WWOOFing in France – Le Jardinage

More about WWOOFing! During my week at the farm, I spent a lot of time helping Louise and Gundula set up their garden for this year. Check out my first WWOOFing post for more background info.

The 4 plots I worked on - the one in front plus three plastic-covered sections

The 4 plots I worked on

There were four plots of land that needed to be reworked. All but one had been used for gardening last year. The one exception had a lot more grass that was more deeply rooted – it proved very difficult to remove. Grass is seriously a force to be reckoned with – don’t let it get out of control! (It wasn’t until I began writing this blog post that I remembered I had already learned this lesson a few years ago when I was living in a house that had been uninhabited for a year or more and I had to de-weed the front and back yards. I definitely blocked those few days out of my memory!)

La grelinette on the really overgrown section

La grelinette on the really overgrown section

Anyways, with my trusty grelinette (brand name of the tool shown in these pics) and weed-wacker, I conquered most of the grass in these areas. Once everything was passed over with the grelinette, then I went back over each section and used a hoe (ha!) to render the earth finer. It was important that very few clumps of grass and roots were left behind to avoid any maivaises herbes popping up as things start growing and to make it easier for whoever will be using the grelinette next year!

Me using la grelinette – those boots got totally destroyed during the course of the week

Me using la grelinette

At first, I was very careful to wear gloves while working. When mixing up this earth that had been covered and rained on for several months, I encountered some yucky things – tons of worms, anthills, rotting plants, as well as some stray horseradish roots which went into the pantry. I didn’t want to touch any of it because I can be kind of squeamish. By the end, I was sitting in the dirt wearing shorts, using my bare hands to remove the plain dirt from the old grass. Sometimes, I’d pick up a worm or two. Just the week before, I would have freaked out and screamed, but by the end of my week on the farm I just tossed it aside. I think my initial squeamishness was just a question of not being familiar with the work. As soon as I had a little experience under my belt, I was no longer afraid. If only people in the world could undergo the same transformations regarding more serious topics than worms…

1st pass done

1st pass almost done

Gundula doing 2nd pass – you can see the difference between the darker dirt in front and the lighter dirt behind in which the clumps are still too thick

Gundula doing 2nd pass – you can see the difference between the darker dirt in front and the lighter dirt behind in which the clumps are still too thick

After all the earth had been worked (sometimes a third pass with the hoe was necessary to make sure the dirt was fine enough), I sprinkled compost all over the plots with a pitchfork (and sometimes my hands!). Then the fun part began. Gundula and Louise consulted last year’s garden map to ensure that the new plants wouldn’t be planted in a section where they had been planted last year. They sketched out the garden and we measured out some rows for the broccoli and leeks. Early in the week, we went to a local farmer’s market to pick up seedlings they had ordered from a local gardener a few months ago.

Compost sprinkled on top

Compost sprinkled on top

Dirty hands – don’t care!  Who am I?

Dirty hands – don’t care! Who am I?

The rest was easy: we dug holes for each seedling, sprinkled compost in each one, mixed it in with the dirt, and placed each seedling inside. After a little water for each plant, that was it! I was so happy to see the little tomato, lettuce, broccoli, and leek plants.



Broccoli and leeks!

Broccoli and leeks with anti-hen fence erected

Working in the garden was so pleasant and gratifying. Some days it was a little rainy, but most days it was sunny and warm. The peaceful countryside was exactly the right antidote to the grating cacophony of the city – birds chirping, goats and cows bleating and mooing, the rooster crowing randomly, and one single car driving down our dead-end street, causing me to look up because I was noticing ONE vehicle (!!!), were all I heard.

The grelinette/hoe action was very meditative and difficult physically. I loved sweating and “earning” my big lunches and goûters with this work. Sometimes Gundula and Louise would join me, and we’d hang out and talk or just work together in silence. The hens and le coq would always come to eat the worms, and the dogs and cats would come to watch the action or sunbathe. My very favorite part of working in the garden was that without fail, within five minutes of beginning work, Lunette the cat would come find me and stay with me the whole time. She would rub my leg or the tools I was using – one time when I was squatting to dig a hole, she even climbed on my back and got comfy!

Lunette <3

Lunette ❤

Le coq and the hens pecking for worms

Le coq and the hens pecking for worms

As I was working, I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe farming used to all be done by hand!” This is just one tiny organic garden and I know that most produce being grown these days has a lot more machine help. But, I am glad I got to see how it feels to tend a garden by hand. It makes me appreciate food even more when I see how much hard work goes into creating it. It was also really exciting to see compost being put to use – I would put things in the green bin in the kitchen, empty that bin onto the compost heap outside, and right next to where I emptied it is where I would get wheelbarrows full of decomposed compost (redundant, but you get what I’m saying right?) to sprinkle on the garden. The circle of [plant] life!

