I am leaving you, but will for sure never forget you

New Year

From the first day you changed my life. 

From the very beginning, you made “my reality” collapse. My life plans, my future and the many projects I had in mind … What seemed to be an everlasting truth simply vanished. That was my first lesson.The first of a long list.

Thanks to you, I grew a personality even stronger than the one I already had. I learnt to bounce back and find quick solutions to dilemmas I had never thought about before.

Thanks to you I grew up. I discovered the world and visited places I had not considered going to, such as Serbia or Montenegro.

Thanks to you, I got back my passion for adventures and living new experiences, including this willingness to cross as many items as possible on my “life list”.

Thanks to you I realized what love is about: family love, friendships, kind words, daily attentions and care. It is about areas that are most of the time more meaningful, reliable and rewarding than a romance.

Thanks to you, I met amazing people I now call « friends » and saw long term friendships becoming « family ».

Thanks to you I made one of my biggest dreams come true whilst 3 years ago I thought there was little to no chance for it to happen.

When I thought I had been through a wide range of emotions, if not a roller coaster …came Mid-November. This is when I experienced my first adult sorrow. When I felt at the same time : sadness, impossibility to explain or understand what was happening, and yet I felt hope. Indeed, those tears were full of hope: knowing that eventually love will triumph.

When December came, I stopped and stepped back to reflect on what has just happened in a year… 52 weeks… 365 days. A year that passed by in the blink of an eye.

Little did I know when I was celebrating your arrival, that I was about to enter into an experience that would rock my world, and start the first day of the rest of my life.

2015 .. I am leaving you, but will for sure never forget you.

Never.

Picture is mine

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Je te quitte … mais jamais ne t’oublierai

New Year

Tu as changé le cours de ma vie. Dès les premiers jours.

Tu as fait s’effondrer en quelques secondes des certitudes qui semblaient jusqu’à lors inébranlables. Ce fut ma première leçon.

Tu m’as appris à me forger un caractère encore plus fort qu’il ne l’était déjà. Grâce à toi, j’ai appris à rebondir, à trouver des solutions rapides à des dilemmes auxquels je n’avais pas pensé il y a un an de ça.

Tu m’as fait grandir. J’ai découvert le monde et visité des pays où je n’aurais jamais imaginé me rendre un jour. Ce fut le cas pour la Bosnie et le Monténégro.

Tu m’as donné l’envie et l’opportunité de vivre des expériences insolites, parmi lesquelles figurent ces «  life list moments » que je répertorie au fil des mois.

Tu m’as appris que le mot aimer ne s’applique pas seulement à la sphère romantique, mais aussi à la famille, aux amis, aux paroles, aux gestes d’affections et aux petites attentions du quotidien qui en disent long.

Grâce à toi, j’ai rencontré des personnes fantastiques que je peux appeler aujourd’hui  “amis”, et j’ai vu des amitiés de longue date devenir “famille”.

Tu m’as permis de réaliser un de mes rêves les plus chers sur lequel j’avais fait une croix il a 3 ans de ça.

Et quand je pensais avoir déjà vécu un large éventail d’émotions, s’en vint mi-novembre. Je t’ai alors livré mon premier chagrin d’adulte. Je revois couler le long de mes joues des larmes lourdes, des lames chaudes et salées. Des larmes d’incompréhension et de douleur. Mais aussi des larmes d’espoir où l’on se dit que malgré tout, l’amour triomphera.

Décembre arriva. Je pu enfin contempler le chemin parcouru en 12 mois, …52 semaines … 365 jours. Bref, en une année qui vient de s’écouler en un clin d’œil.

J’ignorais qu’au moment même où je célébrais ton arrivée, embrassant mes proches, je m’apprêtais à entrer dans une année qui allait me donner l’opportunité de commencer le premier jour du reste de ma vie.

2015 … Je te quitte … sur la pointe des pieds et du cœur, mais jamais ne t’oublierai.

Jamais.

Vidéo Sur les pointes par Allain Leprest. 

