Sevilla State of Mind

In Seville, I ate jamon iberico. My brother-in-law, Danny, who studied abroad in Seville, was very adamant about us eating as much jamon iberico as we possibly could during our stay. And now I know why. It was amazing! The food situation in Seville was far better than Barcelona’s and the overall atmosphere of the city was so incredibly old school Spain, it made for one of the most charming and authentic stops we have made thus far. Squeezing Seville into our jam packed travel schedule to salsify my brother-in-law and sister was probably the best decision we made. (Thank you Becky and Danny!!)

DSC_0279

Side note: Seville vs. Sevilla – to us it is known as Seville, but to the locals it is known as Sevilla. I’m never really sure which one to use… So I may refer to it as both. It’s the same thing. And he L’s in Sevilla are silent 🙂

20140630-231317-83597559.jpg

Seville was all sorts of sexy, which is a word I had yet to use on my blog up until now. The city was so rich in history and so uniquely gorgeous it was love at first sight. Home to Spain’s most colorful architecture and festivals, it’s no wonder the population’s way of life is so relaxed. The Seville natives live life to the fullest. As my sister often reminds me, they work to live, while us Americans live to work. A European concept I have grown to love. Much different than Barcelona and Madrid, Seville locals still take a siesta – a couple hours in the middle of the day where businesses shut down and the people head home to enjoy some relaxing time with their families before heading back to work. Much like it was in Spain back in the day, siestas are still important, however, the city is becoming more Americanized as time goes on. My husband and I were worried we would have absolutely nothing to do for two or three hours in the middle of the day, but we didn’t have a hard time finding fun restaurants to enjoy tapas and the local beer (Cruzcampo) during that time.

DSC_0275

Important note: during the hours of 2pm and about 6-ish, people don’t typically spend time outside. We learned this the hard way. We arrived by fast train early Sunday afternoon. It was a long ride from Barcelona to Seville, almost 6 hours of traveling. We headed straight to our hotel – Hotel Palacio de Villapanès – which was located on a hidden narrow road. The city was so quiet, I could hear myself breathe. We thought maybe it was because it was Sunday, but that wasn’t the reason. It was because we arrived during the hottest part of the day, between 2pm and 6pm…The time of the day where people think you are crazy if you step into the sun. We didn’t know this, so we dropped our bags off in our room (highly recommend this hotel.. we loved it!) and set out to explore the streets of Seville. After approximately four minutes of walking, we were dying from the heat. Seville gets uncomfortably hot in the months of July and August, but the travel books warn you that mid to late June can be just as bad… And that’s when we were there.

DSC_0344

Lunch is the most important meal of the day in Seville, which sounds strange as us Americans like to make dinner the most valued time to dine. It does in fact make a lot of sense though. Families gather every day for a few hours in the afternoon during siesta and then go back to work until early evening. So why wouldn’t lunch be the biggest meal there? I love breakfast and I do enjoy a big dinner, but lunchtime has never completely sparked my interest. But when in Seville, we dined over excessive tapas, bottles of wine and Cruzcampos at lunch followed by a relaxing couple hours back in the air conditioned hotel. Our first tapas experience was at a place called Bodega dos de Mayo… Which was about a four minute walk from our hotel and where we stopped once we got too hot to be in the sun any longer. We shared tapas ranging from jamon iberico (the best ham in the world and so much better than your typical prosciutto), flamenquin (a tapa my sister, Becky, recommended as it is her favorite! It’s hard to explain what it is, but if you are ever in Seville, order it. Trust me.), potatoes bravas (typical Spanish potatoes) and many, many more.

DSC_0271

20140630-231245-83565822.jpg

Seville isn’t a city where every single restaurant and bar provides English speaking menus, so we found ourselves winging it in a lot of situations…. Not always working in our favor as we would get dishes we weren’t super enthused with. Like fried fish tapas and creamy mushrooms… Not my favorite. Also, as I mentioned in my Barcelona post, my two years of high school Spanish got me nowhere. It was kind of fun just pointing to things on the menu and then being surprised though! It forced us to try all kinds of new foods and we found ourselves loving more than less.

20140630-231420-83660474.jpg

After a filling lunch, we decided to stroll through the scorching heat of the city for the rest of the afternoon. I have never sweat the way I sweat that day, no bueno. Despite the heat, it was really nice having the streets to ourselves. There was literally no one on the roads and all of the beautiful side alleys were ours. We didn’t have to share with anyone and I liked that. All the sweat and SPF usage was worth it. Seville is not that big, you can walk the entire city in just a few hours passing over the bridge to Triana, where really neat old buildings topple over one another and fabulous ceramics are made. We wanted so badly to get some ceramics for our home (our future home), but given our current suitcase situation, we just couldn’t swing it.

20140630-231249-83569356.jpg

20140630-231247-83567564.jpg

20140630-231251-83571239.jpg

20140630-231321-83601195.jpg

20140630-231319-83599492.jpg

20140630-231314-83594091.jpg

20140630-231315-83595744.jpg

20140630-231417-83657022.jpg

20140630-231415-83655260.jpg

As I have mentioned before, dining in Europe on Sunday nights is never easy. The world shuts down and you are left fighting for a table at one of the touristy restaurants that’s actually open. Here in Seville, the night life was a bit more robust. There was a row of restaurants lining a beautiful street, all with outdoor seating and live entertainment. Entertainment in the form of old men strumming their guitars and singing Spanish melodies while serenading couples at their tables. We dined over tapas and local wine and witnessed a rather drunk man at the scene of a crime. Exciting stories like these are far from my daily tales, so I’ve been eager to tell it!

Here it goes – while we were sitting there, clinking our glasses over, “cheers to our first night in Sevilla”, a very drunk man sprinted past our table… beer in one hand, humongous hookah in the other. Water spilling atop the hookah and beer spraying in all directions. Behind him sprints a woman hostess and a male server screaming things in Spanish that neither Mike nor I understood. All of a sudden, our waiter dropped his tray and started sprinting after the drunk man as well, as did other waiters from different restaurants all along that street. It wasn’t before long that the glorifying moment happened – the female hostess was spotted walking back up the street… carrying the hookah over her head as if she had just won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in a movie. Behind her were two male waiters (Both from different restaurants) escorting the drunk man up to the original hookah bar where this all began, probably to hold him in place until they called the police. The other waiters walked behind high-fiving each other in happiness. All of the restaurants on the row were packed with hungry customers eating dinner, and we all stood up and cheered as the “hookah stealer” shamefully walked past with his head down. Mike and I obviously participated in the standing ovation, claps and whistles. Hugs were going around and the entire restaurant community, servers and diners, for that night only, became one big supportive family. It was amazing! And it goes to show that in the city of Seville, they all really do have each other’s backs.

20140630-231418-83658754.jpg

Breakfast in Seville = tiny ham and cheese sandwiches on toast… which are so good because they are made with jamon iberico! How I know this – my brother-in-law’s best friend and wife, who my sister has become quite fond of, live there. So naturally, Monday morning we met them for breakfast! It is so nice to socially interact with people who speak your language and that you have even the slightest connection with. Jesus and Sarah have two beautiful young daughters and have been living in Seville together for years. Sarah being from Nebraska caused her to have that Midwestern charm that I know and love so much, and Jesus being from Triana, just over the bridge from Seville. They were so incredibly sweet and we had such a good time eating breakfast with them that we decided to meet for dinner that night too! Two meals in one day… That’s love. They gave us some great suggestions for sights to visit and things to do. They also gave us the low down on all things Seville – from siestas, to schooling, to the crazy hot weather, to the architecture, and the list goes on. It was an entire handful of information we continue to find interesting. It was great.

20140630-231422-83662201.jpg

20140630-231453-83693536.jpg

Aside from eating and drinking extremely well, there is much to do in Seville! Being fully aware of the heat situation that was going to come over us at some point that afternoon, we started our Monday early. After breakfast we headed straight to the famous Cathedral & La Giralda. It was massive and so impressive. We had to stand in the heat of a line for about 20 minutes, but once we got inside we were so amazed by the iconic gothic architecture of the interiors that the wait was worth it. With 90m high ceilings and intricately decorated walls, the cathedral is really exceptional. If you happen to visit Seville and visit this church, be sure to go as early as you can. For heat purposes, obviously, but also because it closes early and you don’t want to miss out!

DSC_0281

DSC_0282

DSC_0283

DSC_0290

DSC_0293

DSC_0299

DSC_0300

The Alcazar Castle, Seville’s royal residence for many centuries, was next on our list of things to do. Mike and I both love palaces and old living quarters, which I have mentioned before, but this one I was particularly excited about because of its lovely gardens. The Alcazar has been rebuilt and redecorated many times in its decades of existence, first founded for the Muslim fortress and then slowly taken over by the Catholic Monarchs. Aside from the colorful tile that lined every room wall and entrance, the outdoor gardens and patios were exquisite. With a maze (an Alice in Wonderland type maze!) built in the middle and fountains leading to rose families, it was heavenly.