Stay tuned for more posts about goats, cheese-making, and some visits to nearby towns!

*Update: Click these links for my introductory wwoofing post and my posts about Les Chèvres and Cheese and the second time I went there.


WWOOFing in France – Introduction

In this region of France, we just finished up our spring vacation a few weeks ago. I knew months ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to afford a vacation like last year, but I wanted to get out of Paris. Hence, wwoofing!

What is wwoofing? World-wide opportunities on organic farms. Directly from their website, “WWOOF is an exchange – In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.” The French wwoofing site works like this: you pay €30 for 1-year access to the catalogue of farms needing help. Then you can browse ads by department and contact the farmers directly. (Each country’s website is different so look at the first wwoof site I linked to for further information on countries other than France.) After sending out a ton of emails, I found a goat farm that had an opening for the dates I wanted to go.

A few hours after arriving from Paris, Louise asked me to lead the goats to the pasture.  They kept bumping me and I was so scared!  By the end I was petting them.

A few hours after arriving from Paris, Louise asked me to lead the goats to the pasture. They kept bumping me and I was so scared! By the end I was petting them.

Having never worked on or really ever set foot on a farm, I had no expectations. My main goals for the experience were to learn about farming, do some real physical activity, and accomplish something. I didn’t expect to have such great conversations, eat such good meals, or learn so much.

The garden where I worked a lot, their house is behind the big tree.

The garden where I worked a lot, their house is behind the big tree.

From the minute I first met Gundula (German woman in her 50s), Louise (Dutch woman in her 50s), and Maëva (French woman, 25), I felt at ease and welcomed. They were so hospitable and treated me more like a guest than a volunteer. Soon after my arrival I found myself integrated into the routine of the farm.

The Routine of the Farm

between 5 and 6am: wake up. La Traite (the milking of the goats). Other things I don’t know about because I didn’t enter the routine until…
between 8-8:30am: breakfast. Homemade bread smeared with butter, homemade cheese, homemade jams, organic hazelnut spread, local artisanal honey, tea made by one of their local friends…
9am: clean la chèvrerie (the barn where the goats live). feed the goats. feed the other animals (1 horse, 2 pigs, male and baby goats). if it’s not raining, lead the goats to a pasture.
11am-2pm: miscellaneous activities that change daily. sometimes cheese-making, sometimes cleaning, repairs, gardening, cooking, host random visitors who came to buy goat milk, etc.
between 1 and 4pm: lunch. always a long, hot lunch of things grown on the farm or purchased locally with dessert and coffee at the end. then: work. same as miscellaneous activities above. go get the goats if they were in a pasture.
5:30pm: goûter (snack) – always a cake or cookie with tea or coffee.
6pm: feed the goats, La Traite.
8-9pm: showers, then dinner which consists of the same things as breakfast. always a matzah-like cracker spread with butter, fresh goat cheese, and jam or honey at the end (this is just a quirk of Louise and Gundula but I started doing it too). This is where my day ended.
10-??: Louise and Gundula continued working. feed the goats again. cheese-making. treat sick goats. etc.

The tree is a cherry tree! and behind it is my cozy little trailer

The tree is a cherry tree! and behind it is my cozy little trailer “le caravan”

Having a farm is SO MUCH WORK. They have been doing this 7 days a week for the last 15 years with only a handful of instances where they’ve left the farm for a vacation. Because I have so much downtime in Paris, I relished the opportunity to sweat and actually accomplish things, but I can imagine that it gets really difficult to keep going after more than a few months. By Sunday I was already having a hard time staying energized and that was only after one week!

Left: la chevrerie. Right: baby goat house

Left: la chevrerie. Right: baby goat house

I’m so glad I’m no longer ignorant of this lifestyle. There are farmers all over the world producing the food we need to survive, and without any connection to them it’s hard to be aware of the hard work they do and the sacrifices they make. No sick days for them, no Christmas bonuses…no real Christmas break either! The goats have to eat – constantly! The sad fact is that the financial compensation nowhere near matches the effort dispensed. Luckily, my hosts seemed to love what they do and were really committed to their lifestyle and career choices. Overall, they seemed really happy.

I loved being able to take part in such a local and organic-focused home. In my daily life, I do my best to stay away from food that has been transported very long distances and yes, I would prefer not to ingest a ton of pesticides and other chemicals with my food. However, most of the time this is not feasible in terms of my budget or surroundings. During these 9 days I was happy to be able to join in their lifestyle.

