Elizabeth Gilbert, You’ve Done it Again

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve at least heard of the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. My guess is that most of you have probably read it.

In my experience, people seem to have a “love it or hate it” relationship with this book. I happen to fall in the “love it” camp (although I will admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the film). I know a lot of people out there found Elizabeth Gilbert to be an annoyingly self-absorbed narcissist, and though I do understand why people thought that, I myself never did. I loved the book and I loved her. I thought it was such a wonderful story about self-discovery and travel and life and love.

So when my friend Julie told me that Elizabeth Gilbert had recently wrote an article about a walking trip she took through Provence, France, and sent me a link to it, I eagerly clicked over to read it. I devoured every single word.

And I fell in love with Ms. Gilbert all over again.

Because it captures so perfectly why it is that I am so excited for this trip that Kevin and I are embarking on. This walking tour of Spain. This pilgrimage. This journey. This whatever it is that you want to call it.

She writes about luxurious dinners of foie gras and escargots, and lunches of camembert and wine under olive trees, and nights spent in fourteenth-century sheep farms, and stopping in a teeny tiny village and purchasing the best cheese she’s ever tasted from a woman in a teeny tiny market, and how having your days consist of walking and eating and drinking made her feel like each day had “the exact right number of hours in it.”

But what she really captures is just how amazing it is to arrive somewhere by foot:

Despite our navigational challenges, we promptly realized how much we loved this. Because moving through a country at the pace of a walk is an incredibly intimate way to experience a place. What we encountered during our six-hour hike was simply…everything. Every single iris blossom, all the inquisitive local dragonflies and dogs, the chickens who crossed the road nervously, like characters in a joke. We smelled everything, too—the cow pastures, the mustard fields, the wild rosemary and thyme that grew thick in the hills….

There is something about entering an ancient town on foot that’s radically different from entering the same place by car. Keep in mind that these old French towns were all designed by people on foot for people on foot. So when you walk in, you’re approaching the place as it was intended to be approached—slowly and naturally, the way Dorothy came upon Oz (spires rising in the distance, a sense of mounting mystery: What kind of city will this be?). When paved roads were introduced about a thousand years after these towns were built, the macadam sliced artificially across the landscape, stabbing fast into these old parishes at the most convenient (for cars) angles. We, on the other hand, walked there high and alone across the mountains. Then the mountains turned into fields, the fields morphed into a cherry orchard, and the orchard gently spilled us toward Gordes—a city on a hill that, cinematically, we approached from above, from an even higher hill. From the moment we first saw the distant church spires until we stood upon those church steps, we walked for almost two hours, as evening approached and the town unfolded its gorgeousness before us. We arrived there the way people were always meant to arrive: awed, tired, grateful.

The view walking into Gordes

And it is because of experiences like that that put me over-the-edge with excitement about what this trip has in store for us. About what it will be like for Kevin and me to walk into teeny tiny villages and stay in monasteries and take siestas under trees and gorge ourselves on paella and wine and conversation.

So please, if you have any interest in travel or food or France, I urge you to click over and read it for yourself. All seven pages of it. Devour it. Because it’s that good. She writes in a way that, quite simply, makes my heart happy. Which shouldn’t surprise me, considering that she is, as Julie called her, a “writer beast.”

And with that, I wish you a very happy Thursday.



eileen ragan | leaner by the lakeSeptember 12, 2013 - 6:44 am

Immediately reading that this morning. BTW – Last night to started the first half of The Way and am really enjoying it. The scenery is just so beautiful!
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STephanieSeptember 12, 2013 - 6:59 am

I am behind in commenting – SO excited for you and Kevin’s journey and can’t wait to live vicariously through you. What an amazing trip and experience it will be. I’m going to Seattle in a couple weeks . . .that’s sorta like the same thing, right? Also, I LOVED Eat, Pray, Love when I read it – I purposely never saw the film because I didn’t want it to ruin what I felt about Elizabeth Gilbert and what I felt about that book.

Looking forward to reading about all of your adventures – have a GREAT trip!

