a dinner in french basque country

Through all of my travels, one thing has remained constant: I eat a lot of food.

There’s something about having a meal, sharing a meal, or preparing a meal in another culture that connects you to it. Each place I’ve explored has presented itself most clearly through its food. So, when I had the opportunity to think about where I would want to spend a night having a dream dinner, my brain immediately started buzzing.

I thought that dreaming up a dinner anywhere in the world would instantly lead me to a specific time and place and experience, but it took more effort than I thought. Places I’ve already experienced will obviously alter my future ones, which is why I don’t think a destination immediately popped into my head. I weighed (way too) many options in my head and finally settled on something.

My ideal night out in a foreign city would be quaint and secluded with a beautiful backdrop. After I decided that, it all seemed to just fall right into place and three words popped into my head.

French Basque Country.

You may be familiar with it’s more well known counterpart, Spanish Basque Country, but somehow, the French side has stayed relatively under the radar, which is precisely why I chose it. If this is an ideal situation, which it is, I want to be able to be fully immersed in the culture without the distraction of a million tourists, even though I’m exactly that, a tourist. Although, I’d like to think of myself more as more of a traveler and not a tourist, but that’s a whole different story…

The Basque country as a whole has a very rich and old history, which is usually a huge positive for the food scene. Because of it’s proximity to the Spanish border, the food inevitably has influences from both countries. From what I’ve read, there are quaint farm houses and small towns with rustic food. As far as the scenery, there are gentle rolling hills that eventually will roll all the way into the Pyrenees to the east. And if you need the coast, the Bay of Biscay is to the west. I think I’ve pretty much found the perfect mix of everything. And of course I would think it’s perfect because I’m literally dreaming up my ideal night in a foreign place.

I would want a rustic French meal with tons of butter and bread and wine, preferably on a farm where they grow all their own produce and raise their own animals. They would have a huge wooden farm table outside and framing the entire scene would be the sun setting over the rolling verdant hills. Just as I finish my meal, the sun would sink below the horizon, but it would still be light enough to continue onto a dessert of canneles and more wine. And I would sit out there with the restaurant owners and they would tell me stories of their life and food and whatever else came up (hopefully they know English or somehow I magically learn to be fluent in French). And by the end of the night, we would be like old friends. Wow. Yeah. That sounds perfect. And now I’ll be right back because I’m looking up plane tickets to France…

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But anyways, finding a place like that could be very difficult especially if there wasn’t a website for that completely dreamy restaurant I made up in my head that had the ability to be translated into English.

Because of my desire to be off the beaten path, most likely, I’m going to have to know some French, or at the very least, have some sort of translation to know what I’m getting into. This is where the internet would be my best little travel companion. I would want to look up local restaurants in French Basque country, and the websites may not be in English. If the site didn’t use translation software, I would most likely just find another site that was translated into English. This could be a very unfortunate situation because that restaurant site that I wouldn’t be able to read could very well be the best restaurant in the entire country and I could miss out on a lovely experience. It would be an absolute dream come true to have translation software available for websites that don’t currently offer it themselves. The problem with services like Google translate or having the internet browser do it for you is that you are getting a literal direct translation of the words on the page. Most often, that doesn’t work very well and I’m stuck trying to piece broken English sentences together. Then, I don’t get the full experience of what the food or ambiance of that restaurant would be and I would just probably have to find another. Having an online experience with a good English translation that could make my foreign dining experience better and easier would make traveling a whole lot more interesting and stress free. And I wouldn’t be missing out on any experience just because of that language barrier.

I very much appreciate the differences in language and culture as I travel from place to place, that’s one of the reasons traveling feels so thrilling. However, it just doesn’t seem possible to learn every language of every place I want to travel, so translation is absolutely necessary for some parts of travel.

If you could dream up a night out anywhere in the world, I hope you drift away into a dreamy daze like I did. I hope it makes you get excited about travel and new places and new cultures and new food because that’s one of the reasons life is so wonderful.

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Asia’s different, you know.

