A shot of Brent surfing in Bidart yesterday, captured by Luke Taaffe on his GoPro. Working at a surf company definitely has it’s perks – like surfing during lunch breaks! We sure enjoyed the summer weather that finally came to Biarritz this week. Happy Summer!
The third Sunday of each month my favorite local antique market, La Brocante d’Ahetze, takes place. Ahetze is a small Basque town, about a fifteen minute drive from Biarritz, that you get to by driving down some cute country roads lined with farm houses and fields of round hay bales (I love that they’re round in France). This market is one of my favorites because it’s one of the biggest markets happening monthly, with many vendors lining the streets of this small town and filling the courtyard next to the church, bells chiming every hour. The whole experience is very magical and seems like a scene out of an old movie, especially compared to the Long Beach Flea Market I was used to back home.
It seems like it’s raining every time this market is happening, but that doesn’t stop me and luckily doesn’t stop the vendors. They know the drill, this is afterall Basque Country, where it rains almost every day (but really needs to stop – it’s mid June and still feels like winter here!). I usually explore the weekend markets with my good friend Erin, we’re so good and finding deals together, but sometimes I am able to drag Brent along with me. I’m always trying to convince him it’s great practice speaking French and you can always find such good design inspiration.
At this market you can find anything and everything – from old furniture and homegoods to vintage clothes, vintage linens and glassware to old streets signs and trinkets. Old bicycles, patio sets, sea shells, vintage postcards, old books, brass figurines, baskets and toys. They have it all! I always keep an open mind when I go, not necessarily searching for anything specific, but taking it all in and letting objects speak to me. I love to find items with words written in French on them, like kitchen storage containers that say ‘Sucre’ or ‘Sel & Poivre’, vintage linens embroidered with initails, postcards and books about Biarritz and the Basque Country, jars for my collection of beachcombing treasures that always need organizing, little brass animals, vintage keys, old baskets, basically anything that feels unique, French, and will feel at home in Chateau Grettenberger. Brent’s always telling me I am buying too many things we don’t need for our small apartment, but I know someday when we move back home to California and live in a larger house again, I will be really happy I invested in so many French treasures that will always remind me of this special time. That, or I will be able to re-sell them at a flea market in LA for much more money. “It’s an investment” I tell him. Haha.
At the market this morning I scored some vintage linens embroidered with initials, a little plaque that says ‘Framboise’ (rasberry) and this amazing vintagejar with glass lid that says ‘Le Meilleur’ (The Best) on the main jar and lid. It was a good day for French typography finds! All for less than 15 euro. When we move back home I know one of the things I will miss the most will be exploring these weekend brocantes.
If you ever come to France and are interested in flea and antique markets, there’s a great website, vide-greniers.org, that I use to search for all the markets happening in France. You can search by region, department, or type of market and can also sign up for special alerts when markets are taking place near you. They have a facebook page that you can follow, as well. This site has led me to discover so many amazing treasures! Happy treasure hunting!
Back in November Brent and I checked another major city off our bucket list : London, England. Brent had actually already been once for a work trip with Quiksilver, but it was my first visit to England. It’s one of the few places you can fly to directly from the Biarritz airport so it was easy to do a quick weekend trip from a Friday night to a Sunday. We cashed in some of our Hyatt travel points to get a room at the Hyatt Andaz, which ended up being perfectly located – next to the main train station (that we took to and from the airport) and close to the Shoreditch neighborhood, which Brent had enjoyed on his previous trip and knew I would want to check out.
