Three Days in the Dordogne region of France, part 2

burnt out car oradourHello again! If you’re still reading, I’m glad I didn’t scare you away with my last post! But these things happen, right? We have these images in our head about how it will be the perfect vacation, and it’s never quite the same…real life happens instead.  This trip was very different from others I’ve taken, and I ended up LOVING the differences! Because I wasn’t feeling well for much of the trip, and our son wanted to sleep late most days, we ended up moving more slowly than I normally do in Europe.  But it was so relaxing, and I enjoyed it even more than past trips where I’ve put pressure on myself to see more sights.

This time, I still did lots of research ahead of time, but we had a very loose schedule. Each day, we’d meet up with our son for a late breakfast/early lunch, and while at the meal, we’d discuss options for the day and make a plan based on what we felt like seeing that day.

danijela-froki-391486-unsplash.jpgDaily plans always involved cappuccinos!

We only pre-booked two activities, and those were the prehistoric caves with the cave paintings. My husband and son went to the Lascaux International Centre for Cave Art on the day I was sick in bed. They said it was fantastic and the interpretive center was amazing, although the actual cave is closed to visitors, so you walk through a replica of the cave instead. I was sad to have missed that, but on our third day in the Dordogne, we went to Pech Merle, another cave with paintings and a small museum. I studied the paintings in both Lascaux and Pech Merle during an art history class, and I have to say it was incredible to stand in the actual cave itself and see the prehistoric cave paintings from over 20,000 years ago. I thought they’d be faded and hard to see, but they are still vibrant – this was easily one of my favorite experiences of the trip (and probably on my top five list of all my trips to Europe). Pech Merle is very strict about controlling the number of visitors per day, so I highly recommend booking ahead, especially during the summer high season. I booked about three weeks out so that we could get an English tour, as there were only two or three per day. In order to preserve the paintings, they are very strict about no photos in the cave, so I don’t have any of my own to share with you, but you can click here to see some of the paintings

Gouffre di Padirac 2 Part of the underground river at Gouffre de Padirac 

After our tour at Pech Merle, we drove to Gouffre de Padirac, an underground cavern with a river and a lake. We did not book ahead, but were able to walk right up to the ticket window and get tickets for the next time slot. It is super crowded, but the line moves very quickly, so don’t panic if you get there and it looks like there are thousands of people in front of you! They have two options to travel down – you can take a lift (elevator) or hike it down (and back up) hundreds of stairs! We chose to hike down the stairs, after which you walk through the cavern (with an audioguide) until you get to a lake. Then you get into a boat with a guide, and travel across the lake to continue the journey through the cavern. The whole experience is otherworldly – you’re 130 meters underground and walking along a river…it was completely touristy but super cool at the same time (and a great stair workout)!

IMG_1911The stairs at Gouffre de Padirac – but don’t worry, there’s a lift as well!

**Day three in the Dordogne – Skipped my planned morning bike ride because I’d only had one light meal in the previous 48 hours. By end of day could eat normally again…yippee! 10,991 steps for the day, most of them up and down the stairs at Gouffre de Padirac**

Thursday was a travel day…we were leaving the Dordogne and driving to Poitiers to turn in the rental car and take the train to Paris. I FINALLY got to ride my rental bike, but we wanted to stop at Oradour-Sur-Glane on the way to Poitiers, so I rode from 8-9 AM, then turned in the bike and away we went. Added to the list for my next visit – schedule a full day to rent a bike and ride the entire trail, stopping along the way for coffee and lunch!

bike path sarlatThe Sarlat Voie Verte bike path – so beautiful!

