Vive la France

I have a confession: I hate blogging. Really it is just because I am a picture person, and I never know the words to say. But the one thing I get excited to talk to people about is traveling.

When we aren’t hanging out behind our cameras, travel is our thing. We are constantly plotting and imagining our next vacation. This past summer we were lucky to have some time to hop over the pond to France. Some of our most favorite experiences when traveling have been personal recommendations from friends, so we want to share our trip and recommendations with you! Over the next few posts we will go over where we traveled and our Yays and (some) Nays for each area. I’ve bolded our favorite things in each location.

I hope that if you are planning a fun French trip soon that these tips will help!

ant_header provence_header burg_header lyon_header paris

 

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Antibes, France

So we started our trip in the south of France, specifically we stayed in an area near Nice called Antibes. It is a charming costal city with plenty of restaurants and beaches to hang out.

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Antibes Yays:

  • Gorgeous & lively
  • On the sea so beach time
  • Close to Italy, so you get both types of food!
  • Small but easy to get around
  • The Picasso Museum — We both loved it..and the AC it provided
  • Interesting Night Walks- we saw fire dancers, naked photo shoots and yachts the size of a walmart.

Antibes Nays:

  • HOT in the summer
  • Location matters– even though we loved the airbnb we stayed at, it was about a 15-20 minute hot and sweaty walk to the edge of town. If you want to have the full experience you might want to stay in town.
  • Kind of far from some of the more famous Riviera areas like Nice, Monaco. You might consider renting a car if you want to explore all the Riviera areas.

Favorite Eats:

  • La Caravand Passe– A gem of a cafe a little away from the main drag. We found it on the walk from our airbnb to town. There is a cafe behind an adorable shop (think Terrain) and a tiny patio to have a drink and fresh, simple food.
  • Le Vauban – We ordered the Menu here (three courses and then you often get little nibbles in-between called amuse-bouche), and this place had my FAVORITE amuse-bouche– tomatoes in a pesto sauce topped with a mozzarella fluff– think a little more stiff and porous mozzarella whip cream. It was amazing. A little more dressy here, I would suggest no shorts.
  • Gelato: Since this area is so close to Italy, it’s a great place to get gelato. But go to the places that aren’t super fancy and say Italian gelato (not gelati).
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Provence/Drome, France

The next stop on our trip was to the Provence area. We stayed a little off the beaten path more in the Drome region in a tiny, tiny town called Grignan, but it was a close drive to do things in Provence.

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Provence/Drome Yays:

  • Pont Du Gard: This was hands down probably my favorite part of the trip. The Pont Du Gard is a Roman built aqueduct that is the second tallest Roman Structure behind the Colosseum. Aside from being beautiful and impressive, the reason why it was my favorite is that you can actually swim in the river below. There were tons of tourists and locals alike enjoying the river, but it wasn’t overly touristy. It really just struck me as such a neat interaction with a piece of history that I have never experienced before. The water was beautiful and ridiculously refreshing after being so toasty in Antibes. The water was really chilly, so you probably wouldn’t want to plan on swimming much past Summer, but none the less I would still visit. And if you stay late (I think they said at 10pm) there is a light show. We didn’t have time to stick around to see it unfortunately.
  • Grignan was charming, small and had pretty good food.
  • Isle-Sur-La-Sourgue: One of the biggest markets in the Provence region. Tons of yummy foods to get a picnic, and some really neat antiques that are more flea market style buying. I didn’t buy anything because it was close to the beginning our trip but I wish that I had because the prices were better. Go early though– it gets very crowded later in the morning. When you’re buying produce make sure to look for a sign that says Producteur– that means that they are the actual farmer. We learned that some market vendors are like grocery stores and will import their goods.
  • If you do go to Isle-Sur-La-Sourgue, across the main street from where the market is there is a little shop called La Maison Jouvand. SO. CUTE. And good coffee, cute home goods, and tasty little treats enclosed by a black viewing case with brass fixtures. I bought a cream puff with caramel on top just so I could see them package it, and I wish I bought about 80 because it was amazing.
  • L’essentiel De Lavande: Our friend Lou gave us a National Geographic article about Provence, so we saw found this lavender farm through NG. A lot of their fields were cut already, but the owner Odile is charming and gives tours of her beautiful farm. They also offer massages outside in the trees next to the lavender fields. As long as you aren’t weirded out about being naked in the forest, I highly recommend it. :-)
  • Driving: Driving was really pretty easy in the countryside and it was nice not to be tied down to train times. It also allowed us to see so much of the countryside and enjoy watching beautiful farmhouses all the sudden pop up in the middle of a field. France has a thing called Les Plus Beaux Villages de France which basically means “the most beautiful villages in France.” We had some friends who hopped from town to town enjoying their charm, which is a nice way to travel and see little places if you have the time and don’t know exactly where to go on your driving journey.

