May 24, 2012

La Belle Vie, S'il Vous Plaît

It is as my French tutor, Monique, told me today, "You are living the beautiful life!" Every session with her makes me wonder how far away my first completely French blog posting will be....

This year I definitely focused my adventures in France, especially in Paris. I only went out of the country five times: twice to visit friends in Belgium, on our Mediterranean Christmas cruise, a solo weekend in Munich, and the repeat tulip weekend in the Netherlands.

Last year it definitely helped having the Eurail pass for those two months - the freedom to explore was incredible! But without it this year, my trips had to be much more calculated and significant in purpose. My schedule also changed tremendously with the addition of coaching two teams, which crammed nearly every weekend of the year with volleyball. This is not a sad story, but just a difference between my few months in Belgium and this year in France. (Adding volleyball to life can never be a sad story.)

I have happily run-a-muck in Paris instead. If I had to be city-locked, this is the one place I would choose anyway. As we progress toward mastering the metro and bus systems, we continue to find even more of the treasures that the City of Light holds for us. Plus, France is such a huge country, we are not even close to having visited each region, let alone the cities!

On the priority tourism docket for next year are the following locations:

1. Chateau de Chantilly
This is just a day trip north of Paris, so it will be the easiest adventure to pull off after we return in August. There is always room in my life for more chateaux!

2. Mont Saint-Michel
I believe that next to the Eiffel Tower, MSM is the second most visited sight in France. It is an incredible island village built around a massive monastery. This place deserves its own weekend next year for sure.

3. Normandy Beaches
We got close this year in Caen, but this is a very time-consuming endeavor that requires well-planned transport - or your own car. There are several beaches and cemeteries that are not friendly to the walking. Both our American and French friends have all told us that "every American should see the D-Day beaches." It's relatively near Mont Saint-Michel, so we could technically combine these trips, but it will all depend on calendar availability.

Outside of France, I would really like to make it to Prague to visit my old roommate from my Belgian team. Marc and I also really want to do more of either Italy or Greece. We would also be ready for any last-minute deals hailing from Berlin, London, Zurich, Vienna, Dublin, etc. It's all a matter of matching up time and money, then jumping in and going for it!

The first week after I return, I am going straight to Den Haag, Netherlands, to work an American volleyball camp. Coaching in English never sounded so good.

I am not ignoring Spain. Rather, I am insanely anticipating my Spain excursion, which is currently planned for the summer of 2014. There is just so much I want to see and do in Spain, there was no way I could pull it off in successive weekends. So instead, I am dedicating an entire month of my future life to Spain and Portugal. A trip like this is worth waiting for and doing right.

The very distant future (2015 and beyond) tells tales of Scandinavia, Russia, and Northern Africa. We are also very interested in the potential lifestyle Australia presents to us. But this is all way down the road. For now, we'll gladly stick to our Old World ways with the castles and fabulous food.

As far as your chance to experience any of this with us, we are going to be much more organized in our calendar next year. Now we better understand French holidays and our own hosting strengths and weaknesses, thanks to our willing "test visitors" this year (Jes, Kia, Tanya, and the 8 Simpson men!). I will be posting a calendar sometimes this summer on the blog that shows "open dates" for possible travel times.

We will be stateside in less than a week! It's going to be a very different kind of summer...

À bientôt!