Starting the New Year in Mittenwald

I like to finish what I started, so even though we are well into March (what?), I am still going to post this final short recap from our travels in France, Austria and Germany over the winter holidays.  After this, I plan to take a hiatus from this blog indefinitely….

We spent the last day of 2014 and the first few of 2015 based in Mittenwald, a small town in the Alps on the German side of the border.  We got tons and tons of snow there, and for the first two days the sky was so dark with snow we could not even see the mountains towering over the town until the sun finally broke through a few days later.  We spent our time in and around Mittenwald doing some amazing winter hikes: a huge hightlight for me was our freezing but beautiful New Year’s Day hike in snow that came over our knees (yet the trails had been cleared).  Here are some photos to summarize this last part of our trip:

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Christmas in Alsace

Over Christmas and the New Year, Andy and I traveled around eastern France, southern Germany and Austria.  We flew into Freiburg where we picked up a rental car and spent the next two weeks weaving in and out of rural villages, Alpine landscapes, deep forests and mid-size cities back and forth over the French, German and Austrian borders.  I hope to capture the highlights of our trip in a short series of blog posts, starting today with the Alsace region in eastern France. We spent the first few days exploring the villages of Alsace and checking out the adorable Christmas markets.

After checking into our hotel in Illhaeusern on the first day (more on that later) we ventured to Riquewihr to wander around for the afternoon.

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This was so much fun; we felt like we were in a fairy tale village (a theme of the trip) and there is something so giddy about the first day of vacation.

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No stress, no work, nothing to do but enjoy ourselves.  We had our first mug of hot mulled wine (vin chaud) and toasted to a fantastic holiday.

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We stayed in the tiny village of Illhaeusern on our first night, at the Hotel des Berges on the banks of the River Ill.

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This was absolutely beautiful and we had dinner that night at the Auberge d’Ill.

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This was an unforgettable experience; it was so quintessentially French, so steeped in tradition and class, yet the cuisine was modern and fresh.  We had a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings and there is really no way to describe the level of service and quality.

Some of the standouts included maki amuse bouche, our first taste of gewurtztraminer wine (not normally white wine people, especially with dinner, but this was so amazing and appropriate with this food), lobster with champagne sauce, excellent breads and cheeses and desserts, and so much more.  Absolutely amazing splurge for us.

The next morning, I awoke early for a short run through the quiet village and empty country lanes, before having a (wonderful) breakfast at the hotel and sadly departing Illhaeusern.  So beautiful!

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Egg vending machine: essential

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We drove to Obernai and explored the town and market, and walked around the old city walls circumventing the village.

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Next, we checked into our B&B for the next two days, La Haute Grange, high up on a mountainside outside Fréland.  This is a large farmhouse with just four guest rooms, and we were given a huge room with a huge bathroom.

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I loved it.  The hosts, a Scottish/French couple, were extremely welcoming, showing us around the large, impeccably kept house and giving us loads of advice and tips on tourism in the area, including wine tasting and dining recommendations.  They even booked us in for a meal that night since it was a busy Saturday night before Christmas and it would be impossible to get a table without a reservation. That afternoon we visited Turckheim, did a wine tasting and watched the traditional ceremony in the town center of the Advent calendar lighting.

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We moved on to Kaysersberg, a popular, picturesque medieval village.  We walked around the Christmas market stalls before our dinner at Winstub at Chambard that evening.  The food was excellent but the restaurant was overcrowded so we were put into an overflow dining room that was lovely, but a bit formal and didn’t have the tavern-esque vibe of a traditional weinstube.  After dinner we walked through the empty village, now void of tourists, and enjoyed the stillness.

The next morning I did a short run of hill sprints on the mountainside and saw an incredible sunrise peeking through the mountains, but sadly didn’t have my phone.  Breakfast at La Haute Grange was unreal; the owners make the breakfast from scratch and it included the most amazing homemade Christmas jam, homemade yogurt and bircher muesli, breads and cheeses – fantastic.

We returned to Kaysersberg with the intention of doing a nice country walk through the vineyards to neighboring villages.

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It was a beautiful clear day and quite warm.

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It took us about 90 minutes to get to Riquewihr, which was quite crowded that day, being the Sunday before Christmas.  We sampled wine and St. Alphonse Christmas beer (so good) and browsed the market stalls, taking a rest to read in a cafe.

