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Aromatic Lavender Fields, Tall Sunflowers & Lily Pads: The Impressionists Come Alive!

The first impressionist exhibition didn’t get any likes from the critics. They thought the paintings looked unfinished and lacked serious themes.

But a little like scrolling through Instagram, Impressionist paintings are enjoyable and easy to appreciate. Take some extra time and you marvel at how they created such amazing scenes with such simple strokes. Van Gogh even painted selfies.

This visit to France turned out to have an impressionist art theme, although that wasn’t the original idea.

First Stop: Giverny & Claude Monet’s Garden

Monet’s house and famous garden are about 45 minutes outside of Paris, an easy and comfortable train ride from Gare St. Lazare. When you arrive, don’t stop at the store in the train station to buy anything because like we did. A linked train of cars waits to take arriving passengers to Monet’s house for 8€ per person round trip. We missed it.

Our mobile plan in the U.S. gives us free texts and data (although at slow speeds) when we’re traveling around the world and inexpensive phone calls. The station has a list of taxis to call but since we were using our U.S. phone numbers, we had to figure out how to make an international call to Spain. It was frustrating, time-consuming and the taxis cost us 30€ round trip.

Claude Monet’s house and garden was one of the motivations for this vacation. You’ll see the garden’s wide variety of flowers and the pond filled with lily pads, and experience the same views Monet painted!

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The highlight of this blog post is the photo below! I stepped into a prohibited area for a quick photo. I was worried about a guard catching me but it wasn’t necessary. The bird above gave me a subtle message to get out!

Hahaha I made it out with just a warning!

The restaurants in the area surrounding Monet’s house are expensive and have a limited menu, so we returned to Giverny, which has a lot of nice restaurants. We bought lunch at a bakery and at a supermarket and enjoyed it in a park.

Aix-en-Provence: Cezanne, Renoir and Van Gogh

Aix-en-Provence is one of the recommended places to base yourself for a visit to this stunning region.

Cézanne’s house and studio was just a 10-minute drive from our hotel in the middle of town. This wasn’t on the original agenda but my Insta-friend Mai (www.instagram.com/lotus_jazz) told us not to miss it. She was right!

Here you can walk the unsculptured terrain around his home but the highlight is his studio on the second floor. You don’t have to worry about crowds here. We bought the tickets and were able to go up 15 minutes later, since they limited the number of people in the studio. His studio is just one room, with this wall-sized window to light his still life subjects. There’s also an emotional letter he wrote to his friend and mentor, Claude Monet, about his return from Paris to Provence to care for his ailing mother. There’s an English translation right next to the original.

Unfortunately our stay in Aix-en-Provence wasn’t long enough for a visit to Renoir’s home or to Arles, a town that has easels in the exact spot where Van Gogh painted! I mention them here in case you’re planning a similar trip.

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We also visited the lavender fields (read my post to learn the truth!) and sunflower fields of Valensole. These fields were the inspiration for so many impressionist paintings.

A post shared by Aixa (@muchospanish) on There are many other places in France to get the impressionist experience but my other motivations for the trip were to see the lavender field I mentioned above and to visit the L’Occitane company store and museum.

Museum D’ORSAY In Paris

If you begin or end your visit in Paris, your impressionist vacation requires a visit to the famous Museè D’Orsay. We came here first because our vacation was going to end in Barcelona, but to see this at the end would have been better.

Did You Read My Post About The Lavender Fields?

Aixa-en-Provence: Instagram Myth Breakers In The Lavender Fields! Goodbye FOMO

Aixa-en-Provence: Instagram Myth Breakers In The Lavender Fields! Goodbye FOMO

Warning: this is an Instagram myth breaker post. If you love your feelings of FOMO, then do not read any further.

Two years ago driving to Nice in the south of France, I saw signs for Aix-en-Provence and thought, I have to visit this town named after me! Two years later, here I am. It’s also near the home of my favorite store, L’Occitane (the full store name is L’Occitane en Provence).