Oradour-Sur-Glane is midway between Sarlat and Poitiers, so it made a perfect stopping point to break up the drive. The town lies along the line which divided Occupied France from Vichy France during World War II –  a few days after the D-Day invasion in Normandy, Nazi officers gathered up all the people in town, shot the men in the streets, locked the women and children in the church then burned the entire town, including the church. In all, 642 people died that day (I think only 1 person escaped). As a memorial and a reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the town has been left as it was the day the Nazis burned it.

church bell oradourThe remains of the church bell…

A new town was rebuilt just next to the old, and there is now a museum as well as a portrait wall with photos of most of the people killed that day. They are still collecting photos and hope to eventually have a photo of every man, woman and child who perished.

portrait wall oradour.JPGThe portrait wall at Oradour-sur-Glane museum; white squares represent victims for whom they don’t have a photo yet…

We spent about 90 minutes here, but could have easily spent four or five hours if we didn’t have a deadline to return our rental car. You first enter the museum, where the exhibits talk about the rise of the Nazi party and the history of the invasion in France. Exhibits educate visitors about other massacres committed by the Nazi’s – did you know that the Nazi officers were never held accountable for any of the massacres that were committed? Then you walk through the portrait gallery into the town itself.

cafe oradourCafe tables and chairs in the ruins of a cafe

Silence is requested, but a hush naturally fell over the crowd as we entered the town. It was hauntingly eerie and sobering to see cafe tables overturned, sewing machines sitting on ledges in houses, and burned out cars parked in the streets. It’s not an uplifting day, but oh so important to remember and mourn.

Have you traveled to any WWII sites? Which ones have you seen? I’d love to hear about your experiences….and as always, thank you for reading!

Best Summer Activities in Winston Salem

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Happy June!  School is out in Winston Salem, which means it’s officially summer! We don’t have any big plans for a summer vacation yet, so I’m going to make sure I take full advantage of everything on offer right here at home this summer. If you’re looking for ideas,  here is a short list of some of my favorite summertime activities in Winston Salem…

bailey parkSpending time at Bailey ParkBailey Park holds myriad summer activities in the Innovation Quarter. Whether it’s the Innovation and Cinema outdoor movie series, Sunset Salutations yoga in the park, Food Trucks at lunchtime or Ice Cream Tuesdays, there is always something fun happening in Bailey Park!

salem bikingRiding a Zagster Bike along the Greenways – I’m currently training for my next bike trip (through the Czech Republic in September) so I can often be found riding on one of the greenways around town. My two favorite locations to rent a Zagster bike are Bailey Park (jump on the Long Branch Trail from here – it connects up to the Salem Creek Greenway) or the Gateway YWCA (access the Salem Creek Greenway directly here). Both trails connect up to the Salem Lake Trail for a 20 mile roundtrip ride. 

IMG_8554Minor League baseball with the Winston Salem Dash – Minor League baseball is awesome… it’s family-friendly, you can get up close and personal with the players (some of whom may be the stars of tomorrow), fireworks happen on Friday nights, and kids can run the bases after the games. But the Dash takes it a step further with additional activities such as Pups in the Park, when your pooch can join you for the game, and Yoga in the Outfield, where a special ticket buys you a yoga class in the outfield before the game, a soda or a beer, and a lawn ticket for the game. Yoga, beer and baseball all for one low price – how can you go wrong???

Summer Music Series – Winston Salem has some awesome musicians, partly due to the fact that the UNC School of the Arts is located here (the ONLY publicly funded arts conservatory in the nation – think Juilliard but at in-state tuition levels – it’s part of the UNC system). During the summer, we have lots of opportunities to hear great music. Whether it’s Downtown Jazz at Corpening Plaza, Summer on Liberty with the entire intersection shut down for live music and dancing, or the Summer Parks series with concerts in local parks, there are tons of options for free outdoor concerts!

IMG_4014Movies under the Stars – This is probably my all time favorite summer activity…I love seeing a movie outdoors on a breezy summer evening, and am so grateful that Winston Salem offers lots of options! Bailey Park has an Innovation and Cinema series, Reynolda House has Movies on the Lawn, and Winston Square Park (pictured at top) is the setting for Sunset Flicks (I haven’t seen a schedule yet for this year, so am keeping my fingers crossed that it reappears). The neighboring town of Lewisville also has a series at Shallowford Square.

scooby sup salem lakeStand Up Paddleboarding at Salem lakeSalem Lake has just undergone a massive improvement…the city built a new boat house, playground, restrooms and a Zagster bikeshare station. A seven mile trail circles the lake for walkers, runners, bikers and equestrians. Pier and boat fishing is allowed and they also offer canoe rentals. Small boats, canoes, kayaks and SUP boards can be used on the lake as well. I love getting out on the lake for an hour or so on a nice summer evening. I’m even training my dog to SUP with me! He doesn’t try to chase the ducks and geese, but keeps falling in as he tries to eat the bubbles in the water from my paddle 🙂 The Salem Lake website is woefully out of date, so I highly recommend you call the marina for up to date info!

