It's been a long time. It's been so easy to find excuses with 2 small children and a busy real estate career, but we're doing it - traveling to Europe en famille per la prima volta. (I mix my French & Italian because I feel like it just rolls off the tongue.)
For everyone who has been asking...here it is...the crazy, hectic "I can't-believe-we're-really-going-to-do-this" itinerary of our European Summer Adventure. Looking back at the "we'll never do that road trip again" vacation of last year, and feeling like we needed a vacation after our vacation, I'm still surprised that we're doing it. Wish us luck!
For starters, we're flying Air Canada for 3, maybe 4 reasons. I like the convenience of flying out of Hartford with 2 kids and not having to get to JFK or BOS. We stop in Montreal (I wonder if they have poutine at the airport?) and then on to Paris. My pilot neighbor Don talked me out of taking an airbus last year, so I had to find another option. Also, I figure Air Canada is less of a risk for terror attacks seeing as how everyone seems to get along with Canada and Canadians are very polite. It's not just a stereotype - it's quite true, thank you very much. Now if that Icelandic volcano can be still until the Fall we'll be all set.
Travel advice: renting apartments/condos/houses on sites like homeaway.com can save you money and get you into cool neighborhoods so you can get more of a local vibe.
We've rented a tiny apartment in Paris in an awesome neighborhood for a lot less than I could find a hotel. The French lady who owns the apartment moved us 4 times before we ended up here, but we couldn't be happier! (I'm pretty good at doing the French 'what are you gonna do?' shrug anyway.) Here's a photo hubby took from the door of our building in the 4th arrondissement.
We have 3-4 packed days in Paris before we head to Brugge, Belgium. Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited about Paris, but I've been there before, so for me Brugge is REALLY exciting. A Gothic city with canals, chocolate, beer, the relic of the Holy Blood, fries, swans, the marketplace, bicycling around the city...it's just so much to fit into 2 days! We're staying at a great little B&B - check out the view from our room!
From Belgium we head to the coast and follow the coast down to the Bretagne region of France, where we'll be staying with friends. While hubby spends 2 weeks there every spring, this will be my first time visiting. Looking forward to hanging out with the French teachers who have been staying with us every year as part of the exchange program where hubby teaches! This a really interesting region to me, and I'm looking forward to exploring the medieval cities, St. Malo, and the forest from whence (Arthurian legend has it) Merlin the Magician hails. The kids are simply happy that our friends live near the beach and there will be other children to play with. Like last year at French camp, Julien's going to have to draw on his French to communicate. He's come such a long way - I'm so proud of him!
While we're in Dinard, I was thinking I might check out a few real estate listings, like this sweet dream:
They were asking 750,000 Euros and it's under contract. Isn't it darling? The grounds are gorgeous too.
Leaving Dinard we have a big day (for me) because we'll be visiting both of my ancestral villages. I've always known that I was 100% French. We've always said French Canadian though, because my families on both sides were among the first French colonists in New France in the early 1600's. In one of the villages, there's a museum dedicated to the first group of settlers (you have to ask for the key at the town hall to get in) where my ancestor's name is on the wall. (Apparently Celine Dion's family is from the same village?) I've seen it online and am looking forward to walking the same streets or paths my ancestors once did. We're packing a picnic lunch to enjoy in the second village. I think it's pretty wild that both sides of my family came from only 45 minutes apart. It reminds me of my mom telling me that she remembers my dad's father visiting her family on horseback in Quebec (my dad's family didn't have a car) back when she was a child. Would she have ever guessed back then that she would marry his youngest son thousands of miles away wearing a mini dress in Florida 20 something years later?
The Loire Valley is next! I've always wanted to either bike or hot air balloon the valley, to take in the castles, but with the kids...well that's a bit too much at this point. Instead I found a charming Inn in a converted mill just down a path to the Chateau at Chenonceau and they have a pool and grounds plus we can borrow bicycles and ride to the castle! We've already made our dinner reservation in the restaurant :)
The history of the chateau many believe to be the most beautiful of the Loire Valley is very interesting. I am most excited to see it, and appreciate that hubby is willing to do this again despite having been here before. At the night the gardens are lit and they play classical music - can you think of a nicer way to spend the evening? Our 2nd day in the valley we'll be visiting a 2nd castle, probably Chambord.
Next we head to Montpellier, where we can't wait to see old friends Albert, Seb & family. The amazing thing about French people is that while it can take them a while to warm up to you, once you're friends, you're friends for life. We're there for about 3 days. Travel advice: I go by the 3 day rule when staying with friends. Guests, like fish, start to stink after 3 days, or something like that. I really, really like Montpellier, and I'm looking forward to maybe taking the kids for their first dip in the Mediterranean!
On to Provence, where we'll stay with more friends for 3 days, including Bastille Day! I've only seen Provence from the windows of the TGV (high speed train) and it's been a dream to spend time there. Of course I want to visit places like Avignon and Aix, but I'm happy to go along with whatever our gracious hosts suggest. (I'm just happy to be here, folks!)
(This is the Provencal house used in the film A Good Year, based on the Peter Mayle book, and starring Russell Crowe. Fabulous property. I'm seeing a slight resemblance to my Bretagne house above...)
Leaving Provence we bid au revoir to France as we drive through Monaco & the Cote d'Azur into Italy and on to Firenze.
Travel Advice: When booking hotels or B&Bs, I read the reviews on tripadvisor.com. I also write reviews on there because I feel that it's such a valuable resource. Also, ask if there's a cash discount for B&Bs - there often is. I found a top rated Bed & Breakfast with a big room and supposedly one of the best cappuccinos in all of Florence. We saved 10% by paying cash, which is enough to buy lunch the next day!
Finally we meet up with friends from home in Lucignano, Tuscany, where we've rented a villa for a week. (I posted a photo of the villa some time back - it's dreamy!) It'll be nice to spread out and have a little space to ourselves after spending almost a week between friends. With a centrally-located home base, we'll do day trips to Cortona, San Gimignano, Sienna, Florence, and other spots, returning to cool off in our pool and have fabulous dinners & wine on the terrace. Since we've spent time there before, it keeps the pressure low to have to see every sight and we can focus on favorites or the ones we may have missed. Seeing as how Scott spent 10 summers in the area, he's more keen on visiting old friends and drinking vin santo. The children are excited that we'll be meeting up with playmates. I may have to stop by and visit some of the real estate offices to build up my international real estate networking base. I'm working on my Certified International Property Specialist designation :)
Our month-long odyssey ends in Roma, the eternal city that feels like home to me. Mille grazie to Monica & Gaetano for lending us their apartment. They are simply the most amazing people. I can't wait to see them - it's been waaaay too long. I wanted to share a picture of the last time we were all together, only my scanner doesn't want to communicate with my iMac. If you're looking for a fantastic place to stay in Rome, you should check out the hotel Scott's friend owns. It's the Albergo Cesari and has got to be the best location in Rome - near Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, etc. This is a view of the new rooftop terrace at dusk. It books early, so give yourself plenty of time when making reservations!
There you have it! It's going to be quite an adventure for the GREEN CT Realtor & family. Time to brush up on my French & Italian, and maybe pick up a few Flemish phrases while I'm at it!
Keep it GREEN my friends!