Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Villefranche-Sur-Mer












Is it even worth attempting to explain this place? I believe the pictures do a better job than I ever could with meager words. So much brilliant color, and life, and natural beauty. My mother asked me again and again if it was, "like Amalfi?" and it is, but it also isn't, at all. Villefranche has its own fresh loveliness that really, truly cannot be compared. While we were there we took day trips to Nice and Monaco, and both times, coming back to Villefranche Sur Mer was like a comfortable yawn when we arrived back. A slower, sleepier, cozier kind of place that, because of lack of tourists, felt like our own little slice of the Riviera. I would highly recommend the off-season. Sure, it was a little chilly, but when the sun was out the locals were on the beach in bathing suits and crisp rose and white wine was drunk and enjoyed outside by all. (Including, of course, us). We found the perfect little place to get our fix for European football and my favorite--Campari spritz. 

Eat: 
Les Palmier Perfect for soccer watching and their salads are marvelous
Marechiaro- Italian food like woah

Do:
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild- a quick bus (or walk away) at St. Jean Cap Ferrat


Up next: Monaco

xx


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chateauneuf du Pape






Châteauneuf du Pape. I don't speak French, but I think that roughly translates to New Castle of the Pope. Which, if so, that name has now lost its meaning, as the castle is, in fact, very old, and, no popes inhabit it. 

If I was in charge of renaming it, I would call it, Wine Place to Drink the Wine. Which is much apter than the former. At any rate, the ruins of the Chateau still exist in the village and can be reached by consistently walking up until your legs bleed. Up, up, up, everything in France was walking up, and strangely I don't believe we ever walked down, but instead just a perpetual burn in my hamstrings and calves. 

We took a day trip over to Châteauneuf du Pape from Avignon, just a quick 20 minute or so drive. The city was largely vacant, most of the restaurants still closed, as the tourists wouldn't arrive for at least a week or two more. Which was pleasant for the two of us, as it made exploring and window-shopping more intimate, but it also meant that most restaurants were not open, and we were hungry. We did eventually find a place that was delicious, but I've already forgotten the name and I haven't the patience to dig it up from a search online. 


The main event of the village, though, is the wine. We have done wine tastings in California, Michigan, Spain, Texas, Italy (North and South), France (near Paris), and Hungary, but the wine we tasted in a little cave in Châteauneuf du Pape was most definitely the most delicious. We didn't go to one of the area wineries or sample a specific label, we instead went to a cave with a sommelier named Guy, who had chosen wines for us. He taught us how to taste them properly, what to look for, and allowed us a peek at his cooking class kitchen, the views from outside his terrace out onto the vineyards, and shared his thoughts about America, Texas and rodeos. I can say without any hesitation that it was the best tasting we'd ever done. It was obvious he knew far more than we did about wine in general, and his terroir in particular, and he wasn't afraid to let us know it. Which I admired. He knew the wine he was sampling to us was phenomenal, and he challenged us to identify the tastes, scents, and notes of each one. 

I can't recommend him or his wine cave enough. We spent a heaping pile of money ordering wine to be shipped home (the tasting itself was gratis), and I don't think we'd ever been happier to do so. 

Wine Tasting:

Next week: Villefranche sur Mer
xx




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Avignon









Judging by the pictures above, is this, or is this not, the cutest little major city in the Provence region of Southern France?

For obnoxious Americans, it has it all. Easy access to Cotes du Rhone wine tastings, gastronomique restaurants up the wazoo, a castle, Popes, Medieval Architecture, there's a Mermaid above a door, and there's a lovely little Halles market to buy fresh produce from.

If I'm being honest, we didn't spend that much time in Avignon. Two measly days that were mostly taken up with resting or gallivanting over to Chateauneuf du Pape for some serious wine tasting (and purchasing). But the time we did have in the city was lovely. Avignon, I would say, ranks right up with those few and far between cities in the world that I could happily live in. A city you could live in is special, you understand, because it can't be "too wonderful", or else the charm would be lost. It can't be "your favorite" place, but instead, kind of an easy, better-than-tolerable place that you could picture yourself strolling, working, shopping and being in. Avignon (Antwerp, Delft, Chicago, Doolin) these are my kind of places.

