby fountain.  Juliette took great pride in her task, smiling shyly and placing her light just so when the MC called her name.

We cleaned up a bit and then walked back over the beach club for fajitas and cocktails and ice cream.

La Verne and I were on our way out with the kids when we turned around to find that the guys were missing.  This is where we found them (this bar serves cocktails to go!).

By the end of the day, we’d lost count of how many pools we’d swam in or how many margaritas we’d drank.  We only knew that we had lived large and laughed hard.

Up next: more swimming, more sand, and a little adventure!

Sunday was our last full day in Paris and the agenda was simple: art, eat, walk, eat.  And maybe drink something bubbly somewhere in between…

La Verne and I had decided to bypass our favorite museums on this trip, as we didn’t want to spend our precious time in the city standing in line, but it hardly felt right to visit Paris without seeing some sort of art , so we settled on checking out the big Christian Dior exhibition at the Musee des Arts.  We had heard the show was huge and amazing and we asked ourselves, “When are we ever going to have another chance like this?”.

Once we made it through the line and past the masses crowded into the first couple of rooms, I was totally swept up in the detail and creativity and evolution of the fashion on display –  some of these dresses are total masterpieces.

I could almost feel the boundaries being pushed, each decade’s norms being broken.

We left the museum hungry and in need of fresh air, so we walked the couple of blocks to Le Fumoir for a terrace lunch.  Our healthy, crisp salads were followed by a couple of steaming mugs of ultra-thick chocolat chaud.  It’s the dessert of champions.

We decided to spend our final afternoon in Paris wandering through gardens and along the river, savoring the flowers and the fountains and the waterfront paths that are so good on an October afternoon.  We started at the courtyard of the Palais Royale and then strolled through its meticulously manicured garden.

From there, we sauntered west through the courtyard of the Louvre into the Jardin des Tuileries, which seems to stretch on forever with its golden trees and bright flowers and crowds of lounging Parisians in those lovely painted green chairs.

We crossed the Seine at Pont de la Concorde, pausing for a final look at the Tour Eiffel.  So long, old friend…

And then we walked and walked and walked, past the Musee d’Orsay and the Institut de France and one big beautiful building after another.


At Notre Dame we crossed the river back into our ‘hood, where we grabbed a couple of beautiful eclairs and a bottle of champagne for a happy hour snack.  We ate and drank our treats back at our apartment – with windows like these, it was as ideal a place as any to toast to our last night in Paris!

It looks like La V is about to chow down on a mustard-covered hot dog, but that’s actually a passionfruit eclair sprinkled with freeze-dried raspberries!  And it was AMAZING.

Once the champagne had run dry and we’d licked the last of the passionfruit icing off our fingers, we headed out for dinner.  First though, a stop at Pierre Herme for macarons.  For the kiddos, of course.

We were craving a quintessentially French meal and found it at Boucherie Rouliere in Saint-Germain-des-Pres.  A Kir aperitif, French onion soup, steak frites, wine…  Ohhhh.  La.  La.

We rolled out of the restaurant buzzed on wine and beef and walked a little around Saint-Germain before heading back to our apartment.  Gosh, I was going to miss being out after dark, breezing by dramatic centuries-old cathedrals and brightly lit cobblestoned alleys and the glittering river Seine.  Truly, there’s no place like Paris at night.

I fell asleep with the curtains wide open, wanting to relish every last minute with this view.

La Verne and I rallied hard to pull ourselves out of bed early-ish on Monday, so that we could enjoy a couple of hours out in the city before heading to the airport in the late morning.  We walked past Bastille and down rue Cremieux, hailed as “Paris’ Notting Hill”.

One final cafe creme…

And then a quick loop past some of the greatest hits.

I knew I needed to get back to the apartment and prepare for takeoff, but I couldn’t resist one more trip across the Seine to Ile Saint-Louis.  I popped into Eglise Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile and sat for just a moment in one of those chairs, saying a prayer of gratitude for the wonders of the previous few days.

