11 December 2014

Honeymoon 006 \\ Trabouling in Lyon

I've mentioned many times that I don't usually enjoy tours. That hasn't changed. I still prefer to explore on my own, but even I'm willing to make exceptions. Traboules require a bit of explanation & it can be nice to let someone else take the reigns (plus I'm a huge nerd for history). & there's so much history in Lyon. This may actually explain why I first gravitated to it. I also fell in love with these weird little passageways on my first visit.

The latest version of this tour included fancy headphones. Not only did they make us look super cool, but they also made it easier to hear our soft-spoken French tour guide as we wandered the narrow streets & used the traboules to weave between streets & buildings. I especially liked the guide's description of a traboule as "a public passage in a private space".

Traboules are unique to Lyon so it can be tough to explain them to someone who's never experienced them. I know N didn't quite get it until we were actually trabouling.

The residents of these buildings have agreed to allow access to the public. They ask that we respect the tranquility of the spaces by passing in silence. The streets outside can be noisy, which makes the quiet traboules feel especially tranquil. If you decide to explore the area on your own, ask for a map at the Tourist Office: each traboule is marked on the map to make route-planning simple.

Rue St Jean, the main street of Vieux Lyon, can be crowded, but as you make your way through these passageways, you'll often find yourself alone. You'll also get to experience beautiful architecture that would otherwise remain hidden if the residents of this neighbourhood hadn't agreed it was worth allowing tourists & locals alike to explore.

La Tour Rose is one of the most well-known traboules

After the tour, we had some time to kill before our late dinner reservation. On the hunt for wine & a good picnic spot, we headed over to Les Berges du Rhône. Les Berges is a park along the banks of the Rhône, & a premier spot for picnicking. There's always something going on! This time we stumbled upon a board game event: hundreds of people playing all different kind of games & enjoying the beautiful day. Unfortunately, being Sunday, most stores were closed & we struck out in our wine search at every tabac on that side of town. Instead, we grabbed a drink on one of the patios along the river. It wasn't exactly the picnic we had in mind, but no real complaints there.

Enjoying the sun on our way to Les Berges
A game of Carcassonne in the park
Our balade eventually led us to one of the newer Starbucks along Rue de la Ré. I wanted to see if one of my friends was working. Turns out he had transferred back to the store we'd worked together at in France, so we made our way up there. Of course, I had to take a photo outside. There she is, the first Starbucks of many! Although, Soufien wasn't working when we visited, we did run into another of my coworkers & made plans to come back to following day to see S.

On our way back to our apartment, I remembered that épiceries often carry wine so we grabbed a bottle. Success! Who would have thought it could be so difficult to find wine in France?! Back at our place, we threw open the giant windows, laid our feast out on the kitchen counter, & relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. 

It's hard to deny that Lyon is gorgeous with it's old buildings on the hill & Fourvière in the distance. I could have hung out in that apartment for another week enjoying that view & visiting the market in Croix Rousse daily. While there's so much of the world I want to see, I think I'll always want to go back to Lyon.

That night, we got a bit dressed up & headed out for a late dinner at Brasserie de L'Est - one of Paul Bocuse's brasseries. Located in the old Brotteaux Train Station, the menu & decor are meant to take you on a Round The World trip. A miniature train circles the dining room above your head, paying homage to the buildings' past.

I'd been to another of Bocuse's Brasseries, Le Sud, when I lived in Lyon & it was a wonderful experience so I was really looking forward to this dinner. It certainly did not disappoint. Paul Bocuse is such an icon in this region, & in the culinary community. A visit to one of his restaurants should definitely be on your To Do list.

As for our meals, N & I shared Salmon Gravlax & Foie Gras Mousse to start. Then N went for the cod while I had beef. Both were delicious & cooked perfectly. My beef came with a side of  thick-cut fries, which were kept warm over a candle. I thought it was pretty cute. To cap things off, we shared an excessively large crème brulée - a desert I can never resist.

We wrapped up our meal just in time to catch the last metro home & tucked ourselves into bed satisfied with our wonderful day.

