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Our Trip to France

January 17, 2020

Europe is in our blood. My European grandmother told me once that travelling abroad is enriching and I couldn’t agree more.  All her stories from all over the world kept racing through my mind during our trip to France as well as ones from my mom (she grew up in Brazil) and PJ (he spent a couple months in Italy). It was surreal to be making our own international memories together and bringing back our own stories to share with my grandma from our time in Europe. I don’t think we’ve ever taken so many selfies before, and PJ was the real MVP for helping us navigate abroad like a pro.

It’s still hard to believe I’m writing a recap of our trip to France and that these memories are ours. I am forever humbled that we were given this opportunity to photograph our first European destination wedding this past fall (see the wedding photos here – JC and Emily are such an awesome couple!). Our trip to France was a whirlwind of travel, adventure, and some pretty hilarious stories, so I thought I’d do a day by day recap of some highlights from our time there. There is a mixture of both phone photos and DSLR photos, though it’s mostly phone ones—I was determined to be present and fully enjoy this trip without always being behind my camera!

Any time PJ and I go somewhere, it usually ends up being more of an adventure than we thought, so it was no surprise that this happened each day on our trip (especially on our journey home!). This recap ended up turning into a short novel, but here goes! And you’ll wanna stick around all the way to the end for a video compilation of our adventure!

 

Days One & Two

Goal: fly to Paris and then travel to the Morlaix/Plougonven area where the wedding will take place.

Our red eye flight from Charlottesville to DC to Paris was overall pretty smooth. We were shocked to discover that our airline actually made note of our allergies and provided a great meal for us. I was anticipating having to survive on Larabars for the flight and the rest of our travels to the Brittany area (about 36 hours total), so this was a welcome treat (thank you United Airlines!). I would also like to note that I did NOT get sick from their food (or from any of the food the whole week). Praise the Lord!

Once in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, we made our way to the train station. We honestly were not sure how long navigating the airport as well as getting through customs, baggage, to the train station, etc. would take. So when planning for this trip, we had two options for train tickets. Our plane was scheduled to land around 7am in Paris, so our train ticket options were either for 8:30am or 12:30pm. We chose the latter since we really didn’t think that less than 90 minutes would be enough to accomplish all that we needed to. Amazingly, we actually made it through everything and to the train station by 7:45am! At this point, a five hour wait in the train station with the most crowded and uncomfortable chairs was not looking too appealing, so we attempted to change our tickets to 8:30am. Unfortunately, it was a hefty amount of euros to make this switch, so we chose to just wait it out. We took turns napping from having been up all night, and also got to experience having to pay to use a public restroom. Whoop. Also, PJ kept snagging photos of me falling asleep places, like this one in the train station.

Our train took us to Rennes, and from there we picked up our rental car to drive the rest of the way to Morlaix. About an hour out from our destination, we decided to stop at a local grocery store in one of the towns we were passing through to try to find something that we could eat for dinner. If you didn’t already know this, I am highly allergic to gluten (as well as several other foods), so we knew food would be a hurdle during our time in the Brittany area. So we stopped in an adorable little grocery store to pick up some deli meat, veggies, and chips. After surviving on Larabars for almost 36 hours at this point, “real” food has never tasted so good!

We pulled up into our Airbnb to discover that it was more picturesque, more quaint, and more lovely than we had imagined! (We have a video of the outside of the place, but that’s about it. Though we were hardly there, I regret not remembering to take photos of the outside and inside – it was amazing.) Our hosts (a sweet older couple) only spoke French and greeted us so warmly. Using only grunts and gestures, they were able to show where everything was and how the keys worked. We still chuckle about this exchange. It’s amazing what you can still communicate and understand despite language barriers! At this point it was about 8:30pm, and we crashed hard after a day and a half of nonstop travel. Phew.

 

Day Three

Goal: find more food, explore the coast, and meet up with the bride and groom.

Prior to our trip, I researched grocery stores that had gluten free items, so we located Biocoop, which is a health food grocery store chain in parts of France. Biocoop was a life saver for us, and they had an entire aisle with gluten free items. So so thankful. We then drove to Pointe du Diben in Plougasnou to eat our lunch outside, and lo and behold, there was a stone table waiting there just for us to enjoy our food with an epic view.

We couldn’t eat our food fast enough cause oh man were we ready to explore! Stones, rock formations, rolling hills, cliffs, crashing waves—this coastal spot was a GEM and we could have stayed there all day.

And a bunch of DSLR images from Pointe de Dubin cause this was honestly our favorite part and location of the whole trip.

