Archive for ‘Travels: Europe’

April 15, 2011

Paris- Tout Seul!

Spring time near Parc Monceau

In the mighty pursuit of self-improvement, I’ve been taking intensive French courses for the past 4 weeks at the Alliance Française in London. They closed for a two week holiday starting 11 April, and upon learning that there would be no leçons for yours truly, I pinged a friend living there and a trip materialized.

I had lots of plans of my practicing my French, but more importantly, this trip represented four days mostly on my own. I’d do all the stuff I wanted to do for exactly as long as I wanted to do it.

Did I actually do it all? No, not even close.


Mondays Wander (click to enlarge)

The first day, I took a 520a Eurostar, arriving Gare du Nord at 850… the things we do when the crazy early tickets are much less expensive! I met Olga at her office near the Champs Elysées to collect the keys and headed up to her digs, right near the Parc Monceau.

After settling in, I headed North and West and wandered around Montmartre with my camera, taking in the Cemetery and Sacré Coeur before heading to my planned lunch destination: Café Burq, on Rue Burq, at Darren’s suggestion. Unfortunately, the café was closed, but I managed to get my Croque Monsieur fix in around the corner at a local spot.

More evidence of Spring

I wandered back home for a bit, attempted a nap and then headed out to meet Pinar near Etienne Marcel. We had a nice walk and a drink along Rue Montorgueil and enjoyed the sunshine next to St Eustache.  I was back home by 10, awaiting the return of a late working Olga and watched Law & Order SVU en Français. I suspected I was coming down with a cold and wanted to ensure I caught up on sleep.

Even on this first day, I couldn’t help but notice how much I felt that living in London has changed me. For starters,  I kept walking on the left. I was initially a bit taken aback by the number of people who spoke to me, either asking for directions or for the sake of conversation, as I think I could easily spend a week walking around London without being spoken to by anyone. Even in shops, you are always greeted, which really is nice, even if it felt a bit alien. I think one makes a lot of observations when alone that normally go missed when in company.


Musée DOrsay

Day II I set my sights on an ice cream cone and got to it via a scenic route. I left the camera home, deciding that I’d rather have my books.

Tuesdays Wander

I kicked off my walk by heading to the Musée D’Orsay, which I ended up skipping because it had a huge queue in front of it. I ended up writing off most of my museum plans for this trip, as I couldn’t justify being inside during  good weather. I can see fine art in January, after all.

After wandering by lots of galleries in St. Germain, I stopped into a café, right across from la Durée. This seemed like a good turn of events, yet the epic fail of the day continued when, as a settled my bill, a mob of 30-40 students came and completely surrounded the palace of macarons. I decided to come back later and contined my walk all around St. Germain, including to see the chuch that it is named for and walking along the namesake blvd.

My Andouillette

Heading towards the Quartier Latin, I chose a restaurant from my guidebook as my lunch destination. Christophe is a little spot on Rue Descartes, right next to L’ecole polytéchnique. The service was charming, and even my impressive French was tolerated. I ordered the special, an andouilette. The waiter asked if I knew what I was ordering and gestured to his gut, and I said yes, as I recalled reading that  Andouillette was a sausage encased in the pig’s intestine. What I didn’t realize is that it also contains a lot of pig intestine. The dish arrived, and well, I made it through about half, which was my plan given that I’m out and eating quite a bit! The flavor was extremely strong, and it is a bit hard to shake the smell, but I’m happy I tried it. While it was probably the only andouilette I’ll ever order, I’d definitely eat at Christophe again.

The prize.

Still on track for ice cream, I headed over to Île St Louis to Maison Berthillion, which was closed through 22 April. WTF? Fortunately, Île St Louis really should be called  Île Berthillion, as quite a few places sell it, even when the mothership is unavailable. I became the happy consumer of two scoops of some very tasty ice cream. I went with vanilla and praliné au citron et coriandre. The latter was possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Over the bridge I went and back home after nearly 10 miles. I was feeling really tired, which furthered my suspicions that I was developing a cold. I ignored them, and watched Wheel of Fortune on TF1. Le Roue is a bit different in France. The host has a dog with him, or at least did for the two episodes I saw. Incentivized by an opportuinty to practice speaking,I  eventually relented with a pharmacy trip.  The trip was a success, and I returned home with this head stuff and this throat stuff.  Then, I dropped into the cafe on the corner, Millesimes,  for dinner. I had an excellent tatin de tomate, and really the whole experience was lovely barring the wanker from LA who wouldn’t stop talking at his newly found Aussie companions. I don’t know if it’s that Americans speak much more loudly than the French or that my ear was quick to cling to the words of English speakers. I fear the former is true.


