Back On Track And Looking Ahead

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Life is finally starting to feel a little more normal as the weather’s been getting warmer. Oh So and I are about six weeks behind in our competition season due to the strangles, but we were able to get out to a combined test and Twilight Eventing at Loch Moy, both of which we won!

The dressage test at the combined test felt a bit tight, although it scored well, but I was fine with it since it was the first show of the season. He was much better for Twilight–very relaxed and supple and loose in his body.

Novice CT at Loch Moy. GRC Photography Photos

My show jumping round at Twilight wasn’t the smoothest since I’d had two rides on him after being gone for a week at Kentucky, but we were there for the cross-country anyways!

It was a pretty simple course, but it was open and gallopy, which is what he needed for his first run of the year. Now we’re looking ahead to the starter trial and some recognized events in June and July.

 

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Twilight Eventing!

He’s been looking really good lately and feeling even better. I decided to keep him on stall board through the summer to help put some weight back on after he lost about 50 pounds due to the winter and his illness. He’s happy to be inside eating all day and away from the bugs I think. I’ve changed up my routine so I go for a 20-minute hack before we work in case he’s a little stiff from being in. He’s also been extremely spooky, which is kind of funny!

I think his neck injection is really kicking in because he’s been very supple and working really well on the flat. We’ve had a few lessons with my dressage trainer Heidi, and we’ve been working towards improving his changes. He’s accepting leg yielding away from the wall and back for the most part, although this week every time I leg yielded off the wall on the left lead he gave me very lovely changes back right! It’s kind of funny because you could tell he thought he was doing the right thing. I just stayed calm and got the correct lead back and continued to leg yield until he listened to my aids. We also played with some canter/walk and walk/canter transitions and haunches in which will all help improve those changes.

We’ve been working on gymnastics with Lisa since he’s been getting pretty excited jumping lately, so we’re just dialing it back a bit to make him sit and wait.

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Photographing at Kentucky.

 

I’ve been on a couple of work trips since my last update, including The Fork and Kentucky. The Fork was a bit underwhelming as far as entries go, but Boyd Martin won, and it was kind of a cute story.

Kentucky was a lot of fun, but a very long time to be gone. In the end, Oliver Townend won, which was a bit of a bummer since everyone was rooting for Boyd to be the first U.S. rider since 2008 to win it. Maybe next year!

Now I’m off to Jersey Fresh for the weekend. Looks like it might be a bit wet!

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Around The World: From Scotland To Ocala To New Orleans And Home!

My posts about my vacations tend to come very late since I usually come home and jump right back into real life. This time was no exception, as I got back from Scotland and immediately had to deal with my car that wouldn’t start and a busy week at work. Welcome home! I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts and look through my photos, so better late than never!

I decided to do a late season trip to Scotland because it was cheaper, but I knew the weather might be dicey this time of year. I’m happy to report it was just about perfect, for me at least, and any time it rained seemed to be when I was on the tour bus or overnight. The weather gods were definitely smiling. It was actually colder in Virginia than it was in Scotland!

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Continue reading “Around The World: From Scotland To Ocala To New Orleans And Home!”

Favorite Photos of 2017

Despite being injured and off my feet for several months this year, I still had the chance to go to a ton of amazing competitions for my job in 2017.

As always, I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I love for a living, and this year I got to check off a couple of bucket list events, as well as go to some longtime favorites. I attended 18 competitions this year for COTH (14 actual trips total, counting the USEA Convention).

A photographer friend generously gifted me some Lightroom classes to work on while I was laid up, and I think my editing skills have gotten a little better this year! I’m always in search of the perfect jumping shot, but I’ve been trying my best to be aware of my surroundings and capture quiet, candid moments as well. My New Year’s resolution is to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone and play with different perspectives as I continue to capture some of the country’s best horses and riders.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my coverage this year.

 

Wanderlust: Covering 2,000 Miles In Europe

It always takes me forever to write about my big vacations, mostly because when I get back it’s usually straight back to my normal, busy life, and I’m left with little time to absorb my experiences.