Coming soon: more posts and photos about my experience on the farm.

*Update: Click these links for my posts about Le Jardinage, Les Chèvres, Cheese, and my second trip there.

Crème de Marrons + Buckwheat Flour Cookies with Fig Jam

finished cookies

This was my first time baking with buckwheat flour and I’m a convert! It has a deep and nutty flavor that plays well with the chestnut cream. Unlike all purpose flour which only serves to form other cookies, buckwheat flour becomes one of the main flavors of these cookies.


Ever since I first tried crème de marrons, I’ve wondered how it would taste in cookie form. I finally got around to testing it out, and I’m glad I did! I’ll warn you though: these are addictive!

Crème de Marrons Cookies with Fig Jam


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown or white sugar
1 packet of vanilla sugar (optional)
1/2 cup crème de marrons
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla (if you have no vanilla sugar)
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
fig jam

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Cream together the butter and sugar(s) until smooth. Add the crème de marrons and egg and mix until smooth – the batter might get weirdly lumpy but don’t panic. Add flours, baking powder, and salt and mix batter until combined. Roll dough into balls that are 1.5 inches in diameter and then chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. Bake cookies for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and use a small spoon to create a dip in the top. Fill each indentation with fig jam. Return cookies to oven, making sure to rotate the pan the other way. Bake 7-10 more minutes, or until cookies are set and starting to brown on the bottom.

Make space for the jam!

Make space for the jam!

Happy Nouilles

Zati at Happy Nouilles

In December, I decided to check out this noodle place I’d read about on Girl’s Guide to Paris. I met up with Phoebe to try it for the first time; she was running late, so I stood outside and noticed that one of the chefs was making the noodles I was about to eat by hand!  I quickly became engrossed as she took a large chunk of dough in her hands and stretched her arms wide, pulling the dough with her as she went. She did this repeatedly until she had an armful of noodles. Who knew it was so simple?!  Every so often she would look up at me and smile, and I’d try to slyly look away and pretend I wasn’t drooling.

Phoebe and I sat at one of the tiny tables and we both ordered the noodle soup called “Zati” that is made with spicy ground pork. It’s hard to know which aspect of this amazing soup to devour first – the spicy and flavorful broth, the chewy and salty noodles, the meat and beans hidden throughout, or the sprinkling of onions and cilantro that freshen it up.

Zati 2 at Happy Nouilles

This is embarrassing but the following fact will illustrate how good this place is: I went to Happy Nouilles three times in three weeks and returned a fourth time last weekend. It snowed for a few days last week and I was chilled to the bone.  I knew this soup would be the perfect thing for a snowy Saturday.  Now I’m hoping it snows again so I can return, although if it doesn’t I’ll probably go anyways.  🙂

Happy Nouilles
95 Rue Beaubourg
75003 Paris
metro Arts et Métiers
*be aware that it’s usually packed and there is not much space between each table – not the most comfortable dining experience but delicious all the same

Chambre de Bonne

Those smokestacks never get old

Before I came to Paris, I would not have been able to define chambre de bonne. Now, I’m surprised when people don’t know what I am talking about when I say I live in one. As I pondered this the other day, I realized that if fellow Francophiles haven’t heard the term, it’s probably unlikely that friends and family back home have any idea where I live now, room-wise. Allow me to explain!

This is not my building, but mine looks similar

Many families who employ au pairs live in apartment building that have tiny apartments on the top floor of the building available for rent. The rooms are normally very tiny (think 10-15 meters squared), with sloped ceilings, a sink, and maybe a shower and toilet, although many of them have shared showers and toilets on the same floor. There is usually a separate entrance in the same building as the more expensive apartments. Sometimes, the entrance is labeled “Service” and usually there is no elevator for this part of the building. Originally, these rooms were rented to maids, but nowadays these rooms host people like me who work as au pairs, as well as other non-au pairs looking to save on rent in a very expensive city.

Steep spiral

Some days, I find my room very romantic. I think about how many other people have lived in it since the building was built back in the day. What were their stories? I see a swath of sky through the skylight that sometimes transports me to Montana, it’s so large and unobstructed. I take pleasure in the fact that I climbed seven stories to get inside, which never fails to raise my heartrate and has definitely tightened my derrière. I am helping to occupy every last millimeter of space in this building instead of letting it go to waste. For such a tiny room, there is an awful lot of storage for my precious junk. At the end of the day, I have a roof over my head, a warm bed, and a lock on the door. That last sentence becomes more and more meaningful each day as I exit the metro in this posh neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower and notice the people sleeping in makeshift beds of cardboard boxes.

