Thankful Thursdays – My Bike

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A couple of weeks after I moved to Amsterdam, my Dutch boyfriend bought me this beautiful omafiets, or Grandma’s bike. That thing was my prized possession until it got stolen 10 months later. It was my transportation and my reliable companion all over the beautiful city of Amsterdam, so I was pretty devastated when someone made away with it (and at Leidseplein of all places!). The freedom a bicycle offers is so unmatched by anything else I can think of. Riding again after so many years away from a bike, I realized how important it is to feel that carefree feeling a bike necessarily gives. (The necessity and fun of it is well-explained in this book.) I just loved going everywhere on this thing, and it even made going on dates even more romantic.

I am so thankful for the gift of this darling bike and all the freedom it brought me.

(Notice the bouquet of flowers in the back.)

Waterlogue Wednesdays: Veggies at the Marché

Painted in Waterlogue

In Paris, it’s always the season to go to the marché and gather your produce for the next few days. Here is a Waterlogue version of a photo I took at a marché one day when I noticed a beautiful pile of root veggies with onions, shallots, and radishes.

Thankful Thursdays – Observing Nature Take its Course

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A few years back, I discovered the most spectacular tree I had every laid eyes on in the Jardin des Plantes. I visited this tree several days in a row, as it was such a marvelous sight to see. Although these photos look just like a dormant tree, make no mistake – in a few weeks this tree will burst into glorious splendor, and the photos I will share will blow your mind on what nature is capable of. I promise I’m not trying to be hyperbolic; I really think this tree is positively spectacular, even as it readies itself to blossom (both literally and figuratively). Just wait!

So thankful to get to see what Nature will bring us every Spring, and to appreciate the nurturing of the plant as well as the fruit, itself.

My Favorite Short Trips Outside Paris: Part II

Vaux Le Vicomte

Living in Paris, you become accustomed to doing nearly everything on foot. However, having friends with cars certainly proves beneficial when you get fed up with the never-ending stream of beeping cars sputtering down the street. When a friend of mine visited one October weekend, we decided to get out of the city and head for some open space… and what better destination than a French château? I had read about Château Vaux le Vicomte here and there many times before, but these French châteaux and manors never cease to impress me with their size, grandeur, and expansive grounds. Not to downplay the interior of the château, but it was really the gardens that struck us (and we weren’t even there during their peak seasons). Landscape architect and principal gardener for King Louis XIV, André Le Nôtre, is responsible for the stunning grounds at this château in the typical French style. As you wander the grounds, you see that every angle seems to have been taken into consideration when designing the space; there is even a reflecting pool that perfectly reflects the château. It was beautiful on a rainy Fall day, and I suspect it would be perhaps even more spectacular at the height of the Spring and Summer seasons.

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles

Julia Willard, Falling Off BicyclesJulia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles

Parc de Sceaux

Slightly closer to Paris, and accessible via RER B, is the beautiful Parc de Sceaux, which surrounds the Château de Sceaux, which is not so much a castle as a splendid country house. I visited the park at sunset on a day so chilly I could scarcely keep my hands uncovered long enough to take photos. The grounds were well-kept and the paths weave in and out of enclosed spaces, mini gardens, and angles with a view. I hadn’t anticipated such a vast park (it’s 3.60 km2 (1.39 mi2)) and wondered to myself if it might be better enjoyed à vélo (on a bicycle), but I never determined if they are allowed on the premises.

This beautiful place was also designed by André Le Nôtre, at the pinnacle of Louise XIV’s beautification process across Île de France and beyond. The route from the RER station to the park takes you through quite a beautiful neighborhood, and when I read that Sceaux is one of the richest towns in France, that observation made a lot more sense.

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles

Thankful Thursdays – France Ailleurs

Sasha's baking company, Kansas City

Americans have a love affair with France for decades, if not centuries. One of the most interesting books I have ever read on France is the prolific David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, in which he discusses early Americans’ interest and downright fascination with France, and Paris more specifically. French styles in homes and décor are as popular as anything else out there and France remains a number one tourist destination for Americans year after year.

In the time I spend back in my hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, I always enjoy discovering new places that pop up – and there are many. One of my most recent favorites has been Sasha’s Baking Company in Downtown KC, where you can get your Paris and Amsterdam fix at the same time (because, in my opinion, the interior is more Dutch than French). The menu is typically French, but familiar for Americans, and the breakfast pâtisseries are to die for. I’m so thankful to have this taste of France so close to me when I return.

Waterlogue Wednesdays: San Francisco Chinatown

San Francisco Chinatown

San Francisco Chinatown

San Francisco Chinatown

Waterlogue Wednesdays are to share a few of my photos made into watercolors with the Waterlogue app, that I so love. When Chinese – or Lunar – New Year came on February 19 to ring in the Year of the Sheep, I shared one of these photos on my Instagram account. Just playing around, I put a few in Waterlogue and loved the results, so voilà!

My Favorite Short Trips Outside Paris: Part I

It’s been well-documented that there are no shortage of things to do in Paris proper. The restaurants and cafés are always bustling, the museum queues are hundreds deep, and the gardens are packed with sun-baskers. If you’re willing, however, there is more to see on a trip to the Capital, but requires just a bit longer of a journey. Here are a few ideas.

Parc de Saint Cloud

Although I haven’t spent much time here, this park quickly jumped up on the list of top gardens in Paris (of which I am a connoisseur). One summer evening, when the sun wouldn’t be setting until several hours later, my friend and her young family took me along on a small drive west of Paris from the 16th arrondissement to this beautiful place. My French friend shared with me that this park had been intended to be part of a triangle of magnificent gardens including the Jardin des Tuileries as one and the Jardin du Château de Versailles as the other, the King Louis XIV had commissioned. However, according to my friend, money ran short, and the other two gardens got precedence. Still, what did get accomplished stands up even in its (not-so-obvious) incompletion as fitting among some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. (Hint: Go in the summer to see the glorious sunflowers.)

Fontainebleau

After meeting a fellow author of My Paris Story and her telling me that she lives in Fontainebleau, this picturesque town made its way to the top spot on my radar. She talked of glorious walks through the forest there, showing me photos of the Autumn light shining on the orange and yellow leafed trees. When another friend and I finally made it into the town to explore the galleries and take in the charm, I was really sold. A lovely albeit short visit to the Château de Fontainebleau definitely sealed the deal. It was the residence of French monarchs from Louis VII through Napoleon III and stands today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The grounds are positively breathtaking. (Hint: I hear Autumn walks at sunset are nothing short of breathtaking.)

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Puteaux/Courbevoie/Nanterre

When I first moved to Paris, I was working at a company that was operating partially out of Puteaux, which is in the northwest suburban area. While I was not particularly taken with the specific area where my office was, I did end up eventually spending time in an enjoying Puteaux and other surrounding suburbs such as Suresnes, Nanterre, and Courbevoie. Indeed, these are all popular adopted hometowns for the many expats that come and settle in Paris for a time and whose offices are located up at La Défense. I find these towns to have a good mix of “French-ness” mixed with a familiar international feeling that works for a lot of people. I especially liked Suresnes, but that could be primarily due to the fact that the place I stayed was a stunning home, and it didn’t hurt that it had an Eiffel Tower view. :)

Look for Part II in a couple of weeks.

Thankful Thursdays – Meeting New People

Thankful Thursdays – Meeting New People

Last year, as you all know by now, I had the wonderful opportunity to contribute to the book, My Paris Story: Living, Loving, and Leaping without a Net in the City of Light. Contributing to this book has afforded me many … Continue reading