You know, I haven’t written about my trip Southeast Asia yet. I didn’t quite know how to process it while it was happening. The trip snuck up on me. I spent the day before I left frantically packing and hoping I was preparing adequately for what lie ahead. Then before I knew it, I was on a plane home puking my guts out the entire time (different story, different time).

I always dreamed of this exotic and magical place, thinking about elephants and beaches and curry and pho and curry. Did I mention curry? I was completely enthralled with the idea of these things and the places that held them. And because of this, I committed a year in advance to traveling SE Asia with the kid herself, Mackenzie.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect because I knew trying to imagine what to expect was foolish. Asia’s far away, it’s Eastern culture. Something about the way they tackle life is just so different than us over here in the West. So, I was grateful to be traveling with someone who had lived in that culture the past year and tried not to overthink it.

This trip was so different compared them to the previous ones I’ve taken. This was the longest I’ve ever traveled at one time. This was the first time traveling while having a boyfriend. This was the farthest from home I had ever been. This was the first time traveling to Asia. This was the first time seeing so many countries in one trip. All of these combined with the busyness of life leading up to leaving made this trip feel so differently than any other.

I don’t know when that difference hit me. Maybe when I first stepped off the plane in Hong Kong. Maybe the first time I felt sick in Vietnam. Maybe when I ate my 17th bowl of (amazing) curry. Maybe when I was frustrated that I couldn’t really talk to Luke. Maybe when I was riding an elephant bareback in Chiang Mai. Maybe when I was climbing ancient temple ruins or riding in a tuk tuk along the countryside in Cambodia. Maybe when I spent all 6 hours of a flight in the airplane bathroom…

I think this trip was unlike any other because I didn’t immediately fall in love with Asia.

I’ve immediately fallen in love with every other place I’ve been, . That’s what I do. I travel. I fall in love with the place. I’m convinced I should move there. I come to my senses and realize that’s probably not the best idea. I discover another place and travel there and the whole cycle starts over. Seriously.

This was not the case for the countries I visited on this trip. And I think that’s ok. It’s unique charm took a while to really sink in. I don’t regret traveling to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand one bit. I’m just saying that this experience was so different because it didn’t always come easily. I had to work at traveling. I was in a different place every 3 days which meant airports every 3 days, traveling to those airports every 3 days. On top of that add driving to and from other places within those places and my head is spinning just remembering it.

In a sentence, Asia humbled me.

Even while I was experiencing this trip, I felt different than other times Ive traveled. I finally grasped why it’s called a “foreign” country. I just felt so, well, foreign. I felt even a little scared, even though I wouldn’t admit it. I beat myself up about this thinking, “I’m a traveler. I’ve done this before. I’m good at this, good at fitting in. I’m supposed to be in love with every place in the world.” So, it was very humbling and confusing to actually feel foreign and so out of place. I almost felt like a failure to my wanderlustly self. How could I not fall in complete love with every place I go?

So, I would venture to say that this ‘out of place-ness’ forced me to actually be out of what’s comfortable to me. I’ve felt like this very few times in my life. But, because of this, I think I was more aware of what I was learning about myself through all of this. I had to actually ‘work’ at traveling, so I have a greater appreciation for it now (and I thought was impossible to appreciate it more than I already did). At times, I absolutely had to rely on Mackenzie and was so grateful that she was who I experienced this crazy, foreign, magical part of the world with. (Can it, Mason!) I don’t know if all that even makes sense. But, it does in my little brain. Traveling contines to surprise me.

Asia’s different, you know.

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travel + adventure // flathead national forest

As with many National Parks, Glacier is surrounded by a National Forest, Flathead National Forest to be exact.  I don’t quite know why they don’t just lump it all together, but I’m sure there’s specific rules about what’s a park and what’s a forest so I’m not going to worry too much about it.

I feel like National Forests get a little bit forgotten about because people are so much more interested in the Parks, but there are some pretty amazing hikes and adventures within the National Forests as well.

