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March 21-24

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Mike at lunch. Luckily he had the napkin on because he spilled some chicken on Neige’s head.

We’ve been in Lucca since the campervan night in Porto Venere. I was really sick the first day we were here and had my worst day as a parent since Neige was born. Mike had taken her out so I could rest for most of the day, but once, thinking that she would sleep too, he left her with me and she woke up 15 minutes later and would not stop screaming. I texted and called Mike, but our phones chose that hour to not send or receive texts or calls. It was only the second time that I have put her down while she was crying and walked away and the first time that I felt absolutely helpless. I went out on to the balcony and shut the door and sat there, still totally sick and so upset. When I came back in, she had totally stopped (after screaming (at me?) for literally 30 minutes) and was just looking at me like nothing happened.

Since then, I’ve been recovering and things have been getting easier with Neige, but we’ve definitely had to address some beliefs about sleep and bed times and such.

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A tub built for a baby (don’t worry, I washed it out before using it like this)

Lucca has been a nice place to recover. It’s pretty touristy, which means there is a lot open and there are lots of artists around. Today (our last day here) we discovered the most delicious chickpea bread, which had we discovered it before, may of overdosed on. We’ve again been renting an Airbnb, this time across from one of the many churches with a cool balcony that faces a whole bunch of other balconies and feels like we’re sharing a backyard with 20 people.

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On the steps of the church across from our Airbnb

Some highlights were 1) a concert by an american college choir in the church across the way. Neige and I only stayed for the first three songs, but I was brought to tears during two of them. Mike stayed the whole time. 2) some delicious lunches 3) tons of naps 4) laundry WITH a dryer.

Tomorrow, we head to Florence to meet the Goldsteins. We are both pretty excited about it!

March 20

We left the airbnb for the campervan not really knowing which direction we were heading. Mike liked the area and wanted to stay and I didn’t know what I wanted. We didn’t have to be out of the place until noon, so we took our time and finally rolled out around 12:25 (we have gotten way more relaxed about time perhaps from being in Italy or just because we have a baby.) We decided to eat lunch at the neighborhood spot because we knew it was good and a good price. We didn’t have enough cash to pay and they told us to pay tomorrow, but since we didn’t know if we were going to be around, Mike walked to town while I stayed and played with Neige before she napped in my arms. While she was napping I came across a photo of when she was less than a week old that brew my mind.

Neige was this small

OMG, she was this small!, Neige napping in my arms.

As a throwback to our France walk we decided flipping a coin was the bast way to figure out what we were doing. It told us that we were staying in the area and sleeping in the van. We decided to head to Porto Venere, which is the town on the point that we had been looking at across the bay. It was a very cute town and we walked around just before sunset. We had a place right in town to camp, but our hearts really weren’t into camper vanning anymore. As Mike said…It was nice when you could be out of arms reach of each other and didn’t have to pee in a sink. There were other things, like only being able to do one thing at a time (cook, lay down, etc.) The great part about having a van that size was that it is technically a car, so you can get the most amazing spots. We decided to revisit it when Mike’s family gets here because if we are hanging out with them and just sleeping in the van, it is perfect, which is why I think our time living in the van in the Escargot was so perfect.

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Sunset walk — Porto Venere

Anyway, it was kind of a blow especially for me, who always thinks about the money we could have been saving. At first I said we had to stay in the van enough nights to break even with renting a car (10 more nights), but after thinking about it, I suppose I would rather just be comfortable. Thank goodness it gets descent gas mileage — 35mpg and was a soft landing for us when we were jet lagged and directionless. It still acts as a great option when we are directionless I suppose.

March 15-19

I woke up to discover that Mike had booked us in an Airbnb for the night while I was sleeping. Although I have gotten used to sleeping with the three of us in a double fold down bed (Mike and I head to foot,) having space to spread out and do laundry was exciting and so was the fact that I didn’t have to choose the place. Also, it started raining for the first time since we got here and was supposed to rain for three days.

The woman who owned the apartment worked at (and family owned) a hotel a block from where we slept, so we went there for cappuccinos and used the internet until the place was ready. She was super nice and helped me with some Italian lessons, which I have now forgotten.