Taking a tour or SUP class with Triad ECO Adventures – Full disclosure here…I am a Segway Glide Guide for this company (although this post is not sponsored and I am in no way being compensated for this post).  However, I truly believe that our Segway tours, Electric bike tours and Stand Up Paddleboard lessons add fun options to Winston Salem.  You can even book a Glide and Dine event for a group – we’ll do the first half of the Segway tour on the way to lunch or dinner, let your group eat, then do the second half of the tour after your meal. If it’s your first time on a Segway, read this post for some tips!

western NC mountainsHiking in the Western NC Mountains – Okay, so this isn’t actually in Winston Salem. But when the summer heat starts getting to me (any of you who know me can attest to the fact that I am NOT a fan of hot weather!) it’s an easy hop skip and a jump to the mountains, where it is usually about ten degrees cooler. There are hundreds of hikes and I love to take my dog and explore!

7 Great things about Rochester, NY

eastman Quad at UR

Before my son started graduate school at the University of Rochester, I had never visited the city. Now, it almost feels like my second home (well, at least in the late spring/summer/fall; Miami, where my daughter lives, is my winter/early spring second home – aren’t I a lucky woman to have so many climates from which to choose?). I just spent a week in Rochester helping my son unpack in his new house, and thought I’d write a post on the things I love about this city in western NY.

Letchworth State Park

Autumn – beyond anything else, I love fall in western New York! The reds, oranges and yellows of the trees are amazing and there are SO many spectacular places to hike not far from Rochester (Letchworth State Park is about an hour away if you want a truly beautiful hike through a gorge with several waterfalls). Orchards for apple picking abound in the area – we enjoy tasting “new to us” varieties and making apple pie with our loot!

The Genesee Riverway Trail – a 24 mile paved trail that runs from the Erie Canal on the south side of Rochester up through downtown, ending at Lake Ontario. The trail runs right by the campus of UR, so we’ve walked the trail from there up to High Falls just north of downtown Rochester. This trail connects to the Erie Canal Heritage Trail just south of campus, in Genesee Valley Park.

Erie canal heritage Trail

Erie Canal Heritage Trail  Part of the 365 mile long Erie Canalway Trail, the Heritage Trail is itself 86 miles long. One of my absolute favorite things to do in Rochester is to rent a bike from Towpath Bike in Pittsford and ride along the canal. It’s a scenic, mostly level ride, and absolutely spectacular in the fall!

Pittsford dairy

Pittsford Farms Dairy – Pittsford itself is an adorable town, particularly Schoen Place along the canal where Towpath Bike is located. But Pittsford Farms Dairy deserves a special mention – it’s a dairy, bakery, ice cream parlor and retail store, all in one. The ice cream is to die for, and they carry all kinds of baked goods and dairy products, as well as locally made jams, sauces, etc. We try to stop by every time I visit (alas, during my most recent visit we were so focused on unpacking that we didn’t make an ice cream run – next time!)

lilac bush

The Rochester Lilac Festival – For 120 years (it started in 1898!!), Rochester has celebrated the arrival of spring with a free festival in Highland Park, where thousands of lilacs bloom. Highland Park is beautiful all year, but during the festival there are concerts, art shows, booths selling hand-crafted soaps, lotions, and other wares, as well as 5K and 10K runs and many other special events, drawing over 500,000 visitors each year. Last year, I was able to run about 4 miles of the 10K, so my goal is to make it back in a year or two and run the entire 6.2! This year, it runs from May 11-20, so if you’re in the area, I highly recommend you stop by!