The factory is here, the official company store and even a museum dedicated to the history of this company that so many women love!

Provence is such a beautiful region, full of flowers and herbs and some of the most picturesque towns you will find anywhere on earth. If you know where to drive, you will pass rolling lavender fields!

The best time to visit the lavender fields is from the last week in June to the first or second week of July. Harvest is a little earlier because of the heat.

Hundreds of people go to the fields every day to take their Instagram photos. Some go with organized day tours and others go on their own… but remember, this is private property. Even the organized day tour companies don’t get permission from the owners, although the guides make sure you don’t damage any of the lavender.

Instagram Myth Breaker No. 1

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Instagram is full of photos like mine, rolling purple hills of lavender fields and women with a bunch of fresh-picked lavender in one hand. They buy these lavender bunches and bring them to the fields for the photo. I didn’t think that far ahead, though, and when I saw someone else get off the bus with hers, I knew I should have put more thought into this.

I walked into a row of lavender ready to be harvested, the bees buzzing all around me, and I started to pose, I saw a bunch of lavender that someone else left behind. Look at the color in the photo: it doesn’t even match! And there’s a rubber band around the stems.

Instagram Myth Breaker No. 2

If I did try to pick this lavender, I would have gotten dozens of bee stings. The lavender at the point that it’s ready to be harvested, is full of bees. None of these women there in the fields is so infatuated with the beautiful flower in the moment the photo is being taken.

Other fields have blotches of yellowish wheat mixed in and this is to make the fields less attractive to Instagrammers, like this field below.

My photo below in this mixed field is interesting because of the snails climbing on the lavender. They come after it rains.

Instagram Myth Breaker No. 3

There are two types: Lavender and lavandine. Lavender is lighter in color and has less of an aroma. Lavandine is a hybrid, has a much deeper purple color and a much stronger aroma. They serve different purposes but the point here is that those deep purple colors in your favorite Instagrammer’s photo are saturated with an app. Even lavendine isn’t hat deep a shade of purple.

So why do such a fake stunt?

Instagram has millions of photos like mine. I met a Brazilian woman named Mariani in the fields. She’s a doctor and was in Provence for a conference. She didn’t think of bringing a bunch of lavender either, so I lent her mine when I was done with my photos. We both love lavender and we’re part of the L’Occitane cult. We both wanted the chance to see some lavender fields and go home with some photos.

Photo licensed for free use

Anyway, the impressionist painters like Van Gogh and Cezanne thought the fields were worth paining.

Sunday Stills: Summer, or Kissing Bats (Bad Idea)

On July 3rd, three adventurer Youtubers died in action. When 29 year old Megan Scraper slipped and fell into Shannon Falls in Canada, her two companions jumped in to try to rescue her.

Their group, High On Life, presented this emotional eulogy:

For me, the deaths were tragic but not sad. They lived the lives they wanted and the two companions didn’t hesitate to risk their lives for her. True adventurous spirits.

Sadder is a colleague who hates her job, dreams of moving from expensive NYC to a simpler life in a small town… but her unemployed husband (for three years) doesn’t want to. He wants to stay near his family.

So every day she goes to work, where the supervisors pressure her to do a better job, and she counts down the years she has left in the job (Eight!!!)

Jobs tie you down but maybe you love your job. Children tie you down but having them is a special part of life. There are always trade-offs. I’m not saying to live like these High On Lifers. I don’t live that way. Just make sure your trade-offs aren’t making you miserable.

I never heard of these Youtubers before the news story came out. Have you? Here’s a video where one from the group kisses a bat:

Summer theme connection

Summer is a time to get out and enjoy life. NYC is too cold for me so this will be my last year here. Until then, I’ll enjoy it while I can.

