anthony bourdainBack in 2005, Anthony Bourdain’s first episode of “No Reservations” was entitled “Why the French Don’t Suck.”  (You can watch the late, great chef & TV personality here.)  Anthony’s first episode was a little strange at times, but we connected with his love of travel, his passion for food & drink, and his dark sense of humor.  And, we 100% agree that the French don’t suck!

 

The French Aren’t Rude

This is the first thing we hear from Americans who have traveled to France, or who are contemplating it.  But, it is a myth!

First, we need to pause and realize that the American culture & French culture are very different.  Things that we accept as the norm (like free public toilets, a waiter checking on our table every five minutes, smiling at strangers) are strange to the French.  So, the #1 thing to do when you think someone is being rude to you in France (or, any foreign country for that matter), is to pause and ask yourself if you are expecting something to be exactly the same as home.

Paris cafeA couple quick tips:

  1. It would be rude for a waiter or waitress to interrupt your meal every five minutes asking you if everything is ok.
  2. You can sit at that dinner table all night nursing a coffee or a glass of wine.  The wait-person will not bring your bill to get you to move along.  Just give him or her a wave when you want your bill.
  3. If you are at a very busy restaurant in a touristy area, your server will be busy – curt service is expected.  (And, in these touristy areas you may actually find some rude people – that’s why we frequent establishments with a more “local” vibe.)
  4. Politeness begets politeness.  The French always greet each other – when entering a shop or café, say “Bonjour” and when you leave, pause for a second and say, “Merci” – even if you are saying it into the void of a busy establishment – someone will respond back and appreciate your politeness, as it is expected in French culture.
  5. Not everyone speaks English.  And, even if they do, they may not speak English to you.  Our French friends have told us that this is another part of French culture – self-consciousness.  If they don’t feel that they can present perfect English to you, they will stick with speaking French.  They are NOT being rude!  They are just as nervous to try and speak English as you are to try to say something in French!  (By the way, all of our guides, drivers, hotel personnel & recommended restaurants speak English!  And we speak a little French ourselves.)  However, the French are extremely tolerant of your attempts to speak French and extremely appreciative as well.  We’ve been able to get a smile from strangers just from our attempts to go beyond what is expected and to actually speak French!

We have had some great experiences that completely dispel the myth of rude French – random people stopping in Paris and asking if we need help finding our way… Waiters speaking very slowly to us so we can practice our French… and, so many more.

The French Food & Wine is the Best

paris cheese board and wineThat first episode of “No Reservations” is a great introduction to French food & wine.  The French take their food and wine very seriously.  Can you say “non-pasteurized cheese?”  Can’t get that in the US!  How many cheeses are there in France?  There’s an old saying that there are as many cheeses as there are days in the year, but, truth be told, there are so many more.  We like cheese in this house, so we want to be anywhere that loves cheese that much!

Wine…need we say more?  French wine is amazing and our favorite.  Whether it’s a First Growth red or a house glass of rosé at a café, enjoying French wine is always delightful and a voyage for your senses.

Pastries, that’s what Jess goes for.  She always brings money with her on her morning runs, so she can head straight to her favorite patisserie.  The options are astounding and range from basic and delicious to elegant and mind blowing.  And the baguette…any place that has reverence for something as simple as the baguette, we want to be there.  Did you know that French law states that traditional baguettes have to be made on the premises they’re sold and can only be made with four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen at any stage or contain additives or preservatives, which also means they go stale within 24 hours.  As if they’d last 24 hours in our hands!

There is so much more to French food: steak frites, boeuf bourguignon, croque monsieur, the list goes on, but you get the idea.  You’re going to want to eat when you’re in France!

The French Have Life Figured Out

Paris - relaxing by the SeineWe Americans are always “go! go! go!”  And, when we only have a limited amount of time for a European vacation, we definitely want to see all the sights.  But, don’t miss out on the relaxation.  Be like the French and sit for hours at a sidewalk café with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and watch the world pass by.  Or, stroll leisurely along the Seine (and, maybe stop for a glass of rosé at a riverside bar.)  Linger for a few of hours over a four-course dinner — and, finish it off with an espresso, like the French always do.  Then follow up dinner by window shopping and taking in the Eiffel Tower twinkling on your way back to your hotel.  Take your time & see the real France.

Experience all the amazing experiences that France has to offer – check out our running tours in France here!

I speak French.  Not nearly as well as I would like, however.  Duolingo tells me that I’m 48% fluent.  My conversations with Parisians tell me otherwise.  (My tutor is helping me with this!)

It’s a foggy morning, a Normandy foggy morning.  You need a knife and fork to cut the air (un couteau et une forchette).  Dan and I walk to the Caen Parc des Expositions where I catch the bus to Pegasus Bridge, the start of Les Courants de la Liberte half marathon (it also happens to be the first bridge liberated by the Allies in Normandy.)  It also happens to be just a few days after D-Day.  It’s always fun to see and feel the excitement of race day.  Even in another country, it’s the same.  Some are dressed in goofy outfits, some are stretching, some look really serious, some are cool and joking around.  I say goodbye to Dan and get on the bus.  I’m surrounded by people, but can’t follow any conversation.  So, I kinda feel alone, on a bus, in France to go run 13.1 miles in a foggy abyss.  I’m refusing to text Dan as my battery is running down and I need it for my running tunes!  Thanks to those of you who chimed in on Facebook and gave me suggestions for good running songs.