After exploring, taking photos, and just taking in Pointe du Diben for a couple hours, we made our way back to Plougonven to meet up with our fabulous bride and groom and their families! French countryside homes are not the most well marked, so I am glad to say that we did indeed eventually locate the couple at their venue to hang out and help plan the last few wedding details. From here, we all made our way into Morlaix. The famous Viaduct Bridge runs through this town and was quite surreal to see. Later that night, the whole clan ate a late dinner at an Indian restaurant called Le Taj Mahal where I had the most delicious Palak Paneer, per suggestion of the bride’s mother (who also shares my severe allergy to gluten). Again, we did not get sick at this place, and I am SO very thankful!

 

 

Day Four:

Goal: get JC and Emily MARRIED!

JC and Emily’s wedding day started off with a good amount of rain, and despite having to move the ceremony indoors at the last minute, their wedding day really was incredible, Christ-centered, family-centered, and overall amazing (I won’t go into too many details since you can read the full post here!). The rain did end up dissipating in time for photos—thank you God!

After a full wedding day, we left for our Airbnb in the dark, only to realize that our GPS was not picking up a signal. We thought we remembered the way back through the country roads, but of course everything looks different at night, and yes we did end up getting a bit lost! Thankfully, the signal did eventually pick up and we made it back safely. Our goal was to turn in right away since we had a big day of travel and site seeing ahead of us! I wanted to shower before bed so that we could get an earlier start the next day, and after I did, I went back to the bathroom to braid my hair, but something was there to greet me.

As I was starting my French braid (haha I now realize that it was a complete coincidence that I made a French braid while in France), I suddenly saw out of the corner of my eye a dark shadow swoop by my head. I quickly turned around to see a BAT in the bathroom, so the only thing I could think of to do in that moment was race out of the bathroom, down the hall into our room, and shut the door behind me. PJ calmly looked up at my panting self to ask what was wrong and I relayed what I saw. He grabbed a pillow (what else could we bring for protection?!) and we tip-toed back down the hallway so he could see that it was true. There it was. Oh man!

We knew we had to let our hosts know, and since we could hear that they were still up in the separate part of the house, we knocked on the door. They opened it a little warily since it was late and guests usually keep to themselves. PJ had looked up how to say “there is a bat in the bathroom” in French and showed them the translation. Their eyes got so big and they immediately started freaking out in French when they saw that it was true! We were laughing so hard with the wife as she closed her husband in the bathroom to take care of the bat. So much for going to bed early! Once everything was resolved, we were able to “talk” to them a little about how we were there to photograph a wedding and that we came from Virginia. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. After we said goodnight to the couple, we finally went to bed, still laughing about the bat. I still truly hope it wasn’t there the whole time I showered!

 

Day Five

Goal: do some site seeing on our drive back to Paris.

As planned, we left Plougonven early in the morning so that we could do some site seeing on our way back to Paris all before our rental car was due back. In hindsight, we really didn’t have a sufficient amount of time to pack this all in to fully enjoy it, however, it still worked out and we had a blast!

First stop: Mont Saint Michel (thank you to our dear friends Darren and Michelle for the suggestion!). Mont Saint Michel is a famous castle/abbey that depending on the time of day as the tide goes in and out, appears to float in the ocean. We chose to walk (rather than ride the bus) from the parking lot to Mont Saint Michel since we could see it in the distance. It turns out that Mont Saint Michel is humongous and, therefore, further away than it looks, so 45 minutes later we finally entered the castle! We took the next hour to explore the levels and enjoy the sites (and also to eat some of our food from, you guessed it, another Biocoop that we stopped at during the drive). Again, this is the type of place we could have explored for much longer, but we had a blast here before continuing on our journey!

Next stop: Omaha Beach in Normandy. When I found out that we were not only going to be photographing a wedding in France, but that we would be on the western side, I knew that if at all possible, that we had to drive up to Normandy to see Omaha Beach. And oh man was that heavy. Seeing the beach, hearing the waves and the almost eerie calm—we were choked up. So thankful for the soldiers who gave their lives at this beach to help protect our freedom. Wow. We then went a little further to see the American Cemetery that honors these soldiers. The crosses went on and on and on. Sobering. Again, we could have stayed at these spots all day, but we had to move on. We definitely hope to come back to Normandy again to take the rest of it in.

We made it back to Paris and our hotel, and let me tell you, driving through Paris was one of the scariest things we have ever done! Yikes! But we made it and were more than relieved to get rid of the car to do the rest of our trip by foot or public transportation.

 

Day Six

Goal: explore Paris.

