9 Reasons to See Van Gogh & Monet in France

While I planned on writing an in-depth article about my visit to Giverny and Auvers-sur-Oise in France, once home to Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh respectively, I haven't had the time to follow through with this pursuit...so I'm going to list my favorite things about my visit instead as I still haven't sorted through my Google Photos ;) Here are 9 Reasons to See Van Gogh & Monet in France.

And check out this Rick Steves video I just watched: 
Giverny, France: Monet's Gardens -

1. Because you can see the actual water lilies from Monet's paintings. The. Actual. Water Lilies.
Foundation Claude Monet

2. Because you can see the actual sunflowers from Monet's paintings. The. Actual. Sunflowers.
Metropolitan Museum of Art

3. If you're in Paris, it's only 49 minutes by train to Vernon-Giverny. 

4. Monet's vast gardens are stunning. Simply stunning. And after all, Monet lived did live here from 1883 to 1926.

Foundation Claude Monet

5. Because you can visit Ravoux Inn and see the empty room where Van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life before committing suicide in 1890: Nothing to see, but everything to feel...

Maison de Van Gogh

6. Because Auvers-sur-Oise is even more beautiful than Van Gogh painted.
Auvers-sur-Oise Office de Tourisme

7. Because you can pay your respects to both Vincent and his beloved brother, Theo, at their quaint graveside in the Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery.
Institut Van Gogh

8. Because Auvers-sur-Oise is just over an hour from Paris.

9. Because art is inspiring. Have you tried the Google Arts & Culture app? What do you think, does this artwork look like me? Try with your own #selfie at g.co/art/selfie #GoogleArts Portrait of Harriet Clark Ferrell

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

An here's one last video I came across: Loving Vincent - the world's first oil-painted feature film. What?? Check it:


Happy Chinese New Year: Ocean Park Hong Kong

Have you ever heard of Ocean Park Hong Kong? Me neither, but it's the largest theme park in Asia! In this Year of the Dog, Ocean Park will be celebrating Chinese New Year from February 16 to the 25th during their Lunar Lucky Fiesta extravaganza. Let's take a look at what they're up to!

  • Ocean Park has put together a carnival-themed float for the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade on February 16th
    • What's the big news here? This parade will mark the first time ever that the parks' mascots, Whiskers & Friends, will appear in Chinese New Year costumes!
  • Lunar Lucky Fiesta will offer attractions and performances by the Chio-Tian Folk Drums & Arts Troupe from Taiwan, entitled Divine Drums Celebration. Sample one of their vibrant, rhythmic performances here:

  • A Nostalgic New Year Bazaar will include handmade items and a selection of street food
  • Presented by Mine Train, the popular Samsung Gear VR, VR Challenges Zone and VR Arcade will also be present during the fiesta. Check it out here:

Quick facts about Ocean Park Hong Kong:
  • opened in 1977 and underwent a huge redevelopment in 2009
  • in 1993, the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation was established
  • Ocean Park Hong Kong is more than 915,000 square meters in size, or about 226 acres, where as Disneyland comes in at roughly 84 acres, wow!
  • there are thrill rides and animal attractions including a red panda exhibit, plus a cable car system to help you get around, and one of the tallest Southeast Asia observation towers at 72 meters in height, about 236 feet

For more information, check out the Lunar Lucky Fiesta or Hong Kong Ocean Park.


Journalling While You Travel

As a writer, I've always had a notebook with me when I've traveled, whether it be just an hour away or to explore a foreign country. My notebook of choice is anything Moleskine, as I love the durability, portability and variety of formats available. And seriously, don't be fooled by imitation Molsekine-like notebooks as they end up being crap in the end - the spines break or pages just fall right out of the book :(

You can't go wrong with a Moleskine Classic Large Rule Notebook

I've also heard great things about Midori notebooks. I can see how these leather bound notebooks would age with use making them part of the memories you're creating as you travel. When you're checking these out, be sure to note that many times you're just buying the outside cover, not the paper inside. But, they're completely refillable, which is great! You can remove your notes and catalogue them upon returning home, insert a new refill and you're ready to go again. You can also customize them with pen holders and brass plates for the elastic closure.

Midori Traveler's Notebook Brown Leather

If you're traveling with small children, I highly recommend getting them their very own journal so they can record their vacation according to their eyes! I found this great kids' travel journal with puzzles, blank pages for drawing and prompts to help them write down what they've seen and done. This travel journal is especially perfect if your child has a summer class project about their vacation, bonus! You can also add photos when you're done to complete the process. <3

Kids' Travel Journal

The one thing I wish I could do personally when traveling is draw or paint in my journal. I love watercolors! I've attempted a few sketches here and there but wow, just not worth my disappointment when I'm done and the feeling that I've screwed up my entire journal with my lame drawing, ughhhh, lol. Here's a great option if watercolor on the go interests you, while the second book encourages everyone to try drawing. And even you. Yes, YOU! :)

And speaking of writing, check out the Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West, Florida!! 


