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July 28, 2016

A Month of California Summer

When you live in a far away land, your visits to your Old World can become something of a monstrocity. What starts as a cute two-week itinerary can blow up into a three-month trail of exhaustion and receipts reminding you how much money you shouldn't have spent on all those things you never get to do, see, or taste in your New World.

Hallelujah - because that is not what happened this year!

Marc and I were able to connect the travel dots to create an overlapping four-week stint in the USA. His was a Colorado-California-Colorado journey, and I made my way up the Golden State the month of July.

I sat back from the blog, scheduling two posts way in advance, then a lovely guest photo essay. This post isn't ambitious in any way, or trying to make up for my vacation from writing. It's just a quick run-down of how my California summer went and a preview of what's next.

Oceanside: is usually just a quick trip with Marc's family, but it quickly transformed into a sizeable family reunion! We shared lots of jokes, took over restaurants with our reservations for twelve, and played Apples to Apples enough to know exactly which cards to plan when. I also successfully renewed my driver's license for all the driving I avoid in Europe.

Inland Empire: always includes a meet-up with a teacher friend in Temecula, then off to Loma Linda to hang out at my sister's home. She and her husband are filling their family with their two dogs and now a cat, and we enjoyed long walks in their pretty neighborhood, TV series marathons, and we ate a jar and a half of Rainbow Chip frosting. There may have been some red velvet cupcakes, but mostly, there was just frosting.

Visalia: is my parents' current address, and time there is always relaxing, warm, and full of pool days. We explored nearby Exeter a few times, got caught up on some Target shopping needs, and picked through our Tupperware "storage unit" to sift out a few more things we just don't need to keep. I did not write a book this time, but I did read a few!

Orland & Chico: were possible because my parents let me borrow their car for an entire week! I got to see a lot of old friends, go to my favorite food places, and get lost in the crazy downtown Chico streets. (Chico is where I went to high school, and my best friend, Tanya, who holds the record for the most visits to come see us abroad, lives in the nearby farm community of Orland.)

Redding: ends up on my radar almost every summer because of the totally fun and awesome volleyball camp I get to do at Redding Christian School. This summer was particularly nostalgic because some of the will-be-seniors were my very youngest campers when we started doing the camp back in 2009. Two of my former Simpson University players that I got to see also had huge milestones in their lives this year. One got married and another had a baby!

Redding has always been a place associated with happy memories for me since my grandparents lived there most of my life, my favorite NBC Camps brought me back for a decade of sporty summers, and now having continually invested in the Redding Christian volleyball program to the point where I've watched many of the athletes grow up! Have I mentioned Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen crown the edges of the city and I get to stay at a ranch where I can see every star at night?

I fly out of San Francisco this weekend after hanging out with another long-time friend, then I get to spend a crazy layover day in Chicago with my aunt before jumping the ocean back to Germany.

Oh, yes, the perfect segue: Germany.

We are definitely returning to Vilsbiburg, Germany, and will be staying there for a while. The current plan?

The. Next. Three. Years.

For the fanatical Francophile that I am, the idea of living in Germany that long is intense! But, then I remember all of the amazing things about it: it's a lot closer to Paris than America, we have tons of amazing friends, we get to learn another language, a whole new part of Europe has opened up to us, the visas have (so far) been super easy to obtain, and another year in Europe anywhere is a WIN.

I will have more to share on what our year will look like later in August. For now, we are going to try to accept this foreign concept of living in the same place for more than five minutes.

Have a wonderful finish to your summer.

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July 19, 2016

14 Photos of North America From a Frenchman

It's not often that I get to see North America through the lens of a French friend. This time around it was actually one of the students I had tutored at the Paris engineering university.

Since I am currently in the middle of my California summer trip, I thought it only fitting to showcase this side of the world with better photos than I could ever take (I blame it on the camera).

Léonard from Grenoble chose to do his study abroad semester in Quebec. When we saw each other at school in May, he mentioned he had taken a lot of photos during his trip. I didn't necessarily have high or low expectations when I clicked his Flickr link, but, when I did, I was blown away!

I don't normally feature guest posts (my husband's do not count!), but I found the selection and quality of Léonard's photos to be very interesting and he made me see North America in a new way.  I hope his pictures take you on a miniature journey of the USA and Canada through the eyes of a Frenchman!

For the rest of Léonard's photos, you can visit his Flickr album.

Chicago, Illinois

Parc Jacques Cartier, Quebec

Tadoussac, Quebec

Chicago, Illinois

Montreal, Quebec

Windsor, Ontario

Laval University, Quebec

Tadoussac, Quebec

Quebec City, Quebec

Niagara Falls, Quebec

Windsor, Ontario

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

Tadoussac, Quebec

This beautiful photo gallery (see all of Léonard's photos here) is linked up with City Tripping and Wanderful Wednesday.

Have you seen any of these views on your North American travels? They were all new to me, but I will get to spend a day in Chicago on my way back to Germany at the end of July! 