When we got to the place, it was perfect and we knew we wanted to stay for a while. Valentina gave us a really good deal for four additional nights, so we went for it. We did SO MUCH laundry!

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Laundry!

For the days we stayed in Solaro (the neighborhood above Lerici where the apartment was) we cooked, ate lunches at the small family restaurant in the neighborhood and walked the trails that wound between walls down to Lerici and back up. Mike walked more than I did and I got some time to myself while the two of them were out.

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Neighborhood restaurant Solaro (the man in the red vest offered to buy our whole family for 3 million Euros and then gave us half a bottle of wine – Mike liked his style)

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Bath time!

The sun came back on Wednesday (the 18th) and we had out cappuccino on the water and I put my feet in.

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Evening life

Thursday, I was sick and spent the whole day inside. It felt wrong, being from Seattle, to spend an entire blue sky day indoors, but it was good for me and for Neige, who napped along with me. Mike made the best meal of the trip — chicken marsala and broccoli!

March 14

After having had the crazy driving day and finding ourselves reverting back to winter, we decided to go back to the coast. We drove the quick 1hours to La Spezia and headed south to a place called Lerici. We weren’t able to drive into the center of town, which is usually a deterrent for us, but the parking lot was packed, so we decided to check it out. We walked down along the boardwalk and found that Lerici was actually alive with a decent sized market, where we bought tons of veggies, cheese and prosciutto. Had the market not been in full swing, I don’t know if we would have stayed.
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Our first glimpse of Lerici

We ate lunch outside in the sun with the promise of a view when the market shut down, but just as those vans pulled out, an entire carni pulled in. Oh well. Mike walked to the next town while Neige and I rested in the van in the shade.
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Lunch!

We scoped out an amazing free parking spot right on the water and got it as soon as it opened up. We went on an evening walk before eating in the van — I’m really getting good at one pot cooking (did I say that already?)

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Evening promenade before dinner

March 13

March 13 was the worst day of the trip so far. We started off by driving in to Nice to look for a phone card and ended up getting stuck in the mess of the city and surrounding sprawl. By the time we got on the road, it was 11am (we wake us around 6:30). Our aim was a town in Italy called Rapallo, but when we reached it, we found it to be too large to camp in and no free parking. We decided to drive in to the hills and found ourselves on winding roads leading to mountain passes. It was cold and getting dark and I was car sick even while driving. It felt like the dead of winter there, no leaves on the trees, very gray. It was a huge setback from the almost 70 degree sunny days we were used to. What made it worse was we had no idea what we were doing, just killing time. It was one of those days where I wondered why we were traveling. We slept in a town in the lower hills that reminded me of Switzerland more than Italy. The one positive part was that we actually got my phone to become an internet hotspot and Mike did SFT stuff in the van. I made a delicious omelette with pesto, prosciutto and brocciu in it (Mike got me brocciu in Nice) and some steamed broccoli and wine! It was pretty depressing, but the best part was getting a little drunk in the back of a van with blackout curtains up.


Mike doing SFT emails and phone calls, I’m drinking and Neige is sleeping.

March 12

We woke up to discover that someone had stolen our new van blanket from off the laundry line! It wasn’t such a big deal except it was pretty violating for Riana because this sort of thing hadn’t happened much in Saint Laurant. When we were down looking for the blanket, we discovered the rototiller that she had borrowed had been moved and stashed in the basement of the house next door. Had the blanket not been stolen, we probably would never have noticed it and it would have been gone. (Since then, someone broke in to the gallery next door, probably looking for the rototiller!)

We got on the road after breakfast with the Italian border as our destination. It was a long day of driving and Neige didn’t love it very much. She was starting to resent her car seat even though we were taking lots of breaks.

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Random car stop shots

The only exciting part of the day was deciding to stop and sleep in Antibes. Mike drove the van in to the old town, which I was nervous about, but ended up paying off big time because we got an amazing parking spot right on the wall overlooking the sea. In fact, we had a better view than the fancy restaurant behind us. Being parked in a town creates an awkward situation when needing to go to the bathroom. Mike put on his best outfit to go across the street to use their toilet. They looked him up and down before saying yes!

