On Tuesday, I took a day off work and went on vacation… to France!
Well, in my imagination 🙂 At work, we’re having an issue where no one is taking their vacation time. Not only could this be an issue when things start getting back to normal (someday? Maybe?) and everyone suddenly wants to take weeks of vacation at the same time, but it also means that staff aren’t taking the breaks they need to rest and recharge. Speaking for myself, I am busier now and working longer hours than I was pre-COVID19, and I know I’m going to burn out if I keep this pace up! So I volunteered to set an example by taking a day off, doing something fun, and documenting it with photos and a writeup to hopefully inspire others to do the same. And to my surprise, what started out as a bit of a chore actually ended up being a ton of fun… and now I want to take a virtual vacation once a month!
My “day in France” started the night before – I grabbed my iPad charger and toiletries, and headed down to the guest bed/bath to spend the night. I hung a French flag on the closet door in the guest bedroom, so it would be the first thing I saw when I woke up.
I know there are lots of quarantine jokes about moving around to different rooms of your house, but it really does make a difference to shake up your routine by going elsewhere in your house. (Yes, I definitely recognize how lucky I am to be quarantined in a 3000 square foot house rather than the 700 square foot NYC apartment where I used to live!)
To kick off my vacation, I headed out for a trail run. While thus far, I’ve only gone on trails I can run to from my house, I decided that as a treat, I’d drive to a trailhead (one only five minutes away, but still). Part of why I had chosen France as my virtual destination was because I had originally been planning to spend July in France for my sabbatical; I wanted to spend the month getting serious about my trail running, exploring the French countryside, and enjoying delicious French food. So the next best thing for my vacation was a trail run with beautiful scenery!
I listened to the Duolingo French podcast while I ran. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s a pretty neat concept – they tell human interest stories, but half is told first person by a French speaker, and half is told by an English-speaking narrator. You get a lot more out of the story if you make an effort to understand the French, but you can also still get the gist from the English narration.
My French is definitely much rustier than it once was, and I needed to pay close attention in order to understand the French. I thought a trail run would be the perfect time to focus on that, but I’ll be honest – my thoughts kept drifting! I probably ought to put some work into my concentration skills, which I think have been totally shot by social media.
After the run, I went to the grocery to do my shopping for the week – which also included a par-baked baguette, croissants, and some other ingredients for my “day in France.” And then, after I got home and took a shower (using travel-sized hotel toiletries from a W Hotel), I had a late breakfast of croissants and coffee – with the coffee in the smallest mug I owned.
I had discovered the French Bistro Music playlist on Spotify, and put that on in the background while I enjoyed breakfast along with a book – The Queen’s Fortune, by Alison Pataki, a historical fiction novel that chronicles the French revolution and Napoleon’s conquests. It was lovely to curl up on the couch and immerse myself in a book! This one is definitely compelling.
Next, I strapped a wicker basket onto my mountain bike, and set off for a leisurely bike ride to “la ville de Louis” (Louisville, the next town over). A local bakery, Moxie Bread, makes the best sandwich I have ever had in my life. The Via Moxie is smokey prosciutto, manchego cheese, Sicilian garlic oil, lemon, and greens.
On the way there, I used my Aftershokz headphones to continue listening to the French Bistro Music playlist while I rode, and between that and leisurely pedaling down rural Dillon Road, I felt like I was in the opening credits of some movie about the French countryside.
At Moxie, I ended up getting sucked into picking up a pastry, too – a lemon kouignamann, which happens to be a style of pastry that originated in Brittany! Perfect. This would be the first dessert I’ve had since going into quarantine, and I hoped it would be worth its sugar 🙂
The ride home turned out to be a lot more difficult than the ride there. I had thought the route was downhill for about 2 miles and then flat, but it turned out the 4 miles closest to Louisville were also on an insidious grade, which got me super sweaty on the way back. I probably should have worn gym clothes rather than jeans and a sweater! But just meant I was working hard for my lunch, haha. By the time I got home, I didn’t feel like taking a blanket out to the open space for “un piquenique” like I had planned; instead, I just plated my meal and took it and my book out to my deck.