MoSeptember 12, 2013 - 11:03 am

Ok- so I fell into the camp of really liking the book, but not really like Elizabeth Gilbert. I will admit, however, that she is a “writer beast”. Those paragraphs are just beautiful and capture the experience in a way that not even pictures could do. Kudos to her.That bitch ;)

Lisa @ Two MartinisSeptember 12, 2013 - 1:59 pm

Ah, Elizabeth Gilbert. Have you read her book, ‘Committed’? I absolutely love it.

KariSeptember 13, 2013 - 7:48 am

Thanks so much for sharing this! I loved reading about her experiences. It totally made me want to go on one of these walks, too. The last part of her story was so true. It’s hard to find a place that isn’t rushing to step into the future, but is holding on so tightly to the past. Instant gratification has really done a disservice to us. Don’t get me wrong,I love the fact I can get anything in the world delivered to my door, but it kind of takes away the romance of it all. I’m so excited for your adventure and can’t wait to hear all about it:)

AngieSeptember 16, 2013 - 12:07 pm

Thank you for sharing this. I totally had mixed feelings about Eat, Pray, Love, but am currently in a love it phase. I will check out the article.

JeniSeptember 24, 2013 - 9:23 pm

Serena! This is such an amazing idea and I cannot wait to read about you and Kevin’s adventures!

Roy and I had originally planned our honeymoon to be on the Tour du Mont Blanc – have you heard of this? It’s a bit more “rugged” than Gilbert’s one in Provence but the idea is that you sleep/eat in little towns along the way. Alas wedding planning stress took over and we ended up just recuperating by have a 2-weeks-in-paris honeymoon instead.

But you should look up that trek!

“So what’s your plan?”

As soon as Kevin and I started telling people that we were going to walk the Camino de Santiago, a slew of questions flooded in, most of which revolved around how exactly one “does” this. For example:

Is this something you have to sign up for?
Is this a tour?
Do you do it with a group?
Is there a schedule you have to follow?
Where do you stay?
Have you already booked your hotels?
Are you walking for a cause?

The answer to all of these questions is, very simply, no.

You don’t have to sign up for anything. We are not doing a tour, though there are some tour companies out there that will organize it for you, should you be so inclined. We’re not walking with any sort of group, though we certainly hope to meet others along the way. There’s no schedule to follow. You stay in what are called albergues, which are basically hostels that are only available for pilgrims (those walking the way). We haven’t booked a single hotel except for our first two nights in Pamplona. We’re not walking for any cause – this isn’t like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer - we are walking just for us, for the experience.

Basically, the plan is that there is no plan. There is a route that you follow, and a list of places that pilgrims can stay along the way, but other than that, you just show up, get your Pilgrim’s Passport, and start walking.

There are many different routes that lead to Santiago, but the most popular one (and the one depicted in the film The Way) is the Camino Frances. There is no “official” start to it, but most people start in St Jean Pied de Port, a small town in France, right in the Pyrenees. Originally Kevin and I were planning on starting there too, but since we really wanted to try to keep our walking to 30 days, we decided to start from Pamplona, which will cut out the first three days (and also save us from the trek over the Pyrenees) and should keep us within our goal of making it to Santiago within four weeks.

When we get to Pamplona we’ll have to pick up our pilgrim passports, and once we have those, we’re pretty much good to go. The pilgrim’s passport is the document issued by the cathedral authorities in Santiago, and is needed as proof of your pilgrimage. It needs to get stamped at least once a day, and in order “to prevent abuse of the 1000-year old spirit of hospitality of the pilgrimage, access to the refugios is restricted to those carrying such evidence of their pilgrim status.

Albergues (sometimes called refugios), are basically hostels for pilgrims only. I have no idea what they will really be like, but I call them “old-people hostels.” You show up, show your pilgrim’s passport, and then stay in a room filled with other walkers. They usually cost between €5 -€10 a night. A family style meal is usually offered, in which you eat and drink and dine with your fellow pilgrims, and you’re only allowed to stay one night. Sometimes the albergues are located within monasteries, like the below:

Other times they are in newly remodeled buildings, like this one:

Casa de Abuela in Los Arcos

Our tentative plan is to stay at a hotel every third or fourth night, so that we can have some privacy and be able to catch up on personal hygiene stuff, among other things. You know, things like leg shaving and bed sharing and what not. I don’t know about you, but I am an incredibly slow leg shaver, so there’s no way that I’m going to be able to do that in a communally shared shower space. I also like to take luxuriously long hot showers, which isn’t really hostel etiquette.