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Antibes parking spot

I made dinner in the van – handmade ravioli (not by me), cheese, wine, bread. We slept super well that night!

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Antibes walk.

March 11

We slept in the Escargot for the last night and got the van out to go to the Lezignan market. the Escargot is not a hop in hop out kind of place for our van. The market in Lezignan is pretty big and we got a bunch of food for the road, including the makings for homemade granola (made by Riana), liver sausage from the CBLs and a bunch of veggies. Also, we got a sun hat that actually fit Neige for 1 euro and a fleece blanket for the van.

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Mike getting out of the Escargot, Neige’s new hat!

After lunch, Neige napped in the courtyard, while Mike did some SFT emails and I did more makeshift diapering in preparation for the road. Also, did a ton of laundry.

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Getting work done!

We went on a walk when Neige woke up and collected some wild garlic and just did a nice little tour of the area, checking out the fig and almond trees and looking for wild asparagus. We stopped in for a drink (of water) at Riana’s friend’s house and finally went to pizza dinner because Amaya had earned 5 “bon points.”

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Walking in the hills

Since the van was out of the Escargot, we slept in the hills above Saint-Laurant-de-C in the grape fields. It was clear and windy and the van shook.
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Our sleeping spot!

March 10


Baby in foliage

Today we woke up early and tried to take a walk as the sun was coming up over the hills. It ended up being a false start because Neige pooped her pants and wanted to eat right after we got out of town. We decided to stay in for breakfast and Mike took a 10k walk on his own while Riana and I tinkered in the garden and Neige slept in her chair (car seat).

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Panorama on our morning walk.

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working in the garden

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Tush out in the sun and breeze, Riana with a giant cauliflower

We’re still parked in the Escargot, which Mike is still coming to terms with. Riana says it’s totally fine and that the Escargot hasn’t seen this much action in years! One of the neighbors came over to the van and played with Neige a little. I must say, I’m a little self conscious about it too because I hang out in here with the door open when she naps and go online (like right now.) The bed is always down and we have all the clean laundry spread everywhere. There’s also a water bottle full of adult pee in here. But, you can’t beat the van in terms of comfort for baby napping and looking out the door at a 500 year old neighborhood is pretty awesome.

I’m really excited because we doubled our diaper situation with the help of a pretty awesome towel from Riana. We are trying to cloth diaper on the go and I had brought some trifolds that were huge. With inspiration from Riana, I cut them up and made two for every one.

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My hippie diapers, Mike’s stone firepit – He finally got to work with stones!

Mike’s highlights: kissing Neige’s face! laying in the garden and listening to the wind. Taking a long walk through the countryside and into the wild! Seeing a gorgeous house and learning it only cost them $30k before the remodel, and that property taxes are much lower here than in the US. In other words, feeling inspired.

Mike’s lowlights: Worrying about my rib pain, Neige being really fussy tonight, being hella tired from jet lag still. Figuring out the phone thing for our business and feeling awkward about being so dependent on D&J while we are gone.

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laying in the garden

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Mike kissing Neige’s face

Azure’s highlights: Laying in the garden with Neige and having it be warm enough to get her little tush out in the air. Unloading photos while Neige slept in the back of the campervan with the door open. Sewing hippie towels to the back of our makeshift diapers.

Azure’s lowlights: Being tired when Neige wants to play, but wanting Mike to have some time to himself. Feeling like I’m not doing enough while Riana provides so much food and resources for us.

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Neige sleeps in the back while I internet

March 10

Holy Crap! I got this video to upload!!! Mike and Neige hanging out in Riana’s new garden. It’s about 70 degrees today, perfect for chilling.

March 8

We drove from Portbou up to France after breakfast. Just after the border, we stopped at a boulangerie that we had visited when we were here 2 years ago that was delicious. Neige loved it and loved hearing people speak to her in french. I put part of the croissant in her mouth to taste the butter. There was no response, but I know in my heart she loved it. After a couple stops to feed and play, we made it to the Corbieres, a region in France that we love because it is wild and has some great people we know. We first stopped at the CBLs (Christian Back to the Landers) for Sunday lunch. They were delighted to see we had FINALLY produced a child. We took a tour of the farm and went on our way to stay with our friend Riana and her family in St Laurant de Caberese. We love staying in the van so much that we parked it outside her house in this cute little neighborhood called the Escargot. Her neighbors wondered who the Spanish people were (we have spanish license plates) and she explained who we were and why we were camping in our van in the neighborhood. We had dinner and went to bed early, but Neige had been up all day interacting and had skipped naps, so she was not sleeping well at night because she got overtired.