Every Sunday evening, Gantry Park has tango 💃

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I also enjoyed this street of restaurant tables:

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(I wrote this blog post entirely on my phone at the airport 😉👍)

Sunday Stills: Tourism

On Instagram, I came across a quote that I loved so much, I actually bought an audiobook about Mark Twain called “Around the World with Mark Twain”. The quote is:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I’m glad I bought the book because it’s very interesting, but I discovered that Mark Twain never said this.


I just read an article about an Instagrammer with over 100K followers who was caught using stock photos, sometimes adding himself to the photo or making other slight changes. The Instagrammer says he has receipts for all of the stock photos he used, but it’s disappointing to know he was posting fake experiences.


Before we went to Turkey last summer, everyone tried to warn us not to go. ISIS was going to kidnap us. When we arrived in Istanbul, the customs area was deserted.

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We enjoyed Istanbul so much and felt so safe that we go be back one day. I saw Turkish Insta-friends (women) who dressed Wow! Very sexy! (Look up: Nazila and Hatice.) I saw women dressed in all ways all over Istanbul. I had conversations and subtle interactions with women in burkas who made me feel very welcome in their city. (You can read about my experiences here.)


When we booked tours in Mexico City and Michoacán a few years ago, we were alone with the tour guide. Tourists were so afraid to visit Mexico that we had our own private tour! Two weeks after we left Michoacán, an navy admiral was ambushed and killed on the highway. (You can read our Michoacán post here!)


Before our 2016 Guatemala trip, Dan told me that www.insightcrime.org located our hotel in a zone where La Marasalvatrucha, the infamous drug gang, operate.

Also, we were planning a trip to Tikal to see the Mayan pyramids. But Tikal is in a tropical zone, and the Zika virus scare had just begun. Some airlines had announced that they were willing to cancel bookings to the most dangerous destinations.

Chupan
We saw this billboard in Guatemala City: “They freeload while you pay the bill”

We went to Guatemala and had such a good time in this interesting country that we promised ourselves that we would return. (You can read about our adventures in Guatemala here!)


Like many news stories, these turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Yes, there are dangers, but you know what?

😮 In New York at that time, gang members were cutting some pedestrians’ faces!

😮 That March, New York City announced that they had registered 18 cases of Zika virus.

😮  And if you still think you might be safer wrapping yourself under the covers and staying in bed, two years ago a construction crane fell and crashed into a building below, killing a woman who was in bed sleeping.


So, before planning your trip, perhaps you’d like to update yourself of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world or check out where were the world’s most devastating earthquakes in the past decade, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, look at the TripAdvisor forums and communicate with other travelers who have visited your destination. Sign into Instagram and follow people from all over the world to see how normal their lives are. Then get on a plane and go! Go with your eyes wide open and see the world as it really is. Stay alert to the dangers and don’t take unnecessary risks. “Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Sunday Stills: Furry Friends & Future (2-in-1)

I have had a two week blogging break but I’m hoping I am back to blogging now (and reading my friends’ blogs) with a combined “Furry friends” and “Future” post!

I am always busy but I’ve been very distracted Instagram and by my dog Coco’s back left leg. I was walking him one day and all of a sudden he barked and then sat on the sidewalk. I had to carry him home.

I thoroughly checked his paw, thinking something got stuck in it, but I couldn’t find anything. The next day, our vet told us he tore the ligaments in his knee and would require surgery.

We had noticed that he would fall once in a while, but with all the running around, we didn’t think it was anything serious. I guess we weren’t paying enough attention.

I changed his diet to a vegetarian diet, full of sweet potatoes to ease the swelling. His leg isn’t perfect, so he still limps and falls sometimes, but he’s walking a lot and even runs sometimes. He’s so full of energy. Fortunately we never allowed him to become overweight, which would have put a lot more stress on his fragile legs.