Picture is mine 

I believe I can fly : Bristol Balloon Fiesta

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If you tell people you live in UK or England, chances are that you will hear the traditional list of cliche used to depict this part of the world :

  • The bad weather and the rain ( .. well – not too far from reality)
  • The wrong legend that British food is not good and limited to Fish & Chips, Roast beef. UK actually has a lot of great food and recipes and I would need a full post to talk about all of them.

UK is also too often “reduced” to :

  • The city of London, Edinburgh, Manchester / Liverpool  if you are a fan of football
  • Queen Elizabeth, Kate Middleton, Harry and William and all the Royal family
  • Home of Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Shakespeare … you name it

All this to say that in the South West of England, there is a lovely city called Bristol which has A LOT to offer to put an end to the cliche people may have about England ( besides the rain thing … Yes – I must admit that quite often, it is pouring in Bristol).

Bristol is home to a great arts and overall culture scene, lovely food, cute coffee shops and summer/ spring festivals. From May until September, when the nice days kick-in, you will be able to find a festival pretty much every week-end. One that I particularly enjoy is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta that happens every year in August, in Ashton Court*. If you like Hot Air Balloon or want to spend a nice week-end with family and friends, this festival is for you, so make sure to spend few hours there if you are around.

What is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta?

It is an international Festival, featuring several hundreds of flights of Hot Air Balloons, and welcoming thousands of visitors over 3 days. On top of the balloons flights, the festival features 2 night glows, and a firework on the Saturday night. ( See the video of the night glow)

There is also a Fairground with lots of attractions for kids and adults. You will find wine and local food stands, local music talents. Long story short, everyone should be able to find attractions to be entertained during this festival.

The Bristol Balloon Fiesta is free and open to public.

It goes without saying that if you want to fly during the Balloon Fiesta, you would have to book in advance your flight. Note that prices to fly during this event are (for me) excruciatingly high compared to the prices that are practiced the rest of the year.

For me the best way to enjoy this festival is to go to Ashton Court in the mid-afternoon on Saturday, to enjoy a nice picnic with friends until the night kicks in, so you can see the night glows and the firework.

My advice if you want to go to the Balloon Fiesta :

Access by car is NOT recommended. There will be hundreds of cars and if you want to avoid being stuck for 2 hours to do less than 3 kms… avoid taking the car ( especially to leave after the firework, I REALLY do not recommend it.) There are buses services arranged for the event, and if you can come by foot – it is for me the best option.

Be prepared to see A LOT of people around. If you are with kids, or buggies : this may be a bit of a challenge. However, you do not need to go to Ashton Court itself if you want to see the shows or the balloons flying. You can have a great view from Clifton, or the White Lion Terrace  – so depending on your situation and whether you like crowds or not so much – you have several options available to you so you can enjoy this event.

The success of this event relies a lot on the weather:

  • If there is too much wind : balloons will not fly. As the whole point of this festival is to see those hundreds of balloons flying … it can be a bit of a non-event if they are to stay on the ground.
  • If it is rainy, the picnic and event in the park can be a bit challenging ( but not impossible) : back to 2014, it rained pretty much the whole afternoon and night but we were still able to see the night glows and the firework. We were blessed with a nice and dry summer in 2015 and the event was simply great.

Bring cash if you want to buy food or drinks ( but you can also bring your own picnic) , take sunscreen with you : when the sun kicks in, it can be quite strong and you could end up with a nice sunburn if you are not well prepared.

I really like this Festival because for 3 days you will see the Bristol sky full of balloons, which I found very pleasant and “romantic”. I also love to get to the festival on the Saturday afternoon to picnic with my friends  : it is a great moment to be all together, catch up and chill … one of the many little, simple pleasures in life.