Sharpie-d floor numbers and dead plants

Other days, the romance is nowhere to be found. Every step up the stairs is torture, especially because the wall of the stairs is the wall of the elevator for the fancier apartments right next to the Service area – why can’t they just rip a hole in the wall and let me take the elevator too?! I notice all the dirt, and the shared bathroom is disgusting. I wonder how long it’s been since my carpet was properly vacuumed since I don’t have space for a vacuum cleaner and can only use a rubber broom for cleaning. The 3 minutes of hot water in my shower aren’t enough to even wet all my hair. The sink that shocks me 10% of the times I put my hand under the water (can someone please explain this?!) is not charming, and neither are the walls made of painted-over tape. I can’t decide which is worse, hitting my head on the window opener that hangs right over my pillow if I don’t prop it up right, or the ominous drop of water falling onto my head from that same window during a rainstorm.

View through the skylight

Despite my grievances, I know that it could be worse, and I try to remind myself this fact daily. I grew up in a wonderful house, complete with a hot water heater bigger than a microwave and lots of big, open rooms surrounded by trees. At 18 I went to college and lived in new, cushy dorms and off-campus houses. It was my choice to move to a society with very old buildings, so now it’s time to get comfortable! One of my favorite parts of walking around Paris is looking at all of the old buildings. If I look at them, I should be able to live in them too. My new lifestyle has made me appreciate space, hot water, and high ceilings more than before, and I hope I can eventually move into at least a studio, but really, you can get used to anything.

sometimes I actually get my butt out of bed in time to see pretty sunrises like this

Reims (Champagne)

In May, there are a ton of random holidays in France. This Thursday was L’Ascension, when Jesus supposedly ascended to heaven after being crucified. The family I work for left on Tuesday night for their house in the south so I had the whole week off, except for one hour of tutoring on Wednesday.

Honestly, I am growing tired of all this free time. (Boohoo, poor me!) I am only making a little bit of money from tutoring a few times a week, so my budget is limited. Luckily, I can entertain myself all day long by running, scrapbooking, parc-hopping, reading blogs, eating croissants, and bugging all my friends to hang out with me. I do get bored sometimes, but at least I am not stressed!

My friend Kelly is in the same boat as I am, so we decided to take a day trip to Reims, a city north-east of Paris. It’s in the Champagne region – my one and only goal was to drink my favorite beverage on earth!

The Weather Channel lied – in a good way! There was no rain at all on Friday!

Gotta love France – we hopped on the TGV train, and 45 minutes later, we were there! I love trains. 🙂

We arrived around noon. After a quick stop at the tourist center for a map, we walked from the train station towards the center of town. It’s a cute city, but it is a little touristy. After bypassing all the shops, we found a cheap Italian place to eat at for lunch.

Then we went to Taittinger for a tour of the caves (cellar) and a taste. The tour was fine – similar to other wine cellar tours I have taken. One cool fact I learned was that the men whose sole job is to turn the champagne bottles every day (this helps the sediment separate from the wine and drift to the bottom, where they later freeze and expel it) can turn 9,000 bottles in one hour!

Rows of bottles waiting to become the best beverage ever

This door is really old…not sure exactly how old. How informative of me!

After the tour, we went back upstairs and drank our half glass of champagne that was included in the fee. I was disappointed that we only got half a glass, especially since it was really delicious and I wanted more! We were also hoping to be able to pay a little more and do some tastings, but they only allow that for groups of 5 people or more.

POUR MORE pleeeease!

While waiting for the tour to begin, we checked out the cathedral in town. It’s called Notre Dame and it resembles the one in Paris. It was built about a century later than the Paris one, and 25 coronations occurred there! The stained glass inside was gorgeous.

I just love Gothic architecture

Just one of the many stained glass windows inside.

We also went to a tiny museum/garden, where we saw a cat! Very exciting for me… 🙂

He was shy but sweet!

With two hours to kill before our train back to Paris, there was nothing left to do but drink more champagne. We went to a wine bar and I had two delicious glasses of Roger Coulon champagne (the cheapest on the menu at 6.50eu per glass – I’m no expert, but I think when you are drinking real champagne in the region itself, you can’t go wrong!). No pictures because I was in champagne heaven. The wine bar gave us cheese and olives to snack on. I love when places give you complimentary food!

Soon enough we were back on the train to Paris. It was a relaxing, bubble-filled day! I can’t wait to go back and drink some more of the best wine on earth.


