Monday, October 15, 2012

Notes From My European Adventure

Courmayeur, Italy
Buongiorno!  I'm back from my crazy, amazing, fantastic, inspirational, exhausting, relaxing, and exhilirating adventure through France and Italy.  Three weeks that exceeded all my expectations, and that I'll never forget.  The food, the wine, the mountains, the sea...all while making great friends along the way. 

Trying to sum up this incredible trip is difficult for me.  I mean, I think I took about 1200 pictures on my phone, and yet none of them do it justice (although this first picture I've posted here might be my favorite).  Being in another country- with its different food, culture, and language- helped me get more in touch with myself.  When you're sitting on a balcony in a small Italian town, overlooking the Mediterrenean Sea and out of your own element a bit, you have this ability to start tackling the big questions in life.  No, not my usual questions, like...what shoes go right with this outfit?  what am I having for lunch?  why does my dog need to go in and out of the house 15 times in 15 minutes, and why do I keep getting up like a sucker to enable this habit?

No, I mean the big questions, like...what makes me happy?  What fulfills me in life?  Am I where I want to be?  And if not, how do I get there?  And of course, what is the next adventure on the horizon?  I also felt incredibly lucky and blessed.  I got to spend three weeks in some of the most beautiful places I've ever visited, with one of my best friends, and I really felt like I lived every single moment.  Nope, we didn't do it all.  We didn't even TRY to do it all.  We did just enough.  And it was perfect.

After a blissful week in Paris soaking in the City of Lights, Marika and I traveled to Chamonix, France to begin a week of hiking in the Alps.  Where we saw sights like this the entire week.

We set off on an adventure with 12 new friends on a G Adventures hiking tour.  Spoiler Alert:  I'm just going to tell you right now that this hiking trip was AWESOME.  When Marika and I decided to jump on board with this guided hiking trip, we both had our reservations.  Thoughts like...are we going to have to spend a week with a bunch of weirdos?  Are we going to die on the mountain from exhaustion?  Will we get to eat a lot of cheese?  (I would be lying if I said that my friend Jon's description of a particular French delicacy called raclette was not the leading reason why I wanted to go on this hiking tour.)  

I'll answer this first:  we got to eat cheese.  This, my friends, is a picture of a giant block of melty cheese that you scrape with a knife specifically designed for this purpose.  Here's Marika demonstrating the beautiful art that is: RACLETTE.  Oh my heavenly Lord, this meal was a dream.   

Here's the entire spread it was served with!
(I also have an inordinate amount of food pictures from my trip.  Not because they're pretty pictures.  Mostly because I just didn't want to forget any morsel!)

As for whether we spent a week hiking with a bunch of weirdos?  Well, you be the judge.
Dan, German Lady #1, me, German Lady #2, Gretchen, Polka Bandmate #1, Marika, Nancy, and...let's call him Hans
Although if we spent the week with a bunch of weirdos, then Marika and I (and Gretchen!) were the weirdest of all!
Our group hiking tour, the Mont Blanc Explorer, was led by our fearless guide Jose and took us through the alpine terrain of Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France, and Courmayeur, Italy.  It consisted of 11 loud, opinionated, fun-loving women...and Dan.  I'm not sure if Dan thought he hit the jackpot, or woke up in some kind of nightmare after being randomly placed in group consisting of entirely women for a whole week.  Whatever his feelings on day one, we certainly won him over in the end. 

We hiked through some of the most beautiful terrain I've ever seen, and I live in ALASKA!  Craggy mountains, icy blue glaciers, lush alpine tundra covered in wildflowers, and beautiful glassy lakes nestled throughout our hikes. 

It's impossible to pinpoint my favorite moment of our week in the Alps.  Taking the tram up to the top of the L'Aiguille du Midi was pretty spectacular.  The day hike that Dan, Marika, and I took that included an incredible meal at one of the mountain refuges along the way was awfully special.  Charcuterie, tartiflette, and cheese to die for. 
Or the last night when we came upon a German polka band playing in the middle of the street in small town France to a crowd of spectators, and Gretchen, Marika, and I deciding to get up and dance in the middle of the street...when NO ONE ELSE WAS DANCING.  That was unforgettable, , and a pretty special moment (I'm also certain that Jose and Dan were shocked and horrified...and kinda impressed, am I right boys?)   
I think the best part about it was the friendship.  We really had a special chemistry in our group.  I made friends I hope to have for a lifetime, and it's an experience I'll never forget.

After bidding all our new friends goodbye, Marika and I set off on a grueling day of train travel to Cinque Terre, Italy.  Or, as I like to call it, The Place Where Every View Is A Postcard. 
After a busy week walking laps around Paris, and a physically demanding week hiking in the Alps, the only thing Marika and I could really focus on when we arrived in Riomaggiore, Italy was REST.

Well, rest and food.  We never forgot about food.

The first day we arrived, we spent the entire day sunning (and shading) ourselves on our beautiful rooftop balcony.  We hit the jackpot with this apartment.  The views were stunning!

From our private balcony in Riomaggiore, overlooking the Mediterrenean Sea

On this day, we rested.  And we ate.  We basically only left the apartment to find food.  And we did- delicious local cheese, focaccia (which originated in this region of Italy), salumi, assorted antipasto, and PESTO.  Which is by far the best pesto I've ever tasted, in the area it is best known for. 

We also ate a lot of anchovies in Cinque Terre.  This region is known for it's fresh seafood, and we ate anchovies every day.  It was a foodie's dream.

We had salt-cured anchovies.


We had fresh anchovies with olive oil and lemon.

We had deep fried and stuffed anchovies.

We also had anchovies with potatoes, olive oil, and tomatoes, as well as pasta with anchovies.  It was our Italian version of Bubba Gump Shrimp ("He was my best good friend.")

Lest you think all we did on this leg of our adventure was eat, you are mistaken.  We also drank A LOT of wine.  And enjoyed a lot of blue water and sunshine


In Cinque Terre, the idea is not so much to play the tourist and locate every possible historical site in the area.  Instead, the idea is just to be in the moment. In that spirit, Marika and I attempted to spend every day just enjoying what the region had to offer, which was sunshine.  Sunshine in its food, in its people, and in every view.

We sunned ourselves at the beach in Monterrosso, we swam in the Mediterrenean in Vernazza, we hiked along the Cinque Terre trail studded with olive and lemon trees.  We met wonderfully friendly, happy Italians eager to share their excitement and love for this beautiful region of the world.  A trip full of memories to last me a lifetime.

So now, as I sit at home on my couch, cozily wrapped in my chenille blanket and staring out the window at the fallen leaves and frost on the grass, I can't help but dream about my next adventure.  While I let those thoughts stir for the next few months, I'm excited to get back in the kitchen and cook up delicious and comforting fall and winter dishes to share with you.  It's my favorite time of year to cook! 

Stay tuned...
On top of the world!

xo H

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