Sunday, June 29, 2014

28 & Birthday Donation Time

Hello! I woke up in Reims and headed to Brussels today. And I'm 28!

A few years ago, my mom told me about a simple concept called "Donate Your Birthday." The idea is that every year, you give your age in dollars to the charity of your choice, creating some good mojo for each year of your life. I have been participating since I turned 25, and I really like the concept. Imagine how much money would go to charitable organizations if everyone did this each year? It would make a major impact, and for many people, it wouldn't be financially difficult.

For my purposes, I try to consider something important that happened in that year of my life, and I pick a charity accordingly. This year, one major thing that happened is that Brendan and I decided to build a house.  It took us a couple of years to save to be able to do this, and in my 28th year, I will become a homeowner. I wanted to give money to a charity that helped meet housing needs in Midland. I found a great organization called Christmas in Action that has been operating in Midland for 41 years. They repair homes for the elderly and disabled and help people on fixed incomes who cannot afford to make much needed repairs such as replacing roofs and siding, adding wheelchair ramps and handicap bars, fixing gas lines, heaters, water heaters, and plumbing problems, repairing air conditioners and heaters, and even doing some electrical repairs. In 41 years, Christmas in Action has helped 10,000 families and made, undoubtedly, a huge difference in the Midland community.

They do not take online donations, but I mailed a check to their offices at, Christmas in Action, P.O. Box 3744, Midland, TX 79702, before I left town.

My 27th year was an amazing one, and I am beyond grateful for the experiences it brought me: Brendan's and my amazing wedding and honeymoon to the Hawaiian islands, many opportunities during a first year at my new job, many travels, and a fabulous first year of marriage. I hope 28 has a lot of great things in store. 

We found our hotel here, and it is much larger than we expected. Brendan and I have a separate bedroom and we have a kitchen and large living area.   

I thought this church was cool. Our trip was good--a little rainy but still just sprinkling. It is cool here though! About 55 this morning. We had amazing Ethiopian food for dinner. 

Cheers to 28 and feeling great ! 
<3 s, b, t 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Champagne Caves

Today was very exciting, as the 3 of us visited Pommery champagne house in Reims. This champagne house wasn't mentioned in the guidebook, but the clerk at the front desk of our hotel suggested it, and it was a great tour. We opted for the 2 hour version. 

Built in 1868, this champagne house impresses for many reasons. For one, it was all managed by Mr. Pommery's widow, Louise, as Mr. Pommery passed away when she was 39 years old. She designed this whole operation: from the vineyards to the chalk quary caves to the vaults where the juice is fermented, and she did this at a time when women were not owning and operating companies. 

Secondly, the vineyards are "green" and don't use insecticides. 
Vintage barrel
Another thing that makes the champagne house cool is that each year they do contemporary art shows and they keep the work on property. This has been going on for 11 years now. 
But Louise Pommery loved art so much that she had a lot of it commissioned back in the 1800s...these murals in the cave were carved in candlelight 

The caves are cold! We bundled up. 

Check out the chalk

Over 37,000 bottles aging, and that's just one little space. Each year, the Pommery produces 5 million bottles. 

I learned so much about how champagne is made. Each bottle has to be aged 3-12 years before being released. It's a long and complex process. And armed with this knowledge, we were ready for our tasting. We got 2 full glasses. 

So good! The tour was well worth the $40 price. We all recommend it! 

For dinner, we are at a little cafe chèvre and menthe. Good vegetarian options (hard to find in France). Our dessert was mint chocolate chip and coconut ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream; so good! 

After dinner, Brendan and I set off to a free jazz concert and enjoyed dancing 
Reims is in the midst of a 3 week music festival. Perfect timing. 

We did get lots of rain today (mostly sprinkles) and tomorrow has a simular forecast. I got some good pictures of the cathedral tonight: 

Well, it appears a UFO ruined that one--sorry. 

Anyway, I want to tell you that recycling is serious here: 
And on an unrelated note, sometimes you have to pay like over a dollar just to use the bathroom. 
Oh yeah, and I finally got comfortable ordering in French in a restaurant...but now we're headed to Brussels tomorrow. At least half the people in Belguim speak French. 
Here's to my last minute of being 27! Cheers! 
<3 s, b


We made it to Reims yesterday after a short train ride and had time to eat lunch and visit the cathedrale notre dame. The cathedral is gorgeous, and we think even larger than the one in Paris. It is where Charles the VII was coronated with Joan of Arc at his side in 1429. While there, we found out about a choral music concert, so we bought tickets and attended. The music was simply beautiful and the way the sound carries in the church was spectacular. 

