The blogosphere informed me that the trendy, must-have treat in Paris is macarons. They are light, crispy cookies that envelope a delicious highly-flavored center.
We purchased 3 different offerings macarons during the trip:
So, our trip to Brussels involved no Brussels sprouts, but many many frites.
We started off by finding “Moules frites central” – the little Italy of Moules frites. We got a disappointing tiny dish of fries that were clearly frozen and unsavory. The mussels also weren’t that great – I suppose we should have looked up the best place ahead of time. Oh well! We did it
Nevertheless, after the disappointing mussels we were still hungry. We found not one, but two, most delicious frite places. I’m not sure why they are called “French fries” in the US when they are clearly a Belgian specialty. Most places, you order them on their own, and they come with a huge variety of sauces to choose from. And, you do not want to be stupide Americane and order ketchup. We came to like the spicy mayo that was offered at this cute little kabob shop – then we tried asking for it again at a different place, and got a blank look and “we do not have spicy mayonnaise!” We looked over the menu again, and chose the possible culprit: Samarai sauce. Oh yes, this was what we were talkin’ about. Yum! (Research upon returning home : it appears to be siracha and mayonnaise mixed together. Uuuh yeah what doesn’t make that spicy mayonnaise?).
So, we hit 2 different places – one that had a big cone of fries as their mascot/logo (aww) and a place called “Fritland” that had the Manneken Pis at their logo. Clearly, the Belgians think a peeing little boy can go with anything! It’s like black.
Both fries were delicious, but I give props to the cone presentation of the first place (as that is what I was secretly expecting), but I appreciated the sauce on the side at Fritland. Both very, very approved.. and I consider myself a French fry connoisseur.
Don’t feel like paying $30 for 2 glasses of wine in a cafe? Solution: stock up on way too much wine at the Supermache for like $2 a bottle! So much, in fact, that you have to drink most of it in the last few days in the trip because there is too much to travel home with. Be sure to forget the juice glasses you bought just for this purpose and drink straight out of the bottle on the banks of the Seine river! Here, nobody cares if you drink out of unconcealed containers of booze. Ding!
When you get up, realize your butt is covered with little teeny very sticky flowers. Notice that none of the French people walking by have flowers stuck to their butts, even though they sat in the SAME EXACT SPOT!
Clearly these flowers prefer the butt of a stupide Americane! Really, if you ever want to feel like you are dressed like a huge dork (and get stuff stuck all over your butt), just go to Paris. I felt just like Andie in The Devil Wears Prada, pre-makeover, in my sensible traveling clothes and shoes. Still, I was not inclined to shove my feet into any teeny pointy shoes for walking 6 miles a day. My dogs were barking enough with my made-for-walking Teva hiking boots, thanks! Parisian women must walk about 1 block a day, or, they have insane toleration for pain… or perhaps several bottles of wine are involved just for one short afternoon jaunt in the classy shoes. Must be, must be.
OK, one day at Versailles yields ridiculous amounts of photos. Unfortunately, half of the photos I took inside didn’t come out so great (blurry) – though, that did DEFINITELY help me weed down the photo count. Who really needs 900 pictures of carvings and crazy paintings anyway? haha.
Here are the highlights of the inside of the palace.
First of all, no surface, anywhere, is left unembellished. The walls had gold leaf, paintings, inlaid stonework, carvings, etc etc at every turn. The floors were mostly either a patterned laid wood floor or inset stone like granite. Pretty much every ceiling looked something like this. It really makes me wonder why the Sistine Chapel is such a big deal… Apparently lots of artists worked on scaffolding laying down…
As proud owners of a fireplace, we were also impressed by each and every fireplace we encountered. Of course, each was made of a different exotic carved stone. Plus, they were large enough to hold an entire tree:
Where the King and Queen ate while everyone else watched. (Once again, my home viewing of Marie Antoinette starring Oak’s not-so-secret Hollywood crush Kirsten Dunst came in handy to truly picture this dining set being used.)
The royal boudoir, the spot of another famous scene in the movie. Did you know, when the Queen gives birth, everyone and their brother comes along to watch it all take place in her bedroom? How fun is that!
The famous hall of mirrors, where the beautiful people admire themselves. OK, I totally stole that quote from our travel buddy Rick Steves. Mirrors were a huge luxury at the time, so I’d imagine, even if you weren’t all that vain you’d probably still be looking in these all the time like, OMG that’s what I look like? Time for some lipo and botox!
<insert some more photos of random paintings, thrones, a billion statues and paintings of King Louis, etc etc. > OK – I’m not really going to put you through that. The palace is definitely a worthy experience and one I wholeheartedly recommend should you find yourself in Paris area (it’s about a 40 minute train/car ride from the city). So, you can see it for yourself someday. Just be prepared to feel a little like cattle, and to be elbowing at a million other tourists. You’re not the only one that wants to be here!
I guess I am reserving the Versailles gardens (not to mention the other “mini-palaces” on the grounds) for another post. But here I am, semi-relieved to be outside of the grandest homes in the world. We did the palace first in the day and really, it’s about 1/5th of everything you can see here. You don’t know whether to be in awe of it all, or finally come to the true understanding of the aggravation with the monarchy’s overindulgence that started the French revolution (of which, by the way, they make zero mention of at Versailles). So, I hope you enjoyed this highlight tour! Be back soon with more photos
When we were driving along the south coast of France towards Arles, we saw PINK FLAMINGOS in the water! Apparently they are the symbol of the region of Camargue. Since flamingos are my favorite bird I got a tad excited and ran as close as I could to get a picture. Here’s the pathetic photo I got (anyone want to buy me a dSLR with a telephoto lens?)
