Ysios, a unique Bodega in Laguardia, Spain

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In Laguardia, Spain, you will find a magnificent architectural gem. This is Ysios, a winery, or as the Spanish call it, a bodega. Laguardia is situated in Northern Spain in the heart of the Rioja region. La Rioja is Spain’s wine region where you will see beautiful countryside, green rolling hills and majestic mountains.

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The small town of Laguardia is on a hill. This old medieval village is walled off, with four entrances remaining from the 13th century. Bodega Ysios sits at the bottom of that hill. We visited Laguardia, and not surprisingly, struggled to find many English speakers there. The town was full of tourists, local Spanish tourists, and had a lot of character and historic charm.

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Laguardia

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After exploring the walled village of Laguardia, we ventured down the hill to Ysios.  Naturally, we took a good twenty-some pictures.  As we walked toward Ysios it seemed to get significantly larger and we began to feel significantly smaller.

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We were fortunate to participate in a semi-private, by appointment only wine tour and tasting. Kyle and I were joined by two travelers from London with a great sense of humor. We chatted for about thirty minutes while drinking our wine and getting to know each other before parting our separate ways.

The tasting room offered an amazing view of Laguardia and the wine was very, very good. We purchased two bottles to take home with us including the Ysios 2007 Reserve pictured below.

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A Weekend in Paris

First of all, I’ll preface this with: I can’t wait to go back and visit again. Our weekend in Paris was perfect, but I still have a long list of “must-visits” for when we return. You definitely need more than three days in this amazing city.

We started our Saturday with a stroll along the Seine River toward the Eiffel Tower. We were very fortunate to have nice warm weather and some sunshine over the weekend. We walked along the river and headed toward Trocadero place to get the best view of the Eiffel Tower.

The Seine.

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View from Trocadero. We walked here, but there is also a metro stop for Trocadero Place.

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We were starving. We each enjoyed a crepe from a small crepe stand in Trocadero place before going up the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower has three levels. You can choose to take the stairs to the first and second level or buy an elevator or “lift” ticket. The third level is only accessible by elevator. We took the stairs up to the first and second level. Let me tell you, it was a little rough. But, it was definitely worth the time you save waiting in the elevator line! We finally made it to the very top of the Eiffel Tower for incredible panoramic views of the city and a lot of wind.

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Looking down at Trocadero Place from the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

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View of Paris and the Seine.

Where we stayed:

Kyle and I stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. We had two free Hyatt nights. So naturally, we decided to use them at the Park Hyatt in Paris, a luxury five star hotel, one of the most expensive Hyatt’s in the world. (Sidenote: I’m planning on writing a future post on how to earn free hotel nights.) We originally booked a standard Park Queen room, what our free night would allows us. But I e-mailed the hotel before our arrival requesting a room with a balcony and view of Rue de le Paix rather than the standard courtyard view. They granted our request and upgraded us to a deluxe room, the Park King! (Travel tip: ALWAYS make a room request or ask about upgrades. It never hurts to ask, and sometimes you get lucky!)

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View of Rue de le Paix and Place Vendome from our balcony.

Where we ate:

We had an amazing, one-of-a-kind dinner at Bistrotters. It is a very small restaurant and reservations are a must. The food was incredible and the entire dining experience was superb. The service was amazing! The owner, who was our waiter, was extremely friendly. He spent a lot of time talking to us at our table and sharing his passion for the restaurant. This was our best dinner in Paris, and possibly, one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had.

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For our starters, I enjoyed white and green asparagus with a delicious hollandaise sauce and Kyle enjoyed a beef curry dish pictured in the back. The flavor combinations and sauces were on point.

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Kyle had the crispy pork belly and I had the sea bass.

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We shared the Pain Perdu for dessert.  It was perfect… gooey on the inside and crispy and caramelized on the outside.

Where we visited:

Don’t miss out on the Catacombs of Paris. If you can get over the creepiness of the concept, I highly recommend it. Go early! We didn’t (even though several Trip Advisor reviews warned us). This was the longest line we waited in during our trip, but definitely worth it.