Avignon was the perfect location to tour the Provence region, and we stayed in the sweetest little B&B with the kindest host and ate some absolutely fantastic (like,  ranking in the top 10 meals of my life) dinner.

Stay: La Banasterie
Eat: Le Mirande
Tour: Pope's Palace
Gawk & Nosh: Les Halles d'Avignon

xx See you back next week for a guide to possibly the greatest wine destination--in the world...



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Eze







Before we booked the hotel there, I'd never heard of Eze. Never in my life. It didn't even sound like a real place, and the pictures we found online looked like a part of Disney World or something.

But is was very real, and very beautiful.

Eze is a city perched high above the water, seemingly at the top of the Riviera. We were told later on in the trip that it was popular with Russian oligarchs, and I can easily believe it because it was ridiculously expensive. An espresso for 6 euro? Please. 

But, it had absolutely breathtaking views, and if you wandered around the crazy twisting turning streets you could find more affordable food. Plus...there's two perfume factories? Workshops? Places that make fragrance? Whatever. Smelly nice things.

Don't miss:
Superb Pasta and Pizza:
Gorgeous Sea Views and lovely plants:
A lovely fragrance tour and sampling:

We went for our anniversary and had a lovely time smooching, finding village cats, drinking wine, and taking in the French Riviera's beauty. There wasn't that much to do, but at the beginning part of the trip, not doing much was precisely the goal. 

Next week: Avignon & Wine Tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
xx

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lost


Loss is a funny thing. Getting lost has connotations of adventure and freedom, of scurrying off the main path onto something less certain but more exciting. "Getting Lost" has this romantic vibe to it, this sense of getting away from the world, from responsibilities and stresses and losing oneself to something...unknown.

But being lost, this is something else entirely. To feel lost, one feels...without hope. Alone, lonely, unsure, uncertain, afraid. I have felt such...loss lately. In some ways, loss of my identity as an American. Not that I'm not proud of my heritage, not at all, but I find that I am confused that I no longer have a clear idea in my head what that means. I had always thought it was inclusive, loving, hard-working, accepting, many-colored, many-faiths, many-loves. I thought it was diversity that made the U.S....US. 

I feel stuck, stagnated,  like I'm treading through sucking mud that won't let me move. I feel that in some ways I am watching the lives of others and the world move past me, and I cannot move my feet in progress to join them. 

I turn away from the news, from television, from conversations that cause me anxiety or frustration, and then feel guilty for not engaging. And then I engage in those conversations and those messages of news, and feel defeated and drained. 


But what is lost can always be found. I'm not a person of specific faith, but I cannot think of loss without thinking of St. Anthony, and my grandma encouraging me to go and ask her little plastic statue of the saint. I'd approach him, like a friend, and sweetly request that he help me find my teddy bear or a book or some little trinket or another that I misplaced. 
I don't know if the little plastic statue helped me find anything, but I think the hope that blossomed as a result of my asking the universe for help... this Hope made a difference. 

So, until then, I will continue "getting lost" in books, in travels, in my own writing. In phone calls with friends far away and text messages with my parents and cuddled by my husband and assorted animals. I'll lose myself in happier things until I'm no longer lost. 
I know a lot of us right now are feeling a little...misplaced. None of us are alone, though, so none is truly lost. 



xx 
New travels on the blog next week. 



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

City Scout Houston


Hey-o, the Ladies at Brass Clothing asked me to write up a little City Scouting Guide for Houston, Texas. Check the post for a little travel inspiration and find all the best places to nosh, hang, get your hair did and drink fancy wine or frozen mojitos. (Yes, I did just write, FROZEN MOJITOS) Check it on the dotcom. 

And to shop Brass (I highly recommend the ponte pant--I have two pair!): 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Houston Women's March







Words fail. Truly. The Women's March on Houston was an important piece of my adult life. Those words sound so puny and small compared to the experience of it, though. 

I felt...surrounded on all sides by LOVE. By common goals, experiences, support, HOPE. There was so much Love in this march. Women, men, young, old, every color of skin. Babies, wheelchairs, police officers, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, strollers, dogs, singing, clapping, hugging, LOVE. 