Nor is walking around in your underwear, which is another thing I quite enjoy.

For the most part, there’s an albergue or hotel at least every three miles, so how long you walk and where you stop is entirely up to you. Most people walk an average of 13 miles a day, and that’s our plan as well.

However, we’re also allowing ourselves the freedom to just do what works for us. Which means that maybe one day we’ll only feel like walking five miles. And maybe another we’ll feel like walking 18. And if it’s pouring rain all day and after about two miles we’re tired of being muddy and cold and wet, we have no problem calling it a day and taking a taxi to the closest town.

Since neither of us have ever done a trip like this before, we really won’t know what it’s actually going to be like until we start. Our “training” has consisted of some weekend hikes, the longest of which has been seven miles, so it might take our bodies some time to adjust to being able to walk 14 miles a day consistently. And we’re okay with that.

So like I said before, our plan is that we don’t really have a plan.

And that is kind of the most exciting part about it all.


JessicaSeptember 10, 2013 - 7:58 am

I love the “no plan” plan. Then you can’t get disappointed or let down. You make the rules. And I’m glad you are staying a hotel some nights too- you know for hygiene reason and sexy time. Ha!
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LauraSeptember 10, 2013 - 10:51 am

This is seriously so incredible!! I want to crash your party!
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ChelseaSeptember 10, 2013 - 1:30 pm

I totally meant to comment on the last post. While I assumed you were pregnant, this is way cooler! It’s such a cool thing to do, and I’m excited to read about your adventure. Also, yes to real hotels for leg shaving. I’ve got a lot of leg, and it’s a lengthy chore! I love that you guys don’t have a plan. I don’t know if I could set aside my planner and just wing it!

eileen ragan | leaner by the lakeSeptember 11, 2013 - 1:51 pm

WOW was this post fascinating to read. I basically dropped everything to read it. This sounds amazing and courageous and perfect for a big getaway trip. You’re going to learn SOOOO much about eachother and yourself and your bodies. So exciting! Keep on sharing!
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Megan C. StroupSeptember 13, 2013 - 11:39 am

This is so amazing! I actually have it on my bucket list (which is actually on my blog) to walk at least 10 miles of this trail. I don’t know if I’ll ever do the whole thing, but that would be great, too!

I found your blog through the Bay Area Bloggers group on Better Blogging Network. I just moved to the South Bay and am looking for some Bay Area bloggers to follow, and when I saw your blog I thought, “Well, I love food and wine and San Francisco – I should read more!” Looking forward to reading more of your posts. :)

NicoleSeptember 15, 2013 - 7:55 pm

This sounds like such an incredible trip! I would love to do something like this…no plans except what is needed for safety. You may have inspired me to put something like this together for myself! I am interested to know how it all works out.


AngieSeptember 16, 2013 - 1:00 pm

This sounds so amazing! I am excited to hear more about your trip.

I Would Walk 500 Miles…

Hi friends!

First of all, no, I’m not pregnant.

I had a feeling that people that were going to think that, but no, my big news has nothing to do with growing a small human being. Plus, I can assure you that if/when that time comes, I won’t be posting teasers about it on my blog. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but that’s just not my style. More likely an announcement of that sort would come in the form of a photo of myself cradling bottles of wine while sobbing hysterically, with the caption “see you in nine months lovers.”

So, no, again, not pregnant.

But anyway, remember that 500 miles song by the Proclaimers? It used to be one of my absolute favorite songs when I was younger. I would drive my mom crazy by listening to it over and over and over again. I loooooooooved it. And even today, as a pseudo-grownup, I still do.

So it’s kind of funny to think that in less than one month I will actually walk 500 miles.

Well, 472 to be exact, but hey, I think that’s close enough to count!

Yes. You read that right. Me, someone who up until a few months ago had never done a real hike in her life, will be hiking almost 500 miles. With Kevin. Across Spain.

Confused? Let me back up.