8 December 2014

November in Instagram

I'm using a different method to post this month's Instagram recap. You'll have to let me know if you like it. It's significantly less time consuming than my previous methods, which I'm always a fan of. It might not be the best quality though. I really wish tables with photos weren't such a pain in blogger. It takes me back to my first website, when I almost always chose to write in html. Now, I'm the complete opposite. I find I'm much more motivated to blog about what's going on than to write a bunch of html to get those thoughts up there. Maybe one day I'll get back into it, but for now I'm still wishing on a better way to add tables. You hear that, blogger! Get on it. We like tables. & while you're at it, I'd like to put two photos side by side & have them look nice, without using photoshop. Consider it my blogging Christmas Wishlist. I'm sure I'm not the first to want these things!

Here's what we got up to this November:

1. We started off the month with Banff Winterstart. It's an 8 km night run up Banff's Tunnel Mountain. N & a few of our friends dressed as penguins. I highly recommend this run. We had a great time!
2. Rouladen has always been a winter favourite for my family. I wanted to share that with N, so I made a paleo version. It was delicious!
3. Saturday morning coffee in bed has become a staple lately. N gets up at 9:30 & puts coffee on. He likes to get up & play games, while I sit in bed & read. I like these kind of slow starts.
4. I've been writing Thank Yous all month. I really wanted them to be genuine so I took my time. Sometimes wine was involved. My desk is messy.
5. I've been making an effort to workout more this month. As soon as the temperature dropped, my motivation evaporated, but this month I made an effort to get my butt moving at least four times a week. Many burpees were involved.
6. We got a beautiful Staub Cast-Iron Grill Pan as a Wedding Gift & christened it with some delicious grass-fed beef. This is my kind of Friday evening at home.
7. Brunch at OEB is a monthly thing for us. Their breakfast poutine is by far the absolute best way to start the day. I literally compare every breakfast to theirs. It's always worth the wait.
8. D & I had a girls night with some of her coworkers last week. We grabbed dinner & drinks & then hit the mall for some shopping during the 'Twas the Night event.
9. My awesome optometrist (& friend!) hooked me up with some awesome Ray Bans. I'm really excited for longer days so I can more wear out of them.

3 December 2014

Winter thoughts

Winter may not be official for another couple weeks, but our climate certainly says otherwise. We've been bundling up, wearing extra layers of wool, & trudging through snow banks for a couple weeks now. & I love many aspects of winter - planning ski trips with friends, comfy wool socks (these are a staple for me. They're men's but they last for years), flannel & leggings, carefully braising beautiful meals (winter cooking is probably my favourite), skating at the rink in our neighbourhood, & reading by the fire at my parents' house in the mountains. Just thinking about all this gets me pretty excited for the winter months ahead.

Unfortunately, my motivation seems to wane when the temperature drops far below zero. I'm not alone here either. There's even a disorder for this season - seasonal affective disorder - SAD. Isn't that acronym depressing? I don't think I suffer from SAD, I just have a hard time motivating myself to get up & do a whole lot of anything. Gilmore Girls was just added to Netflix & I've made every excuse to watch episode after episode on the couch. I've watched it while blogging (like right now), writing thank you notes, cooking, & even cleaning.

In the summer months, I'm usually pretty motivated to workout. I get my butt to the gym or go for a run or even just go for a walk. We live about a minute from the river paths, so it's easy to take advantage of this proximity. In the summer.

The great thing about the paths though is that they are cleared all year long & we're lucky enough to experience breaks in the freezing cold pretty often. Even when it is cold out, it's just a matter of taking the plunge. Once you get out there, it's really not so bad.

I've been making an effort of getting out there more often lately. Even on the days that I don't feel like heading to the gym, I've been going. I've been setting my alarm for 5 am & forcing myself out of bed for spin class. (I know that seems so crazy, but I have the best time once I'm there. The best!) I reminded N to pick up his skates so we can head over to the skating rink in the evening. Free dates are the best dates, right?

that's it. Those are my thoughts about winter. None of this is truly groundbreaking, but I hope maybe it helps a little bit if you're finding yourself in hibernation mode. You can do it! Get up, get out, & go for it. You can either hate on winter for the next 6 months or you can find a way to make it great.