Provence/Drome Nays:

  • The biggest disappointment of our trip was that the lavender that Provence is so well known for wasn’t blooming. Everything we read said that the high of lavender season was in July. But because of a drought everything bloomed early so we were about a week too late. So if that is something that you are traveling to France to see pay close attention and research what the climate has been like to make sure you don’t miss out.
  • Not a lot of places had AC.
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Lyon, France

We spent really little time in Lyon, but we wish we had allotted more time to explore. Mainly because we love to try out restaurants and Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France. But our time there was spent at a cooking class that we highly recommend.

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Lyon Yays:

  • Plum Lyon Cooking School: I can’t say enough how great this was. Our friends Megan and Aaron had attended Plum Lyon a couple of years back and suggested we do it. It was a whole day experience which started at 9am with Lucy, the instructor, giving some history of the city as we walked to the market to choose the food for the meal we would cook that day. Then we stopped at the fromagerie for cheese and the butcher for the the best cut of the day. And then spent until about 6pm cooking a three course meal.
  • Good eats: Les Retrova Illes – The owners are adorable and you could tell there were lots of locals that were eating there because the Chef kept coming out and greeting friends. His wife was really sweet and helped us with the menu and we had one of my favorite desserts there: Lles Flottantes, which they called a little boat on cream. Yuuuuum.

Lyon Nays:

  • We didn’t really didn’t have any nays because we were there for such little time.

 

 

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Beaune, France (Burgundy Region)

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Beune Yays:

  • Bike Wine Tour by Bourgogne Evasion: For our main day in Beaune we wanted to visit some wineries, and decided to do this by bike. The guide Fleur was very informative and great to chat with. Basically he drove us to the top of a cliff and we rode downhill most of the way, stopping here and there to talk about the grapes and the wine making process. We stopped at two vineyards– one that was modern and one that was super traditional. If you are a major wine connoisseur this might not be the best tour for you because we weren’t all that impressed with the wine selection, but the experience of biking through tiny beautiful towns and learning the process was wonderful. Also, the region of Burgundy we biked through (south of Beaune) is a mostly white wine producer.
  • Close to Dijon to visit, a neat town with great shopping and food
  • Good Eats:
    Stephane Du Bourd – a super fancy restaurant in Dijon. We went for lunch because you can get a full menu for a great price. But it’s a surprise! Which we actually thought was really fun and got us to try things we probably would not have ordered for ourselves, but we are glad we got to try.
    L’Auberge Bourguignonne – The Burgundy region is the creator of beouf bourguignon so naturally we had to try it out, and it was AMAZING. I would suggest sitting inside because their patio didn’t have great ambiance, but the food made up for it.
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Paris, France

Ah, Paree! Paris will always have a hold on my heart. I feel so cliche that Paris is a city I have fallen in love with, but I think anyone who has ever visited would agree that it is beautiful and amazing and pretty much the best place on earth. Last year when we were traveling we did a brief visit to Paris and as we exited the metro stop immediately decided we must come back.

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Above: Traditional hot chocolate from Angelina their original store on Rue de Rivoli

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Above Left:L’as Du Falafel, the most sought after Falafel in Paris Below: E.Dehillerin, amazing kitchen supply store

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Above: Deyrolle
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Paris Yays:

