Thankful Thursday: Another Year on the Books

Julia Willard, Julie Willard, Eiffel Tower, Falling Off Bicycles, birthday, Paris, France, dusk, pretty hair

Another year on the books for me. It’s been a truly wild year with lots of excitement, plenty of heartache, and some of the best adventures. I’m ready for more! Thanks to you all for being part of the journey! 🎈🎂🎈

Photo by Georgianna Lane.

Thankful Thursdays – Mobility

{Well, mes amis, I have a lot of photos to share with you, but today (once again) it has to be a few iPhone photos from the last couple of weeks because the computer situation is nearly resolved but not quite. I think you get the gist of the places I’ve been frolicking even so.}


This Thankful Thursday, I am focusing on cherishing something I haven’t had much of outside of Paris these last few years: mobility. Having access to a car to see the villages and lesser-known places in France is so wonderful, as those are the times that you really appreciate the landscape and history of the country. Along the highways, France has excellent signage for its many chĂąteaux, monuments, and places of interest, and trust me when I tell you it makes you want to pull over every few kilometers! Below are a few from recent “pull-over!” moments.

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, paris blog, France blog, French vineyard

Knowing that I was going to be in France around the grape harvest time, with access to a car for once, I was thrilled to pull over a couple of times to get to shoot the most beautiful field of vines.

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, paris blog, France blog, Ile de RĂ©, Julie Willard, bicycle photos
Île de RĂ©

This darling scene was taken while we were on Île de RĂ©, which was way bigger than I had thought, so I was very glad to have been able to see many of the towns on it (yes, there are several!). Going Ă  vĂ©lo may be great in the summer, but not with tornado-strength winds and heavy rain.

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, paris blog, France blog, Ile de RĂ©, Julie Willard, bicycle photos

This was an impromptu stop when driving through the Dordogne. It was a beautiful surprise to happen upon, and as I said on Instagram yesterday… when you see what looks like an enchanted village in the distance in France, always go have a look.

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, paris blog, France blog, Ile de RĂ©, Julie Willard, bicycle photos
Domaine de Ladoucette, Saint-Andelain

And this, as we were getting closer back to Paris, is a chĂąteau spotted from the highway and simply too stunning to drive past without having a closer look. (And this is as close as I could get.)

In case you missed it, here is my France bucket list (to be updated/revised soon).

To Travel is To Live

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, GGI, Girl Gone International

I am fortunate. There’s no doubt about it. I have had extraordinary opportunities in my life and have met interesting people that have taken me on further adventures than I could have ever imagined for myself.

I first caught the travel bug (the undeniable strand, anyway) in 1999 when I first went to France. Prior to that, I had thoroughly enjoyed our family vacations all over the United States and to the UK, but traveling with a group, discovering a completely new culture, and traveling apart from my parents as a teenager was nothing short of life-changing and eye-opening. Ever since then, I have been planning my next trip before my return flight has landed. As you know, it has also led me to live in two other countries, bringing me experiences that have been everything from unspeakably frustrating to the best moments of my life. Seeing beautiful things and visiting new places is indeed glamorous on social media and it is something I’m infinitely grateful for, but make no mistake, I have lugged hundreds of pounds of baggage around airports, train stations, and up narrow flights of French stairs more times than I care to count. A life with insatiable curiosity about the world can be both a blessing and a curse; it separates you from the familiar, from those you love and have long-standing relationships with, and it causes you to evaluate everything you’ve come to belief about yourself and the world. But despite all the pulled muscles and bruises and mental taxation from trying to do it all on my own (think escalator- and elevator-free Parisian metro stations), my life abroad is one of the things I am most grateful for in my life.

Thankful Thursdays – Instagram

Paris, Tuileries Garden, Jardin des Tuileries, Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, Rebecca Plotnick, @rebeccaplotnick, Paris photographer, red balloons Paris, red balloon project
Photo by Rebecca Plotnick

Since I started with Falling Off Bicycles in 2012 – and subsequently created Facebook and Instagram accounts for the brand – my world has been so opened up to other creatives. Before I returned to France in 2013, I was virtually approached by two lovely ladies who had also moved to Paris, one for love and the other for few months of adventure. They had both found my Falling Off Bicycles Facebook page – which I’ve all but neglected since –  before I pushed that aside for more time to devote to sharing on and perusing Instagram. Instagram that has opened so many doors, connected me with cool brands, interesting people, and photographers that inspire me. It is the only social media platform I’ve found with a legitimate community feel to it (despite the occasional cattiness), and I go to it multiple times a day for inspiration and a dose of cheer (I only follow cheery accounts, after all!). The photos I’m sharing today are from three walks I did with Instagrammers whom I have befriended and who I still enjoy walking the streets of Paris with (Amsterdam version to come).

