Sunday, March 28, 2021

Holidays in Le Perche, France

Trip date: December 2019 

I was off to spend the holidays in Le Perche, a region just west of Paris, bordering The Loire to the south and Normandy to the north. Friends Forest and Thibault had just recently bought a house in the area, which is close enough to Paris that it is becoming quite the place to buy. It was my first visit out there and I was excited!

I usually like to fly direct to Paris from Seattle but Alaska Air had recently dropped Delta as a mileage partner so Icelandair was my best choice. I booked in Saga Class, which was both comfortable and also better for boarding with a huge Longchamp tote filled with wrapped Christmas gifts. Oops! 

There was no one next to me on either the Seattle to Reykjavik or Reykjavik to Paris legs; there were actually only four other passengers in Saga on the flight to Paris! 

France is known for a lot of things and strikes of all kinds are absolutely at the top of the list. On Dec 5, 2019 France had a transportation strike that ended up being the longest in over 50 years. It caused a lot of stress leading up to my trip. I would be flying into CdG but then I needed to take the train out to the country house, but the trains weren't running. The house is about 2 hours from the airport so having someone drive 4 hours round trip was a pain. Did I mention it was Christmas Eve and Thibault's entire family was there??

Thibault's brother knew of a service called BlaBla Car and for €11 booked a complete stranger to pick me up in his van, joining another passenger. Driving through Paris we made various stops picking up 5 more people. We had all paid in advance and would be dropped off at different towns along the way. It was quite the 2 hour experience with me just off of 9+ hours of flying, jetlagged, and no one else speaking English. Finally I was dropped off outside of Chartres where Forest was waiting to pick me up. She had quite a laugh as multiple random people piled out in order to let me climb out of the back seat. BlaBla was a great option but it was no Saga Class! 

The area of Le Perche is known for its farmland and forests. The hamlet of Le Mesnil-Thomas where my friend's house is located has a population of only about 300. The mayor lives just down the street! The closest town for bread, groceries, banks, etc is Senoches, luckily just about 10 minutes away. 

It was a truly enjoyable and traditional French Christmas celebration with their family who were visiting from London, The Hague, and Beaujolais. For two days we feasted on foie gras, oysters, smoked salmon, escargot, capon, and of course lots and lots and lots of wine and cheese!

The day before the family left we all piled into two cars and drove to Chartres for the day. The old town area of this historic city is incredibly pretty, especially with all the Christmas decorations. We started off with a lovely prix fixe lunch at Les Feuillantines (where I had to have more foie gras) before wandering the picturesque cobblestone streets lined with half timbered buildings.
The Christmas market was already closed for the season (surprising as most stay open until New Years) but we were mainly interested in the famous cathedral which has a light show on its exterior every evening of the year from dusk until 1am. It wasn't quite dusk yet so we spent some time exploring the inside of the 800+ year old cathedral.
There is a lot to see inside! So many stained glass windows, so many sculptures. The choir wall is getting a good cleaning and it was amazing to see the difference side by side.
This cathedral is also famous for its labyrinth on the stone floor. As there had been services the evening before and the chairs were still set up we couldn't get the full effect but I don't think I've ever seen one of these in a church before!

The light show on the exterior was wonderful! I highly recommend this if you happen to be in Chartres!

The next day Forest and I drove to Senoches to shop at the market which happens every Friday. It's small, just like the town, but there was a good selection of shellfish, meat, veggies, cheese, and wine. 

I haven't spent too much time in rural France (outside of vineyards) before but I'm a sucker for a small town so this was all super to me. We were heading off on a road trip to explore Normandy for the next 9 days but I'd now had a little taste of Le Perche and was looking forward to seeing more when we returned!

All photos of Le Perche and Chartres here



Thursday, March 18, 2021

Pandemic Change of View; Port Orchard, WA

Trip date: February 2021

I've worked from home for almost 13 years now, so that part of the pandemic shut down has not affected me. However, usually I leave my home office after work and go meet up with friends for dinner, drinks, travel. That has definitely been affected and I miss it as so many others do.