For as long as I’ve been with Kevin, we have wanted to do some sort of big trip together. A “last hurrah” before we settle down and have kids type of thing, but we could never agree on what this big trip would be. And then about a year ago we started learning more about this little thing called the Camino de Santiago, and suddenly, it all kind of fell into place.

On October 2nd, Kevin and I will be flying into Pamplona, Spain, and from there we will spend the next 30 (+/-) days walking (yes, walking) to Santiago. For those of you that have never heard about the Camino de Santiago, you’re not alone. While the Camino is very popular in Europe, it’s still not that well known among Americans.

The Camino de Santiago is a 1200 year old pilgrimage that leads to Santiago de Compostela, in western Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of Saint James are buried. In medieval times it was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages one could make. Today, it’s become a very popular modern pilgrimage, drawing people from all over the world for all sorts of reasons, be it for the adventure, the cultural experience, to become closer to God, or sometimes just for the food and wine. Last year, almost 200,000 people walked the way.


Though many people do it for religious reasons, there are also a lot of people who do it for non-religious purposes, like us. Both Kevin and I are agnostic (agnostic theists, if you will), so while we’re definitely open to having a spiritual journey along the Camino, it’s certainly not the driving force behind it.

Kevin first learned about the Camino de Santiago when he was in high school, and he’s wanted to do it ever since. For me? Well, I first learned about it years ago when I read Paolo Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage,” but because his journey was very religious and spiritual and included things like camping and sleeping outside, it didn’t really appeal to me. Kevin and I had talked about it briefly but it was never something we seriously considered doing.

Then about a year ago Kevin and I saw movie The Way. While watching it I looked over at Kevin and said “wait a second… you don’t have to camp? You just walk through the beautiful Spanish countryside and then eat and drink wine and hang out with new people?” And when he said yes, I said “sign me up!” Because eating and drinking and hanging out with people? That I can do! That right there is my forte.

And so our plan was born.

The walk from Pamplona to Santiago should take about a month, and from there we’re giving ourselves another two weeks to do whatever our hearts desire. Our tentative plan is to spend a few days in Portugal and then head over to Morocco, but we’re taking a “go with the flow” approach and not really committing to anything in case we change our mind along the way.

I’ve wanted to write about this for so long but I’ve had to keep it secret, because taking a six-week trip kind of means that you have to sacrifice other things. Things like your job. Which means in order for me to do this trip, I will have to leave my job, and I couldn’t really write about that until I’d shared this information with my work. But now that the cat is out of the bag, I can blog about it to my hearts content!

And probably drive you crazy in the process.

Fortunately, Kevin’s job is awesome and is allowing him to take six weeks off, so thankfully only one of us will be unemployed upon our return.

As for what I’ll do what I get back? I have no idea. Quitting your job for the great unknown is equally as exciting as it is scary, and while the thought of coming back to San Francisco jobless does give me some anxiety, the thought of not doing this trip gives me so much more.

So there you have it, friends. My “big news.” Considering the number of real life friends that already knew my “big news” but that after reading my blog called or emailed me to ask just what my “big news” was, I fear I may have hyped it up a bit too much. I am sorry if that is the case, but to me, it’s pretty big.

I sincerely hope that you’ll bear with me as my blog temporarily morphs into that of a Camino de Santiago travel blog. I promise to try my best to keep you entertained, and hopefully my adventures in Spain will be a little more exciting than my life in San Francisco has been lately.

I do hope you’ll stick around.

ritaSeptember 5, 2013 - 6:52 am

so so exciting! matt’s grandmother is obsessed with the movie and with this pilgrimage and will be so excited that i know someone who is taking it! i will quite likely send her your blog to follow when you head out! i can’t wait to hear about it, serena!

eileen ragan | leaner by the lakeSeptember 5, 2013 - 7:05 am

So so so exciting! Congrats to both of you on such a big journey to take together! I’m in the middle of reading WILD by Cheryl Strayed, in which she walks the Pacific Crest Trail from Cali to Oregon. It’s such a good read and perhaps a great one for a someone getting ready for a big trip of their own!

