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From Strong Roots…..

Grow Mighty Girls

Paris with Kids

After three weeks spent exploring Paris and the surrounding areas with my daughters, ages 8 and 10, I’d like to think that we have some sense of what works with kids in Paris.  Paris is, in my humble opinion, an inspired place to spend time with kids.  There are families everywhere, Parisians generally love kids, and the possible activities are endless.  This is by no means an exhaustive review because there are so many things we didn’t even get to!

One of our favorite things to do in Paris was to just immerse ourselves in everyday life.  We rented a flat through VRBO which in my opinion is the ONLY way to travel with kids.  You have a kitchen, laundry, room to spread out, and best of all, you become part of the fabric of everyday life in the neighborhood.

We would wake in our sunny flat every morning and stroll down to the local boulangerie where we were greeted by our favorite shop owner who served us pain au chocolate.  Yep.  Every morning.  Without fail.

We loved spending the morning at the Rue de Grenelle market, acquiring fruits, vegetables and eggs.  We would admire the housewares, clothes and leather goods. Occasionally we would snag a fun piece of jewelry or a scarf.  After dropping our collected treasures back at the flat we would take off again for our daily adventure.  Afternoons would invariably find us relaxing at the flat before heading up to Rue Cler to walk the pedestrian only street, darting into the fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and wine shop in a veritable scavenger hunt for dinner items.  We would stroll the streets of Paris, pass through the Champ de Mars, steal a glance at the Eiffel Tower and then back to the flat to enjoy our finds.  Our favorite dinner would be baguettes, salted butter from Normandy, beautiful tomatoes with olive oil and salt, with an array of cheeses and charcuterie.  Oh, and a glass (or two) of rosé.  Sheer perfection.  Part of the beauty of these experiences is that they have carried over even now that we are home.  Our favorite dinner is still a baguette from our local bakery, cheeses from the cheese section of our specialty grocery store and fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes.  Ahhhhh.

As for the sights to see with the kids, I have collected wisdom and insights below.

The Classics

Eiffel Tower—-a beautiful classic that in my opinion is not to be missed.  Reservations are a must, reserve on line for your entrance time to skip some of the lines and make the best use of your time.  Elevators to le sommet come with long lines and there is no way to bypass the system.  But, really, you are in Paris.  Stand in line and go to the top.  You’ll never forget it!  Return, if you can, after dark to watch the tower lit up in all it’s glory at the top of every hour.

Notre Dame—-short lines to get inside and no fee or reservation required.  Insanely long line for the Tower Climb so had to forego that portion of the tour.  Beautiful interior with lots of religious history to be learned.  Perhaps more interesting for the kids is the exterior of the building with it’s multiple gargoyles and flying buttresses.

Ile St. Louis—the small island in the Seine adjacent to Notre Dame is chock full of cute shops, cafes and treats.  Berthillon ice cream has a walk-up shop on the main street and some of the cafes serve the classic ice cream as well.  Crêpe stands abound as well and the collection of cute shops makes for a pleasant diversion.

In the general vicinity of Notre Dame are the Left Bank boquinistas and the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore.  The boquinistas are a must see and interesting for the children.  The bookstore is an historic landmark and could be fun but we found it hot and crowded.

Saint Chapelle is a gorgeous cathedral that is a must see.  Plan your entrance time strategically to avoid long security lines.  The stained glass is simply breathtaking.  Between Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame, adjacent to Cité Metro stop is the Flower Market which is well worth the stop for little adventurers.  A covered outdoor market, the Flower Market features all varieties of plants, flowers, garden accessories, bird houses, etc.

Rue Sèvres neighborhood—-start at the Bon Marché for a taste of a Parisian department store.  The toy section on the upper level will captivate your children.  So fun to see which toys are the same in Paris, and which are different!  From there, stroll down Rue Sèvres to La Maison de Chocolate, snag a free sample and buy some treats if desired.  From there, wander to Gerard Mulot and treat yourself to Paris’ best macarons and quiche Lorraine.  Oh, and the avocado crevette.  Take your food finds to…….