DSC_0301

DSC_0303

DSC_0304

DSC_0305

DSC_0307

DSC_0310

DSC_0329

DSC_0312

DSC_0313

DSC_0314

DSC_0316

DSC_0317

DSC_0318

DSC_0322

DSC_0323

DSC_0324

DSC_0325

DSC_0327

DSC_0328

DSC_0330

DSC_0331

DSC_0333

DSC_0334

DSC_0335

DSC_0336

DSC_0339

DSC_0342

20140630-231455-83695655.jpg

20140630-231455-83695240.jpg

In the middle of the city is this crazy bizarre piece of architecture that was built for… I’m actually not really sure of the reason. Some German architect visited Seville years ago and decided that one of the plazas would lend itself perfectly to a random curvaceous design of his. They then proceeded to build it and surround it with bars and restaurants. It looks really cool, but doesn’t quite fit in with the city’s old charm. Jesus was telling us that it was built spontaneously out of wood… Which is really silly because the extreme heat in the summers of Seville will cause it to slowly deteriorate. Wood probably wasn’t the best option, but I’m not an architect, so who am I to judge! It’s just really bizarre to me. We ate a big lunch in the plaza and then took a siesta. In blasting air conditioning.

DSC_0348

DSC_0346

DSC_0345

My sister has been to Seville with her husband a few times and is always raving about her favorite restaurant, Bar Santa Marta. She kept telling me it was the restaurant in the plaza. Well, Seville has at least ten plazas, maybe more, so that wasn’t very helpful. However, we did manage to find it and eat a late dinner there with Jesus and Sarah (Seville locals eat dinner around 10pm, with their kids and all. The reason being that no one wants to go outside until the sun sets as it is just too hot! They also work a little later than us Americans due to siestas, so it all makes sense. They’re theory is… If the kids are that tired, they will fall asleep. And so they did! Both of their kids passed out right at the dinner table over flamequin and tortilla. It was great!). The restaurant was far from fancy and nothing special, but the food was so good!! Probably the best tapas we had in all of Seville. Before we ate dinner, Mike and I got some drinks and tapas at one of Spain’s oldest bars, El Rinconcillo. This was another place my sister and brother-in-law told us about and it was awesome. Super old and really cool. If you are ever in Seville, you have to go here. It’s a must!

20140630-231527-83727031.jpg

20140630-231457-83697629.jpg

20140630-231529-83729812.jpg

20140630-231548-83748772.jpg

Late Monday night was an exciting night for my husband. USA played Ghana (at midnight Spain time) in their first World Cup game and we were determined to find an “American” bar to watch it with fellow Americans. It was a hike, but we found an Irish pub near the bridge to Triana and got to sing in glory with a bunch of American college kids as the US kicked butt. My husband’s favorite night ever. Drinking at the bar with drunk college kids as they shouted chats at the television screen. We even met a boy from Wisconsin who was studying abroad in Seville! It’s a small world after all. (Please notice my husband’s happiness in the photo below with the fellow Wisconsin boy that we met…).

20140630-231529-83729655.jpg

20140630-231528-83728825.jpg

Tuesday morning was rough as we were out rather late drinking tinto de naranja’s at dinner (tinto de naranja = the famous drink in Seville… a mixture of red wine and fanta (yes, fanta, the soda) on ice. Rather a strange drink, but my sister would have killed me if I went all the way to Sevilla and didn’t order one!!) and beers with college kids until 2am. Luckily, the train from Sevilla to Madrid was only a few hours long. Stay tuned to read more on Madrid! Until then, ciao!

The Hidden Streets of Barcelona

In Barcelona, I ate paella! I have long been wanting to make paella at home, but the challenge seems too difficult to overcome just yet. And I’m sure eating it in Spain is so much better. My husband and I became huge fans of Spanish food and tapas were a great way to try everything. We sipped sangria and fell in love with the croquettes. We never had a hard time finding good food in Barcelona and the atmosphere made eating it even better.

Barcelona is confidently one of Europe’s coolest city’s. It’s always on the cutting edge of art, design, architecture and food. The big city vibe combined with old Spanish charm make it easy to fall in love with. No wonder people decide to study abroad here! The dark, tiny streets are hidden like secrets which make them so magical and romantic. The people are so full of life and the air must have something in it that makes everybody happy. Barcelona air has endorphins. It must.

20140623-192130-69690438.jpg

I felt useless with the two years of High School Spanish under my belt. Not only because I forgot almost everything other than, “hola” and “gracias”, but also because Barcelona natives speak Catalan. Sure, they speak Spanish as well, and many of them speak English too, but Catalan is their dominant language. I never quite understood the story behind Catalonia and Spain, but I got a taste while I was there. Catalonia (Barcelona) is actually struggling to become their own government. They have no Spanish pride and would like to eventually become their own country. In fact, in just a few months they will be meeting with the new King of Spain (residing in Madrid) to discuss the possibilities of this happening sooner rather than later. It will be interesting to see what happens. It’s funny to me because I never removed Barcelona from Spain, I always thought it to be proudly part of the beautiful country, but I was wrong. We learned much of this while watching the Spain vs. Netherlands World Cup game at a crowded outdoor bar. Mike and I were excited to be there to watch the Spain fans go wild at the television screen, however, the crowd went wild in happiness when The Netherlands scored a goal. They were actually rooting against their own country! All in all, Catalonia (Barcelona) does not want to be a part Spain, they would ideally like to be their own country.

20140623-190223-68543812.jpg

We arrived by plane early Wednesday afternoon. It was our first flight of the trip and all went smoothly! We did not take advantage of the super cheap flights on Ryanair as they were unavailable, but we did find good rates on another airline. The reason we flew was because the travel time from the South of France to Spain would have taken an entire day. And we didn’t want to waste any time. Like France, Spain’s main means of transportation were on strike. Meaning no trains and no taxi-cabs were running. So we had to take the city bus from the airport to the hotel, not the most comfortable option, but I am quickly becoming less snobby about public transportation, so it didn’t bother me. We stayed at a really gorgeous boutique hotel called Hotel 1898  that sat right along the La Rambla, which is Barcelona’s most famous boulevard. Our room was rather noisy as the windows looked right out onto the vibrant streets (Barcelona is one big non stop party, so it never quieted down), but the overall location, beautiful rooms and atmosphere made it perfect for us. Another perk being the rooftop pool and bar which offered stunning views of the city and made our stay even more enjoyable!

DSC_0196

We had so much fun strolling through the La Rambla boulevard, stopping at flower vendors and unique shops that lined the car-less row all the way down to the water where it ended. On either side of the boulevard were the small, dark, tiny streets  that I found so magically romantic. These were the most fun to explore. We must have walked a hundred streets while we were there and it never got old. We’d look for tiny restaurants, cafĂ©s and bars to grab food and drinks in, and we happened to stumble upon some really cute places!

DSC_0252

Our first day consisted of exploring the tiny streets followed by a rather unimpressive dinner. Our hotel concierge recommended a restaurant close to the hotel called Restaurant En Ville, and since we were both so tired from traveling, we decided to trust him. Important note: Whenever the hotel concierge pulls out a business card of the restaurant he/she is recommending, never go. This is not a good sign. It’s unfortunate because we knew better, but again, we were so tired that we decided to trust him. Terrible decision. Anyways, we ate really bad seafood, a mediocre bottle of wine and then bolted to a colorful bar down the road where we enjoyed tapas accompanied by a pitcher of sangria! It wasn’t the worst way to end a bad dinner and tiring day!

20140623-190226-68546054.jpg

20140623-190227-68547918.jpg

Thursday morning we set out to explore even more of the city, making a pit stop at Gaudi’s famous designed building, Casa Batllo. I fell in love with all things Gaudi while I was in Barcelona. Sure, I’ve learned about him, read about him and knew how significant his innovative designs and architecture was, but I never truly appreciated the genius that he was. Blown away by the building’s movement and curvature, I was so excited to see the La Segrada Familia, which we had purchased tickets in advance for (very smart thing to do) on Friday.

DSC_0177

DSC_0174

DSC_0171

After hours of walking, we decided to eat lunch at the big local market right along the La Rambla. I love local markets more than anything, so I was really excited to spend some time there! The extremely colorful Mercat de la Boqueria had an extremely inviting entrance and an even more intriguing inside. With tons of fresh stands and a number of bars and cafés to choose from in and around the establishment, our options were endless. We ate some really good seafood and delicious tapas, had some local wine, and then ended our afternoon with fresh fruit juices!