  • The first photo is of me handing one of our red balloons to a young French-Turkish boy (truly one of the cutest children I have ever seen) and shot by Rebecca Plotnick. In case you missed it, click here for more Paris red balloon images.
  • The second photo is me shooting the stunning gardens at the MusĂ©e et Jardins d’Albert Kahn in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. Ms. Nora Serna captured this one.
  • The third image is one Nico Étienne took of me while we wandered Montmartre one afternoon in late April last year. His Leica camera produces incredible images… with the help of the gifted photographer holding it. 😉


Another reason I love Instagram so much, is that it continues to solidify how humans think in images. When people describe something to us, we create an image of the scene they set up in our minds, rather than thinking about the words themselves. Not only that, images have the power to tell a story in a flash as well as to touch us and convey emotion rapidly. They are instantaneous and yet live on for others to experience after the moment itself has passed. I love that Instagram enables me to share moments that struck me with beauty and meaning with people around the world.

Paris, Montmartre, vignes de Montmartre, Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, Nicolas Etienne, nicoet, Paris photographer
Photo by Nico Étienne
Paris, Paris 16eme, Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, Nora Serna, @ohbeautifulparis, Paris photographer, musée Albert Kahn Paris
Photo by Nora Serna



In case you missed it, here is my France bucket list (to be updated/revised soon).

Thankful Thursdays – The Challenge

I may have written about this before, but I’m not even going to bother going back to look to check because today’s selection is something that I am thankful for every single day: the challenge that life among different countries and cultures presents. People have questioned my life decisions since 2000 (if not before), so I’m no stranger to having questions pelted at me about what in the world I am doing with my life. That part is still a struggle for me. I have moved more times than I care to count in the last 15 years, and if my shoulder issues weren’t enough to prove it, then the cumulative hours of chats debating whether the life I desire should be. If I did count, though, no number would be too high for me to say it hasn’t all been worth it. Every encounter with French administration, every visit to the prĂ©fecture, all the time spent in lines, every moment of blankly staring at a Dutch person not having a clue what he was saying, each bout with culture shock (going and returning) has all come together to form the most beautiful collective experience of my life. I am so thankful this is my life.

✎✎✎  Side note: As I type this, I feel the urge to jot down notes, to write free-flow about how this life has changed me, turned my world upside down, confused me, thrilled me, and kept me begging for more. I shall move it to the top of my writing list (for a future book…?). ✎✎✎

â‡ș â‡ș   —  ⇻ ⇻

There isn’t a perfect image that goes with this particular sentiment, so I leave you with this thought and the encouragement to forge your own path, however jagged and rocky it may be.

ggi, girl gone international, Falling Off Bicycles, Julia Willard, Anne Scott

Thankful Thursdays – La France

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, Bastille Day, fĂȘte nationale, Julia Willard red balloon photos, Paris, France, Paris red balloons


In thinking about what I feel most thankful for this week during this week of celebration and cycling, it seems only fitting to continue with the red balloon theme (see yesterday’s red balloons). Red, white, and blue for an American is usually symbolic for his or her own country, but for me they are the colors of all three of “my” countries, so I often find myself drawn to the combination of the colors. Since first going to France in 1999, my love for the culture and the country has grown exponentially, and I continue to be drawn to it, intrigued by it, frustrated by it, and madly in love with it. Every time I see another part of France, and I find myself in complete awe of how this (smallish) country can have so much beauty in it. I have heard this come up in French class and even in other European countries over the years – France really does have it all, from beaches, to mountains, to rolling hills, beautiful architecture, and a fascinating history to accompany it all. I can’t wait to explore more of it in just a few weeks.

In case you missed it, here is my France bucket list (to be updated/revised soon).

Thankful Thursdays – Menu Diversity

Nanashi Paris, Paris Japanese food, bento Paris, Juli Willard, Falling Off Bicycles

Am I writing about food too much? Haha. Sometimes I just flip through my photos and find pictures of such memorable meals that I had to capture them for posterity. I have now been to Nanashi in Paris several times (sigh, why wasn’t it there when I lived around the corner from one in 2007?!), and it still stands out to me as one of the most fun healthy and fresh dining options in Paris. In my travel consulting work, I get asked about the best restaurants in Paris, usually by people who are expecting an epic meaty meal the French have mastered over centuries (or so they say). I have a list of places that I’ve heard about over the years or have been to with meat eaters, but otherwise I have to direct them elsewhere for guidance, as my main dining list is one of my favorite spots in Paris for fresh meals like the one above (and yes, Nanashi has non-veg meals, too). As I mention often, the culinary scene in Paris is breaking open to include more than just entrecĂŽte or parmentier de confit de canard, and I for one welcome it with open arms.