I've found that even just renting a place for a couple of days, getting to set my eyes on new sights, and explore someone else's neighborhood can be restorative. So when my friend Gail showed me this great Port Orchard Airbnb she had seen on Facebook Marketplace I suggested we do a midweek work-from-somewhere-else.

Port Orchard is located on the Kitsap Peninsula, you can get there by ferry or you can drive down around Tacoma and up. 

We caught the Fauntleroy ferry in West Seattle bound for Southworth. As it isn't high season we didn't worry about making reservations like we might in the summer months. The ferry makes a short stop on Vashon to offload/onload cars, and then we arrived in Southworth after about a total 30 minute crossing. As encouraged by the ferry, we stayed in our car during the trip.

It was just a quick 15 minute drive to the Heron Haus from Southworth. The rental has very easy self check-in so there was no need to interact with anyone. It's a beautiful and charming cabin with amazing views onto Puget Sound. 

The main floor is open plan with a large kitchen/great room/window nook area. There's a bedroom on the main and one upstairs, both have views of the water. A large bathroom has both a huge shower and a lovely footed tub which also has great views. The entire place is just bathed in light. 
There's a deck the length of the entire house off the back with both a gas fire pit and off to the side, a cool oyster shell pit that burns wood. The front yard of the house also has a detached studio that can sleep two, double as an office, both or either. Truly a great property.

We had grocery shopped before leaving home and had a menu set for the next few days. I had made a batch of my mac-n-cheese so all it had to do was go in the oven. We located to the nook with the big picture windows for happy hour and took in the view as the skies went from blue, to black, and then to double rainbow! Not bad!

I set up to work in the studio the next day which was really great for a change of view! Unfortunately the wifi kept dropping, even with an extender in the unit, so I went back to the house to take my calls. But for working on spreadsheets and documents I just used my phone as a hotspot. 


Not far from the house is Manchester State Park which has good trails that take you along the waterfront and also cut through the forest. We did an easy 3 mile loop hike here, passing some of the old buildings and remains of the defense station that the park was once used for, including a torpedo warehouse now picnic area!

Along the waterfront we could hear the sea lions discussing their plans for dinner. Mount Rainier looked on from a distance and the skies were a lovely late winter blue. As the trail led us into the forest we found a set of interpretives plaques that educated us on the various trees in the area. 
A Discover Pass is required to park in the park, you can buy one in advance or pay onsite. 

That evening we lit up the gas fire pit and enjoyed happy hour outside. There was quite a bit of wildlife around, sea lions swimming close to shore and so many sea birds! It was cold but it was pretty!

We spent a total of 3 nights at the Heron Haus and absolutely loved the space and the location. As we only ventured into Port Angeles for a quick drive through I can't speak to the restaurants or shops here or if they are currently open. It looked cute though!

It was so nice to have a little change of view for a few days, and what a view it was! One morning I was sitting here with my book and coffee and watched 2 young eagles mock fight and their mother swoop in and break them up! 

Even though Port Orchard is on "main land", the waterfront community feels like an island. And who doesn't love an island retreat? I'm planning on visiting this Airbnb again!



All Port Orchard photos here


Sunday, March 14, 2021

24 Hours in Santa Monica, CA

Trip date: February 2020

A friend was going to spend a couple of days in Santa Monica after attending a conference in Southern California and invited me down for the weekend. The flights into LAX were ridiculously expensive but I had a lot of miles on my Chase Sapphire Reserve card so used those for a Premium Class seat on Alaska Air and still earned miles towards Elite Status! I got to the airport with plenty of time and had a breakfast mimosa in the Priority Pass Lounge.

There was a new area for Lyft/Uber at LAX when I arrived, you basically were sent a code by the app and then matched it up with the car/driver. It was easy and quick and soon I was on my way to the Gateway Hotel. This is a good standard hotel if you want to stay in Santa Monica proper. It's about a 2-mile walk to the beach from here but was pretty central for us getting around via Uber. 

My friend wanted to check out the Petersen Auto Museum so off we went to the Mid-Wilshire area of LA. The outside of the museum is really interesting with ribbons of steel wrapping around the bright red building. 

We started with a late lunch at their restaurant Drago which is California inspired Italian cuisine. Salads, fried calamari, some wine. It was tasty, easy and the service was great.