Ok, remember where we left off? Good. So, after Laurel and Alison left, I felt a little bit like a lost puppy. What would I do all alone for seven days? But then I mentally slapped myself – and remembered that I had originally been very excited to take a vacation all by myself! I got back into independent woman mode, and started one of the best weeks of my life!

Map of Italy from the Vatican Museum

Day 1 (Tuesday)

I spent the day walking around and taking buses to various places I had found online and in the Rick Steves guidebook Alison so generously gave to me. I got what turned out to be my favorite cappuccino in Italy at Sant’Eustachio – so much foam! Pay at the counter and get it with sugar. Also stopped by Pizzarium and was pleased with my potato-mozzarella and ricotta-onion-arugula choices. I like the concept at this place: the pizzas are long rectangles, so the person working there will slowly move their knife and you tell them when to stop when the piece is as wide as you want it, then they warm it up and afterward they cut it with scissors into bite-size pieces!

After my day spent wandering around, eating, and window-shopping, I made my way back to my hostel. I wanted to go out, but I didn’t want to go out alone, since the area around Termini (the main train station in Rome, located on the east side of the city) is a bit sketchy at night. After hanging out in the common room for awhile, I met two very nice guys from Boston. We went out to an Irish pub for drinks and later ended up at a karaoke bar full of students and young travelers from all over the world, where I sang one of my favorite Queen songs, “Don’t Stop Me Now” for a large crowd!

Day 2

Slept in but I did make it out to the Trevi Fountain and San Crispino for gelato (which lives up to the hype).

Always TONS of people there

Pistachio and Caramel. Divine. The gelato was colder here than at other places – so great on a hot day!

I went to Forno and bought pasta to make my favorite Italian pasta dish (cacio e pepe), and mini bottles of limoncello and Disaronno for souvenirs. Then I walked to the Piazza di Santa Cecilia because I had read that Roma Sparita makes great cacio e pepe, and it’s only 12 euros. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a reservation and they were full, so instead I walked around (happily as it’s a very cute neighborhood) and found Asino Cotto who were more than happy to serve me!

Gnoccho (1 gnocchi) that actually tasted more like polenta than gnocchi. Was delicious!

This was my first time dining at a real restaurant alone. I was scared to do this; eating street food or getting something to-go alone is one thing, but actually sitting down somewhere by yourself intimidated me. At first, I felt a little bit awkward and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept thinking that the other people eating would see that I was alone and judge me in some way. However, the other people in the restaurant didn’t even seem to notice me. It was actually nice, because it all went much faster and I didn’t feel guilty about looking at my phone and camera while waiting for my food. Plus, I got an amazing dish that ended up being my favorite meal during my whole trip! So, if you are traveling alone, I encourage you to nudge yourself a bit outside of your comfort zone. People won’t judge you, because if they even notice that you’re alone, they probably don’t care! It’s not like people expect you to fly all your friends and family with you on every trip!

Day 3

Ever since my roommate in Prague went to Florence and came back with a really cute, custom-made leather jacket, I regretted not doing the same. Since I was already in Italy and it’s so easy to just hop on a train and go somewhere for the day, I decided to go for it and buy myself a leather jacket. The weather in Rome had been perfect, and Florence was no different. I arrived around noon and had a not-too-expensive lunch in the main square. I saw the Duomo, which was so beautiful! It’s so colorful.

It was breathtaking. This is only part of it.

Another section of the Duomo

I didn’t have time to go inside since shopping was a priority. 🙂 But it is worth going to Florence just to see the outside in person. Then, I found Via Ricasori, where all the leather shops are, and started my search. It was pretty fast; I went to about 3 or 4 shops and quickly noticed that they all had pretty much the same thing. I found 2 jackets at separate stores that I loved and went for the cheaper one, since the more expensive one had a weird lining that fluffed out of the bottom. The salesman working at the other store gave me 100 euros off the total price as a “student discount” but I’m sure they do that for everyone. I am so happy with my jacket and I hope I have it for years to come!

It was so hot that night but I HAD TO ROCK MY NEW JACKET! Can you tell that I am super excited?!

After walking to the Ponte Vecchio (mentioned in the lyrics of the aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi by Puccini, which I performed in my voice recital last summer) and taking a few pics, I headed back to Rome.

Ponte Vecchio

Back in Rome, I was staying in another hostel that I LOVED. That night, they were hosting a pub crawl and it was ladies’ night! I participated and ended up having a great time! I met people from the US, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Denmark, etc. and we all had so much fun together.