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra – My husband introduced me to the joys of the symphony when we were in college. Now, it’s fun to watch our son enjoying the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra! Luckily for us, the RPO had a concert while we were in town last week, so all three of us were able to attend A Night of Symphonic Rock. The orchestra played classic rock and tunes from Broadway musicals such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, then a classic rock cover band played the second half of the show. RPO has tons of special events, including movie nights – the orchestra will play the soundtrack as they show Ghostbusters and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets later this year, among others! And as a bonus, they sell student tickets at a steep discount – some shows cost as little as $15 if you are a college student!

eletrical box art

Electrical box art  – this may seem like a small thing, but I love how the city of Rochester has turned the street corner electrical boxes into art! Each one is painted differently, but it’s a simple way to beautify a utilitarian item. My Scooby tried really hard to blend in with this one!

So there’s my completely random collection of things I love about Rochester…I’m sure there are tons of other things I haven’t discovered yet! If you’ve been, what are some of your favorite places or events???

My Travel Bucket List

Rome Pantheon

Pantheon in Rome – Photo by Evan Qu on Unsplash

Hello! I don’t know if everyone has a travel bucket list, but I definitely do. It seems the more I travel, the longer my list gets…does this happen to anyone else?  I meet other travelers, and they tell me about cool places they’ve visited, and wham, another place goes on my list! 

I thought I’d share mine today…I’d love to hear about yours as well!

Watch snow fall through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome – This one comes straight from the book Four Seasons in Rome, a travel memoir written by Anthony Doerr. As it only snows in Rome about once every four years, this one will be tricky to accomplish – I’d have to basically watch the weather forecast and then grab a last minute flight! Starting to save my pennies now…as it snowed in Rome last month, I should have a few years to save up. **Alas, I was woefully unprepared last month to take a last minute trip – you can bet I won’t miss that chance next time!**

Ride bikes along the Danube in Austria with my daughter – I did this trip two years ago, with two girlfriends, and I’m super excited to return and share the adventure with my daughter!  I took lots of notes about the towns I liked and didn’t like, so the second ride should be even better logistically, and I love spending one on one time with my girl.

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Drive Iceland’s Ring Road with my husband and two sons – My daughter and I went to Iceland a few years ago, and I kept thinking how much my husband and sons would like it! I would love to go back with my men and explore even more of Iceland by driving the Ring Road all the way around the country.

Rent an apartment in Paris by myself for two weeks – I love Paris, I’ve been to Paris a few times, and want to go by myself next year. I want to explore at my own pace, on my own schedule, and sit in a cafe and read for six hours without worrying that my companion is bored. 

Take a summer road trip entirely planned around library book sales – my family and I are total book lovers.  We can spend days in used book stores. Last summer we were visiting our oldest son in Upstate New York and found a library used book sale. We happily spent a couple of hours browsing and went home with two boxes full of books. At some point on the drive home, we said “Wouldn’t it be fun to plan an entire road trip and just go from one library sale to another?” So one of these years, the Debrecht Family Library Book Sale Road Trip will happen – though I’m afraid we would have to rent a moving truck to haul our purchases home!

Explore Slovenia – It’s been on my list for years, but I haven’t made it yet! I keep seeing photos which make me long to go explore – I don’t think 2018 will be the year, but who knows!

Visit a Southern Living Idea House – every year, Southern Living magazine features their idea house. These houses always look so beautiful, and I’d love to actually visit one at some point. Maybe this year, since I live in the South right now?

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See all those people? That’s what I want to avoid! Photo by Melissa on Unsplash

Hike an uncrowded section of the Great Wall of China – I’ve never been to Asia, but would love at some point to hike the wall where there are not ten million tourists all walking at the same time…surely, with thousands of miles of wall, I should be able to accomplish this, right?? There’s even one section lit up at night for a night hike!