If you’re curious, check out the wikipedia page for the Catacombs of Paris…very interesting! In 1785, one of the largest cemeteries in Paris was shut down due to overcrowding and sanitation issues. In 1786, they began placing the remains in the old quarries of underground Paris. This ossuary (I had to look up the definition of ossuary) holds the skeletal remains of approximately 6 million people.

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From the official website, “The transfer of the remains could begin after the blessing and consecration of the place April 7, 1786 and continued until 1788, always dark and in a ceremony consisting of a procession of priests in surplices who sang the Office of the Dead along the route taken by trucks loaded with bones and covered with a black veil.”

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Another highlight of our trip included a visit to the La Duree store for their world-famous macarons. There are a handful of La Duree stores in Paris and I just found out there is a store in New York City that I can’t wait to visit. We went to see the Louvre but didn’t have time to actually visit (that’s on our “next time” list). We also stopped by the Maille mustard store (a typical French staple) to try mustard straight out of the tap… definitely has more kick than any mustard typically available in the US.

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The Louvre

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A wall of mustard. We brought back a white wine, basil and fennel mustard that I can’t wait to try.

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Finally, no Paris visit is complete without seeing the Eiffel Tower at night. We decided to go up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for a view of the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower at night. The tower is completely lit at night, but every hour there is a light show where the tower will “sparkle” for about 10 minutes. We were lucky enough to make it up the Arc de Triomphe right on the hour when it was sparkling.

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Looking down at the Champs Elysees from the Arc De Triomphe. I should have taken a picture of the roundabout, the craziest roundabout in Europe.  It’s pure chaos. I can’t imagine what it’s like during peak traffic times.

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Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capture a good picture of the tower as it was sparkling. Regardless, it is magnificent and a MUST SEE in person.

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Au Revoir Paris. Until next time!

 

These are a few of my favorite things…

I’ve only been home for a little over a week and I’m already reminiscing on everything I loved and enjoyed over the past three months in Montaigu

I will miss going to the market on Saturday mornings!

Going to the market on Saturday mornings.

Shopping at my favorite store Maisons Du Monde.. Very decently priced. They have these all over France.

Shopping at my favorite store, Maisons Du Monde. This French store has locations across Europe & is very reasonably priced.

More shopping. Wish I could buy everything.

More shopping. I wish I could buy everything.

Picking Louise up from school. I'll miss being greeted by a happy, smiling face and a kiss!

Picking Louise up from school. I will miss being greeted by kisses and a happy, smiling, bright-eyed face.

Playing "Travel Agency," Lucie's favorite game.

Playing “travel agency,” Lucie’s favorite game.

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Grocery shopping at the SuperU.

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Going for runs…  Running in the park, on the bike paths, across the bridge pictured above, alongside the river, and up and around to the castle. 

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Cooking and experimenting. I loved learning how to make new things like my favorite Vietnamese spring rolls! …In France, they’re called Nems.

On that note… The food. Check out this brunch spread. (Don’t worry, we didn’t eat like this on a regular basis.)

The beautiful biblical statues everywhere you turn.

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And more.

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Tea time with Sophie and her friends.

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Living in the heart and center of Montaigu and walking these streets.

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Visiting Pierre the Butcher and asking him to “coupe” the beef.

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This pretty little lady.

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This cute little goof ball.

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All the wonderful desserts.

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Twick and the little goats.

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Twick (again) …our sidekick.

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And the many pictures of Twick throughout the house.

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Maisons du Montaigu

This post is part of my Living in Montaigu blog series. I recently returned home to the U.S. and need to catch up on quite a few blog posts! I have so much to share: reflections on my amazing experience in Montaigu, photos from my adventures in France and Spain, and so much more.

But first, I wanted to count down my top 10 favorite houses in Montaigu.

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10.  Wouldn’t you just love to enjoy your breakfast out on this patio overlooking the water?

9. Unique, simple and a bit modern.

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8. The detail is incredible.

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7. A beautiful French country farmhouse.

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6. Simple, cozy and green.