Our anniversary was in May, but for some reason we hadn’t been able to nail down an anniversary trip. So when we found out we would be going to France to shoot a wedding, it was almost a no brainer to tack on a couple extra days to see Paris for our anniversary (just four months late)! While food was scarce and a challenge in Brittany, Paris on the other hand was much different! I had researched some options before we came, and oh man, the gluten free food was SO GOOD.

For lunch our first day, we went to Helmut Newcake, which is a 100% gluten free bakery. Um what?! No risk of cross contamination?! I still dream that one day we will live in the flat above this bakery cause it was just too amazing haha. Baguettes, croissants, eclairs, pastries, gourmet sandwiches, etc.—we were floored. We took our time deciding and finally chose to split a sandwich (with fresh pesto, spinach, fresh mozzarella cheese, olives, and tomatoes), a croissant, and a chocolate éclair. Whoa. Best meal ever. The bread was so good that I went back to the counter to order a small roll. In French. PJ was so proud (for those of you who don’t know, PJ is really good at picking up languages and accents—in fact, at one of our Biocoop stops during the first part of our trip, PJ said “I’m sorry I don’t speak French” so well that the lady continued to talk to him in French! I, on the other hand, definitely sound like an American—my upstate New York accent never leaves haha).

After our incredible lunch at Helmut Newcake, we made our way down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and then around to Trocadero to get a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower for the first time! From here, we continued exploring the area, made our way across the Seine River, and by this point, a big storm was about to hit. We had made dinner reservations for 6pm, but it was only 5pm and there wasn’t much cover from the impending storm. We walked to the restaurant to ask if we could come early, but were declined and ended up enduring the storm under our umbrella and the only overhang in the area along with dozens of others. Good times.

 

Our meal at Tasca was AMAZING. Tasca is a 100% gluten free and organic Italian restaurant. Again, no risk of cross contamination. So good. I am also a huge fan of tiramisu (but can’t have it anymore because of my allergies), so when we discovered that Tasca had it on the dessert menu, we had to get some. If you watch the video down below, you’ll see my reaction of tasting it.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and got to see the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle after dinner as we made our way back to public transportation. Our hotel was right outside of Paris, so we definitely took advantage of all the public transportation. (If we come back one day, I would definitely stay closer as it took a while to get to and from our hotel into the heart of Paris.) For our second day in Paris we used Mobilis passes: they let you travel on any bus, metro, and train in Zones 1 and 2 as much as you want in a day. For this first day in Paris we just used a single pass and did a LOT of walking. But for our second day, we used the Mobilis passes since we would be doing a lot more site seeing and it worked out perfectly.

 

Day Seven:

Goal: take sunrise photos and explore more of Paris.

We had to set our alarms fairly early to make it through all the public transportation we needed to even get into Paris by sunrise. It had been my dream to take sunrise photos in Paris both for the magical light and iconic architecture as well as for the opportunity to get these photos without thousands of tourists. However, since the sun rises later in October, by the time we took our photos at sunrise, there were already loads of people arriving off tour buses. Not ideal, but we made it work. It was also FREEZING and WINDY, so this made the whole process a little trickier. I’m so glad we were able to get a few photos in by the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre (so surreal to see this in person!).

We then made our way all the way back to our hotel to change cause there was no way I was freezing in that dress for the rest of the day! By the time we made it back to Paris, it was almost lunchtime, so we traveled straight back to Helmut Newcake for an early lunch! When we ate there the day before, we told the workers that we would be back again tomorrow. So when we arrived again and they recognized us, we had a good laugh with them cause we really did mean it! We got the same sandwich (it was the best sandwich we’ve ever had so how could we not get it again?!), an apple filled croissant, and two of a different kind of éclair (mine was coffee and PJ’s was chocolate). The best food ever. We miss it every day, and are not ashamed to say that we told the manager to start one here in Virginia haha! Needless to say, America needs to step up its gluten free game.

We knew we would not be returning to Helmut Newcake for the rest of our trip, so we got a baguette to go so that we could munch on it during our travels home the next day. I can’t tell you how French we felt carrying around a baguette in our bag haha. Almost immediately upon arriving in Paris, we saw people walking or riding their bikes around with a baguette or two sticking out of their bags. Classic.

Due to our short stay in Paris, we chose to do as much site seeing as possible instead of spending time in museums or galleries. Next we walked around the Montremarte area (I am in love with all the Parisan architecture) and Sacre-Coeur. So cool, and the view of Paris from Sacre-Coeur is incredible. From here we made our way to the Luxembourg Gardens and enjoyed watching a group of elderly men play a serious and calculated game of what we know as bocce ball. The afternoon flew by and before we knew it, we were back at Tasca for another amazing meal and a classic French cappuccino.