And then, it was go-time.  Farewell, sweet Paris.  Farewell, windows of my dreams.

I sighed a few sad sighs as we headed to the airport, but once we were up in the air, I couldn’t wait to get back to Seattle and wrap my arms around Shane and Juliette.  I needed a hug.  And the minute I got off that Sea-Tac escalator, I was greeted with the warmest of welcomes.  Paris has Notre Dame, but Seattle has this kid.  Seattle wins!

That Monday happened to be my 36th birthday.  I woke up in my favorite place in the world and ended my day at home with my favorite two people in the world.  Happy Birthday to me.

I got up a bit earlier than La V on Saturday morning and slipped out for a couple of solo hours in the neighborhood.  Golly, I could get used to waking up to this view…

The Marais was so uncharacteristically mellow at 9 am – shops were closed, terrace tables were empty, there was no sound of French chatter or clinking coffee cups.  Walking these quiet streets was a perfect way to ease into the day.

Yesterday’s 12-mike trek and series of leisurely detours had reassured me that Paris was better done without a four-year-old in tow, but when I saw this mom strolling down the street with her darling pea-coated daughter, I missed my girl somethin’ fierce.  Someday, Jules, we will take on this city together.

My beloved Pompidou!  This museum is where I met Giacometti and Dubuffet and Yves Klein – I bought an annual pass to the museum during my year abroad and would pop in every couple of weeks to check in on my favorites.  La Verne and I decided to pass on going in this time around due to the long wait times, but still, it felt good just to experience the place for a moment from the outside.

My walk took me past Saint-Eustache and since I was free to choose my own adventure, I went in and spent a few minutes wandering its hallowed halls.

Someone was playing the organ while I was there, and while I’d much prefer a nice quiet acoustic guitar, there’s no denying the sheer magnificence of this instrument.

From the cathedral, I walked a block over to Rue Montorgueil and browsed the markets and boulangeries and cafes.  I bought a buttery, crispy Kouign-Amann and munched on it as I took in all the colors and smells and sounds of the city as it came to life at 10 am.  This is Paris…

It felt like every street I walked down was even more perfect than the one before it.

I was only a couple of blocks from my old apartment, so I briefly zipped down Rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth to take a look at my old stomping grounds.  It’s still lovely.

La Verne and I rendezvous’ed at a cafe and sipped a couple of cafe cremes while solidifying our plans for the day.  It was pretty straight-forward, really:  shop, eat, walk, eat, walk!

We spent much of the day in the Marais, strolling through the Marche des Enfants Rouges and then popping into several boutiques in search of the perfect trinkets to bring home for our kiddos (and ourselves).

We each bought a box of precious chocolates Jacques Genin, which felt more like a jewelry store than a chocolate shop, with its glass cases of gilded goodies.

I mean, these are almost too pretty to eat!

Satisfied with our purchases, we lunched at Bar du Marche, toasting to a very productive afternoon.

We grabbed a little shut-eye back at the apartment and then set out for an evening in Montmartre.  We had 8 pm dinner reservations and spent the couple of hours prior to that wandering the neighborhood’s hilly, winding streets.

We ended up at Sacre Couer and went inside for a quick loop.

When we came out, the sky had turned dusky and lights had begun to glimmer across the city.

We sat on the steps over-looking the city for a few minutes and then moved farther down when we saw the huge crowds gathered around a man playing his guitar.

Next thing we knew, we were singing along with hundreds of other people to a cover of Oasis’ Wonderwall as nighttime set upon Paris.  It was weird and silly and completely touristy, but in that moment, pretty extraordinary.

Since we’d been waylaid by Mr. Magical Guitar-Man, we had to book it to make it to our dinner reservation and zipped through Montmartre to land at ASPIC by 8 pm.

La Verne had found this little tucked-away gem of a restaurant online and booked this as our one “fancy” meal, though the vibe was actually cozy and casual, and the seven-course menu was really reasonably priced.  The food was beautiful and fresh and surprising, and in between courses La Verne and I got swept up in one of the most honest conversations we’ve had in years.  We laughed, we cried, we ate, we drank.  It was a meal to remember, in so many ways.