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5. I remember taking this picture on my second day in Montaigu. Oh, how time flies.

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4. Cute & quaint.

3. This house is so cool, you’ll get to see it from two angles.

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3. And it overlooks the river.

2. It’s purple… what more can I say.

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1. And finally, “Les Roses”

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Honorable Mention #1 – Technically these are apartments, but I love the modern design and the balconies with a view of the Theater across the street.

Honorable Mention #2 – A beautiful house that I can even call “home”…My favorite family lives here.

Afternoon in La Rochelle

This post is part of my Living In Montaigu blog series! 

In my most recent post, we visited Ile de Re and had a delicious lunch. Later that afternoon, we made our way to the nearby seaport city of La Rochelle.

Okay… lazy blog post. I’m going to copy and paste from Wikipedia and share a few pictures. Enjoy! Oh, and for any future travelers: La Rochelle and Ile de Re are accessible via the La Rochelle – Ile de Re Airport and the train station Gare de La Rochelle, with connections to Paris, Bordeaux, Nantes and other popular cities.

Per Wikipedia, “The city has beautifully maintained its past architecture,making it one of the most picturesque and historically rich cities on the Atlantic coast. La Rochelle’s main feature is the ‘Vieux Port’ (‘Old Harbour’), which is at the heart of the city, picturesque and lined with seafood restaurants. The city walls are open to an evening promenade. The old town has been well preserved.  The countryside of the surrounding Charente-Maritime is very rural and full of history. To the North is Venise Verte, a marshy area of country, criss-crossed with tiny canals and a popular resort for inland boating.  Inland is the country of Cognac and Pineau. The attractive Île de Ré is accessible via a bridge from La Rochelle.”

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Entrance to the port

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My favorite picture of the port

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Day trip to Île de Ré, a charming French Island

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See you later Montaigu! We jumped on the highway and headed south.  We missed our exit. But that’s ok.  Instead, we took the scenic route, admiring the French countryside and detouring through quaint little towns.

Île de Ré is a small island (about 20 miles long) off the coast of Western France next to the seaport city of La Rochelle.  When the girls were younger, the family owned a house here. The island is known for a few things:  its sea salt, potatoes, fresh fish and oysters… and its beaches, ports and bike paths. It is a popular European vacation spot.

We spent the morning on the island, had a wonderful lunch and then visited La Rochelle for the rest of the afternoon.

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We started with a visit to Saint Martin, the main port

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View from the port… the Atlantic Ocean (Bay of Biscay)

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We did some shopping and enjoyed the 60 degree weather.

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Interesting tidbit: Remains of Saint Martin’s citadel and fortifications from the 1600’s can still be seen and are included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There is also an old prison in Saint Martin. In the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s, it held prisoners before they were shipped to the penal colonies in the French Guiana.

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More shopping and making our way up to the church.

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Church of Saint Martin

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It’s a RASTA Donkey!

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Naturally, there are several vineyards on the island.

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Finally, the beach! Time to play and dip my toes into the Atlantic!

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Twick loves the beach!!

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Worked up an appetite for lunch! I enjoyed soupe du poissons (fish soup), a fig, ham and goat cheese crepe and a caramel crepe for dessert.  SO MANY CREPES! I also tried a bite of Olivier’s lunch, tête de veau… aka veal head. Tried it and it was pretty tasty.

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Adorable little restaurant. Sophie and Olivier are actually friends with the owner.

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Loving the funky decor.

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Salted caramel crepe. Fantastic!

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To be continued… Stay tuned for my next post on the rest of our afternoon in La Rochelle. Bisous!

P.S. Two weeks from today, Kyle and I will be checking in to the fabulous Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. Can’t wait!

Updates from Montaigu

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This is my Living in Montaigu blog series! Please see my very first blog post in the series to learn more. Check out another one of my favorite blog posts, Tour of the House, for some amazing photos.  Enjoy!

I haven’t posted in a while and thought I should share some updates (and pictures, of course). Lucie, Louise, Twick and I went for a nice long walk this past Sunday. Unlike my friends and family back home in DC,  we haven’t had any snow here in France. Luckily, it has been relatively warm here.

