A-Z: Québec City & Montréal, Canada

Every time I go on a semi-long vacation, I like to do an A-Z reflection on my trip as both a way of remembering my experiences as well as sharing them with my readers. The following is my A-Z reflection post on the trip I took to Québec City and Montréal, Canada between Christmas and New Year's 2016 to 2017.

Photo credit: Jon-Lewis via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

A – Amtrak.

The trip from NYC to Montréal is looooonnnngggg. But the seats are pretty comfy. They recline like your typical airline seat (which isn't much), but the bottom part of the seat also pulls out for you to put your legs on. Lay flat seating I think they call it? But don't think you can actually lay flat. You can't. But you can stretch your legs out, so that's nice.

And just as a heads up (though I'll probably write an entire blog post on this journey), the train comes to a complete stop at the border crossing where everyone's passport is checked and they are questioned. Thoroughly. Have your return tickets out and available to show the officer who questions you, and DO NOT give them your phone. Have a printed copy of your tickets or confirmation information. You do not want to be taken off the train for further questioning. And you do not want to be the person to hold the train up because you don't have yourself together.

Also, trash or eat all fruit, veggies, and nuts before you get to the border. The paperwork you fill out asks if you have any of these things. Don't lie (what if you are randomly chosen for inspection?) and don't say you have them either (yet another reason for possible inspection). Just eat them or trash them before the officer gets on board the train and you're good. (I doubt they will inspect your stomach.)

B – Basilique Notre-Dame in Montréal.

Beautiful. old. blue. 5$ CAD per person. Another perfect church that is a must-visit if you are in the area.

C – Cidre de Glace (or cider made from apples in Québec after the first frost).

Umm… I was never much of a fan of cider (or sparkling alcoholic cider) in France, but I fell hard for the Québec version. Especially Michael Jodoin white ciders. As described on the website " Light golden-yellow color and fine aromas of fresh fruit (mainly apple) and white flowers aromas. The palate is almost dry, lively, fresh and delicate, completed by a little bitterness." In other words: perfect. :) I had a glass, after discovering it that is, at every meal. :)

D – Dreary.

Not every day was beautiful during our trip. We arrived during the end of a snowstorm in Québec City, so while we got to experience some nice and pretty skies, we also saw some … not so nice skies. And to see the snow whipping past you as you look out the window of a restaurant? It's alarming, to say the least. You really don't want to leave to go back to your hotel!

E – Elated!

I waited until the very last minute to get a reservation at La Raclette in Montréal, so I was thrilled when there was an opening. And, we were informed that we needed to bring a bottle of wine which we had just picked up from the local liquor store. Perfect!

And man was the food good. I mean – the food was good everywhere we went in Montréal and Québec City, but at La Raclette, you can expect to have a meal. Our meal was three courses and took three hours to consume. It was heavenly. I almost felt like I was visiting France again… :)

F – the French language.

I have always been enamored with the French language, but to hear Christmas carols sung in it?! *squee*

And FYI: just because you call to make a reservation or appointment in Québec City or Montréal and they answer in French, don't assume that English isn't one of the main languages. It definitely is. People in Québec City and Montréal speak both English and French, so choose a language and enjoy! Don't stress yourself out over it! :)

Photo credit: theefer via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

G – Great Food!

Everywhere we went the food was absolutely delicious! In Montréal, we had Italian, Swiss (raclette?), and Canadian (poutine). In Québec City, we enjoyed French, Canadian, and bar food. No matter what we ate, though, the food was always good. These two cities are perfect for foodies!

H – Hot chocolate.

It's a no-go. But maybe you'll have a better experience than me? All of the hot chocolate I drank in Montréal and Québec City may as well have been fancy Swiss Miss. And that's not what I want to drink in cold and snowy weather. Guess I'll have to return to France proper for the good stuff.

I – Ice Hotel.

It's a thing that is built approximately 30 minutes outside of Québec City. Why people would choose to stay there, I don't know. But it's cool to see none-the-less.

J – Joyful.

There were so many things that went well with this trip. From getting tickets to see the ice hotel, trying maple syrup concoctions, and exploring nature, I was filled with joy and excitement!

K – Kindness

The people of Canada were, more often than not, super kind. All of the service workers seemed to go out of their way to make sure Justin and I were having a pleasant experience wherever we were. (Except for one particular hotel – and even they feigned being friendly!)

Photo credit: LexnGer via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC/td>

L – the Levis Ferry.

Two words: It's cold.

But worth it. :) To hear the boat crunching up the ice, to see beautiful Québec City from across the St. Laurent River, and to question how people in their right minds could participate in ice canoeing.

Yep. Worth it. :)

M – Maple flavor.

I got so sick of maple flavor.

And not.