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We eventually returned to Kaysersberg via a shuttle bus, then moved on to Eguisheim, where we explored their Christmas market and watched their Advent calendar ceremony, seemingly a tradition in many of these villages.

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We had dinner booked at Au Vieux Porche.  Another excellent meal; the lobster lentil dish really stood out, and an excellent creme brûlée for dessert.

On Monday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then moved along for our next destination, over the German border.  Sad to leave France!  I love practicing my language skills and the food and villages were unreal.  I would love to go back and explore more.

Up next, the Black Forest!

Maui Trip…

I was fortunate to travel to Maui for work recently. For work, honest!

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It was certainly a LONG trip both ways, with stops on both ends on the East Coast, to see family on the way there and work in DC on the way back to London, and an unplanned overnight layover in San Francisco due to a delayed flight and missed connection (which amounted to four hours at an airport hotel, it’s not like I could enjoy San Francisco at all – in fact, I dreamt I was in Chicago and woke up thinking I was, it was that anonymous).

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Anyway, no one will believe me but I will say anyway that getting to travel to Maui for work was not all fun and games: first, I worked really hard leading up to the trip and once I got there it was 4 solid days of work; the long flights and jet lag (10 hour time difference from London) were real; and the hassles of travel were all there.  I just didn’t take photos of those parts!  So here are more gratuitous palm trees.

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But with that out of the way, I will also say that I know I am really lucky and I’m not complaining, because it was all worth it.  Each morning and evening I saw the sunrise and sunset from my hotel room balcony:

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My work event was at quite a swanky resort, so I enjoyed the views, some fantastic food (lots of fresh fruit and fish) and warm weather, and a luau performance at one of our evening receptions:

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The first two days were way too busy for workouts.  On the third day I made it to the hotel gym before sunrise, and on the final two days I had time for sunrise runs along the beachfront path:

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I was off the clock as of about 1pm on Saturday, and I left for the airport at about 12:30 on Sunday, so I had nearly 24 hours to spend as I wanted. Typically I would want to be active and go exploring, but I really didn’t have enough time or the inclination to rent a car. After long work days, all I had the inclination to do was sit on the beach at this ridiculous resort.

So that is exactly what I did on Saturday afternoon, followed by a drink by the pool with coworkers.

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Maui13I fit in a few more hours on the beach on Sunday morning, and was off for the airport.

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It is really amazing to me that I was basically halfway around the world, on a tiny island in the middle of Pacific Ocean, and now I am back in London.  This life is pretty amazing.

Belgium Weekend

Last month, Andy and I took off for a weekend in Belgium. Neither of us had been before and couldn’t pass up the chance to hop on the Eurostar again. I love the convenience and speed of taking the train to another country – it is just so cool.

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We spent most of the weekend in Bruges, staying at Hotel ter Brughe, located right on a canal in a fantastic huge room literally hanging over the canal. I loved this hotel and they put on an excellent breakfast spread in the morning – highly recommended.

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It was a pretty relaxing weekend; we intended to rent cycles and cycle around and outside of the city, but unfortunately it rained almost all weekend.  We made the most of it, wandering around the impossibly picturesque cobbled lanes, checking out the well-preserved architecture and many canals and bridges.  Bruges was adorable, although happily it wasn’t as ridiculously cute as I expected.  It is still a real place, a functioning city with real people, which I appreciated.

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We had lots of excellent (strong) Belgian beers and food, including plenty of mussels, frites, chocolate and speculoos. Not a trip for the faint of heart.

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On Sunday morning it stopped raining and I managed to fit in a run along the path ringing the city, before we departed for an afternoon in Brussels. Definitely enjoyed ourselves and would love to go back to explore more.

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Our Brussels afternoon was also a little rainy, but we explored some of the main sights downtown and met a quirky pub cat before boarding the train home.  All in all a great weekend.

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Cotswolds Weekend

I have been a bit behind on posts but I am catching up now to round out 2014; this week I plan to post several backlogged posts about some autumn travels I have done.  Here is the first one!

In late October Andy and I took a short weekend getaway out to the Cotswolds. I had never been before and I was struck by how close and easy it was to get to from London, and yet how different and remote-feeling it seemed. The landscapes of rolling country farms, quiet little lanes and well-preserved yellow stone villages was unreal.