But taking a few weeks to do so actually helps, I think, so here goes!

I had been waiting for months to take this vacation. I had to reschedule it after my accident, and the dates at the beginning of November were just about the last ones available for the year and before the weather turned.

I’ve done several COSMOS trips of single countries, but this year I decided to try a multi-country one.

Continue reading “Wanderlust: Covering 2,000 Miles In Europe”

Reflecting on 2016

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by! I’m ending it in a very different place than I expected to, but a better place for sure! It was a year of travel and new discoveries, but also a little sadness and less competing than I’d hoped.

It was the first full year I’ve been living in Leesburg and the first year of being a boarder. While I do enjoy living on my own, being a boarder is still a difficult adjustment. I miss having having my horses in my backyard and being able to see them multiple times a day. I miss seeing them first thing when I wake up and even the late night checks when it’s freezing outside!

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GRC Photo

I started the year in one barn and moved to another in the summer that I thought would be a good fit. It didn’t end up being what I thought it would be, so I moved Oh So to a field boarding situation in November.

I’ve never done field board in my life, so I was pretty nervous the first month, but he’s taken to it well and enjoys being dirty all the time! The good news is he’s moving around a lot more so his front legs look very good.

I’m slowly learning to let go of some of my more “type A” tendencies when it comes to horse care, and it hasn’t backfired yet, so fingers crossed!

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Bear went to a new home in April.

I always knew Bear would have to be sold so I could replenish my savings account as I adjusted to living on my own, but it didn’t make it any less painful to say goodbye to him in April when I finally sold him.

I thought I would be able to focus my time and money on Oh So this year and at least do some novices, but after we did two events, he had a minor injury, and the vet advised us to take it easy over the summer, so there went my fall plans.

But, I’ve been learning to find silver linings in life, and while it sucked to not be able to compete, I met some great friends over the summer, and it allowed me to ride Harley for a few months. I even got to compete him on my birthday, which gave me such joy to be back out on course again. Working with him gave me more confidence bringing along a baby, and I was able to use what I learned from Bear to get him to his first event. I’m happy I was able to show his owner Meghan what he’s capable of, and now she’s ready to have some fun and come to the dark side!

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Harley on course at Loch Moy. GRC Photo.

After I competed him in November and moved to my new barn, I had planned to stick to my idea of maybe getting a baby in the spring and seeing how Oh So felt to compete, but of course my trainer Lisa had her eye out and found Forward Thinking in December. It was a whirlwind, but now I have a new horse to work with and goals to start thinking about.

I have no idea if Thomas will become my next “horse of a lifetime” like Oh So is, but so far he seems like a willing partner, and I’m excited to start jumping him soon.

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Thomas is enjoying his new life so far!

As for the rest of my life, I’ve become an aunt for the second time this year, but I haven’t been able to meet my new niece yet since my brother and sister in law moved to Ohio. I’ve never been more than a few hours from my brother, so it’s been hard, but probably harder on my parents who are enjoying being grandparents.

I traveled more than ever this year, and to be honest, I felt a little burned out by the end of the year, but more creatively than physically. I love my job, and I’ve been covering mostly eventing over the last few years, but sometimes it gets hard to think of new and different ways to write about the same people that keep winning. I find that the few months I don’t travel from November until January usually help me recover and refresh a bit, so by February, I think I’ll be ready to tackle another year!

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Here’s where I’ve been this year for work:

Global Dressage Festival CDI*****/WEF CSI***** (Fla.)
Red Hills CIC*** (Fla.)
Carolina International CIC*** (N.C.)
The Fork CIC*** (N.C.)
Rolex Kentucky CCI**** (Ky.)
Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.)
Bromont CCI*** (Quebec)
Great Meadow International CICO*** (Va.)
Olympics (Brazil)
Plantation Field CIC*** (Pa.)
Dressage At Devon (Pa.)
Fair Hill International CCI*** (Md.)
Ocala Jockey Club CIC*** (Fla.)
USEA Convention (Fla.)

Most of what I wrote for the web can be seen here. These are only stories with just my byline though. I did a lot of writing with co-workers as well.