  • Everything in Paris is a yay. But seriously…
  • Eiffel Tower, duh. So these are our tips for ol’ Eiffey. As soon as you know the dates you will be in Paris make a reservation for the top of the tower. We looked about 3 months out and they were already booked for the top. But the second plan of action is to reserve tickets for the second floor– then you can bypass the first line. And then get right into line to buy tickets to the top. If you can, time it so that you can be there near when the sun goes down and you can be on it when it lights up and sparkles! In July is sparkled at 10pm. OH! And you must get Champagne when you are on the top.
  • Angelina’s Hot Chocolate: As I was told, and I will pass it on to you, even if it is hot you must get traditional hot chocolate. The spot I went to was Angelina’s. You can sit down for lunch and get the hot chocolate, but they also have a little bakery in front that you can go in and get a to go cup. And it’s a little cheaper than if you get it at the table. I will admit it was a bit rich for me…but you still gotta do it.
  • Ladurée for Macarons just makes you feel special.
  • Notre Dame: This trip we actually didn’t go there, but the last time we were in Paris we did. It’s a must even though the lines are long.
  • The Metro was awesome and easy to use. The only thing that is kind of annoying is that the tickets are tiny and good for one ride/line. We always bought 20 at a time and had to keep the good ones separate from the used ones, and that sometimes got tricky. They do have a week pass but it resets every Monday (I think…it might be Sunday) regardless of what day you buy it. So if you are going in on a Monday it’s great. If you’re going in on a Friday like us, it might not be the most cost effective. Also check on the hours, they stop at some point in the night and we almost didn’t make it back to our hotel. 
  • The La Marais area is where we stayed and I LOVED it. It is the Jewish neighborhood of Paris, so it’s an interesting mix of tradition and contemporary. There are lots of small boutiques and great restaurants. Apparently it is kind of the new “it” neighborhood. But it also wasn’t too loud at night either.
  • Deyrolle is a taxidermy shop, really interesting. I wish I could have taken photos there but they don’t allow it. But the man fixing the fox told me that I could take a phone pic of him working :-)
  • If you love to cook, or just like looking at cool places, E.Dehillerin will amaze and thrill you. It is the place that the chef’s come to shop. They have everything from cheese molds, to cookie cutters to antique copper pots. Ryan bought a really nice chef’s knife as his France souvenir.
  • Versailles: Beautiful. Gardens are beautiful. Get there as early as you can, lines are long…we waited 2 hours in the rain. If you sign up early enough you can avoid lines by signing up for a guided tour. But they don’t do all of them in English, so make sure to plan ahead. The one our day was at 2pm. So you could try to perhaps do the garden’s first and then do the tour. The gardens and the extra buildings out back took us around 2 or 3 hours.
  • St. Germain is also a really neat area with some more boutiques, a little more fancy than La Marais. But I loved that most of them were specialty. And that’s where I got my France souvenir…stay tuned for that :-)
  • Good Eats:
    – L’as Du Falafel – If you are looking for something quick, easy, inexpensive and yummy to munch on as you walk around the La Marais area, L’as Du Falafel is your spot. I’ve never seen a line so long for a Falafel, the the man who takes your order is a little pushy and very proud– as he should be.
    – Le P’tit Troquet in the Rue Cler neighborhood. The staff is sweet, the food was superb. We had a traditional pork cheek stew and beef with a rosemary sauce. That rosemary sauce is seriously the thing dreams are made of.
    – Briezh Cafe is the only place that we visited again from our first Paris trip. For dessert get the crepe with caramel sauce and caramel ice cream. They get busy fast, so make a reservation. And take me with you.
    Les Bonnes Soeurs in the Bastille area. Fantastic risotto and the presse de chèvre (goat cheese with tapenade and tomatoes on top) was awesome. Servings were generous.
    Bofinger Brasserie Mmmmmmmmmm. It’s a brasserie but it’s really fancy. Onion soup– good. Oysters– good. Duck — good. Salmon — good. All good. Make sure you go to the original one though…Rick Steves says it’s better for some reason.

Paris Nays:

  • Ok. I might get some grief for this. But I wasn’t a fan of the Louvre. We felt more obligated to go than I think we really wanted to. And seeing the Mona Lisa was probably my least favorite thing we did because people were so pushy and it was so crowded. Soooo this is my thought on it. If you don’t have a ton of time in Paris I would skip it unless you feel it in your bones that you have to see that famous smirk.
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Vintage Ring Shopping in Paris

So I mentioned in the last post that I also got a souvenir in France. Well, mine was a ring. I’ve been potting away a little money each paycheck for the past year because I wanted to buy a ring in Paris. An heirloom piece that I could pass onto my future grandkids.

It actually ended up being kind of hard to find places to get a ring. I searched on the internet and found a post that gave us a good start, but I thought I’d share our experience in case anyone out there is wanting to find a vintage/antique ring in Paris.