The first night when we arrived we met up with our friends Heather and Steve, who showed us a a great night on the town by taking us to some of the best local spots. I’ve known Heather since college days when we worked in several restaurants together and both studied art at SDSU. She met Steve (who is from England) while traveling after college, and after they were married (I even designed their wedding invites) she moved back to England with him where they’ve lived for the past seven years! It was fun to see the city for a night from a local’s perspective – we hopped in one of the famous London cabs where we went to a proper English pub (per Brent’s request), followed by a delicious curry dinner on Brick Lane. This whole street is lined with curry restaurants, most of which were BYOB, actually letting you bring your own alcohol in to drink with dinner, and you negotiate with the host outside the restaurant about the price you want to pay for your meal. You agree on the price per person out on the street, and once you settle on a price everyone is happy with, they bring you inside and seat you. It was a pretty amazing experience, the food was delicious and it was so fun catching up with old friends! Thanks Heather and Steve for such a fun night!
We woke up early to Saturday morning to a light snow fall – it was FREEZING but we were still determined to conquer as much of the city as we could during our one full day. We headed to the famous colorful neighborhood of Notting Hill, where the streets were lined with houses each painted a different color of the rainbow – some pastels, some bright and saturated, with the cutest vintage cars parked on every corner. We walked through the famous Portobello Market where vendors sell everything from antiques to vintage clothes, fresh fruit and veggies, floral tea cups, and our favorite on this freezing morning : hot apple cider and mulled wine.
After Notting Hill we made our way around the busy Oxford Circus area and checked out a few shops. We made sure to stop in the famous department store Liberty, which was one of my favorite shopping experiences. Every floor of the store had a different theme, my favorites were the paper shop on the ground floor, the Liberty floor, which was full of products printed with the famous floral patterns Liberty is famous for, and the Christmas shop, which was an entire floor dedicated to Christmas ornaments and decorations. I could have spent so much time in there, but it was extremely packed, full of holiday shoppers, and we could barely move through the isles. I would like to go back again and visit when it’s not so crowded. From there we walked all the way to the Palace of Westminster and saw the famous Big Ben. By the end of the day and all this walking we could barely feel our feet, they were so numb from the cold!
We made sure to take advantage of the variety of food while we were there. We tried the famous fish and chips from Poppie’s in Shoreditch, enjoyed Pho for dinner, which was the perfect way to end the most freezing day, stopped at Starbucks to enjoy a gingerbread latte, which sounds so lame (we were in London, why would we want Starbucks?) but after not having a large to-go coffee from Starbucks (or anywhere) in many months, it definitely hit the spot for this American girl.
Our last morning in London we didn’t have much time, so we woke up early and walked to the famous Tower Bridge. After the bridge we enjoyed a big ‘American’ style breakfast, also something we don’t get in France, before catching our train back to the airport. We crammed a lot into less than 48 hours, but definitely felt like we made a good dent in our London bucket list! Hopefully we’ll be able to visit again sometime soon!
This trip it was Brent’s turn to pick where we explored, so when he figured out May 5th was a national holiday in France (meaning he got the day off work), and he found cheap plane tickets to the island of Sardinia, the decision was made : our big summer vacation this year would be spent exploring the Mediterranean beaches of this Italian island. He literally spent about 25 hours researching where we should stay on the island (I keep telling him he needs to be a travel agent – he’s so good at planning these trips), and after hours and hours learning about the island, he booked an apartment in the town of Cala Gonone on the east side of the island.
We flew into the town of Olbia and picked up our rental car – Brent was excited because not only did they upgrade him to a small SUV, “Big car for big boy” the agent said to him, but they also gave us a brand new, never been driven car. It was about an hour and a half drive to the town where we were staying, where we checked into our apartment rented out to us by a little old Italian couple who didn’t speak English, but did speak French, which was how we ended up communicating. Even though I studied Italian in college it’s been almost TEN years since I’ve used it, and with French filling my brain now, sadly I’ve lost a lot. The apartment was huge and had a beautiful garden patio area with a table where we could sit and look out at a view of the sea and the Sardinian coastline. It was perfect.