Wednesdays Wander

Happiness is a Trip to Stohrer.

Wednesday, I woke up feeling solidly miserable, and after I failed to squeeze in a bot more sleep, I wandered out into the city, heading down Boulevard Hausmann to Le Printemps in search of some lovely La Durée macarons for my lovely host. Choosing macarons is hard work, in that one really wants two of each, as if preparing to survive a great flood. Shopped up, I continued down the Boulevard as it changed names, dropping in for a slice of quiche at Le Brébant, right near the Grandes Boulevards métro stop.

After that, sick or not, i knew i had to achieve my goal of a pastry at Pâtisserie Stohrer, Paris’ oldest patiserrie. (Stohrer was the pastry chef at Versailles before opening this shop in 1730). I opted for a pain aux raisins, which i blissfully consumed outside of Église St Eustache before a trip to Centre Pompidou.

By 4 o’clock, i was wiped out and went back to the flat to crash. I ended up staying in for the night, and sadly, I cancelled my dinner plans with Pinar. Not exciting, i know.  The highlight was watching a Lifetime movie dubbed into French, Le Pacte de Grossesse, aka: The Pregnancy Pact. I can’t help but think that Lifetime movies should stay in the States where they belong.


Thursdays Wander

Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Thursday, I was feeling much better, and ventured out with every intention of making the most of my last day. I started out (after a pain au chocolat, of course) by taking the Métro to Bastille for a wander around le Marais and through le Place des Vosges.

Heading south from there, I found myself at Pont Marie: a gateway to the now renamed, “Île Berthillion”. Naturally, I had to go over that bridge and have more ice cream. This time, I complemented the praliné au citron et coriandre with a bit of le pistache.

Inside the Cathedral

Next stop was Île de la Cité, where I visited le Cathédrale Notre Dame. It’s free to enter, which is nice, but it’s a bit overwhelming to take it all in amidst numerous tourists and a lot of advisory signage. It is extraordinary to see.

Suffering at Pierre Hermé

From there I headed across Pont St Michel to head back to St. Germain in search of more macarons, this time at Pierre Hermé.  I think I may have to add, “maracon picking” to my list of hobbies, as it really is fun. I very unFrenchly tried a few of the macarons in a nearby park before heading west along Rue Grenelle, past the Musée des Armées, to le Parc du Champ des Mars and of course, the Eiffel Tower.

Le Tour Eiffel

I’d never seen the Eiffel Tower up close, as every time I’ve been to Paris, it has always  been with people who have already done it. So, I walked right underneath it. I’m not sure if I would have bothered going to the top if I had sufficient time to do so. I think I like walking around too much.

So, from there, I began my journey back to my home for the week, as there was a possibility that my host would be out of work in time for an early supper. Unfortunately, such wasn’t meant to be, so I dropped in for another quick bite at Millesimes before heading to catch my Eurostar home.

December 17, 2010

A Belgian American Bar?

Perhaps I’m noticing this sort of  misuse of the American flag and term, “American-style” now that I’ve added a category to document it.

Anyway, this pole dancing bar in Brussels caught my eye. The only reference to the States is the flag, but still, it’s a big sign!

December 16, 2010

Brussels, Belgium

View Towards Le Grand Place

In the spirit of spending my hoarde of Hilton points and enjoying cheap train fares, we headed to Brussels for a quick visit of about 36 hours.  Unfortunately, when big day arrived, Darren was suffering with a cold, and I was well on my way to doing so. Even so, we did our best!