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July 12, 2016

Vernazza: It's Amore

I have to be totally honest.

I was avoiding the Cinque Terre.

I just didn't feel like I would like it that much. I can do the beach about once a year (Portugal's got me hooked), and I don't like heights. That's all the Cinque Terre appeared to be: steep hiking trails to rocky overcrowded beaches.

I've seen colorful Italian cities. I've seen Californian coastline homes built on top of themselves. What could the Cinque Terre really have to offer aside from too many tourists?

I. Was. So. Wrong.

(Not about the tourists, they are still there in full force.)

It helped that I had just read a random book laying on the shelf at our AirBnB in Seville called Beautiful Ruins. It was about a fictional forgotten village next to the Cinque Terre, and it took me over to Florence, up to Scotland, back to my old haunts in Los Angeles, and even north to Idaho.

I recommend it if you like Hollywood mystique (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton!) and how lives can twist and turn around and back to each other.

Anyway, I only had time to go to one of the Cinque Terre villages before catching my flight back to Munich out of Pisa.

Karen, Maggie, and I elected to go to Vernazza.

Now, I have no other Cinque Terre villages to compare Vernazza to, but I am really glad we chose it!

I am also thoroughly satisfied that we took the trains instead of hiking. I can hack a hike, but muddy trails on the side of cliffs just do not add up to my kind of fun. The trains are super easy once you reach La Spezia. All of the Cinque Terre villages are on the same line to Levanto and you just get off on the one you want to go to.

There is also a ferry. It is larger than the boat pictured.

As soon as we stepped outside of the Vernazza stazione, I saw what I had been missing out on.

The building colors were deeply saturated against the blue sky. Every inch of this place is adorable. We walked past rainbow umbrellas shading cafe-goers on our way to the marina area.

Vernazza is breathtaking. This colorful village rises up out of the cove and the hills behind it are covered with lush green vineyards and trees. We climbed up to the lookout tower (small fee of €1,50) and saw where we wanted to go eat lunch - on the other mountain.

This decision led us up the "streets" of Vernazza, which are really just tons of stairs that go in every direction and you hope it isn't a dead end!

We ate our pasta with this view overlooking the Mediterranean. It was perfect.

I am SO GLAD Maggie wanted to go to the Cinque Terre, or else I don't know when I would have ever gone on my own!

Now I can't wait to return to explore the other towns, along with other Italian coastal areas. Lucky for me, our location in southeast Germany puts us just a quick flight away!

*Disclaimer: I enjoyed writing this post way too much while listening to Dean Martin songs. Also, Beautiful Ruins (I'm rating it "R" for language and sensuality, but it is not constant or bombarding) is available through an Amazon affiliate link. If purchased, I will receive a small percentage of the profit.

Have you found the Cinque Terre authentic or touristy? Which of the "five lands" is your favorite and why?

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July 5, 2016

Florence with Friends

The first and only time I had been to Florence before was in 2013. I had eaten too much gelato in Venice and the next day - the day my sister-in-law and I were taking trains to Florence and Pisa - I was miserable. I put on a weak smile, walked slowly, and ended up laying down on a sunny slab outside the Duomo to take a nap while Alex enjoyed the city.

I remember sunshine. I remember a lot of shopping stalls. I remember buying a hat. I remember wanting to roll into a ball and die.

When my friends, Karen and Maggie, planned their epic European adventure this summer, they let me know where they would be on which dates. London, I was busy. Paris, I'd just been there. Milan, I'd love to go back, but it was so soon after my trip in February. Venice, ohhhhh, getting warmer. Florence and Cinque Terre, bingo! Perfect dates, perfect place, and perfect travel buddies.

My only goal: stay healthy!

We wandered and wined and dined. We talked about everything we could possibly think of, and then we talked some more. It was a whirlwind two days, but an incredibly better introduction to the city than my first ill-fated attempt.

I had not realized that the center of Florence was totally void of modern buildings. Where Milan was a mix of old and new, Florence is just one huge city of antiques. The skyline is churches, towers, and terracotta rooftops as far as the eye can see.

We braved mounting the Campanile tower next to the Duomo for the 360 degree views.

It was a lot of stairs. But there are also multiple levels, which makes for nice breaks and different angles of the city.

I went to Italy. Of course, there were my classic #scootersquatter moments.

This sandwich shop is AMAZING. Special thanks to my French friend, Wandrille, for recommending All'Antico Vinaio. This enormous "La Dante" sandwich was only five euros and I could barely finish it!

We found the perfect place for afternoon refreshments at the Osteria Ponte Vecchio.

This really is the only way I can patiently wait for my turn to actually own a Vespa.

It's no wonder so many people are in love with Florence. It's a captivating city with awesome Italian food (gelato), the Duomo is breathtaking, and it's easy to walk around for hours.

I'm already conspiring on taking advantage of the cheap flights from Munich for next year!

Have you been to Florence? What other cities in Tuscany do you love to visit?

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