DAY ONE : Soaking up the sunshine on the beach of Cala Fuili
Our first full day on the island it was gloriously warm and sunny so we made our way to the beach of Cala Fuili, recommended by the hosts of our apartment, to spend it in the sun. Cala Fuili was located in a little cove down at the base of two cliffs that we had to hike down into. The sand was warm, the views amazing, and the water was so so blue – that dreamy turquoise clear water that all vacation travel ads are made of. The water was still very cold, but it was warm enough outside that we were able to jump in for a few minutes, and then get right back out to warm up again. I think August was the last time I layed on the beach in the sunshine (way too long for this California girl) so the warmth and sunshine felt SO good, I was so happy!
DAY TWO : Exploring the coastline by boat
Brent’s number one goal for this trip was to rent a boat and explore the beaches, coves and turquoise waters of the coastline of the island. We did this on both our trips to Menorca and Croatia last summer, and both days turned out to be beyond epic – so now everytime we make it to the Mediterranean that’s the goal : find a boat. Boat rentals played a big part in Brent’s decision to stay in Cala Gonone because they have a fishing port in the center of town filled with boat rental stands where you can easily get a boat, or large dingy in our case, for a day. After we found the perfect ‘boat’ and got a few exploring tips from the guys who rented to us, we set out to explore the coastline. The whole coast on this side of the island is lined with little beachs, coves, and caves, most only reachable by boat. We spent the day finding beaches to anchor at to lay out and enjoy the sun and that crystal clear water. Our favorite beach was Cala Luna, the most famous beach on the island lined with five large caves.
DAY THREE : Beach day in Cala Gonone
We decided to stay local and spend the day in the town of Cala Gonone. Afterall Brent had done a ton of research figuring out that this was the perfect place to spend the week, so we decided to stay and enjoy it. We spent some time laying out on the pink sand beach right below our apartment. We practically had the whole beach to ourselves, had a great view of the coastline, and were still able to enjoy the crystal clear water. The main road of town runs along the waterfront and is lined with a bunch of cute waterfront restaurants, where we’ve been trying a new one every day. We had a nice lunch on the water and Brent was very excited to discover that they had a pizza on the menu with french fries as one of the toppings. He started ordering pizzas with a side of fries, and then adding the fries to the pizza himself, on a work trip to Hong Kong a few years back – he does it all the time in France, too. His friends were making fun of him and people usually look at him like he is crazy, so he was VERY EXCITED to discover this is a normal item on the menu for the Italians, and we’ve seen several locals order it! Pizza et frites! Pizza et frites! It’s totally a thing in Italy.
DAY FOUR : Drive to the town of Bosa
The fourth day of our trip we sadly woke up to rain. Since we couldn’t have another beach day we decided to take the opportunity to go for a drive and explore the island. Brent, again the researcher, had read online that the town of Bosa was worth checking out, so we set off for the opposite side of the island. It was about a two hour drive to cross the island, and despite the rain the drive was gorgeous! Really lush green hills and valleys sprinkled with sheep, wildflowers, vineyards, and olive trees. It felt really Mediterranean and also reminded us a lot of Hawaii. The colorful town of Bosa lined a hillside along a river, it was picture perfect. We eplored the little cobblestone streets in the rain and had lunch in the main square of town and people watched. It was the perfect adventure for a rainy day.
DAY FIVE : Hike to Cala Luna
Luckily there was no more rain, but still a little overcast, so we decided it was perfect hiking weather and a good day to tackle the trail to Cala Luna. We had seen parts of this trail from the boat a few days earlier, and had seen hikers all over town all week long, so I had been wanting to check it out. The trail started in Cala Fuili, the little cove where we spent our first beach day, and ended in Cala Luna – four very rocky, hilly miles later. About halfway along the trail it splits off and there is a small section along the cliffs that lead into a cave grotto. To get to the grotto we had to walk along a very narrow man-made walkway that the waves came crashing up right underneath against the cliff. It was very loud and a little scary, but we survived. Two hours later we made it to Cala Luna where we stopped for a lunch break and explored a few more caves that we hadn’t seen via boat the day before. It was definitely one of the coolest hikes we’ve ever done!