Can’t wait to hear about your preparations and planning. The secret looks absolutely stunning!
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JessicaSeptember 5, 2013 - 7:45 am

Yes! This is awesome news! Seriously cannot wait for all the travel posts and pictures. You guys are so adventurous and amazing! And this is a HUGE deal!
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Julie / BoundSeptember 5, 2013 - 7:58 am

THIS IS THE COOLEST THING. I am so incredibly excited for you! What an adventure, good grief. Elizabeth Gilbert did a really similar thing in France and wrote the most gorgeous article about it.

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LoraSeptember 5, 2013 - 8:07 am

I love girls who think camping and sleeping outside is for other people. And by people I mean animals.

KariSeptember 5, 2013 - 8:14 am

That sounds like the most AMAZING trip! I have never heard about that before, but it sounds like the best way to spend a month. I’m sure the scenery will be beautiful, and you’ll meet so many friends along the way. Can’t wait to follow along and really excited for you guys!
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Lisa @ Two MartinisSeptember 5, 2013 - 8:32 am

What an awesome, amazing, exciting trip!! I cannot wait to hear all about it. This is much more exciting than buying a new pair of shoes and was well worth the wait to find out what your big news was!!

MargaretSeptember 5, 2013 - 9:00 am

That seriously sounds like such an amazing trip!! I can’t wait to hear more about it. Doug and I definitely want to do a last big hurrah before the whole kid thing- I’m definitely thinking a few weeks in Europe would be the absolute best!
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nancy @ adore to adornSeptember 5, 2013 - 9:56 am

This is so incredible of you guys! I always imagine doing stuff like this but you are making things happen! Thankfully your husband has a nice company to let him off for such a long period of time! =) I always wonder how it might feel leaving a job for an amazing experience so I really envy you having the guts to do so!! Have an incredible time and I can’t wait to follow along. IG a postcard for me will ya?! I always ask for postcards…haha. =D

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LauraSeptember 5, 2013 - 10:26 am

This sounds so incredibly AWESOME! Wow – I want to show my hubs this. Problem is those 30 days off!! I am so excited for you!
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Marcie KimballSeptember 5, 2013 - 11:58 am

I’m so happy you guys are experiencing this amazing adventure together. Can’t wait to see pix and hear all about the trip!

nicole marieSeptember 5, 2013 - 12:12 pm

so excited for you guys!!! some of my friends did a week long version of it during out spring break last year but honestly i am way too much of a pansy to have considered it but now you’re really making me regret it. maybe one day when i have a hot husband to join me

nicole marieSeptember 5, 2013 - 12:13 pm

oh and i am absolutely dying laughing and can not wait to see your pregnancy announcement post… one day

ShannonSeptember 5, 2013 - 3:49 pm

My social life and I are extremely relieved to hear that you are not pregnant. ;)

Rich KrawczykSeptember 5, 2013 - 5:31 pm

You’re going to have a great time and have one hell of a story to tell! Bring me back a Galician scallop shell from Santiago de Compostela! And make sure you get your credencial stamped to earn your compostela. By my calculations your walk will be about 700 kilometers, more than enough to qualify! Very cool!

Kelly BurgeeSeptember 6, 2013 - 2:11 pm

This is SO amazing!! I am REALLY excited to read all about your adventures!! As I may have mentioned to you before, my fiance and I are planning to quit our jobs at the end of the year and go on a last hurrah as well!! I really admire this and I’m very happy for you!! WAHOO!!
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Kimberly @ The SimplicitySeptember 6, 2013 - 4:50 pm

This sounds so fricken sweet! I feel like this is exactly the kind of thing I need to put on a bucket list :)

WhitneySeptember 9, 2013 - 1:12 pm

How cool is this?!?!?!? I’d love to do something like this. I’ll probably have to wait until my daughter is older. Heck…I’ll plan to do this with her when she’s in highschool. A summer in Spain with your cool mom. Heck yeah :)
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StephanieSeptember 10, 2013 - 9:02 am

I LOVE that you and Kevin are doing this!! It sounds like such a cool trip and an awesome experience. I can’t wait to hear all about your adventures and maybe Eric and I will literally follow in your footsteps and do the trek ourselves and a year or two! :)

[…] soon as Kevin and I started telling people that we were going to walk the Camino de Santiago, a slew of questions flooded in, most of which revolved around how exactly one “does” […]

JulieSeptember 12, 2013 - 6:02 pm

So excited for you guys! This will be a fantastic adventure and I can’t wait to hear about it! Btw, I was in Portugal last year so if you want any recs let me know. We stayed in a very cool tiny town on the coast. Love you guys! xox

[…] recently announced that I’m going to be leaving my job in order to walk 500 miles across Spain with my […]

Jeni YangSeptember 24, 2013 - 9:30 pm

You are CRAZY. And I am SO in awe of you and Kevin. This will undoubtedly be one of the most special things you will do in your lifetime, right?