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One of the stops, Neige starts going upside down and loves it

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Neige meeting the CBLs, notice the tiny puppy in Jeane’s hands

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Neige talks to Didier

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Farm tour

March 7

We woke up around sunrise and had breakfast in the van of soup and eggs. At the end of breakfast, we realized that our bed wouldn’t collapse properly, so after investigating, we realized that a piece of metal had gotten bent. Not wanting to make another trip back to Vic, we drove to the local RV campground and asked another camper if he had tools to fix our problem. After about 30 minutes, he had it fixed and we gave him chocolate as thanks! We spent the day walking around the old town. Around one corner I saw 5 or 6 cats and wondered what was going on. In the window behind us were 4 more cats and we realized that one of the houses was completely dedicated to cats, they ran the house. OMG my cat brain went crazy and I tried to go inside but could not because the smell was so bad. We had lunch at this little organic restaurant in one of the alleys in the old town. It was delicious! As starter, main course, dessert and beer for E11.50! After lunch, Mike did work emails at the restaurant/cafe and I took Neige and RAN back to the van while she fussed and fed her and we played for a while waiting for Mike. When he got back, we drove around the cap for a while discussing where to sleep that night and decided to head north to the border town of Portbou, where we found a place to stay at a lookout high about the sea and the town.

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Breakfast in the van

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View during breakfast

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Cadaques

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Mike in Cadaques, Azure trying on Neige’s new sun hat

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Cathouse panorama

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Sunrise from our camper van spot overlooking Portbou!

March 6

When we woke up on the 6th, we discovered that the second battery that holds the charge for the appliances in the van wasn’t staying charged, so we had to drive back to Vic to get a new battery from the rental place. We drove through Parc Natural de Montseny on our way back from the coast and stopped for breakfast and a coffee in a little town. After getting the new battery, we headed back to the coast at the recommendation of Lali, who said that it was legal to camp anywhere in the natural park around the city of Cadaquez except the cap. We found this area to be very beautiful and found an amazing little turnout on the water just outside the town of Cadaques to stay overnight. At sunrise, we were joined by a couple lone fishermen and their dogs.

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Changing the baby in a Parc Natural de Montseny turnout.

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Walking to breakfast

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Our camping spot outside Cadaques

March 5

We drove the van a short distance to the coastal town of Tossa de Mar and found an amazing parking spot on the boardwalk that apparently is legal to park on 24hrs a day until June. Neige and I took a long nap in the back of the van and Mike walked around the old town. We considered sleeping there, but decided to drive up the coast and ended up sleeping in a lot overlooking the town of Begur. It wasn’t ideal because we were driving in the dark with no particular destination in mind, but it ended up being a beautiful sunrise over the town and the Mediterranean ad we learned a lot about camper vanning.

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Awesome spot on the boardwalk!

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Neige and I in the van, Tossa de Mar beach

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Napping in the van

March 3

We flew from Seattle to Barcelona with stops in Iceland and Paris. Lali, the woman from the camper van rental place picked us up at the airport with the camper van and we drove her to her house about an hour and a half north of the city. Neige did great on all three legs of the trip, slept most of the time and got relieved accolades from the people around us. I was so tired and dirty from the trip, but we tried to find a spot to camp anyway, but gave in and found a hotel for the night in a town called Santa Coloma de Farners. We took Neige to her first old man bar and watched part of the Barcelona soccer game and drank beers and ate pizza. There was a little grandma there who was very excited to coo at the baby.

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Neige on the flight to Iceland

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Quiche in CDG, another flight, still hanging in there!