DSC_0179

DSC_0178

DSC_0186

DSC_0184

DSC_0183

DSC_0181

DSC_0180

20140623-190600-68760033.jpg

20140623-190559-68759159.jpg

20140623-190600-68760521.jpg

That night we dined at a well known restaurant called Ciudad Condal. Famous for fresh tapas and delicious sangria, the place is always packed. With a strict no reservation policy, the wait can usually be very long, but we got lucky with a table by the bar. We shared way too many plates and sipped some really good sangria. The fun atmosphere was absolutely better than the food, the portions were very large and the dishes were just okay. We had so much fun dining there though that it was worth it! After dinner we stopped at a sports bar to watch one of the World Cup games. It was the first night of the World Cup, so if you can imagine, the bar was packed with people in great spirits! Which made it really fun!

20140623-190601-68761487.jpg

We had purchased tickets in advance to go see Gaudi’s La Segrada Familia for Friday at noon. I was so excited. I’ve heard such amazing things about the masterpiece, but seeing it in person blew me away. The line to get inside the temple wrapped around for blocks, but with our passes we had purchased online we didn’t have to wait at all! As soon as we stepped up to the entrance, our jaws went limp. We were speechless and awestruck with many different feelings. It was a moment of wow. Hands down the coolest architecture and design I have ever seen, words can’t even begin describe its beauty. Barcelona’s most famous attraction and for good reason began its construction in 1882. Still not complete, they are hoping for it to be finished by year 2026. At which time I would love to go back and see it completely finished! Cranes and scaffolding obscured many of our views, but so much of it was visible and what I could see I loved. We took an elevator up to the top of one of the towers which lead to the most stunning views of the city. We also walked through the small museum explaining much of Gaudi’s progress in the works of the temple and his life. It was just the coolest church ever.

DSC_0201

DSC_0204

20140623-192127-69687916.jpg

DSC_0205

DSC_0210

DSC_0212

DSC_0214

DSC_0215

DSC_0224

DSC_0227

DSC_0228

DSC_0230

DSC_0231

DSC_0235

DSC_0237

DSC_0241

DSC_0244

DSC_0248

DSC_0251

We were in such good spirits after having such an eventful morning at the church, we had a really fun lunch filled with tapas and beers at a cute spot called Set de Gotic followed by a relaxing afternoon at our hotel’s rooftop pool. We drank sangria over a competitive card game and soaked up some vitamin D. For dinner that night we ate at a fun restaurant in a tiny plaza right below our hotel called Bar Lobo. The tapas were amazing and the atmosphere was great! We loved it there! Just outside the plaza was an outdoor bar with a huge flat screen TV. We grabbed seats and beers and watched Spain play The Netherlands in the World Cup game. This was the night my husband and I got a true taste of the Barcelona sports fan. The crowd screamed negativity toward Spain and cheered on The Netherlands. It was so bizarre. Still really fun though!

20140623-192128-69688750.jpg

20140623-192129-69689542.jpg

20140623-192330-69810189.jpg

20140623-192332-69812054.jpg

20140623-192333-69813758.jpg

Saturday was our final night in Barcelona. We started the day by taking a walk by the water, exploring the coast and gazing at the hundreds of sail boats.

DSC_0187

DSC_0189

DSC_0190

DSC_0191

DSC_0192

DSC_0193

DSC_0195

We then proceeded to walk to the coolest restaurant ever, Cal Pep. The restaurant seats roughly 20 people and is open weekdays and on Saturdays from 1:15pm-3:45pm and there are no reservations. A line of prospective customers stands outside the door typically an hour before opening… that’s how desirable this place is. It’s a spot where locals go to gossip and eat spectacular food. How did we hear about it you might ask? My mother-in-law and sister-in-law dined here during their trip to Barcelona a few years back and still swear it is one of the best meals they have ever had. So Mike and I got to the restaurant around 12:45 and waited in line. As soon as the doors opened, a nice man sat each diner along the bar where you get to watch the chefs cook. Mike and I were the last two people who made it in the restaurant, being seated at the very end of the bar. We were all smiles and high-fives as we had just made the cut to eat at the coolest place ever!! The people behind us who didn’t make the cut just stood outside and waited. Brutal. No menus were provided, the chef just started bringing us food, it was amazing. We ate the best fried octopus I’ve ever had, delicious mussels, potato omelets (also known as a tortilla here in Spain) and so much more. We shared a bottle of wine and had a rather expensive, but perfect lunch. Cal Pep was one of my favorite experiences of Barcelona and one of the best meals I have ever had. I am so excited because each customer receives a recipe card for the potato omelet! I am going to attempt to make it for my husband as soon as we get back from our trip 🙂

20140623-192502-69902293.jpg

20140623-192335-69815511.jpg

20140623-192458-69898852.jpg

20140623-192457-69897081.jpg

20140623-192500-69900567.jpg

That afternoon we visited the Picasso Museum, home to over 3,000 Picasso pieces. We love museums and we love art, but we were actually rather disappointed by this museum. Sure, it was cool seeing doodles Picasso drew when he was just 14 years old, these doodles were amazing, don’t get me wrong, but the museum did not house any of his well known masterpieces. It was kind of just a hodgepodge of works that they stumbled upon from his childhood one day. My favorite series of work in the museum were that of his Pigeon paintings. I despise pigeons more than anyone in the world, they are useless creatures who are literally good for nothing, but he portrayed the pieces really beautifully, actually!

Barcelona’s Gothic Cathedral was next on our list of things to see. It was built in the 11th century and was so dark and bold. The chandeliers were my favorite. This church was a lot more dramatically gothic than any other church I have seen and I really loved it. I was happy we made the trip to see it.

DSC_0253

DSC_0254

DSC_0258

DSC_0259

DSC_0263

DSC_0268

DSC_0270

Before dinner that night, my husband and I took a walk down to the Plaza Espanya metro stop to see the fountain show, which happens every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night starting at 5pm until 10pm. My friend AbbĂ© studied abroad in Barcelona and is in love with the city! She had some great suggestions of things to do and this was one of them! After our romantic water escapade, we dined over paella at a very authentic Catalan restaurant. I’m not the biggest fan of cutting open and de-shelling my own prawns, but it was worth it.

20140623-192504-69904064.jpg

I learned so much during my time in Barcelona and I have a list of tapas to add to my cooking to-do list! I’m so excited to take what I have captured here back home with me and infuse it into my everyday life. No, my paella will never taste as good as that from a traditional Catalan restaurant, but I sure as heck can try! And my prawns will be de-shelled, so there. 🙂 Sunday morning we board the fast train to Sevilla! Stay tuned for authentic tales on old Spanish charm. Until then, adios!

Feeling Fancy in The French Riviera

In the French Riviera, I ate crepes! We didn’t get a chance to eat them while we were in Paris, so I took full advantage of the fact that we were still in France and the crepe situation was still abundant. Who doesn’t love a good crepe?!

We bounced around the South of France for six nights and it was glorious. Stopping in Nice for one night, Monaco for two and Cannes for three. I was under the impression that all three cities would be very similar as they all sit right along the coast of the Riviera, I was wrong. Each city had a completely different vibe and the way that we planned our visits couldn’t have been more perfect.

DSC_0160

With glittering seas and ideal beaches, the French Riviera is the perfect tropical getaway. It’s the Caribbean of the European jet set, and oh how I would love to make it my annual spring break destination. There is nowhere more glamorous than Monte Carlo or Cannes and I never wanted to leave!!

Nice

We arrived in Nice by train from Geneva early Thursday afternoon. Nice was my least favorite of the three cities we visited on the coast, so I was happy with our decision to only stay for one night. We last minute booked a room at a small boutique hotel called Hotel Excelsior. It was really cute and only blocks away from the sea, which was a huge perk! Once we walked to the beach, the views of the sea were beautiful. Deep blue waters with accents of teal sparkled along a rocky beach while a picturesque hill crowded with tiny square homes made for a screensaver setting. It was charmingly European, but the city itself was quite dirty.

20140619-165146-60706949.jpg

Walking along the Promenade des Anglais, which is Nice’s beautiful palm-lined seafront, was the first thing we did when we arrived. Not as romantic as I had imagined it would be as rocks kept getting stuck in my shoes causing my mood to alter. So we decided to take a stroll into the old town where rocks were less likely to make me crabby. Nice is known for good living and rich history. It is filled with young French people who live there to take in the exceptional art scene, Mediterranean food and lower prices (lower than any of the other cities along the coast on the Riviera).

20140619-165148-60708669.jpg

20140619-165301-60781462.jpg

Old town was sweet. A large square surrounded by Palm trees sat in the center with a huge fountain where tourists took pictures and locals ate gelato. Scattered throughout the square were these long funny looking poles with what looked to be figurines of humans meditating illuminated by neon lights. It was rather bizarre, but made for something intriguing to observe! Just beyond the square, tiny cobbled streets dispersed filled with hundreds of Mediterranean restaurants. We ended up having dinner outside under the stars at a tiny spot where we ate local fare. We were serenaded by who seemed to be a 17 year old boy genuinely singing old school Destiny’s Child songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar. It was quite an interesting event, but I would never complain over a Destiny’s Child song lineup being played in the background of my dinner, of course!

