2019 European Vacation: Day Two in Antibes, Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera)

It was a genius move to sleep in the hotel connected to Gatwick Airport because our Easy Jet flight from London to Milan was incredibly early. Props to all of you who wake up at 4:30 a.m. by choice on a regular basis!

We got a beautiful view of the Alps from the airplane:

Flying to Milan was a financial decision, an inexpensive way to get us to Continental Europe. At $67 per ticket, it was a no-brainer. We landed by 9 a.m., grabbed our diesel Fiat rental, and headed for the Mediterranean.

We were all exhausted, but only the boys grabbed a catnap.

To be honest, our initial impression of Italy was nothing special, as we weren’t anticipating miles of rice fields outside of Milan. It wasn’t until we left the Lombardy region and entered Liguria that the terrain started to look pretty, like everything you see in photographs.

Knowing we had three days in Italy at the end of the trip, we didn’t make any stops and headed straight for Antibes, a small city between Nice and Cannes on the Côte d’Azur.

Our two-bedroom AirBNB apartment was perfectly situated with a view of the Mediterranean and only a short walk to a small grocery store and the train station.

The weather was perfect, so we unloaded our things and headed for the coastline and Old Town.

The water was as blue as I hoped it would be, but little did I know that in two days we’d explore another spot in Antibes that’s even more gorgeous.

I don’t know if there were more boats in town than usual on account of the Monaco Grand Prix, but I never tired of looking out into the Mediterranean Sea and watching massive yachts float by.

The Old Town of Antibes is everything you think a small French town would look like. This is why you have to get out of the big cities and explore where regular people live. Paris doesn’t fully represent France, just as London doesn’t fully represent England, just as New York City doesn’t fully represent the United States. I will always advocate for staying in small towns!

Vive la France!

We eventually found a spot for dinner and the boys ordered their meals entirely in French! I was so proud.

We attempted everything in French first, even if it was simply asking the waiter if he spoke English (“Parlez-vous anglais?”). Knowing simple questions, including please and thank you, will get you very far in a foreign country. By making an honest attempt, it shows you respect the people and country hosting you. We were always greeted and treated graciously by everyone we encountered in France.

After dinner, we explored the narrow streets of Old Town and found a beautiful square to get the boys gelato and us another glass of rosé. (Chuck discovered he enjoys wine in France!)

We had a big day planned for Monaco, so we watched the sunset from our balcony, enjoyed another glass of rosé, and pinched ourselves to make sure everything was real.

Girls Weekend June 2018

The original idea for one our 2018 Girls Weekends was to reunite in New York City where our friendship really began. Though we already knew each other from working at the college newspaper, it was that trip to NYC that really solidified our friendship. This photo was taken sometime after we got home. We were 19 and 20 years old:

As the time came for us to nail down travel plans, we realized this wasn’t the year to make that trip happen. Life, as usual, got in the way. Instead of one of us hosting, we opted instead to rent an AirBNB in Middle Tennessee, an approximate midpoint between our cities. It was comfortable, serene, and, most of all, free from responsibility.

The apartment is situated on the second floor of a newly built (non-livestock) barn with an incredible view of the Cumberland River.

The covered porch on the ground floor was comfortable and cool, and it’s where we spent the majority of Saturday lounging in our pajamas.

The apartment was open and clean, though it was home to more antiques than necessary. The couple who runs this property must have been collecting antiques for years.

Though I appreciated much of the decor, I was not a fan of the creepy dolls.

We ventured into town Friday night for Mexican food and groceries, then drove to Granville Saturday evening for lakeside dining.

In previous Girls Weekends, depending on the city, we’d look for Top Chef restaurants or something that got high ratings. (Food is typically the one and only splurge.) However, we kept things as laid back as possible this time. We all wanted to rest and relax.

Unfortunately I made one mistake. I requested to stop and take a photo of this creepy, dilapidated house on an old country road, which meant walking a few feet into overgrown grass.

My souvenir is more chigger bites than I can count.

Otherwise, it was a perfect weekend. I love these ladies and I love our time together.

**I wrote about this friendship and how important it is to nurture your tribe for this month’s post on the Knoxville Moms Blog.

Adventure in Iceland – First Part of Day One

So it went something a little like this:

Him: What are your thoughts on Iceland?
Me: I have no thoughts on Iceland.
Him: Let’s go to Iceland.
Me: Okay.

Chuck was gone on assignment for much of August, all of September, and a good chunk of October, so we decided we needed a little getaway to reconnect as a family and do something fun. The original idea was to go camping, but somewhere along the way we decided on Iceland. Boil it down to cheap airfare, a little research on how to travel Iceland on a budget, and a lot of nerve to do something out of the ordinary.