Obviously the most amazing trip was to Rio for the Olympics. I never imagined I would cover an Olympic Games, and it’s still sinking in that I was there. I went to the Newseum this week with my dad for the first time in many years, and in one display case they had examples of photographer credentials over the years. They had one from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and it was cool to think that I have one too now!

It was also refreshing to talk to new and different people, especially since I enjoy covering dressage and show jumping, but don’t get to do it that often.

My travel wasn’t all fun and games though. There was tragedy at Jersey Fresh when a horse and human died on cross-country day. I had never interviewed Philippa Humphreys, but her death still hurt just as much. It was a somber, eerie feel on show jumping day, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

I was excited to go to Rolex and Dressage At Devon for the first time as a member of the media. I’ve been going to both for a long time as a spectator, but to be able to take photos was the best feeling.

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On the job at Rolex! Kasey Mueller/Rare Air Photography

I love exploring other cultures and their history, but I decided with a big trip to Rio this year that I wouldn’t go to Europe. But since I turned 3o in November, I gave myself a gift, and I’ll be going on a 10-day trip in May with stops in London, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Paris.

Looking ahead to 2017, I’m hoping it will be my year to get back out there and compete regularly and grow more both professionally and personally.

My first trip is to Florida for the Wellington Eventing Showcase and GDF CDI*****, then possibly Pine Top CIC***, and the usual suspects of Red Hills, Carolina International and The Fork. We had a very exciting planning meeting this month with the whole staff, and I think we’re all excited to tackle the next year.

Highs And Lows

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As with most things in life, horses are full of ups and downs. I’ve been on a slow and gradual downhill slide with Oh So since his original injury in 2013 as we’ve dealt with  little injuries here and there stemming from his age and recovery.

After a really amazing event at Seneca last weekend, we’ve unfortunately hit another bump on the way down.

He’s actually been going better than ever on the flat, as I’ve written about recently, and I was thinking of playing around at some dressage shows to do something a little more challenging than the novice tests. He’s felt sound under saddle, but I’ve noticed he’s been resting both of his front legs on the toe a little more often than usual. He’s done it at seemingly random intervals over the last year or two, but has always been sound. I decided to make an appointment with Morven Park though anyways to see if there was something else going on, and to get his back checked for kissing spine, which the chiropractor suggested at our last appointment.

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Seneca. GRC Photo.

Because he’s been going well though, Lisa and I decided to keep going with Seneca since the footing and weather was good.

We had a super early wakeup call, so maybe that’s why were both so relaxed, but we scored a 17.6 in the open novice division! It ended up being the lowest score of the whole show across any division. I have no idea why he was so relaxed, but I can count on one hand the number of times he’s been that rideable in a test. And it’s an added bonus that he’s been very relaxed in his warm ups lately so I don’t need more than about 25 mins of warmup.

The show jumping was OK. He was a little bit heavy in my hand and was tapping rails, but they all stayed up! The open course at Seneca is much better for me because it makes me ride forward.

The cross-country went well. Not much else to say about a novice course! I wish it was a little bigger, but it was well-designed and flowed nicely. We ended up winning by almost 10 points and won the TIP Award too!

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He had the Monday after Seneca off, then I did a little flatwork on Tuesday, and he felt OK-maybe a little stiff behind, but that’s normal for him.

My appointment was on Wednesday with Dr. Adams at Morven Park, who saw him about a two months ago when he needed his teeth done and was a little wonky behind (probably from being chased by a nasty horse at the old barn).

I wanted to have him check the DDFT sheath, and expected we might need to inject it to make him more comfortable, even if he wasn’t unsound, since it’s been about a year since the original DDFT sheath issue.

He flexed off on both front legs and was sore on palpation, which wasn’t surprising considering he’s been holding his legs up on occasion. Dr. Adams decided that we should inject the tendon sheath, but before we decided on that, we X-rayed his back.

