On a Dime Destinations: Cotignac, France

One of the benefits of living in Paris is having friends who have rented a house in Provence for the summer, having them invite me to visit – and being able to go. I recently returned from a 6-night stay and I’m already thinking about going back. Cotignac was such a charming little village. I could get used to spending time in place where pomegranates, figs, olives and grapes are grown.

"Our" House in Cotignac

I was surprised to learn that the population was just over 2,000 people, because the town felt a lot bigger. There are numerous restaurants – I ate in 2 of them and had very good meals at reasonable prices. And on my last day I finally tried the ice cream shop that was about 10 feet from our front door. I actually went twice on that day, and didn’t even think to take photos of the lavender honey and salted caramel that I had for round one. Or the honey fig and red grapefruit that I had for round two. They were all delicious.

My room with a view

Cotignac, is in the Var region of Provence. About an hour drive east of Aix en Provence. While similar, it’s not the Provence of Peter Mayle’s books. And while touristy, it feels less touristy than the well-known villages in the Luberon. And there’s so much going on. 

I arrived on a Thursday afternoon. The house that my friends had rented was right on the main square, with windows overlooking the mature plane trees, the beautiful four seasons fountain and all of the restaurants. You might think that it would be unbearably noisy – but it wasn’t. The sound of the activity below was actually relaxing.

One of  many fountains

Upon arrival I had a chance to explore the village and then we had a very good dinner at La Table des Coquelicots. I ordered the hamburger because I had recently been craving one. For dessert I had the digestif gourmand – an after dinner drink with an assortment of small desserts. It cost 10.00€. The drink itself would have been that much – or more, in Paris. Then an “on the house” shot of Limoncello – to wash down the Limoncello that I’d just had. I think I like Cotignac.

Digestif Gourmand

On Friday, our plans were to head out in search of any remaining lavender fields. I knew that I was probably too late since the lavender had been harvested in July, but my friends were happy to take a little road-trip. But first, I wanted to explore the Friday Artisan Market that had just appeared outside our front door.

Lavender Sachets

The market was low-key but interesting.  I was happy with my purchase of some handcrafted lavender sachets, instead of those plastic-wrapped industrial ones. And who doesn’t like a wine tasting at 11:00 a.m.? I bought some wine too. I was curious about the man selling out of season truffles for as little as 10.00€. It was tempting, but just didn’t seem right to me. 

Truffles in August?

By the time I finished with the market it was already lunchtime.  We made some sandwiches at home. The nice thing about staying in such a small village is that the stores you need are literally out the door. The butcher shop was across the street, as was the well-stocked mini Spar grocery store. A few steps to the left, was the small Epicerie (fine foods store) selling, charcuterie (cold-cuts), cheese, eggs, some pre-made salads and such and a few groceries. I could get used to this.

Artisan Market - from my window

After lunch we headed to Chateau LaCalisse because they have planted a tourist lavender field. Even though it was past it’s prime, it was a heavenly experience for me. I can only imagine what it must have looked like a few weeks earlier.

Disappointingly, the tasting room was closed. We’ll have to come back for wine on another day.

Lavender at Chateau LaCalisse

After leaving La Calisse we decide to stop and explore the tiny village of Fox-Amphoux. Besides the great views and the huge hackberry tree planted in 1550 one of the best things about this this tiny village was that we got “lost” trying to find the panoramic overlook that was marked on the map by the parking lot. Who gets lost in a village with a population of 400? We did. 

We had success on our second try and were rewarded with stunning views to the village rooftops and the surrounding countryside and mountains. Plus, a good workout on the tower stairs.


Time to head home for an Apero and get ready for dinner at the local Boulodrome, for Friday night Boules and Moules-Frites. (Mussels and French Fries). What a fun and very local event. We attended with some local friends. And the prices - 8.50€ for the moules-frites and 8.00€ for a bottle of the local Rose wine? We drank several bottles of wine. 

