We’re getting a hankering to travel!
In about a month, Mike and I are headed out West to Arizona, first to Phoenix, then my old college town of Tucson, and finally to Prescott for my dear friend/former roommate/bridesmaid Adrienne’s wedding.
I haven’t been to Arizona since 2010 and I miss Tucson so much! I’m really looking forward to showing Mike around my old favorite spots, seeing old friends, meeting my food blogger friend David from the blog Cocoa and Lavender in person, and of course, seeing Adrienne tie the knot!
Then, we’re hoping to go to Italy and France in the fall, but it’s still in early stages of planning. Any planning/travel tips you can give would be AWESOME!
The plan is to go for two weeks, spend the majority of time in Paris and Rome, and maybe stop in one or two other cities in Italy in between. We’re thinking 4 nights in Rome, 2 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Venice, and 5 nights in Paris. I’d love to see Capri, Pompeii, or Cinque Terre too but we want to be able to take our time in each place and have a relaxing trip, so that’s a tradeoff. Any advice is appreciated!
I’ve just discovered AirBNB and I’m kind of stoked about possibly using it for our trip to Europe. I love the idea of getting more of the local flavor by staying somewhere other than a chain hotel, and a friend of mine pointed out that you have a bonus of getting direct access to a local (your host) for things like nearby restaurant recommendations.
Apart from a day trip to Nogales, Mexico for Habitat for Humanity and a 5-day cruise to the Bahamas (Nassau and Freeport), the only time I’ve really spent exploring another country was Mike’s and my 9-day honeymoon to Montreal.
We were hoping to get in another big trip before we think about having kids, since it will be so much more difficult and expensive to travel, especially internationally, once we’ve got little ones. Check Europe off the pre-having-a-family bucket list, so to speak.
Our trip to Montreal was amazing. One of the most wonderful things about it was how unstructured it was. We literally just booked a flight and a hotel room for the whole time and just spent every day sleeping in and deciding what to do that day when we woke up.
It was so nice to do as little planning and running around meeting schedules as possible after the months of craziness we just had planning our own wedding, while still authentically experiencing a city (rather than booking an all-in-one resort somewhere).
Sure, we intentionally booked our trip to be during the International Jazz Festival (which fortuitously started right after our wedding), but we didn’t know they were also having a circus festival and the kickoff to the International Fireworks Competition. How romantic!
Our hotel was a quaint independent inn with 25 rooms, right in the middle of the Latin quarter and walking distance to everything. They had parades and dirtbike shows right outside the front door, but our suite was so quiet you couldn’t hear it at all from the room.
We spent a day with the flowers and koi fish at the expansive and beautiful botanical gardens, wandered around the historic district, and attended Mass at the breathtaking Basilica of Notre Dame.
We joined up with the Montreal swing dance community for their weekly dance at Cat’s Corner. And we ate gelato every day.
We saw Michael Buble and Diana Krall live and could walk down to any of four or five different outdoor stages any time we felt like checking out some free live jazz music from the festival.
And the food! There was so much good food and lots of al fresco dining. The weather was perfect for our whole trip.
We ate poutine at La Banquise and moules frites, had a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s deli, ordered practically one of everything at a French pastry shop, and had duck confit more than once.
While much of Montreal’s cuisine is French in origin, we even ate some great sushi, went to Chinatown for some dim sum, and had some delicious Ethiopian food at Nil Bleu. We walked three miles to get a bagel from the famous Fairmount Bagel and finished it off with some ice cream from Kem CoBa next door (dark chocolate and orange cardamom for me!)
We had to see Cirque de Soleil’s Kurios show, since Montreal is the group’s home base, but first we had to grab some lunch. It was our last day in town so we wanted to try someplace new. I found this blog post recommending Marche de la Villette, a little French bistro with a rustic atmosphere.
I couldn’t help but order this charcuterie plate, and Mike ordered a chicken salad, which I thought sounded boring for our last day in Montreal. My charcuterie was awesome, but I have to admit… I was a little jealous of his fresh-looking, unique salad.
I had a few tastes of it, analyzed the flavors, and even jotted down the ingredients on my phone so I could make it later. It’s actually the first thing I made in our own kitchen when we came home from Montreal. It was the inspiration for this tarragon chicken salad, and this recipe is the full salad.
(See, this long-winded story really is relevant to this recipe!)
This dinner chicken salad is light and fresh but filling, flavorful, and perfect for spring or summer. In addition to the lemon-tarragon chicken salad with fennel, it’s full of lots of exciting ingredients like blanched green beans, shredded carrots, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, almonds, and olives.
The original salad had black olives in it but I really really love canned green olives, especially with a lighter vinaigrette like this champagne vinegar and lemon one. They are so much more flavorful than black olives and are almost buttery – they are not at all like jarred, pimento-stuffed green olives. They’re softer and much less salty. I get mine at Publix, and I think they sell them at Costco, but they don’t have them at Harris Teeter anymore or any of the smaller grocery stores. This one is Lindsay Naturals brand, but Pearls also has equally tasty canned green olives. If you can find them, I’d recommend trying them, but if not, black olives will do just fine in this salad.
The original salad also had sprouts on top, which you can add if you’d like too! This salad is so great for eating al fresco on your own porch. Yum!
I know I came back from Canada feeling rejuvenated and extra creative. So perhaps our trip to Arizona will bring back a bit of food inspiration like our trip to Montreal did. And I’m sure a trip to Europe will!
We want to make the most of it in a relatively relaxed way, which I’m sure will be more difficult in Italy and France than it was in Montreal. Montreal was just a cool city to visit but there weren’t really any major landmarks we felt like we had to see while we were there, so it was easy to be unscheduled. I’d like to avoid overscheduling in Europe but we will want to hit up any must-sees!
Please let me know if you have any travel suggestions or tips for spending two weeks in Italy and France! I’m super new at this traveling thing so I can use all the help I can get!
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Montreal Chicken Salad
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
For the salad
- 1 recipe Lemon Tarragon Chicken Salad
- 4 oz green beans
- 6 cups mixed greens
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 10 grape tomatoes halved
- 4 inches of seedless cucumber peeled and sliced into rounds
- 20 canned green olives, if available. If not, use black olives.
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
For the dressing
- Combine first 5 ingredients of dressing. Mix thoroughly.
- Drizzle in olive oil while whisking.
For the salad
- Boil a pot of water. Blanch green beans for 4-6 minutes, or until tender-crisp. Transfer beans immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.
- In a large salad bowl, toss mixed greens and carrots with half the dressing.
- Divide between two plates. Top each salad with 10 grape tomato halves, 10 olives, half the green beans, cucumber, and half the almonds. Drizzle the remaining dressing on top.
- Top each salad with a cup of chicken salad. Enjoy al fresco!