Or maybe you're already an expert in getting through the winter. Let me know if the comments what keeps you going

25 November 2014

Honeymoon 005 \\ Lyon: Croix Rousse & the market

One of my favourite things about my life in Lyon was my neighbourhood. I lived on a quiet little street, just off the Boulevard de la Croix Rousse. This street separates the 4th arrondissement (the plateau) from the 1st (the pentes or hill). Although my apartment was actually right at the top of the hill, it was just at the end of the 1st. This quarter, Croix Rousse, is nicknamed la colline qui travaille (opposite the hill that prays, which we explored the previous day) because of the numerous silk workshops that were relocated from Vieux Lyon in the 18th Century.

These workshops are the reason for the unique architecture in the area, including the beautiful tall ceilings in most buildings. The ceilings had to be tall to accommodate the very large Jacquard looms, making for beautiful, light-filled apartments now. Things weren't so great for these silk workers (canuts) back then though - their working conditions were horrible. The subsequent revolts are a big part of Lyon's history.

In many ways, this neighbourhood reminds me of the Plateau in Montreal. The area & its people have a reputation as being different from the rest of the city & in many ways it feels more like a village than part of a large city. So, on our second day in Lyon, we set out for Croix-Rousse first thing. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Lyon: giving N a glimpse of my life here in 2008. 

Silly Memories from 2008 in Croix Rousse
We were staying near Place Sathonay, which I had often frequented while living in Lyon, so I took us up my regular route. Most people would take the montee de la grande cote, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but my tour would take us back that way on our way home. This way I could show N the stairs at montee de vauzelles too. My parents wound up taking them when they were looking for my apartment on their last visit so he'd heard of them before. I even made him take a picture of me at the bottom before we started our climb. (I'm sure he thought I was a little odd getting excited about a set of stairs, but memories, friends.)

The top of the stairs connects with the end of Rue de Vauzelles, & my former building is pretty much right in front of you at 13. Not much had changed from when I lived there, besides a little extra graffiti. Even the view of the Basilique de Fourvière was just as I'd remembered it.

Giddy to show N the rest of my neighbourhood & hit the market, we only stayed long enough to take a picture in front of my building. The Croix Rousse market is by far my favourite. Located less than a block from my apartment, I spent many a morning browsing everything from fruits & vegetables to fresh cheeses & charcuterie. There was even a fish monger on the corner of my street. I was happy to discover that not much had changed. The fish monger is still there & most of the market's stalls seemed to be in the exact same places. The market runs from Tuesday to Sunday, giving you ample opportunity to check it out if you're ever in Lyon (& I highly recommend that you do.)

The fish monger on the corner
We'd hoped to grab a croissant or something quick before making the climb to the boulevard, but it being Sunday, everything was closed. We probably should have grabbed something the night before, but six years makes you forget how quiet things can be on a Sunday. It always takes me a few days to get back into the rhythm. Being one of the most popular days for brunch at home, it's easy to forget that's not the case in Europe. 

We found a little café serving breakfast & had a very French start: tartine, fresh pressed orange juice, & coffee. It won't keep you full for long, but I knew we'd be picking up an assortment of delicious things at the market so I wasn't worried.

Satiated, we strolled back through the market, picking up cheese, meat, & a baguette from different vendors. My favourite is always the cheese. Cheese is plentiful & relatively cheap (compared to the prices we're used to) in France. We had no trouble finding three to try. 

L'Arome de Lyon was one of my picks. I've never seen it anywhere else so, when I spotted it, I knew I wanted N to try it. From what I've read, it is a goat cheese soaked in brandy & then covered in grape skins, stems, & seeds. If you're up for something different, I highly recommend giving it a try. (I've mostly learned all of this from google, but Lucy's Kitchen Notebook has a good review also.)

N was enamoured (bordering on obsessed) with all the saucisson sec. He wanted to buy it all. We were a bit limited by our lack of utensils so we chose a chorizo. If he'd had his way, I'm sure we would have bought four or five others. We're both suckers for good quality charcuterie.

This abundance of incredible saucisson sec spurred the first of many discussions about how we could possibly move to France. His plan is to learn to make saucisson sec & start our own business. Once we figure it all out, we'll import cheeses too. It sounds quite delicious. I'm totally game!

There's a little park at the end of the boulevard so we headed that way with our finds: 3 cheeses, spicy cured sausage, prosciutto, & baguette. It doesn't look like a lot, but we barely made a dent in our lunch before we were full. I love this kind of lunch in Europe though. It's so easy to save for later & perfect when you're on a budget. (Not that we were on much of a budget. We just love this type of fresh cheese & charcuterie & it doesn't get fresher than this!) When we finally called it, we just wrapped it all back up & stashed it in my purse.

