Saturday, January 29, 2011

Settled in the South of France

In June of 2008 we joined 21 friends in Provence for a week’s holiday in a grand chateau east of Avignon. Now a week might not sound like a terribly long time to be someplace, but for us as Americans our vacations are so limited that 2 days here and 3 days there is the norm.

Châteauneuf de Gadagne is tiny! Two bakeries, 1 bar/pizza shop and the post office. That’s it. The chateau sits atop the hill gazing at the town below. Each day we would stop at a neighboring village’s outdoor market and pick up fresh strawberries, a chicken, some sausages or salad makings. And wine; lots and lots of wine.

I guess I haven’t mentioned that these friends of ours (us included) are “foodies”. Serious, serious foodies. Many of us have been known to travel the globe just to eat at a certain restaurant or by a certain chef.

But this time we never went out for dinner. Not even once! In an area with Michelin- starred restaurants peppering the region we stayed at home. We enjoyed watching the sunset each evening from our patio over plates of local cheeses, olives and bread. And then on the last night all 23 of us created an amazing 5-course dinner and toasted our wonderful holiday.

The week felt luxuriously long and we felt like we had a home in Provence.  Slowing down and settling in connected us not only with the town but also with each other.
This post has been entered into the Grandtourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fireworks in Oslo

The new year started with a bang for us, literally! In Oslo for our annual trip the 6 of us began the night with champagne, foie gras & Wasa crackers in our room at the Hotel Bristol. The price of drinks (& everything else!) in Norway was quite high so we packed a lot of our own booze in. Unfortunately both Forest's and Matt's bags were relieved of their bottles of champagne while leaving CDG so we had to make due with just the one we had picked up in Amsterdam duty free.

Earlier in the afternoon while exploring the city we had come across this very popular fireworks stand people were lined up at. Little did we know that what they were selling were not traditional fireworks like we get but boxes of mortars that would rival the city's show. 



We had heard that the city puts on a big fireworks display so after dinner we headed out towards the waterfront and for the first time in a week saw actual crowds of people. The holidays seem to be a very private affair in Norway, spent at home with families, so we hadn't really seen a lot of people until this night!

Locals were setting off their pre-show which easily equaled some professional ones!


And then right at midnight Oslo put on a really big show. The fireworks were beautiful! And lasted much longer than expected. What is it about fireworks that bring out the kid in us?

Afterward we headed back to the hotel bar where they were selling bottles of Veuve Cliquot for over $300, you don't even want to know what the Dom Perignon was going for...


I persuaded them to sell us a bottle of Prosecco ;)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 - A New Decade

Happy New Year everyone! We've just returned from our annual "ring in the new year" trip, this time in Norway. It was 10 years ago that this little tradition unofficially started. Dayne and I were just dating and Forest was getting ready to move to Annecy, France to study. Along the way her and some friends were heading to Italy and we all decided to meet up in Paris for New Years Eve. This would be Dayne's and my first trip together!

We started the evening with dinner at Au Pied de Cochon with Forest, Jeff and Tim (who's birthday it was also). It was very cold in Paris and we were planning on being outside at midnight so we made our dinner last probably longer than the restaurant would have liked. We then bundled up and headed out, bottles of champagne stuffed in our backpacks. Every bridge on the Seine was lit up with the new Euro symbol and the flags of each participating country were raised and waving. We made our way to Place de la Concorde where a huge crowd of people were gathered to watch the fireworks at midnight. Having drunk all of our champagne we bought beers from vendors with little tables set up for the occasion, toasted and kissed at midnight and then paraded down the Champs- Élysées with the rest of Paris.



We would later stop at a cafe, drink the rest of the night away and pay our tab with some of the first Euro's to be dispensed from an ATM in Europe!

A few years pasted with us having parties at home or heading out for dinner with friends for the occasion. But we missed that experience- how do others celebrate the new year? How do the cities look all decorated for the holidays? How many places can we drink Champagne in? And so in 2005, with 8 others we headed off to St. Petersburg, Russia and rang in the new year with vodka and live music on Nevsky Prospekt.




2006 took 4 of us to the Big Apple, possibly the world's best known New Years celebration. We chose not to stand in Times Square but went to one of those big ticketed party's, made our own fun and then headed to Pegu Club right after midnight.
In 2007 we were just 3 and we toured all over South Africa finally landing in Cape Town to see the new year come in with fireworks at the waterfront.


2008 would also mark my big 40th and we were off to Japan! Myself, Dayne, Forest and new year eve tripper first timer Matthieu would spend the evening at the Yasaka shrine in Kyoto with thousands of others. We drank beer and Saki while watching as people practiced the traditional first blessing of the year with prayers to Buddha before lighting a dried twig from one of the many lanterns in order to make the years first soup using flame from the temple.  



And in 2009 we traveled illegally to Cuba, welcoming the new year with aged Havana Club rum and canon shots in Havana's harbor.  Besides the normal 3, team Cuba included Matthieu for the 2nd time, Violaine and a different Tim.



And of course that brings us up to date with myself, Dayne, Forest, Matthieu, Violaine and new comer Caitlin watching some crazy ass fireworks and drinking Aquavit in Oslo Norway which I'll write about in a separate post.

I'm excited to see where the next 10 years will take us, what we'll see and experience and who will come along to share it with. It's been a hell of a decade, here's to the next!