To believe in equality and justice so firmly, and to have met with resistance in my every day life. To have your beliefs challenged, dismissed, explained away, ignored...and then to suddenly find an ENORMOUS swelling of people. A tribe of others that all echo your truest beliefs. To see people marching for me, and know I am in turn marching for them. 

Words fail. They always do, don't they? Even for a writer like me. But LOVE. I hope it shows in these pictures. Because it was POWERFUL and PALPABLE and EVERYWHERE. 

#MyMarchIsntOver



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Getty




When it comes to museums, I am spoiled. Some of my favorite haunts are not necessarily big gunners like the Louvre or the Met, but I’ll visit the Mauritshuis in the Hague, the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, or the Art Institute of Chicago over and over again. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, then, the idea of spending some leisure hours at the Getty Center Museum was more than welcome. 

The Getty is actually one of the most visited museums in the United States, and if you check the reviews online, they are almost five star. The idea of the museum with art and antiquities collected by a somewhat eccentric, American industrialist known at one time as, “the richest living American” was too good to pass up. It seemed impossible not to be impressed.

The Uber dropped us off at a designated point, and from there, a flight of stairs to the tram. The  tram very slowly ascends the hills surrounding the Getty, leaving the world of Los Angeles behind. As slow as the tram was, we were afforded a few very exciting sightings of deer in the brushy woodland slopes. The tram car came to a stop, and we were at the Getty.

Is it unfair to admit I judged it immediately? It was a white, modernistic monstrosity, looking like a large dentist’s office, or a telecommunications building. After the renaissance and neoclassical structures of museums in Europe, or the Beaux-Arts beauty of the Detroit Institute of Arts, this was…horrendous.

Placating my own disappointment with reminders that the works inside were what mattered, we ventured in. The photography wing was lackluster, mostly because wander as we might, we couldn't locate more than ten photographs, though we were told there were more…somewhere. The gardens were largely unimpressive, and I felt myself thinking they would have been better off leaving the brushy scrub, scraggly trees and errant deer. Inside, we paused to ask directions to the paintings, as I’d already seen a brochure and knew there were some gems awaiting. The museum boasts Rembrandt, Manet, Renoir, Turner, Titian, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and so as disappointed as I’d been thus far, I knew that the old masters and impressionists wouldn't fail to impress.

And they didn’t, of course. Art communicates a message across the centuries that speaks just as loudly now as it did when the paint was drying. That said, there was an emptiness to the space, still. Perhaps because the art largely came from a private billionaire’s collection, or because of the strangeness of  the history of J. Paul Getty himself, the rooms containing the artwork felt oddly flat, less stirring than the golden galleries of the Scottish National Galley or the hallowed halls of the Rijksmuseum or even the cramped Rubenshuis. Several times I purposely exited a room to step outside and peer over the side of the Getty Center, my eyes fighting the haze of LA, seeking out sights and life of the city in the distance, the beauty of every day life somehow more interesting than the walls within the museum. 

After an hour and a half, we found ourselves ambling back toward the tram and the lights of Los Angeles below us, a few deer still poking around in the bushes, sometimes staring unwaveringly into the windows of the passing tram. 

Arriving back into Santa Monica elicited a sigh of relief. The sun setting over the water provided  its own masterpiece, and a reality check— it isn't  necessary to visit the museums of the world to be spoiled by art. 

this article originally appeared in My City Magazine
Alexandria Nolan, author, all rights reserved

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Excerpted from the Novel


Another excerpt from The Word Collector, which is a fabulous book you should purchase and read in its entirety. 

Petra walked through rooms stuffed with old vinyl, antique baby prams and Hull and McCoy vases. Mismatched silverware and chipped tea sets. A case full of jewelry that had once been given and received in love, and now was the final physical proof of the exchange of affection between different sets of bones in the ground. Another right after that, and she found it. 
The room was smaller than she would have liked it to be. But there was a elementary-school-library-style low stool in the corner to sit upon and books packed floor to ceiling with no apparent organization. Petra allowed herself a smile. Perfect. She preferred this. When a shop owner attempted to catalogue the books, they often muddled it all up. This way, it truly was like finding treasure; one never knew what gem might be waiting beneath the next book in a stack or behind a pile of haphazardly placed tomes.