Moules-Frites at the Bouledrome

After the moules-frites our friends came back to the house and we drank more wine on our “terrace” out front. We actually sat at one of the tables belonging to café downstairs. How nice of them to let us do this.

Not bad for my first full day in Cotignac.

Saturday night is the annual Rock Concert. Guess where? On the square in front of our house. At least the stage was set up at the far-end. Due to the expected crowds and traffic we spent our day in Cotignac. We got off to a late start too, because of our late night the night before.  

By the time we were ready to get going there was a storm on the horizon. We waited it out and then decided to walk to the local wine co-op. They were supposed to have olive oil too, but we found out that it had been a bad year for the olives due to the drought and they had no oil. But they had wine - which we gladly tasted and bought. And then another storm hit. We stood under the eaves to wait it out. I love Summer storms. 

Stormy Skies

After we got home, we enjoyed watching and listening to band playing in front of the butcher shop across the street. And hated that we had to leave for our dinner reservations at La Terrasse.

Band playing, view from my window

I had another good meal starting with a salade chevre chaud (warm goat cheese) lamb steak with a rosemary sauce and a dessert of blackberry crumble – all for 23€. A meal like this would be at least 30€ in Paris. And we had a bottle of rose from Chateau La Calisse. I enjoyed dining on the secluded terrace under the fig trees. 

Lamb steak with Rosemary sauce

By the time we were finished with dinner we had missed the opening act of the Rock Concert. The main act played a lot 1970’s rock, such as The Who and Pink Floyd, among others. I was happy to listen from the comfort of our living room. The show finally ended at 12:30 a.m. with fireworks – and a full moon!

The finale of the Rock Concert - from my window. 

...to be continued. 

Click here for my photo album. 


On a Dime Destinations: San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian is located in the northeast corner of Spain, just across the border from France. It’s known as a foodie mecca, and also for its beautiful beaches.

On my first trip to San Sebastian at the end of May in 2012 it rained for 4 straight days. It was cold – low 50s, and so windy that I was nearly blown over – more than once. I had a miserable trip.

San Sebastian - May 2012

San Sebastian - May 2012

I was quite excited when I recently had the chance to meet up with a friend there. Hoping that the weather at the end of June would be better than last time. But, it would be hard for it to be any worse.

San Sebastian - June 2015

As soon as our meet-up was planned I got busy booking my train from Paris, and sending a reservation request Pension Itxasoa. Having a room with a sea view there helped to salvage my last trip. It was fun to watch the waves crash against the seawall outside. Sort of.  

I planned ahead for my train trip and picked up a half bottle of wine – with a screw cap, and stopped at my favorite boulangerie for a sandwich. I was on the metro headed to Gare Montparnasse when I decided to double-check my train ticket. Holy shit! Instead of having 15 minutes to spare, I was suddenly worried about missing my train. I kept checking my progress on the metro and checking my watch trying to figure out if I was going to make it. What a dumb shit.

Always bring a picnic for the train.

I did make my train, but it was too close for comfort for me. Note to self: Check departure time the night before, don’t rely on memory.

The train is non-stop until Bordeaux, about 3.5 hours. Then, it’s 2 more hours to Hendaye – where you connect to the local commuter train to San Sebastian.

I decided to wait and eat lunch after we left Bordeaux. I was sitting across from a nice woman from Spain. She spoke Spanish and French. I do not. But I can speak wine, and she accepted my offer to pour her a glass.

We chatted – by using Google translate when I had a good signal on my phone, while we finished the wine.  I learned that her name was Isabel and that she was from Pamplona. I think I might have gotten her a little bit drunk.

She invited me to come have a coffee with her in the bar car. And then when we returned to our seats she gave me a lovely painted Spanish fan.

This is why I travel.

Needless to say, the last 2 hours of the ride went by quickly. I did get Isabel’s address, and met her husband at the train station. This is why I travel.