Luxembourg Gardens—-a beautiful place to picnic and people watch.  We enjoyed two trips to les Jardins de Luxembourg during our stay here.  Picnicked both times accompanied by a glass of rosé purchased at the cafe in the park.  Wine in the park, brilliant!  There are two playgrounds here, one for younger kids, one for older kids.  Mine were happily occupied for an hour playing at the bigger of the two.  There is a small fee to get in but so worth it.  Sailing sail boats at the pond in the center of the park was also a great diversion.

Louvre—timing is everything at this large, iconic museum of all museums.  We arrived on a Wednesday evening about 3 or 4 hours before closing time.  No lines, minimal crowds.  We got up close and personal to the Mona Lisa.  My girls loved the ancient Greco Roman statues and had such fun imitating their poses.  Don’t try to tackle the entirety of the Louvre in one visit.  Pick a wing and do it, or however much of it they tolerate.  A return visit can always happen to explore more the museum when everyone is happy and rested.  We made two trips to the Louvre and the girls loved every second of it.  A gift shop in the carousel level (below ground) offers a place for quality souvenirs at fairly reasonable prices.

Arc de Triomphe—the best part of the Arc for my children was the view from the top of the massive roundabout that encircle the Arc.  Monument wise, this was probably their least favorite.  It does, however, give you a great perspective on the layout of the city and the Champs Elysses.

Champs Elysses—-Meh.  There are more interesting shopping streets in Paris that feel more authentic than the Champs Elysses.  We did have a little shopping success but could have skipped it and not missed it.

Tuileries—-pretty garden between the Champs Elysses and the Louvre.  Nice cafes for lunch or a snack.  In the far corner adjacent to the entrance from the Place de la Concorde is a trampoline park.  Small entrance fee (10 Euros) buys your child 5 minutes of jumping time and you 5 minutes of peace.

Musee d’Orsay—-accessible, approachable museum housed in a gorgeous old train station.  The building and the art are amazing.  Stunning impressionism work captivated the girls’ imaginations.  Snack and wine in the decadent museum cafe was a great way to end the visit.  I can’t say enough about how great this museum is.  Don’t miss it!

Pompidou Centre—Paris’ collection of modern and contemporary art.  This collection is quite a departure from the Louve and d’Orsay but does complete the historical tour of the art scene, bringing the viewer now to modern times.  The building itself is interesting.  The girls most enjoyed the imaginative, interactive play exhibit located just inside the main doors.  We found this a fine way to spend a morning but it wasn’t one we would likely return to.

Napoleon’s Tomb and the Army Museum—-much more enjoyable than I ever would have imagined.  The building housing Napoleon’s Tomb is stunning and the Army Museum gives an exceptionally detailed tour through WWI and WWII, providing foundational knowledge from which to understand the complex interplay between nations.  My husband loved it here and could have spent many, many, many hours.  The girls and I enjoyed it but were tapped out after a few hours.

 

Shopping

Galleries Lafayette—–quintessential Parisian department store for budding shopaholics.  Yes, it’s busy and crowded with tourists.  But it’s also a whirlwind of fun and a feast for the eyes.

Canal St. Martin—this is a typical Parisian neighborhood along the canal.  A little off the beaten path, this is a quiet, charming, area with fun shops filled with treasures that captivated myself and my children for many hours.

Sennelier Art Store—the oldest art store in Paris, jammed full of gorgeous art supplies.  We could have wandered for quite some time.  Girls each purchased a sketchbook here but the options are nearly endless.

Pure Fun

Baking class—we love baking and cooking together at home and this was a great way to learn a bit about French baking.  We took a class at L’ateliers des Sens where we learned to make choux pastry and delicious eclairs.  This was one of the few cooking schools in Paris where children and parents could take a class together.  The class was very child oriented, hands on and lots of fun.  A great way to learn more about French culture and baking and to meet fellow travelers.