Unsurprisingly, he has kissing spine and some arthritis in his back. I’m guessing he’s always had it, but in my inexperience I never thought about that and always worked on saddle fit before thinking about X-rays. He’s also been going very well, but Dr. Adams said he seems to have learned to live with it. He said we could inject his back, which I might do sometime, but that’s the least of my worries right now!

 We were about to just inject the tendon sheath on the left and be done with it, but I asked if we should have an updated ultrasound image. He said he didn’t feel it was necessary but did it anyways because I asked.

I’m now kind of sad I asked for it because he found a small core lesion near the suspensory branch on the right front, which was the leg with the original suspensory (that was located higher up).

He said it looked like fresh inflammation, but couldn’t really say for sure because he hadn’t seen the original injury. I’m having the vet who treated the original injury send him some images, but until then, he suspects it’s new. I’m also not sure how helpful they’ll be because his last ultrasound on that leg was probably mid-2014.

I doubt he did it when he was at Seneca. I think it’s just wear and tear, and while it could be nothing, the vet would prefer we’re cautious and wants me to let him have 2 months of walking and trotting then have it rechecked. 😦 I might pursue shockwave too to help it along.

His overall impression was that Oh So is beginning a pattern of injury that shows he compensating for pain elsewhere.

I know the day will come one day when he will no longer be able to be ridden, but I’m not ready for that yet, and I don’t think he is either. It just doesn’t seem right that a 16-year-old horse should be retired!

While I wait to hear from the vet, I’ve been pondering what to do with a lot of people I trust, and I still just don’t have the answer. Some people think I should just keep riding him until he is lame, which may not be for a long time., but what if I make the lesion worse? He can’t go through anymore stall rest, so if it comes to that, he’ll have to be retired totally.

The problem with letting him have any kind of downtime is that other parts of his body will start to weaken, like his hind end, then we never get anywhere as we work to build it up again.

I just have to decide how many more times I want to go through with the whole letting him down and legging him back up cycle. It’s exhausting and frustrating that I (selfishly) can’t have goals or anything to look forward to. I’m kind of just living on a wing and prayer right now that he comes out sound every day.

My second option is to let him have his two months of light work, hope he doesn’t break down elsewhere or get too bored, and pursue other horses to ride, which is sort of what I’m leaning towards. I’m just not quite ready to get another horse yet because it’s sort of an either or situation. Either he retires and I get another horse or he stays in work going through the the same cycle of frustration.

I can’t afford to board two riding horses, and I’m just not sure about leasing him to someone who’s not familiar with his issues, but I also don’t think he’s ready to sit in a field yet.

Once I’m done with the Olympics in August, we can ultrasound again and see where we’re at, then maybe pursue another horse, which I want to be my next Oh So. I don’t think I’m cut out for the business of selling. It’s just too painful.

It’s been a weird couple of months since I sold Bear. I do best when I’m busy, and two horses was just enough for me. I’ve gradually gotten used to having one (fragile) horse, which is an uncomfortable feeling, and now I’m sort of screwed. I’m a planner, and now I have no plans. I’m goal-oriented, and I have no goals for the first time in my riding career.  My horse(s) and my job are my life. I see people posting on social media about how awesome their weekends are with their horses, and I’m not sure of the next time we’ll even have a lesson.

I had a nice, quiet visit home this weekend to just spend time with Sam and the minis and my cats, which helped me think, but the decision is still cloudy in my mind. I wish it could just be made for me!

I’d love to hear in the comments if anyone has been through a similar situation. I’m just afraid of making the wrong decision.

In other news, I had a nice visit up to Bromont in Canada earlier this month. I spent a day in Montreal, which seemed like a nice city to live in, but was a little low on actual things to do. Next up is the Nations Cup at Great Meadow, then the Olympics!

Catching Up On March

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It’s been a busy month as my travel schedule and show schedule has ramped up. I went to a combined test with Bear at Morningside on the 19th to do the novice, and it ended up being cold and miserable, but we survived!

His test was quite steady, but he was a little low in the poll in trot. We’ve been working on lots of bending on circles at home getting him to use his body, especially to the right, but sometimes he gets low as a result. We scored a 36, which I thought was too high, but oh well!