I had a short wait for the Euskotren, and walked about 20 minutes to the Pension Itxasoa. The walk was easy and flat, with the only issue being the click-click of my suitcase wheels on the tiled sidewalks.

View from my room at Pension Itxasoa

My single room was perfect. I was facing the Monte Urgull this time and only had a partial ocean view – but for 51€ per night I had no complaints. And I was in San Sebastian and it was sunny and warm. It felt like heaven.

After a quick unpack – into the practical wardrobe, I was off for a wander through the Old Town and finally to La Concha beach.

Bar Txondorra

I ended up stopping for pintxos at Bar Txondorra, a place I had tried on my last trip. I had a tortilla patata and txokoli – the local sparkling wine. After a couple more Txakolis, I had a pintxo with jamon, goat cheese and a drizzle of honey and another Txakoli. My total bill was 14€. Time to see the beach now.

Perfect dinner. Tortilla patata and Txakoli.

The sun was setting as I approached the promenade along the beach. On my last trip I couldn’t even get this close because it was so windy. It was stunning.

And the people, the place was packed – but in a good way. With lots of locals. Kids were jumping off of the pier and just hanging out. Families were strolling through the square and along the promenade. And everyone was eating ice cream. What a beautiful evening.

Sunset on La Concha Beach

The sun was still setting when I got back to my room around 11:00 p.m., after stopping for an ice cream. The Old Town was still hopping but I was happy to watch the activity from my balcony before heading to bed.

I had a free day before I was meeting up with my friend. I started off with breakfast at Bar Azkena in the Bretxa Market. I ordered a mushroom omelet and a café con leche. The omelette was amazing. The mushrooms, tasted like mushrooms should. The grated cheese curl and jamon on top were just perfect. My bill came to 3.20€. How can they make any money?

Breakfast at Bar Azkena

My plans for the day were for some shopping and general wandering around. I wanted to get some of my favorite Magno shower gel, some Spanish Olive Oil and some Txakoli to take home. It would be a bonus if I could find some cute shoes and/or clothes. Perhaps a swimsuit since my friend wants to go to the La Perla Spa on Saturday.

It was fun wandering the pretty streets of Centro. At a variety store in the Plaza Gipuzkoa I found a swimsuit for 12€. Then I found my shower gel. And got my Arbequina olive oil and Txakoli at the Super Amara.

Plaza Gipuzkoa

I walked back to my Pension to drop off my heavy bags and decided to head to Ondarreta Beach to see the Wind Combs. I figured out my bus route and headed there. I hadn’t had any lunch yet so I stopped for an ice cream on my walk from the bus. Ends up that I found my new favorite flavor – Mandarina. OMG!

Wind Combs 

It was a pretty long walk to the wind combs, but so worth it. The beach was packed on a Thursday afternoon. And the Wind Combs were stunning.

Ondarreta Beach

After that I wandered through the Old Town and did some more shopping. I had more Mandarina ice cream for dinner. I had an early night because I needed to take an early bus in the morning to meet my friend in Getaria.

I had already scoped out my bus stop for the Lurraldebus to Getaria the day before, but just in case, I arrived early anyway not feeling entirely confident of the bus schedule.

Getaria, Spain

I ended up on an earlier bus than planned and in about 30 minutes I was in the cute seaside town of Getaria. This gave me time for a quick breakfast before I needed to meet my friend.

Our plans for the day were to head to Zumaia to take a boat ride along the coast to see the Flysches – rock formations along the coast. Then lunch at the Michelin 1-star Restaurant Elkano, known for their whole grilled turbot, and a quick look at the Balenciaga Museum before heading back to San Sebastian.

Breakfast in Getaria

My breakfast at what appeared to be the only bakery in town was excellent, especially the fresh-squeezed orange juice. After a small miscommunication I met up with my friend. We had originally met on Trip Advisor 4 years ago when I was planning a trip to Barcelona – this was our first meeting in person. But I felt like I was meeting an old friend.

