Monday, March 26, 2012

Ode to Paris

This is my form of an unstructured ode to Paris, one of the best cities in all the land. A city of butter, love, crepes, history, shopping and chocolate. It sounds fabulous, and I assure you, it is. We arrived in Paris late Tuesday night and took the metro right to the Eiffel Tower to see the light show (the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour on the hour). We emerged from the Trocadero metro station and there it was; all lit up and even more grandiose than it is in movies. I'll admit, I teared up a bit.

Look at it. I could look at it all day. I snapped a trillion photos, so you're lucky that I'm only posting one. The next day we did a walking tour of the city that included Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, the lock bridge, the Louvre and pretty much everything else. The lock bridge, or Pont des Artes as it's actually called, is this bridge that crosses the Siene and goes straight to the Louvre that is covered with padlocks that have couples name's written on them. Just adds to the whole "city of love" vibe.


That's us being pyramids in front of the pyramids at the Louvre! I'm lucky to have found friends that are as corny as I am. Our tour guide said that a lot of Parisians don't like the pyramids because they disrupt the elegance of the square. I think they're great - they represent the entire city. Modernity surrounded by history. Sometimes I'm so profound I even shock myself.

The next day we took a train to the Palace of Versailles and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower. And by climbed I mean we took an elevator (our feet hurt, the line was shorter, and we're generally lazy). You could see out for miles, the city is so much bigger than it seems! Versailles was stunning. We just don't have palaces like that. We also never had a monarchy, so I guess it makes sense. Afterward we made our way on over to the Champs-Elysses and the Arc du Triomphe to shop around and chill out for a bit. It's exhausting being a euro traveler, I gotta tell ya.

(yum nutella crepe with whipped cream)

Now, about the food. I had the highest of high expectations. All semester, I've been reading these pieces in my food writing class about how people go to Paris for the first time, walk into any random bistro, and have the meal of their life. How food in Paris is in a league of its own. Well my friends, it is not. The first night we ate in in the hostel; chicken fingers and nachos. Granted it was pretty late and we were rushing to go see the Eiffel Tower, but still. The next night we were rushing again, ran into some random place by the Sacre Coeur, and had steak frites. It was not good. I think they ran out and bought McDonalds fries and threw them next to a once-frozen slab of unidentified beef. It wasn't until our last day there (that sounds so dramatic we were only there for two days), that I finally had real, delicious Paris food.

(the Mont Blanc at Angelina)

Everyone and their mother told me to go to Angelina, a world-renowned dessert place located in the heart of Paris. They're famous for their hot chocolate and the above dessert, the Mont Blanc. The restaurant itself is beautiful; very old, Parisian glamour. The desserts, however, are modern. You won't find a chocolate lava tort or a slice of cake or pie. What you will find are meticulously crafted desserts, all with the perfect pairings of flavors and textures. The Mont Blanc was my favorite. It's a meringue cookie piled high with chestnut puree and fresh whipped cream, surrounded by a type of chocolate paste (similar texture to that of marzipan). We also enjoyed a dark chocolate and raspberry tarte, topped with vanilla bean whipped cream, and a gelatinous apple confection that sat atop layers of flaky pastry. And the hot chocolate. The famous Chocolate L'Africain is practically chocolate fondue. They serve it with fresh whipped cream and when the two combine, there are no words.

(why yes, those are snails!)

Birthday dinner. Escargot. Les Halles. God I love Paris. Though it was not technically my birthday just yet, I chose to celebrate my twenty-first day of birth with a meal in Paris rather than in Amsterdam (blech I shouldn't have eaten in Amsterdam at all. I'll tell you why in the next post! Aren't teasers fun?). I originally wanted to go to Chez Denise because Anthony Bourdain went there and the New York Times did a review and I want to be a snobby foodie too, but unfortunately we couldn't make a reservation and thus they wouldn't seat us. So we took a leap of faith and crossed the street to Le Louchebem, a classic french steakhouse. It smelled great and the waiters were friendly enough, so we got a table and checked out the menu. Escargot. It had to happen. I couldn't go to France and not eat a snail. So, we ordered 6 and waited patiently. They arrived in a little snail plate, with little snail grabbers and teeny forks to scoop those little buggers out of their shells. Alex, Amy and I scooped out the snails, took one last gulp, and popped them in. Slightly chewy, slightly sweet, covered in garlic-pesto-lemon-butter. Delicious. Who would have thought?! I wanted a whole other serving, they were just that good.