They sell everything maple in Québec City and Montréal. Maple syrup, maple butter, maple jelly, crepes with maple x, candy made from maple and snow, and … the thing that really threw me over the edge: a hot maple drink.

We originally tried the hot maple drink while exploring and Ice Hotel near Québec City. When you are cold, you are after anything warm. But once we got inside, we came to our senses. Is this maple drink purely for the tourists? Or do Canadians regularly drink it? I suppose this is something I will never know…

the view from Mont-Royal is amazing!

N – Natural.

We did so much nature exploring in the cold and snow in Québec City and Montréal.

First, we took the Levis Ferry across the river and got to hear the ice crunch beneath the boat. It was thrilling and creepy at the same time. I did not feel like dealing with a Titanic repeat!

Then, we rode the bus in Montréal up to Mont-Royal where we stood in the freezing cold to snap pictures of the city. I was so cold that I couldn't feel my ears. I was just touching them to make sure they were still attached … it was the weirdest feeling ever. I think I need warmer clothes. :) And my husband drank chicken broth while were up there! EW! :)

Finally, there was our walk to the BioSphere which just happened to be closed. I just wanted to see it, though, so that was okay. It was absolutely beautiful all lit up in golden light. And the snow made the walk seem incredibly elegant and beautiful. I think we may have enjoyed the walk more if we hadn't taken it so close to the end of our time in Montréal. By then, I think we were sick of the cold.

O – Obstinate.

After paying a certain price for a room with a view, that's what you expect from your hotel when you arrive. So when they don't give you that room with the view, you get irritated.

Well, technically, the room had the view, but it was on a lower floor.

So, in reality, the hotel gave us what we paid for, but, as my husband would say, it wasn't in the "spirit" of the payment agreement. (Especially, since there were no non-view rooms on our floor. *sigh*)

Anyway, my word and emotion "obstinate" comes from a remark I made about the hotel when they had us climb the steps from the lobby to our room floor. (Does that tell you how close to the ground floor we were?) I'm not sure if they overheard what I was saying, but I was definitely feeling (and perhaps being) obstinate about the hotel. (i.e. If we had paid more, they would have given us a higher room. Therefore this hotel and the staff sucks. Which, unfortunately, is still my opinion.)

Photo credit: jpellgen via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

P – poutine.

I have a love/hate relationship with it.

We tried it in 3 locations: Taverne Grande Allée (regular style from a local pub), and La Lapin Saute (made with rabbit) in Québec City, and Au Sommet Place Ville-Marie (breakfast style) in Montréal.

As for regular local style, I simply couldn't get over the squeakiness of the cheese. Like, I don't want to be eating "squeaky clean" cheese. Just no. The texture = ew.

And the one made with the rabbit? Well, to be honest, I didn't really try it. I'm not a foodie, and I'm not into eating cute little animals. I ate a few fries from my husband's dish, but that was about it. I avoided the rabbit sauce altogether.

The breakfast style poutine was my absolutely favorite! Instead of cheese curds, they melted mozzarella on top and served it with a sunny side up egg. YUM!! That dish took home a win for me (which was good, because I didn't like the side of fruity yogurt we ordered).

When I return to Canada, I will definitely be trying poutine again. I don't think three tries is enough to determine how I actually feel about it. Because let's be honest, cheese fries even without sauce are pretty awesome! So … adding a bit of meat sauce shouldn't change it that much, should it?

Photo credit: mrurbain via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Q – the Québec City tourism website.

If you are planning a trip to Québec City, visit this website first. Not only does it break down the attractions by area, but it also tells you the approximate walk times to get to your next point of exploration.

Tip: Everything in Québec City is within 15 minutes of walking.

Tip 2: But it may be uphill, so come prepared to hike.

Tip 3: Or if it's icy and snowy outside, come prepared to slide. :)

R – River, St. Laurent.

No matter how you travel, the beautiful St. Laurent River will follow you as you move between Montréal, and Québec City providing beautiful views on the train and potentially great lookouts by car (assuming you know where you are going and where the river is in relation to the road).

S – Snow.

They were expecting up to 50 centimeters of snow while we were there. That's around 19 inches for my American readers. NINETEEN. So I realize I live in the no-snow zone (it may snow once or twice a year where I live), but NINETEEN INCHES?

And I'm not even kidding when I say that steps become ramps and there is no distinction between the road and the sidewalk. Seriously sometimes you step and you have no idea what you are stepping into or on.

I love snow (or perhaps the idea of it?), but if you visit Montréal, and Québec City in the winter be prepared. (Of course, this also means things like ice hotels can be built, ice rinks can be outside, and snow sledding, tobogganing, and other winter sports are welcome vacation possibilities!)

T – Tire Sur La Neige.