Okay. Things to know. Bijoux means jewelry. Anciens means old/antique. So if you are looking up places to find antique jewelry, those are your key words. We visited about 4 different places and these were the contenders (please excuse my swollen hands and iPhone photos):

Vintage Ring Shopping in Paris

These are the places we visited (note: a lot of these places are closed on Sunday and Monday so plan accordingly):

Arts et Bijoux: 147 BLD Saint Germain, 75006. Most of their selection is in the front window. They probably had my favorite selection of vintage rings (that were in my price range) of all the places that we looked at, and where I ended up choosing a ring. They also can resize in shop in about 2 hours, so that was nice not to have to worry about doing when we got back to the states.

Catherine-Philomene M: 77, avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75012. Don’t let the jewelry in her window fool you. I didn’t think that she would have anything that we were looking for based on the jewelry in her window, but when we went in she had trays upon trays of rings. If you are looking for an engagement ring this is where I would start. I pulled probably 7 rings out that I really liked. Her rings will have a range of age though– the one I liked best from her was actually from the 1980’s so it wasn’t quite so antique. Unless you consider me an antique too. :-) Catherine spoke very little English so it was kind of hard to communicate, so you might brush up on your shopping phrases.

Benoit: 67 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006. This is a place that buys and sells. It didn’t have a huge ring selection, but you never know where the perfect ring will be. What they have is in the window so if you don’t see anything you like don’t bother going in. There are a lot of cute stores in the area so it makes the trip there fun even if you don’t find anything.

Dary’s: 362, rue Saint-Honore 75001. Dary’s has a really nice selection but they’re a little pricey and the help is a little uppity. They had that turquoise ring on the second row that is dreamy.

So there it is, those were the places we found! Hope it helps!

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France Packing Tips

General Tips

  • The eating out lingo is a little different in France. In France, a Menu is a preset meal that is usually three courses– an entree is our equivalent to an appetizer, a plat is the main meal and a dessert is a dessert. And a couple little tasty treats in-between called amuse-bouche, which is really fun to say. If you don’t want all of that, you can order A La Carte, which would feel like a menu to Americans. We loved the food in France so we pretty much stuffed ourselves at every meal, but normally I would say that one of us could have ordered a Menu and the other A La Carte and we could have shared the entree and dessert. But who wants to do that? This is a nice article that could help you navigate a French menu. Ryan also downloaded an app called Bon Appetit that worked sans internet and helped to translate. It has a little cat as the artwork, and we liked it because it could work offline so we didn’t have to use data for it. There are other menu readers out there that are better so research before you go.
  • Another tip on eating– sharing a main course (or Plat) is generally frowned upon.
  • Start out by trying to talk in French! Most people know enough English to help you out, but I think it goes a long way if you at least try.
  • Go ahead and pay the extra money to get an international plan on your phone for internet– our first trip to Italy we thought we would have enough wifi to get by and there were several occasions that we wished we had it for directions. On our next trip we only got it on my phone– but, as we learned this trip when I broke my phone, it’s helpful to have it on all parties traveling.
  • It’s not a bad idea to throw an extra change of clothes in your carry on for the international flights just incase you luggage gets lost…believe me.
  • Rick Steeves has an app that has audio tours, which was great for the big sights.
  • Very few places stay open late. So plan accordingly if you need anything from the pharmacy. A lot of food places are closed Monday.

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What To Wear

We started in the south of France in the Rivera and worked our way up to Paris. Even on a normal basis at home I stress out on what to wear, but then thinking about being in France surrounded by all the stylish French people added even more stress to my already crazy. And about 5 days into the trip I finally came to the conclusion unless you are a tall, skinny with perfect eyebrows and know how to purse your lips just right– you’re going to look like a tourist. If you wear a camera- tourist. If you wear a backpack- tourist. So my best advice for packing is to pack light, make sure that your separate pieces will all look good together and don’t wear running shoes. That’s about it.

So, if you are taking a summer trip like ours where weather can be variable (we started in the mid 90’s in the south and in the 60’s and sometimes rainy in Paris) this is what I would suggest for ladies (sorry dudes):