20140619-165151-60711906.jpg

20140619-165149-60709514.jpg

20140619-165303-60783237.jpg

20140619-165147-60707860.jpg

Monaco

Friday morning we eagerly woke up to catch the slow regional train to Monte Carlo, Monaco – the world’s second smallest country (Vatican city being the smallest!). Lifestyles of the rich and famous perfectly describe this luxurious yacht town. Being a top destination for high rolling gamblers, celebrities and the super wealthy, it has been on my bucket list for years to see exactly what it’s all about. Known for its sparkling harbor, outrageous yachts, high-end shopping, fancy streets and ritzy casinos, there is no doubt that the prices might make your stomach sink. Being as unreachably expensive as it is, many people take day trips from Nice as it is only an hour train ride away. We stayed two nights on the beach at the Le Meridian Hotel – which had an amazing pool, private beach, and was only a minutes walk from the main part of the city.

20140619-165803-61083402.jpg

The hotel thought it was our honeymoon (ah the perks of being young newly weds on vacation!), so we got upgraded to a huge room on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the Sea. We had been debating whether or not we wanted to stay right in town at the infamous Hotel de Paris or stay on the beach… and this upgrade confirmed that we indeed did make the right decision! This European adventure has been amazing, but exhausting at times. We are always on the go, running from museums to sights to restaurants to attractions…. so we were extremely looking forward to doing basically nothing but cocktail by the water during our stay.

20140619-170017-61217500.jpg

We wanted to get exploring the town out of the way so that we could spend the rest of our time relaxing. So that was the first thing we did! Walking through the fancy streets, shopping the extremely high-end retail and eating lunch near the famous casino. The town is funny… Other than the casino and harbor where ginormous yachts crowd the water, there is not much else to Monte Carlo! The restaurant situation is far and few and the shops are scattered and not easily accessibly located. It was still fun to see the main square, harbor, park, and shop through the streets, but there wasn’t much going on. In a strange way, it kind of reminded me of the ritzy part of Beverly Hills.

20140619-165308-60788908.jpg

20140619-165305-60785294.jpg

20140619-165618-60978752.jpg

20140619-165805-61085215.jpg

Our first night, we ate dinner on the beach at a small restaurant we stumbled upon while walking along the water. We ate seafood and watched the sunset, it was nothing fancy, but so beautiful!

Our entire Saturday was spent by the water, alternating from beach to pool. The pool at our hotel was really nice and the beach bar was even better. Tropical cocktails flowed over competitive card games (I’m better than my husband at gin, but he’s too embarrassed to admit that!). Other than soaking up the sun and staring at a sparkly hombrÄ— teal to navy Sea, there’s not much else to say! It was perfect. We ate lunch at one of the outdoor bistros at the hotel and then dined at the other outdoor restaurant for dinner that night. We literally did not leave the hotel for one minute and it was heaven!

20140619-170021-61221123.jpg

20140619-171314-61994503.jpg

20140619-170016-61216711.jpg

20140619-170019-61219437.jpg

20140619-170015-61215028.jpg

20140619-170825-61705300.jpg

20140619-170823-61703732.jpg

A firework show ended our evening 🙂 Monte Carlo was great.

20140619-170828-61708932.jpg

20140619-170830-61710727.jpg

20140619-170827-61707027.jpg

Cannes

Sunday morning we boarded the slow regional train to Cannes – home of the Cannes Film Festival and celebrity sightings. Cannes was my favorite of the three stops we made in the French Riviera, and no… I didn’t even run into any movie stars! Lush palm trees, beautiful people, sexy beaches and a seafront town to die for make up this ritzy region.

DSC_0156

20140619-172533-62733623.jpg

We stayed at the most beautiful Design Hotel called Five Sea Hotels. With a rooftop pool, exceptional spa, patisserie/cafe and wonderful food, we couldn’t go wrong. The restaurant scene was amazing and the shopping was perfect! With hardly any cars driving on the narrow side streets, we walked a ton and found some really cool spots.

20140619-171952-62392891.jpg

One of my favorite dinners of our whole trip was eaten our first night there at a place called Restaurant La Brouette De Grand Mere. It was a French brasserie with no menus and a set price. Here’s how it worked: we sat down and they just started bringing food accompanied by a glass of cava (champagne) to our table. Starters included fois gras, salad, cheese and meats galore! They then asked us, “white, red or rosÄ—” – these were the wine options. Once we were set up at a table filled with delicious starters and a bottle of French wine, they greeted us yet again with five different entree choices. I’m not done yet. Before our entree came out, they gave us the freshest salmon carpaccio accompanied by an ice cold shot of vodka. Which my husband and I found quite humorous. And then after the entree came desert! And our bellies were filled with all things wonderful. I love dining experiences like that. It was such a fun night!

20140619-171318-61998733.jpg

20140619-173015-63015196.jpg

Much of Monday was spent roaming the streets if Cannes, which are so cute. High-end designers neighbor small boutiques while fancy restaurants neighbor burger joints. It’s the perfect mix of everything! We walked along the harbor, staring at all the sail boats anchored on top of one another and found an old street that lead up a steep hill where a beautiful castle sits.

20140619-171316-61996258.jpg

DSC_0158

DSC_0161

DSC_0163

DSC_0167

DSC_0166

DSC_0165

DSC_0168

DSC_0170

Later that afternoon, we reserved two lounge chairs on the beach through our hotel. We had the option of laying on chairs in the sand directly in front of the water or laying in chairs up on a pier. Sand is not my husbands favorite thing, so we laid in the sun on the pier overlooking the ocean, boat drinks in hand 🙂

20140619-171948-62388642.jpg

20140619-172250-62570384.jpg

20140619-171946-62386926.jpg

20140619-171949-62389111.jpg

We had our hotel make us dinner reservations at this swanky French restaurant called L’Affable. It was more upscale than our meal the night before, so I dressed myself up with some coral lipstick and one (one of the two) of the dresses I brought. A great wine list and huge window from the kitchen into the dining room so that guests can watch the chefs cook called for a really fun night.

We spent our entire Tuesday lounging by the rooftop pool at our hotel. It was so nice. The infinity pool looked out over the whole city with a sliver view of the ocean. So if you can imagine, it was a fabulous day. We ate lunch by the pool, fought off aggressive seagulls and just relaxed. We ended the afternoon with a couples massage at the spa followed by a bottle of wine, burgers and a Mad Men marathon. Now that is my kind of day!

20140619-172258-62578222.jpg

20140619-172252-62572303.jpg

20140619-172254-62574131.jpg

20140619-172256-62576132.jpg

Early Wednesday morning we ran (like chickens) to the train station where we were planning on boarding the regional line from Cannes to the Nice airport to catch our flight to Barcelona. Little did we know, all the trains were on strike. So literally nothing was running. We hated the thought, but figured we had to bite the bullet and take a very expensive cab ride to the Nice airport. Again, little did we know all the cab drivers were on strike too! In a serious panic, we contemplated renting a car… just to get us to the Nice airport (a little over an hours drive from Cannes). We ran back to the hotel (like chickens) and our very kind concierge informed us that there was a bus leaving in four minutes heading to the Nice airport. So for the third time that brisk Wednesday morning, we ran (like chickens) to the bus stop a couple blocks away and paid €40 for a ride to the airport.

A series of unfortunate events lead to a smooth plane ride from the South of France and into the heat of Barcelona (where, just our luck, there was another strike). Tales on tapas, sangria and Spanish rice coming soon! Until then, safe travels!

Sweet on Switzerland – Interlaken & Geneva

In Switzerland, I fondue’d! With Swiss cheese, of course. I also ate Swiss chocolates and drank a few really great local Swiss beers! It was a country that caused me to marvel at not only the food choices, but the peaceful spirit and the beautiful scenery. Switzerland was all kinds of wonderful.

DSC_0071

We only had three nights to spend in the clean air of Switzerland, so we broke it out by two cities with two totally different dynamics. We spent our first two nights tucked away in the mountains of Interlaken and our final night overlooking Lake Geneva in the city of Geneva.

Interlaken

We arrived by train from Paris mid-Monday afternoon. Having to switch trains three times in order to get there. Once we arrived, we walked to our hotel which was located right in the town that sat hugged below the mountains. We stayed at a hotel called Hotel Interlaken (real original, I know…) – not the nicest of places, I must admit. The room somewhat resembled an oversized walk-in closet and there was no air conditioning. There was a big fan provided for the room though, which was….. nice, I suppose. But much like Paris, last minute booking in Switzerland was extremely difficult. So we decided we would take what we could get and made a vow not to spend a whole lot of time in our room. On a positive note, the staff was extremely friendly and the room was really clean! We also had gorgeous views of the mountains, which made the situation a little better!