This is a candy made by spreading a hot maple "syrup" out onto the snow and rolling it onto a stick as it hardens. The result is similar to taffy except that it is maple flavored. I have read online that a true Canadian can eat 7 of these in a row without getting sick or tired of the treat. One was enough for me, though. :)

U – Unesco Heritage Site.

Did you know that Québec City is one?

Turns out Québec City was once a walled-in city. And, thus, is now a UNESCO heritage site.

V – Via Rail Canada, the rail service between Montréal, and Québec City.

Don't make my mistake and think that Québec City and Montréal, are a hop, skip, and a jump away from one another.

No siree.

You will need a train ticket. Or a rental car. Or a plane.

But if you choose to use Via Rail Canada, the trip will take approximately 4 hours. And like the European rail system, you will want to purchase tickets in advance, preferably on sale. The cheapest tickets I got were 29$ CAD/person and the most expensive economy tickets I got were 84$ CAD/person. Upgrade to first class for better service, early boarding, and more leg room.

W – Winter.

I have no idea what these cities are like in the summer, but I am extremely glad I got to see them covered in snow. Québec City and Montréal seem like the perfect place for either a relaxing winter getaway or a perfect place to participate in winter sports. It all depends on what you seek in a winter getaway; no matter what – they have it!

(Asking for sun and beach weather might be a little too much, though. Even for these delightful and beautiful cities!)

X – X marks the spot.

We didn't have internet for most of the trip, so we ended up relying on maps a good bit of the time. It actually exhilarating being able to get around to where we wanted to go and finding the things we wanted to see without relying on our phones. Plus, it was nice being disconnected (for the most part anyway) for the week. Anytime we actually needed the internet, we were typically lucky in finding a cafe with free internet … or we just waited until we were back in our hotel room to look up whatever it was we needed.

Y – youthful!

Because that's how snow makes you feel! :)

Z – Zip line.

We saw them preparing one for Carnaval. If you are into that kind of thing, Québec City may be the place for you.

And that was our trip. Alphabetically. :) Have you ever been to Québec City or Montréal in the winter? Would you want to go? … Or do you prefer taking warmer vacations?

** Linking up to City Trippers Mummytravels.com and Wandermum.co.uk

Village Hotel on Biltmore Estates – Asheville, NC

image from Village Hotel on Biltmore Estates website

Asheville Biltmore Estate Village Estate Hotel Review Destination: Asheville, NC
Date: May 2016
Hotel: Village Hotel on Biltmore Estates
Brand: none?
Elite Status: none
# of travelers: 2
nights: 1

Making the Decision

One of my favorite ways to find good deals is to follow TravelZoo. Or rather, somehow manage to keep up with their weekly emails of good deals. When I saw the brand new Village Hotel on Biltmore Estates property in Asheville, NC listed, I searched and searched to see if I had any availability in my schedule. Biltmore Estates and Asheville, NC are fantastic places to explore and I knew that if I had the time available, I should take full advantage.

While I can't say I got the best deal on price, at the time, it was the cheapest I had seen the Village Hotel go for, so I booked. For $186, Justin and I were going to stay the Sunday before Memorial Day and take in the full experience of what it means to stay on the Biltmore Estates property.

Getting There

Originally when I booked, I did not realize that I would have off a full five day weekend for the national holiday. Of course, once that realization came to me, I decided to book nights in Charleston and Hilton Head to make our 5 day weekend more like a North/South Carolina road trip. I mean – the beach was calling my name even though I also wanted a full resort experience. For future travelers, heed my advice: there is a good five-hour drive between the two areas. And the road is pretty boring most of the way. Above is an image of us getting closer to our destination – I always love the mountains you see once you enter North Carolina. :)

Checking-In, Location, Parking, View

Due to construction and traffic on the road, Justin and I found ourselves arriving in Asheville just as the sun was setting. I had planned to arrive much sooner – but what can you do?

I quickly adjusted my plans dropping a reservation for dinner at a downtown restaurant in Asheville and opted instead for a spur of the moment mountain climb on the Biltmore Estate property to see what turned out to be a beautiful sunset.
Getting to the hotel and Antler Village is quite the drive from the main entrance of the estate. First, you should be aware that to enter the estate you need your reservation number and last name so that the guards can you look up. Once done, it will take approximately 15 minutes (of glorious scenery!) for you to drive on the winding, curving roads back to the hotel. Be sure to get directions from the guards, or, if need be, stop by the information desk to get a map and learn more about the estate.

Because we booked with TravelZoo, my assumption is that we were given a "lesser" room on the second floor. I did ask the front desk staff if we could have a room with a view or, even, a room on a higher floor, but I was told they were "all booked out" whatever that means. (I always assume it means I didn't pay enough to be a worthy customer and/or staff doesn't like me for some reason. Of course, just because I have that assumption doesn't mean that's the way it is. Still, I assume.) The view we did receive, despite not being "beautiful" wasn't altogether terrible. Our curtains opened up to a lush tree, intoxicating sky, and extensive parking lot.