Montmartre Food Tour—-this was great!  We spent five hours touring the food scene in Montmartre with an amazing and knowledgeable guide.  We visited a chocolatier, macaron shop, boulangerie, fromagerie, wine shop, butcher, and crêperie.  At each stop we learned about the food made and sold there and gained wisdom about how to shop for foods.  We had a backstage tour of the boulangerie where baguettes were being made.  The girls got to feel the dough and help push it into the big ovens.  Delicacies were purchased at each stop and consumed family style in a restaurant at the end of the trip.  Yes, this was a long activity but well worth it and the girls enjoyed it immensely.

Out of Paris

Chantilly—a former hunting chateau and current home to beautiful, well trained horses.  Chantilly is just a short train ride out of Paris.  The town itself is small and charming and English is less prominent than it is in Paris which I found to be refreshing and an excellent opportunity to use my French.  The chateau grounds are beautiful but most impressive are the horse stables.  The horse training demonstration is a must see.

Loire Valley—this was my big, brave adventure.  The girls and I traveled by train from Paris to St. Pierre des Corps in the Loire Valley.  Once there, I rented a car and we drove to the village of Amboise.  We stayed just out of Amboise at Château de Pray, a former château tucked in the hillside.  We swam in the pool, explored the village, visited surrounding châteaus, ate the most amazing food, toured vineyards and wineries and generally enjoyed ourselves.  I could write an entire post about this small segment of the Loire Valley, and maybe I will, but suffice it to say, this side trip was well worth our time. With any luck, we will return.

As a brief aside, there a couple of online resources I found to be extremely helpful in planning our kid friendly time in France.  One is https://mylittlenomads.com/paris-for-kids.  The other is http://mamalovesparis.com.  I followed Mama Loves Paris on Facebook which was great for receiving timely updates about cool happenings in Paris.

I could go on and on but the bottom line is that traveling with kids is amazing and Paris is just the city to embrace with your little ones.  What a beautiful introduction to international travel, culture, fine art, delicious food, and the Parisian way of life.

Stay tuned for our next installment where we will detail some of the specific tips and tricks for making the most of your time in Paris with children.

 

 

Packing Light

I’ve never really possessed an ability to “pack light”.  I’m more of a believer in the “always be prepared” philosophy so it’s not uncommon for me to haul a large variety of items on vacation with me on the off chance that I just might need them.

Most of the time this approach causes little trouble for me.  Sure, there’s the occasional embarrassed look as the bellhop hoists a particularly large bag onto the luggage cart.  Sometimes it’s tricky to navigate airport crowds with my large, heavy, Patagonia duffel bag in one hand, three “handbags” slung over my shoulders and two children with their attendant luggage hurrying along behind me.  All in all, though, a small price to pay for having everything I might need or want right at my fingertips.

Only twice has this particular approach given me pause.  The first time was during my inaugural journey to Paris in 2012.  It was impossible to predict what I would need so I brought it all……long, heavy dresses for dinner, tall, silver high heeled shoes, multiple bags and purses, shoes for every conceivable outfit.  My large, American sized suitcase was stuffed to the brim.  It was also quite difficult to navigate the small turnstills, crowded spaces and multiple stairs of the Paris Metro system with that damn suitcase in tow.  I am a problem solver, however, and I solved that problem by getting myself back to the airport via taxi.  Much easier.  Oh, and more expensive.  Goodbye 100 euros.

Two years later I traveled to Italy, arriving in Venice and then taking the train first to the Cinque Terre and then on to Rome.  I suppose I packed a bit lighter this time.  I did leave the dinner dresses and high heels at home, after all.  Somehow, though, I still managed to have a heavy, unwieldy American sized suitcase attached to me.  If you’ve even been to Venice you know that it is built over a series of canals.  To traverse the canals there are stairs.  Many stairs.  Up and down.  Over every.  Single.  Canal.  My suitcase and I thumped along.  By the time we had finally found our hotel on the first day there I hated my suitcase.  My back and shoulders ached.  I was sweating profusely.  I was NEVER packing like that again.

When planning our recent trip to France, I channeled all my previous heavy suitcase angst and made a better plan.  I made a concise list of what I really needed and would use.  Turns out that there are stores in France.  You can buy things there if you need them, forget them or want them.  Weird.  But handy.

