After taking the exciting for all the wrong reasons chunnel from Paris to London we were happy enough to finally meet up with friends.
It's always great to catch up and hang out at the pub. London reminds me of a great mix of American things with the obvious European influence. Each little borough has its own charm and like all great cities I can always go back again and again to discover something new.
Stefan and I have both been to London a few times, so we didn't stop by too many of the typical tourist hot spots, mainly the ones that were right around our hotel.
There were several elephants from the elephant parade that we also managed to spot around London. It also looks like they are pumping up Malcolm Gladwell, whose books I really enjoy. It's interesting to see them with different covers than the US versions.
As part of Stefan's birthday extravaganza we went to the River Café, where a very young Jamie Oliver got his start at becoming a star chef. The menu was simple enough and the food was very good.
We took Caitlin's recommendation to hit up Islington and all of the great Sunday markets in the area. It's so British and charming. I saw plenty of things that I would have loved to have brought home. Next time I will have to bring a larger bag!
Aren't the store fronts and restaurants so pretty? It's just as much fun to go window shopping and to be tempted by the beautiful restaurants. I'm looking forward to getting back for a long weekend again sometime soon. Perhaps I'll have to start planning a scavenger hunt like the one we did in Paris.
Monday, May 31, 2010
After taking the exciting for all the wrong reasons chunnel from Paris to London we were happy enough to finally meet up with friends.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
The last of Stefan's 'big' surprises was a stop at the Ô Chateau wine tasting. My parents got in on the surprises and this was one of their 'toasts' to him.
What's funny is that the couple next to us at Nomiya was chatting about it, so Stefan was aware that it existed, but he didn't know we too would be checking it out later that evening.
Once we made our way to the courtyard Stefan was absolutely clueless. It was so much fun to see how puzzled he was. The cellar was down a few steps and then it opened up into a really great space for the tasting with probably about 30 people from all over the world.
Our sommelier for the evening was Lionel, who was fantastic. We learned all kinds of things to look for when tasting various wines, so it was a fun and educational evening... not to mention a slightly tipsy evening - which might explain why we're both so rosy cheeked.
There are so many beautiful and interesting treasures to find around cities, which makes me that much more of a city person.
These are some of the interesting things that we enjoyed along the way... beautiful colors, interesting street art, and of course fantastic chocolates and candies.
We're already looking forward to making a trip back to Paris to see what other fun things we can discover.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
After giving Stefan birthday clues leading around the city I gave him another clue the very next day taking us back to the Palais de Tokyo. His actual birthday was just too short to pack everything in, so we continued to celebrate.
Once again he had no idea what we were up to, because thankfully no one mentioned Nomiya the day before. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience, because the restaurant is only open until September 2010.
It was kismet that things worked out, because there are only 12 seats at lunch and 12 at dinner and they aren't so simple to obtain.
Nomiya is set perfectly on top of the Palais de Tokyo with an incredible view overlooking the Eiffel Tower and it was fantastic to see Stefan's face light up as we climbed up the roof to see that incredible view.
We started with a couple amouse-bouche and chatted with the others. Everyone lived in France, except for us and another couple who was from Colorado.
Lunch was very good - filled with lots of conversation, laughs, and of course great food.
If you want to see some gorgeous photos and read more about it check out David Lebovitz's post or the New York Times.
Or you can always plan your own surprise trip for someone special in your life!
Friday, May 28, 2010
On Stefan's actual birthday we wandered around the city beginning our day at the Fête du pain 2010, which is a bread festival in front for the Notre-Dame. This year's theme was focused on the Pays Basque region, where the Pyrenees mountains are and where my family's two dogs are from.
After having a lazy morning and sampling some Pays Basque specialities our real adventure began - complete with a walk across the city.
Stefan's first big clue was that we were going to be heading towards the Eiffel Tower. I let him lead the way and watched as he tried to guess what we'd be doing.
The clue photo was of taiyaki (from our visit to Japan) and said 'learn something new in a place with a view'. It was kind of funny as we walked up the steps next to the Palais de Tokyo and he saw a sign with the name on it, but he still wasn't sure just what we were doing.
The first guess after he discovered it was an art museum was that we'd be making some kind of art, which knowing me isn't too far off.
The Palais opens promptly at noon, so we waited outside admiring random details, like the Michael Jackson tribute, until they opened the big rounded bronze doors.
I met with a woman who asked if we were there for the 'workshop', which still left him clueless.
We walked up the steps to a large open area and his next question was 'Are we doing some kind of roofing?', because it did look a bit like a construction site.