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We arrived via train early on Saturday morning and had booked in ahead of time for a cycle hire company to meet us at the station with cycles for the day. That worked out perfectly; we used Cotswolds Cycle Hire and I would highly recommend them.

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We had small overnight bags with us, and first cycled about five miles to our inn for the night, the Lamb Inn in Shipton-under-Wychwood. Since this was a last-minute trip we only booked in a few days ahead of time, and were quite pleased with what we got.

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We spent the day cycling all over, stopping for a cup of tea at an excellent inn in Asthall and then a pub lunch and wander around in the village of Burford. We lucked out with beautiful weather. It was a crisp, clear autumn day with blue skies, green pastures and plenty of crunchy leaves underfoot. Idyllic.

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Around 5pm we arrived back at the Lamb Inn for the evening, where our cycles were collected and we warmed up with a cup of tea before dinner. Our room there, the Provence Room, was spacious and lovely, and really did remind me of when we stayed at Ferme de la Huppe in Provence.

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We retired to the tiny bar for a pre-dinner drink and then tucked into our dinner; the food was fantastic. Super filling though! We spent the night basically lingering over dinner and then went for a short walk outside in the cold, pitch dark night to get some air and see the stars.

The next morning I was up early for a run, which was a great way to explore the quiet country lanes and fields around Shipton. So beautiful and peaceful.

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We had breakfast at the inn, and then my brother came to collect us. It turns out, as a surprise to both of us, that my brother lives closer to the Cotswolds than either of us realized, so when we were chatting the day before we decided to get together on Sunday.  Since he has a car it was easy enough for him to come collect us. So we spent Sunday driving around the area and visiting some more villages and country pubs before catching the train back to London that evening.

This was a beautiful way to spend the weekend and such a refreshing little trip. It amazes me how easy it is to get from London to well-preserved rural places; I am so impressed with how the UK has drawn clear lines around what should be urban and what shouldn’t be. If only the US could be better about that.

DC Return Trip

I was back in the States last week for the first time since moving to London three months ago.  I was in both DC and St. Paul/Minneapolis for work, and it was really good to be back and see colleagues, take care of work stuff, catch up with friends and enjoy some American/DC things.  It was a really good trip, yet it also cemented for me how happy I am to be living in London.

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It was a little surreal to be back at first, and quickly felt almost like I had never left, as I became immersed in work stuff and returned to my old routines from living in DC for five years.  At times, the fact that I actually live in London seemed almost unreal, like a dream.  I am grateful already for the experiences I’ve had so far living abroad, and already know that it has changed me.

But putting aside the introspective stuff, I had to enjoy some favorite little things while back in the States.  First up was a venti iced coffee (2 pumps classic and soy).  Like heaven.  London does not do iced coffee well, and iced Americanos are not the same.  Enjoyed in Union Station on my way to the office.  I don’t know who Kay is.IMG_6512

Later, a salad as big as my head from Chop’t, sitting in my office.  It was so nice to be back in an office, which may shock people who long to get away from their desks, but I really missed having an office environment to work in.IMG_6515

I went to SoulCycle!  It was amazing.  Hands down the best spin class I have ever attended.  The first class was $20 with free shoe rental.  Everything about this class was awesome: the quality of the instructor, the motivational mantras, the smooth spin cycles, the friendliness of the employees, the music, the rides timed to the beat, the fantastic showers after, fully stocked with great products.  Weirdly, almost no one else showered after the 6am class.  I had forgotten how small DC can be and how easy it is to get around, and I guess most people had time to go home to shower before work.  In London, that never happens.

Anyway, it is worth the hype and I bought into it big time.  Also literally – the second class was $30 plus $3 shoe rental!  So I am glad I don’t live in DC since it would be way to tempting, and I am half-excited, half-dreading Soul coming to London next year.IMG_6518

Pumpkin ale and pizza while catching up with a friend at my absolute favorite pizza and beer place, Pizzeria Paradiso.IMG_6520 IMG_6521

After just two days in DC I was at the airport again to Minnesota, but that felt like nothing after a transatlantic flight.  Three days in Minnesota were work-heavy.  I did get to go for an early run along the Mississippi River, but it was super dark.  Meetings were good and it was good to see people, and I returned to DC late on Friday night.