Nanashi – Bento Parisien
57 rue Charlot
75003 Paris
Phone: 09 60 00 25 59

31 rue de Paradis
75010 Paris
Phone: 01 40 22 05 55

Thankful Thursdays – Local Art

Julia Willard, Falling Off Bicycles, Paris art

France is a country whose history is steeped in art tradition. I have written many times about the French attention to detail, a quality that I so admire. The list of famous French artists goes deep, from Cezanne to Renoir to Matisse. But there are artists all over Paris whose work is far more approachable than that of Monet and Degas. Everyone knows about Place du Tertre on Montmartre, where artists gather to tempt tourists with their representations of the SacrĂ© CƓur. But some of my most precious Paris art pieces have been purchased from a lone artist among the bouquinistes along the Seine, at an outdoor marchĂ©, or on one of the City’s beautiful bridges. Whether you purchase or not, these artists add such a beautiful element to the landscape of the city, with their own splendid touch.

Thankful Thursdays – Raw Vegan Catching on in the Netherlands

“Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”
~ Hippocrates


Walking to a meeting a couple of years ago with the head of the fantastic organization (which I must name-drop here because I so love this woman’s mission) Girl Gone International, I paused somewhere near De Pijp, surprised at what was in front of me… Stacked high in front of a sleek green and white storefront were trays and trays of tarwegras, or wheatgrass. Having lived here before – and probably having mentioned it on the blog before – I was rather frustrated during my time living full-time in Amsterdam, as saying there were few to no health food restaurants/ lunch rooms/ shops was an understatement. And don’t even get me started on the small village in Brabant where I had spent so much time prior to our big city move. I had the impression that asking for a wheatgrass shot would more likely get me some marijuana cocktail than a superfood boost. Sure, there are organic markets and chain grocery stores selling “health food”, but as many of those of us who eat clean know, these types of establishments foster their own communities of people who enjoy swapping stories, recipes, and anecdotes about recent reads on the topic. I longed for a place to sip matcha lattĂ©s and spirulina smoothies.

Tarwegraskoning, Amsterdam

Being on my way to the meeting, I couldn’t very well pop in to this place claiming to be the Netherlands’ first slow juice bar and give it the attention I wanted, so I returned to  Tarwegraskoning for lunch a bit later on. The inside was filled with more trays of sprouting wheatgrass and the bright green worked well against those typically-Dutch stark white walls. I discovered a back room with seating for those who wished to linger over a superfood shot or healthy meal. Naturally, I had to try a “house special” wheatgrass shot accompanied by a sort of slaw salad. Both were appropriately flavorful and energy boosting, and I left looking forward to my next visit and wondering if this was the beginning of a new wave of food spots in NL. I’m happy to report in 2015 that indeed eating fresh and raw ingredients rather than frietjes or god-knows-what from a wall is becoming more the norm and is now widely accepted and accommodated.

juice bar Amsterdam, Tarwegras, Falling Off Bicycles


For the overall health of the planet, for the innocent animals killed thoughtlessly every day, and for my own selfish desires for a long and healthy life, I am super thankful that attention to health through food is catching on so strongly in one of my adopted countries.

Stay tuned for information about health food in the Netherlands coming soon…

Roelof Hartstraat 10
1071VH Amsterdam
Tel: +31 (0)20 820 03 76

Thankful Thursdays – Macarons

Pierre Hermé Paris macarons

France has been the leader in beautiful sweets for who knows how long. Whether you indulge or not, any stop to a pĂątisserie is a feast for the eyes. The sugar, the butter, the top quality ingredients come together to make the most beautiful desserts and Pierre HermĂ© is among the most famous and popular in Paris with their creations of what has become the quintessential Parisian dessert (or snack, as the case may be!): the macaron. If you’re on any social media site that has a Paris theme, they have surely been a huge a huge presence (Pinterest, anyone?). And pastry chefs just keep getting more and more creative with flavors.

Although I’ve learned to control my indulgences of these (it took years), I do enjoy one still from time to time. I love that this is another way the French bring beauty to the world, even in a tiny dessert.

Pictured flavors: Infiniment Rose, Yasamine, Imagine, Velouté Ispahan