For some reason I can never remember exactly where Le Mur des Canuts (the silk weaving neighbourhood mural) is, so we wandered around in the general area for a while before stumbling upon it. It's always a little further east than I expect.

Lyon is quite well-known for its murals all over the city. This one honours the silk workers in the area. Every so often, the murals around the city are updated & you can see the older versions of this one on the wall beside it. The version I was most familiar with before this trip, was done in 1997, but when we arrived I realized that it looked a bit different. They'd added some greenery to the building on the right & the people looked different. I thought it was just my memory, until we read the plaques & realized this version was from 2013. I think the coolest part of the updates is that they age the people in the murals, so that was why they looked different to me. The people in the version from 2013 are 15 years older than the original & those in the 1997 version are 10 years older. 

in 2008
This year
The streets on this hill wind back & forth, like switchbacks on a mountain, which explains the need for the famous traboules in this neighbourhood. Traboules are famous all over Lyon & we'd be seeing more of them on our tour of Vieux Lyon later, but the ones in Croix-Rousse were built at a different point in history so they are unique. I showed N one of my favourites as well as Passage Thiaffait, the lookout above the montee de la grande cote, & a much quieter montee than the previous night. (Here's a little more information about these traboules. I've done this tour before as well.)

We showed up for our tour in Vieux Lyon a bit early, so we had time to grab a drink at a funny little café in front of the Cathedral. The owner kept coming out to tease us, which is pretty amusing to translate to your english-speaking husband.

I'll talk a bit more about the traboules in my next post. In an attempt to split up our day in Lyon & keep my post shorter, I managed to still ramble on for far too long. One day I'll figure out how to concisely write about travel. Maybe. (Doubtful).

22 November 2014

Living Abroad \\ Do your research

I've neglected this series a little bit, but hopefully that doesn't mean you've forgotten about those travel dreams. Is it even possible to forget travel dreams? It certainly isn't for me. While we don't have any travel plans in the near future, the idea is always on my mind. I think 2015 will be a pretty quiet year for us, but I've already got my sights on at least five different big trips before we truly "settle down". Wanderlust, I tell you.

While we were planning our honeymoon my favourite part (aside from the actual experience itself) was the research. It's always my favourite part. I love giving people ideas on what to do (also known as, what to eat) in different cities I've visited. Even when I haven't got a trip planned, I love reading about things to do in different places around the world. I love hearing about someone's experience with travel & living vicariously through their adventures (& especially their misadventures). If wasn't obvious before, my obsession with wandering the globe should be apparent by the end of this post.


I'm also a big nerd when it comes to research. & I really think it's a key factor in ensuring the success of your experience abroad. I've done the bulk of my travelling alone & when I lived abroad, made all the arrangements to go on my own. When I have travelled with others, I've usually been the girl who shows up to a coffee date to discuss plans with a long list of things I've already looked into. I enjoy this kind of thing, so I'm more than happy devouring the information available.

Here are a few of my tips for getting organized before a trip:

1. Look into visa requirements & laws for entering the countries you plan to visit. This one isn't very interesting, so get it out of the way first. I haven't run into many issues with this when in comes to travelling to other countries. It's usually as simple as submitting a form online nowadays. Get it out of the way early though. There's nothing worse than planning a entire trip & realizing you missed this crucial step too late.

Living in another country is another story & often requires a lot of paperwork & proof of anything from the necessary funds to live for a few months to a clean bill of health. I can only speak to my experience with obtaining a French visa, which I have applied for twice. Luckily I had some help from our exchange Center my first time so I knew what to expect. I can't thank them enough - they prepared me for the bureaucracy & offered support while I navigated the system once I arrived. Most countries are a bit easier from what I understand, but do your research. Ask people who have been, look into online forums, use the Google. Just get this step out of the way early. 

I drove 12 hours to Vancouver for a 15 minute meeting to get this document. Hurrah!

2. Decide what kind of traveller you are: do you like to have a itinerary planned out & booked in advance or do you like to decide day by day? Personally, I like to book most or my accommodation in advance. I like to know that I have somewhere to sleep that night. This is especially true when I travel on my own. It's usually difficult to get away without booking flights in advance as well. Round trip winds up being the cheapest option.