(boeuf bourguignon)

Naturally I had to get boeuf bourguignon (beef slow cooked in red wine with veggies and potatoes) because it's featured in Julie and Julia and I had to see what all the hype was about. It was warm, tender and savory and exactly what I wanted. All in all, the good food was good, the not so good food was really not good at all. The food in Rome is a serious contender. And by the end of the 10 days, I was even starting to miss pasta (*gasp*). Well, that's all folks. I'm wiped, and I'm just not ready to tackle Amsterdam yet. I'm still not over it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


If I wasn't a eurotraveler before, I sure am now. I just arrived home from a whirlwind week in two of Europe's greatest cities (London and Paris) and then Amsterdam. I just have so much to say about everything so I'm just going to start with London for now - I'm sure you can only handle me in small doses anyway.

Big Ben, gloomy skies, bare trees, that's London for ya. We actually lucked out with some pretty sunny weather on our last days there, but it did look like this quite a bit. Regardless, I would have to say that London is my fourth favorite city in the world (first NYC, then Rome, then Paris, then London). Fourth is a pretty high ranking, since I've seen a lot of cities and all. We arrived on Friday, and took a train right over to Earlsfield, where we stayed the first night. It's the equivalent of Monteverde (where I live) in Rome; totally a suburb, but easily accessible. It was really quaint, sort of like Ridgewood. We shopped around Oxford Circus on Friday, taking in all the sites and shops that we miss (FOREVER 21 AND STARBUCKS YAY).

On Saturday we went to Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived. It's a museum to her now, though unfortunately it was closed while we were there. Then we did super touristy things, like shoved ourselves in telephone booths to take stupid pictures while all the locals rolled their eyes as they walked past (clearly they haven't seen the top model episode where they take super fierce pics inside a London phonebooth, or clearly they don't think that I look super fierce, even though I totally do). We also fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams: we went to platform 9 and 3/4. YES, it exists. Well, not really; the lovely brits at King's Cross station put a little sign up on the wall and a half a shopping cart so that all of us Harry Potter nerds can pretend that we too are throwing ourselves against a brick wall and will magically appear on a platform on the other side.

Then, to redeem our ladylike class, we went to afternoon tea at The Leonard Hotel. We ate scones with Devonshire cream, an assortment of little finger sandwiches, cupcakes and whichever tea we liked. We sat for hours, shmoozing and letting our feet heal a bit, before we headed over to a pub for St. Patty's Day. On Sunday we met up with our Bus2Alps group at the hostel and then embarked on a three hour walking tour of the city. We got to see Buckingham Palace, the famous guards, Trafalger Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and all the other famous sights of London. I tried fish and chips (yum), shopped around a famous London market and got to use my braccent (british accent, for those of you who couldn't figure it out). We mastered the public transportation system in five days and learned that England is as obsessed with bacon as I am (they have a street called Bacon Street. I have picture evidence if you don't believe me).

(parliament building)

Now, to the most exciting part of my trip. On Tuesday, Alex's friend who works at Parliament (so legit I know), took us inside to show us around. It just so happened that the Queen was also there to make a speech about something or other. And guess what, WE SAW THE QUEEN! There was a whole crowd and she got out of her macked out Bentley and shuffled inside. But not before I snapped a photo (unfortunately this picture isn't on my camera, but once it's uploaded I'll be sure to share it). You can hardly see her in it because I was pretty far away, but if you squint your eyes real hard and look extra close you can see the Queen in her powder blue outfit with her oh-so-British hat. Just so casual. Stay tuned tomorrow for Spring Break: Paris edition! (I promise there will be delicious food pictures in that post, since I know that's why you all read my blog anyway).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Break!

Hello from London! I just want to let all of you who are waiting for a new post with baited breath know that I'm away on spring break, and thus won't be able to upload pics until I get back next Sunday. And what's a post without pictures? Anyway, I've been in London since Friday, we depart for Paris today, and then head to Amsterdam on Friday (which also happens to be the best day of the year because it's my 21st birthday!). I know, I'm living the life. I promise I'll spend all day Sunday when I get back updating you on my eurotravels. Bye/Au revoir/Dag (that's "bye" in Dutch) for now!