Despite not receiving an amazing view or high floor, the benefit in booking with TravelZoo was that we were the happy recipient of a bottle of Biltmore Estate wine – red or white, our choosing. We opted for red. They even provided wine glasses for us to consume the beverage in our room which, while it sounded like a good idea at the time of check-in, ended up not working out quite like we anticipated.


While the view was disappointing, the room itself was decently big with a work desk and, the thing I loved most, a window seat, the perfect place for relaxing and watching the sun set, or at least it would be if you had a view! Even without one, I spent plenty of time on the window seat watching people and cars move in and out of the parking lot. I really like people watching. :)

Other room benefits included soap and shampoo; bedside lights for reading at night; a large flatscreen tv; a small fridge to hold your leftovers, water bottles for hiking or bottle of champagne; and a Keurig coffee maker for straggling mornings.

Bar & Lounge

After spending our afternoon climbing a hill, capturing an exquisite sunset, enjoying a calm meal, watching brightly colored fireworks fill the sky, and smattering my favorite camera lens with one swoop fall to the ground, we decided upon return to our hotel to visit the bar. A drink was needed.

Only hours before closing, few people were seated at the high stools overlooking the bartender and his maze of bottles. I was in a mood, so we sat somewhat away from the other patrons allowing me some time to silently sulk only occasionally giving the evil eye to my beloved.

Justin ordered a whiskey while I asked for my go-to: sparkling water.

As we sat in angry silence, the crowd at the bar thinned out until there were only four others left at the other end of the bar. Pleading, they asked us to come join their "party". It was a combination of two New Yorkers (a mother and daughter) and a mixed couple from Georgia. They were talking about everything from gentrification to the president-elect; these weren't light topics. When sangria was ordered, the bartender, who was joining in on the conversation, poured just a little extra and gave it to me to try. ❤️ It was the first and only time I have ever fallen in love with a drink that quickly.

As the night went on, our party got louder.

And louder.

And louder.

Until the hotel manager came to tell us to "keep it down". Turns out she had gotten a call from another guest about the noise.

An hour after the bar closed, Justin and I walked to our room feeling much happier than we had felt when we arrived at the hotel with a broken camera lens. (Because duh. Broken lenses suck.) Despite the fact that no one had known one another at the beginning of the night, we all exchanged hugs with the hopes of running into one another again somewhere else down the line…

A few notes about the bar:
• Dinner ends at 11 PM, drinks are no longer served at midnight. This doesn't mean you can't linger at the bar longer, though.
• Justin's first choice in drinks, one that is offered at the more expensive Biltmore Estate Inn, was not offered at this hotel. Not only is the Village Hotel cheaper in price, but they also don't offer as much selection, specifically, at the bar.
• There are bar stools at the bar as well as tables scattered throughout. No one sat at a table though and with only the one bartender working that night, I'm not sure if you would have to walk to the bar, order your drinks, and take them back to your table or if he would have come to you? If I had to guess, I'd guess the former.
• The bar is located on the second floor of the hotel, the same area where you can buy breakfast in the morning, if you so desire.

Breakfast Options

Beginning as early as 7 AM Village Social, a full-service restaurant and bar on the second floor of the hotel, starts offering breakfast. Offerings include farm fresh eggs, thick cut bacon, heirloom potatoes, seafood, oatmeal, and, though I didn't get to try it, the one that appeals the most to me – a pecan waffle served with bourbon barrel aged maple syrup and whipped butter. YUM!!

Of course, if you are more of an on-the-go kind of person, you may prefer The Kitchen, located on the first floor of the hotel. Grab a baked good or gourmet sandwich with a cup or organic coffee as you head off to explore Biltmore Estate.

Justin and I didn't wake up until late – 9 AM – so rather than fight the crowds in downtown Asheville* at one of the many breakfast eateries, we opted to lay low and grab a bite from Village Social. As we emerged from our second-floor hotel room, we quickly found the line and were put on a wait-list. The hostess offered us one of two dining options – we could eat inside and take full advantage of the hotel air conditioning or we could chance it outside in the hopes that the early morning cooler temperatures might still exist.

We live life on the edge and opted to eat outside. :) At 9 AM in late spring, the weather was almost perfect. The only thing getting in the way of us and nirvana was the wretched sun that began to peak around the building blinding us about halfway through our meal. #JustSoYouKnow

Breakfast consisted of coffee, water, two farm eggs, thick cut bacon, home fries, toast, and a side of fresh fruit. (We don't eat much.) The wait staff was a little slow and the bit was kind of expensive for what we got, but we enjoyed the food and not having to fight the crowds, so it was worth it for us.