A particularly promising red leather book with a cracked spine called out to her. Settling herself on the small metal stool, she gingerly opened the cover and saw something magic. The title. 
“Ancient Indefinable Peculiarities, published 1803” she read aloud to herself. She smiled again, and allowed her mind to drift along with the soft melodies of Edith Piaf in a faraway room, and the specific song of the turning pages of the rare book in her hands. 

Seconds, moments, minutes later, a hollow cough interrupted the rhythm of her reading. Petra glanced up, irritably, annoyed to have been so burst in upon when she was occupied. Some other obnoxious customer, no doubt, bumbling into the room searching for something interesting to put on his reproduction coffee table. She took no trouble to hide the scowl on her face when she looked up at the intruder. 

excerpted from The Word Collector by Alexandria V. Nolan, 2016, all rights reserved. 

Order your copy on Kindle or Paperback. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Northern Winter






Growing up, I dreamed of sunshine and spring break and shorts and bikinis. I dreamt of a warmer world in the winter. A place away from dirty slush under cars and frozen fingers and starting cars 20 minutes before you have to leave. 

Now that I am woman grown, and living in Texas, I miss those cold Northern winters. I miss coats and hate and gloves and walking in the snow and seeing your breath fog in front of your face. I miss the change of the seasons and the tedium of winter and those first promising days of spring. 

I always thought of winter as a dead time. The frozen death of the year. But, now I see that I was wrong. The beach in winter is a beautiful place. Fresher, cleaner, bracing...and perfect for reflection and wandering. No tourists line a winter beach. No sunbathing, no boating, no sandcastles. But the memories of last year remain, and the excitement for the heat of the next summer is palpable. The beach in winter is a lovely place to be alone, to own the beach for yourself. And I hate to admit it, but the wintertime water might even be a little bluer, and a little more beautiful. 

Now that I live far away, I find that winter in Michigan is a beautiful thing. I only wish I'd loved it more before. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

California Dreaming

I’ve been to California a few times. San Francisco, Napa, lots of wine country gallivanting and bay area exploring. But Los Angeles was new, and to be honest, a little daunting.

We’ve all seen the pictures of celebrities around L.A., and red carpet appearances, the images of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive. Los Angeles is enormous, and seemingly full of gorgeous, glamorous people. More than Paris, more than Milan, more than anywhere I’d been, it was a very intimidating trip for me. I didn’t have any idea what to wear in the winter in Los Angeles, I had no clue just how immense the city was, and even before I exited the plane I felt a bit…overwhelmed. 

I thought I knew palm trees. 

I now live in Texas, where there is a whole mess of them, and I’ve spent time in Mexico, Central America, the rainforest…but there is something special about the palms in Los Angeles. They are inordinately tall, and they gather together in almost architectural clusters. On the drive from LAX to Hollywood, the palm trees were the first thing to pull me in. 

The second was dinner that night. The entire trip to Los Angeles was one amazing meal after the other. The freshest sushi, the most wonderful middle eastern food, the healthiest kale-kombucha-acai whatever bowls. The turmeric lattes and the cold brew coffee, the cocktails and wine selections and the atmosphere of the bubbling joy-filled eateries. Everything was delicious, without exception. Which, was something I hadn’t been expecting. I had thought to find glamour, to find glitz and inflated prices. I thought to find model-thin ladies and actor-attractive men with impressively tailored suits, but I hadn’t thought to find the bounty of absolutely divine edibles. 

But, I did. 

And after that, I cared little about the celebrity look-alikes or the poshness of Los Angeles, and instead was just excited to taste the next delicious thing. A friend  of Terrence's lives out in Santa Monica, and he invited us to visit the beach side of L.A., and we quickly went. The vibe was immediately different— slower, more chilled out, and calmer. Santa Monica itself reminded me a little of Michigan beach towns, but the atmosphere on the actual beach in Venice and Santa Monica was a world away. The elderly and the eccentric “skate-dancing”, the rolling sound of skateboards and people randomly napping, fully-clothed in the sand, a bottle of pop clutched to their chest like a treasure. 