Day I

After checking in at The Conrad, we headed towards the Le Grand Place, a UNESCO Hertitage site and most famous square in Brussels, in search of lunch. We stopped off at nearby Chez Leon for some moules frites. Chez Leon is large, with a capacity of 900. On my last visit to Brussels in August 2008, it proved a

Us with Strings at MIM

far better culinary offering than many of the restaurants around it, and the very efficient service didn’t hurt either.

Full of lunch, a hat purchase,  and a bit of a wander later, we headed up the hill to the Museum of Musical Instruments. I particularly liked this museum because one is given a wireless headset through which you can hear the instruments in the cases in front of you being played. I thought this was a really nice complement to seeing the instruments themselves. It’s a good sized collection of 7,000 pieces.


After seeing all those instruments, we were ready for anap and more Lemsip, but a bit of pleading allowed for a stop at the Musee Magritte, part of the Royal Museums of Fine Art. This is more of an art collection, with supporting biography, where as the more biographical Rene Magritte Museum remains at Magritte’s home in Laeken.

As we were both suffering from colds, we headed back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before dinner around the corner at Bosquet 58, which we found in our guidebook. Bosquet 58 (58 Rue Bosquet)  is a tiny, family-run restaurant, which serves simple dishes done well.  Darren had steak frites while I had chicken and couscous before headng home to rest up.

Day II:

Moules @ la Roue d'Or

The next morning, we partook in hotel brunch and had a  late start , checking out at one, full of cold medicine. We headed back to Le Grand Place in search of the behemoth Christmas fair mentioned in our guidebook, but had somehow managed to miss the prior day. This time, we found it, only it was much smaller than expected, just a

Darren enjoys Au Bon Vieux Temps

set of stalls around the Bourse; however, there may have been more near the skating rink at Ste. Catherine. We also stumbled into J. Dandoy, famed for its cookies, of which we bought many plus a ginger cake that was very reminiscent of a ontbijtkoek.

Having acquired the all important Christmas decoration from the fair and gingerbread from , we enjoyed an excellent lunch at the lovely Le Brasserie de la Roue d’Or (Rue des Chapeliers 26 Ilôt). We really enjoyed our food here, and it’s just a pretty place to eat; the ceiling is painted with a sky,

Le Grand Place at Night

clouds, and birds of paradise.  I had more moules frites (right)

After lunch we found ourselves with a few hours until our 2030 Eurostar, and no desire to visit the museums of beer or chocolate. Thus, I took Darren to what ended up being one of my brother’s and my favorite places on my last visit here, Au Bon Vieux Temps. This tavern feels like a local spot, despite being smack in the middle of a touristy area, possibly because it is down a small corridor from the street. The panelled interior and the stained glass windows make this a very cozy bar, and the patrons are a mix of old and young. The beer list is short but good.

A few rounds later, we wrapped up, collected our bag from the hotel, and headed back to London.

You can view all of these places on our Brussels Google Map.

November 28, 2010

Venice, Italy

Northern View from the Rialto Bridge

*Yet another delayed travel posting, this trip was in August 2010

The first thing I noticed about Venice is that it really is just that exquisite. The second thing I noticed was how this beautiful place had clearly taken the slave role in its relationship with tourism.

It was August, and the peak of tourist season. While I had been warned that the canals often smell on hot days, I never noticed. What I did notice were so many bad tzotches for sale, restaurants selling pizza with laminated multi-language menus. and so many fanny packs.

Yes, I’m a hypocrite… sort of. I love to travel, and I think that people should sieze every opportunity they have to go experience new places and cultures.

A Garbage Boat

Thing is,  I think tourism can ruin a place when it ceases to be a place where real people live.  In Venice, the real estate prices are so high, many flats are owned by foreigners. The venues aren’t open late because staff vacates the city via the last commuter trains. I only saw one supermarket in nearly a week of walking around. Where does one buy cleaning products?

Restaurants, and really, everything is extremely expensive, as it all has to come in via boat and trolley.

Thus, I found myself feeling a bit guilty, as I wandered around wishing that half, or really, all of  the people would go away.

