France 2021

Back to Europe.  It had been 5+ years…definitely longer than I would have guessed back in 2016.  As detailed, we had a trip to Spain and Portugal planned for 2017, but that ended up getting canceled with the house project. 

After wrapping up the house, we owned two houses for a while – not exactly an ideal factor for international vacations.  Then Covid happened. 

In actuality, this trip wasn’t even supposed to be a trip to Europe.  It was initially an attempt to reschedule our Japan vacation planned for fall 2020, which was canceled because of Covid and ended up being the California/Texas trip.

Mid-summer, it became evident that Japan would again not be happening.  That was ok, as we now had far more options as alternatives.  We considered a couple options and itineraries, but ended up with France.  We actually had planned to conclude the trip in San Sebastian (instead of Nice) up until roughly a month before we departed, but too many flight cancellations made that not feasible…and likely for the better.

On that topic, planning with Covid was really not much of an issue except for one thing – flights.  Really, it probably made things like reservations easier to come by.  We did have to obtain the France Covid “Pass Sanitaire” – which was slow, but otherwise painless. 

Flights, on the other hand, were a moving target.  Initially, we were booked in both directions on the British Airways MSY-LHR direct flights.  They were canceled, then the replacements were canceled.  I ended up lucking into two saver Air France business class flights there (MSY-ATL-CDG) and booked those by transferring AMEX membership rewards points to Air France.  On the return, our flights were booked with AA miles.  Once the initial flights were canceled, they give you a much wider selection on AA flights (not other carriers though).  So, we ended up on American Airlines in business class connecting in London on the return (NCE-LHR-MIA-MSY).

Why France?  It made sense given the timeframe and given the fact that it would be just Alyce and I (because of the wine-ing and fine dining).  Plus, all of these locations had been on our list of places to go for a while – in fact we had planned to go to several in our initial France 2016 itinerary.  On the specific stops…

Paris – Paris is one of both of our favorite cities.  There are endless dining options, from the highest of high end to causal bistro fare.  The public transportation is fantastic, and there are plenty of interesting things to see.  Plus, Alyce was pregnant the last time we were in Paris, so she missed out on some things.

Initially, we were going to spend 5 nights in Paris.  However, we lost a night to flight cancellations, and I cut a night to make Champagne a stop rather than a day trip (the other night came from Burgundy).  We ended up with 3 nights in Paris.

Champagne – as mentioned, this was initially going to be a day trip from Paris, but that did not seem to do the area justice.  We turned it into a 2 night stop.

Burgundy – we were going to spend 4 nights in Burgundy in our 2016 trip.  We made some changes, and I’ve been wanting to make to Burgundy since then.  Plus, Burgundy wines are some of favorites – if not our #1.  I was considering 4 nights here initially, but we ended at 3.

Northern Rhone – we planned 3 nights in the Northern Rhone…though at multiple locations within the region.  This is another premier wine region of the world, so wine and food would again be the focus.

Nice – Nice was a stop I’ve wanted to make for a while, but we were going to initially fly from Lyon to San Sebastian because of how much we enjoyed San Sebastian on our 2016 trip.  Flight cancellations made that too much of a headache, but this itinerary was really what it should have been anyway.  We concluded the trip with 4 nights in Nice.

Traveling was relatively simple in that we’d fly into Paris, rent a car, drive to Nice, and fly out from there.  No trains, additional flights, etc.

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Hawaii 2021

Hawaii had always been out there as an option, but I had never given it serious thought for a vacation until I had to scramble to plan our fall 2020 vacation.

Why not?  I don’t really know.  It is far and generally not cheap, but that hasn’t stopped us for other destinations.  Maybe it was less exciting and exotic being a US state?

Regardless, it was our leading option for the fall 2020 trip for a while, and it seemed like an fun place to travel.  I wanted to make it work at some point.  I was also confident that James would enjoy it.

I decided to look at it for a late spring trip in 2021.  I was somewhat confident it would be open for travel by spring 2021.  We were hemmed in by James’s kindergarten graduation and trying to make my family’s beach vacation on the other side.  So, we did not have a large window and settled on late May.

I found United Airlines flight awards (only available in economy) and booked three round trips with Turkish miles.  Yes, Turkish miles.  They are a star alliance airline and have an award price of 15,000 miles roundtrip for anywhere in the US (including Hawaii).  That meant all three of our flights to Hawaii were just 45,000 miles.  A ridiculous bargain.