I didn’t get a chance to walk the whole show jumping course, but I know the ring well enough. We had the first rail down, which was a tall vertical. He was a little distracted going around the ring, and I let him get a bit flat, so he trailed his hind end. The round got better as it went on though, and by the triple combination at the end, he was jumping very nicely and I didn’t screw it up!

We wanted to go out on the hill after, but it started snowing, so those plans got scrapped!

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We did get a chance to go schooling the next week though at Gordonsdale, and we popped over some bigger stuff, as well as some drops into water and banks, which he was very brave about.

I headed off to Red Hills at the beginning of the month. It’s a really unique event in Tallahassee, Fla., where I think the non-horsey public ratio is higher than the eventing enthusiasts who attend. They redesigned the course this year, which I think the riders appreciated. Since it was my second time there, I had a better idea of where I wanted to shoot, and I was really happy with my photos.

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The Carolina International at the Carolina Horse Park last weekend was my next stop for one of my favorite events to cover and ride at. It was a bit warm for the first two days, then kind of cold and dull for cross-country day, but I got tons of great photos. I really wish I could have packed my horses for the trip!

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Bear went schooling again on Tuesday this week at Loch Moy. He’s never done their schooling course, and it’s been awhile since I’ve done it, but there was a ton of stuff to do on some decent hills, so we worked a lot on jumps up and down, as well as jumps before and after the water. He also did his first baby keyhole jump and ducked just like Oh So does!

What that school revealed is that he needs to get stronger cantering down the hills, and I need to sit in the correct balance and not let him get too much in my hand, which results in me taking my leg off as we approach a jump at the bottom of a hill.

We had our first event of the season this weekend at Morven Park, which is my hometown event now that I live literally five minutes away!

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His dressage was very steady, and I worked to keep his poll up this time. We had one bobble in the free walk to medium walk transition where he anticipated, but otherwise, I worked on riding some shoulder fore on the long sides and tried to trot from canter as soon as I came off my circles to help him step under with his inside hind and make the transitions smoother. His final halt was a little more unbalanced than usual (i.e. not square), but he ended up with a 29.5 for first place!

The show jumping course was about as flowing as it could be for the shape and size of the ring at Morven, and he was feeling pretty good about himself! He was jumping around the fences nicely, but was a little bullish about his inside shoulder around the turns, and I was working on stepping into my outside stirrup and not touching the inside rein.

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He jumped clear there and got pretty excited about going to the start box when we got down to cross-country. It’s fun that he’s starting to know the routine, even if he’s a little unsure of some of the fences sometimes.

The beginner novice course was on the “Big kids” side of the property this year, which gave it a lot more galloping space. I asked for a bit of a long one to the second fence and unfortunately set the tone for the next few jumps and the gallop stretches. He’s still learning to gallop in between the fences, and I had to work had to keep him from getting too much on his forehand, especially as I got about 10 strides away from the jumps, but the jumps themselves he was brave about. I couldn’t seem to find a rhythm until the end, but he was motoring along and finished confidently.

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The water question was a big one with a log coming out, then straight down into a gully in the shadows, and he thought about it a little, but when I asked he went.

We finished well and ended up winning! He also won the TIP Award for beginner novice. I kind of wish we’d entered the novice, but we ended up with the better weather day, and I’m glad we got a confident run in. Now we continue to school and put the jumps up more as we look to MCTA possibly for a novice move up.

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Oh So had his first jump lesson in a couple of weeks after he felt a little weird behind the saddle, right hind. I think it’s stifles, so he has an appointment with the vet this week. He’s felt fantastic this week though, so hopefully it’s just some maintenance, then we can get on with planning some cross-country schools and some shows with him.

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I’m off to The Fork this weekend, then a few weeks until my first work trip to Rolex!

 

Is it spring yet?

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I almost titled this blog post “Death By Dressage,” but then I caught myself becoming what I’d feared – an indoor arena complainer.

I’ve never had access to an indoor ring and have always made do with outdoor lights. If the ring froze, then no riding, but our Virginia winters are mild enough that it doesn’t freeze every night.

