Winding Down

It's been almost a month since I last wrote about our travels.  We've been on the move since we left Stockholm on the 2nd of July, spending time in Slovenia, Venice, the Côte d'Azur of southern France, and now the Côte des Basques of southwestern France and northern Spain.  And in just three days, we will board a plane back to the United States.  I feel conflicted about returning home; I am simultaneously thrilled to settle into our home and our life and already nostalgic for this time we've had together and the places we've visited.  I still have a long list of cities I'd like to visit, beaches where I'd like to surf, and sights I want to see and I have to remind myself that just because we are going home now doesn't mean we are done traveling and having adventures.  Truthfully, my desire to be home far outweighs my interest in traveling more, but I recognize how much harder it is to disentangle oneself from jobs and obligations to make a trip of any length happen and know that the utter freedom we have now is rare. 

The view from Mt. Stol in Slovenia, on the Austria-Slovenia border.

The view from Mt. Stol in Slovenia, on the Austria-Slovenia border.

Europe has been the ideal place to wrap up our travels.  It feels both culturally different and therefore interesting, but also easy to navigate because customs and ways of life are similar to those in the United States, plus often people speak English (and Rob is fluent in French and we both speak some Spanish).  After being in cities for most of May and June, Slovenia was a welcome change to being surrounded by dramatic mountains and stunning lakes.  We stayed for four nights near Lake Bled and were fortunate enough to find childcare at a hotel kid's center that Blythe loved.  Rob and I were thus free to tackle challenging hikes and see more of the country.  Swimming in the lake itself was such a treat at the end of each day, plus we had two dear friends from Denver join us; spending time with them made us all the more ready to be home.  I don't think we would have visited Slovenia had our friends not suggested it, but we really fell in love with the country and the people (and the Cheese Trail, a subject for another post).  

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

The Grand Canal, Venice

The Grand Canal, Venice

We drove from Lake Bled to Venice, which was an unremarkable drive and an odd way to arrive in Venice.  You can't actually drive into the heart of the city so we dropped our rental car off with a random man from the rental car company who met us at a street corner.  We were trying to unload our car with the Italian police telling us to stop blocking the lane and various cars honking at us (in 90+ degrees temperatures, with Blythe wanting to run all over the place, and with lots of luggage).  Luckily, the drop off point was close to the vaporetto (the Venetian water buses), which we caught and rode down the Grand Canal to our hotel.  I was awestruck by the entire city of Venice.  At every turn, you encounter another building, facade, sculpture, or detail that seems incredible enough to belong in a museum.  We meandered the canals and walked for hours, rode a vaparetto to Murano, visited a few playgrounds, ate delicious pasta and gelato, and soaked up everything the city has to offer.  I was apprehensive about visiting Venice with Blythe since it isn't particularly kid-friendly, we visited during peak season, and it was quite hot, but I fell in love with the city and was reminded of how much I love Italy and want to spend more time there.

Venice from St. Mark's Campanile in Piazza San Marco

Venice from St. Mark's Campanile in Piazza San Marco

From Venice, we made our way to the town of Ramatuelle, just outside of Saint Tropez.  We stayed in a charming villa with two pristine swimming pools that we mostly had to ourselves.  Various beaches were a short drive away, as were a number of quaint French towns.  We spent a day at the famous Plage de Pampelonne and treated ourselves to a visit to a "beach club" called Cabane Bambou.  It was actually a lovely way to spend a day - comfortable lounge chairs, umbrellas, iced coffee and pina coladas, a calm beach perfect filled with other children (and their beach toys), an incredible restaurant, and people to chat with.  We met a few Americans, including one who mentioned coming to Saint Tropez regularly because she has "clients" here.  I was dying to know more -- who are these clients and what does she do?  We hiked to the end of Cap Taillat one day where we swam, ran, and searched for sea glass, and also enjoyed the public beach right near our villa, Plage de l'Escalet.  We extended our stay by one night and we would have loved to stay longer -- this is an area of France we'll visit again.

The view from Cap Taillat, France

The view from Cap Taillat, France

Saint Tropez, France

Saint Tropez, France

Our last long drive was from Ramatuelle to Biarritz with an afternoon in Aix-en-Provence (where Rob has been many times for work) and a night in Montpellier (where Rob lived for a semester in college).  The landscape was dotted with red-roofed French towns surrounding a church and fields of sunflowers that I was dying to photograph (all seem to be inaccessible, unfortunately). The terrain changed from desert-like to much greener as we approached the coast.  Biarritz is about 45 minutes north of San Sebastian near the Spain-France border.  It's a charming town filled with white-washed homes with colorful shutters, winding, narrow streets, and stunning beaches right in the city.  It's a bit busier than I like for a beach town, but centrally located and perfect for exploring the region and a place relatively few Americans seem to visit.  We spent a day in Hossegor and fell in love with the laid-back surf town vibe, the delicious sushi, and the less crowded beaches (filled with naked people, I might add, and not just topless).  All I can think when I see completely nude sunbathers is that  hope they use a lot of sunscreen -- oh, and Rob and I had a chuckle thinking about what a tourist from Japan would think if they stumbled upon a "naturaliste" beach in France.  We've had a few beach days near Biarritz and also did a day trip to San Sebastian, where we explored the old town, rode a carousel with Blythe, and treated ourselves to pintxos and sangria as one does in Spain.  

la plage de vieux port in Biarritz

la plage de vieux port in Biarritz

The dunes in Hossegor

The dunes in Hossegor

We'll enjoy our last few days at the beach, spend a day and night exploring Bilbao, Spain, and then fly to Boston to see family and friends.  We are both starting to think about our job searches, activities to plan for when we return home, and have scheduled a few dates to see friends.  It's actually really exciting to think about what is next, even while holding on to these last few days of our adventure.