He walked for an hour this night

Was the vet wrong that he needed surgery? I don’t know. Only time will tell…

Some of us are full of optimism for what the future holds and others are full of pessimism. Some people live for the weekends and others are waiting for retirement… but we don’t know what’s ahead for us, even just five minutes ahead. Coco’s problem came suddenly. The time to find happiness is now. Of course this wasn’t my grand awakening and I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before. It’s just another reminder with an example attached.

So hopefully I can get my interest back into blogging and I promise to catch up on everyone’s posts.)

And I hope you participate in the Sunday Stills Challenge!

Sunday Stills: Embrace (Plus, A Brief history of NYC That You Never Knew)

The NYC skyline

Welcome to Terri’s Photo Challenge: Sunday Stills! This weeks them is Embrace.

I embraced New York City, my home for the past 20 years! In this post I will tell you briefly an important story of NYC that you never knew!

 

At one time, New York City consisted only of Manhattan island. Brooklyn was its own city too, but it was much smaller than it is today. Queens was made of many separate towns.

The old railway tracks by the river

Ferries brought merchandise to the water fronts where the merchandise was transferred to trains.

So How And Why Did All Of The Towns And Cities Unite?

Brooklyn was incorporating many of the surrounding towns and growing fast. However, Chicago was growing very fast and was in a position of becoming the largest city in the United States. This meant that the largest corporations might move to Chicago, causing a collapse in New York City real estate prices.

The NYC skyline

The decision to incorporate into New York City was left to a vote by all of the surrounding towns and cities. The results were so close, but after millions of Brooklyn votes were counted, the yes vote won… by just 277! If Brooklyn hadn’t recently incorporated the neighboring towns of Bushwick and Williamsburg, the results would have been very different, since people in these two towns voted overwhelmingly in favor of becoming part of NYC. Some people stilll call this The Great Mistake of 1898! Only the town of Yonkers voted no, and it remains its own town, just north of the Bronx.

We went to the Long Island City waterfront on Friday night to take photos for this post 😉 Of course, Long Island City was its own city, although it’s now part of Queens.

The Bowery Boys do a fun podcast about New York City, full of interesting facts and highly entertaining stories!


Upcoming Themes

May 20 Recreational
May 27 Aroma

Tartines: Delicious, Healthy, Simple to Prepare

I had never even heard of a tartine before being seated in the restaurant Le Pain Quotidien last July. The restaurant had been highly recommended by two Insta-friends: Claudia, who visited one in Mexico City and Preethi, who visited one in Madrid. Preethi told us we could go to a right here in New York City!

You can read my review of Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidien: Affordable Gourmet Dining in the Heart of Manhattan

The text-only menu left us wondering what these tartines were so we Googled images and wow, they looked delicious!

Lunch table at Le Pain Quotidien restaurant
The tartine I ordered is in the top-left corner of the photo.

The word tartine means “a piece of bread with a sweet or savory topping”. 75% of French people eat tartines for breakfast, but these are basically just a slice of baguette with butter and jelly spread on top. More complex tartines are eaten later in the day and this is where they become interesting. A tartine is simple to prepare, but the ingredients have to taste great together is the art.

Delicious! Healthy! Simple to prepare at home!


The tartine I prepared is pictured above, made with multigrain bread (toast it a little to make it firm enough to support the ingredients on top), prosciutto, home-made mozzarella, watercress, basil pesto and dried tomato pesto, and finally, avocado. I also sprinkled … Add balsamic oil and voila, your tartine is ready to serve!

My tartines were as delicious as they look, and they left my family asking when we would have them again!

The one pictured at the top of this post was similar but with a few variations. The store-bought chips have rosemary added and were fried in olive oil.

Preparation time: 10 minutes! What could be better!

Tartines On The Road Or At Your Table

A tartine is a perfect choice if you’re traveling in France since they are quick, they will fill you up and they won’t cost you a huge amount of money. In fact, these became popular in France for just that reason, according to Chez bonne femme. People everywhere need a quick bite to eat.