Unfortunately, the barn owner where Oh So and Bear live had the outdoor lights taken down in December to be replaced and they have yet to be put up, so I’ve been stuck in the indoor with both horses during the week for nearly three months.

It’s also been so wet and muddy that I haven’t been able to get out on the hills or hack really anywhere until recently, which is a change from home, where I was able to at least walk up and down the hill in our small field and on a trail behind our property with good footing.

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The fields have been ankle-deep mud, and I’ve just closed my eyes and prayed every day that I turn the boys out, hoping they don’t injure themselves.

As far as work, they’ve both been doing well. I’ve been trying to do a weekly flat lessons as I can afford them. I’ve been used to have two flat lessons a week, one on each, so I’m struggling to find things to work on and trust my instincts. I feel like I’m stifling Bear’s progress a little since we’re kind of doing the same thing a lot, but after my lesson last week I’m feeling a little more confident in my abilities.

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Heidi hadn’t seem him in a couple of weeks because of weather and my travel, and I’ve been working on bending and more forward, as well as working on getting him more laterally supple and moving his shoulders using counter leg yields and leg yields on a diagonal in walk mostly, but some in trot.

We started in walk, just bending and flexing him to the inside on small circles, and that really helped keep him supple when we trotted off. He’s been getting very good with his stretchy trot circles and gives me a good feeling. Oh So’s always been tough with those, but Bear keeps a nice steady rhythm and really goes down. The fact that he did that made me feel like we’re on the right track with his training. He still needs to be sharper off my aids, but he’s slowly progressing.

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We finally got off the property last weekend and went up to Loch Moy to jump around their derby course. He was a little rogue and excited, but it was fun! We had a good gallop around the big ring and settled him over some smaller stuff on a circle before jumping most of the novice stuff. He was a star, and I felt like we could go on a jump some of the training level stuff, but Lisa rightly told me to hold off since we haven’t jumped much at home because of being stuck in the indoor.

Oh So has been doing well. I’m really hoping to get him out on the hills this week finally because he needs to strengthen his hind end before we think of taking him to an event this season.

I had a tiring flat lesson this morning in which we worked on collection in canter. We worked some canter/walk transitions, which we’ve been practicing, then moved on to some haunches in on the long side in preparation for more serious work on canter half passes in the future. He was struggling going left, and my left arm is kind of limp now, but he was trying hard and I didn’t lose him mentally, which is good. He’s been a good sport about all of this flat work this winter, and I’m hoping to start letting him have some fun with some cross-country schools soon.

He got to go up to Loch Moy in January before we had the big snow storm and really felt great. Last week we went to a new ring and played hunter over some small stuff. He was quite rhythmical and I was actually happy with how I was seeing things and not messing with him.

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I had a busy February traveling to Wellington, Fla., for three days for a contest I won through Practical Horseman. I took my friend and co-worker Kimberly and we had a great time not working, watching horses jump and playing tourist/VIP.

We went on an airboat ride at a kind of red-neck establishment and almost froze to death, watched the Wellington Eventing Showcase and got sunburned, and finished it out by almost being blown away at the Wellington Masters.

I went down three days later for work to the Adequan Global Dressage Festival and covered the CDI****. I always love covering dressage and wish I did it more throughout the year, but Florida is the place to be, without a doubt, this time of year.

Next I’m heading to beautiful Tallahassee for Red Hills, then it’s pure craziness with the Carolina International, The Fork, Rolex and Jersey Fresh, in addition to slipping in some competitions. I’m hoping to start out with a Morningside CT and go from there.

A Whirlwind Trip To France

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It’s taken me forever to gather my thoughts (and the time!) to write this blog, but here goes…

Next on my bucket list of countries was France. To be honest, I never thought much about France, but once I started researching, I realized it was a big country. I picked an 8-day vacation, but wish I’d added a couple of extra days in Paris. The tour only went from Paris, counter clockwise down to the Loire Valley and back to Paris, so there’s a whole lot of country left for me to explore!