After some drinks (champagne of course), we returned for the lighting of the cathedral, a 20 minute light show set to music against the cathedral.

The event was free and really, really neat. I don't know that my phone photos do it justice! 

Today, the champagne tour! We'll get to visit the Champagne caves and the vineyards and taste some bubbly. Not a bad way to spend my last day of being 27! 
<3 s, b 

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Day At Versailles

A quick update! On Wednesday, Brendan and I were two of the first in line for our day at Versailles. We spent 10 hours exploring the palace, vacation homes of the king and queen, the queens hamlet, the farm, and all the surrounding gardens and fountains. It was truly a spectacular day! 

We had a nice picnic lunch in the gardens and crepes for dinner 

Yesterday, our attempt to visit the catacombs failed when they were shut down due to a strike. 

No one seemed clear on why the strike was happening. One man who moved here in January said the strikes have caused him much annoyance and happen all the time. Oh well, we saw a movie instead. Zero theorem. It was weird. 

We are off to Reims today. We got perfect weather in Paris (no rain), and we had a really nice week! I will miss it but I'm ready for some champagne! 
<3 s, b 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Paris Museums

A very fast post to say we're a okay. 
We went to the louvre yesterday (well, me and Brendan, as tony won't touch it in high season). This was my only Photo of the day--Brendan looking at a statue (meta). 
Half world's greatest museum and half hell on earth (there are thousands of people) the louvre is both not to be missed and a perfect example of why you should pick a month other than June to visit Paris if you can (that said, the weather in June is so great). But, to focus on the positive, we saw a lot of amazing things (and even braved the crowds to see Mona Lisa). Brendan's dad is an artist and art teacher, so Brendan is able to explain a lot of the movements in a way that makes me more engaged with the art. That said, I should probably audit an art appreciation class or borrow a textbook, so I can learn even more. Best way to get louvre tickets without waiting--go to the underground shopping center carousel de louvre and proceed to the entrance on the bottom floor; once in, you can buy a ticket in 15 minutes while people outside the pyramid wait over an hour in the hot sun (suckers). 
Today we did the rodin, but only so we could buy a dual ticket to the Rodin and the d'orsay and avoid lines at the orsay that way. The Rodin is okay but I'd do the orangeie instead if you can. They have the same dual entry deal but are closed on Tuesdays. Orsay is wonderful--a more enjoyable day than the louvre thanks to smaller crowds, air conditioning, and a more easy to navigate space. Still, it was extremely busy, but that's okay. We got to see lots. Tomorrow Versailles (again, tony won't touch it in high season, so it will just be us) and for now, bed! Oh yeah, we ate this last night 
The cheese and bread here is so good that I never want to leave. Everywhere is the smell of fresh bread! Tonight, we had delicious Vietnamese. I am not going hungry. One more thing: we witnessed a protest today and there were about 100 officers in armour with shields on the scene...and like a lot of police vans that fit several officers. It was intense looking. But it's strange that I'm not used to seeing protests anymore since I live in a small town now. I think just the armour and shields freaked me out (sad that guns don't have the same effect because I'm so used to seeing them). Anyway, we were just walking near by, but not through. Okay, seriously going to bed now! 
<3 s, b 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend in Paris

Yesterday, we walked around nearly all day and found some live music near the Eiffel Tower. We took in some famous sites (notre dame and the opera house) and ate falafel for lunch and sushi for dinner. 

Today, we cruised the canals and the river seine. It was pretty cool stopping at all the locks and lowering. We got to see a lot of the city and people watch. 

Since we were on our own today, we ate a fancy dinner at cafe constant. 

A few thoughts on Paris:
It is very crowded, but that could be more a feature of the weekend. 
The metro is easier, more reliable, and faster than NYCs (but Paris is much smaller of course). 
Carrying my own toilet paper everywhere is a smart idea. 
Almost everyone speaks at least a little English (unlike Caen). But asking if people speak English in French goes a long way. So far, people are all very nice.
Japanese food is very popular (surprised me).
I can still rock the 25 and under discount. 
I don't miss air conditioning--it's perfectly cool here. 
"Doing it all" is impossible--and that's okay.
Ice cream is 10 times better here. What are we missing back home? Please, let's copy this immediately.
Carousels are everywhere and adorable. 

I stay up so late here! The light until 10pm throws me off.
Goodnight Paris! 
<3 s, b 

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