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Friday, April 29, 2016

Writing of France

"Write the best story you can and write it as straight as you can."-Hemingway
I've decided to begin writing (again, anew, ressurecting my deeply felt passion) and my time in France aided my decision.
Two weeks cat-sitting in the quiet city of La Roche-Sur Yon gave me time to mull it over, plan and brainstorm. The blog here will keep me on track, but once I'm home I can sit down at my laptop and pour it all out.
La Roche-Sur Yon is on the westen edge of France, a short train ride to the Bay of Biscay. Some runs, some reading and ruminating on writing on rainy days filled my time there.
A quick trip through Toulouse followed. I really like the vibe of the city. Diverse population, lots of fresh markets and gorgeous historical architecture, put it on my list of possible places to land.
I diverted to Andorra for a week, which I wrote about here.
Paris beckoned me next. Somewhat because of the food but I must confess something many of you will think sacrilege. French food bores me. " Sacre bleu!" you exclaim, but let me explain. For 15 years I worked and taught at a cooking school in Boulder CO, where French techniques were the basis of the curriculum. I've eaten more creme brulee than most of you can count. I'm over it. I partook of this and that, but I was no gourmand.

What drew me to Paris though, was the writing. Hemingway, Hugo and Balzac are but 3 of the authors who's writings have fed my literary Paris fire.
74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where Ernest and his first wife Hadley squirreled away in the attic their first few months of marriage.
Shakespeare & Co. where Hemingway, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford and Ezra Pound found a patron in owner Sylvia Beach. It's literally across the street from...
Notre-Dame Cathedral! Famously playing a part in Victor Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
The Victor Hugo museum, complete with a Rodin bust...of course...
The Balzac museum, where he toiled away on 30 cups of coffee a day! And yet another Rodin bust.
Every corner in Paris reveals delights. The Metro and Velib city bikes make it easily accessible and affordable to explore.

One day, when I have more time and money, I'll explore more.
I'm in Bari Italy now. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Little Andorra and Big Things to Come!

The Schengen Agreement fucked me up.
Let me explain. Schengen is an agreement between 15 EU countries, including Iceland, that allows a borderless area. That means you can travel from Spain to France, or Germany to Italy etc. without being stopped at the border and proffering your passport for review. Which sounds great.
As part of the agreement, travelers within this area are allowed to stay for a total of 90 days within a six month period. And that fucked me up.
I had planned on spending about 4 months wandering about Europe and two weeks in Iceland. Schengen says no...
Luckily, when I was in Datça Turkey my housemate informed me of the border agreement and I scrambled to alter my plan.
Part of that scrambling meant hopping out of Schengen areas for a time and then back in. Which is how I came to spend such a long and wonderful time in Morocco.
And why I am now in Andorra for a week, as, though they are in the EU, they are not a part of the Schengen Agreement.
Andorra is a tiny (you can drive from one side of the country to the other in about an hour) principality nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains along the Spanish-French border.
The language is Catalan as is the cuisine. (I've been cooking simply for myself here at the hostel to save some $$, so I haven't partaken of their meat heavy dishes.) Sales tax is very low so many consumers shop for designer clothes, alcohol, tobacco, charcuterie, cheese, gourmet chocolate and tinned seafood, some making monthly trips to stock up.
Ski resorts line the valley here, much like those along the I70 corridor of Colorado, very familiar.
Ski season has finished and mountain bike season isn't for another month, so it's quiet and peaceful. The weather has been sunny, rainy and even snowy so I was only able to get in one trail run. But it was truly fantastic.
That has been much needed as I've been starting to plan and map out my next big adventure/project for after my RTW Journey is over.
I've decided to write a cookbook about my travels! How's that for Big Things?
I'm off to Paris tomorrow to spend a few days in food Mecca.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spain-In a Few Bites

I had a hard-hit of culture shock when I got to Madrid. I had been spoiled by the country's previous with their inexpensive Street Food. I had to readjust my budgetary expectations. And then there was the language.
My Spanish is rudimentary at best, learned in kitchens, with lots of yelling and swearing. Good enough to get me knifed in Tijuana, but I wasn't sure that it would work for me in Spain. Ultimately it was OK. I didn't starve or get stabbed, so plusses all around.
It helped that I slowly got back into running regularly. And finding a sizeable string of used book shops. Find what makes you happy, and do that.
One of the best parts of traveling, besides the food, is meeting up with fellow Travellers. I was truly lucky that I overheard James chatting in the hostel in Madrid. Although we are literally ages apart, we found a mutual appreciation for the unexpected moments and spontaneous companionship that wandering foreign cities toss your way. It helped that's he's not only a food lover, but also always hungry. That's my life right there.
He's a writer who just started producing amazing new travel books and a blog, One Day In, with articles, advice and awesomeness. Check him out.
In order to balance the city life I do often spend time in more rural places when traveling. I am a small town girl originally. For all of my friends who are road/mountain bikers or trail runners I strongly suggest that if you head to Spain to spend some time in San Román de Cameros. It's idyllic, with mountains soaring, roads winding and views a'plenty.
Then it was on to Bilbao. I was really looking forward to this, as friends had suggested my spending time here.
So there I was in a bar/restaurant that Kathy had recommended eating the traditional Pinxtos (small Basque snacks) that Chef Andy had plugged...
...eavesdropping on the conversation going on next to me, and me being me, I intruded. That is how I spent the next few days hanging out with expat ESL teachers from Alabama, Boise Idaho, Dublin, Wellington New Zealand and Brighton England. Of course one of them had grown up in Boulder Colorado.
When they asked "Want to come along with us?" I said yes! And there I was watching the traditional Basque Semana Santa penance processions of the several Catholic brotherhoods. And you thought Easter was all about bunnies and chocolate, oh how wrong you are!
Time spent in Bilbao must include time spent at the Guggenheim. Not only did I get to wander the museum and see the amazing art, including an Andy Warhol exhibit, but I also did a video call with The Old Bird from outside the museum as it was her birthday.
Then on to San Sebastian.
Above is a pantxineta. A Basque pastry cream filled puff pastry. Ridiculously good.
This is torrija, traditional Basque Easter dessert made with old bread. I will make this.
A few of  the expats met up with me for a day of sights and food. As they had lived for a time there, they were eager to show me the best places for Pintxos in San Sebastian.
Spain does not mess around when it comes to a food culture. They eat, they sleep, and then they eat again!
Kathy had also proposed that I spend time in Hondarribia, which is right along the sea and the border of France. Sections of the famous trail, Camino de Dantiago wind through. So no problem.  Don't mind of I do.
Hondarribia is well known for their Pintxos as chefs have found a welcoming place outside of San Sebastian to showcase their talents.
I entered Spain a bit wary and unsure and left with heart and stomach full and with more contacts added to the ever expanding list.
In France for now.