DSC_0075

20140611-184026-67226150.jpg

The town of Interlaken was adorable! It reminded me a lot of a ski bum community you would find in Colorado. Much like Breckenridge, only on a way smaller scale. The old architecture was so charming and the air was so clean. It was refreshing to take in the serenity of the town and all it’s surroundings.

20140611-184028-67228057.jpg

The town is known for catering to backpackers – more so than anywhere else in the country! It is famous for being a major Swiss travel destination for travelers on a budget. So if you can imagine, the amounts of youth hostels and dive bars were rather excessive, which didn’t bother me! The town is also a major mecca for adventure seekers and thrill chasers. Activities range from high adrenaline sports such as hang gliding, sky diving, parachuting, winter sports (when the season is right) and water sports – as the town sits right in between two large lakes. Many of these activities, however, are not so cheap. And budget travelers often find their wallets rather light after partaking in such activities. Mike and I went on our own hiking adventure on Tuesday that did not dent our wallets at all. And in my opinion, was so much more fun than the thrill of risking your life in the air 🙂 Personal opinion, of course!

20140611-184030-67230289.jpg

There is one major road that leads a path directly from the train station as far deep as into the town. Cobbled narrow streets with no vehicle access then spring off of this road. Here you will find family owned restaurants, bars and boutiques. Off the main road there are also restaurants, chocolatiers and a number of timepiece shops, as majority of all watches are proudly made in Switzerland. We explored every nook and cranny of the town, walking along the most beautifully glacier blue water and marveling over the sweetest Swiss made houses. It felt as though we were characters stuck in a perfect fairytale. With deep green grass, crystal blue waters, abundantly bright and colorful wildflowers and mountains so high the top isn’t even visible from below. It was surreal.

20140611-183858-67138664.jpg

That night we ate a fondue dinner at a traditional restaurant called Restaurant Chalet. Known for authentic Swiss food with a Swiss vibe unlike any place else. Wooden tables, chairs, plates, floors, ceilings and figurines dazzled the interiors, and it made us feel as though we were dining in the kitchen of a sweet Swiss lady’s home. I am typically not a Swiss cheese lover, but when in Switzerland, you have to eat Swiss cheese! And I didn’t hate it! Our dining experience was not cheap, but it was well worth it.

20140611-183852-67132899.jpg

20140611-183854-67134731.jpg

Interesting observation: Swiss beer vs. Swiss wine – Swiss beer is so much better. Much like Germany, the local beer tastes better than the local wine. If you are a big fan of eating and drinking locally when visiting foreign places, this is an important observation. We actually loved the local beers on tap in Switzerland, but the wine was not great and we were not the biggest fans.

The next day we woke up extra early and set our for a thrilling adventure. A DIY (do it yourself) hike through the Swiss Alps… Led by none other than my tour guide husband. I did not prepare myself for the steep climbs and lack of restroom situation, but at the end of the day, I was alive and it was so worth it!

How we started our journey through the Alps: We made our way to the local train station very early in the morning where we hopped on a regional rail up to Lauterbrunnen. From there we jumped in a scary cable car up to Murren – where we began our hike. While in Murren, we explored the car-free town that literally is the storybook of Switzerland. It was quiet and secluded and high up enough to feel like you are floating on the clouds. The houses were straight out of an old tale where characters that resemble friendly gnomes might live. It was a serene moment where for a short time, life stood still.

DSC_0069

DSC_0072

DSC_0073

DSC_0081

DSC_0084

We stopped at a nice lady’s small cafe where we picked up sandwiches, snacks, waters and beers to toss in our backpack for a picnic lunch we would have later on in the day. We then hiked up and down on paths and in whisking meadows to reach a teeny tiny town called Gimmelwald. Why Gimmelwald, you might ask? Easy. Long, long ago an anonymous backpacker jotted down these words in a mountain hostel’s guest book: “If heaven isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, send me back to Gimmelwald”. Heavenly is exactly what it was. After catching our breath once we reached the town where not much was going on other than goats laughing and cows mooing, we were suddenly breathless again. We were one with the mountains and flying on clouds in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It was surreal. We found a broken down bench, cracked open our beers and ate our sandwiches over priceless views. It was one of my favorite days. Not only did I get to bond with my husband in one of the most secluded areas, but I got to experience nature and all it’s beauty with such simplicity. I didn’t take for granted once the clean air I was breathing and I thanked Mike a hundred times for guiding me through such an amazing journey. I guess you can say, I was struck by happiness.

DSC_0088

DSC_0095

DSC_0096

DSC_0100

DSC_0103

DSC_0105

DSC_0106

DSC_0109

DSC_0112

DSC_0113

DSC_0114

DSC_0115

DSC_0116

DSC_0117

DSC_0118

DSC_0121

DSC_0122

DSC_0123

20140612-184702-67622843.jpg

DSC_0128

DSC_0129

DSC_0130

20140611-184024-67224238.jpg

We hiked around the area to experience even more beauty and then made our way back to Murren. Where we rewarded ourselves with beers at a small cafe overlooking the mountains. It was such a wonderful day!

DSC_0131

That night we dined at the most famous restaurant in all of Interlaken, the Golden Anker. It’s the place that locals insist on being the best in town. I beg to differ. Then again, I am not a local and I am not familiar with the other options they have. It was an experience I am glad we got to partake in and the menu was quite vast with dishes ranging from spicy fajitas to ostrich steaks! It was a fun setting to end our visit in Interlaken.

Geneva

Wednesday morning, we boarded a super quick train to the cosmopolitan city of Geneva. It was like night and day going from Interlaken to Geneva. We hopped off the train into a super sleek and ritzy area decked out in all things fancy.

We would only be spending one night in the country’s second largest city, and the hotel rate was far from reasonable. Geneva is easily Europe’s priciest city. We stayed at a beautiful hotel overlooking the lake (Lake Geneva – gorgeous!!) called Hotel de la Paix. To help put things in perspective for you: a tiny room at a hotel on par with one like the Holiday Inn ran at the rate of €400/night when we were searching for hotels. Granted, we were staying over the time a convention was taking place in the city, resulting in the extremely high prices, but that might help give you a gist of just how pricey it can be.

20140611-184041-67241904.jpg

DSC_0134

DSC_0137

DSC_0140

We spent the day roaming the city streets and trying on glamorous timepieces. When in Geneva, you have to try on ridiculously expensive watches, of course! After some serious convincing to my husband that we are in no situation to be splurging on $15,000 watches, we got cocktails and sulked over the struggles of our really tough life 🙂

That night, we got a casual dinner at a (very expensive) bar and walked along the sparkling lake where we stumbled upon the most vibrant double rainbow we had ever seen! It rained while we we were eating dinner resulting in our walk back to bed magical.

20140611-184157-67317505.jpg

20140611-184144-67304196.jpg

DSC_0146

Thursday morning we boarded the train to Nice, France. A week in the French Riviera is exactly what we needed after long hikes and tiring travels. Stay tuned for beach tales from the stunning south of France! Until then, bon voyage!

Paris is Always a Good Idea

In Paris, I ate escargot. And a ton of macaroons… My favorite! The food was heavy and the pastries were perfect. The French wine was amazing and the creme brĂ»lĂ©e to die for. Needless to say, we loved Paris! Everything about it.

DSC_0063

The city of lights never ceases to amaze me. My husband and I spent a few nights in Paris five years ago and have been dying to go back (a few nights in Paris is never enough). We had a list of things we were unable to do the last time we were there due to timing (and jet lag) that we were really looking forward to doing this time around. There were also things that we did the last time that we felt unnecessary to do again. For example: The Louvre. You have to go to the Louvre when you’re in Paris – you can’t leave the city without seeing the Mona Lisa, of course! But we spent countless hours at the Louvre a few years ago, so we didn’t feel it necessary to wait in line and do it again. Another example being Versailles. Amazing, but, been there done that. We did, however, check a few things off our “Paris Bucket-list” that have been some of my favorite memories thus far!

DSC_1299

We arrived by a super fast train from Brussels early Tuesday afternoon. We didn’t have the best of luck booking our hotel room last minute as we were completely unaware that the French Open (a huge tennis tournament) was taking place the same weekend we were there. Five years ago we stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel called Hotel Lancaster that we were planning on booking again. However, due to the masses of people visiting for the Open, the hotel had no availability. We searched and searched and ended up staying at The Westin right next to the Tuileries Garden. It was beautiful, but very large and corporate, which isn’t my favorite. We did have stunning views of the Garden and the Eiffel Tower though! And got to build up some of our SPG points, which is always nice! There’s nothing more romantic than the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night.