So, some highlights…

Starting with my favorite, The Culinary:

Bancogiro's Lamb Carbonara

After a few nights of food that would be regarded as mediocre for the price point, we discovered what we nicknamed the Golden Stretch. The Golden Stretch is several restaurants, all in a row, Northwest of the Rialto Bridge.

1. Osteria Bancogiro: The best Carbonara I’ve had outside of Rome, and theirs had the unusual twist of lamb. I actually went and ordered this dish twice.

Me & Al Pesador's Almond Pudding

2.  Al Pesador: I love this restaurant, and it was my favorite. The service was impeccable and welcoming and the food excellent  both times we dined. The restaurant has no cold storage and sources all of its food daily. During our last meal, I had an almond pudding that may have changed my life. The Insalata Caprese  was the best I’ve ever tasted.

3. The restaurant next door to Bancogiro that isn’t Al Pesador: While we very much enjoyed this venue and would recommend it, go to the other two first. The food was nice, but I’m not still dreaming about it. I’ll keep trying to dig up the name

Al Merca

and right around the corner from the stretch…

4. Al Merca: (Campo Cesare Battisti, San Polo 213) is a storefront wine bar serving sandwiches, wines by the glass and wine cocktails (ex: +aperol or campari)

5. Grom: Of the many gelatos I ate over the course of the week, this was definitely a favorite, specifically the dark chocolate flavor.

Of course, there are the museums and churches: (Unfortunately for me, as with many of the museums and cathedrals, photography was forbidden, so check out the weblinks)

Darren outside of San Rocco

If you enjoy modern art, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (right) is a must see. Not only is the collection impressive, but this personal collection is located in the late philanthropist’s home.

Piazza San Marco offers the The Doges Palace was home to the city’s chief magistrate and of civic activity. It is linked to a prison, whose inmates included Casanova,  via the Bridge of Sighs. As the queues to enter San Marco itself and the tower were massive, we opted to eat gelato instead.

The Frari is definitely a must see as well. This Italian Gothic Cathedral includes works by a number of noted artists including,  Donatello, Vivarini, Bellini, Titian, and Canova; the latter two are entombed there as well. Unfortunately for me, as with many of the museums and cathedrals, photography was forbidden.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is covered in Tintoretto frescoes. Make sure you take advantage of the mirrors provided upstairs, as they make lengthy views of the extraordinary ceiling much easier.

Rialto Bridge

Other stuff:

In terms of accomodations, we stayed at the Centurion Palace, a beautiful but at times impractical hotel, located on the Southern Island. Getting to and from the airport, we opted for a combination of car service and water taxi. The water taxis are pricey, but I so enjoyed my ride to the airport on one. It seems the most efficient and easiest way to go.

View from the Water Taxi

The thing I enjoyed most in Venice, in addition to all the eating and art history was simply walking around, stepping away from the beaten path and taking the place in, admiring beautiful buildings and ornate bridges.

By the end of trip, days and days of walking left us comfortably knowing our way around, but still, I kept spotting new and wonderful architectural details about this city.

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October 2, 2010

St. Genies de Comolas, France – French Immersion Course, Part II

MilleFeuille from the outside, including the wine cave.

By the start of the third day of courses, I definitely detect a bit of improvement in my skill. I wouldn’t have said as much the night before, though. I think a lot of it gelled into place while I was sleeping. As previously mentioned, I had a lot of difficulty sleeping Monday night, and while the same was true on Tuesday night, it was wasn’t as severe. I found myself trying to think of nothing, yet inevitably, I’d think of something in French and from there, see if I could express the same sentiment differently.

Sleep Fail.

Could it be that I became addicted to la grammaire Française?  In an effort to insure I actually slept through the night on Wednesday, I made my way to the village pharmacy and acquired a sleep aid.

The rest of Wednesday, aka: day three, was focused on more verb conjugations and pronouns, equipping me to speak about the past and the future a bit more effectively. Before dinner, one of the instructors gave a presentation about a Francophone organization. I took the sleep remedy, but sadly, I don’t think it helped at all. I wasn’t any more sleepy an hour after taking it than I was before.

La vie de Dawson est trés dramatique.