We caught the Metro after dinner and hopped off a couple of stops west of our apartment so that we could do a little sight-seeing on the way home.

THIS PLACE!  The Louvre at night is magnificent.

We walked further down Rivoli and milled about for a few minutes with the crowds that had gathered at Hotel de Ville to clebrate Nuit Blanche.

Eventually our feet could carry us no farther and we wearily climbed the two flights of stairs to our apartment.  My perfect evening ended perfectly in a happy chat with Juliette, who apparently was having a fabulous time with her dad in my absence.  It felt so good to see Juliette (and Shane) smile, to know that they were up to their own sorts of fun shenanigans, biking across Vashon Island and decorating pumpkins with friends.  This Parisian ladies trip had felt a bit crazy when I first proposed it, but gosh, it was working out splendidly!

Friday morning in Paris was crisp and sunny – perfect weather for trekking across the city in search of the perfect pain au chocolat.  Our mission took us through Bastille to the charming  storefront of Boulangerie Bo, where we ordered up a pain au chocolat, a raspberry croissant, and a beautiful lemon tart.

In the name of research, we carried our goodies the few blocks to Ble Sucre, where we asked for a plain croissant and a kouign amann and taste-tested our treats at a little table out front.  The standout was Ble Sucre’s plain croissant, which validated our initial hypothesis that more butter = more better.

After downing all those pastries we felt compelled to get some steps in, so we opted to walk rather than Metro to Jardin des Plantes.  I have the fondest memories of visiting this place in the spring, when poppies dot the pathways with red and orange – turns out it’s just as beautiful in October, when sunflowers and dahlias shine in all their early-autumn glory.

We spent a few minutes wandering through the steamy greenhouses…

And then popped back out ready to hit the streets again!  Off we went to Place Monge to wander the stalls and pick up a market lunch.

Armed with bread, cheese, meat, and fruit, we made our way toward Jardin du Luxembourg, weaving our way through some of Paris’ quaintest streets.

And then found a couple of sunny seats at Luxembourg where we could catch some rays and spread out our feast.

When in Paris…!

My chunk of baguette smeared with salty, stinky cheese perfectly hit the spot.  La Verne was pretty enamored with her ripe, jammy fig.

I’ve spent quite a few hours in these green chairs over the years.  I love these chairs.

Autumn in Paris for the win!

We left the park and walked toward the Metro, happening upon Saint-Sulpice on our way.  So we popped in, because WHEN IN PARIS…

We left the church in search of coffee and a sunny cafe terrace but again were sidetracked, this time by a couple of chocolate shops and this little alley.  Really, our few days in Paris were one lovely detour after another…

Eventually, though, the need for a caffeine kick drove us to Cafe Mabillon, where we settled in with a couple of cafe cremes.

The forecast told us that Friday would be our sunniest day in Paris and we couldn’t bear to let that perfect Fall weather go to waste, so we boarded the Metro and headed north to Pere Lachaise for a cobble-stoned stroll, despite the fact that our Nikes had already logged about eight miles by this point.  Some things are just worth pressing on for.  Pere Lachaise is one of them.

This cemetery ranks in my top-three Parisian places, and it was in particularly fine form that day, golden and green and serene.

I mean, WOWSERS!

We spent a couple of hours chilling out back at the apartment in the evening but then figured, “why not rest our feet someplace scenic?”.  Like on a boat!  On the Seine!

We caught the last cruise of the day, which began near Notre Dame and floated west toward the Eiffel Tower.  We heard jazz music in the distance and spotted this crowd of dancers practicing their moves.

Then it was one beautiful bridge after another…

And another…

There she is!  As lovely and lacy as ever.

The full moon shone extra-bright that night, making the Seine extra-sparkly.

Post-cruise, we warmed ourselves with galettes and cider at Cafe Briezh.

I loved these nighttime walks through the Marais back to our apartment, making me feel as if we were ending the day on the highest of notes.