We were traveling for three weeks.  I packed five interchangeable outfits, three pairs of shoes, one swimming suit, one pair of pajamas and a few books.  I felt great anxiety.  What if I didn’t have the perfect outfit for the occasion?  What if my clothes weren’t Parisian enough (don’t worry, they won’t be)?  What if, what if……

Turns out, this is a brilliant way to travel.  They less a person has to haul, drag, keep track of,  or worry about, the better.  The less you bring, the more you can enjoy.  Next time, I’m bringing even less.

Below is my “essential” packing list and a few thoughts about the utility of the various items.  I hope this helps you pack light(er) on your next journey.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Five outfits: I prefer to mostly use dresses to fulfill this requirement.  They are versatile, easy to dress up with a scarf or other accessory and always look pulled together.  I brought four dresses and one skirt with two shirts that could go with it.  I also brought one pair of dark rinse denim that could go with either of the shirts I brought.  One lightweight, three-quarter sleeve navy blue cardigan from Anthropologie could complement any of the above outfits as needed.

Of the four dresses I brought, two turned out to be ideal.  One of these was the Kit and Ace cap sleeve dress in a deep purple.  If you haven’t discovered Kit and Ace yet, do yourself a favor and take a look.  They carry beautiful, classic clothes in technical fabrics that wear and wash beautifully.  Perfect for travel.  My other favorite dress was a simple knit v-neck knit dress from Boden.  Flattering silhouettes in great fabrics are always a win.

The other two dresses I brought were worn less for a variety of reasons.  One was a very pretty print dress from Anthropologie but the fabric was synthetic and it was hot and sweaty in the summer heat.  The other was a bright yellow A-line dress again from Anthropologie in a cotton fabric.  It was comfortable but tended to wrinkle more and the bright yellow color felt out of place in Paris.

Next time I will stick to my classic shapes and colors in technical or knit fabrics.

The skirt I brought was a white knit and paired nicely with a variety of tops, including the two I brought and others I purchased along the way.

Quality denim jeans are a must.  You only need one pair but you will be glad you brought them.  Bring your best fitting, darkest wash pair and you will feel tres chic.

One pair of comfortable pajamas, one swimming suit, one light weight raincoat.   I almost left the raincoat at home and that would have been regrettable indeed.

I brought two scarves to accessorize my outfits, three pairs of simple and classic earrings, one necklace and a few bracelets.  Between these items and some treasures I bought along the way, I had plenty of accessories to keep my outfits feeling appropriate and fresh.

Shoes——I love shoes but for this trip I brought only three pairs.  I wore my pair of Tiek ballet flats.  Amazing travel shoes.  I brought one pair of nice Birkenstock sandals and a pair of Naot sandals.  All were perfect for logging lots and lots of miles in relative comfort.

I did bring my running gear, too, as I love to run in Paris.  One tank top, one pair of shorts, one bra, one pair of socks, one hat.  One old pair of running shoes which I threw away in Paris before coming home.

A few other necessary items came along as well.  Electrical converters are a must, bring one with multiple plug-ins if you can.  Also laundry soap, a travel umbrella, a small clothesline and toiletries.  Bring the smallest size toiletries you think you can possibly get away with.  You can buy more there if you need.  I did, and survived to tell the story.

Tide stain remover pens are a life saver.  I also brought my own coffee (because I’m a coffee snob) and peanut butter (because the French don’t love peanut butter like I do).  These two items made breakfast in the flat very lovely, indeed.  A reusable shopping bag is a must as well if you plan to buy any groceries at all.

This final item is a bit controversial but I’m glad I brought it.  I toted along my MacBook laptop.  Yes, it’s a bit heavy but we were traveling for three weeks and it was invaluable when I needed to look up information, make reservations, buy train tickets or watch a pinch of English language TV.  Could you accomplish these tasks in other ways?  Yes, but it wouldn’t be as convenient.  For me, it was worth it to have the laptop but I realize this is a very individual decision.

That’s it.  Pack light, pack smart.  It’s my new travel motto.