I'm certainly no expert on getting the cheapest fare; in the past I've used anything from travel agents to expedia. Lately, the Google flight search has been coming up with great results. The internet is a wealth of information here so I don't have much to say about it.

In terms of train travel, you can definitely get away with booking more last minute. This isn't always the case & you may pay a higher fare, but generally, it's not a problem. I've always had good luck with French & German trains, at least. Sometimes you may have to wait a few hours, but that's usually the only risk. This happened to us in Venice. The next train was fully booked & we wound up hanging out at a restaurant next to the train station for a few hours, giving up precious hours we could have enjoyed in Cinque Terre. Rookie mistake. It'll happen. 

Gare de Lyon, Paris

As for accommodation, I think it's getting increasingly difficult to leave booking to the last minute, even if you're not travelling in the off season. It's certainly still do-able, so don't completely discount the idea if you want flexibility. In some cities, namely Paris in my experience, it can even be very difficult to reserve a hostel bed in advance. Again, this just comes down to doing a little bit of research. 

When I've travelled on my own, I've had a definite preference for hostels. The few times I was forced to stay in a hotel were some of the loneliest. Although, I enjoy wandering the streets & eating lunch or enjoying a beer or café on my own, there's something about returning to an empty hotel room at night that intensifies any feelings of loneliness.

If you're looking for a safe, clean, & reliable hostel, the HI network will certainly provide them. I've stayed in many & they're generally great. Their downfall is that they aren't always the most lively or fun hostels. They sometimes have a curfew even. That's why I tend to gravitate towards the independent hostels. There are no rules with these. That can be great & I've stumbled upon so many gems this way. Just be aware that the lack of standards can go the other way too. I rely on hostels.com and hostelworld.com as well as online recommendations. Location, a good night's sleep, & a fun atmosphere are usually the top things I look for. That criteria has served me well so far. (Although I've sort of knocked the HI hostels, the one in Lyon is actually great. I lived there for a week when I was apartment hunting.

Now that I'm getting older, I've moved away from hostels. I certainly didn't want to share a dorm room with 20 other people on my honeymoon. We've been using AirBnB for most of our travel in the last couple years & I love it. I'm such a nerd for research so I'm sure that's part of the appeal, but we easily stayed in the absolute BEST places on our honeymoon. Our hosts were amazing, the apartments we rented were gorgeous, & they often provided us with ideas for what to do during our stay. Check it out, if you haven't already. I can't say enough good things about it.

Our Genoa apartment's rooftop patio
Lyon apartment

3. Research what to do! This is fun part. Since my first trip backpacking through Europe in 2005, I've learned what I really want to do when I'm in a new city. That first trip, I spent a lot of time going to museums because I thought that was what you were supposed to do. Maybe it is & maybe that's exactly what you want to do when you go to Europe, but if it isn't, that's ok too. There are some museums that I will still take the time to visit: the Vatican Museum & the Louvre (although I'd skip the Mona Lisa), for example. For the most part though, I pick a couple main sights (I'm a sucker for a beautiful church or a good view) & spend the rest of my time wandering around, usually getting lost along the way. I really enjoy history so if there's a New Europe Free Tour, I almost always jump on that. (I don't generally recommend tours, but these ones have been really great. & free. Win!)

New Europe Tour in Munich

It's obvious that I love to eat so that's what I do the bulk of my research about. I make a list of all the restaurants that I'm interesting in with a little description & bring that with me. It's like my little guide. Obviously this isn't for everyone, but I love those lists. Before iPads & iPhones, I wrote it all out on loose leaf and carried that around with me, usually in the pocket of my moleskin journal. I realize I've probably lost most people here, but that's my jam. Find yours & own it. Get excited!

Incredible Pasta in Portland
Birthplace of Pizza!
Wandering in Prague
Wandering the Beach after brunch in Mexico
Fried Cheese in Prague. The best!

4. Get a little bit organized (or if you're me, a lot). Since I love research & organization, I'm so into this. You are likely not the type of person who is. I mean, I'm the girl carrying around a list of restaurants, a moleskin journal, a good book, & a DSLR when I travel. I'm seriously into documenting my trips as much as I am into planning them. & I'm all about the details (obviously, my travel posts are rarely less than 1000 words. Sorry!). 