Chuck and I love traveling together. It’s something we do really well as a couple. But traveling internationally with the boys? Heck. They’re old enough to carry their own bags. Let’s just see how it goes! We booked the trip the first week of October and didn’t tell Jeremy and Jackson until mid-October just in case something fell through with getting their passports. We didn’t tell family and close friends until sometime in November. The reaction was got from everyone – including the boys – was, “Huh?”

Yes, we’re going to Iceland. Why not?

Suddenly the trip was upon us and we arrived on Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh, which is one of the hubs for WOW Air, a fairly new low-cost carrier based in Iceland.

We left Monday night on a plane that was half-full, which meant we all got to stretch out. Even Salem got his own seat.

At some point during the flight we saw the Northern Lights. It is unfortunate that I couldn’t roll down the airplane window for a better photo. You’ll have to take my word for it that they were more beautiful than what you see below.

Six hours after taking off, we landed in Iceland. In the US, it was around midnight, but in Iceland, it was 5 a.m. We got our bags, the rental car, and took our zombie children to the AirBNB we rented in Hafnarfjordur, a small town just south of Reykjavik.

The Garden Flat was on the bottom floor of a three-story house owned by a British couple, who were currently in England. The hosts live on the second floor and own a coffee shop in town. We didn’t meet them right away (it was early, after all), but we eventually ran into them and were so grateful to pick their brains about places to go and what living in Iceland is really like.

We didn’t see much of the outside when we arrived since it was dark. The inside, however, was straight out of IKEA.

(The boys had their own bedroom with twin beds, though I didn’t take a picture of it.)

Since sunrise wasn’t until 10 a.m., we elected to nap for a couple of hours and crossed our fingers for good attitudes afterward. Needless to say, it took some time to pull the boys fully out of a slumber.

Once the sun was up we got a good look at the neighborhood. It was delightful!

This is the “friendly Hafnarfjordur cat” in the aforementioned note:

Spotted: Icelandic Black Cat.

The weather in Iceland is unpredictable, but when we arrived it was clear and in the 20s. Since the forecast for Tuesday was mostly good, we took the opportunity to make our farthest trek to Reynisfjara Beach, the black sand beach near Vik. There was plenty to see along the way, so off we went.

Within 20 minutes we were away from the coast and headed for curvy roads and breathtaking views. There were plenty of pull-offs to get out and take pictures. The fresh, crisp air helped wake us up too.

The first waterfall we came upon along the southwestern edge of Iceland was Urridafoss.

Of course, everything is frozen! Elsa got here before we did.

Back in the car, we continued south towards Vik and came upon a pasture where short, furry Icelandic horses were waiting for us to pet them. We couldn’t let them down! Chuck pulled over so the boys and I could introduce ourselves.

Theses horses everywhere, and while some of them graze away from the road, there are plenty who meander about waiting for tourists to give them love.

With only five hours of daylight to play with, we were selective about our stops. There were plenty of places to pull over and explore, but we really wanted to make it to Reynisfjara Beach before sunset. Seljalandsfoss was a must-see though. As soon as we pulled up to it, the boys recognized it from videos we watched while researching the trip.

Again, Elsa got here before we did:

Fortunately, we didn’t need to take the stairs.

 

With only a couple of hours left before sunset, we got back in the car and headed for the coast.

Next post: Rejnisfjara Beach.

Christmas in Hilton Head

For people who live on the coast, Christmas at the beach is no big deal. For mountain and city folk, it requires a shift in expectation. We decided to do Christmas differently this year, and while it was strange not to put up a tree or prepare a huge holiday feast, I got used to it quickly. I’m sold on it, actually. I’m looking to make a tradition out of non-traditional Christmas.

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We arrived in Hilton Head on Monday and after settling into the AirBNB rental house we headed straight for the ocean. It was a two-block walk underneath Palmetto trees and Spanish moss.

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The beach was scarcely populated, which gave Major plenty of room to run around. It was his first experience seaside and he loved every bit of it.

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The boys took straight to playing. Despite the cooler temperatures, they dabbled in the ocean and built sanctuaries for sand crabs. We took long walks and rented bikes and spent a day in Savannah. We ate seafood and watched Harry Potter movies. We all slept in and stayed up late.

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We exchanged smaller gifts on Christmas morning and spent the afternoon on the beach playing bocce ball and soaking up the last few hours we had together.

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If I had the power, I would’ve lifted the fog in exchange for some sunshine, but other than that, I can’t think of what else I would change. I’ll post photos throughout the week as I get them edited.

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Next batch here…