Looking back over these pictures, I can’t believe all that we packed into a single day.  So much beauty!  So many steps!  (And so many carbs!)  That’s the Paris buzz, though – you forget your fatigue in the midst of so much magic.  This city is enchanting.

Oh, Paris. Paris. PARIS. Let’s talk for a minute about Paris.

Paris is where I fell in love with art and cafés and with pointy toed shoes.  It’s where I learned that I can do hard things, like set up a back account and a phone line and a student visa, all in a language I barely understood at the time.  It’s where I gained so much of the confidence and independence and wanderlust that I still carry with me today.  And gosh, I’ve missed the hell out of that city since the moment my year abroad ended in 2004.  Shane and I went back for a few days in 2009, and then a few more in 2011, but it’s been six years since I’ve walked the Pere-Lachaise’s cobblestone streets, spoken any French, sipped a tiny espresso on a Marais cafe terrace.  I was due for a romp through the City of Lights.  That place was beckoning to me.

Was Jules ready to come along, though?  Probably not…I mean, I have big dreams of roaming the streets of my favorite place with my favorite girl, but the full-day journey and all the walking that an urban trip like this entails just doesn’t feel like her style at this point in time.  We’ll stick to beaches and mountains for a couple more years.

Cue La Verne, who took all of 7 seconds to respond with an emphatic OUI! when I asked her if she’d be up for a Parisian getaway. She booked our flights, I found us a sweet little apartment in the Marais, and then there was nothing left to do but kiss our babies and their good-hearted dads goodbye.  Oh, the goodbyes…the goodbyes were hard.  But we soon got over it.

We left SEA on Wednesday, landed at CDG on Thursday, snaked our way into Paris via RER and Metro and then, like magic, popped out of the stuffy underground into my beloved, bustling, beautiful city.  I was hungry and exhausted and a little foggy-eyed, but the sight of those old stone buildings and the wrought iron railings and the gray zinc roofs breathed so much life into me.  WE WERE IN PARIS!

We walked the few steps to our apartment’s front door and were greeted by our gracious host, who gave us the spiel, handed us our keys, and left us to squeal in delight over our lovely abode. These windows are the stuff of dreams.

We dropped our bags, slapped on a fresh coat of makeup, and headed back out in search of food and drink. We were only a few blocks from my favorite Marais cafe and snagged the last open terrace table at Les Philosophes.  Red wine, chèvre-topped salad, the sound of French being spoken, and the company of a dear friend. I was in my happy place.

Sufficiently wined and dined, we spent the next couple of hours wandering around the Marais, peering into the windows of boutiques and boulangeries. We walked down rue des Rosiers and through the Place des Vosges.  It all felt so wonderfully familiar to me, but was no less magical than the very first time I laid eyes on this place.

We popped back into the apartment for a quick pit-stop and a peek out those lovely windows…

But the night was still young and we were still buzzing with Paris vibes, so we headed back out and walked the few blocks to the Seine.

We wandered around Ile Saint-Louis and Ile de la Cite and saw Notre Dame and the Conciergerie and the Pont Neuf, because that’s what happens in Paris – you head out for a walk and suddenly it’s like you’ve fallen inside the pages of a travel magazine.

I mean, how is this even real?

Once the sun set, jet lag began to tug at our eyelids, so we sauntered past the Hotel de Ville (!!!) and then back to our apartment, where we started talking about the next day’s agenda and suddenly were all amped up again.  WE WERE IN PARIS!

Finally, though, we called it a night and got our much-needed rest.  Bonne nuit.

I got an email from my office’s principal a few weeks ago asking if I’d be willing to give a presentation on her behalf at a science and tech conference in York, England, as she had something else come up.  My initial gut reaction was…I can’t.  It’s so far away!  It’s so much pressure!  It’s so much to ask of Shane!

And yet…it’s so hard to imagine passing up an opportunity like this.