Here We Go…

We arrive at the start about an hour before the race.  Great, I’ve got loads of time.  There’s a lot of chatter, again, too fast for me to understand anything.  But, there are loads of lines at the porta potties.  There’s a universal language!  One woman walks out of the porta potty and is mortified as she only then sees the line and realizes that she just budged in front of all of us.  I wonder what the word for “budge” is en francais?  She gets a lot of chuckles.  It’s all good lady.

D-Day Race Start Normandy

10 minutes to the start and as I’m in line, the announcer is trying to jack everybody up with clapping and high fives.  I can barely see much of Pegasus Bridge.  Did I mention the fog??  The gun goes off and away we go.  It’s a bit of an incline at the start, so I can see everyone in front of me.  Yeah, I’m slow, so there’s plenty of people in front of me.  I’m taking it all in.  Spectators cheering us on.  Check.  Little kids with posters with messages to Daddy, “Papa, tu es très vite!”  This I understand!  (In English, “Daddy, you are very fast!) Check.  Quintessential stone buildings that tell you, “Hey, you’re running a half marathon in France.”  Check.  Feeling like you are part of something really cool.  Definitely, Check.  At that moment, there’s a shift and I have this moment of clarity…runner’s high already?!  My thought, “we’re all the same.”  (Relatively speaking, of course.)  We’ve all trained for this day on some level, no matter how easy or hard this may be for any of us.  Spectators flock to support those cruising through their little village.  Yep, we have this at home.  Oh, look, cute kids wanting high fives, yep, done this before.  Love it!  I ran all over the course to make sure I slapped every hand of every little kid and that one adult looking for a high five.

Bravo!

D-Day Race Normandy VillagePeople are splitting off into twosomes, lots of singles.  Some are walking already.  Some listening to music, some chatting, giggling.  I’m running this alone, but with each step, I don’t feel that way at all.  This race prints the name of your country on your bib if you aren’t from France.  I’m the only one from the USA as far as I can tell.  Still don’t feel alone though.  We run through more villages with more spectators, more kids, more inspiring posters… there are even bands at a few villages.  Amid the constant sprinkling of spectators whether it be in villages or on a dirt path in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, I experienced my favorite memory…picture this, a driveway that appears out of the woods, hosting a cute little old Frenchman with his wool cardigan and cap, calmly yet continuously clapping his hands and saying, “Bravo! Bravo!”  I’ve never received an authentic, “Bravo!” before…you know, doing something actually “Bravo!” worthy while I was in France.  Definitely did not feel alone.  And then I see an older gentleman go out of his way to make a fellow runner not feel alone.  He takes a quick zig to the right, pats a guy on the back who is walking and just zags back to his spot.  Heart melts.

Almost There

D-Day Race High Fives!And now I’m 10 miles in and I think, “oh, I got this”, now it gets fun because I’m feeling good.  The long downhill stretch didn’t hurt either.  We’re back in town, leaving the poppy fields and cute Frenchman behind.  Hello, cobblestone.  You are super fun to run on.  Ha!  But the energy is awesome.  In Europe, they often print your name on your bib, so people are yelling your name.  Your name!  “Allez, Jessica!”  So cool.  I slap some more 5-year-old hands. I make eye contact with a few people as I have a huge grin on my face and I see the same spread across their face.  I come around the corner and it’s almost over…”What?  No!  This has been so fun!”  I’m trying to look at all of the spectators lining the very packed last third mile of the race.  Everyone is so into it…and so am I.

We Are One

pegasus half marathon finish lineThe thought never left me that how ironic it is to do something that is just you, it’s all you.  This isn’t a team sport, running (at least not always).  Yet, here we are, people from the US, France, Poland, the UK.  We are all here for the same thing, our love of putting one foot in front of the other.  The love of where those feet will lead us.  The love of how they got us here in the first place.  And all the fun along the way.  We might be from different places, with different political views, different colors, but we are all there to do the same thing.  Despite my need to work on my French, I never felt alone.  If you don’t want to feel alone, try a race in another country.

Lucerne, Switzerland is stunningly beautiful!  It’s a fairy tale setting in the old town and surrounded by breathtaking mountains full of all sorts of activities.

We have so many amazing adventures in store for you during our upcoming tours (including the Swiss City Marathon & Half Marathon this fall).  On our own “runcation” to Switzerland, we started with a leisurely afternoon to get over our jet lag.  We always try to stay awake upon our arrival to Europe and push through until bedtime.  (Check out our “Jet Lag” posts here.)  We got outside and walked a bit to perk us up, and then had a glass of wine in the hotel bar before walking to dinner.  Staying active really helps to push through the “fog” that comes with a long day of travel to Europe.