#packlight #packsmart #paris #youcanbuyitthere #KitandAce #Boden #throwawayshoes #peanutbutterisanamericanthing

 

Reading

I love reading.  I love everything about it.  The smell of the book.  The heft of the novel in my hand.  Curling up on the couch all day with my book, magazine, travel guide, novel, whatever has words printed on it.

Oh wait, I never actually get to do that.  Somehow real life conspires to prevent that particular event from happing.  But I’d like to do that.  I’d really like to.

Trip planning, though, does allow me a bit of a (somewhat) valid excuse to sit around and read.  After all, when we are spending a lot of time and money on a trip, we had better be prepared.

When we made the decision to take the girls to France this summer I immediately put together a reading list of books that we would read together prior to our travels.  The list is an eclectic and diverse collection of story books, short chapter books and novels that has helped to paint the picture of both historical and modern day Paris.

I’ll share it below with commentary in the hopes that you might find it helpful, too.

Storybooks:

The Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans is a classic and a must read, even for older children.  We enjoyed the stories and picking out the Paris monuments depicted in the illustrations.

Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson is an entertaining, laugh out loud journey through Paris with the inimitable Eloise.  A must read!

Anatole by Eve Titus tells the story of an entertaining mouse on the loose in Paris.

Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock is a lovely simple storybook that takes readers on a child’s eye view tour of the streets of Paris.

Kiki and Coco in Paris  by Nina Gruener tells the story of a girl and her doll in Paris.

Short Chapter Books:

Les Miserables by Hugo and Monica Kulling is a children’s version of the classic story.  It depicts historical Paris and France but some of the topics (death, illness, orphans) were a bit much for my children, aged 8 and 10.

Hunchback of Notre Dame again depicts historical Paris and is an enjoyable read for mid elementary aged children.

Chapter Books:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is set inside the iconic Gare du Nord train station and includes beautiful drawings that are every bit as compelling as the story that is told.

Travel Books:

Paris City Trails from Lonely Plant Kids describes 19 kid friendly trails through Paris with loads of fun facts about sights along the way.  Because this book has fun tips and pictures, my plan is to read this ahead of time with the girls but not bring it on the trip.  We will incorporate most of the sights into our itinerary in one way or another.

Paris With Kids from Fodor’s describes 68 diverse experiences that will appeal to kids of all ages.  I read it from cover to cover, made notes of and researched the activities that looked appealing and then incorporated them into our plans.  Some of the listings I hadn’t seen anywhere else and am excited to try.  What I anticipate will be a very useful part of the book is the little side bar, Eats for Kids, on each page.  This lists a handful of cafes, brasseries, crepe stands, etc. near each attraction that are kid friendly.  Notes of these have gone in my Bullet Journal (more about that later).

Mission Paris: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure by Catherine Aragon is a thin, lightweight book outlining a city wide scavenger hunt.  My children love scavenger hunts and I’m hoping this book will help them stay engaged during what might otherwise be boring museums and gardens.  Because it is so lightweight, I feel like I can bring it along without creating excessive weight in the luggage.

As usual, there are too many books to be read and too little time.  There are a number of books I intended to read before our travels but….we were thwarted by time.  Included in the to be read list:

Mira’s Diary

Paris in the Spring with Picasso

Last Musketeer

The Lacemaker and the Princess

The Little Prince

Onward….to more good books!

Second Chance

Source: Second Chance

Second Chance

Nearly 11 years ago I fell head over heels in love with a beautiful, snuggly, strong willed baby girl.  As my first born, she was the force of nature that turned me instantaneously into a mother.  As first born children will do, she consumed my life in every way.

Nearly two years later I found myself pregnant with my soon to be second daughter.  I felt conflicted in a way I hadn’t expected.  I worried that our new baby would take me away from my first born, would decrease the love and attention I had to give to her.  I worried that this shift of focus, from her as an only child to her AND her sister, would ruin her forever.  I worried that I wouldn’t love this new baby as much as I had the first. This struggle is not unique and neither was the solution.  We figured it out, day by day, minute by minute.  So far, nobody seems too scarred.