 

After dinner, we took a rooftop boat tour on the Seine River at sunset. Super cool, super romantic, and also super chilly and windy! Highly recommended! We also got to pass by some more iconic locations on this ride that we hadn’t had time to make it to. When we finished here, we stopped at some souvenir shops – we were trying to find a specific one that we had seen the other day, but “it’s right next to that café with the red overhang and outdoor seating” doesn’t exactly work when that describes nearly every café on every corner! We did end up finding it though and got some cool souvenirs for our families.

Riding back to the hotel that night was bittersweet. Our time in Morlaix, Normandy, and Paris was an amazing whirlwind and neither one of us wanted it to be over.

 

Day Eight

Goal: travel back home to Virginia.

We had it all planned out. It was supposed to take us about an hour to get from the hotel to the Charles de Gaulle airport. Our plane was scheduled to depart at 12:25pm, so we left the hotel at 8am thinking that 4 hours was plenty of time while also accounting for any unforeseen delays. Right? Wrong…well almost.

Our journey began with a short walk to a bus, which then took us to the RER train station. We were making our way through the turnstiles with our passes when my suitcase got stuck in the turnstile with me and locked up. I had PJ put his ticket through so that I could get out, but while that all happened, his suitcase went through before he could, and he essentially had to jump over. You gotta do what you gotta do. We then raced to the platform since the train we needed was approaching, only to realize that it was full and we couldn’t get on. Thank the Lord we didn’t, cause that wasn’t the train we really wanted and the one we actually needed to get on was still approaching. Phew. Close call. That train came and was completely packed. We tried every car until the loud beep told us that doors were closing and there was no way we were squishing in there. Thankfully another train came shorty and we easily got on that one. Much less crowded too. Perfect. After this train, we smoothly switched onto the next train that would take us straight to the airport. Home free? Keep reading.

One stop before the airport, the train stopped and an announcement came on in French (no English translation this time). A kind woman told us and another American couple that this was to be the last stop as there was a package on the tracks up ahead—so everyone had to get off.

We exited the train with everyone else, and saw that on the opposite side of the tracks a train was supposed to come in one minute that would take us all to the airport. So we all grabbed our luggage and went two flights down and under the tracks and two flights up to come to the other side. Thirty minutes later (that’s a long minute!), a train for the airport is approaching, but it’s on the other side. All 50 of us make a mad stampede with our luggage down and up the two flights to make it to the other side of the platform only to hear the same announcement and dozens of more people get off who are in the same predicament. Straight out of a movie. So we all went back to the other side of the track to wait for the train that was still supposed to come. It’s 10:30am by now, and we’re optimistic that we will still make our flight! The train finally comes and we make it to the airport no problem.

The first few checkpoints of the airport process go quicker than expected. But then, we make it to customs and realize that the line zigzags back and forth four times, but each line is so long that is disappears out of sight. Gulp. We’re gonna miss our flight. PJ’s hopeful. I’m skeptical. It’s already 11am and our flight boards in 20 minutes.

The line moves slower than molasses, but we’re making progress. Now it’s 11:45am, and an officer is going around checking people’s tickets to let some cut the line based on the flight times. First time they checked ours, they said no. Second time, they said yes and we moved closer. By 11:50am, it’s almost our turn. It’s just about 12pm and we both make it through customs and take off RUNNING through the airport following signs in French and banking on symbols and numbers. At this point we realize, wait—we haven’t even gone through security yet. Oh man, we’re gonna miss our flight!

As we sprint up to the security by our gate, our hearts sink to discover there is another line. We’re never gonna make it. Someone comes out and asks if anyone here is for the flight to DC. About 15 other people raise their hands too. Hope rekindled.

Security is moving, and it’s finally our turn. They make us unpack every camera, lens, and flash individually, which of course, takes more time. I walk through the scanner. All good. PJ walks through. It goes off. Ah man, in all the rush to unpack our camera gear he forgot to take off his belt. He walks through again and it still goes off. They bring him aside to check him while I feverishly pack up all the camera gear again. We’re good to go, so we race to our gate, board, and sit down. We made it! I can’t believe we made it! We look at the time. 12:21pm. Whoa. Thank you Lord! What a saga.

Our faces once we sat down on the plane and realized what had happened. ^^^

 

Though we’re glad to be back home, we definitely left a piece of our hearts in France. We’ll never forget this trip, the amazing sites, and the hilarious adventures (there are even more than I relayed in this post!). So so thankful. And if you made it all the way to the end, a heartfelt thank you for coming on this recap journey with us!

Now enjoy these video highlights! Au revoir!

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