Out of Your Comfort Zone

It is good to go out of your comfort zone. You may find a new favourite and if you don’t well you will still have a good story and the reputation of being adventurous.

Most times when traveling, you will be out of your comfort zone a little. Different culture, different food, maybe different flora and fauna, even where you stay. Sometimes it it mildly out of our comfort zone, sometimes a lot. I think it is important to be pushed out of our comfort zones. Its how we learn and grow. Some experiences are good, some not so much but I learned from each one. This does not apply to phobias however.

I take the stairs more often than the elevator, always like the aisle seat in a plane. Open spaces are comforting, closed spaces are not. That said I have a  long term love affair with history (historical geography if I was to be honest and yes I realize how deeply uncool that sounds to most people except other historical geography buffs) The point of this diatribe is back in 2016 @benton8tor and I were planning our summer vacation in France and he had found this amazing site the Caves of Niaux nestled in the Pyrenees. 20160903_154650The Caves feature prehistoric paintings that can be viewed in small groups. Note they fill up fast and when we booked, the English tours were sold out. So we booked the French tour. My historical geography self really wanted to see these paintings. The side that hates closed spaces? Not so much. On our way to the caves I kept thinking, what if it collapses and we re trapped?, what if we get stuck? what if I can’t breathe? and other sorts of ridiculous thoughts. Upon arrival I looked at the entrance and thought ‘Oh hell no, I will wait in the car’. Then I saw a mom with her baby strapped to her ready to go on the tour and realized I was being truly silly. So I sucked it up, my nerves jangling I got ready to meet certain death (I thought).

Not surprisingly I was wrong wrong wrong. The caves to this day stand out as the most beautiful sites I have ever laid eyes on. Sheep, bison, fish and deer painted on the walls. Old symbols telling a story I can not know. All I know is that art has survived since 1200 BC and I can still view it today. The site is well maintained (telephones in case you get stuck!!) and the paintings are in excellent shape. This is because they do an excellent job at maintaining them and this does mean no photography. This does mean however, you can connect with art and history from a time that seems almost unfathomable. The caves are wider than I  would have thought with some tight spots. The Caves of Niaux remain one of my most favorite and inspiring travel memories. http://www.sites-touristiques-ariege.co.uk/sites-touristiques-ariege/grotte-de-niaux

Sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone doesn’t give you the best experience. Also in 2016, @benton8tor really wanted to see the Pont d’Espagne in the Pyrenees and hike it. http://www.cauterets.com/en-ete/pont-despagne/ I looked at the website and agreed. Of course I did there was a bar at the top and bottom. My kind of hiking. We arrived and it was very busy. We took the chairlift to the top. They told us we could return that way too. I was puzzled,’ why not walk down’, even though even on the ride up it was definitely steeper than I thought. 20160902_163719At the top we walked a super well marked path to the bar. So far so good. We stopped at the bar on the lake with crazy beautiful views. I was relaxed and happy.We then started down. I quickly realized I was out of my element. It was challenging and not well marked. And quite solitary. As an extrovert I found that the most troubling. At one point we got off the path and I used my superior understanding of geography to get us back on. No I didn’t obviously I completely freaked out. @benton8tor to his credit kept his calm and tried  to calm me as well. He was more successful at staying calm. I heard voices and scrambled/ran so fast towards them it would make your head spin. When we finally came to the end we stopped at the second bar ( I totally get why they are here now, your nerves really need it) I ordered my wine and tried to appreciate the beauty around me. My experience wasn’t quite over. My ego took such a beating that it still hasn’t recovered. a the table next to me was the same woman I had seen at the top, Considerably older and I believed in worse shape, she had beat me down the mountain.  Lesson learned. All said and done, I am glad I did it as it was so beautiful but I think I am better suited to guided hikes if at all.

This past month in Portugal I was out of my comfort zone again. @benton8tor wanted to rent a scooter to see the island we were currently on in the Azores. ‘Sure’ I said secretly praying for rain as aren’t these scooters death machines? The scooters were 125 cc. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I was certain it was bad. Again I was wrong. He was so excited, he booked it well in advance and the day came. Of course it was bright and sunny. So off we went. It really is an amazing way to see the sites. About 20 minutes in and I never wanted to travel by car again. When we got home, I have spent many nights trying to convince @benton8tor to buy a scooter. Stay tuned.