Spend Christmas in Europe – I’d love to travel with my family to Europe for Christmas one year – wander the Christmas markets, enjoy ice skating and holiday decorations, and experience how other countries celebrate the holiday. I don’t have a particular destination in mind and would be happy to let my family choose! **Hubby, if you’re reading this, I think Christmas of 2019 would be perfect!**

Delicate Arch Utah.jpg

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah – Photo by Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash

Visit the six states I haven’t seen – Courtesy of my 20 moves and love of travel, I’ve visited 44 of the 50 United States. I’m only missing Alaska, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Vermont (I know, Vermont’s the outlier here – somehow, despite the fact we lived in Connecticut for five years, we never made it to Vermont). At some point, I’ll make it to these six and will be able to say I’ve seen all 50 of our beautiful states! I still remember the huge argument I had with a Texan when I was in college…he said that Texas had the most interesting history of any state, and I argued that each state had its own unique story and that they were all fascinating. Can’t wait to explore the last six and learn their stories!

What places and experiences are on your travel bucket list??? Maybe I’ll add a few more to mine….

As always, thanks so much for reading and have a great weekend!

 

8 Topics to discuss before traveling with friends

amigas on trail

The Amigas on the trail!

Happy Sunday everyone! I’m writing this from my happy place – my swinging chair on my front porch, with my dog keeping me company.  I LOVE my front porch – it’s my favorite place for morning coffee, meditation, afternoon tea with friends, watching the rain, or just to curl up with a good book. My husband and I sometimes eat dinner out here as well!

Two years ago, I cycled 240 miles through Austria along the Danube River with two friends. We are currently training for our next trip (biking through the Czech Republic in the fall) and this got me thinking about topics we discussed ahead of time that helped make our travel smoother. So here’s our list, in hopes that it might help someone else have a better trip! My assumption here is that you value the friends you will be traveling with and want to nurture those friendships…if not, maybe ask yourself why you’d want to travel with them in the first place!

How to share expenses – If you only talk about one thing before booking a trip with friends, talk about finances.  Are you a budget traveler or do you like to stay in luxury accommodations? Are you on a super tight budget while others in the group have a bit more to spend? Money issues can cause a lot of friction if you don’t hammer out details ahead of time! For our trip, we agreed we were good with mid-level lodging except for one night of the trip when we upgraded to a hotel with a spa (after six straight days of biking, that massage felt really good)! And at our first meal, we realized we hadn’t talked about how to share food expenses. We decided that since we all eat about equally, we would put money into a communal pot from which we would pay for all meals and sightseeing. We put in 100 euros at a time, and when the pot was empty we added more. At the end of the trip, we split what was left. This system worked well for us but if you have a group where people have different budget levels, (or if one person doesn’t drink and others have three drinks every night) it might work better to have everyone pay individually. There are also all kinds of apps now which allow you to track expenses throughout the trip and the app calculates who owes what at the end of the trip. The key here is to talk about it before you leave!

**We did set rules for alcohol consumption – our rules were 1. No more than two drinks from the communal pot at dinner and 2. If someone started ordering six drinks at dinner, the other two were supposed to slap some sense into the person over-imbibing!**

cooffee in cesky krumlov 2

Coffee in Cesky Krumlov – paid for with our communal dining fund

Temperature preference – another important topic if you will be sharing hotel rooms.  Elizabeth and I like to have it cold when we sleep – Jenn likes it warm. Knowing this ahead of time, and knowing that we would be sharing two out of three nights, Jenn brought sweats to sleep in, and Elizabeth and I packed the lightest possible sleep clothes, so we could set the room to a mid-cool temperature.

Each traveler’s need for alone time – You might need time by yourself every day; Sue might be looking forward to spending every minute with you. If you address this need beforehand, Sue won’t be hurt when you want to retreat with a good book after dinner. My friends and I each require alone time in order to function well, so we booked one twin room and one single room for our trip, and rotated roommates each night. We each got a night by ourselves every third day and shared with a different person on the other two – this kept it fun (like sleepovers!) yet gave us our valuable solitude. At the end of our trip, we spent four nights in Vienna, and reserved a three bedroom apartment for those nights. After ten days of traveling together, it was heavenly to have our own bedrooms for the last few days! We recognized that we needed to be proactive on this issue, so agreed to speak up if we wanted to be by ourselves – it does no one any good to hold back and then get resentful or cranky! We ended up with a comfortable flow during the days as well…sometimes two of us would chat on the bikes while the other rode a little ahead or behind, just enjoying the scenery and the peacefulness of the river.