DAY SIX : Another Day Exploring Cala Gonone
Our last full day on the island we decided to spend a little more time exploring our beach town of Cala Gonone. The walk into town from our apartment took about ten minutes on a little foot path along the edge of the beach. The view coming down the hill from our apartment, looking out over the town, was one of my favorites. We hit up a few shops to get some souvenirs, enjoyed and antipasto platter overlooking the water, and beachcombed (of course) one last time. The sun came out for us but it was extremely windy, so wasn’t the best laying-out conditions. By the end of the week so much Italian had started to come back to me, I kept saying complete sentences in Italian to Brent, I was so proud. We’ll have to come back to Italy again soon so I can keep practicing!
If you ever get the chance to make it to the island of Sardinia, we would definitely recommend it. For warmer water it’s probably better to go in June or July, but with warmer water you also get a lot more people, so you have to pick and choose your battles. The town of Cala Gonone was a perfect location, too. Not too touristy, but just enough going on that you can easily spend a relaxing week with plenty of restaurant options. Italy will always have my heart. I already can’t wait to go back! Ciao ciao ciao ciao!
Back in early March Brent and I spent a long weekend checking Lisbon, Portugal off our bucket list. After having such a great time in Porto last year (on the exact same weekend in March, actually), Lisbon quickly rose to the top of our list. So when Brent found cheap plane tickets, we decided to book a last minute weekend getaway and go explore! Brent booked a really nice hotel, Brown’s Central Hotel, that ended up being walking distance from everything we wanted to check out. My favorite thing about the hotel was the crisp, clean white sheets. I’m usually not very picky about the hotels or apartments we stay in when we travel, but I do like feeling like I’m climbing into a clean bed at the end of a long day, and crispy white hotel sheets with a nice fluffy pillow will always do the trick.
We arrived really late Friday night, like 2am in the morning late, so our first chance to explore was when we woke up Saturday morning. The guide we had hired to show us around on Sunday had suggested a few shopping areas to check out Saturday, with stores that wouldn’t be open on Sunday, so the first thing we did was make our way to the Feira da Ladra Flea Market in the Alfama district (of course!). We didn’t have working phones or directions, so after looking at a map in the hotel, we ended up wandering in the general direction of the market which lead to exploring lots of interesting, small winding cobblestone streets. We worked our way through part of the Alfama district discovering lots of graffiti covered walls, and houses covered in the famous colorful patterened tiles of Portugal. I could have spent an entire week just wandering the streets taking in the textures, colors and tiles – so much graphic inspiration! I always feel so inspired in Portugal. We spent the whole day just wandering around the city, exploring and getting acquainted with the different neighborhoods.
Sunday Brent had hired a guide, Vera from Tailor Made Travel, to give us a private tour around the city. We enjoyed our private tour with Ricardo in Porto so much that Brent reached out to him to see if he knew anyone in Lisbon who gave a similar tour, and he recommended Vera. Vera walked us all over the city and customized the tour to our style – she told us the history of the city and walked us around parts of the Alfama district that we wouldn’t have discovered without her, and that ended up being some of my favorite streets in the entire city, showed us some local markets, recommended restaurants, and showed us the different neighborhoods of the city. We had told her we were interested in sampling local food, at the non-touristy places, so throughout the day we popped into little shops and restaurants and bars to sample local cheeses, pastries, sausages and drinks. We ended the day sharing a bottle of wine in the sunshine, on a rooftop bar overlooking the river. It was a great day with Vera and she really helped us make the most of our short time in the city.
Monday morning we had just a few hours in the city before we had to hop on a plane back to Biarritz, so we used the time to explore a few new streets and shops, grab some food at the Time Out Market (one of my favorite places, read more about it in my previous post), fill up on more pastries and enjoy the sun. The energy in this city is just so good : positive, colorful, inspiring. Lisbon is definitely a city we will return to again someday!