Day four, Thursday, was full of more grammar; verb conjugations, prepositions, and passive structures. For the second day in a row, the first period was spent presenting the prior afternoon’s writing exercise.  I spent most of the day feeling much as I had on day two… as though I hadn’t learned anything. I

NomNom or GlugGlug? Both!

think this is likely normal, as it takes more than a week to develop a command of a language; although, I’ve learned a lot.  After classes, I opted for some quiet time and a bit of what I hoped would be good comprehension practice in the form of French television. What I got were two episodes of Dawson’s Creek (Les Francaises l’appellent Dawson). I’m not sure it helped.

In the evening, we were joined by a local singer for a dinner of beef stew and cous cous, followed by cheeses (mais oui!) and a brilliant chocolate mousse, for which Marie kindly shared the recipe. Our visitor, Lulu, taught us about the barbary organ, which runs off of cartons. After dinner, I headed out to the yard with another student and practiced speaking.

At Graduation...

As this is the first time I’ve ever really not been able to express myself to anyone, it is an interesting experience. On vacation, I’m not as bothered, as I’m not getting to know the people I meet in passing. It’s such a small group, and as I like everyone here, it’s frustrating to be so short on words… especially when I’m generally a shy person who hides it by trying to make people laugh.

Some of my fellow students and I outside the chateau

The final day of study, Friday, was much the same. Presentations, Grammar work, etc. The daily evalulation discussion was a bit different, as this one was targeted more towards one’s next steps and where one needs to improve next.

We had a small graduation of sorts, and those of us leaving were given a bottle of wine in recognition of our achievement.

In the evening, we went to a local vineyard (of Alain and Nicole Prunet) for a bit of dégustation du vin, after which we all went for dinner together in Chateauneuf de Pape. During dinner, we all caved in a bit, and used our other languages… English, German, Lithuanian while still using our French, the only language we all shared. While it was cheating, I am thankful for the opportunity to better understand my fellow students. These are people whom I’ve come to get to know a bit over the course ofthe last week, as inevitably, in a language class, we use our words to express optinions and to communicate with one another. I’ve increasingly felt a bit sad that I haven’t been able to express myself to them as well as I would like, but I’ve so enjoyed the opportunity to try. I wish we could all have another week together.

At the vineyard

So, what’s the verdict?

This has been one of the best things I have ever done. I overcame my fear of grammar, I met some lovely people, and in every respect, I’m a better person for it. I realize that may sound a bit excessive, but it is easy to be  insensitive when people don’t share your language. This was a good reminder of how limiting it can be to have enough words, but not necessarily the perfect words, when you’ve become so accustomed to always having them.

I definitely want to come back for another week!

September 28, 2010

St. Genies de Comolas, France – French Immersion Course, Part I

The very first thing I decided to do with my gardening leave was to take an immersion language class.

I wisely chose a program surrounded by vineyards,

It is something I’ve always wanted to do, and as it can be called a CV builder, I’m hoping to include it into a tax write-off.

After much web research, I selected a program at Millefeuille in St Genies de Comolas. A number of things about their programs appealed to me, including the very small class size (2-4 people) and the option to live at the school, a former wine estate, rather than doing a home stay. It isn’t that I dislike the idea of a home stay, but I read a few too many discouraging stories to want to do it without a bit more planning time.

Getting to Avignon from London was pretty straight forward; Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Avignon, and then a taxi ride to the school.  Getting there was likely the easiest part.

Up until being collected by the taxi, I had been feeling pretty good about all this. I don’t  think I’ve spoken a word of French in ten years, but I managed to buy a book and a sandwich, find my train, etc.

Then I arrived at school and felt a bit daunted!

Upon arrival, I checked in, and had a bit of time before dinner at eight, when I met the other six students for the week.  We were all bit a quiet that first evening, which was a bit of a relief for me. Left to my own insecurities, this had every opportunity to be my most silent week, ever; however, for every ounce of insecurity, I’ve one of stubbornness.  I did come here to learn, after all!

After an excellent night’s sleep, the program began…

The schedule is demanding, as promised:

The view from my bedroom window.

