Sunday, September 21, 2014

24 hours in Versailles

Early Friday morning, while twisted in a pretzel pose on a yoga mat in the middle of the living room, I heard Jeff call from the other room. "Hey, do you have power in there?" Slowly unfolding myself, I straightened up and looked for some signs of connectivity. The digital clock stared back at me with a blank expression.


The gardienne of our building confirmed it: The guys in the green suits huddled around our building's front door had clipped the power to work on the lines, and the estimated time until reconnectivity was approximately 10 hours.

"Seriously?! What are we supposed to do?!"

Power outages are just opportunities for adventure in disguise. So maybe we didn't have WiFi nor a functioning landline phone, and only had limited battery power for our laptops, but we did have an entire day ahead of us and scads of possibilities for getting out of our usual routines. Plus, the sun was shining and it was 75 degrees. That doesn't happen very often in Paris!

Fanny rides sidesaddle in her own pannier. And yes, she is fastened to her carrier so she can't jump out!
Recent rains have turned the Bois de Boulogne into a fungi forest.
If you're unsure about whether a mushroom is edible, you can bring it to a French pharmacist for confirmation. They're trained to ID poisonous varieties.

"How about an overnight trip to Versailles? On our bikes?"

"Sounds great. Let's go!"

We packed one pannier each, plus an extra one for the dog. A change of clothes, a water bottle, laptop, dog food, et voila. Done! Almost.

"Crap. How are we going to make a hotel reservation without internets?"

About six months ago, I submitted the final manuscript for Moon Living Abroad in Paris, a new guide in the Avalon Travel/Moon Guides Living Abroad series. (I am also the author of Moon Living Abroad in France, and soon to be the author of an updated and revised edition of that book, to be published in late 2015.) While I don't yet have a copy of the finished book in my hands, I do have my original Word files, in which I included an entire section on Versailles. Under "Planning Your Fact-Finding Trip," I found the hotel and B & B listings. Perfect! Using my own resources, and with a single phone call, we had a same-day reservation at a centrally located hotel that accepts dogs. 

Look up toward St. Cloud, our first stop outside of Paris.

On a passerelle over the Seine, looking downriver.
A garden along the railway on the St. Cloud side of the Seine.
Versailles, here we come!

That way >>
We set off in the direction of the Bois de Boulogne, one of the forests that bookends Paris, on the west side. Once inside the woods, the air was fresh and smelled damp and earthy. The little cycling and walking paths that zig-zag through the trees were blanketed in fallen leaves, and beneath the oaks, acorns covered the ground. It felt autumnal and wonderful. The rain the previous night had unleashed giant blooms of white, yellow, and brown mushrooms, and the blissfully warm air lured joggers and dog-walkers by the dozens.

A little picnic break beneath the sun.

The sign affixed to this cute old building described it as Charles X's hunting lodge (boo, hiss!).

Riding through the beautiful forest lands that stretch between Paris and Versailles, we inhaled more deliciously fresh air, and enjoyed the birdsong and the gentle breezes, and stopped from time to time to get a good look at historical monuments, including a former King of France's hunting lodge, and anything else that caught our fancy: flowers, more mushrooms, small birds of prey in the trees.

We stopped for a picnic in the Domaine National de Saint Cloud, another one-time playground of French royalty. We found a sunny spot to sup and relax before heading onward toward Versailles. The entire trip, with plenty of breaks, took about three hours. We could have done it in a third of the time, but this was supposed to be about slowing the pace down and enjoying the unplugged outdoors.

Riding into Versailles, we got stuck in a traffic jam around the main market square, where all the fruit and veg vendors were packing up after a long market day. Squeezing through, we finally worked our way over to Avenue de Paris and our hotel, which was quiet and cute and staffed with very friendly people. Next stop: A cafe for un verre. Afterward, we roamed the streets, poking our noses into shops, investigating restaurant menus, and generally appreciating the change of scenery.

First stop in Versailles: A cafe to cool off with liquid refreshment.

Now that our turntable is functioning, I can make impromptu music purchases again. These perfect-condition gems came from a Versailles vintage shop. 

J'adore antiquities! 

I think there's a military parade in France every day of the year.

We didn't join the gazillions of other tourists at the palace, but we did appreciate its gilded opulence from afar.   

We rode the Owl Trail most of the way home from Versailles.

Fun in the forest.
This St. Cloud street is closed on Fridays, when it is transformed into a marketplace where you can buy fruits, vegetables, and even fresh falafel sandwiches! 

Back in Paris the next day, we lucked out again with blue skies and balmy temperatures. It was only 1:30 when we got in, and we were hungry, so what did we do? Cycle over to La Chapelle, of course, for Indian food.

Almost home!

A weekend tradition: Utthampam from Sangeetha vegetarian restaurant.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Slew of Swell Changes

Four months is far too long to ignore a living entity like this poor blog. If anyone is still out there to read and accept my apology, hurray! I'm sorry for such a long absence!

Since my last post in April, I've eaten my way through several cities including Budapest, Barcelona, and Bakersfield, to name a few, plus San Francisco and the Spanish island of Ibiza to name two more. I've had one vegetarian Paris-themed article published (in UK magazine Vegetarian Living), launched a travel+wellness+beauty lifestyle magazine for vegan-leaning women (Swell! is still in its infancy stage, but you have to start somewhere!), wrote a gluten-free vegan cookbook for Callisto Media, and just had my third book, Vegetarian Paris, published by UK publishing house Vegetarian Guides.

(Would you like a free copy? Yes, you say? Then mosey over here for a chance to win one!)

Change is definitely in the air, but I'm not sure what direction life will take me (or, to be more "in charge" and "proactive" sounding, which direction I will take life). I dream of a mobile lifestyle where I chase the sun and swim daily in the sea, eat healthfully every day and stay stress-free, surrounded by humans and animals I adore. That's a dream in progress! Meaningful work is another part of the life-quest equation, and I sometimes wonder whether all the stars will align in a way that brings deep, unbridled joy--or at least high levels of satisfaction!

Well, while I sort it all out, I'll leave you with a few photos snapped over the last few months. And what about you? What are you doing/eating/reading/thinking/loving right now?

Good eatin' in Budapest at Napfenyes Etterem.

Vegans can sniff these out from kilometers away.

Vintage in Budapest.

Dreams really do come true: The raw vegan cake edition. (@ Mannatural in Budapest)

Last chance at summer! Late August in Ibiza.

See where it says "Travel"? That's my piece!

An early mock-up of my newest book. In the final version, my name isn't so front and center.

Barcelona treats.

Barcelona, looking a lot like San Francisco here (except for those silly trees in the foreground).

Will the real San Francisco please stand up?!

A little vegan oasis in ... Bakersfield!
Goodbye, summer!