We followed the group through the doorway into a brightly lit room with state of the art everything. It was then that everything clicked - we were attending a cooking course in the most unlikely of places. He was handed his apron and told to scrub up and then we got to work.
A wonderful man named René took us under his wing. We were the only foreigners there and unfortunately neither of our French is up to par with hearing, comprehending, and putting things into practice.
Everyone whipped out notebooks and began fervently scribbling down everything the chef said in hopes to replicate things at home. I just took photos of their recipes and hoped I'd be able to figure it out as they day went on.
The groups were split into 3 areas: meat, vegetables, and pastry. I'm pretty sure everyone shuffled around making sure we ended up at the pastry station, which is probably the most fail proof. It also happened to be what we were both most interested in, so it was a win win.
Our chef for the day really reminded me of an auburn haired version of the character Colette in the movie Ratatouille. I think it was a combination of her mannerisms, accent, and the way she scolded me when I went a little too far in browning butter.
Let's just say I won't soon forget butter should be browned to 135˚C and not 5˚C more. Oops.. I was impressed that she was so good that she could tell by sight, because there was no thermometer around.
As for what was around, let me just say we were definitely dealing with professional equipment. The ranges on the stove tops were out of this world and all were touch screens. I guess knobs are so 2000.
René, Olivier, Stefan, and I all got to creating basil financier cakes, glazed strawberries, and white chocolate ice cream. I'm pretty certain I need one of these ice cream makers now.
Once things were nearing completion it was time to get on doing the dishes. Stefan was near the sink when they started piling up, so I joined him in attempts to do something useful. One woman asked if he was married when she saw him washing away. He remarked he didn't anticipate he'd be doing dishes on his birthday. We all got a good laugh out of things.
Finally everyone's hard work paid off and it was time to enjoy a delicious lunch complete with wine. As we were plating up the desserts someone stuck a candle into Stefan's and we all sang Happy Birthday - once in French and once in English. I think if Olivier had his way he would have done another rendition.
The Electrolux Art Home 'Arôme' cooking course is open until December 2010, although that may change. Theoretically it will then travel to another city. Each class accommodates 12 people and reservations open at 10am one month prior.
That wasn't the end of the celebrations. I still have a few more exciting things from our trip to Paris, so stayed tuned for those!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Lately Munich is really all about surfing.
The Eisbach wave is nothing new, but there's recently been a bit of publicity around it and the surfers that make this special river a bit of a tourist attraction. I have to admit, I stop by every time I pass. I also love seeing people on the tram or bus with a surfboard. It really never does get old.
Keep Surfing is a newly released movie about the Eisbach, while there is also a Surf Festival the 4th-6th of June.
Stefan and I were lucky enough to be in Hawaii when the Eddie Aikau 2009 Quicksilver big wave competition was, last December... and let me tell you - it was awesome.
We got to drive up to Waimea Bay and watch the surfers tackle 50 foot waves. The weather has to be absolutely perfect or the competition isn't held. Obviously there's no comparison between big wave surfing and our little wave here in the city, but it's always fun to watch man vs. nature.
I'll write about our Hawaii trip as soon as I can... I'm neurotic about keeping things in order, so you might have to be patient for a little while.
(poster courtesy of Quicksilver)
Monday, May 24, 2010
It's not always easy to figure things out when I don't live in Paris, but with the help of friends, Spotted by Locals, Hip Paris, My Little Paris and lots of scavenging on the net, I found some wonderful locales that really enabled me to make this a very memorable trip.
Stefan first discovered several clues the night before we left to celebrate his birthday. I snuck them into his closet, so he'd find them while packing. They gave him an idea that we were going to depart on an adventure and what types of things he should pack.
Periodically throughout the trip I would give him new clues, so there was always something to surprise him.
Many of the clues were food oriented. We sampled what was voted the best baguette of 2010, chocolates from the finest chocolatier, chocolate mousse, cake, ice cream, macarons, champagne, wine... there was definitely a lot of celebrating, but it was tons of fun and thankfully over several days.
We also did a taste test to find the best macarons.
We both agreed that it really was no contest, though.
Here's a list of Ladurée flavors, and they had beautiful colors, however the Pierre Hermé macarons were much more creative and delicious - here is a list of their flavors. (Apologies that those from Pierre Hermé don't look the best... they traveled with us to London before I took photos).
I don't even think I could pick a favorite out of those from Pierre Hermé. They are worth the trip to Paris (or Tokyo! - remember that love affair between the two cities?).
We also went to the restaurant where Amélie worked in Montmartre and sampled some of her crème brûlée, which was not only good, but also inexpensive.