  • Breakfast: 0830-0900 (cereal, fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese, happiness)
  • Lesson I: 0900-1030
  • Coffee/Tea: 1030-1100 (always with cookies and fruit)
  • Lesson II: 1100-1230
  • Lunch and Coffee/Tea: 1245-1400 (salad, quiche, and of course, cheese for afterwards!)
  • Lesson III: 1400-1500
  • Lesson IV: 1500-1600
  • Coffee/ Tea: 1600-1630
  • Lesson V: 1630-1730 (writing- based exercises, thus far)
  • Break: 1730-1930
  • Dinner and Post-Dinner Socializing: 1930->

The other students are of varied backgrounds, which makes for interesting dinner conversations. Among them are people who work for government ministries (Lithuania and Guinea Bissau), an Engineering PhD Candidate, a couple (he has a corporate job, she teaches piano) from Germany, and a Canadian woman who works in Afghanistan with Francophone Canadian military personnel.  The students range from beginner to advanced, and there are two others at my competency level.

My room was very comfortable, and yes, I did my homework at the desk.

The first day of study, Monday,  the first lesson period consisted of a placement exam, after which the rest of the day’s sessions focused on grammar, specifically verb tenses, one my two big weaknesses. By the end of the day, my brain felt full, as did my stomach, following several simple but excellent meals prepared by Marie, one of the two chefs. I used my breaks for homework and practice exercises, and I ended the day around ten o’clock.

The second day, Tuesday,  was a bit harder, as I had a lot of difficulty sleeping, possibly because my brain was full and I was excited. Despite my room and bed being very comfortable, I woke up many times and struggled to fall asleep; thus, i felt a bit like the living dead all day. The morning was packed with revision and practice around verb tenses and usage, reinforcing Monday’s material, and towards the end, pronoun usage (my other big weakness) was introduced. After a  lunch of tomato salad and a savory tart with tuna and my failed attempt at a nap, there were further lessons on pronouns, and a session to practice writing.

A view of the chateau from the side yard.

During the evening break, I joined two other students on a walk around the village of Saint Genies des Comolas. The village is tiny and quiet. It is, from what I can gather, home to one small market, a pharmacy, a pizzeria (closed on Friday nights, supposedly), a hair salon, and a chocolate shop. It seems like a very nice place to live, albeit very, very calm.

After the break, we enjoyed an excellent dinner of cous- cous with a beef stew of sorts containing beef vegetables, and chickpeas, cheese (of course), sorbet,  and the company of a local woman who I believe is an economics professor. I’m not completely certain because I was late to dinner due to my relying on the clock on this laptop, which is set to UK time. The school periodically has local people join the students for dinner for conversational practice and for educational presentations. I’ve been advised that there will be on one wines next week, and I am  quite disappointed that I will miss it.

Thus far, I’m very much enjoying the experience.  I think I’d like to come back for another week, later in the fall. We’ll see how I feel later in the week, after even more grammar lessons!

March 30, 2010


Along the canals

A few weeks ago, A fine excuse to go to away presented itself when good friends Victoria & Troy planned a 2 day stopover in Amsterdam while en route from Chicago to adopt a child in Ethiopia.

The flight is extremely short from London at forty minutes or so. We were at our hotel by lunchtime and ready to go.

1st one!

By then, I had already mowed through three stroopwafels. The first one was consumed in the car from the airport.

I waste no time consuming local culture, you see. I also love stroopwafels.

We met all met up for lunch in a cafe near Rembrandt Square, and after lots of eating, Victoria & Troy went for a nap in an effort to beat jetlag, leaving Darren and I to walk around.

We walked and walked. We repeatedly got lost.

In a determined moment, Darren decided that we should find Anne Frank’s house. Despite being on the correct street and in a city with many tourist-friendly signs that provide directions to places such as Anne’s house, we failed miserably. This gross failure allowed us to answer like surly kids, “nothing” when asked later in the day what we did all afternoon.

Naturally, I consoled myself with more stroopwafels before having a pre-dinner catnap.

For dinner, we went on a bit of a wander and found ourselves at Brasserie Harkema.

Day II:

Pie for Breakfast!