That said, it’s a pain.  You have to email several Turkish centers and wait for a response.  Then you have to submit a form and hope everything goes smoothly while the award space is available.  If you succeed, you prize is an award at about 35% – 40% of the cost of using United Miles.

Hand-in-hand with the flight award was finding award space at the Andaz in Maui.  I had hyatt points and a suite upgrade that I wanted to use, and the Andaz was an excellent hotel by all accounts.  They do play games with award space, but I was able to get a room for the dates we wanted.

That led to picking out the stops.  I knew we wanted to do Maui and Kauai from previous research and feedback.  The only other stop I seriously considered was working in the big island, but 2 stops was good with only 10 nights.

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Roatan 2021

I’ll do a quick recap of our family trip to Roatan – mostly with pictures.  I do not have a ton to report on the day to day.  It was mostly diving, snorkeling, eating, drinking, and relaxing.

My parents wanted to do our first family vacation since 2005.  They preferred a Caribbean destination with a pool, beach front, snorkeling, A/C…and preferably not obscenely expensive.  My brother and I actually ended up independently finding the house we’d end up renting.

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Monaco

Today, we traveled about 30 minutes to Monaco for lunch. I believe it’s technically another country but there was no border control. We ate at Le Louis XV.

Immediately, I could tell that Monaco is a place for the super rich. It has casinos, yachts, expensive cars, and designer shopping.

Casino de Monte Carlo (some James Bond movies and Oceans Twelve were filmed here)

Lunch was in an absolutely beautiful room, probably the most beautiful we have ever eaten in.

Fish steamed at the table
Butter and olive oil
Justin washing his fingers in rose water before dessert 😂😂
Amazing pear souffle

Everything was wonderful, but I’m happy to be heading home tomorrow. It’s time to return to normal life and normal eating!! It truly was a “finer things” extravaganza.

We spent the rest of the evening packing up. Justin spent quite a long time packing up the wine. He bought a suitcase and got some bubble wrap from the hotel. Hopefully, it all gets home safely!

I’m so ready to see James!!

We have a long travel day tomorrow. We go from Nice to London to Miami to New Orleans. We land at 9pm (New Orleans time)……4am France time.

Covid tests and South African/French Fusion

Today was mostly a low key day, EXCEPT, it was Covid test day. I’ve been anxious about this moment pretty much since we left for the trip. I realize that the chance of us testing positive is extremely unlikely. We have both been vaccinated (Justin about 6 months ago), and I got my booster before we left. However, the thought of having to delay our return home and the commotion the whole thing would cause, was enough to make me freak out (for lack of a better term).

Justin bought 6 self administered (Binax) tests that are monitored via telemedicine. The whole process was fairly easy. You have to create an account and follow the steps, and they walk you through the whole thing.

In his usual fashion, Justin played it calm and collected. I played the opposite role. Luckily, we both got a negative result. A pdf was emailed to us that will be uploaded onto both the British Airways and American Airlines website.

Following the very specific instructions
Swabbing
Negative
Negative….. Thank God

A positive result would have been very surprising. We typically avoid crowds, have spent most of our time in small towns, have been vaccinated, and restaurants don’t let you into without a vaccination or negative treat. Even so, I was still nervous and so very glad that is over with!!

After that, Justin went on a unsuccessful hunt to find wine boxes to check on the plane. This situation is still pending.

Then we walked around the promenade some more and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Checking the water temperature…. not too cold
Pebbles

Dinner tonight was at Jan. A South African/French fusion restaurant. It was so good!! I also loved the music….Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, even the “sister” song from White Christmas. I was feeling it. Although, I have have also been feeling the wine pairing.

My favorite part of the meal was probably the field trip. We walked across the street to another space they own that was set up with a huge cheese, nut, fruit, and bread table.

Tuna Nicoise salad…yep, that’s a salad with a tomato juice drink that was amazing
Pretty sure there was lobster in there
Beef with plums and some other things???
The cheese room 🙌🙌
Cheers to our last dinner

Tomorrow, we go into Monaco for lunch and then time to pack up for a long travel day home!

Nice, day 1

Today was our first day in Nice. It is such a beautiful city and very different from the places we just visited. First, it’s much warmer. People are wearing short sleeved shirts and sandals. It is on the water, although the beach is made of pebbles rather than sand. The town is very lively– plenty of shops, restaurants, and markets.

Old Town Nice
Flowers at the market
olives
Spices

After walking through the town, we walked along the promenade and stopped to have a drink at one of the cafés on the beach.