If you’re not traveling to France, prepare them at home. There are plenty of tartine recipes online, if you need help choosing the right ingredients. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. My tartine above was delicious, even though my Insta-friend Nancy pointed out that I should have add some balsamic oil. Next time…

Tip! Make yesterday’s leftovers look more beautiful today!

You will not be disappointed! If you make them, let me know how they came out…

Book Review: The Lost City Of The Monkey God

The rainforest in Tikal, Guatemala

The Lost City of the Monkey God, written by National Geographic correspondent Douglas Preston, is a story of exploration into an unexplored territory in Honduras, as a special team set out in search of a lost indigenous city. No one even knew if it really existed but everyone believed that no one would ever return if they did find it. It was believed to be somewhere deep in the densest part of the rain forest.

The rainforest in Tikal, Guatemala
The jungle in Tikal, Guatemala (my photo) is a few hundred miles from the reserve in Honduras. You have to be careful when you walk because there are still many stone platforms buried under the vegetation and it’s easy to trip over them.

For centuries, explorers had tried to find this lost city. The difference this time was a cutting-edge technology called LIDAR: laser pulses that measure a range of distance. The technology was so new that when it broke and they called the company, the engineer troubleshooted the equipment and decided that the motherboard had to be replaced. Only two existed in the world and cost $100,000. The engineer boarded a commercial plane to Honduras to hand deliver the part… only to have the airline lose his luggage!

Preston and the team encountered more than even they expected:

  • Venomous 5 to 6-foot fer-de-lance snakes that easily camouflage themselves on the ground and in trees. Some attack by falling out of trees.
  • Sandflies that bite hard and deposit parasites under your skin. In Venezuela, I saw similar parasites removed with a chewing tobacco called chimo, which was heated, applied to the skin and then torn off quickly.

Other threats were drug traffickers and jaguars.


“We were in a place that did not want us and where we did not belong”

| The author Douglas Preston says |


Malaria was not a problem since it is spread by mosquitos between humans, and there hadn’t been humans in this area for 500 years.

The book also looks at how disease caused this civilization to quickly vanish, a common theme in Central America. Cortez’ army of 500, which defeated over a million Aztecs, had a lot of help from small pox. Many times throughout the Caribbean and Central America, Spanish explorers and invaders discovered cities full of decomposing bodies.

tree-nature-forest-branch-plant-flower-903981-pxhere.com
This photo (not mine) is under the creative commons license

The final sections of the book talk about the parasite Leishmaniasis, which affects the poorest billion people all over the world. The author was invaded by this parasite without hope of recovery.

Preston talks about the irony of how so many indigenous Americans died because they did not have any immunity against European diseases, and how a parasite from the Americas invaded him and everyone else on his team. Only the Honduran team member was able to fight off the parasite without any medical treatment.

Now, leishmaniasis is spreading into the United States and Europe. Due to global warming, the host sandflies have greater range.


I have always loved the magazine (which I read in Spanish growing up) but I never understood what went into some of these explorations.

Preston returned to the Honduran rain forest, this time with a National Geographic photographer. He asked his colleague why he came, having seen the dangers here. The photographer told him that his job was to capture these images, despite the dangers.


For a brief taste of this book, you can read Preston’s National Geographic article, which was breaking news at the time, published before his book had been written.


Of course, the book is much more enjoyable. You’ll hear the wild stories of danger, bravery and skill, you’ll learn that the first thing to do if your LIDAR technology dies on you…. is to unplug it and plug it back in! You’ll read about Harrison Ford’s conservation push in Honduras. You’ll start to piece together this group of indigenous people and understand their relationships to the Maya and other nearby groups.

If this type of book interests you, Preston’s style of reportage will not disappoint. Try the (non-affiliate) links below, or just Google: The Lost City of the Monkey God.


Audible.com

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Amazon.com

The Lost City of the Monkey God

You can read about my adventures in Tikal, the ancient Maya city in the Guatemalan rain forest, with this link below:

Tikal: The Ancient Maya City