Shane agreed, I couldn’t let something like this slip through my fingers on account of a few measly jitters, so tickets were booked, slides were prepped, and I was off to merry old England!  There were a few tears at the airport curb as I said my good-byes to Shane and Juliette, but once I’d settled into my seat with my complimentary glass of champagne and queued up La La Land on my personal TV, I felt pretty grand.

I landed in London on Monday morning and immediately hopped on the Underground to catch my train to York.  It was fun, flexing my navigational muscles again – took me back to my study-abroad days when I trekked across Europe with my rail pass and my backpack!  Conference festivities began that evening with cocktails and dinner at Gray’s Court.  Some parts of this hotel date back to 1080 and I felt pretty fancy, wandering the historic halls with my Pimm’s Cup in hand.

The dinner host told me I could catch a taxi back to my hotel at the taxi stand around the corner, “just look for the church”.  Found it!

Tuesday was full of keynote speakers and breakout sessions and some pretty epic struggles to keep my eyes open.  The day ended with a formal dinner at the racecourse and while I did my best to hang with the Brits (those folks can drink!), I turned in earlier than most, wanting to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my Wednesday morning presentation.

My Wednesday spiel on the Allen Institute went off without a hitch, and after dealing out a few business cards and bidding farewell to my London colleagues, I found myself with 24 free hours in England!  I took my time getting to the York train station, stopping every couple of blocks to snap a picture of a particularly charming old building or peer into a lovely old courtyard.

I rolled into London mid-afternoon and rushed to check into my hotel, as I had a FaceTime date with Shane and Juliette that I didn’t want to miss.  The time change made phone calls tricky, but I was able to catch them for just a few minutes before they headed out for school and work.  My eyes welled up with tears the second I saw their faces – I tried to blame my emotional state on sleep deprivation, but the reality was that I really, really, realllllly missed them.  I was comforted, though, by the fact that Juliette seemed to be enjoying Daddy-Jules week.

Once I’d cleaned myself up a bit, I laced up my tennis shoes and set out to make the most of my several hours in London.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and while I was tempted to stop and stretch out on a sunny patch of grass in St. James Park, I kept moving.

I made my way past the crowds surrounding Buckingham Palace and breezed by Big Ben on my way to the river.

My plan was to cross the Westminster Bridge and then follow the riverfront to the Tower Bridge, hitting the main attractions and any hidden gems along the way.

And I saw a lot.  The Golden Jubilee Bridge…

This quaint little plaza lined with quaint little shops, where I picked up a couple of trinkets for Juliette…

And the Tate Modern!  Shane and I visited this place when we were in London in 2003 and it stands out as one of my all-time favorite museum experiences.

I wandered a bit through the permanent collection, spending awhile in front of a beautifully crusty Dubuffet and finding myself inspired to get back into the print studio by this Lygia Pape woodcut.

Such drama in this building!

I eventually peeled myself away from the museum, grabbed a panini and a latte from a little cafe, and set off again.

England, you are too cute sometimes…

Something good around every corner!

The Tower Bridge is so perfect it hardly looks real – while walking across it, I expected a Disney princess to pop out at any moment.

I wandered into this pristine little courtyard and again felt slightly out of touch with reality.

And then back into the bustle of the city…

As I approached this crowd I wondered what all the fuss was about – were they in line for a show?  A new iPhone release?  Turns out it was just a bunch of merry Englishman enjoying a post-work pint.  It was 6 pm and the pubs (plus their sidewalks) were packed.

More fun surprises…

This Sauerbruch Hutton project is one I’ve seen in magazines many times over.  London is such a lovely mix of old and new.

I made it back to my hotel just as the sun set, feet aching but heart full.  Europe, I’ve missed you!

I had a couple of free hours on Thursday morning to take another stroll before heading to the airport, so I walked over to nearby Hyde Park to check out the flowers and hang with the swans.

And then, too soon and not soon enough, it was time to say my good-byes to England.  It was a long day of travel (again made easier by that complimentary champagne!) and I tapped my foot impatiently while waiting to de-board the plane in Seattle, wanting to get home in time to pick up Juliette from school.  I was desperate to get my arms around that kid.  Shane thoughtfully anticipated my desperation and was waiting with Juliette for me right outside of Customs.  Gosh, it felt good to hold the two of them close.  I was home.