Breakfast, Round 2

It was a quick drive to Zumaia, and not too bad finding a parking place and figuring out where the boat departed.

The boat ride was fantastic, the guide was enthusiastic and the audio guides in English helped us follow along.


I realize that a lunch in a Michelin starred restaurant might not be considered an “On a Dime” experience. But I was with a friend who travels to eat in the best restaurants and I decided that it was worth the splurge. 

Restaurant Elkano

If Restaurant Elkano is not in your budget,  you can stop at the original Bar Elkano and enjoy some cheap pintxos and Txakoli – that’s what my friend did the evening before.  The great thing about Elkano is that it’s quite laid-back for a Michelin restaurant. People were dining in shorts and no one batted an eye. The food and service were outstanding and I ate things that I never imagined that I would. And my friend treated me to lunch. I was speechless and appreciative.

Yes. I ate some Barnacles.

Whole grilled turbot


After lunch we walked up the hill to the Balenciaga Musuem. While neither of us are fashionistas we both enjoyed this museum.

Balenciaga Museum

Time to head back to San Sebastian.

We made plans to meet up later for a dinner of Pintxos in the Old Town. By the time we meet up I’m not even hungry, but there’s always room for a glass or two of Txakoli.

Then we made plans to meet up at Bar Azkena for breakfast in the morning.

At Bar Azkena I was both excited and disappointed to see that they had fresh-squeezed orange juice. Excited because I wanted some, and disappointed because I had completely missed it the day before.

Jamon on toast at Bar Azkena

Next on our agenda was a visit to the La Perla Spa. I was very reluctant to do this because I didn’t want to appear in public in a swimsuit and a bathing cap. Guess what? No one cares. And it was so much fun playing around in the saltwater pools trying out the various therapeutic water jets in each pool, well worth 26.50€ for a 2 hour visit.  

Then it was lunchtime and time to try out some more pintxo bars in the old town. Our first stop was Bar Zeruko for some “designer” tapas. The place was packed, but we managed to snag a table. Who knew how good a fresh fig stuffed with foie gras would taste? We also made a stop at Bar Txondorra – the same place I went to on my arrival night.

Pintxos at Bar Zeruko

Time for a siesta. We made plans to meet up later to try out a couple of places in the more local Gros area for dinner.

It was nice to explore another area on San Sebastian, but it was still easy to do on foot. My friend was a bit disappointed that Bar Bergara had updated their décor since she last visited. I grabbed a seat at an open table while my friend ordered and I studied the menu. I ended up ordering the fideua and it was the hit of the evening, and maybe the best of all the pintxos that we had.

Fideua at Bar Bergara

Leaving Bar Bergara we noticed the sun setting and made a detour to the beach to watch it before heading to our next destination. Our next stop was disappointing, I don’t even remember the name. They had a bit of a ‘tude. But it did look like they had some amazing steaks. The pintxos were “meh” though. 

Sunset on Gros Beach

I had so much fun on this trip and I complained to my friend as we walked back to our hotels “I have to back to Parissss…” But I look forward to a return trip to San Sebastian.  


Click here for a trip summary

Sunday Afternoon in the Marais

Last Sunday I decided to visit the Marais – as a tourist, sort of. I’m finding it hard to act like a tourist now that I’m living here - but I'm sure that I can manage. And I suppose that it helps that I can only speak "tourist" French. 

My visit started with a ride on the metro to St. Paul . I was happy that I chose the sortie (exit) with escalator. Those of you who are familiar with the Paris metro will understand what I mean. 

First stop was lunch at La Ciderie du Marais. It was easy to find on Rue Sevigne – directly across the street from the Eglise St. Paul.

 The church is definitely worth a visit and I recently attended a concert there. I found discount tickets on Billetreduc and saw Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in a 17th century setting for only 17.00€.