The pub crawl group

Brazilian friends

Italian friends

The cheapest room in the hostel was a 6-bed mixed dorm, so I was with two Argentinian guys, one guy I never met, and two British guys. This sounds sketchy (Mom, calm down!) but once you meet people, you just create a certain level of trust that is hard to explain. At all the hostels I stayed in, this was the case. Of course, I did feel a little nervous leaving my stuff in the room all day, but nothing was stolen my whole trip. I believe this is because I made an effort to at least meet all the people in my room, if not befriend them. Next time I will bring a lock (I’m a spaz and just plain forgot to buy one before my trip) but most people staying in hostels seem to be just like me: broke, with few valuables. I kept my passport, phone, iPod, and wallet on me at all times during the day and even slept with my small purse under my pillow.

Day 4

I bought myself a Roma Pass which I highly recommend if you are spending time in Rome. You pay 30 euros for a pass that allows you to gain access to several major sights in Rome for 3 days. You get into the first two sights for free, and then you get a discount on all the others that you visit after. Also, the pass acts as a ticket for the metro or bus during the three days. It’s a great deal!

Lemon and cream again – my fave combo 🙂

I started at the Colosseum. I bought the audioguide which made it that much more interesting! I especially enjoyed it because the man and woman on the audioguide spoke with a British accent, which I find so soothing. It was crazy to learn about what the Romans used to do for fun (watch warriors fight to the death, set vicious animals on one man who has to fight them off) and think about how similar it is to modern day entertainment (WWF anyone? cockfights? Bad Girls Club?). Also, elitism has always existed – senators and other VIPS had special seats in the stadium, with their names carved on their seats. In fact, every citizen had their own assigned seat according to their rank in society.

The Colosseum

I was really there!

After the Colosseum I moseyed over to the Roman Forum, which was the downtown hangout area of ancient Rome. I did the self-guided tour in the Rick Steves book. I HIGHLY recommend that you do the same – it was free, and he puts just the right amount of information that is interesting but not too long to stand there reading in the hot sun. I plan to buy a Rick Steves book before I go anywhere now!

What remains of the happenin’ city center

Caesar walked on these stones!!!!

I loved the Roman Forum. I spent a long time reflecting on humanity and history.

Day 5

Are you getting tired? At this point in my trip, I was EXHAUSTED – mentally, physically, financially. In the future, I think I will be keeping my trips to less than 7 days. But, since I was there, I rallied and kept going! I went and bought some cheap sneakers, drank some water, and headed to the National Museum. Thank goodness it was just a few blocks from my hostel. The museum has five levels, but after doing two of them with my audioguide, I could not focus anymore and I left. I got a lot out of this museum. My favorite exhibit featured a film of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen created by the Queen of Denmark. One of her hobbies is decoupage, and she used this technique to create the backgrounds in the film. I am a scrapbooker myself and I love fairy tales so I was very interested!

One of several découpage pieces created by Her Majesty the Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (did I do that right?)

There was also an extensive collection of sculptures. I did not used to be a fan of sculpture, but they have grown on me recently. I like how they help you transport to the past; what was important enough to culture to create a replica of it and place it in someone’s home or in a public place? I imagine future cultures will see the same in photographs and now, the internet. But I almost prefer how there are so many unanswered questions with ancient art…

This is a statue of Aphrodite bathing, and apparently there were replicas of it that were often placed at the entrance of public bathing houses.

Ancient waitress

After the museum, I walked leisurely through Rome to Vatican City. On the way I had gelato at Giolitti and saw a lot of cool streets and stores. I also stopped at the Pantheon.


Beautiful light shining through the ceiling hole

Oreo, white chocolate, and amaretto (which tastes like toasted almond from Fenton’s in Oakland). This was my favorite gelato in all of Rome!

Rest spot

I liked how this street curved

By the time I got to Vatican City, I was very tired. But, I had come all that way! So, I entered the Vatican Museum (they make you go through the whole museum before you can see the Sistine Chapel) and joined HUNDREDS of other people in the slow crawl through the museum to the Sistine Chapel. Honestly, I would skip the Vatican Museum unless you are religious or enjoy religious art. Maybe if I had gone in the morning I would have appreciated it more, but I was tired and not interested in feeling like I was in a club. It was so crowded! Luckily it’s spring, because in the summer I hear that it’s even worse. When I got to the Sistine Chapel, I enjoyed it and spent a long time sitting on a bench on the side of the room, taking in every inch of the art on the ceiling and walls. I admit, it’s pretty cool. Now I can cross it off my list! I’m sorry, I don’t have pictures because I respected the “no photographs” rule, unlike everyone else around me. I want to keep it well-preserved! I also went into St. Peter’s Basilica and listened to a bit of the 5pm mass.