Big News. Big. Huge!

(every time I write that I think of the pretty woman shopping scene)

Well hello there! Long time no talk, am I right?
I kind of sort of took a blog sabbatical without meaning to.
Over two weeks without a post!?!
That’s the longest I’ve ever gone without blogging
since I started on this little blogging adventure.

But I am back!
And as the title will suggest,
I’ve got some big news to share with you all!

However, I’m not going to tell you today.
Which I know is so incredibly annoying.
I hate when bloggers do that, and yet here I am, doing it.
Feel free to cyber punch me in the face.
(I know you want to)

But trust me,
I have my reasons.
So until next time,
I am going to do the ultimate of blogger cliches,
and welcome you to take a guess.

Any ideas?


P.S. And because I don’t like posts without pictures,
here is a picture of me a couple weeks ago at Fairyland for Grownups
(which was awesome!).
The sign says it all.

While this photo has nothing to do with anything,
you’ve gotta laugh at a pussy in a well.

nancy @ adore to adornAugust 29, 2013 - 2:01 pm

Oh the anticipation…SIGH =)
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RobertAugust 29, 2013 - 2:01 pm

You’re expecting twins?

LaurenAugust 29, 2013 - 2:54 pm

I’m probably not allowed to guess..huh? YAY!
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JessicaAugust 29, 2013 - 2:55 pm

Yup, totally want to punch in the face, just a little bit. But I’m also kinda excited. Are you moving?
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LauraAugust 29, 2013 - 3:38 pm

I’m thinking b.a.b.y
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StephanieAugust 29, 2013 - 5:46 pm

I wanna know now!!!!!!! Although, I think I have a guess…
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MargaretAugust 30, 2013 - 8:03 am

Oh the suspense!

And that picture is hilarious.
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LindseyAugust 31, 2013 - 2:15 pm

You’re getting a puppy???

BeckySeptember 1, 2013 - 5:18 am

I can’t even begin to guess what…but I highly approve of the Pretty Woman reference.

nicole marieSeptember 3, 2013 - 9:14 pm

you’re pregnant… with septuplets, getting a puppy and a cat, moving to the suburbs, giving up wine (ha yeah right), getting a tattoo, getting a nose ring… ok i’m done ;)

Listening To…

The other day I heard this song
on a preview for the upcoming Homeland season.
Besides the fact that the preview was emotionally spellbinding
(I almost cried. Really)
I haven’t been able to get this song
by The Cinematic Orchestra out of my head.
There is something about it that is so beautifully tragic.

(The video isn’t official so just listen to the song)

What are you listening to lately?

And P.S. How incredible does that Homeland preview look?

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MistyAugust 14, 2013 - 10:48 am

I first heard this song in Step Up Revolution last year and I felt like my heart melted. I keep it in my writing playlist for work and have never tired of it. It’s beyond breathtaking, even on the trillionth listen.
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SarahAugust 14, 2013 - 11:50 am

Omg that preview! It gave me chills!

LauraAugust 14, 2013 - 11:56 am

Wah I don’t get Showtime to watch Homeland :( This song is hauntingly beautiful

AliceAugust 15, 2013 - 10:22 am

This is amazing… and it’s definitely been used for stuff over here in the UK too. Listen to their “Arrival of the Birds” too- it’s SO beautiful. xx

LaurenAugust 16, 2013 - 2:48 pm

DYING for Homeland to come back!!!
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nicole marieAugust 23, 2013 - 12:07 pm

your comments are still noreply on my blog, boo. anyways, yes i’m back! still a little bit back and forth going to denver this weekend, back home for labor day then back for 2 weeks and then we’ll see where i’m at depending on if i get a job… uggg! bottomless mimosa brunch soon please?!!