Now I'm not a huge car fan but I love design and history so I found the museum to be really interesting! I mean how can someone not love looking at this Bugatti? 

We spent about 2 hours exploring the different rooms and exhibits. There is history of the automobile, a room of cars used in movies and TV shows, futuristic cars, cars from the past, etc.

There was an exhibit of Metallica singer James Hetfield's custom car collection which were both odd and cool!

It was just about time for a cocktail so we left the museum and headed towards Santa Monica Pier for drinks at The Lobster. This is a perfect spot to sip on some well made margaritas and watch the gorgeous sunset.

Dinner that evening was at the absolutely wonderful Pasjoli. I'd go to Santa Monica for this restaurant alone! The restaurant's exposed brick walls, marble tabletops, and open kitchen were relaxing and casually elegant.
Everything we ordered was delicious! We started with a round of cocktails, followed by beautiful scallops that were blanketed in a ridiculous amount of caviar. My deconstructed cassoulet was perfect and we shared a truly decadent rice pudding for dessert. 

The restaurant is known for their duck press which after they roast a whole duck for two, and use breasts, legs, and crackling skin in a series of dishes, they press the entire duck carcass and create a heady sauce. This requires advance pre order which I will absolutely do if I ever get here again!

The next morning we headed to the Venice Beach area and queued up at EggSlut for their uber popular breakfast sandwich. I've had it once before, in Las Vegas when a friend brought me one by the pool, but this came right off the griddle and was perfect!

Our waiter the night before had suggested Menotti's for coffee. Not only is the coffee excellent but there is a secret menu if you can find it. A good recommendation!

We spent the rest of the day walking from Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Pier. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we needed to walk off that EggSlut!

I might have been to the pier when I was quite young (I was born in LA) but I don't remember. We didn't go on any rides but it was fun to wander around the amusement park, see where Route 66 famously ends, and watch all the beachgoers.

We had checked out of the hotel and left our bags earlier, so it was easy to just stop into the lobby, pick them up, and head to LAX which is just about 20 minutes away. 

Quick but fun weekend and also my last flight as the global COVID-19 pandemic closed everything down just weeks after returning home. I'm looking forward to jetting off at a moments notice again one day!

All photos from Santa Monica here

**As I visited all of these places before the COVID-19 pandemic, please double check on opening hours. And fingers crossed these businesses all stay in business!**

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Exploring, Eating and Drinking in Turks & Caicos

Trip date: November 2019

This vacation was all about hanging out in the sun and unplugging. I think Turks & Caicos is perfect for that. I could stare out at the amazing aqua waters, white sands, and attention grabbing sunsets for days on end; which is exactly what I did. 

But I did stop staring from time to time! Our 2nd night spent on the island was not only Thanksgiving but it was a Thursday. Every Thursday night Provo has a big fish fry, where locals and tourists alike show up at Bight Park starting at 5:30pm. 

We didn't expect such a big party, but that is exactly what it was! On the main stage there was a very good band that had most people dancing. Later, musicians would parade thru the crowds. Various craft vendors had tables set up to sell their wares, and there were probably around a half a dozen food vendors selling fried fish, conch fritters, local lobster, etc. 

You can also get rum punch which is very strong and very good. We tried a few!

One afternoon we booked a cruise with Caicos Dream Tours. We were picked up in the lobby of the Palms around 1:30pm and driven to their office and boat dock on the other side of the island. We were fitted for snorkeling gear before boarding our boat Dream Chaser, a 45 ft Corinthian Catamaran that holds about 50 people. 

The crew were all about having a good time and making sure everyone else did too. Gail and I had great seats right in front of the captain which gave us incredible views of everything around. The color of the sea was just amazing!

It was sunny and warm but the wind and water were too rough for the normal snorkeling stop of the barrier reef; really too bad as it is the 3rd largest in the world and suppose to be gorgeous. Instead we headed to the shipwreck, La Famille Express, which during Hurricane Frances in 2004 dragged its anchor 12 miles in the high winds until getting stuck for good in the shallow waters.

Although there wasn't much to see, except a few conch and some debris from the ship, including said anchor, it was a pretty cool thing to snorkel around it. It's so eerie looking! And of course many climbed the derelik and jumped into the ocean. I was not one of them!