Erik & I

The next morning, our plans to meet up at ten were changed due to uneven sleeping. Darren and I had a lovely breakfast out (yes, that’s pie!) and were about to continue our trek to nowhere, when I decided to invoke plan E.

As I hadn’t expected anyone’s jetlag before our trip, I had mailed my friend Erik, who works in Amsterdam, to let him know I’d very briefly be in town but that meeting up might have to wait until my next visit. Fortunately, Erik was having a quiet day, and was happy to have us visit his labs on very short notice. We enjoyed the grand tour at the University before heading back to meet Victoria and Troy for lunch.

Lost? Never!

After our wonderful tour, we met back up with Victoria & Troy, ate more lunch, attempted to shop, and wandered to the Rijksmuseum, which like so many buildings in the city was covered in scaffolding and under some sort of renovation. Fortuantely, part of the permanent collection was still open.

Delicious De Kas

Naturally, we got lost a few times, but we managed to find our way home in time to get ready for dinner at De Kas, which is a restaurant which sources from its own farms and greenhouses.

The food was brilliant, and the space was lovely. This is a restaurant that I’d include in my top 15 easily.

After a good night’s sleep, it was time to head back to London, with plenty of licorice to tide me over until our next visit.

February 2, 2009

Rome II


Sunday was a less ambitious day. We mostly just wandered around to the city.

One of the thngs I like to do most when travelling is to try to get a sense of how people live in the place I’m visiting. Thus, places like supermarkets and pharmacies are always on the agenda, in addition to strolling around some more residential areas.

We started out by heading to the Spanish Steps in search of breakfast

and had a good laugh at the Expensive! store







Then, we wandered over the the Trevi Fountain, which was much bigger than I expected. There are buildings closely built all around it, which made getting a full picture of it difficult, especially as it was surrounded by other tourists. I gave up, concluding that a postcard might be a better way to get a reasonable picture of it.

Then we went to the Trastevere, which is a very popular neighborhood for going out and people watching. We had some delicious pizza, after which we walked along the Tibor River (left).

We pretty much just wandered around for the rest of the day. How else do you think I managed to eat so much gelato?



Our final day kicked off with a trip to No. 3 on the list, the Colosseum. We walked to the Colosseum via the Roman Forum. We didn’t actually go in, we only walked by.

The Colosseum was smaller than I had envisaged. I was surprised to learn that a number of it’s exterior decorations were removed and used for St. Peter’s; that this structure was regarded as junk during the Renaissance.

After our wander around the Colosseum, we had some lunch and did a bit more wandering. Around three, we did what English people do when they have an hour to kill, we went to a pub before meeting our car to the airport.

February 1, 2009

Rome I

I’ve been slacking lately, or maybe just working too much. Regardless, this posting is long overdue and is going to be more brief than I would have liked.

Rome is wonderful. It’s a big museum with a population of over 3.5 million.

In deciding what I wanted to see and do (besides eating) on this trip, I kept the list short. The trip was only for three and a half days, and the guidebook made it abundantly clear that it would take me over a month, just to see all of the museums.

The Short List:

1. The Sistine Chapel
2. Raphael’s The School Of Athens at the Vatican Museum’s Raphael Room
3. The Colosseum
…with everything else being gravy.



We arrived in the afternoon and in the evening we mostly focused on the wandering around and eating.

This bridge  (left) is covered in beautiful sculptures.

We also made it to the Pantheon and viewed its ceiling



In the morning, we set off to the Vatican Museum.

The museum, much like an Ikea, is laid out such that visitors must walk through everything, rather than just heading to the items your looking for. In the case of Ikea, it’s to make you think that you really need a furry, white rug (Thanks, Adam!) in a moment of weakness, whereas at the Vatican, it’s unavoidable due to the floorplan.

The Raphael Room and the Sistine Chapel are towards the end of the mighty journey, so we decided to bolt through the entire museum in an effort to beat the crowds some of whom were asking if this room of maps with a painted ceiling was the Sistine Chapel.

This plan worked well. When we finished repeating the cycle on round two, the Sistine Chapel was 3x as packed as it had been an hour earlier. I’ve no pictures of either. Photography is not allowed in the Chapel, and to be fair, it has been thoroughly photographed by people far more skilled with a camera than I.