The sunset comes early in California, and watching the bright orange of it sinking into the waves from a rooftop bar was one of the most arresting sights of my life. The waves purring quietly into shore, the light fading, and the sounds of  California nightlife growing ever louder. As soon as the sun disappeared into the darkness of the water, it was time for more food. 


Two cocktails, a glass of champagne and twenty or so pieces of the most incredible sushi I’ve ever had in my life later, we’re packed into a dark uber, heading back to Hollywood. It’s amazing to me how varied the different parts of the city are. The cliff top architecture and pink smog air of the Getty Museum, the warehouse pop-up shops and food trucks of DTLA. The pomp and old movie glam of Hollywood and Beverly Hills and the beachside charm of Santa Monica and Venice. All united by of life-altering foodstuffs and those lovely California palms.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Some words, ramblings and not so subtle hint to buy my book


Christmas is coming. And so are several other holidays celebrated by a myriad of different people and cultures. Whatever your holiday, I'm certain sure that you are besieged on social media by good-intentioned acquaintances who implore you to purchase whatever product they choose to shill. 

I don't have a product. But I do have some pretty marvelous novels and novelettes for you to enjoy this holiday season, and if you know someone who likes to read (there aren't as many of us as I'd like to think) then perhaps you could pick them up a copy of one of my humble efforts. For a convincer, I've included an excerpt from my latest work. AND, I 'll have you know that the next novel is going to land sometime in early to late February-- pre-order will begin in January for Kindle. 

Anyway, besides that, the adventures around here have been fairly nonexistent, as we have been battling colds and allergies and Thanksgivings and too much work to do. But, very soon expect a post on an upcoming trip to Los Angeles, and then an adventure all over Michigan (again), over to Paris (again) and then to New Orleans (again!!) Any other last minute holidays you'll read about as soon as I see fit to lose my mind and book them. 

Enjoy the excerpt, I made it myself. (Link to ALL Books)

She was peering over her wine glass watching him read. Dane was chewing on his lower lip, and alternately squinting his eyes and then widening them—and smiling. Again, she held back the new words from the pages she’d given him, but she was certain that the words were the farthest thing from his mind at the moment. 
She wished that the thoughts she was having about the bitten lip and those blue eyes would flee far from her mind as well.

Suddenly, his eyes met hers and she could have sworn they twinkled. She felt the heat in her cheeks, embarrassed to have been caught staring, but she did not take her eyes away. But whatever was about to be said or communicated in that glance was lost when Jinks yowled an undignified and unholy cat sound that scared them both—and the moment was over. 
She stood up to drop a few pieces of newly purchased kibble into the cat’s bowl, and Dane’s voice followed behind her. 
“Wow. Just…wow. This is page-turning stuff. A real historical mystery, right here in Traverston.”

“I know.” she replied, her voice somehow distant in the clatter of cat food hitting the porcelain. Petra straightened and tucked an escaped tendril behind her ear. She looked down and assessed herself. Black jeans, white T-shirt and her crazy long hair hanging in waves with no real polish or organization. She’d spent the whole day writing and translating, stopping only for a bottle of root beer, a few spoonfuls of hummus and a soft apple. She assessed the now rumpled  outfit she was wearing, only applying an extra dusting of face powder and a smear of lipstick before his confident knock had sounded on the door. And now she saw the burgundy bloom of a wine stain on her shirt and her shoulders sagged. What was she doing?

excerpted from The Word Collector, Alexandria Nolan

Be back soon with a travel post...xx

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In the Kitchen Baking Pies With My Baby




The alternate working title for today's post was, "This is pie-related but you know I didn't have any of the actual ingredients but it still came out gloriously" 

I like baking. I do. But, it seems usually to be so much more of a precise type of cooking, with science-y type chemistry involved and not the kind of slapdash, off-the-cuff, inspiration of the moment type of cooking I normally gravitate towards. 