If you need any additional reasons to go to Bristol  :

  • The street artist Banksy is said to be from Bristol : you can find a lot of his famous graffiti all over the city, including Naked Man,Mild Mild West, Girl with the Pierced Eardrum … (You can even see more if you walk around or go for the Banksy Tour organized by the city)
  • Bristol is the Europe Green Capital for 2015
  • We have amazing coffee bars, such as Brew, Bristol Coffee House, Spicer & Cole…
  • There are many lovely food places and restaurants which will put an end to the legend saying that UK food is not good or limited to roast beef, fish & chips, jelly puddings …
  • The great singer George Ezra is said to have studied and lived in Bristol for a while,

Ashton Court* :  

Ashton Court is a huge park (850 acres), with gardens, a mansion and many grasslands. There, you can walk, bike (but again I do not recommend you bike during the Balloon Fiesta), bring the kids over to play and enjoy outdoors.There is no admission fee to enter the park (But you may have to pay to take part to events organized at Ashton Court) There is a parking – it costs £1.20 per vehicle per day.

Like a rolling stone ….

like a rolling stone

It was supposed to be a post about Dubrovnik, Croatia and its treasures, but as I laid down my thoughts, it went in a totally different way than initially planned.

Dubrovnik is a charming host. A perfect place for a 3 days break. The narrow streets of the old town are calling you, so you go and get yourself “lost” in the city.

You will wander and discover gardens full of lemons and orange trees; come across the music school and if you are lucky enough you can hear the student playing the piano and rehearsing opera songs; you will stumble upon sleepy lazy cats who have nothing to do but enjoying the heat of the sun.

How nice is it, to have nothing to do but enjoying simple moments of life as they unfold on your path ?!

The Dubrovnik experience would not be complete without enjoying a glass of crisp white wine while doing people watching from a terrace : one of the many definitions of happiness for me. 

Day 2 in Croatia, I ended up having to change my initial exploration plans due to stormy weather. “Ciao” the excursion on the lovely islands : no boats would sail the wavy sea… I therefore used this free time to enjoy even more terraces and people watching. It gave me plenty time to “reflect” upon life, travels and any other topics a “20 and something” years old girl would be interested into.

Whilst the change in my travel plans was definitely not a problem, I could not help drawing a parallel between this and a very recent and sudden personal life change. I tend to be a bit skeptical about influential post on Facebook or other social media, but I realized that one of the most recent I read, stating “Nothing in your life should be taken for granted” was a very wise one.

Plans, promises and commitments deemed to be “unsinkable” can vanish when you expect it the least. The good thing is that most of the time, it is only be for the best – giving us an opportunity to reconsider options and opening our eyes to experiences we would have not have thought about otherwise.

I could not help thinking about Bob Dylan’s song, Like a rolling stone : “How does it feel, To be on your own, Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?”

And what if the answer was: Simply great?

What I’ve learnt since I travel (3)

Greece, santorini village overlooking cruise ships on bay
I cannot believe this is already the third post on “What I’ve learnt since I travel” !

For those of you, who would like to catch up with the 1 and 2, just follow the links 🙂

1. There will be some interesting encounters.

 I remember that day when I arrived in New York for the first time. Right off the plane, I was on my way from JFK to Central New York, hoping to catch the traing from Grand Central. As I was leaving for 3 weeks of business meetings, I had a rather heavy suitcase. When I jumped in the metro, I came across the look of a man which literally scared me. I do not know if it was his size or the toughness in the look, or me completely freaking out as I was lost in the Big Apple. Anyway… All I thought at that time was: “please – God – I hope he will not come or talk to me”. When I got off the metro to get my connection, I was struggling in the stairs. Guess what ! The only person who offered me help was this man. I said a massive thank you and gave a big smile. I know that one should not stop to appearance. I am the first to say it all the time. I guess stress, fatigue and the unknown caught me at that time. I just felt so weird after this interaction, and at the same time thankful for the help he gave me.

Note : It is also very important to be careful especially for women travelling abroad and I am not saying that one should trust and follow the first person met in the street. But that experience just shocked me. As if “someone” tried to send me a “message” from the skies, about not judging.

2, Do not expect everybody to be overly welcoming.