Back to lunch. Just steps off of the very busy, and touristy Rue St. Antoine I was surprised that there were several empty tables at 12:30 on a Sunday. I had a nice sidewalk table – and a direct view of the church. It was worth it already.

 It was hard to decide which savory crepe to order but I finally chose the “La Forestiere” with creamy chicken and mushrooms, and a cup of cidre.

 The description was spot-on as the mushrooms tasted like the forest – which in this case was good thing. And the cidre went with it perfectly. I sort of wished that I had ordered the small pitchet, instead of just a cup of cider. Total for lunch 12.50€ - not bad.

Next on my agenda was the Musee Carnavalet – the history of Paris museum. Being one of the City of Paris museums, admission is free. It’s a short walk from the restaurant. The entrance is on Rue Francis Bourgeois.

 Another bonus of visiting on a Sunday is that many of the streets in the neighborhood are car-free on Sundays and most of the shops are open.

 Turning the corner to go in the entrance of the Carnavalet, there was a band playing on the sidewalk and they had gathered quite a crowd. I could have stayed and watched for a lot longer than I did. Be prepared for diversions as you explore Paris. You never know what you might come across.

At the museum I decided to go ahead and see the special Napoleon in Paris exhibit – this cost 9.00€. It was interesting. I liked the clothes and the furniture the best – especially Napoleon’s throne, but the remainder was much too detailed for me.

 Now that I’m done with Napoleon, I’m ready to see the remainder of the museum. It’s arranged mostly by century and is not so large that it’s overwhelming like some other museums. My favorites were the Sign Gallery and a painting of the construction of the Statue of Liberty.

This painting nearly brought me to tears. I can’t explain why it hit me that way. That seems to be happening to me a lot these days. Sure beats being depressed and living in St. Louis.

Interestingly, I just learned - thanks to Google and a friend of mine, that June 17, 2015 is the 130th anniversary of the statue's arrival in New York. Is it a coincidence that I'm writing about it today? 

 I was a bit disappointed that the section on the French Revolution was closed, as was the section of Paris from pre-historic times. But I’ll be back.  This will be easy to do too – since it’s free.

 After I left the Carnavalet, I stopped and browsed in a couple of shops as I made my way to the Place des Vosges to visit the Maison Victor Hugo – another free museum.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Paris and the Place des Vosges was packed with people taking advantage of the nice weather.

 The Maison Victor Hugo is the actual apartment where the author of Les Miserables lived from 1832-1848, but it’s not in its original state. It’s been arranged to evoke a feeling of what it may have been like at the time. Definitely worth a visit – and the price is right, it’s free.

Even though there was no line at the Carnavalet and a short line at Maison Victor Hugo I’ve managed to spend about 5 hours on my adventure – which was just about right for me.

As a tourist you will probably spend more time wandering the streets and looking into shops and it would be easy to spend a full day in this small section of the Marais.

Total spent for the day was 21.50€.

Lunch: 12.50€

Napoleon Exhibit: 9.00€

My metro ride was free, with my monthly Navigo Decouverte pass. Otherwise the metro is 1.80€ for a single ride.

I had a fun afternoon. I hope that you did too.



On a Dime Day Trip to Auvers sur Oise - A Walk in Van Gogh's Footsteps

About an hour away from Paris is the lovely village of Auvers sur Oise. I went specifically to see the room and the village where Vincent Van Gogh spent his last 70 days.

Brass Pavement Marker

Brass Pavement Marker

 On the weekends from April to September there is a direct train (RER H) from Gare du Nord leaving at 9:38 a.m. Or more frequent trains that require an easy transfer at Pontoise – just make sure you chose a train stopping at Pontoise. I was able to travel for free using my monthly Navigo Decouverte pass. Otherwise the tickets are 5.95 each way.