But, it's Thanksgiving week, which means that it is almost Christmas time, which further means that my long-suffering soul is coming back to life to the smells of cinnamon and balsam and the crooning loveliness of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby and the incomparable Karen Carpenter. 

This time of year I begin feeling festive and homebody-ish and I feel a little bit like I still want to be a child and a little guilty that I haven't gotten around to being unselfish enough to have one of my own...and dang it I need to make a pie. 

I'm going to make Pumpkin Pie, as it is Thanksgiving, though neither myself or the Mr. are looking much forward to it. But Apple Pie? I can get behind that every day of the week and twice on Sundays. 

But, as the alternate title might suggest, I didn't actually have any apple pie ingredients besides butter and apples. No sugar, no cornstarch. So, I did what I do best and improvised. If you want a proper apple pie recipe, you're in the wrong place. (and the pie crust? I can't be bothered with flour or shortening or whatever it is people use to make them. I bought an organic overpriced one at Whole Foods and it's awaiting contents in my freezer as we speak.)

Without further bother or ado;

Apple Pie Filling
Ingredients:
4 medium apples. (I used 2 large and slightly dodgy honey crisp apples and two pink ladies)
3 tbsp water (I just splashed an indeterminate amount of water in)
2 tbsp butter (I used more like 5. Because...butter.)
1 tbsp (or more) cinnamon
1/3 cup honey (substituted for sugar as I hadn't any)
1 tbsp ground flaxseed. (or you could use 1tsp cornstarch prepared in water and added at the end) I use flaxseed for thickening most things. It adds fiber, it's good for you, and it works the same as cornstarch. 

Method:
1. Peel, core and slice apples. (I sliced thinly and haphazardly)
2. Melt butter and cinnamon over medium heat and then stir in apples, honey and water.
3. Cover, and cook. Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until the apples are slightly softened.
4. Add ground flaxseed or cornstarch mixture and continue to cook until apples are soft but not mushy. Allow apples to bubble for a minute or so. Cool, and then pour into pie crust or freeze. Will freeze for up to one year. (but why, why, why would that ever happen?)

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for this blog and anyone who reads it, and for all of the magazines that publish my work. But I am mostly thankful for my handsome husband and that my newest book, The Word Collector, has garnered such favorable praise. 

Lord love a writer. 

xx

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A World Away





Recently, I took a trip with my husband out to west Texas. My husband is from San Angelo, which is a “big city” in that part of the state, but we found ourselves farther west than even that. Seven hours west of Houston, three hours west of Austin, is the tiny town of Rowena, Texas. A town with two halls--two gathering places for any kind of celebration or meeting the little town might have, which was confusing to me. Surely, there was no reason for two halls? Not in a town this size? 

The town itself was only dotted with a few houses, a couple stores here and there, and with a good arm you could probably throw a baseball down the entire main street of the place. But, it was a gathering point for all of the ranchers, farmers and others living  in that area. A place to come together for a wedding, a birthday party, a graduation, a dance. A place to hold town council meetings. Rowena is small and seemingly remote, but a gathering spot nonetheless. 

For me, a Flint, Michigan native and proud daughter of blue collar manufacturing, this might as well have been a different planet. I’ve traveled to countries all over the world, rural communities, big cities, suburbs and Medieval walled villages, but I can truly say I have never felt more alien than in that quiet part of western Texas. 

This is where my husband comes from. And when I looked at it through a lens of my own experience, it seemed as though it couldn’t be more different than my own. Not worse, or better, just so completely out of the scope of my own experience that I felt disconnected from it.  In short, no matter the negativity that surrounds Flint at the present moment, I  know I would never trade in the whir of my grandfather's machine shop for the sunshine and endless fields of my husband’s childhood. 
.
After a night spent with his family at one of the halls, we drove home. The night sky in the country is unbelievably dark, and the stars are brilliantly bright. The darkness is quiet and the wind is cool, and it’s easy to pretend out there, away from street lamps and city lights, that you’re the only people on earth. There’s a romance to that, certainly, but also a loneliness. 


As much as I’ve traveled, and as far as I’ve roamed, it took that starry-skied night in west Texas to break my heart with missing my Michigan home.