This is What it's Like to Travel with Celiac Disease

This is What it's Like to Travel with Celiac Disease. 

It's frustrating and disheartening to be misunderstood - no, I'm not on a gluten-free diet!! Arghhh. I feel anxious the entire time, I worry about when and what I'll be able to eat next. And it can be shitty, actually shitty.

Having been an avid traveler for many years, I've never been concerned over food. While I admit I don't have an iron stomach and am fairly picky, I've still never had any issues - until I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. About 1 in 100 people have it. It's an auto-immune disorder people, not a food allergy! I hate being Celiac-challenged. Now even running an errand at home makes me anxious to know that I can't just stop at a McDonald's if I'm suddenly hungry, (even if it's not the best of nutritional choices). But I did eat at Mc'Ds once (eek!!), see below

"People who are on gluten-free diets are not doing me an favors. When I order a Celiac-friendly or gluten-free item on a menu, I'm always met with "that look", of really??! Of course you are. And then I'm handed the one-page typed out menu with 4 items to choose from. Seriously? Restaurants really do need to step up their game as it's truly not that difficult to do some extra cleaning on a grill before frying a burger and/or offering a gluten-free bun." 

It's funny (well, not really) how many waiters and waitresses at restaurants nod their heads when I'm asking questions in regards to gluten free food options, as if they understand, which apparently they don't. I can explain what I want, what I can't have and invariably I'm served something with an unknown sauce they can't identify all the ingredients of, or a gluten free dish topped with a garnish of regular, wheat-containing noodles. I've even received garlic toast on the side. Really??

And no one in the restaurant business seems to understands the Celiac Disease issue with potential cross-contamination. I'm in no way saying it's their fault, it's just unfortunate, for all of us. My restaurant/ingredient quest led me to start a section on my other blog, My Favorite Things, entitled Is This Gluten Free? It's a great resource to pass along to anyone who suffers with Celiac.

What I would give when traveling to be able to just grab a burger and a beer! I used to enjoy drinking Black Butte Porter out of Oregon, love that stuff! But now I can't have that stuff :( I've recently discovered a really nice gluten-free beer called Mongozo Premium Pilsner, based out of Belgium. It's definitely the best gluten-free beer I've found so far, and I've tried everything that's available in our area. So, while most people can enter a bar and order a beer right off the get-go,

I'm left staring at the menu thinking, don't panic, don't panic...you'll find something you can safely eat. Just. Keep. Looking. Arghhh!

When I vacationed in the Caribbean with Norwegian Cruise Line, I was nervous. Until I got on board and met the restaurant maitre d's. From that moment on, it was smooth sailing, pardon the pun. The staff was so attentive in regards to my dietary needs, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. One of the executive chefs even looked up a recipe online and then happily presented me with a gluten-free loaf of bread every night at our table, amazing. 

Oh, that's right, you've got Ceee-liac, like it's a death sentence. I'm only asking for a little understanding and consideration, like the amazing treatment I received with Norwegian Cruise Line. My next gluten-free experience abroad was India - check out my review of  Lemon Tree Premier Leisure Valley 2, Gurugram, India. Part of this trip involved an early morning flight where I couldn't find any GF options as many restaurants were still closed, so, I hate to admit this, but I bought an Egg McMuffin and quickly peeled the muffin off the egg and the sausage patty! In hindsight, I could have easily ordered it without the English muffin itself, but in my hungriness and desire not to explain why I wouldn't want the muffin to begin with, I simply ordered as-is. And yes, I know, I could have glutened myself by taking this extreme chance.

If I was diabetic, would you serve me cake? 

It's the same thing, only it's Celiac. 

Traveling abroad still makes me nervous as it's hard to communicate what I require, or can't eat as a gluten-free traveler. Thankfully there are translation apps for that! I have to specify Celiac-friendly, gluten-free, meaning no: wheat, oats, rye or barley, nor anything that many contain these ingredients including sauces, frozen vegetables (yes, some frozen veggies!!), I have an auto-immune disorder, people, sometimes I want to scream!

And it's still so weird to think I can't just eat that scrumptious looking pastry in the bakery window, or to enjoy a stir-fry as the soya sauce will more than likely contain wheat (unless it's GF, of course).

BUT, and this is a big but, I just attended the Gluten Free Expo in Vancouver, BC - it's Canada's largest gluten free event! It was absolutely a-mazing to know I could eat anything and everything in the entire room. Wow. Just WOW. I discovered a few new gluten-free brands, plus 2 gluten-free Vancouver restaurants that I'll be trying asap, so excited! And GF bakeries, too, even more excited!!

Thank you for listening to my rant ;) And yes, I know, it could be much, much worse. I could have cancer. Oh, but wait, I did. And I'm 7-year survivor. So traveling with Celiac maybe isn't so bad after all... 

Watch for my upcoming advice/travel tips on traveling with Celiac. In the mean fellow Celiacs, here's my interim advice: 

Life is Short. Live a Great Story. 

And travel on, my Celiac friends, travel on!!