The church

One room in the Vatican Museum

That night, I laid low in the hostel and hung out with my new Canadian friend Jaquie, two girls from Santa Cruz, and two French girls. It was fun to see how similar all us girls in our 20s are!

Day 6

Jaquie, my British friends from the hostel and I all went out trying to find this market where one can find huge figs. Unfortunately, the market seemed to only be selling cheap clothes. So, we wandered around and found a restaurant serving traditional Italian food. I finally got my cacio e pepe! It was delicious, but a very small portion because in Italy, it’s considered to be an appetizer rather than a full meal. After wandering around a bit more, drinking water from the lovely fountains to be found everywhere in Rome, we unfortunately had to part ways. I said goodbye to all of my new friends (it felt like the last day of summer camp!) and headed to another hostel for my last night.

Jack drinking water with Joe in the background; I had the pleasure of watching Joe polish off 3 McDonald’s cheeseburgers earlier that day. Champion!

I spent the evening wandering around the neighborhood, enjoying my last bit of Roman sunshine and gelato. I found a tiny market and bought some zucchini and pasta to cook at the hostel for dinner. After hanging out with some people staying in the hostel (girl from Singapore, a couple from Quebec, and a guy from Belgium) I went to bed early to wake up for my 7am flight back to Paris.


During this trip, I learned so much about myself, about traveling, and about Italy! I saw so many beautiful things and ate so much great food. It was so fun to get out of France for a bit and have a real vacation, even though I feel like I am sort of always on vacation here anyways. My goal for the trip was to eat as much gelato, pasta, pizza, and drink as much coffee as possible. I definitely accomplished that goal. But one thing that was unexpected was that I made all these new friends! It was interesting to meet people from so many different cultures against the backdrop of Italy. It’s funny to learn new things about yourself based on what new people perceive from meeting you; according to the Brits, I speak like I’m stuck in the 90s (hello? I’m from California!). It was also so interesting and funny to meet alllll sorts of people, such as the guy from Quebec who skateboards and hopes to one day come to California to check out all of our skate parks, or my new friend Michael who prefers tea as a hangover cure.

So sophisticated!

Amalfi Coast, Italy

In college, I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. For spring break, my then-boyfriend and I took a week-long trip to Paris, Rome, Milan, and Budapest. There were so many disasters because we tried to fit too much in. (His mom said it would be too much but I brushed her off – mothers are ALWAYS right! Will I be that way when I’m a mother?) Ever since, I have desperately wanted to revisit those cities.

Three years later, I got my chance! After finishing my teaching program, I had a two week vacation. As you know, I went to Normandie for the first four days. I knew I wanted to go to Italy, and when I was planning my trip, I decided to make up for last time by going to Rome for ten whole days. It turned out to be a little bit too long (more on that in my next post about Rome)…I thought I was such a seasoned traveler, but I’m still learning so much about how I like to travel with every trip I take!

Viva Italia!

Off I went on Ryanair to meet up with one of my good friends from college: Laurel, and her friend Alison from Portland. Those two ladies are traveling for a few months, so we all met up for the first 3 days of my trip in some small towns on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

Orange trees are everywhere in this region of Italy!

After flying into Rome on Friday night, training to Naples, and bussing to Sorrento, I finally arrived in the small city of Atrani in the afternoon on Saturday. They should charge more than 4 euros for the bus from Sorrento to Atrani; the whole one-hour-long ride is full of amazing views of the ocean from a winding mountain road. On the bus, I sat with an Australian boy and a girl from New Zealand which was fun! (Sidenote: did you know that they call bell peppers “capsicum”?)  Right down the street from the bus station, I got to-go pizza at Jhonny Pizza (C/so Italia, 255-80067 Sorrento) for 1.50eu that was INCREDIBLE – one notch down from my favorite pizza in the world in San Francisco (not telling where so that the line stays short). The crust was chewy and salty and the tomato sauce tasted fresh.

Best 1.50 I ever spent!

Our hostel was just through this tunnel.

Not the safest place to walk, but you get used to it!

After dropping off my things, we hiked up a TON of stairs to a town above ours called Ravelo. The hike was great – it was nice exercise and we saw progressively more stunning views as we climbed.

We were about halfway up here.

It was cool to see all the houses built into the cliffs, complete with lemon and orange orchards.  Also, my seven flights of stairs are NOTHING compared to these; we saw this woman carrying her groceries home!