The first few times I travelled, I only got online if I went to an Internet cafe so things have changed substantially since I last went. I still like a lot of those old school resources (you can still find me sitting on the floor of the travel section of the library or book store, taking notes & devouring books), but we used our iPad and iPhones a lot on our last trip. Here are some great apps: 

- Evernote. This is my number one. I have it downloaded on every computer or mobile device I own & it syncs with all of them, as well as with Nathan's phone. It's so easy to use & organize. We primarily use it for meal planing, but it was also great when we travelled. I made lists & reminders & scrapped those loose leaf notes for an online version. When we had online access it was really easy to copy a restaurant address I'd saved & paste it into google maps to get directions. We could easily access it on the go from our phones too. You can't make everything available offline with the free version, but I was able to make enough of our notes available that it was incredibly useful. 

- Google Maps Engine. Everyone knows Google Maps & we use it a lot too, but I really likeGoogle Maps Engine. The difference is that it allows you to save personalized maps & drop pins with locations & notes. I'm an extremely visual person, so this helps me to get a sense of what to do on a day & what sights are near each other. I'm not against taking the metro out to the middle of nowhere for a great meal, but it makes a lot more sense to do things that are nearby on the same day, if you can. Sometimes we inevitably zig zagged our way across cities, but this helps to limit that a little bit. 

- Blogger. I only used this app once while travelling & it definitely has it's downsides (um hello, hyperlinks?) but in a pinch, it's an easy way to blog. I tend to write a draft in it & then edit it on a computer before publishing, but that just me. 

Those are the main apps I find useful for travel. Both times I lived abroad, I used substantially more online resources. I brought my laptop both times & was always connected to emails, my blog, & photo sharing. Facebook was only in its infancy when I first travelled so I mostly kept in touch with email & shared photos on photobucket. (My friends will remember my weekly novels about what I'd been up to. My penchant for long winded story telling hasn't changed much over the years.

5. My last tip is to look at a budget. I know it's so boring, but it's also so necessary. If you don't have any means to supplement your travel while you're actually travelling, you have to pay a little bit of attention to what you're going to spend. I try to do this before I leave so that I can enjoy my trip. 

This is where some of the research comes into play. I like to start with the big things: flights, trains, & any sights or activities that are important to me. I add those up first. If I'm really on a budget then I don't include my accommodation in those numbers because I'm doing that as cheaply as possible. Hostels in Europe will usually run you about $40 a nights if you're staying in a dorm. I budget $100 a day so that leaves me with $60 for food & drink. Most of the sights I plan to see are either already budgeted for or are free (wandering the market, sitting in a park, getting a feel for a neighbourhood). Hostels usually include breakfast & I tried to make dinner in the kitchen or spend around $10-15 on dinner. You can enjoy nicer restaurants at lunch at a cheaper price in Europe, so I tried to do that. In France you can get the plat du jour (three courses, usually) for around $20. That left me with $25 for drinks - beer, coffee, or actual partying. Some days I inevitably went over. Some days I wanted to go for a really nice dinner (I tried to budget for that in advance). Some days I grabbed a baguette & some cheese & had a picnic on a bench or in the park. My point is that's thought about this a little bit in advance & even on my smallest budget, I had a great time in Europe & didn't max out my credit card.

Giant Pickles in Munich. Cheap & delicious market snack.
Hostel Happy Hour Drinks. Always budget.  
Picnic in the Park. Market finds are a great budget lunch.

It doesn't have to be a huge chore either. These couple calculations usually take me a few minutes. It's not an exact science & I always add a little bit for emergencies, but I definitely find it helps to think about it a little bit before. (& knowing the ways you can save a bit helps too. Taking an overnight train will save you a night in a hostel & get you to your next destination bright & early, for example.) 

This is what I've found useful over the years. I've gotten better at planning my trips & found myself enjoying travel so much. A lot of my tips apply to my trips through Europe, but I think they apply to other places as well. I've just done the bulk of my travelling on that continent & am most familiar with the costs & culture there. 

How do you plan your trips? Feel free to share your tips in the comments! (& congrats if you made itto the end of this post!)