Lots of informational signs

Lots of informational signs

I had planned to arrive early in an effort to beat the crowds. In the end I arrived later than I had hoped – but there were no crowds at all. Nice bonus.

 I would recommend stopping first at the tourist office to pick up a map. But the town is well signed and easy to navigate.

Directional Signs

Directional Signs

 The first Van Gogh site I saw was the Mairie (City Hall). How nice of them to display a copy of his painting from 125 years ago.

 Directly across the street is the Auberge Ravoux, where Van Gogh lived in an attic room for 70 days in 1890.

 The entrance is around the corner in the back. After I paid my 6.00€ entrance fee I followed the informational signs and made my way up the stairs to the gift shop (very tasteful) to wait for my tour. At one point I thought I was going to have a private tour, but then a few more people showed up.

 The slide show was interesting and informative. And seeing his tiny room was moving. It’s been restored to its original state.

Van Gogh's Room is in the Attic

Van Gogh's Room is in the Attic

 After my tour I decided to walk to the Chateau. This is not really a Van Gogh site, but I thought it was at least worth seeing from the outside – and it was.

 Next, I thought I would try the Absinthe museum – but it wasn’t open. They don’t open until 1:30. Maybe I’ll go next time.

After this I continued on my way to see the church and the cemetery. I really didn’t need my map.  I just had to follow the signs.

 It was a nice walk along a pretty and sometimes walled street. I wondered what was behind those walls. Then, all of the sudden the church appeared. It was a “Wow!” moment.

Wow! Look at those steps.

Wow! Look at those steps.

I climbed up the stairs to the back of the church. It was much bigger than I expected. There was a wedding that day so I was unable to go inside. But that’s okay. I got to see what I was looking for when I saw the church from the front – from nearly the exact same spot where Van Gogh painted it. I knew this because there was sign showing the painting in front of the church. What a magical moment.

 Next to the church is the road that leads to the cemetery where Vincent and his brother Theo are buried.  It was on this walk that it hit me - a moment that’s hard to explain with words. The narrow road surrounded by farm fields was so peaceful.

 As I approached the cemetery there was another sign on the wall of a Van Gogh painting. I looked into the distance and saw the same scene and the same buildings that Van Gogh had painted. This nearly brought me to tears. I can even feel the emotion of that moment as I write this. I have to go back.



Poppies and Rapeseed

Poppies and Rapeseed



 I had planned to stop for lunch but nothing looked appealing to me so I just stopped at Carrefour and picked up a sandwich and a soda for a whopping 2.65€. I ate my sandwich while waiting for the train, and getting one last glimpse of the church.

Gare Auvers sur Oise

Gare Auvers sur Oise

Trains to Pontoise leave Auvers every 30 minutes. Then I had 10 minutes to my connecting train to Gare du Nord. In about an hour I was back in Paris.

 I spent less than 10€ on my day trip. But the experience was priceless.

Thank you Vincent

Thank you Vincent







Welcome to Paris on a Dime

I came up with this idea about a year ago – around the same time that I was thinking about fulfilling a long-time dream of moving to France. As I was researching and adding content to the website I came to the realization that I needed to be in Paris!

Square du Temple - 3rd Arrondissement

Square du Temple - 3rd Arrondissement

 Now it’s May 2015 and I’ve been living in Paris for about 6 weeks. I’m here on the ground to show you how have to have a complete Paris experience without spending a fortune. 

Follow my adventures as I try out cafés, restaurants and boulangeries. Plus, neighborhood markets, grocery stores and more. I'll tell you about my favorites and where you can get a good deal.

I plan to visit museums and explore neighborhoods. And I have a long list of day trips and short getaways that I will be sharing with you too.

Plus, travel tips and insights about the best time to visit, how to find cheap flights and train tickets and the importance of packing light. 

 I know, it’s a tough job – but somebody’s got to do it.  I hope you enjoy my adventures.   

Notre Dame on a beautiful evening

Notre Dame on a beautiful evening