Five years ago I fell head over heels in love again.  This time I traveled 4,800 miles to meet my love, anxiously leaving my two small children in the care of my parents.  The object of my affection was again beautiful and strong willed.  (Strong willed and I….it’s a love/hate thing.)  and very, very French.

I wasn’t prepared to like Paris, much less love it. I wasn’t prepared to fall in sync with the rhythms of the city, to be astounded by the architecture and awed by the beauty. In short, it was little like parenting. Before I had children parenting was an abstract concept that seemed pleasant enough. After children, parenting was real and gritty and transformative. Before traveling to Europe, Paris was a pleasant enough idea. After spending ten days there, Paris changed me. And left me wanting more.

So in three days I’ll embark again to the City of Light, this time with my daughters in tow. We will meet my mother there and immerse ourselves in the city. I wonder, though, how has Paris changed? How have I changed since my last journey there? How will my children experience this gorgeous city? Will I love Paris as much the second time as I did the first?

They Think We’re Just Riding

People who passed by us today, if they noticed us at all, perhaps observed that we were just another family out enjoying the sunny, early spring weather.  They would have been correct.  Mostly.

It was a sunny day with glorious clear blue skies and crisp, fresh air.  The kind of day we just haven’t had enough of recently.  And we were enjoying ourselves.

Except when we weren’t.

I had 17 miles worth of training runs to complete this weekend.  One 5 mile tempo run and a 12 mile long run.  My husband was out of town and I felt a bit guilty leaving the girls alone while I ran so I suggested they join me on their bikes for the five miler.  They enthusiastically agreed.  We set off on an out and back course over rolling hills adjacent to the river.  A beautiful run/ride although by the end my youngest had to be cajoled along.  To her credit, her bike seat was much too short as she seems to have gained four inches over the winter.  This caused her legs to work less efficiently than is optimal and she let me know about it when she was tackling those hills.  We all agreed at the end that it had been a success, though, and the girls were eager to ride again.

I felt pretty confident, however, that neither of the girls would want to join me for 12 miles today.  After all, it’s more than double what they rode yesterday and four miles longer than any ride they have completed thus far.  I underestimated their sweet optimism and sense of adventure, though.  When asked if they wanted to stay home and play or come with me and ride 12 miles, they didn’t even hesitate.  So I loaded the bikes, the helmets and assorted paraphenalia.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t travel light and that includes trips across town to go for a run.  Since my girls are related to me, we probably looked like we were headed out of town for a long weekend, the truck loaded down with biking gear, running gear, a change of clothes, snacks and six water bottles.  Just in case.

We parked downtown and hit the trail, crossing bridges, cruising over dirt paths and through cool tunnels.  The girls pedaled along, not even looking like they were working hard.  They would speed ahead and I would find them around the corner, lounging on a park bench and waiting for me.  After five miles we stopped for a bathroom break and to refill our water bottles.  We started up again but by eight miles in, it became clear that my youngest wasn’t too happy with the state of affairs.  I had raised her bike seat after the debacle of the previous day but hadn’t raised her handlebars.  That required a tool I couldn’t find.  It all looked okay to me in the driveway but after 8 miles of pedaling her back was aching from bending forward too far in order to reach those handlebars.  So we stopped.  We drank some water.  We readjusted the seat.  She toughed it out for another quarter of a mile before the subject of her sore back came up again.  She complained a bit, maybe even whined.  Asked how much longer we had to go and rolled her eyes and stomped her feet when I told her the answer.  It was beginning to feel like the final four miles might get ugly.  She persevered, though, and by 11 miles we were back to where we had started.  I know, I know.  I planned to go 12.  But I compromised  in the face of my child’s abject misery.

It’s hard to know how to feel about that.  We set out to go 12 miles.  Was anything less a failure?  Was I letting her off the hook by “only” going 11?  Was I pushing too hard at 8 miles in when I made her keep riding even though she didn’t want to?  I wrestled with these thoughts over the last few miles of the run and well into the rest of the day.  Then I started to think about what the purpose of the ride/run was.  Obviously to get outside, enjoy the sun, be active, do something together.  Even more so, though, the purpose was to appreciate the crisp spring air and the long-absent sun warming our skin.  The purpose was to do something difficult, something challenging, something neither of the girls had ever done before.  The purpose was to feel the warm glow of pride after accomplishing something that was really hard to do.  The purpose was to learn how to persevere even when you wanted to quit.  When I frame it that way, I think we struck the perfect balance.