20140606-173810-63490434.jpg

Thursday afternoon my husband took me on a walking tour that lasted entirely too long. He loves taking me on walking tours and I do like it! I figure, the more walking, the better shape I will be in when I return home. And the less my sisters will make fun of me for gaining so much pasta weight 🙂 Mike and I both forgot just how large the city of Paris actually was. When we were there five years ago, it didn’t seem so big. Maybe it was from all the excitement of being on our first European vacation together, or maybe it was the extreme jet lag and multiple bottles of wine we drank, but we didn’t remember walking this much! Regardless, we had a great day waltzing the city together. Getting lost on side streets and in tiny neighborhoods never gets old to me. I think the best way to get to know a city and its culture is to try and walk as much of it as you can! Which is why comfortable shoes are very, very important.

20140606-173812-63492263.jpg

That afternoon, my husband got a professional shave at a local barber down the street from our hotel. It was not easy finding a place with availability, we must have called 20 different barber shops. It must be a really popular thing.. to get professional shaves in Paris! I had to mention this because most of you (friends and family) have been concerned about the length of Mike’s beard. It was concerning to me as well. And after I refused to kiss him until he did something about it, he bit the bullet and cleaned up.

20140606-185119-67879938.jpg

That night, we ate dinner at a tiny French bistro our hotel had recommended. The concierges at The Westin hotel were not the greatest, we had a hard time comprehending some of their suggestions, but we were so exhausted from traveling that morning and walking all day, we wanted to stay close… so we took their suggestion and ran with it. The restaurant was called L’ Ardoise and it offered a three course tasting menu. It was actually really good! But it didn’t have the authentic Parisian vibe we were looking for and was pretty ordinary. The next three nights we did our own research and planned our own dinners which were much better!

Friday morning we started our day by visiting Notre Dame – the well known cathedral that sits at the true heart of Paris. This was our second time there, but we had to see it again as it’s just so beautiful! The square in front of the French Gothic masterpiece actually marks the center of the city. There is a symbol in the middle of the square (image below) that shows exactly where it is. Norte Dame is the most visited site in all of Paris, so there were a ton of people crowding around and a very long line to get inside. Typically, the line is only long to walk the 422 spiraling steps up to the top of the tower, but both the tower line and the line to get inside the cathedral were massive. So we skipped going inside as we did it a few years back. If you have never been to Paris though, I’d suggest going late in the afternoon before it closes as that’s usually when the lines die down. You can’t miss the stunning stained glass rose windows and towers. Unfortunately, there is no real hunchback of Notre Dame. But if you walk the hundreds of steps, you can see the huge ‘Emmanuel’ bell and the amazing Panoramic views of the city.

DSC_1281

20140606-173814-63494148.jpg

DSC_1274

DSC_1273

DSC_1280

Side note: the best views of the outside of Notre Dame are down along the river where you’ll spot some restaurants on boats. Don’t eat at these restaurants, but walk down the steps to get the best views!

DSC_1287

After visiting Notre Dame, we stopped by the Deportation Memorial – which was directly behind the cathedral and was really cool. It was an entire memorial dedicated to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. If you’re already in the area after visiting Notre Dame, I highly suggest going here. There is no line and it is really cool to see.

20140606-173816-63496718.jpg

Important note: the locks that are clustered on the bridge behind Notre Dame and next to the Deportation Memorial are not the infamous “love locks”. These are locks dedicated to remembering loved ones who have past away. The “love locks” bridge is closer to the Louvre entrance. This is important to know as you don’t want to be caught smooching your boo and locking a master lock with hearts drawn in permanent marker on the wrong bridge. That would be both disrespectful and embarrassing. 🙂

20140606-174657-64017279.jpg

After visiting the Deportation Memorial, we crossed the bridge to the residential island known as Ile St-Louis. This is a great place to stop and have lunch! It’s a ritzy little neighborhood (that is very expensive and exclusive to live in) that houses just enough boutiques, restaurants and amazing ice cream shops to lure you in!

20140606-174659-64019009.jpg

With food in our bellies and rested feet, we headed to the most beautiful chapel I have ever seen. It’s called Ste-Chapelle and the hour long wait was so worth it. Never have I seen stained glass so intricate and beautiful before. This was on our “Paris Bucket-list” that we didn’t have time for the last time we visited. It is Paris’ most exquisite Gothic monument and is literally tucked away within the Law Courts. Which is what causes the long lines as you have to go through security to enter. Buying tickets in advance won’t get you inside any quicker either. We went late in the afternoon and waiting an hour wasn’t nearly as bad as going earlier in the midst of school groups and masses of tourists. The chapel was constructed in the 1200’s making its history and beauty jaw dropping. Make sure you go on a sunny day, it makes the colors illuminate even more beautifully in the room!

DSC_1290

DSC_1298

We then walked around the Left Bank and had fun stopping at all the tiny painter’s tents and shops that line the waters. The Left Bank is so beautiful and gives you the real “Paris” feel. This is where we bought our lock to secure on the “love locks” bridge! We walked along the water of the Left Bank toward the Right Bank to the bridge that brings you to the entrance of the Louvre. This is where the true “love locks” live. And this is where you can write your love note in permanent marker on a lock to secure on the bridge, if so inclined to do so. We made sure we wrote our names, plus our dog, Calvin’s name on the lock, secured it, took some photos, and moved on.

DSC_1300

20140606-174702-64022556.jpg

20140606-174704-64024407.jpg

20140606-184731-67651474.jpg

20140606-184729-67649268.jpg

DSC_1285

We hung out in the fashionable Luxembourg and Tuileries Gardens, people-watched, took some photos in front of the Louvre and strolled along the tree-lined paths. If it is beautiful out, this is the perfect place to people-watch. There are a ton of chairs to sit back and lounge on in front of the beautiful fountain and florals from the garden. Tired from our jam packed day, we headed back to the hotel where we could relax a bit and get ready for dinner.

DSC_1302

DSC_1301

20140606-184924-67764124.jpg

That night, we dined at a not-so-fancy French bistro – Brasserie Relais Madeleine. The reason behind going there was that it was the first place we dined at in Paris five years ago. Other than its sentimental value to the two of us, there’s really nothing special about it. But it is actually a really fun place with a true Parisian vibe and reasonably priced casual French food. If you don’t feel like spending a ton of money or dressing up, it’s the perfect place to wear jeans, read the menu written on the mirrors and feel like a local.

Saturday was one of my all time favorite days. We woke up extra early and took the regional train to a town on the countryside of Paris called Giverny. From the small train station there, we hopped a shuttle bus to the most beautiful place I have ever been – Monet’s Garden. Stepping foot onto the property where Claude Monet lived for the last 43 years of his life was a dream. My favorite painter’s pastel pink house and famous gardens are heaven for any impressionism lover. The lily pond and Japanese bridges where so many of Monet’s masterpieces were painted was absolutely exquisite, I never wanted to leave. The beauty is so hard to explain through a blog post, you have to go there to experience it. It’s surreal. The best way for me to describe it is… I think this is what heaven looks like. It seems like it would be such a task trying to get there, but any hotel concierge or guide book can tell you how. It’s really not that hard and is so worth it! My husband went as a child, so it was his second time experiencing it. His family hired a private driver to take them to the garden from Paris, so that is always an option too if you don’t feel like dealing with the hustle and bustle of public transportation!

DSC_1308

DSC_1310

DSC_1312

DSC_1314

DSC_1315

DSC_1316

DSC_1318

DSC_0008

DSC_1322

DSC_1324

DSC_0003

20140606-184731-67651830.jpg

DSC_0004

DSC_0030

20140606-184734-67654690.jpg

DSC_0035

We took the shuttle and the train back to the city of Paris, where we ventured to the 16th arrondissement to the Musee Marmottan, where a Monet exhibit was taking place. We bought tickets in advance while we were at the Garden that morning and were so thankful. The line was wrapped so long it would have taken us hours to get in if we hadn’t purchased our tickets in advance. Having our tickets in hand got us in right away. The exhibit was exceptional. It was like a full day of Monet and I loved it!

After our beautiful morning and afternoon of Monet, we ventured to a part of Paris we had never been to before – Montmartre. Montmartre is an artsy/bohemian neighborhood that attracts a ton of local writers and artists – it is actually where Picasso lived during the early 1900’s! It was a really cool and vibrant neighborhood. Tents filled with painter’s and caricaturists lined the main square while whimsical colorful restaurants clustered every inch of every street and corner. We had made dinner reservations in advance at one of the coolest little spots called Coq Rico. Specializing in rotisserie chickens. I highly, highly recommended taking a walk through the Montmartre neighborhood and then dining here. But if you do not like chicken, don’t go. Order the whole rotisserie chicken with french fries and steamed vegetables paired with a nice French wine and you are in for a delicious dinner for 2 (or 3 or 4 as the whole chicken is so big!)!