on the danube bike trail

Sometimes we all rode quietly and just enjoyed the peace on the trail

Travel styles – Do you like to get up early and fill every minute with activity, or do you like a slower pace? Are you imagining short, quick meals or leisurely lunches? Do you like to shop or are you all about the museums? How do you feel about seeing ten churches in one day? This is another area where conflicting styles can cause tension. We knew sleep and fuel were important since we were biking six-seven hours each day, so we planned for adequate sleep and a full breakfast each morning, with a break for a sit-down lunch. The three of us enjoy wandering through shops together but also had a few “must see”  attractions we scheduled into our plans. Another important agreement was to stop for bathroom breaks, photos or snacks any time one of us wanted, no matter what. On the rare occasions when we could have felt resentful (I stopped us once not 30 seconds after we had started back up from a 20 minute snack break because I saw some rock “people” on the side of the road and wanted to take a photo) we just reminded ourselves of our agreement and it helped us reset our patience. We also saw some fun details that we might have missed if we hadn’t stopped! And it became a running joke that no matter what, we’d have to stop twice within our first 15 minutes of biking each day – once for me to adjust layers (I was experiencing major hot flashes during this trip) and once for a restroom stop (we drank a LOT of coffee and water before setting out each day so we could wake up and stay hydrated).

rock people

Rock “People” on the side of the trail

Sleep needs – some people can thrive on 6 hours of sleep a night; others need a full 8-9 to be good company. Let your traveling companions know that you want to be in bed by 11, or if you can’t function before 8 am. If you are one who needs more sleep *totally raising my hand here* bring what you need to make that sleep possible! My sleep kit includes an eye shade, ear plugs and melatonin. All three of us like to read before bed, so we brought kindles, which let us read without having to have an overhead lamp on.  Also consider snoring in this category – if you snore and Sue’s a light sleeper, this can cause very disrupted sleep for Sue. It might be well worth the money to get separate rooms in that case!

**Seriously people…sleep is so important when traveling, anything you need to ensure a good night’s sleep is worth every penny.**

Transportation – How do you plan to get to your destination, and around town once you arrive? Will you be walking, using public transportation or do you want to Uber/taxi everywhere? What about getting to and from the airport? Talking about this will avoid that last minute surprise when you come out wearing good walking shoes and your friend shows up in four inch stilettos and wants to take a cab. This can also fall under the financial discussion, as transportation costs can quickly add up for those on a limited budget.

Packing – Are you a diehard light packer and refuse to check a bag? Does Sue like to bring ten pairs of shoes and a huge suitcase? Are you going to be frustrated waiting at the luggage carousel or while Sue takes an extra ten minutes to haul her heavy suitcase up the stairs in the subway? Will you be resentful if you pack lightly only to have Sue ask if she can put her souvenirs in your suitcase “since you have extra room”? Will you have any group items to bring (we had bike repair equipment, but your group might have a tent and air mattresses if camping)? If so, divvy up the common gear so each person carries a little and the load is shared. Discuss luggage expectations and set the rule that everyone carries their own stuff.

shopping haul

One day’s shopping haul – our luggage got heavier as the trip progressed!

And last but not least – how will you handle unexpected problems or issues that arise? Safety falls into this category – we agreed that we would stay together after dark when wandering outside of our hotel. A group of singles might discuss what to do if one of the group wants to stay out all night after meeting someone. We also agreed that if an unexpected problem arose that could be solved with a little bit of money, we would “throw some money at it and make it go away” – this agreement was very handy when we couldn’t find a laundromat for five straight days and had to pay 55 euros for our hotel to do an overnight load of laundry. After two days of biking in day old bike shorts, it was well worth that money to wake up and put on fresh clothes!

Have you ever traveled with a group of friends? What types of things do you wish you had talked about in advance, or were glad you did talk about?