* It is worth mentioning that both Village Social and The Kitchen (as well as any of the other restaurants on the Biltmore Estate property) accept reservations, so if you know you will be sleeping late, you can book a reservation and be seated almost as soon as you arrive at the restaurant from your hotel room rather than having to wait like we did. Although, to be fair, our wait wasn't long. Yours may or may not be.

Pool & Amenities

I'm not really a pool person (aside from sticking my feet in), so the most I did with regards to the pool was go out and take this picture proving that it, in fact, does exist. This image was taken around 11 AM in the morning, so, as you can tell, there aren't too many swimmers out that early in the morning in Asheville. Perhaps they come
later in the day?

Other amenities the hotel has to offer:
• Free grounds admission to Biltmore Estates! So, basically, opportunities to spend money without actually spending money (aside from booking your hotel room). Enjoy hiking trails, bird watching, horse riding, exploring the inside of the American "palace", and much more!
• Access to the hotel shuttle. Not that you need one because you can totally get sloshed within steps of the hotel both at the Village Social Bar or elsewhere in Antler Village, a full two-minute walk away from the hotel.
• Free internet, because it's 2017.
• Fitness rooms within reach just in case the full 10.86 mi² isn't good enough … or you need things like weights.
• Get 10% off to spend at the winery and an additional discount for souvenirs.

Lobby, Staff & Check Out

Rather than spend our whole day at this not quite luxurious but still very nice resort, we decided to go out on the town and explore Asheville a bit. But, obviously, not before checking out. The staff was very kind as approached the check out desk and we only had to wait a minute or two behind other customers before being asked the age-old question "Did you enjoy your stay?". We handed over our room key, loaded our car (which we were able to temporarily park under the overhang) before taking one last quick walk around the hotel. (I hadn't yet seen the pool and I wanted to. I know you shouldn't leave your car under the overhang, but we were seriously only a minute! I promise! 😊)

The image above is of the second eatery in the hotel, The Kitchen. As you can see, by the time we left at 11 AM, it was empty. I'm not sure if anyone ate there the entire time we were at the Village Hotel. And, if no one ate there, I can't be sure whether or not the food was good? But to be fair, I also never saw anyone behind the counter either, so maybe we just happened to be walking by at the wrong times? … Either way, as you can see, there is a lot of space to spread out in the lobby, especially if you are visiting on a work trip. As for me, I'd love to grab a tall cup of something warm and spread out on one of the cushiony chairs or at the table and get work done. Or, alternatively, take my drink and laptop outside and enjoy the fresh mountain air with an exquisite view. What better way to feel more like you are actually on vacation rather than working?

As you depart the hotel, be aware that you may get lost in a maze of roads as you try to exit the Biltmore Estate. It can easily take a good 15 minutes. And, just so you know, if you accidently exit the property when you really wanted to go explore, for example, the greenhouse (true story!), the gate agents are typically kind enough to let you re-enter if you tell them what happened. But don't take advantage or someday they may not let you or anyone else re-enter! Be kind and understanding even if they tell you no; after all, they don't have to let you go in without a pass.

Overall Review
★★★ (average)

Even though I enjoyed my stay at the Village Hotel in Biltmore Estates, I'm not sure I will return. Obviously, there were a lot of advantages to our location – being able to walk to Antler Village or take a shuttle to the estate, having access to restaurants and shopping that Asheville residents and visitors can't access unless they pay an entrance fee, and having the opportunity to truly explore and experience the ground of the Vanderbilts definitely make for some nice perks. However, Asheville, North Carolina is more than just the Biltmore Estates. There are appealing places to hike, bike, explore, dine, and shop in the vicinity that don't cost an arm and a leg to get into. Furthermore, one of the appealing factors in staying in Asheville is for the view, which we did not receive. Perhaps a visit to the Biltmore Inn, Holiday Inn Biltmore East, Crowne Plaza, or Omni Grove Park Inn (review forthcoming) for beautiful mountainous views. Other hotel options in the area include a free breakfast with your stay like the Town Country Inn and Suites, which may ultimately save you money and be a better value for your hard-earned dollars.

While the Village Hotel was a fun place to stay for the night, if you don't get a good price, this hotel is no more worth visiting than any other hotel in the Asheville area. Spend less and get a better room ≠ breakfast elsewhere. But then again, that's just my opinion. To each his or her own. :)

Your Turn

Do you ejoy staying at resorts – even if it's only on occasion? What is your opinion on booking hotels through third party sites like TravelZoo, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc? … Have you ever had the chance to visit Asheville, NC or the Biltmore Estate?