We wandered around the Vatican afterwards, which is considered a seperate country from Italy. It even has it’s own post office with Vatican-issued stamps.
St. Peter’s was also a good visit. It’s sublime. The sort of faith that leads to the creation of monuments such as this is alien to me.

Following lunch, we headed to the Castello San Angelo. The views from the roof are beautiful and it has a nice cafe from which we enjoyed the sun. I took the first picture on this entry from the roof. (Unfortuantely, I didn’t notice the dirt on my lens until later in the day, so expect to see that spot a bit more.)

January 20, 2009

Rome: Eats

I had the privilege of spending last weekend in Rome.

High on the agenda were:

  • Eating
  • Vatican Galleries, including the Sistine Chapel
  • The Colosseum

I recognize that lumping together what is frequently regarded as a Wonder of the Medieval Age, one of the most famous sets of Renaissance frescoes, and my constant need to eat something may seem a bit odd, but I have my priorities, starting with food.

(You can enlarge the picture of all the eats and a bit of the Largo di Torre Argentina by selecting on it)

1. Meat & Cheese Plate
2. Spagetti Carbonara: Carbonara is a bacony, egg yolky sauce. It’s a typical Roman dish. Prior to having it in Rome, I had always found it presented with a cream sauce, rather than one that was yolky. The real deal is superior, by far.
3. Tartufo: gelato covered in mousse. The chocolate one (tartufo nero) was all chocolate, where as the white one (tartufo blanco) contained coffee flavored gelato.
4. Room Service Breakfast: not impressive, but it had a lot to compete with outside
5. Gelato to go #1: Nutella
6. Spagetti Bolognese: Another local dish, it was much less meaty than versions I’ve had in Italian restaurants in other countries.
7. Gelato to go #2: Pistachio
8. Prociutto & Melon
9. Saltimbocca: Veal wrapped in prociutto. I was so blinded by the prociutto goodness that not did I I forget the name of the dish, but I ate 2/3 of it before I was reminded to take a picture of it, thus the duplicate.
10. Deceptive Roll #1: This roll looks like it’s full of squishy goodness, but it was hollow!
11. Gelato to go #3: Tutti Frutti Siciliano: My least favorite, it tasted like Christmas fruitcake. I managed to trade it for my husband’s cup of Chocoloso, which consisted of cream flavored gelato with white chocolate cookie pieces. Fortunately, his eyes were bigger than his stomach, so he didn’t mind. That, and he didn’t want me to get violent.
12. Club Sandwich: This had eggs in it, and it made for a delicious breakfast.
13. Gelato/ Sorbetto to go #4: Coconut
14. Pizza: This was fantastic pizza. Thin crust, fresh cheese, beautiful tomatoes; that the restaurant brought me a bottle of wine rather than a glass had upsides and downsides.
15. Bread: to absorb the wine
16. Gelato to go #5: Hazelnut
17. Rice Ball & Fried Mozzarella: The rice ball was interesting with plenty of tomatoes and mushrooms. The mozzarella just reinforced my conclusion that fried cheese is a Platonic ideal food; specifically, that all foods may be improved through the addition of cheese and/or frying.
18. Carbonara #2: So much better than Carbonara 1!
19. Gelato to go #6: Strachiatelli: Likely misspelled, this is sweet cream flavored gelato with chocolate pieces.
20. Yogurt
21. Croissant
22. Pollo alla Romana & Spinach (this included decptive roll #2, which is not in the picture): A local dish of Chicken with peppers and tomatoes.
23. Gelato to go #7: Panna Cotta – definitely one of the best
24. White chocolate thingy
25. Airport caprese sandwich: If you look closely, you might note the absence of a piece of mozzarella, aka: The One That Got Away (TOTGA). Having learned that the flight was delayed, I settled down with the sandwich, only to have TOTGA fly out of my sandwich when I zealously dug in. *sigh*
26. Airport Pastry: I will find out what this one is called. It’s basically a thin ribbon filo dough cocooning a tasty custard center. This is worth looking at, if anything because it’s so precise and simple. It’s beautiful and tasty too.

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