We continued on from here to Half Moon Bay which is a beautiful beach located between the islands of Little Water Cay and Water Cay. When we arrived the crew pulled some conch from the ocean in order to give everyone a demonstration of how to get them out of their shells. Conch are the local sea snails that are enjoyed by locals in a wide array of dishes, 


Everyone set off on their own to explore for a designated period of time. Gail and I crossed the small island, walking thru the dry bush and keeping our eyes open for Rock Iguanas who make their homes here. Unfortunately we only saw 3 even though we could see many trails that their tails made in the sand. We got to the other side and found Half Moon Bay to be absolutely stunning! And we even saw a surprise wedding proposal!

Back on the boat the crew had conch ceviche, rum punch, and beers for us. To be clear, there had already been beers and a lot of rum punch so really just the ceviche was a new addition!

As we made our way back the captain anchored at a nice protected spot and we all went down the boat's slide, splashing into the warm ocean right at sunset. It was super fun! I did it more than once!

Our cruise had been about 4 hours and by the time we got one of the shuttles back to our resort we were wiped out! So we ordered pizza delivered and had it in our dining room. Super fun day!


The Palms has free bikes to use so one afternoon we rode into town just to explore and also get some cash. Unfortunately we found very little in the way of shopping (besides your average tourist tchatche offerings). We also found the only ATM in town to be broken and ended up having to take a cash advance on a credit card back at the resort. We hadn't thought it would be so tough to get cash for tips, etc. Word to the wise!

That same afternoon we decided to grab a taxi and get to some other parts of the island. Our first stop was Turks Head Brewery which is very popular on the island. The brewery offers tours and tastings but we were just there for some souvenir shopping.

We had our own snorkel gear with us (borrowed from our resort) and had the taxi then take us to the Coral Gardens Resort. Their beach is known for their great snorkeling due to a reef close to shore and another farther out. 


Unfortunately a very dramatic storm came up so we weren't in the water long! But this is a great spot for snorkelers of all levels as there is a rope around the reef that you can hold onto if you want.

We ducked out of the storm and into the resort's beachside cafe called Somewhere for lunch. Very cute spot with good food where you can eat with your toes in the sand. I had a local lobster roll and a couple of margaritas. Most of the leanings were tex-mex which was great for us.

We also went into town for dinner on a few nights. At the very popular Coco Bistro you dine outside under a canopy of palm trees. It was lovely.

We hadn't thought to make reservations though so had to wait in the bar while a table freed up. The menu has lots of local seafood on it and also some traditional steakhouse offerings. I liked it!

Grace's Cottage at the Point Grace was very good and the bar area is absolutely Instagram worthy. 

Our dinner here was lovely, even though we did not splurge on some of the cult wine highlighted on the fancy iPad wine list. Petrus in the Caribbean for $2k? Pass.

We moved up to the bar for a nightcap, the rum list was wonderful and very well priced. I thought this was a great pick for dinner and drinks. 

At our resort The Palms, we had an excellent dinner at the restaurant Parallel 23 on our very first night. I hadn't been expecting much but we were really impressed with the service, the plating, and the food. And sitting outside under the twinkly lights was just gorgeous. So we decided to have our last dinner on the island there as well. 

We started with some drinks at the bar, then another lovely dinner outside, and when the bill came we found they had comped us both. That was a very nice end to an already amazing stay at the Palms.


At the airport on the way off the island I enjoyed one last Turks Head beer. It had been a great vacation and I felt the island really lived up to it's gorgeous reputation. We found everyone who lived and worked there to be kind and friendly. I'd go back in a heartbeat!

We flew into Miami and had to really hustle to get thru customs and security before dashing for an Uber. We knew we didn't have a ton of time to transfer to Fort Lauderdale so we had done carry-on only. Luckily our Uber driver was up for the challenge and we got to FLL, through security with Clear and PreCheck status in 20 minutes to make our flight home to Seattle!

Part one of Turks & Caicos trip here. All photos here.


Last Stop Normandy; Mont Saint-Michel

Trip date: January 2020 I remember getting a postcard from my friend Forest in the early aughts from Mont Saint-Michel, the photo was of the...

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