Other posts from our Memorial Day 2016 Roadtrip:

European Historical Fiction to Fill the Void Found on Snowy Days (Or Not)

If you've ever lived in the southern US, you are going to know what I mean when I claim that last Friday a "snowpocalypse" was announced. Forecasters threatened a large falling of 2-4 inches in the metro Atlanta area, and bloggers, business people, executives, and service workers all ran to the nearest 7-11 or Kroger to obtain milk and bread.

In general, the assumption is that the store will look like this by the time you are able to go:

Photo credit: yooperann via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

But more often than not, especially recently, the store looks like this:

Photo credit: dno1967b via Visual hunt / CC BY

A few things bought, for sure, but, still, plenty to go around.

On this fateful Friday though, despite the fact that recent weather had been in the 50s-70s and we hadn't seen rain for days, the threatening forecast called for some schools to be cancelled and others to be delayed, and, in the case of the kids I watch, some were let out early.

Rather than have me go pick the kids up early, the parents decided a play date was an order with the neighbors down the street. This way, if the weather did get bad, they didn't have to worry about coming home from work any earlier so that their babysitter could make it home before the ice and snow got too bad and the roads became impassable. (A nice gesture on their part, but it still left me with a free day and no pay. Thanks weather.)

However, if there is one thing I've learned in the crazy fluctuating world of service work, it is that you make the best of the time you have. Thus, I pulled out a book or two. Then cuddled up and watched a movie. Not a bad way to spend a non-snow day in. (Because despite everyone's preparation and planning, Georgia did not see a whole lot of snow that day. Perhaps a bit of ice but that was it.)

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Collin (Buy here.)

synopsis: At the end of the 19th century the lovely widow Cait is seeking employment. Her marriage has come to a tragic end, and, as with societal norms at that time in Scotland, she had to find an appropriate way of making a living. Luckily, she finds a chaperoning job that takes her to Paris as she keeps watch over two wealthy teenagers, much younger than herself, who are also trying to find their way in the world. Alice needs to find a suitable marriage match and Jamie a strong career that will enable to care for the family he will eventually have. Only these are normal children, not, for example, the children of royalty. They are naive and not especially fond of listening to their elders; more often than not, they do what they want when they want. Then, of course, the children and Cait must suffer as a result of their actions. But the children aren't alone in their misbehavior. Midway through the book, Cait throws away a suitable marriage match to return to Paris with her charges. She has fallen in love with Émile Nouguier – the man she is supposed to be setting up with Alice, the man who supposed to be teaching Jamie the ways of the workforce. What will happen when the children discover her dark secret?

my opinion: The book is trash.

While I want to tell you only about the good things in life, I feel it's also necessary to warn you about the things I simply don't like. Maybe this type of book is one you would enjoy? I mean – the cover is beautiful! Who doesn't dream of a snowy evening in Paris?! I know that I certainly do! :) But, for me, all of the characters were simply unrelatable and, truthfully, a bit unlovable. How can I respect a woman who deceives her employer intentionally? And not only that but, without going into details, goes against societal standards setting herself up for a downfall. (Do you catch my drift?)

When I read about a woman of the late 19th century, I want to read about a respected woman of class. Even if she has no money of her own, I want to see someone who knows how to work the "system", who uses her beauty and brains (or lack thereof) to make a positive difference in the lives of the people around her. Especially if there is an image of Paris on the cover.

In the end, what I got was a woman who can't control her desires or the teens she is supposed to be watching. Everything falls apart, just as the reader expects it to. And, in my opinion, the ending is quite cliche. (I won't give it away though you may be able to infer through my review how it ends.)

I think the worst part about this book is that it felt like the author actually put some effort into telling her story, but the characters were so predictable that I never fully found myself immersed in the story. A few days ago, I heard an interview with Chazelle, the screenwriter for La La Land, where he claimed that he "learned how to convince someone to turn the page, which is really all it comes down to, you know - knowing that every page is an opportunity for someone to close the script and just, you know, stop reading it" (from the NPR interview Fresh Air with Terry Gross). I feel like, if Collin had taken that perspective, along with making her characters more likeable, this would have been an enjoyable book concept.

Oh well. I read the book based on the cover, so that's something. Maybe next time she'll get more than just the cover right. <3.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin (Buy here.)

synopsis: Based on the diaries of the real life Queen Victoria, Goodwin begins her story with Victoria awakening to the realization that her uncle, the king of England, has died and passed on the crown to her. Untrusting of her mother and her mother's advisors, the queen most assemble a group of people she can trust as she transitions from a young girl to that of a royal queen.

Quickly she learns that she needs to stand firm in her beliefs. She befriends Lord Melbourne, her prime minister who she thrills at having by her side as makes difficult decisions. Only, it is not right for her to remain unwed. Perhaps the young Prince Albert whom she met in childhood and despised could make a good match? But then again, maybe she should remain single forever?

Emotions tug at the heart of the queen as she fights for her desires and struggles with what the best options are for the country she oversees. Will she be able to find a happy median in what's right for her people as well as herself?

my opinion: meh.