We do not leave in the “Care Bears” world. That is a fact. Even if I believe that most of the human beings on earth are genuinely kind and welcoming, you will come across some who are not. Regardless how bad you try. I remember once when I was in Prague, and that I tried to ask for a bag to a lady at the supermarket till ( she was in her 60’s). As she heard me speaking English, she just threw the bag at my face. I understand there is the weight of the Cold war that can be still on the shoulders of the one who suffered the most from it.

More recently, my boyfriend and I joined a biking event in UK to socialize and workout. As we arrived and introduced us, the guy barely said hi. He did not introduce himself and told us “Argh… You ride mountain bikes?! We are all riding road bikes”…

I am not going to detail the rest of the experience – but we ended up being ditched out of the event (despite paying for it) because we were mountain bikers. Whilst I understand that a road bike is faster than a mountain one, due to the weight…. I was just stunned and disappointed by the absence of effort they made to just welcome, say hi or help us meeting the people in the biking group.

That was a good lesson for me. I tried not to take it personally and in the end I felt for those guys and who decided to ignore us just because of a bike model.

For those moments – if it happens to you, never take it personally and do not try to be smarter than the person you are facing. There is no point in being bitter and mean. Just let them in their own world and go ahead to meet people who deserve it. 

3. That “awkward” greeting moment.

One of the most exciting but a bit “stressful” moment for me is meeting people for the first time. I used to travel a lot for work, so most of the introductions were meant to remain professional.

US folks were very informal and just said “How are you” while not caring of the answer …  I still remember when it happened – I was just “how rude is that person, asking how am I – while not listening the answer?!” until I figured it out with one of my friend on site who got also so upset at it – and then we realized that the American “How are you” is not meant to care of how we were doing but just to greet us. 🙂

For information – if you ask that to a French person like me, or a Latin person, be ready to get a full summary of their reason to be happy and the one that kept them “mad”! 🙂

When I worked in UAE, my male colleague warned me that men will shake his hand but not mine – as a matter of respect , and that as such I shall not take it bad. I am thankful he did, as this avoided me facing embarassing situations, and I had a great time working in Abu Dhabi.

Finally, I still remember my Indian friend, Bala who told me one day he was lost when I would greet him as he did not know how the French greeting way would work: he did not know if he was meant to give the kiss on the cheek or if he has to just kiss “in the air”. That was a very funny conversation we had him and I.

After all those experiences, I just decided that the best way to come ready for the first greeting time is to smile and show your willingness to connect. The technical side of the greeting itself will come naturally.

 And YOU what did you learn since you travelled? I want to know 🙂

Picture is not mine. I found it on Pinterest.

An alternative way of exploring Paris

There are many ways of exploring a place: walking by the streets and getting lost (the best way to explore for me); biking; bus tours (never done but this way does not appeal me too much); or even by simply browsing books or on the internet.

In this post, I’d like to share a video so you can discover a bit of Paris in a “not so usual” way. It is an excerpt from a short movie (“It was a date”) directed by Claude Lelouch, a famous French director.

What a like about it, is that you can see the streets of Paris, empty and calm; and here and there some of the landmark touristic places.

This reminds me when I was living in Paris, in one of the biggest avenue straight on to Place de l’Etoile and the Arch of Triumph. When I was leaving home early enough in the morning, movie makers or photogrpahs were shooting in the streets, when the city was still quiet and clean. It was a nice way to start the day… before jumping in the crowded Metro and spend 8 hours in the office.

I hope you will enjoy it!

“Home is where the heart is”

Home is where the heart is

Over the past years of intense travels, the most frequent questions I’ve been asked is “Where’s home? ”. Believe me or not, some days, I was not sure anymore about the answer.

Is home France? Where I was born, where my family lives….

Is home UK where my boyfriend has been living and waiting for me?

As tough I can be about France, it is HOME. I was born in France. My family lives in France. The love for food and life I have definitely come from France. My native language is French and France is home for many other reasons I listed here.