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Solid hotel/stop in Santa Coloma

Carcassone and Around

by Azure

After our hike in the Causses du Quercy, we decided to head down to Carcassone and explore the region and revisit some friends we made a couple years ago. Here is the slideshow link from that part of our trip. Again, if you want to watch the slide show with captions on, click “show info” in the upper right corner of the screen.

Morning walk on the beach
Bonus photo! Mike meditates at the Mediterranean at sunrise.

Grammat-Cahors

by Azure

I used a different format… I’ve put a link to a slideshow I made in Flickr with captions on most of the photos, some interesting, some not so much. In order to watch the slide show with captions on, click “show info” in the upper right corner of the screen.

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Coldest morningBonus photo! This is me on the coldest morning in my sleeping bag. I love this thing

Day 1- Day 4

by Azure

Checking the mapMike checking the map day 1

Day One

We took the train from Toulouse to Martel to start our walk. After a LONG lunch, we set off around 3pm for our first walk. After climbing a hill, we made our first offering of salt (salt is the ancient currency for trading of this region, so we are making all spiritual offerings with salt) while overlooking a small settlement of about three houses. We continued on, crossing the Dordogne a little before 5pm at a place called Floirac. In the town, we met a golden lab. It was friendly and started walking with us. At several times, we tried to get it to go home, but it wouldn’t and since it was getting dark, we needed to find a place to put our tent for the night. We hiked up the hill through one of the many oak forests, the dog with us the entire way. At one point there was a clearing that revealed a viewpoint, the first we had seen since leaving the town. We realized that it overlooked the entire valley. We could see and hear everything, even the bells from the church below. The dog, our loyal companion, laid down and so we took it as a sign that we should camp there. We set up camp on the edge of a bluff and ate the bread and cheese we had brought from Toulouse. I laid in the tent listening to the sounds of Mike and the dog playing and enjoying each other’s company. read more

Walking

by Azure

About a week ago, I received an email from Mike that said, “We’re doing something different this year – a combo walk-about and pilgrimage in Southwest France. I suspect I might have had a past life in the region, so we’re going to head there and just walk. Right now we’re talking about arriving in Bordeaux and walking to the Mediterranean, though this plan might change by the time we get on the plane tomorrow night. Who knows. The reason we’re walking is that we’re going to be putting ourselves out there to be in as much contact with the land and structures and people as possible. We’re taking sleeping bags and a tent, so we’re hoping to sleep on the ground. The trek is around 350 miles.”

I was sitting in the living room of Travis and Aliya’s apartment in NYC when I got it. Mike was on the couch and I turned to him and said “Did you really just send this out to like 100 people? You know this means we have to do it now, right?”

The truth is, I really don’t think much about what we are doing, I leave that part up to Mike, but I am the logistical one in the duo and so I started thinking about how we’d get where by what means and what we would need to take. Ten days and many trips to REI/Decathalon later we are about to begin this walk-pilgrimage thing and I still have a few nagging concerns.

#1 It is the dead of winter. Today, the temperature was in the thirties and at night it gets below freezing.
#2 Neither of us has ever hiked for one whole day in our lives.
#3 Neither of us has ever camped other than out of a car.
#4 Overall ill-preparedness in general

The things we do have going for us are that we did do a one-hour test walk around the chateau grounds. Luckily it was just as cold and rainy as it will be for the hike and we survived the test. Later, Mike had a dream about trees or stars or something and ended up finding his way to this specific tree and at the base was a giant ring of mushrooms. The internet revealed that it was called a fairy ring and mythically it is where elves congregated, so we had to set up our tent in the middle of the ring and sleep out there during a storm. All in all, both tests seemed to go alright, so off we go.

In all honesty, I am excited for this hike. We returned the rental car early and I must say the feeling of freedom really shocked me. Usually I associate having a car with freedom, but right now, I feel empowered to walk anywhere, even if there are no roads! I have never had the chance to just walk somewhere like this. I like to think of it as my very own Oregon Trail type situation. Would I have made it or started crying and stopped? We’ll see today!

We aren’t bringing our big camera on this walk (too much weight), so for the most part, it is all imagination.

Heading to France

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.” – Theodore Roethke

“Still, if I’m going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful so many of those moments are nice.” – Kurt Vonnegut