  • Pack the least amount of clothes possible. It’s a pain to carry it through subways and airports.
  • 2 Pairs of walking shoes to rotate to keep you from getting blisters. Make sure you do some serious walking in them before you travel so that you can make sure they’re comfy and have decent support. But maybe not running shoes. I didn’t really ever see anyone in running shoes.
  • Flip flops or waterproof shoes for the beachy area. The beaches are more rocky than sandy, Ryan had his Chacos and when we were walking in the water I wished I had mind too. But Flip flops got the job done– I was just worried that I was going to bust one.
  • Beach towels if you are going to be in a water area. I bought these just before we left and was impressed with how light and small they were, yet worked great. On the beach note- very few ladies wear one piece suits. No body image issues in France, just go for the two piece.
  • Longer skirts/shorts for the trains…the fabric on the seats is not comfy.
  • Ziplock bags. I put all of our toiletries and shoes in the 2 gallon ziplock backs, and then threw a couple in which made it handy for if we needed to keep wet jackets or shoes separate from the dry clothes.
  • One versatile skirt– perhaps in white or black.
  • One pair of fitted black pants. They really do wear black a lot.
  • 3 shirts that look good with a skirt and pants.
  • 1 cardigan or sweater that will go with all of the above.
  • 2 comfy but nice looking dresses that can be worn for day and nights.
  • A rain jacket or trench coat– make sure it’s water PROOF not just resistant. We had some issues with that. This will take up a lot of space in your bag though, so you could always just pop into a shop and buy an umbrella if it does rain and just leave it for the next guy when you leave.
  • A couple bandaids for blisters.
  • Sunglasses
  • Purse– In the past I’ve had a larger purse, which was also nice because I could stuff a jacket or cardigan in it. This trip I carried a small leather cross body purse and it was nice not to have to carry around a ton of weight, and I ended up just wrapping my jacket around my waist or in a knot around my purse strap. You really could go either way, just make sure it has zippers. And for Paris it was great to have something that had two pockets because the Metro tickets are very small and good for only one use (unless you get a week pass) and it’s easy to get the old and the valid ones mixed up.
  • Bathing suit and cover up.
  • Headphones for Audio Tours.
  • Copies of passports and hide it in luggage in case your passport gets stolen.
  • Adaptors

All of the areas we went before Paris with maybe the exception of Lyon were relatively laid back on what people wore, I didn’t feel like I stuck out that badly as a traveler until we got to Paris. These are a couple of things that I brought that I did not regret even though it was more weight to carry:

  • A pair of dressy, but still comfy, shoes. I brought a pair of wedges. I actually wore them every day in Paris except when we day tripped out to Versalles. Paris feels so beautiful and I wanted to feel like I looked nice too.
  • A photo shoot outfit. Ryan and I like to treat one day of each trip like a photo shoot so we dress nice and do our hair, and don’t get annoyed when one or the other asks us to stop for photos. I always like to look for an iconic dress that I love. I couldn’t find one for France but I have one from Italy that I’ll keep forever because I have fond memories of it.
  • A hat for the south of France. It was nice for the beach. But you might just buy one there because it was kind of a pain to keep track of and not smoosh.

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International Travel Tips for the Photographer:
So after our third international trip I have finally decided what I will forever bring for all trips in the future.

  • 50 mm 1.4 lens
  • Our lightest camera body
  • Several Memory Cards

That’s it. On our trip last year we actually did a shoot for a magazine so we brought our 35mm, 85mm and 50mm. And I was glad I had them for the shoot, but had to carry around a giant backpack for the whole trip and didn’t feel like I really changed lenses all that much. For this trip we brought the 85mm 1.4 & 35mm 1.4, but they were super heavy. So from now on if it’s just a trip for pleasure and not work, it’s just going to be the 50mm for us. It’s a nice enough portrait lens and a focal length that I don’t have to scoot back a million miles to get a wide out shot. Plus it makes me stand by my theory that the best camera equipment is what you have with you. It makes you work a little harder, but also makes you more thoughtful and creative on your shots.

On our Italy trip we also brought the iPad for back up and left it in the room and took our memory cards with us, which is probably still not a bad idea even though we chose not to bring it this time. I still stand by my Italy photographer tips if you want to view them– Apple electronics and cords obviously will have to be the updated versions. Only 4 years ago and it’s changed so much!

A couple more tips:

  • Don’t bring a strap that has the camera brand on it.
  • Bring a bag that zips up and doesn’t just fold over– the fold over bags make it easy to reach in and grab something.
  • Change memory cards often. Kind of like a shooting a wedding– don’t put all your eggs in one basket in case your card corrupts or case gets stolen.
  • In Paris especially, don’t forget to keep the lens cap on when you’re walking around. There’s a lot of gravel roads and dust that gets kicked up.

Alright. That’s all I’ve got kids. Now we will get back to normal business on the blog!

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Allee & Ryan Sneak Peek

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Cuddles

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