We finished feeling tired yet energetic.  A slow smile spread across my youngest’s face as she realized what she had accomplished.  As we sat at brunch a few minutes later, I realized how grateful I was to be able to share that gorgeous morning with my daughters.  I know they think we were just riding but believe me, we were doing so much more.

Napa Valley

Recent travels to Napa Valley for a marathon allowed me to experience and enjoy this charming area for the first time.  I have traveled previously in Sonoma County but hadn’t visited Sonoma’s ritzier cousin to the east.  The town of Napa is nestled in a beautiful valley, adjacent to the river.  Downtown is small but filled with restaurants, coffee shops, wine tasting rooms and small boutique shops.  It is a quiet bedroom community that caters to the tourists and oenophiles passing through.

I had the good fortune to be traveling with my good friend and running partner as well as my sister who resides in San Francisco.  We stayed at a small cottage rented on VRBO.  It was less than a mile from our cottage to downtown which is so convenient when you want to enjoy wine with your dinner.  As an aside, Uber and Lyft do exist in Napa and we availed ourselves of this on a few occasions.

We arrived our first night around the dinner hour.  We hadn’t made reservations because we didn’t want to be tied down.  It quickly became apparent that many of the small, cozy, recommended restaurants were full and couldn’t accommodate us.  We ended up at Basalt, mostly because it was large and had some available tables.  Generally a good experience and they have wine on tap which is always fun.  The lobster risotto was simply amazing and would cause me to return if I were in the area again.  The service was so-so, however, and our waiter wasn’t as knowledgeable with the menu or the wines as I would have hoped.

The next day we indulged in a wine tasting at Domaine Carneros, just north of Napa.  Known for it’s sparkling wines, it did not disappoint.  It is perched high on a hilltop overlooking the valley.  The building and grounds are reminiscent of a European chateau.  The wide veranda would be gorgeous on a warm, sunny day.  Our weather, however, was rainy and cool and caused us to take refuge by the fireplace inside.  The service was impeccable, the wines delicious and crisp and the cheese plate a perfect accompaniment.  We left with several bottles of wine to take back home. Reservations strongly recommended.

Earlier that day we visited the Oxbow Public Market in Napa.  An eclectic collection of food, coffee, spices, kitchenware, bitters and shrubs, this is a fun stop for explorers, shoppers and families alike.  A must visit in the Napa area.

The next day was marathon day and we indulged afterwards with an amazing dinner at Angele.  Words fail to describe this perfect fine dining experience.  The restaurant is cozy, the staff is knowledgeable and friendly.  The food is truly exceptional and will be remembered as one of the best dinners I have ever eaten.  We started with the fried deviled eggs—trust me, it’s amazing.  Dinner was mussels with saffron broth.  I won’t ever eat mussels again unless it’s at Angele because it would only diminish my memory of the mussels at Angele.  They were perfection.  The cheese plate for dessert was generously portioned and a true pleasure.  If you love food and wine, this is a must visit. Reservations recommended.

Our final day in the Napa area saw us traveling north to sample wines at Robert Sinskey and Saddleback Cellars.  Two truly exceptional wineries, although vastly different.  Robert Sinskey offered a lovely tasting along with nibbles and we left again with several bottles of wine.  My favorite is the POV made with grapes from the Carneros district.  The Pinot Gris is also quite lovely and I expect that a case of these well balanced wines will make its way to my doorstep soon.  If you have time, make a reservation for the wine and food experience.  The food here is cooked on site and is an experience in and of itself.  If you want to remain more flexible, tastings at the bar are on a first come, first served basis.

Saddleback Cellars is a rustic, Western themed winery with gorgeous Chardonnay and Cabs as well as red blends.  Go on a sunny day when you can sit outside at the picnic tables adjacent to the growing vines.  Bring your own food and make an afternoon of it.  You won’t regret it.  Reservations required.