I didn't like the way Goodwin approached Queen Victoria's relationship with Lord Melbourne. He comes off as a potential lover in the story, but, from what I understand about history (which isn't much. I don't know much at all about Queen Victoria or her life.), Lord Melbourne was never anything more than an advisor. Perhaps the change was made to sell books? Or to make the tv show more appealing to a larger audience?

If you want a quick beach or vacation read and love history or even the royal family, this book will probably appeal to you. Unlike To Capture What We Cannot Keep, Victoria is a quick and easy read. Victoria is also a pretty unlikeable character, but it's easier to understand why she is unlikeable. She has important decisions that affect more than just herself and, having had no real royal upbringing, she is likely to make mistakes. I especially recommend this book if you have watched and are enjoying the PBS mini-series based on this story.

The Girl on the Train (movie)

If you want to read my review of the book, check here.

synopsis: A girl on a train romanticizes a couple that she sees every day from the train window that lives just down the street from her old home. Longingly she wishes for their life. Until one day, while riding the train, she spots the woman cheating on her husband. Enraged, the woman on the train informs her friend that she will find the cheater and kill her.

Not too long after Rachel Watson spots Megan Hipwell cheating, Megan goes missing. And shortly thereafter is found killed. Rachel, attempting to help the police but not able to remember much due to a black out she experienced on the night of the disappearance caused by drunkenness, informs the police and Megan's husband that Megan was cheating. Only it gets more complicated than that. Rachel's ex-husband and new wife, who live on the same street as Megan Hipwell, have left a message on Rachel's phone indicating that they are afraid of her and what she did that night. They tell her to stay away.

Did Rachel do more than get drunk on the night of Megan's disappearance? Was she somehow involved?

my opinion: Don't read the book, then watch the movie. Or do. It's up to you. :)

My opinion of the book was meh. It was intense. Fast-moving. A bit confusing at first, but well thought out. I hated the main character. (Are you noticing a theme?)

The movie, however, was easier to follow. I don't know if it's because I had read the book and knew what to expect, or if the visuals and storyline made more sense in movie-format over book-format. There were some differences, though. Like, in the movie, Rachel was traveling on a train in New York to work and back every day instead of London. And the end, which I won't give away, also had some differences.

Overall, the movie felt contrived and pre-planned. It was like the director was just telling the story rather than encouraging you to feel the story. Perhaps if he had stuck with the main character Rachel the whole time the story wouldn't have felt so contrived? … But then the story would be breaking even further away from the way the book style.

Anyway, I'm not a movie director or screenwriter, so I don't know what needed to happen.

If you've read the book, I encourage you to see the movie. It gives you something to think about, a thing to compare and contrast, especially if you are part of a book club where you all read the book, watch the movie, and then go to dinner to talk about it. I think that would be fun. :) Otherwise, if you are just needing a film to take up time… I've seen worse. I mean – you could do better. Try watching The Accountant, for instance. But, you could also do worse – no movie has irritated more than Passengers, recently. As with everything, though, it all depends on your tastes and likes.

Have you read any good books or seen any good movies recently? Do you think people like myself are too hard to please? Is there anything you've read or seen recently that you would recommend?

* Both books were received as ARCs. Reviews were given on individual websites, but I was not compensated or requested to do a blog review. These reviews are entirely my own and were not influenced in any way.

Wordless Wednesday #1

Marseille, France (May 2014)

I just love when I come across an image taken from way back when that looks good enough to edit. I can hardly believe it's coming up on three years since I first experienced travel to Europe and seeing all of the beauty there. It makes me anxious to visit again!

Do you ever take the opportunity to look at your images from years and years ago? How does it make you feel to stumble across a particularly good or meaningful image from your past?

Monet's Home and Musée des impressionnismes in Giverny, France

After leaving Monet's home and gardens, we wandered down the road to the Musée des Impressionnismes… (I may have stopped to take a few pictures…)

Photo credit: ho visto nina volare via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: tourist at home via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

The road felt longer than it was, but that was because we got lost.

Photo credit: declicjardin via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Finally, we saw the Musée des Impressionnismes, which, if you'll recall, we already had tickets for.

We went straight to the outdoor cafe where I shot flowers while waiting on the server.

Sick of meat, we ordered the vegetable plate. It came with a salad in the middle, corn, quinoa, shredded carrots, lots of tomatoes, and a type of French cole slaw. (I didn't write down exactly what we had and it wasn't listed on the menu, so forgive me if I have gotten something wrong.) The food wasn't superb, but it was a nice dish for a hot, sunny day.

Then, we went inside.