Last year, as I put an end to my crazy glob trotting life, I finally “settle down” in Scotland. Meaning : lived at the same place for more than 6 months in a row. Even if the transition to a calmer pace was a bit of an adjusment for the first months… I liked it! Seven months later and dozens of cardbox and suitcases packed and un-packed –  we ended up in Bristol, UK. I guess the Skies did not want me to settle down too fast ! 🙂 And surprisingly enough, after less than 2 months in Bristol, I told myself “this could be home too.”

Is this something I should feel bad about? In times I miss France, I would probably say – yes. But for all the other days, I embrace the duality and ambiguity of where “home” is for me and when the “where is home” question comes, I proudly say “I am French but live in UK”. As if I could not dissociate both “homes”.

I was recently browsing books and came across a quote from Pliny the Elder, which is the nicest and most poetic way of putting words on the way I feel today: “Home is where the heart is”.

There could be as many “home” as places one feels linked to…Isn’t life lovely ?

My love letter to London

Some encounters can change a lifetime, whether it is a person, a place, an experience. London troubled my senses and will be forever part of my memories. But the same way it can take time for some friendship or love stories to take shape and reach a “serious stage”, the way I feel about London did not happen effortlessly.

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The first time I came to London, I was around 12. Our English teacher was brave enough to embark across the Channel with a group of over excited teenagers. What I remember from this visit was: the 99 ice creams, Top Shop from Oxford Street, and the Speakers corner in Hyde Park. I cannot recall if the superficiality of my memories was due to a lack of attention (too busy flirting at the back of the bus), or if it is because we only spent half a day in the city. I do not think one would be able to clarify this mystery but I can live with it. 🙂

9 years after this expedition, my mum and family offered me a 5 days trip to London. I will always recall I cried when opening the envelop and founding about the present.

London

This second trip to London was great. Despite being panicked at the idea of speaking English with TRUE native speakers, I very much enjoyed the city and to finally explore it as it should be: Feeling the magic of Covent Garden, feeding squirrels in Hyde Park, walking in the colourful streets of Camden town and getting lost in Stable Market. Going to check Harrods’, stopping at Notting Hill gate, walking along the mall to see Westminster, saying hi to Big Ben, singing “Dancing Queen” during the Mama Mia show in Leicester Square… At that point I did not know this would be the beginning of an everlasting passion for this city.

3 years later, I was given the opportunity to work and live in London. This time was the one.

London is the city where I fell truly madly deeply in love, and in that same city, I also learnt that love and growing up hurt even more than what an early 20’s year old would think,

London is the city where people in the Tube do not give you the death look if you stumble upon them as you lose balance when the train moves,

London is the city where people know how to party hard: dancing all night, laughing out loud, drinking too much, feeling alive,

London is a city where streets are noisy, where people regroup in front of the pubs as soon as nice days are back, drinking Pimm’s from time to time,

London is city where you can hear English spoken with 10 different accents, making it an international but somehow exotic place to hang out,

London is the city where buses are red, cabs are black, and parks yellow when daffodils suddenly spring in April…

London is a city where being different can set itself as a “way of life, “

London is the city where one still feel the effervescence of the 70’s and 80’s when rock bands were true ambassadors of sex drugs and rock’n roll…

London is the only city that makes my heart beats faster as soon as I my feet touch its ground,

London is a city that made me grow up, the city which taught me what love and life are about,

London rocked my life. London is a king of magic.There can be only one…

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Credit and copy rights for the pictures are mine,

Scotland landscapes are not only made of 50 shades of grey

Among the list of adjectives one could define Scotland; many people like to call it “rainy”, “grey”, “cold”.

After living on and off in Scotland for more than a year, I confirm about the rain, but I would not reduce this country to its “challenging” weather.

Scotland is a country where nature rules. Offering amazing landscapes, whether you go on the country side and get lost in the mountains, or close to the sea shores. Those little gems are not generally visible right away. They reveal themselves to the curious and adventurous one.

In today’s post, I am introducing you one of this adorable places: Saint Andrews.