Napa is a relaxing escape in many ways.  It is pricier than Sonoma, however, mostly because, well, it’s Napa.  Exceptional foods and wines can be found in both valleys, though, so choose the style that feels best for you.  Or visit both and immerse yourself in amazing food and wine.

Marathon

It’s over now. Finished.  Done.  Fini ou fait.  Finito.  Twenty weeks of training, nearly 100 training runs, 30 strength workouts, countless early mornings, hundreds and hundreds of miles, one frostbitten ear.  All for one 26.2 mile race.

This race was a big deal for me.  Last year, while training for my second marathon, my goal was to finish in under four hours.  After all, I can run a half marathon in under two hours so it only makes sense that I could complete a full marathon in under four hours.  Right?  Except that the marathon laughs at simple math like that.  The marathon is more than the sum of its parts.  Regardless, I trained for it.  I did my tempo runs and marathon pace workouts.  I toed the line feeling confident.  I crushed the first half of the course.  And then the course crushed me.  It chewed me up and spit me out 26.2 miles down the road from where I started, battered, exhausted, pissed off. Because I finished in 4 hours and 12 minutes.  Twelve minutes!  Seriously.

Fast forward a few months and I was taking on the marathon again.  This time with a coach and a renewed sense of commitment.  We laid out a plan that included tempo runs, marathon pace runs, speed workouts, long runs, core work, strength work.  We analyzed nutrition and hydration.  We debated the merits of a 20 mile long run vs a 22 mile long run.  We discussed mental strategies.  I listened to podcasts and audiobooks about getting mentally tougher and developing useful mental strategies for attacking the marathon.  I was immersed.

I approached the start line feeling cautiously optimistic (one should never feel totally optimistic about a marathon).  As we started running I noticed that my legs felt a little more tired than they should.  Hmmmm.  A few miles later I noticed that my intestines felt a little more crampy than they should.  Double hmmmm.  But I had mental strategies I could use and I had a pace to keep.  So we soldiered on.  Soon enough, though, the intestines were unable to be ignored any longer.  They received the attention the needed, at a cost of a few minutes.  Then my favorite running partner and dear friend noticed that her intestines weren’t feeling so great.  Another stop along the way.  I even encouraged it because really, I was tired.  A break sounded good.  A break?!?!?!?  Come on, brain, we are running a race here, not waiting for lunch delivery.  Back to trying to keep my brain on track.  That’s a lot of hard work by the way.

There were some really great things about this marathon, though.  It was a beautiful, rolling course through the Napa Valley vineyards.  The countryside was peaceful.  There weren’t any big hills.  The spectators were fun.  I played a drum along the way.  The weather wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  My nutrition and hydration strategy worked out better than ever.  I kind of had fun.

I finished stronger than I ever have before.  My legs were burning and cramping, my abs were tense, my neck and back ached.  I crossed that finish line.  Exactly 4 hours and 5 minutes after I started.  Initially, I was really happy.  This was my best run marathon ever. My best time ever.  I managed the mental game better than usual.  My sister was waiting at the finish line for me.  I was satisfied.

Then, a few days later, it hit me.  I really wanted that under 4:00 finish.  And I was fit enough to do it.  Any runner knows what this means…….I haven’t finished marathoning yet.

It’s Run Time!

I’ve recently been on a running journey.  A marathon running journey.  To be fair, this is the third time I’ve embarked upon such a journey yet perhaps the first time I’ve really understood what this journey entails.  And what it entails isn’t all that pretty some days.  5:00 AM runs, 14 miles on the treadmill, 18 snowy miles in sub-zero weather, a single frost bitten ear.  It also entails actually running a 26.2 mile race.  Which is no small undertaking.  But certainly an undertaking worth conquering.

On my first two marathons I didn’t feel that I “conquered” anything.  This time, though, I vow to do it differently.  This time I am committed to running this race well, to not giving up along the course, to breaking that 4 hour marathon mark.  Let’s do this thing!

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