I’m so glad I seized this opportunity, so thankful for the chance to put myself out there in so many ways.  There were times when my head ached with jet lag and my heart ached with homesickness, but those were relatively small prices to pay for the horizons I broadened.  What. A. Trip.

Indeed, yesterday was our last full day in Paris – as is usually the case with vacation, we felt like our trip was ending far too soon. We awoke to chilly gray skies but were determined to make the most of the precious time we had left, so we bundled up and took the Metro up to Montmartre to visit Sacre Coeur and walk the neighborhood’s charming streets and staircases. It was colder than we expected up on the hill, so we warmed ourselves in a cafe and then grabbed a glass of vin chaud (mulled wine) to go, wondering if 11 am was too early to start drinking wine, but coming back to the phrase, ‘When in Paris…’. We snaked our way down the hill, doing our best to dodge the tourists and enjoy the quieter side of Montmartre.

From there, we took the Metro south to St. Germain to visit Patrick Roger’s boutique – he is one of the most famous chocolate-makers in Paris, and I’d heard that his unique flavor combinations are not to be missed. We admired the life-size chocolate gorilla in the window, picked out an assortment of goodies to bring home with us, and then headed back out, thankful to see the sun poking through the clouds.

We had lunch at a cute little alley-side cafe, swung by Sadaharu Aoki for a caramel tarte (I know, I’m out of control), and then walked over the Jardin de Luxembourg to fully enjoy the sunshine that had now completely overtaken the sky.

We sat in our favorite spot and ate our tarte (which was buttery, sweet, salty, and delicious, by the way). I have so many good memories of soaking in the sun with Shane in this park. If I could take a piece of Paris and put it in Seattle, it would be Luxembourg gardens.

I could have sat there all day, but seeing as how we had only a few hours of daylight left, we peeled ourselves from our chairs and walked back toward the Marais, stopping on the Pont des Arts to snap a photo before the ‘So sad we’re leaving’ blues turned those smiles upside-down.

Shane wanted to rest for awhile at the apartment and I wanted to take one last stroll around Ile Saint Louis, so we parted ways and I set out for the little island. Since it was Saturday afternoon, the streets were crowded and busy, so I popped into Eglise Saint Louis to sit for a few minutes and enjoy the quiet of the empty church.

And a final spin along the tree-lined streets, which are so perfectly, quintessentially Parisian.

I headed back to the apartment to get Shane, and then we set out for the western tip of Ile de la Cite to watch the sun set over the Seine. I really don’t believe this spot can be topped on the romance-o-meter.

We had aperitifs on the sidewalk at La Comedie, the bar just downstairs from our apartment. I have really taken a liking to my pre-dinner Kir, and Shane is now a Ricard man all the way.

Our original dinner plans didn’t pan out, but we were happy to stumble upon a Marais cafe that we remembered really liking last time we were in Paris. Our table was cozy, the food was good, and we reflected on the highs and lows of the trip, feeling thankful for the over-abundance of highs we’ve enjoyed over the past two weeks.

We leisurely walked back to our apartment, enjoying the bustle of the Marais on a Saturday night – every seat was filled at every cafe terrace, music and chatter and weekend merriment coming from every bar and cafe.

The jazz club just around the corner from us offered free entry after midnight, so after getting our bags packed and the apartment ready for check-out the next morning, we headed over to the Duc Lombards to see if the band on stage that night was any good. And they were – we scored a great stage-side table, sat back, and enjoyed our last night in Paris with a heaping amount of ‘cool’.

I got up early this morning to take one last walk and say good-bye to the city. The sun had just risen, the streets were quiet, and as I walked past Place Vendome and through Tuileries to the Louvre, I took in Paris’ one-of-a-kind beauty with a little bit of sadness – it’s really tough to see this vacation come to an end. But through the melancholy, there’s a lot of thankfulness and joy, and a hope that one day not too, too far from now, we’ll be back.