Monday, March 12, 2012

At Home in Rome

(view of Rome from the roof deck at school)

Look at that view. You can see all the way to the snow-capped mountains that surround the city. I'm living the dream, just saying. However, on a less lovin-life note, AUR has midterms this week. I haven't taken a real midterm since the beginning of sophomore year (journalism just doesn't really do tests). And now I have three. Like really AUR, don't you know that we're not here for school?? We're here to explore and travel and go on adventures! Not to sit, cooped up in an apartment, and study for hours upon hours upon hours. Which is exactly what I did this weekend. Such a waste. It's all right though I guess, because on Friday we leave for LONDON!! Spring break is almost here and that means London, Paris, Amsterdam, here I come! I'm secretly so excited for London because: a. I can pretend to be a Spice Girl, and b. I can pretend to be Hermione Granger.

(tagliolini cacio e pepe - pasta with pecorino and black pepper)

And now, on "What I Ate!" Thursday night we went to Roma Sparita, which I had read a lot about, as it's city-renowned for one specific pasta. The tagliolini cacio e pepe, a traditional Roman pasta dish, was the dish to order. If you can't tell from the picture, it comes in a crispy parmesan bowl. Just cheese on cheese on cheese. 

(gnocchi with shaved black truffle and something similar to provolone)

Friday I accidentally stabbed myself while trying to de-pit an avocado (oh what I do in pursuit of home-made guacamole) and subsequently passed out (never a dull moment with this girl). Thus, I was unable to go out. Saturday night we went out to dinner with Marielle's parents at La Scala, a place down in Trastevere. Again, cheese on cheese on gnocchi on cheese. Cheese and I are having a love affair. Thank god I'm not lactose intolerant. On another happy note, I'm once again a real member of society because I have a phone!!! My month without one was rough, but I did survive. By the end it was almost even nice to be totally detached. Almost.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wine and Dine

Ah Tuscany. If I could drop everything and start a new life, I would build a villa on one of your beautiful hills and make olive oil, wine and pastries. I would get a big dog, and never paint my nails, and just cook and eat all day every day. I only spent a half a day there, and I'm in love. 

(the villa we ate at)

We arrived in Trequanda, a town in the province of Siena in the region of Tuscany, early Sunday morning. We started our day by making pici pasta with their chef (it's a specialty of the region). Pasta is so easy to make. It's just flour, eggs, possibly water and/or oil, and a pinch of salt. You make a volcano shaped mound with the flour, plop the liquids in the center, and slowly incorporate the two with a fork. Then you knead out the dough, and voila, pasta dough. So simple, yet so easy to screw up. I tried to make gnocchi once - I ended up having to order chinese food it was that bad. I'm going to try to make my own pasta eventually, I'll take pictures and post them when I do. 

(piece of cake for this guy)

We took a tour of the villa grounds and the winery. Our tour guide (who works there) explained how they make their wines, aging the reds longer and which grapes are used and how the weather affects the taste and on and on. He said how some people can taste what's in the soil when they drink wine, but he doesn't buy into that. I like wine, some definitely more than others, but I just don't think that I'll ever be able to taste the essence of asparagus, or dirt, or carrots in a glass of wine. Although I just read a story on that says that wine experts have more sensitive tongues than those of us who would like to think we're wine experts, so maybe my tongue just isn't special (sorry tongue). 

(course 1 of the three-hour-long lunch: top meat is prosciutto, the one to the left is salumi toscana, and the one next to the bruschetta is pancetta. The dark bruschetta is pate)

We sat down to lunch at around 1:00, and did not finish until almost 4:00. Probably the longest meal of my life, but the food kept coming and so did the wine, so I wasn't one to complain. We started with a traditional Italian primo: the meat plate. I think if someone served me a plate of cold-cuts and a slice of cheese back home as an appetizer, I would LOL in their face. But these meats can hardly be considered cold-cuts. (*disclaimer* if you're kosher, skip this part). I love pig. I love bacon, I love crispy pancetta garnishing any and all pastas, I love fatty prosciutto. I can't say I would ever cook a pork chop over a piece of chicken or a steak, but I would take a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich over turkey and swiss any day of the week (and, in fact, I do). The bruschettas were good, even though they don't put salt in their bread in the Toscana region, so it tastes a bit like cardboard (though I've never tried cardboard specifically, but I'd imagine they taste similar). 