View from the stairs

I was breathless – not just from walking


We paid 6 euros to gain access to the gardens of Villa Cimbrone. It was fun to see new plants native to Italy that I don’t normally see in France or California. I loved the views from this garden as well – it would be a fabulous place to get married. (Warning: I will probably say “stunning view” and “it would be a fabulous place to get married” 7000 more times in this post. Sorry, but it’s true!  Italy is a beautiful place.)

I don’t have any garden pictures because my camera died, but you get the idea!

We finished the evening with a very nice dinner at a local restaurant recommended to us by the woman working at the garden. My favorite part: free blood orange prosecco cocktail before dinner. My least favorite part was the free fried anchovy (I tried to force myself to taste it but couldn’t after Laurel told me she had bitten down on the little bones, blegh, I can’t!).  We shared some great pizza and pasta.

Day 2 brought many surprises. After a bus ride and train ride back to Sorrento, we set out to explore.

A random stop for gelato meant finding gelato art!

Mom: the mouth was a FRUIT SLICE!

Some touristy shopping yielded some delicious lemon chocolate candies. We also happened upon a fantastic organic lemon and orange grove with a free limoncello tasting stand. The woman was so generous with the tastes; in addition to limoncello, they also make basil, blueberry, and mandarin orange liqueurs. I should have bought a bottle of the mandarin orange – as Laurel pointed out, the fragrant and fresh flavor lingered in your mouth for so long, and all I could think about was mixing it with champagne and garnishing it with basil for an amazing cocktail. I see a return trip in my future!

After our quick stop in the grove, we decided to attend this show. After eating a several course meal while being serenaded by two men singing and playing guitar, we retired down to the theater. What followed was the cheesiest Italian opera/pop/folk music-and-dance spectacle I have ever or probably will ever see! It was the perfect thing for three twenty something American girls to do on a Sunday night during their vacation.

I love watching dance

We spent Day 3 on the island of Capri.  After some initial seasickness on the 30-minute ferry ride, I began to enjoy the warm but cloudy weather.  We took a 90-minute ferry ride that went all around the island.

Alison, Laurel, Maddy

My favorite part of the ride was our stop in the Blue Grotto.  Because the rocks don’t descend all the way down to the sea floor, sunlight enters this cave and reflects through the water and off the stones to create a glowing blue-turquoise color!

That light is where we entered

I wish I could create jewelry out of that water!

It’s a fun little adventure because the cave opening is so small that it’s only accessible at low tide; passengers in the small rowboats have to basically lie on top of each other with heads ducked below the boat’s edge to avoid being beheaded!  (Would be awkward if you are traveling alone because you will get very close with your boatmates!)  Then, the men rowing the boats spin you in circles and tell you facts about the Blue Grotto while men in other boats sing little folk songs so you can hear the pretty echoes.

That’s where you enter…

This was what I captured on the way into the cave – it goes fast!

After the ferry ride, we took a bus up the hill (again, amazing views on the bus of the water and mainland of Italy) and got off in a little walking area.  We didn’t get far on the cute, winding roads before we stopped at L’Arte del Sandalo Caprese di Antonio Viva.

Shoelovers’ paradise!

This is the most amazing shoe store.  Antonio is sitting and working right outside, surrounded by beautiful leather sandals of every color and shape, bedazzled and plain, all handmade by Antonio himself.

This man knows what he’s doing

Let’s get some shoes

It’s impossible to just walk by, because they are so cute and he is friendly.  Inside, we met Antonio’s son, whose good looks and charm aren’t the only thing that help him sell shoes; he truly has a great taste.  He was a great salesman, gaining my trust by telling me honestly when things didn’t look good and when something would be uncomfortable or impractical.

Fell in love with the ones on the left but they do not stay on the foot.

Antonio and his son give really personal service. You can buy shoes that are already made, or you can have them custom made onto your feet right there in the shop! Alison and Laurel did this; they picked the soles that fit their feet the best, and chose what color and style of leather straps, then Antonio wrapped and cut them right then and there to guarantee a perfect fit!

Adjusting Alison’s sandals

Laurel’s shoes being adjusted

I am so happy with my shoes; they were a bit of a splurge, but as I am the flip flop queen (at least when home in CA), I know they will be a good investment as well as a great memory! Sorry, no picture because mine weren’t custom-made I totally forgot! I’ll upload one eventually.

Shoe shopping wore us out, so after grabbing some coffee and pastries, we headed back to Rome for the night. I had to say goodbye to Laurel and Alison in the morning, and then embarked on my 7 days in Rome…alone! Post coming soon…