Saint Andrews, besides being THE Sacred place for golfers (and the place where Prince William the Duke of Cambridge studied)  – is a tiny lovely town set up nearby the sea. I particularly like the walking path extending along the beach, making it the perfect place to go as an after brunch walk, for example.

What makes the charm of Saint Andrews is the harmony of the buildings, the Roman architecture and the streets layout, making it a tiny cosy town. In Saint Andrews you can find multiple shops and boutique to keep you busy for an afternoon, ranging from local coffee shops to bigger international brands.

Saint Andrews – host of one of the most prestigious golf resorts – offers a range of hotels with amazing Spa amenities, massages, and other pampering services.  

For all the above reasons, I would definitely recommend this city for a week-end escape, to relax and get refreshed.

On top of it, Saint Andrews has amazing landscapes.

Saint Andrews is green. Bright green.

The green of the priory welcoming the ruins of the Saint Andrew Catholic Cathedral. A vestige of what is known to have been the largest church built in Scotland

The green of the golf courses, welcoming each year thousands of passionate golfers, whose dream is to put a foot on the Old Course or to simply visit the town hosting one of the most prestigious golf tournament:

Sain Andrew

Saint Andrew is blue. Deep blue.

A deep dark blue result of the waves shaking the sea,

A deep bright blue when nature is good willed and let us enjoy a clement weather

Saint Andrew is a city that makes one realizes the high potential of wonders in Scotland, and confirm that Scotland landscapes are not only made of 50 shades of grey.

Sain Andrew 2

Credit/Copy rights for the pictures are MINE

The secret life of Walter Mitty….

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It would not be true if I were telling you I always run after planes. It also happens I stay at home, having low key week ends. I recently took the opportunity to go to the cinema and one of the movies I watched was The Secret life of Walter MItty, by Ben Stiller.

The movie trailer was smartly made and immediately caught my attention:
– Sean Penn is part of the casting,
– The trailer made me thought the movie is about travels and adventures,
– There was something which reminded me of Love actually somehow: the possibility of a love story despite heroes with life, personality and destiny that were not meant to cross.

Before going for a movie, I tend to read about the plot but never the critics. I want to be able to make my own opinion.This proved to be a good idea for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as the movie got overall average critics and ratings.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie I struggled to opine one. 20 minutes after the movie began, I asked myself whether I liked it or not. Then the alchemy (I guess) or the American “block buster magic powder” made the rest. I was lightly charmed with the plot – mainly because it involves travels.

To me, Ben Stiller did a great job to capture the emotions and the beauty of landscapes, with a very special mention for Iceland and Nepal. As we spent a charming 5 days stay in Iceland last year, scenes were filmed in a way one could almost hear the “noise of silence” of the Icelandic landscapes. That same silence we experienced when taking a road trip within the Pingvellir park, during the Golden Circle adventure. (I will make a post about Iceland in the coming weeks – as this country is simply GORGEOUS and full of surprises)

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Music and songs were brilliantly picked, making a perfect match between landscapes, scenes, and feelings. I particularly loved Space Oddity by David Bowie and Kristen Wiig. It felt as if someone came through the screen, picked my hand and took me to Walter Mitty’s world. At that point I realized I would start to like the movie.

Where the movie can be challenged is about the “too much fantasy” arising in some situations : a bit over the top and simply not possible in real life. Those were the instances where I asked myself If it was a good pick or just a “goofy” movie.

What I did not know is that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is originally a book, and that there is an expression called “The Walter Mitty Syndrom”, used to describe people – often intellectual – who indulge in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs. So this may well be an excuse to these goofy scenes….After all – Ben Stiller is not known to be an actor playing the register of Pedro Almodovar nor Woody Allen’s…. (Zoolander, Dodgeball and Meet the parents speak for themselves.)

Anyway, it was a very nice time and I was pleased when the friend I invited to come with mentioned even a week we saw the movie, that she really liked it.

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Leaving you with the Space Oddity song….

Copy rights for the picture of Icelan Pingvelir are MINE ! 🙂

The picture of The Secret Life of Waler Mitty was found on the site chicagonow.com