The water looks very pretty and clear
Pebble beach
Promenade

For dinner, we ate at Mirazur. It was about a 40 minute car ride from the hotel. Justin said that it was voted best restaurant in the world 2 years in a row recently.

They rotate their focus between 4 different “formative forces” linked to different parts of the plant: roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits. I realize how goofy this sounds. Depending on what day you visit the restaurant, the menu will focus on one of those 4 things. We got root.

So, at first I was thinking, oh great, root, that must be the worst one. But, if you think of all the root vegetables, plus potatoes, garlic etc…. it’s a win, I think.

Spring onion tart with alot of caviar
Squid with sweet potato
That is actually carrot infused butter… shaped like a carrot 🤪
Garlic with potato and a ton of caviar underneath (can’t really see)
Duck with red onion

Everything was so delicious. It is definitely in the running for favorite meal of the trip. My only complaint (and this isn’t a knock on the restaurant) is that I don’t like beets. It’s probably the only thing I don’t like. I have tried them so. many. ways! Since beets are a root, there were a few beet elements to the meal that I wasn’t that into. Other than that, I think it was probably my favorite.

Tomorrow, the only thing on the agenda is a dinner at 9pm. Other than that, we will walk around the city some more, and Justin needs to figure out how to get all the wine home that he has bought along the way.

Also, we have to take our Covid tests to get back home. I’m extremely nervous about how all of that is going to go. Apparently, we bought tests that we administer ourselves over a telemedicine appointment.

If anything goes wrong and there is any delay in my return home, I will have a meltdown of epic proportions. Stay tuned for how it all turns out 🤞🤞.

I know I mentioned this in the beginning of the trip, but we had to get an app that we uploaded our vaccination informant onto. It gives a QR code. Everytime we go to a restaurant or museum, we have to get our “pass sanitare” scanned. I believe it is the law in France. Vaccination or negative test to go to many indoor public spaces. There are tents set up on the streets that I saw in Paris and Nice that are administering Covid tests.

Covid test tent in Paris
Covid test tent in Nice

On the road again…..to Nice

Today we left the Rhone area, and all the vineyards, and headed to our final destination on this tour de France. Our last stop is the French Riviera, particularly Nice. It was about a 4 hour drive that we broke up by visiting some cool sights along the way.

Because it’s on the border of Italy, there are alot of Roman influences in this area of France. It is referred to as Gallo-Roman. Although, I’m no authority on ancient history!

The first thing we stopped to see was a Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard. It really is incredible what the Romans were able to achieve. Justin, in particular, appreciated this stop. The sheer engineering of the whole project is mind blowing.

After that we drove to a city called Nimes that has heavy Roman influences. We toured the amphitheater and enjoyed walking around the city a bit.

After Nimes, we drove 3 hours to Nice. Along the way, sign ups for after school clubs opened, and I made sure to sign James up because momming never stops.

I can already tell that Nice is going to have a totally different energy than the other places we have been so far. It’s warmer and seems more alive (potentially more touristy). The little wine towns were, overall, small and quiet. I actually saw someone wearing sandals, which is a first since we have been here. Our hotel is on the water, but it was already dark when we got here so we haven’t seen it yet.

We don’t have a ton planned while we are in Nice (except for a few meals). We will mostly be walking around and visiting the highlights!

The Rhone

So, we have spent the last couple of days mostly going to wine tastings with some yummy meals mixed in!

We visited: Marc Sorrel, M. Chapoutier, Alain Voge, and Franck Balthazar on Monday.

It’s hard to go into detail about each one, but the wines were very good. I especially like visiting the small wineries and meeting the winemakers.

While we were at Marc Sorrel, they suggested going to visit a chocolate factory called Valrhona. I mean, who would say no to that?

Barrel tastings at Marc Sorrel
Chocolate shop
Drinking mushroom tea (non-psychadelic 🤪)

After the wine tastings on Monday, we drove to the restaurant Régis & Jacques MARCON. It is a Michelin restaurant that is based on mushrooms. We stayed in a hotel near the restaurant to avoid having to drive the winding road at night!

On Tuesday, we did multiple other tastings at: Yves Cuilleron, Domaine Rostaing, and  Domaine Gonon.

They were all excellent and, often, the winemaker is the one doing the tasting.

This is a very busy time in the area due to harvest and vinification. It was very nice of them to take time to visit with us.

Tomorrow, we leave for Nice. We are going to stop along the way at different towns. The drive is about 4 hours so it’s going to be a long day.

We will spend 4 nights in Nice then back home!