Champs elysees
Champs elysees

I got to Paris pretty early in the morning and dropped my things at the hotel, which was on one of the outer arrondissemonts, or neighborhoods of Paris. The trips I usually take are budget trips, so the hotels might not be in the city center or very fancy, but they’re typically  still good.

I shared a cab ride with another women from another group tour staying at the same hotel and we stuck together and walked around the base of the Eiffel Tower, took the metro to the catacombs, which had a line around the block, then hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus for the rest of the afternoon to get oriented to the city before we were both ready to fall asleep!

Dome des Invalides
Dome des Invalides

My first impressions were that Paris is huge! Sites are sort of grouped together, but somewhat far apart, so the metro is very valuable and pretty cheap. If you had a bike, that might be a good choice, as well as the city buses or hop-on-hop-offs, but those are somewhat slow.

The second day we took a group tour of the highlights of Paris. We had a local guide show us around Notre Dame and the highlights of the Louvre Museum, which would take days to truly appreciate!

Sacre Couer
Sacre Couer

We saw the Mona Lisa, which as expected, was much smaller in person, but it was absolutely mobbed by tourists. You had to fight your way to the front of the crowd of people taking selfies with the thing!

The Louvre
The Louvre

I hadn’t expected to have the afternoon off, but since I didn’t sign up for an optional welcome dinner, I took off from the Louvre on my own. I strolled through the gardens and had made a plan to not spend a ton of money on cabs to go back to a few places I wanted to see, but realized the walk would be quite long, so I bought another ticket on the hop-on-hop-off and headed to the Champs Elysees first.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame
Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

I immediately found my mecca, the flagship Sephora store, and took a stroll around. Knowing the Euro was good, not great, I made sure to focus my purchases on things you can’t find at U.S. Sephora stores, so I brought home some fun things to try, including a cute keepsake palette.

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I ended my evening climbing the steps of the Sacre Couer for a decent view of the city. It’s located in the “red light district” of Pigalle near the Moulin Rouge. It was quite touristy and a bit far from the Eiffel Tower and the main sightseeing areas, but it was worth the bus ride up.

We headed northwest on day 3 to Monet’s home at Giverny to see the gardens that inspired his impressionist style. There were beautiful lilly ponds, a Japanese bridge and so many flowers I’d never seen before. His home was modest and had a great view of his gardens.

Monet's home at Giverny
Monet’s home at Giverny
Giverny
Giverny

There wasn’t much else to see in the little village surrounding Giverny, so we headed off to Rouen, a town made famous for its beautiful cathedral and for the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. It featured wooden framed houses, giving it a cool medieval feel.

Rouen's cathedral.
Rouen’s cathedral.
Rouen
Rouen

Next up was a quick stop in Honfleur, a fishing village with a famous wooden church. It was near the Normandy Bridge, a beautiful cable bridge connecting the town to the rest of the Normandy region. They sold Calvados, a regional apple flavored liquor that’s found throughout the Normandy region, so I picked up a sample set!

The church was quite small, and the town was definitely small, but I popped in one of the many caramel shops, another regional specialty, to pick up some samples.

Honfleur's wooden church.
Honfleur’s wooden church.
Honfleur's port.
Honfleur’s port.

We arrived in the seaside resort town of Deauville in the early evening, but we were all pretty exhausted, so only had time and daylight enough to take an hour stroll. The Deauville American Film Festival was being held while we were there, so we got to see the red carpet, but I was too tired to go out after dinner to see any celebrities. Apparently Keanu Reeves, Orlando Bloom and Robert Pattinson were there.

Deauville
Deauville

 

A Deauville mansion near the beach.
A Deauville mansion near the beach.

The next morning the tour group was up bright and early to go to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Unfortunately, as we drove up to the gates, we were informed that it was closed due to a “technical problem”! Needless to say, a lot of people were very disappointed, but our tour guide made some arrangements and we were able to visit the actual beach that morning and a smaller American Cemetery a little further inland the next day.

Omaha Beach memorial.
Omaha Beach memorial.

Omaha Beach was a really moving experience. There were still pieces of machinery in visible in the water and the memorial looked out to the sea. We drove a little further up the coast to a town called Arromanches, which has a WWII museum and several other artifacts overlooking the beach.