On the first day, we try to find a casual place for dinner.  First, a casual option is usually open for dinner at an earlier hour — some places in Europe don’t open for dinner until 7:30 pm.  We know we won’t last too long after dark, so an earlier dinner is very helpful.  Second, a casual spot makes for a quicker dinner.  More formal restaurants have a slower pace, possibly with multiple courses.

We held out until about 9:00 pm before crashing into bed.  That gave us about ten uninterrupted hours of sleep and that’s exactly how you get over your jet lag quickly.

Day two was a bit rainy, but our private guide knew of many options that could keep us relatively dry, but still give us a taste of the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Switzerland.  So, we set off on a short train ride to the Aare Gorge.  The hundreds of feet deep gorge is cut through the mountains by a fast-moving river.  There are waterfalls, rapids, and sights galore!  The tunnels and rock over-hangs kept us mostly dry before the sky cleared up a bit for the remainder of the day which included lunch (we’ll tell you about the yummy flammkuchen in a future post) and a bit of hiking.

Mount Pilatus

Asparagus is fresh and local in early May, and it was on all the menus.  So, we dined on asparagus at a restaurant recommended by a friend.  We love getting recommendations of spots away from most of the tourists so we can feel how the locals live, and this cafe was perfect.

Day three was sunny, so we hit Mount Pilatus for the spectacular views.  The trip to and from the mountain is almost as fun as hanging out on the peak!  We started with a boat trip on Lake Lucerne.  You can grab a glass of bubbly and enjoy the lake and surrounding views of the Swiss Alps.  Then, we climbed Mount Pilatus on the steepest cog train in the world.  After a lunch enjoying the breathtaking views, we hopped on a tram down the other side of the mountain, followed by a relaxing gondola ride to the base of the mountain.  With our guide, we also have the option of hiking part way down the mountain.  We will get away from all the tourists and see how the Swiss do Mount Pilatus.

Day four was a day to explore Lucerne in running shoes!  We set off on our early-morning run along the lake, and in addition to the spectacular mountain views (I know, I just can’t stop talking about the views), we passed a castle, vineyards, Swiss cows (with their famous cowbells ringing), inviting park benches, and more.

We finished off the evening at our hotel’s partner restaurant.  We didn’t even look at the menu, as the chef created for us a custom four-course tasting menu with local wine paired.  It was out of this world!

Our final day was, again, with our private guide.  We visited an outdoor museum showing the history of Switzerland.  It was educational, but not like a “sterile” museum.  You can buy fresh made bread and cheese (made by hand, using the traditional methods).  With you as our guest, we can also bring our own brats, sides and beer & wine and grill out over an open fire. Plus, it was a nice way to work out some of the soreness of our long run.  We followed that up with a tour of some of the highlights and history of the town of Lucerne.  We had the perfect ending to the tour at the local brewery.

Lucerne & Switzerland have so much to offer, but here’s just a sampling of things to do:

  • Private chocolate tasting and chocolate-making class
  • Private cheese tasting of local, artisanal cheeses
  • Hiking the Swiss Alps (with a traditional Swiss “wurst” and beer/wine as our reward!)
  • Boat tour on Lake Lucerne
  • Visiting the amazing mountain vistas on one of the nearby peaks.  (Plus, an option to hike part of the way back down the mountain, if the weather and leg muscles allow.)
  • A drive through the “Valley of 72 Waterfalls”
  • A leisurely afternoon on a paddle boat
  • A run along the lake with some of the most gorgeous views imaginable.

Check out the Swiss City Marathon & Half Marathon this fall or contact us for a trail running week in the Swiss Alps.

Lake Lucerne from run

 

We take small groups of runners on tours to participate in a race and experience all that Europe has to offer! Whether you are looking for a bucket-list marathon, or just want to travel in a more healthy way, there’s an option for you.

Our travel philosophy “Slow Travel” — we don’t rush from one tourist attraction to another and we don’t hop to a new city or country every night. We slow down and experience each city in depth and offer our guests unique, private experiences.

Come run with us!

When we first began traveling the world we quickly became weary of the “normal” tourist schedule.  We were rushing from one tourist attraction to the next, or one country to the next without even stopping to take a breath!  We returned home more exhausted than when we left, and we felt like we didn’t even really see the foreign country we spent our hard-earned money visiting.

We discovered that we needed to slow down.  We didn’t try to fit 4 countries into a one week vacation.  We didn’t visit a museum or major sight just because the guidebook said it was a “must-see.”  Instead, we immersed ourselves into the local culture.  We spent more time with private guides so that we could have an in-depth experience of a sight or find a “hidden gem” that is barely mentioned in the guidebooks.  We still see major tourist sights, but we do it in a more calculated way and we balance tourist sights with relaxing in our new city: such as sitting with a glass of rosé wine and watching Paris pass by!

Slow travel does not mean that you will miss seeing major sights.  Some of our privately guided tours will include major sights.  And, you will have ample free time see that bucket list attraction if it isn’t on our agenda.

But, remember that some of those major destinations take a long time (those lines!) and may not always live up to the hype.  I have always said that I don’t want the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, I want a view of the Eiffel Tower (preferably with wine in hand!)  Slow travel is all about finding that balance.