Sometimes it is convincing the people with you to go out of their comfort zone. My mom was not always the most adventurous eater. In fact I have it on good authority (my dad) that in Ireland once, she ate a turkey sandwich every night. So in Carcassone, France with my mom we are going out for dinner. Every restaurant we stopped at she vetoed. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘There is nothing I’d eat here’ she tells me.’They have gazpacho’ I say. “I hate gazpacho” she lies back to me. After 5 restaurants (all of which served gazpacho but no turkey sandwiches) we finally agree on a restaurant. This may have been due to the fact and that it was raining and she was carrying 27 bars of soap that she bought (really it was 27 but I still suspect more). Nevertheless the restaurant was cozy, old with amazing wood beams and welcoming. Probably because I was in a jerky mood, I ordered gazpacho. “Try It”I told my mom and probably to get me off her back, she did. ” it’s good’ she says surprised, ‘I do  like gazpacho.’ Cue eye roll.

It is good to go out of your comfort zone. You may find a new favourite and if you don’t well you will still have a good story and the reputation of being adventurous.


Vines and Voyages 5 Fav Restaurants in France

Le Vivier is nothing short of amazing and considering it is a Michelin restaurant, very affordable. The food is updated Provencal. I had a green tomato gazpacho that was out of this world

Often when travelling, deciding where to eat can be a challenge. Maybe you have done your research, read the reviews, and made your plan. There is a lot of value to this approach. You are less likely to be disappointing and it can save time but… you can miss out on lesser known amazing restaurants, you can be disappointed and maybe once you are actually travelling you feel like trying something different. Or maybe you take the other approach and decide to ask locals once you are there or simply scout around looking for a restaurant that looks good. Whatever the approach, they all have benefits and drawbacks.

Eating in restaurants and trying different foods is one of my favorite reasons to travel. In France especially, the food is usually fresh, seasonal and regional. Asking for recommendations is key and staying away from restaurants in tourist areas (i.e. Eiffel tour) is key. I have put together a list of my top 5 favorites.

5. Cafe L’absinthe Paris France. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d4341374-Reviews-L_absinthe_Cafe-Paris_Ile_de_France.html. Located in the northern part of the Marais, Cafe L’absinthe is a very local bistrot. The service is especially friendly, the atmosphere cozy and the wine delicious and inexpensive. The food is solid. I had the charcuterie and @benton8tor the lamb. Also try the absinthe!

4. Brassiere le Carnot in Beaune, France has the classic French feel. dark wood, french lighting and wine served in beautiful porcelain jugs. thumbnail_IMG_0704Beaune in the heart of Burgundy is the center of Burgundy’s famous wine and the epicenter for Burgundy’s legendary gastronomy. Burgundy is famous for bœuf bourguignon, Coq au Vin, and more. Le Carnot features local ingredients. In the summer the gazpacho is amazing along with the jambon. Beef tartare is a don’t miss. http://www.brasserielecarnot.com/

3. Still in Beaune La Grilladine offers amazing set menus featuring Burgundy classics. Both the restaurant and the patio offer a lovely atmosphere.Europe June 2010 393 The bœuf bourguignon is delicious as is the parsilined ham.. @Benton8tor swears by the perfectly cooked Charolais beef and scallops. My dad loved the escargot and my mom had the underrated chicken in mustard dish ( You are close to Dijon so…). The wine is incredible ( you are in Burgundy after all) but ask the servers for recommendations to pair to get the best wine experience. My dad and I had wines from the famed cote de nuit which we loved. Desert for me was pears poached in the the burgundy wine. Definitely check it out. http://lagrilladine.fr/

2. Olivier Leflaive. Well we are still in Burgundy. It is a culinary hot spot so it makes sense. If you are violivier-2siting Burgundy make sure to check out Olivier Leflaive. located in the famed Puligny-Montrachet village and appellation, Olivier Leflaive is vineyard, hotel and restaurant and is not to be missed. The 5 courses were paired perfectly with some of the best wines.2014 We started with the lightest gougeres and moved on to a ham terrine with mustard sauce.We also enjoyed a amazing carrot souffle, chicken and desert. We upgraded to the 7 tasting with our meal which included a a few grand and premier crus. Looking for a wonderful French experience, try Olivier Leflaive. https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/en/

  1. Leaving Burgundy fr Provence, My favourite French restaurant to date is Restaurant le Vivier in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is amazing. @benton8tor had researched Michelin starred restaurants and we decided to give it a try. Away from the main drag in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue le Vivier is nothing short of amazing and considering it is a Michelin restaurant, very affordable. The food is updated Provencal. I had a green tomato gazpacho that was out of this world, followed by a bacon, mozza and tomato soup. My pork course was amazing and my peach and chocolate desert with raspberry sauce was incredible. @benton8tor nicknamed it the space odyssey dessert as when you poured the raspberry sauce on the chocolate sphere, it opened to reveal a peach based dessert inside. The wine was Provencal, light and easy drinking. @benton8tor opted for a rose and pigeon pie. His dessert featured violets from the neighboring Langedoc. the patio overlooks the river and the service is perfect. You won’t be disappointed. https://www.levivier-restaurant.com/cuisine-gastronomique-etoile-restaurant-le-vivier-vaucluse/

There are many other amazing restaurants in France, I didn’t get to mention but asking locals, restaurants featuring regional specialties, or just going to the market yourself, you are sure to enjoy France and its its world famous food.