Jewel Basin, Mt Aeneas Hike

Actually, one of my favorite hikes I did while in Montana was in Flathead, Jewel Basin.  It’s called Jewel Basin because from the summit of Mt. Aeneas, the handful of lakes you see look like little jewels with the sun reflects off of them just right.  It’s a lovely sight. The mountains in the background are in Glacier National Park. Since this hike is outside of the park, it’s also free (aka you don’t have to pay the park fee to hike it). It’s completely worth it to spend a day outside of the park adventuring.

The hike is about 6 miles roundtrip but it’s a pretty hefty climb with plenty of switchbacks. Take Jewel Basin Rd up to the trailhead. You can access this hike from the Camp Misery Parking lot, which is already at an elevation of 5,700 feet. Take trail 717, the one that passes the ‘Microwave Tower’ and continue on to the peak of Mt. Aeneas at 6,400 feet. There are views above, of Glacier and also views, below, on the other side looking out onto Flathead Valley and Lake.

The last half mile is along a ridge, see below, up to the peak of the mountain.

Jewel Basin is a great beginners challenge hike, since it’s shorter and for experienced hikers, it’s a moderate hike that can be done in a few hours.  There are also many families of mountain goats on this hike, and you are bound to see one stumble right past you, especially at the Microwave Tower.

Polebridge, MT

Within the National Forest, there’s the tiniest little village called Polebridge.  It’s along North Fork Road, in the northwest part of the forest, very close to the Canadian border. The drive there more than half on a dirt/gravel road, so it’s slow going, but it’s a very remote and beautiful drive and well worth it.

And here’s the little sign and road leading into the little Polebridge, and all that’s listed is literally all that is there. It’s lovely. Below that is a look at half of what’s in Polebridge, just little cabins and mountains.

Now, the “main attraction” in Polebridge and why many people visit there is for Polebridge Mercantile, a general store with the best pastries and light lunch options.  I grabbed a world famous huckleberry bear claw pastry and sat outside on the porch in the misty late morning and I couldn’t help but fall in immediate love.  It’s funny how places can do that to you, make you fall instantly in love, even more so than people for me sometimes. This place is a must see if you are in the Glacier area.

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Also, by trekking up to Polebridge, you get to see what is called the Northfork part of the area.  It’s much more remote and feels more like wilderness, which, of course, I appreciate. Like, I said, it’s definitely worth the 2 hour trip that I took to get there.

Take some time and explore more of Flathead National Forest because I only got a small glimpse in the time I was there and I’m sure it’s all well worth it.

travel + adventure // day hikes in glacier national park

I firmly believe that Glacier is the most underrated National Park in the U.S.

You hear so much talk about Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, etc, but rarely ever does Glacier come up in talks of National Parks (at least not in my experiences).

But, I’m hear to tell you that you should not forget about it because it is absolutely stunning. Montana really has a lot going for it with this little guy. I probably wouldn’t have visited it or even really thought much about it if it weren’t for my friends moving out there, so I’ll forgive you if you thought the same.

The Rocky Mountains extend all the way up into Canada and there’s beauty all along the way. Glacier is tucked in the northwest corner of Montana and extends over the border into Canada where it’s called Waterton Lakes National Park. I had the pleasure of driving all the way over to Montana.  One of the most amazing things about this state is that the mountains jut up out of nowhere.  The eastern half of Montana is mostly flat farmland, sometimes a rolling hill or two.  Then, you round one corner on the highway and the mountains sky rocket straight up out of no where. It’s such the drastic change. Because of this feature, the mountain elevations are lower than places like Colorado. (10,000-11,000 feet versus 13,000-14,000) But, you have to realize that places like Denver are already at 5,000 feet before the mountains are even taken into account.  The landscape is still just as drastic at any other majestic mountains.

flat fields shoot straight up into the Rockies

Now, like any other national park, Glacier is huge. We spent the better part of 5 full days hiking and exploring different trails and parts of the park and still felt like I only saw such a small portion. But, I’d at least like to share a little guide to the hikes we did do.