We already had tickets, but we were directed downstairs to store our camera bag in a free locker. Then we went exploring…

I think impressionism art is some of my favorite, so I loved looking at the beautiful pieces found all over the museum. Sorolla's work was featured for the ever-changing exhibition, and, of course, we saw some of Monet's work as well. The exhibit area is quite small and only really worth visiting if you happen to be in the area, you get a discount, or you are interested in a particular artist they are showcasing. Aside from that, we had a wonderful time visiting the museum and felt it was a nice way to end our time in Giverny.

As you can see, there isn't a whole lot to do in the small town of Giverny, France, but if you are looking to explore the world of Monet and impressionism art, this may be a spot you want to take some time out to visit. I hope you enjoyed my pictorial tour, and that it has inspired/encouraged those of you that may have been on the fence about visiting or perhaps offered a new location for your French or European itinerary that you may not have considered otherwise.

What do you think about impressionism? Are you a fan? … Does Giverny seem like a place you could spend hours exploring? Or do you think you'd get bored with the art focused nature of the location?

Check out my first three posts in this series here, here, and here.

To find out more about the museum, click here. Located at 99 rue Claude Monet, the museum is open spring through fall (varying dates each year) from 10am-6pm. The first Sunday of each month, you can enter free of charge, but any other day tickets cost 8€ per adult with a discount offered for families of three. You can also buy a 20€ ticket bundle that also includes entrance to Monet's house and gardens.

How Obtaining a Chase Sapphire Reserve Made It Possible For Us to Go to Canada

In mid-December, I ultimately decided to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. While the $450 fee did not sound like a pleasant hit for my wallet, I knew the $300 travel credit per year would easily make up the difference, at least in the first year of holding it. Plus, who doesn't wand 3% back on dining and travel? That's pretty much all we do! If our financial update for 2016 is any bit accurate, we have cut back on 90% of our "other" expenses including clothing, entertainment, and gifts. Instead, we treat friends and family to meals and take them places to give them experiences. After all, which is more meaningful? Giving someone a new TV or spending time with them?

While visiting Canada has been on my "bucket list", a term I use loosely, for a while, we just weren't sure we had the money to afford it.

So, I applied for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

It's not a cheap card by any means, but it definitely provides in ways that many other cards don't. We began with the 3% on food and travel, but the $300 per year (once in 2016, once in 2017) didn't hurt either. We've already taken full advantage getting a total of $600 credited toward our bill just in the month that we've had the card. Then, there are other advantages too. A trip concierge to help make your dreams come true, travel insurance for plane tickets and rental cars purchased completely with the card, and, after spending $4,000 in the first three months, you receive 100,000 Ultimate Reward points which can be used toward gift cards, future travel bookings, and cash back on your card. Basically, in the first year, for spending $4,450 (including card cost), you are getting "free" money. How much "free" money is totally dependent on you and your interests. As for me, I like spending my points on hotel rooms – 10,000 points for a $200 Hyatt hotel room equating my points to around $2,000 in credit. And considering we were about to spend that $4,000 on Hawaii anyway, why not get some benefit from the spend?

So far, Justin and I have:
+ booked a one-way flight for two passengers with 30,000 Ultimate Reward points for the flight from Atlanta to NYC on the day after Christmas (bought two days before the holiday when prices were skyrocketing!).
+ booked a hotel night in Montreal for 12,000 ultimate reward points (a $160 cost).
+ received $600 in travel credit from the CSR.
+ learned how to transfer points from Justin's Chase Sapphire Preferred to my Chase Sapphire Reserve to get .25% more value from the points.
+ not been charged an exchange rate fee when purchasing products with our CSR while out of the country.

The reason I tell you all of this?

In three days, two if you don't count today, the 100,000 point reward credit will be reduced down to 50,000 points for the same $4,000 spend.


That's the difference of approximately $1,000 worth of ultimate reward points. And you've already missed the opportunity to get your $300 credit for the year 2016 (but you still have time for your 2017 credit!)

There are also benefits like:

+ $100 to be used toward Global Entry
+ rental car and travel insurance automatically applied when you make full purchases for these types of things with your card
+ use of Priority Lounges in airports
+ status with a number of rental car companies
+ and discounts plus recognition for purchasing hotel nights with your CSR (like food credits, room upgrades, etc…)

Now, I'm not saying to get this card if you can't control your spending. And you will probably have a hard time obtaining it if you are from a different country. But, if you are from the US and you'd like to enjoy $2300 toward travel expenses in 2017, it might be worth it.

The decision is yours.

What do you think about the miles and points "game"? Are you a fan … or not? What do you do to reduce travel costs? Or, if you don't travel, is there a bank that just "works" in your favor, helping you to conquer your spending and save money?

No affiliate links have been used in this post. Get the card if you enjoy travel, want it, are from the US, and have a handle on your credit. Otherwise, I will see you tomorrow. :)