I was so blinded by my excitement about the flamingos that I ended up running through some nasty muck and got my shoes and pants all gross. Yay! Ocean scented. Except it’s not the good ocean scent, it’s the nasty rotten seaweed/dead fish ocean scent. Good thing we had lots of napkins.
After we started doing some more driving, flamingo stuff started showing up everywhere. Apparently this area is all about their flamingos and wild horses. I’ll stick to the flamingos, thanks! Even the wine places had flamingos on their labels (we skipped on the flamingo wine, hopefully that wasn’t a huge mistake.. haha) France, and most of the other countries we went to, were all about putting statues and other symbols in the middle of the roundabouts (of which we probably drove through hundreds):
We stopped at this little shack type thing on the side of the road to see what flamingo stuff they had… it was mostly generic stuff, sadness. But, I got this sweet picture with this huge flamingo lawn ornament. I totally need one of these for our yard.
So, besides herring sandwiches (which, sorry, BLECH) and lots of cheese, we didn’t really find any what you might call “indigenous cuisine” in the Netherlands. At least in Amsterdam, it seemed to be more like a melting pot cuisine-wise.
So, when we came across a hot dog cart near the Van Gogh museum, we thought let’s give it a try. This was the first (and only) hot dog cart I remember seeing the entire trip. You could order hot dogs in cafes in France – but who in their right mind would? Sorry France, I’m sticking to the croque madame.
So, we queued up with the group of middle school kids that were also crowding the cart. Here’s Oak with his final product:
It was kind of an interesting set up- the guy just asked how many hot dogs you wanted, and then he had a self-serve bar of different toppings. We pretty much loaded up with everything they had, which included the standard ketchup, mustard, and onions but some unusual things like: shredded cheese, dried fried onions (think French’s green bean casserole type onions), mayonnaise, and pickle chunks instead of relish. I don’t know if we were just hot dog deprived, or hungry, but these were pretty damn good:
I’d definitely do the French’s fried onions on a hot dog again – maybe there is a use for those things other than in green bean casserole. Nom nom!
In Paris, we visited the Palace of Versailles. Oh my, I think if you ever see one palace in your life this has to be the one. It is just INSANE. It’s beyond huge, and no expense is spared at any corner. It’s truly a masterpiece. But, that’s for another post.
Before we left on our trip, I decided to watch Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst, for my history of the French monarchy. Yeah, I realize this movie probably wasn’t exactly historically accurate but my tolerance of reading historical information is pretty low, and the entertainment factor was there. It definitely helped give me some context to what we were seeing as we visited the palace.
The movie starts off on a sour note – Marie crosses the border of France from Austria, where she is from, and she is traveling with her little dog on her lap. Well, she gets to the border and the mom (or whoever was picking her up, I forget) TAKES HER DOG AWAY and tells her she can have as many FRENCH dogs as she likes! Of course Marie-Antoinette cries and cries. Are you kidding me? That pretty much sets the tone of Marie-Antoinette’s life as an Austrian turned French monarch.
So, after awhile, Marie-Antoinette decides she needs somewhere to hide from all these bitchy monarch people. She creates a farm that’s far enough away that nobody really wants to walk to it, but there’s also a huge fence and a moat like thing to keep people out. It took us like an hour of hiking around to even find the entrance – we were so tired at the end of this day. She basically created a farm where she could live a more basic and peaceful life. They have the entire thing set up as a farm and you can see the outsides of the buildings:
And of course, there were tons of animals and crops to see. The most exciting part for me was the little bunny grotto. There were probably around 20 bunnies, and they had a little fenced off wooded area. So cute. These two were grooming each other like crazy:
Oh, and a final bunny note: Oak actually ate a “terrine du lapin” when we were in South France. I didn’t have any but he said it tasted like chicken. Go figure. I am pretty sure Radar knew that Oak ate it because the day we came home, he dug at Oak’s belly like he was very angry about what was inside of it. haha. Happy Easter!
When we first started planning our trip, we hadn’t really thought too much about when all the flowers would be in bloom in Holland. After we booked our ticket I looked it up, and lo and behold — they were going to be at least started blooming!!! After some more research, I found Keukenof, the “world’s largest flower garden”! We really love visiting gardens, so despite the somewhat pricey entry fee, we decided to go. It was completely worth the cost, as it was almost a whole day of fascinating and beautiful gardens, and all so perfectly and meticulously maintained. So, although I’m going out of order on our itinerary here, I thought I’d share these photos for Easter weekend, since they are so quintessentially Spring.
Slipping into some wooden shoes — Oak decides to try to walk. Not so easy!
Of course, we saw many windmills – most just when we were driving along the road, but Keukenhof had one you could even go up inside! It was pretty cool – stairs like a lighthouse inside, and then a deck on the top where you could look out.
It was a wonderful day, and as you can see great weather! We were all bundled up in the morning when we got there, which turned out to be completely unnecessary. Loved it!
The Fontenay Abbey is one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys in Europe. Basically, back in the 1000′s, the monks decided, life is too sweet for us. Let’s build a compound in the middle of nowhere so we can experience poverty and solitude!
OK, so my monk-isms probably aren’t *exactly* right. It was still pretty fascinating to see this entire self-sustaining compound.
Seen somewhere in Burgundy, in Northern France…