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Going To The Sun Road

But, first, let’s talk about ‘Going To The Sun Road’.  This is the most beautiful road in America, absolutely no competition. This road cuts straight through the park. It’s only open for a short time of the year, so make sure you visit in the summer months if you want to experience it in full glory. Complete with hairpin turns and deathly drop offs, this road has it all. (SNL’s ‘Sefton’ skit reference). The next few photos were all taken from the passenger seat.

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the road that you come from runs right along that river down there

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this photo was taken looking straight down from the car, on the left is the road, the washed out center pole is the “barrier”/end of road and the right is the straight down drop that is less than a foot away from the car

Now, if you can see all of that from the seat of a car, just imagine what you will see if you actually take a hike.

Hidden Lake Trail

This trial starts from the Logan Pass visitor’s center, which is a very popular stop along Going To The Sun Road. It’s right along the Continental Divide and it’s the highest point of the road. Get there early if you don’t want to wait for a parking spot.

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This is a very popular trial despite the show fields you must pass through to get to the view.  But, this doesn’t make the hike any less crowded.

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However, there are two options on this hike.  There is a 1.5 mile hike one way to the overlook, which is where the first photo was taken.  Then, you can go another 1.5 miles down a moderately steep incline to the lake.  This makes the trial either 3 or 6 miles roundtrip and is the different between a decently easy hike and a moderate hike.  We went about halfway down to the lake before turning back because we were afraid we wouldn’t have enough time to do our other hike for the day.

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Oh, and also a mountain goat passed 2 feet from us, so that’s pretty insane.

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Avalanche Lake

This trail begins from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead, which is also located along Going To The Sun Road. It’s not too far from the McDonald Lodge.  This trial might be the most popular in the park, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not absolutely stunning.  It’s a pretty easy hike, perfect for kids and adults alike.   The roundtrip distance is only 4.5 miles, which makes is easy to do in a couple hours and still be able to squeeze 2 hikes into the day.

Avalanche Lake

The white stripes lining the mountain are waterfalls feeding into Avalanche Lake. Absolutely dreamy.

The hike follows Avalanche Creek almost the entire time, which is a pretty fierce creek.  Definitely wouldn’t want to slip and fall into this one.

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IMG_3327glimpse of the mountains from the trail

Iceberg Lake

This hike is located all the way across the park in the Many Glacier area.  It was about a 3 hour drive from where we were staying in Lakeside, but it was definitely worth it.   Plus, we got to drive the entire Going To The Sun Road, which we hadn’t done yet.  Many Glacier is a quieter and more rustic part of the park, which already excited me.  The trail starts behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where there should be enough parking for any time of the day. This is a roundtrip hike just shy of 10 miles so I would start before 10am. It’s also a decently strenuous hike. The elevation gain is about 1,300 feet.  Nothing too crazy, but enough to give you a bit of a challenge. Plus, this is the view you get upon arrival.

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It’s hard to tell from the above photo, but this lake is surrounded by these cliffs on 3 sides.  It kind of sits in this bowl.  There are icebergs floating in the lake, even in mid July.  It’s one of those scenes that tricks your eyes (kind of like the Grand Canyon) because it’s so vast and unreal.

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The hike up is equally as stunning, with views of Mt. Grinnell and Swiftcurrent Mountain.  There’s also Ptarmigan Creek and Ptarmigan Falls along the way and fields of wildflowers.  It’s the total hiking package.  In fact, if you could only choose one shorter day hike in Glacier, I might choose this one. But, please, don’t make me do this because it’s like picking between children, or so I can only imagine it would be. Supposedly, this is prime bear country, but we didn’t see nary a bear, black or grizzly.

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I’ve done some of the best day hikes in my life in Glacier. There are so many stunning sites that only take a short hike to get to.  Of course, there are amazing backcountry trails and hikes and backpacking excursions, but you can see a lovely portion of what Glacier has to offer doing these shorter hikes.

travel // the journey to northwestern montana

Let me introduce you to a little place that absolutely changed my life.

John Steinbeck spilled out his love for Montana in the pages of his novel, ‘Travels with Charley’ and I can’t help but completely agree. This place does something so wonderful to the soul.