Au revoir, Paris. You’ll be missed.

We got up late on Friday and decided to skip breakfast and instead head straight to Place Monge to pick up the fixin’s for a lunchtime picnic. This plaza market has a great mix of vendors, and after perusing all the offerings, we settled on a rich little hunk of chevre and a couple of clementines (we’re trying to eat healthy here, after all). We picked up a baguette from a boulangerie around the corner and set out for Jardin des Plantes to find a spot in the sun where we could enjoy our mini-feast.

The cheese was amazing – creamy and pungent and perfect spread on a properly baked baguette. And for dessert, la piece de resistance…a Marie Antoinette from Carl Marletti. This was possibly the best bite of anything I experienced all week – light and crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, filled with juicy raspberries and fluffy rose-infused cream, sweet, tart, lovely, mmmmmm…

We walked off about 2.5% of the calories we’d just consumed by taking a stroll through the park. The gardens are admittedly much prettier in the Spring, but still, the late-blooming dahlias were beautiful and the sunshine felt so, so good.

From Jardin des Plantes, we walked back across the river, stopping to admire the view of Notre Dame from Pont de la Tournelle, and then refueling with a noisette (espresso with just a splash of cream) at a little cafe on Ile Saint Louis.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around St. Germain, popping into Saint Sulpice to take a look around and then visiting La Maison du Chocolat for some…’souvenirs’.

We rested at the apartment for awhile, but I quickly began to feel antsy (might need to cut back on that caffeine and sugar…), so I headed back out to catch the last rays of the day’s sunshine, walking along the Seine and enjoying the view of Pont des Arts in the warm, evening glow.

We ate dinner at Cafe Moderne in Bastille, loving the old-school brasserie vibe of the place. And for dessert? A vanilla tarte we’d picked up from Pierre Herme, paired with a glass of wine and a movie – we were due for some veg time. Really, I should have spent the evening on the treadmill to counteract the 6,000 calories I consumed that day, but when in Paris…

After grabbing our morning croissant from a nearby boulangerie, we set out toward Notre Dame to enjoy the sunshiny day from the top of the towers. I had forgotten what a spectacular view you can get from up there – perched above the rooftops, smack dab in the middle of city, you can see most of Paris’ major monuments. Seeing the famous gargoyles up close is pretty fascinating, too – each one is different – some resemble birds, others are little gnome-like men, and my favorites are the dark little Gollom-like creatures.

After a lunch of roasted chicken and bouef bourginon at Les Philosophes (our favorite Marais cafe), we took the Metro to the Champs Elysses to do some walking. We gawked at the price tags in the Louis Vuitton windows, took a peek at the Arc de Triomphe, and had had enough of the grand boulevard – this is one area of Paris where I never quite feel at home, so I was happy to hang a left and head toward the river.

We stopped at Nouvel’s Musee du Quai Branly to admire the impressive green wall.

And because we once again found ourselves so close to the Eiffel Tower, we walked over to the Champs des Mars to lounge on the grass and enjoy the sunshine.

After a power-nap, I was ready to go again, so we walked over to the Pompidou (conveniently just one block from our apartment!) to do some art-gazing at my favorite museum. They are currently showing an exhibition of Edvard Munch’s work that is a-mazing – Shane walked out of there saying he had a new favorite artist. We spent an hour or two wandering the halls of the permanent collection and I visited a couple of old favorites, fondly remembering the days when I’d check out the museum every couple of weeks.

We had a great, although way-too-filling dinner of couscous and lamb at Chez Omar that night, happy that we were able to squeeze into one of their last tiny little tables before a line formed outside the door. We ended the night at the courtyard of the Louvre – these buildings are nothing short of majestic at night. And the sky was especially cool that night, dark with fluffy white clouds (props to Shane and the shot below – he’s a stud with our new little point-and-shoot!)

It’s easy to see why this is on Shane’s Paris-Top-3 list, isn’t it?