Others clues were to offbeat destinations - the koi pond at the UNESCO world headquarters, a visit to Lady Liberty, a stop at Theo Van Gogh's house, where Vincent lived for a couple years, and a quintessential stop at the 'I Love You' wall.
We did a few other special things... however they deserve their very own post, which I'm working on.
If you are looking to create your own special tour around the city here are a few recommended places to start:
Paris Vacation Rentals
Cook'n with Class
Patrick Roger Chocolates
I love you wall
If you are short on time you may want to do a tour (I didn't take any of these, so I can't comment on them, but they looked interesting)
Eye Prefer Paris Tours
Paris Original Strolls
Bike About Paris
Girls Guide to Paris
Da Vinci Code Paris
RESTAURANTS, FOOD, + NIGHT LIFE
La Grande Epicerie
Ze Kitchen Galerie
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Paris really is that romantic. It's a place that grows on you and lingers in your thoughts for weeks after you visit. Stefan and I spent our first anniversary there and have been itching to get back ever since.
Not that you need an excuse to visit Paris, but we had another cause for celebration - Stefan's birthday. (I had to write this after the fact, because I didn't want to give away all of his birthday surprises!)
During the anniversary trip we were lucky enough to toast the first year of marriage, in Reims, at several champagne houses. This year I was looking for something new, but equally as exciting.
To celebrate and make things even more special, I set out to explore the hidden Paris. The one that's not in guide books. It would rightfully take a lifetime to properly explore such a diverse and colorful city. That was only reaffirmed the more I researched. The deeper I dug the more I wanted to plan another trip before this one had even begun.
Let's get a few things straight about why Paris is so lovely:
- cheese... find me an ashy goat cheese and I'm yours
- the pastry shops are total works of art
- it's based around water with the Seine flowing through. Cities near water always seem to be the best.
- the sparkles on the Eiffel Tower are delightful
- people seem to take things in stride and enjoy life
- the architecture is so charming. It truly is magical.
So as for the surprises, I was hugely inspired by the Trésors de Paris a fantastic treasure hunt around Paris put on annually by the Town Hall.
Other cities should take note, because it's a great idea for tourists and locals to learn more about the city.
Unfortunately our visit doesn't coincide with this year's hunt (July 3rd), so I had to take things into my own hands - going with the treasure hunt / scavenger hunt / Schnitzeljagd of sorts, as a fun way to experience some unique places.
I made a series of clues that would lead us to some off beat locations using images from Stefan's past. It took a fair amount of time to organize - you could even say I was a bit pedantic about things. Each polaroid photo had the clue, address, map designation, and arrondissment, so we could efficiently try to get to all of the locations. There are a few that we'll have to hit up for our next visit, simply because we ran out of time. Looks like we'll have to go back!
It definitely made for an unforgettable trip and a really fun way to explore the city. I knew it was a success when he said he 'felt like he was on the movie Elizabethtown' and 'we should do this for all of the cities we visit'.
Observations in Paris:
- Lots of street musicians / people who perform on the subways
- Artisanal lemonade at Chez Janou - it was electric blue and didn't have a faint taste of lemon. hmm... Their chocolate mousse on the other hand is more like a vat. You simply scoop out as much as you'd like.
- I considered staying at Mama Shelter, but we wanted something more central and like staying in the 5th... maybe next time. It looks really neat and we liked the Philippe Starck designed place we stayed at in LA.
- My Grandma once told me if you visit a place twice it's not always the same. I'd actually go as far as saying it might even be better. It's nice to have the touristy things out of the way and feel somewhat familiar with your surroundings.
- Japan and Paris have a love affair. I'm sure I will write about it more once I get to writing about Japan, but it's full on. Both places love that attention to detail, the simple pleasures, and making the mundane special and exciting. It's a special relationship.
- I never realized Paris had so many names... it was interesting to see all of the guide books with unique spellings.
- Getting around takes serious time. I never realize how big the city is until we're standing at one of the city view points - it just goes on and on. We decided to walk along the Seine from the Notre Dame area to the Eiffel Tower - that alone is about 3 miles.
I will try to write more about the scavenger hunt in the coming days. We did a lot of really fun things.
Sadly, we were right at the Modern Art Museum this time last week. Art Historians everywhere are mourning one of the largest painting heists in history that happened just this week. It's pretty brazen and incredible move, but since the paintings weren't apparently cut out of the frames it is most likely a professional job. Therefore, we can at least hope whomever has them knows how to care for them... until they are found and brought back for all to enjoy, that is.