Saturday morning started with an early yoga class and coffee with friends, followed by a nice walk in the sun around the city, a kombucha (is this in London?  It must be, but I haven’t seen it) and salad from Sweetgreen.

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I also enjoyed other only-in-America things like pumpkin beer and pumpkin ice cream (God I miss Trader Joe’s), tacos and margaritas (sorry London but your Mexican craze doesn’t quite hit the mark) and lots of catching up with friends and more yoga and SoulCycle.  IMG_6538

DC may win on pumpkin and Mexican, but London definitely wins on yoga.  I went to two classes in DC that I used to really enjoy, but they have nothing on The Power Yoga Company in Fulham.  DC wins on being compact and relatively easy to get around, but London absolutely wins on public transport.  I don’t want to get into how long I waited for single-tracking metro lines on the weekend.

I also enjoyed an early morning run around the monuments on Sunday, followed by brunch with friends and more walking around the city.

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And finally, the loot of American goods I brought back, with things for myself, Andy, Leah and Stephanie:IMG_6552It really was a great visit back and I was happy to be in DC, and now that I am back in London, I am so thrilled to be here.  I feel lucky to live and have lived in so many great places.

Paris Weekend

Last week was my birthday.  Another day, another year gone by in a blink!

I celebrated the actual day with yoga, work (err), phone calls/texts/etc with family and friends and dinner with Andy at a local spot in our neighborhood, followed by wine, chocolate, flowers and new wellies.  Fab.IMG_6366 IMG_6367

We continued the celebrations with a weekend in Paris.  Taking the Eurostar from St. Pancras straight into Gare du Nord was so cool.  paris9141

We stayed in western Paris, at a last-minute hotel find when our Airbnb was cancelled on us, and spent Friday evening having wine and crepes near l’Opera.  I had somehow forgotten how beautiful Paris is, how much I love the architecture and the language.

I woke early on Saturday and ran down to the Tuileries and along the Seine.  I covered about 4.5 miles and loved every step.  I could have gone on forever, watching the sun rise over the city.

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After returning to the hotel, we ventured out to find cafe and a light breakfast.  I was determined to eat small meals so we could fit a lot in!paris91410

We found a cafe for cafe and croissant, and went into Printemps for the view from the rooftop terrace.

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We grabbed Vélib’ bikes and cycled through the gardens to the Seine and along the Seine to Pont du Neuf and Île de la Cité.  Such a gorgeous, perfect Parisian day.paris91413

I just finished reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, so I wanted to check out Shakespeare and Co. and other spots along the Left Bank where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, etc lived and worked.  I know it is overrun with tourists now, but the buildings are still gorgeous and it was fun to wander around there.paris91414

We then stocked up on cheese, fruit, bread and wine for a picnic lunch.  paris91415

We made our way up to Luxembourg Gardens and it was idyllic: a beautiful day, tons of people out, and us relaxing with our picnic lunch.paris91416 paris91417

The fruit especially was amazing.  The grapes and strawberries tasted fresher and riper than anything I’ve had in ages.paris91418

Eventually we moved along, and I stopped for a gelato.paris91419

After wandering around more, stopping to read and take photos and have cafe, we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.

Our dinner that night was at Au Passage, and it was outstanding.  I didn’t want to go to a stuffy traditional restaurant, but rather something more modern and hip.  We shared a variety of small plates here, the absolute best being the pumpkin soup.  Fantastic.paris91420

The next day we went out to Père Lachaise Cemetery, one of my favorite spots in Paris.  I love cemeteries of all types, and I love the way this one is like a mini-city (um, of dead people).  Again we had a gorgeous warm fall day, with the leaves already changing.paris91421 paris91422 paris91423

Following lunch at a nearby brasserie, we walked to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, one of the largest parks in Paris, for views over the city and the chance to lay in the grass and read.  Everyone else in Paris was doing the same on this beautiful day.paris91424 paris91425

Later we walked along Canal Saint-Martin, did a bit of shopping, had crepes and cider for dinner, and eventually returned to London via Eurostar late on Sunday night.  This was such a perfect, relaxing, refreshing weekend.  It was fun to practice my French and to get to the Continent for a weekend.  Feel so luck to have this opportunity, and can’t wait to return.