Before we sat down for dinner, we spent some time on the steps of the Basilica De Sacre’ Coeur – which is a beaming white domed church that sits right at the top of the hill in the Montmartre area. It’s a beautiful old church that opened in the early 1800’s and since then 800,000 people have been buried there. Very well known people such as Chopin, Proust, Pissarro, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. The neo-Gothic tombstones are really cool and the church is gorgeous. In front of the church are steps that offer phenomenal panoramic views of the city. Amongst these steps lay people hanging out, drinking beer and listening to live entertainment from local musicians. So Mike and I, trying to be one with the locals, grabbed a beer, sat on the steps, and listened to music before rushing to our dinner reservation. It was really fun!

20140606-185117-67877647.jpg

20140606-184926-67766351.jpg

20140606-184928-67768137.jpg

20140606-184930-67770228.jpg

After dinner, we took a walk a few blocks south of Montmartre to the very lively Pigalle area. Also known as the neon-lit Red Light district. But also home to the infamous Moulin Rouge. I had to see the Moulin Rouge in person (it is one of my favorite movies!), so we strolled the streets, took some photos and cabbed it back to our hotel.

20140606-185124-67884255.jpg

The next morning we set out for a Sunday stroll through the Rue Cler market where we stopped at a few local tents and grabbed necessities for a picnic! We decided we wanted to spend the day at the Eiffel Tower. We walked all along the Champs ÉlysĂ©es, stopped in a few fabulous stores, strolled through the Arc de Triomphe and made our way to the market. We got sandwiches from a local fromagerie shop (cheese shop), pastries from a patisserie, macaroons from a bakery and a bottle of wine from a tiny wine store. We then headed towards the Eiffel Tower – which always seems closer than it actually is – found a lovely spot in the grass right of front of the beautiful sight and enjoyed a bottle of wine and lunch with a stunning view. It was a very romantic afternoon.

20140606-185119-67879129.jpg

20140606-185124-67884738.jpg

DSC_0053

20140606-185120-67880811.jpg

DSC_0062

20140606-185120-67880414.jpg

We were planning on going to the Museum d’ Orsay, which houses a number of important paintings and more impressionist masterpieces later on that afternoon, but were having such a good time enjoying our picnic, it got too late to see the museum. We weren’t super disappointed as this wasn’t a museum that was particularly on our list of things to do, it was a last minute maybe.

As I have mentioned before, dining on Sundays has been difficult in Europe. Every restaurant we wanted to make a reservation at was closed. So we decided to just wing it and walk around the city stopping at the first nice brasserie we come across. We ended up stumbling upon a really cute one where we ate escargot and other French fare. It was the perfect ending to our time in Paris.

20140606-185122-67882873.jpg

Monday morning we were sad to leave, but excited for our next adventure. We would be boarding three separate trains throughout the day that would take us into Interlaken, Switzerland. Home of fondue, Swiss cheese, delicious chocolate (like the Toblarone) and of course, the Swiss Alps. Stay tuned for mountain tales on Interlaken. Until then, bon voyage!

Drunk on Brussels

In Brussels, I ate Belgium waffles. Smothered in Belgium chocolate, of course. Paired with a Belgium beer. Not really! The chocolate on the waffles, YES! The beer with my waffles, no. More like a cafe au lait with my waffles. And Belgium beer later on in the day and at night. It was a glorious two days for my tastebuds.

20140603-174820-64100324.jpg

We arrived by fast train in Brussels late Tuesday afternoon. Spending the majority of Tuesday morning amongst the streets of Amsterdam. Being excited for the Belgium beer and waffles, we weren’t really expecting much else from Brussels. Little did we know how fascinating the city truly was! We instantly loved it. We roamed the tiny streets lined with restaurants, cafĂ©s, tempting chocolate shops and dark Belgium beer halls. The architecture was seducing, especially in the awe-inspiring square, where our jaws dropped with astonishment of its radiant beauty! No one ever tells you just how spectacular Brussels square is…. They are always raving about the squares in Florence, Venice, and Rome. Yes, those are beautiful too, but Brussels was my favorite of all the squares. It glittered with such magic and I never wanted to take my eyes off it.

DSC_1258

DSC_1256

20140603-174853-64133552.jpg

Interestingly enough, Brussels is officially bilingual! So all names from train stations to street names have both Dutch and French versions. Which worked out much in our favor as my husband speaks French (one of the many reasons I fell in love with him). We started our Tuesday evening with a stroll through the magnificent central square. With trade symbols and Gilt statues adorning the sparking guildhalls that were rebuilt shortly after the originals were bombarded in the late 1600’s. Not all was broken in the 1600’s though, the beautiful City Hall is an old survivor and sits proudly amongst the rest.

DSC_1261

20140603-174852-64132589.jpg

We stopped at one of Brussels most famous beer halls called Delirium. We sipped some Belgium beers (I drank an apple beer that tasted like fizzy apple juice!) and headed to dinner. My husband did some research and we ended up having a fantastic meal at a true Belgium restaurant called Fin de Siecle. We ordered dishes that were unfamiliar to us as there was only one menu… which was written in Dutch… in chicken scratch on a mirror at the bar area of the restaurant. Flustered and unaware of anything, we just pointed to two random things on the mirror and got lucky! I got sausages and mashed potatoes in a mushroom sauce while my husband got honey ribs. It was great!

20140603-174657-64017107.jpg

20140603-174657-64017582.jpg

20140603-174655-64015295.jpg

20140603-174657-64017930.jpg

Important side note: majority of restaurants (actually all of the restaurants, tea rooms, beer halls and cafĂ©s) in Brussels and many other European cities are cash only. And ATM’s are far and few. So if ever traveling to Brussels, be sure to carry a substantial amount of cash on you for big dinners and nights out in the town.

Wednesday morning we set out to continue our exploration of the city. Starting our day off with amazing Belgium waffles from a tea room that is known to serve the best waffles in all of Brussels! It is called Maison Dandoy and if you are ever in Brussels, you must go here. We each got our own waffle doused in Belgium chocolate, cooked strawberry’s and whipped cream. It was a heavenly breakfast. Just off of the square we noticed a tiny shopping street filled with chocolatiers and boutiques. Did I mention the whole city smells like chocolate? It was an absolute dream. Also right off the square we happened upon a colorful, narrow street that was jam packed with seafood eateries and Italian restaurants with waiters heckling you to dine there. It reminded me a lot of New York City’s Mulberry Street. Really funny actually!

20140603-174820-64100793.jpg

 

DSC_1263

We made sure we took a walk passed the infamous Manneken Pis. This is a well known monument right in the center of the city that tourists and school groups flock to. I am still unsure as to why it is so fascinating to some, but it was humorous to Mike and me. The national symbol is a fountain in the form of a little boy joyfully taking a leak into a fountain pool…… Yes. This causes masses of people. It is supposed to symbolize sexual equality. So we saw it, took some photos, had a good laugh and were in our way!

DSC_1264

DSC_1268

The city’s overall architecture was very interesting. It combines awesome art-nouveau and 17the century masterpieces against suburbanism and gold spires to create an insanely dramatic backdrop. If any of you are familiar with Trip Advisor – the current backdrop when you open the app on your iPad or iPhone is Brussels square. It’s just so beautiful there! I can’t reiterate it enough.

20140603-174936-64176566.jpg

20140603-174935-64175581.jpg

20140603-174934-64174211.jpg

20140603-174937-64177030.jpg

20140603-174854-64134563.jpg

20140603-174850-64130945.jpg

Wednesday night we dined at another fabulous restaurant we had read about in one of our travel magazines. It was Belgium/French fusion and was located in what looked to be the living room of a tiny home in the center of the city – Nuetnigenough. They did not take reservations, so we ended up drinking some Belgium beers at the minuscule bar while we waited for a table. The wait was so worth it because dinner was phenomenal! We started with the most scrumptious veal meatballs ever, some cheese and some olives. Followed by our main courses – I got pig, my husband got steak. It was fantastic!

Brussels was such a pleasant surprise. We were excited to drink beers and eat waffles, but little did we know its culture and beauty. We are so grateful we got to explore it together! Thursday morning we boarded a super fast train to Paris. Our second time venturing to the city of lights together, we were really excited! Stay tuned for tales on our long weekend in the romantic city. Until then, bon voyage!

High on Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, I ate Dutch pancakes. Breakfast is one of my favorite things in the world and I am a huge fan of the pancake, but Dutch pancakes in Holland were to die for! They were paper thin and covered in whipped cream, strawberry’s and syrup. Delicious!