After lunch, I spent a little while taking a virtual tour of the Louvre (here’s a whole article of virtual museum tours, if you’re interested). The tour wasn’t quite as robust as I envisioned, since I was hoping to see more paintings, but the Egyptian wing was neat to tour around. And the descriptions on the site were in French, which forced me to practice my French a bit more! (You could look at the English placards on the walls if you don’t speak French; I forced myself not to.)
I had originally thought I’d spend the rest of the afternoon taking a free acrylic painting class of the lavender fields in Provence… but I really wanted to get back to my book, so I settled on that instead. And, I finally got to enjoy my delicious kouignamann, which was incredible!
It’s been my habit lately to do some sort of light workout before dinner. Tonight, I had the perfect one. I had gone back in the Peloton archives and found a series of 2016 classes from Jennifer Jacobs that were all taught in French! I had never taken a JJ class before (she’s no longer with Peloton), and I eagerly climbed onto my bike. But this class… was not quite what I expected! Although JJ seemed comfortable with the language, her pronunciation was terrible; between that and the kitschy scarf around her neck, I wondered if this was supposed to be a joke? We pretty much stayed at an 85-90 cadence the whole way, and didn’t adjust the resistance much either, so in the last five minutes I made my own intervals by turning the resistance up and down every 30 seconds. I was still glad I had tried it, but I probably won’t take one of her classes again. C’est la vie!
And now… dinnertime. Although I haven’t really been watching TV during quarantine, I ordered the movie Chocolat on Amazon to put on while I cooked / ate.
I had been back and forth on what to make for dinner, but after finding some delicious-looking scallops at the grocery (my favorite protein!), I decided to cook those along with a healthy(ish) cauliflower risotto. I am so proud of myself that I cooked the scallops to perfection! I usually struggle to get them seared but not rubbery, but I followed this Alton Brown recipe, and I think the step I’ve been missing before is using paper towels to ensure the scallops are totally bone dry before putting them in the pan, then timing them for exactly 90 seconds per side. They came out perfect!
As you can see in the photo above, I opened a bottle of white wine both to deglaze the pan and also to have a glass with dinner. I honestly… didn’t love it?! It was a perfectly good wine and I enjoyed sipping it with my meal, but I was expecting to end up diving deep into the bottle. Instead, I finished dinner to realize I had barely had even a full glass’ worth between the cooking and my own drink! I have definitely gotten really used to not drinking… it will be interesting to see if I go back to it when I can finally be with other people again.
After some more reading on the couch… it was time for bed! I decided not to turn in my United drink coupon on the “flight home” (flight of stairs up to my bedroom)… I’ll save it for next time. Because oh, there will definitely be a next time!
While I was originally half-kidding as I set out to plan my virtual vacation to France, this ended up being one of the most fun days off I’ve ever taken. There’s all that research that the planning / anticipation for a trip is what really boosts your happiness, and this virtual vacation involved a lot of planning – probably more than I put into my real vacations! I was thinking about this for several days, trying to figure out what to do and how to make the relaxing activities of my choosing “more French.” For example, I knew reading wouldn’t be very exciting to my staff, but it’s what I wanted to do. Grab a novel set in France, and… voila! It’s now part of the day. And while you might think it’s hard to come up with activities that fit the theme, I found it was easier than you’d guess. I actually had other things on my list that I didn’t get to (a tour of Versailles, the aforementioned painting class).
I normally love planning theme parties, so this vacation was a great chance for me to stretch my creativity in a similar way. It was definitely made a bit more challenging by the fact that I live alone (I think this would be even better if you had a whole family doing the activities), but I still had an absolute blast! I can’t recommend this enough, and I’m already thinking about where I’m going to “go” next month, from the comfort of my own home.