We drove to the town of Bayeux next to see the Bayeux Tapestry. The town had a beautiful cathedral and lots of shops selling poppy-themed things. The tapestry itself was amazing. The museum gave headsets that you listened to as you walked along the tapestry and learned the story.

Bayeux Cathedral
Bayeux Cathedral

By the end of the day, we’d made our way to another overnight stop at Mont St. Michel. We took a bus on the causeway and were dropped off in front of what was one of the most impressive feats of human engineering I’ve ever seen. The abbey towers above the water, and because we came while the tide was out, looked even more monstrous.

I hiked up to the top, through narrow winding streets of what was once an old town. Now it’s just touristy stores, a few hotels and restaurants. The view from the top was impressive looking out over the water. To one side, Brittany, to the other, Normandy.

Mont St.Michel.
Mont St.Michel.

The next morning, we headed to the American Cemetery in Brittany. It was smaller, and according to the American vets who ran the place, gets much fewer visitors than the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, so they were thrilled to show us around. It was a very somber experience to walk amongst the graves and read the names.

American Cemetery at Brittany.
American Cemetery at Brittany.

I particularly loved the Normandy region because of the caramels! I brought home lots of different kinds, as well as some apple liquor, or Calvados. Yum!

After the cemetery, we went to another seaside town, St. Malo, which was enclosed by medieval walls. There were several ruins of old fortresses that were only accessible when the tide was out.

I grabbed a baguette for lunch and walked with it (something I ended up doing a lot!) since we only had a couple of hours. The tow itself had lots of modern shops, so I ended up in a few beauty stores to check out some French brands. I walked around a bit of the city wall too.

St. Malo
St. Malo

We made a seemingly random stop in the college town of Rennes, which was beautiful with some timber-framed houses, but we only had an hour, which was hardly enough time, and I felt like I saw better timber houses elsewhere in Normandy. But it was cool to see a little slice of life in a more modern French town. We were about the only tourists though, so we got some strange looks!

A square in Rennes.
A square in Rennes.

Day 6 brought us to chateau country, where we stopped at Chenonceau, which was pretty amazing. The gardens were beautiful, but the house itself, straddling a river, was pretty spectacular. The interior seemed quite modest (by Versailles standards).

Chenonceau
Chenonceau

You could spend weeks hitting all the chateaux in the Loire Valley, but we hit some of the bigger ones. After a quick trip for a wine tasting in a traditional limestone cave, we went to Chateau de Amboise, which was perched atop a hill looking down on the city of Amboise. There was a pretty cool winding staircase that knights used to ride their horses around to get to the top of the castle, and lots of examples of gothic architecture and scary gargoyles. The town had lots of cute shops and restaurants, and a bakery to die for.

Chateau de Amboise.
Chateau de Amboise.

On our final day, we stopped at Blois to see its chateau, but I got a little lost and missed the good view of it! I did find another Sephora though…

We made a stop to see the famous Chartres Cathedral, which is a strong example of gothic architecture, but to be honest, it wasn’t as impressive to me as others we’d seen along the way.

Chartres Cathedral
Chartres Cathedral

We ended up back in Paris in the afternoon for a guided visit to Versailles. Luckily it was a quieter day, but it was still packed inside every room! Everything was covered in gold and the hall of mirrors was pretty amazing. I strolled around the gardens for a half hour before it started down pouring. I know we only scratched the surface of what’s inside, but our guide showed us some good highlights.

Versailles
Versailles

I ended the night with a trip to the Cabaret with a few other ladies in the group. It was for real, with topless dancers and all!

I feel like I’ve only just gotten started discovering France. I wish I’d added on another day in Paris on my own to do things like the catacombs or a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, so now I have a list for when I go back!

As for the country, there’s so much more to see and I’m unsatisfied that I couldn’t tick the whole thing off my list! Now I’ll have to go do more of the Loire Valley and southern France next.

There’s always an excuse with the World Cups Finals being awarded to Paris in 2018…