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Let’s see… so what else do I do besides going on walks in Montaigu. Well, I asked for a bunch of yoga pants for Christmas so that I could go running here. I mainly run in the afternoons when the girls are at school and on the weekends (have to burn off those delicious macarons somehow!) I love exploring new parts of town, but of course I still enjoy my favorite places… the castle, the small cobble stone streets, and the goats in the park… they never get old.  For being a beginner runner, I think I’ve made a lot of progress. While I’m no Quest Brannock aka marathon runner, I aim for about 10-20 miles a week (with some walking obviously).

Speaking of Quest Brannock, he and Jacquelyn had their baby last week! Baby Lucas arrived on February 18th. Mom, Dad and baby are happy and healthy. I even met the little guy via skype! Here’s a picture of Lucas at 5 days old  (photo – courtesy of Mama Jacquelyn).  

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Kyle made this for his nephew. Isn’t it amazing?

I’m getting a little side tracked here, but here’s what Kyle made for his parents for Christmas. It’s a picture of their house in Haymarket.

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Okay, back to France…

I spend a lot of time playing with Louise, the younger one, and teaching her English. It’s very rewarding when she remembers the words and phrases that I teach her.  We love playing cards together. One of the first card games we played was “Go Fish” or “Aller Pecher.” We also play air hockey on my tablet!

Lucie, the older one, started middle school this year and takes the train to Nantes every day. She is a very busy girl! She spends a lot of time doing homework and practicing her cello.  I really enjoy helping her with her English homework and helping her study for her English exams. I also have the pleasure of going to school with Lucie every Thursday and helping out with two different English classes.

Every Saturday morning, we walk to the market down the street (basically a farmer’s market) for our fruit, vegetables and cheese… and if I’m lucky, fresh seafood and olives. We usually stop by the local butcher for a quick and easy rotisserie chicken to bring home for lunch or one of the bakeries to pick up some goodies.

As many of you know, I love to cook. I love cooking here especially in their huge open kitchen. I cook for the family about three times a week. They are obsessed with Asian food, so that is what they always request. Fine by me… I’ve been getting good practice!

Here is the Pad Thai that I made. I think I’ll be making this a lot back at home!

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And another dish they often request… sauteed ginger beef, bamboo shoots and peppers.

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Enough food for now. It’s almost dinner time and I’m starting to get hungry.

On another note, there are only 24 days until I meet Kyle in Paris! He and I will spend the weekend in Paris and then return to Montaigu for two days. After that, we’ll be visiting a lovely old town in the Bordeaux region called St. Emilion and staying there for a night (awesome Christmas present from Mr. and Mrs. Brannock – thank you!) We will then venture down into Spain and spend time in San Sebastian, the La Rioja Wine Region, Madrid and Toledo.

We will return to the United States on April 3rd (Thursday night) just in time for the baptism of baby Lucas and my cousin Christine’s wedding that Saturday. It will be a busy and exciting day!!

Much love from France. Bisous!

Celebrating Valentine’s Day… Je t’aime

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Yes, the card does say “Anniversentine’s Day”

Kyle and I celebrated our four year anniversary on February 6th. With Valentine’s day being right around the corner, Kyle cleverly came up with “Happy Anniversentine/Valenversary.”

Earlier this week, I received a package with a card from Kyle and a box of very special cookies that he had ordered for me! The cookies were individually bubble-wrapped for their journey from Arlington to France and the Eiffel Tower arrived without a crack.

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How sweet, Kyle even ordered cookies for the girls! Aren’t these adorable?! The cookies were made by Rachel (Baked by Rachel). She is very talented and I am always impressed by her creativity. I highly suggest checking out her website and liking her page on Facebook.

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Oh hey, Cupid… If you didn’t know, Kyle is an amazing artist. And as you can see, the girls loved their cookies!

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Photo by Baked By Rachel. Click on the picture to be directed to her Facebook page!

This post is included in my Living in Montaigu blog series. Please check out my very first blog post in the series to learn more!