For other states, I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana, it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.

I’m almost positive it was the best trip I have taken in my life so far and I’m a little scared that I won’t quite be able to give it the credit it’s due, but I’m sure going to try.

Montana is a place most people don’t think much of.  Hardly anyone thinks there’s anything there besides ranches and farmland and livestock. And while, yes, that is most of Eastern Montana, Western Montana brags better mountain views than (in my opinion) Colorado.  I’m confident Glacier National Park is the most underrated park in the country.  Everyone gushes over Yosemite and Yellowstone (which I haven’t been to yet, but I’m sure they are more than worth it), but Glacier if so often forgotten. Here’s my expert advice: DON’T FORGET IT. The journey to Glacier is well worth it.

Here’s the road that got me there:

The trip started in Chicago, where I met up with 2 of the best and most adventurous people I know.  I mean these girls just get life the way I do and it’s so peaceful to be in their presence.

Now, some may say the 1,600 mile journey driving to Montana is quite a boring one, but I beg to differ.  You see, we drove straight through. All 27 hours, not stopping to sleep, just taking short nap breaks in the back seat of “Jarty” our trusty Jeep companion.

We saw America, and not the America that many people want to see, but isn’t that all the more the true America if there ever was a such a thing. The interstate only lasted us so long, and most of the drive in the state of Montana was on  U.S. HWY 2, fluttering in and out of small towns in Eastern Montana.

We saw the most brilliant sunrise.

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We saw the most ridiculous dinosaur statues in the middle of nowhere.

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We ate ‘just good food’. (read: the only place we could find open in Havre, MT at 6:30 am)

And saw the end of a rainbow.

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The 1,600 miles were filled with what most roadtrips are: music and conversation and delirious moments. There’s just something about riding the roads of America with companions, those roads forever join you together.  It’s even better when the end of those roads leads you to this beauty:

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We finally ended the first chapter of our journey in Lakeside, MT where 2 dear friends, The Rathke’s make their home. We had the privilege of staying in this humble little town on Flathead Lake (which is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi), which became more of a home than I expected in the short 7 days I spent there. Love can’t be explained.

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And so the journey to the adventure ends.  Stay tuned for more from Montana.

wanderlust wednesday // here & there vol. 2

I finally got around to doing another here & there post. See Vol. 1 here.

I promise I really like doing them (despite there only being 2…), but it just takes a lot of scrounging through old travel photos, which is very much enjoyable, but also tedious.

So, here’s where I found similarities all over the world.

 

Selcuk, Turkey & Santa Maria de Jesus, Guatemala

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Looking out onto Selcuk

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Looking out onto Santa Maria

 

Gatlinburg, Tennessee & Antigua, Guatemala

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views in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

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view from a coffee farm in Antigua

 

Paris, France & Dublin, Ireland

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view from the Eiffel Tower

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view from the Guinness Brewery

 

It’s so wonderful to find similarities in so many of the places that I’ve found little pieces of each other.  It makes each place feel familiar, a little more like home.  I never want to lose the ‘home’ in traveling.

 

wanderlust wednesday // airfare watchdog

Guys, we’re close, right?  I’m going to let you in on a little secret to some cheap airfare.  It’ll make your travel bug all the more worse.  Sorry I’m not not sorry.

AIRFARE WATCHDOG’s the name.

It’s wonderful. They do all the hard work for you.  Scouring the internet for cheap flights both nationally and internationally.

The only catch is that the cheap flights usually sell out quickly. So, if you see one that you want, you better act instantly because most likely the next time you check, it will be gone.  Also, especially for international flights, the deals are for late fall, usually October or November.  So, if your travel dates are flexible, and you are the implusive buyer type, then it’s literally perfect!

You can also set up email alerts for deals from certain cities.  They don’t heavily advertise for all the cheap flights, especially from smaller cities (like Nashville), but there’s still great deals out there.

They also have a Twitter feed where they post most of their biggest deals. (@airfarewatchdog)

It’s ridiculously awesome. You can thank me later for sharing a lovely little secret with you.