(pappardelle pasta with, you guessed it, pork bolognese!)

Anyway, back to pork. I'm just being introduced to this whole other meat (my family is a chicken family, I'm so over it) and it's delicious. I know a pig's dirty and all that, but are chickens not dirty? To be a super pretentious foodie/journalist and quote Anthony Bourdain from his piece Don't Eat Before Reading This, "Pork, on the other hand, is cool ... pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken." It's just so true. But back to the meal, and to more pasta. I was full by now (duh), but because they let you sit for a half hour between every course you're almost hungry by the time the next course comes out. After pasta, we had roast chicken with potatoes, which wasn't pretty so I didn't take a picture. But it was scrumptious. 

(tart with apricot marmalade)

I'm a fan of the lunch time dessert. Well, I'm actually just a fan of dessert. At any time. Lunch time, mid-morning, pre-dinner, post-dinner, pre-bed, I don't discriminate. But I do particularly like having a little something sweet after lunch. I would have liked something chocolate, as I usually do, but I'm starting to appreciate non-chocolate sweets (gasp!). Italy's big on shortbread cookies, apricot-filling, and pastry cream. And I'm big on Italy. Ipso facto, I'm into their desserts.

And Tuscany. Did I mention that I love Tuscany?!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pisa & Firenze

I think I can now officially consider myself an Italian traveler (as in one who travels Italy, not one who is Italian and travels). This weekend I went on a trip with school to Pisa, Florence and Trequanda (a town in the Tuscany region). I'm only going to post about Pisa and Florence now because I just loved Tuscany so much and have too much to say about it/too many pictures to post.

(I'm a fool.)

I couldn't get the perfect picture of me holding up the tower (which really was just so tilted, our tour guide said it's going to fall in the next 200 years!) so I did that instead. Pisa is really quaint; there's not much else to see besides the tower and its accompanying cathedral and baptistry. We climbed the 294 steps to the top of the tower and got to look out on all of the town and the surrounding mountains.

(view from the top of the tower)

There isn't anything else to say really; it was beautiful, we ate decent pizza, and got back on the bus to head to our hotel in Montecatini Terme (a little village in between Pisa and Florence). Saturday we arrived in Florence at around 10 and had a walking tour first. We saw the Duomo and its cathedral and bell tower, a copy of the David, the Ponte Vecchio, and lots of leather (obviously the most important part).

(gorgeous apartments along the Arno)

(Me and Mal, it was windy)

After the tour, we were torn between our growling stomachs and our desire to purchase all the leather in the entire city. Our stomach's won, as per usual. We went to this restaurant our guide recommended, Trattoria Ponte Vecchio along the river. I was brave and had pappardelle with boar! It tasted a lot like regular bolognese, just a bit smoother, if that makes sense.

After lunch we took an obscene amount of pictures on one of the bridges and then headed over to the leather market. It's very similar to any other open air market, except most of the stuff is real. Naturally I couldn't decide what I wanted, since I don't wear belts or gloves, and even though I'd love a brown leather jacket it wasn't necessary, and I already have a great wallet. So, even though I definitely don't need it, I got another bag. It's grey leather and really structured and perfect for an internship or just when I feel like looking like a grown up. Then, after shmying around for hours, it was gelato time (as it is every day at around 4 o'clock). Rachel (who's studying in Florence) took us to this place along the river, Santa Trinita Gelateria. It's all artiginale, which means that it's homemade. 

I got half their signature flavor, mascarpone cream with nutella (on the left), and cookies on the right. Now, I know I say this every time I post about gelato, but THIS was the best gelato I've had so far. And I'm totally not a vanilla girl, so you know that this must have been the most superior gelato. We sat with our cones on the bridge in the sun, overlooking the river, and I had to photograph this...

just written on the side of the bridge. I don't know about ever, because that's a pretty strong statement, but I'd say it's definitely up there. Florence is great, I can't wait to go back with my parents in a few weeks! Maybe I'll get that leather jacket then...