DSC_1227

My overall expectations of Amsterdam were completely different than my immediate impression. I had thoughts of it being a sleazy hippie town filled with dreadlocks and tie die t-shirts. I was completely wrong. Amsterdam was outrageously beautiful. With picturesque town homes lining the waters and 17th century cobbled streets connected by small bridges, it was heaven. A thousand shades of vivacious green trees lined the canals and old wooden boats floated atop the waters in perfect rhythm. There was a pattern to the city that melted my heart and it was a destination I unexpectedly fell in love with.

DSC_1229

While there, my husband and I did a lot of walking (what’s new…). And as we were strolling through the neighborhoods, I told him that the city of Amsterdam, in a very bizarre way, reminded me of Philadelphia’s Old City meets Nantucket’s downtown meets Copenhagen’s charm meets Venice, Italy’s sparkle – because of its canals. It was the coolest contrast of all the places I love. It wasn’t long before my husband and I to got into a pattern of walking the streets. Amsterdam wasn’t the easiest of places to navigate, but we found ourselves remembering landmarks that would help guide us in the right direction. And getting lost in Amsterdam is not the worst scenario in the world, it’s so pretty!

20140602-175742-64662371.jpg

20140602-175741-64661511.jpg

Before arriving in Amsterdam on Saturday afternoon, we spent a night in Hannover, Germany. The train from Copenhagen to Amsterdam is extremely long (11 hours total travel time), so we broke up the extended ride in Hannover. We didn’t do much there, to be quite honest. We were so exhausted, we sort of thought of Hannover as a rest stop. We did walk around the city and got dinner in the square, which was nice! But we were in bed watching a movie by 9pm (we watched Frozen – it’s hard to keep up with our many niece’s and nephew’s without having a clue as to what they are talking about half the time…. so we familiarized ourselves with the story so that we can now converse (in 2 year old talk) to our little munchkins!).

We arrived by train in Amsterdam mid-Saturday afternoon. Our hotel was in the Jordaan neighborhood, a very desirable area. We stayed at a boutique hotel called The Toren – renovated from a town home along the canal into a charming hotel a few years back, it was gorgeous. We got lucky with a room on the top floor overlooking the canal. With huge windows and stunning views, three nights wasn’t going to be enough! We immediately dropped our bags and set out to explore. We walked a ton to get to know the area stopping at a Cafe for lunch.

20140602-175743-64663208.jpg

Important: In Amsterdam, CafĂ©s and Coffee Shops are totally different things. CafĂ©s are where you sip coffee. Coffee Shops are where you buy marijuana. Remember this. It’s very important to know as you would look quite silly ordering a cappuccino with extra foam at a Coffee Shop 🙂

Amsterdam’s restaurant scene is awesome. The gorgeous streets are filled with bite size cafĂ©s and trendy restaurants. The options are endless! We made dinner reservations for Saturday night at a place called Gartine. Highly recommended by the hotel as a trendy French/Dutch spot to eat. We dined in the restaurant’s back garden draped in trees and twinkle lights. Also, the food was great! It was a beautiful setting to start off our stay.

We started our Sunday off at an amazing pancake house that we read about in our April issue of Travel + Leisure Magazine (in the issue titled, “Eat Like a Local”) called The Pancake Bakery. Where we ordered Dutch pancakes. They were so so good!! I got sweet pancakes topped with strawberry’s and whipped cream while my husband got more savory pancakes with bacon, cheese and mushrooms cooked into them. He said they were delicious, but kind of funny to eat because every time he took a bite he was expecting eggs (like an omelette), and instead got thin pancakes with bacon and cheese!

20140602-180238-64958691.jpg

We then walking through the flower market. Tulips… Everywhere! Which made me so very happy because tulips are one of my favorite flowers!! After observing the many different shapes, sizes and colors of the tulips at the market that sat alongside the canal, we made our way to the Red Light District. Yes, this happened. It’s something I have always wanted to see. So with anxious eyes, we walked through crowded streets, through an area that is too commercialized and crazy for me, to the District that made my jaw go limp. My poor innocent eyes saw way too much!! However, aside from the nearly naked women posing in just about every window, there were some cute cafe’s and restaurants tucked away as well! It was actually a rather pretty area! With a lot of prostitutes.

20140602-180234-64954557.jpg

DSC_1236

DSC_1237

20140602-180236-64956308.jpg

20140602-180238-64958191.jpg

We did not stop anywhere in the Red Light District, we just explored the neighborhood and (happily) walked back towards the Jordaan. Where we ate lunch, stopped at a few places for a few beers, shopped around, and had a lovely Sunday afternoon! Sunday night we dined at a really cool Thai restaurant called Kinnaree. Our hotel concierge was telling us that Amsterdam is known for having really good Thai food, interestingly enough! The rumor is true, our meal was great! And my craving for some salt and pepper chicken with vegetables was fulfilled that night. I was very happy.

20140602-180233-64953657.jpg

Monday was a crazy busy day. So much fun! Just with a lot on the agenda. We woke up and got breakfast at a really lovely tea room that sat alongside the canal called Greenwoods. We sat outside and planned our day over eggs benedict and cappuccinos. I love how important breakfast is as a meal to the Dutch people! They understand me. And most of them are blonde haired and blue eyed, so I fit in perfectly. After having our caffeine fix, we headed straight toward the area of the city where all of the museums live. Starting our informative day at the Rijksmuseum. A very well known museum holding important works like Rembrandt’s Night Watch. It was amazing seeing this piece in particular up close. It was huge! And really amazing. We also saw some famous Vermeers amongst other major collections valued in the billions.

DSC_1238

DSC_1241

DSC_1242

After getting a taste of history at the Rijksmuseum, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum, where we spent countless hours taking in contemporaries not only done by Van Gogh, but also by Gauguin, Monet and Bernard. It was truly remarkable. The museum houses the world’s largest Van Gogh collection, from his Japanese phase to his dark phase. I would go back a hundred times to see these works again. If you are ever in Amsterdam, this museum is a must! And the Red Light District. You have to walk through the Red Light District.

After inundating ourselves with timeless art, we needed a drink. So we thought, why not kill two birds with one stone and drink beer while at a museum! Amsterdam is home to Heineken, so we spent the remainder of our afternoon at the Heineken Museum, also known as The Heineken Experience. We immersed ourselves by touring through the beer making process amongst multimedia displays, rides, games, more games and plenty of beers. It was quite the experience. It kind of felt like a really serious brainwashing marketing ad, luring tourists into believing Heineken is the best beer in the world. They didn’t fool me, I’d still take a Miller Lite, Leinenkugel’s or Stella Artois over a Heineken any day.

20140602-180734-65254682.jpg

DSC_1246

DSC_1247

DSC_1248

DSC_1249

DSC_1250

DSC_1251

DSC_1253

DSC_1254

20140602-180733-65253973.jpg

20140602-180734-65254203.jpg

Monday night, before scurrying to get to our late dinner reservation, we stood in an hour long line to walk through the well known Anne Frank House. It was one of the coolest “museums” I have ever stepped foot in. We got to tour the quarters Anne Frank and her family hid during the war. Climbing up tiny, narrow staircases up to small rooms where she would write her stories. On top of physically standing where Anne Frank once stood, we got to see her actual diary on display, handwriting and all. It was a really cool, yet eerie experience. I am so happy we had the chance to see it. My advice would be… if ever visiting Amsterdam, you have to see the Anne Frank House. Hands down one of the neatest sights. They tell you to either get there early in the morning or later on in the evening, before the house closes. We tried going early in the morning and the line had at least a three hour long wait. Walking past multiple times mid-day, it didn’t seem to get any better. So we went around 7pm before our 9pm dinner reservation with all fingers and toes crossed and it was perfect. Sure, we waited an hour, some of that hour being in the rain, but it was well worth it. And we had just enough time to make it to dinner!

DSC_1226

Our final night in Amsterdam we dined at a really cool Dutch tapas restaurant called Envy. Also recommended by the hotel as a trendy place to eat with a young and vibrant scene. We sat at a high top table surrounded by really cool refrigerators filled with local fruits and vegetables and wines. We shared a number of small plates that included local fare and seafood. We shared an amazing desert paired with desert wines and then stopped at a bar on our way back to the hotel. It was really a fun last night out in Holland!

DSC_1225

Tuesday afternoon we boarded the fast train to Brussels, where we would be spending two nights indulging in Belgium chocolates, waffles and I can’t forget… BEER! Stay tuned for tales on Belgium! Until then, Bon voyage!

Planning a trip to The Netherlands? For more information on to all things Amsterdam visit this amazing travel guide. It will give you tips and tricks on hotels, restaurants, transportation, neighborhoods, activities and even history! My favorite part about this guide is the links to all the gardens and markets (the flower market is a must!!). Visit: http://www.netherlands-tourism.com/amsterdam/