All Roads lead to wine…or they should

I have had some of my best experiences this way armed mostly with a GPS, wine map, and sometimes just on a road following signs that hopefully lead to an amazing winery.

One of greatest benefits to travel is wine. At least for me it is and if you are lucky enough to be traveling to a wine producing region, well then the sky may literally be the limit. I have already written about wine tours but what do you do if an organized tour just isn’t your thing but you love wine? Luckily there are options!

My experience with wine tasting directly at the vineyards/wineries so far has been either in France and Canada. Both these countries has multiple wine producing regions with very very different wine characteristics. So pick an area you may be interested in or even better, just pick and area and try something new. In this post I will focus on France but Canada has some really interesting wine regions that I will save for later.

France is a wine tasters idea of heaven, so many regions, so many wineries, where should you possibly start? I don’t have an answer other than just dive in. The very first time we tried wine at wineries was a complete and utter accident but has set me on a path for my very favourite travel activity to date. Now when ever I travel I make sure I have sometime just to explore local wineries.

Back in 2010, I had no idea. @benton8tor an I were in Provence exploring local villages and we stopped at a wine store in Lancon de Provence,. It was the Cave Des Coteaux De Lancon. I couldn’t believe my luck, all this wine and at prices that are actually cheaper than water. Could a bottle of wine actually be 3 euros?europe-june-2010-196 turns out yes and it was an very enjoyable wine at that. However the real bonus was a map of different wineries in the region that the proprietor gave to us. She encouraged us to visit the different vineyards in Provence. Many produced olive oil as well as wine. That afternoon, we visited 3. All were very welcoming and let us taste wine as well as olive oil. Tasting or dégustation is most often free and the added advantage is that you can pick which wines you want to try rather than having then chosen for you. That day we went home with new wines, chats with the staff about the wines and even some pottery. The olive oil was good too.

Sine then I have had some pretty amazing experiences tasting wine. Most tourist offices will provide you with a map or if you are driving you may see a sign that says dégustation and if you are like me you will then scream at your travel companion ‘STOP STOP STOP! PULL IN NOW.’ This means you are cool and collected wine connoisseur and not at all an obsessive wine stalker who may have lost touch with reality in the search for the perfect wine. It may also be pertinent to explain to your driver that an accident isn’t imminent. They will appreciate that.

I have had some of my best experiences this way armed mostly with a GPS, wine map, and sometimes just on a road following signs that hopefully lead to an amazing vineyard.

In Minervois I have tasted delicious wines in the owner’s kitchen. I have had lovely conversationsimg_4969 with small producers in Bandol and Provence. I tasted Rose, something I never thought I would like. I was wrong. I have had some lovely, easy to drink reds from Provence, Some complex wines from the Rhone and crisp whites in Alsace. The point is just to try, to chat and to enjoy.  Ben learned how to get a cork out with out a corkscrew (make sure you have a shoe).  I have even followed what no longer seemed to be a road in Armagnac to taste Armagnac, flocs, and lovely lovely reds from Gascony. I have also chatted with winemakers who love their product and just want you to love it too. Wine tasting directly at the wineries gives the opportunity to have some of the best service and really you get to chat about their wine. They will be more than happy to show it off and have you love it too.

Some tips for wine tasting include:

  1. Depending on the region or the winery check whether or not you need to book a tour. In some of the bigger or better known wineries they may require a booking, not just showing up. However if they have a sign out front saying degustaton, you are probably safe just to roll in.
  2.  Ask their opinion for what order to taste the wines. They know the wines best and will help you get the most out of the experience.
  3. Make sure you have someone to drive.
  4. Take a chance! Some wineries will be very small and rustic, others big operations but don’t assume one is better than the other Just try!

Some wineries I recommend include:

  1. Chateau la Nerthe http://www.chateaulanerthe.fr/ in Chateauneuf de pape. Beautiful grounds, very friendly staff and amazing bold wines.
  2. Chateau de Vauclaire in Provence http://www.chateaudevauclaire.com/ Friendly, unassuming and amazing wines. Don’t miss.
  3. Le Galantin in Bandol. Small winery with ridiculously inexpensive and remarkably tasty wines. Service is amazing and you will find many locals as customers. http://www.le-galantin.com/
  4. Domaine Grand Comte in Armagnac. Producer of wine wines, Flocs and Armagnac and you can taste them all. Hard to find but truly modern, beautiful vineyard. Close to Auch.http://www.domaine-grand-comte.fr/
  5. Domaine de L’Olivette http://www.domaine-olivette.com/ a lovely winery in Bandol with one of my all time favourite redsimg_4968