Saturday, May 2, 2015

Europe Days 9 & 10: Celebrating Our 5th Anniversary--in Paris!

Though not necessarily planned, James and I got to spend our fifth anniversary in Paris. We split from my parents for the day and did some exploring on our own.  We started the day with the #1 item on my list….Lovers’ Bridge.  Cheesy, I know, but when I found out we’d be in Paris on our anniversary, I wasn’t going to skip it.  I even bought a padlock months before our trip!  Anyway, beware that there are now several of these bridges, but I believe the original is on the Pont de l'Archevêché….so it is especially full of locks.  It was fun watching James search for a spot our lock could actually connect (we wanted to attach it to the bridge itself instead of to another lock like most are having to resort to now).  It took a while, but we were pretty proud afterward. :)  We closed the lock, shared a kiss, and threw the key into the river together before taking a few horrible selfies (the bad part about splitting from my parents!).

And some at the Notre Dame, too.

I also wanted to visit the site where Jim Morrison is buried (and it wasn’t on my parents’ list) so we took some time to do that as well.  Several trains and a bunch of stops later, we ended up at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Even with a map and a little bit of help from other searchers, it took much longer than we thought to find the grave--but we did!

 It was a gorgeous cemetery.  I can definitely see why so many want it to be their final resting place.  Even in the middle of a huge city, it was incredibly peaceful.  I couldn’t help but take lots of photos, as every scene looked like a poem

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting”

After that, we headed to the Champs Elysses to see the Arc de Triomphe and do lots of walking. We grabbed a quick lunch before meeting back up with my parents. It was a lot of fun spending some time together just the two of us.

We felt like we had to do a little bit of shopping (we were in Paris, after all) but didn’t devote much of our time to it.  We strolled Rue Saint Honore past Gucci, Lanvin, Chanel...and picked up a couple of souvenirs at Longchamp and Hermes (a gorgeous silk scarf that is perfect but I’m too scared to wear! haha). We took in the views of Tuilleries Garden and the Place de la Concorde before splitting back up for dinner.

From our river cruise, James and I had seen this “#CuisineBox par Ikea” and were totally fascinated.  Being the Ikea freaks we are, decided that’s where we’d eat our anniversary dinner (hey!  it was on the banks of the Seine in Paris...even an Ikea shipping container is romantic!).  It took a while to find it (we just couldn’t remember what bridge we’d seen it under), but when we did….we realized it was an empty box.  Well, basically empty.  Everything was in French, but we determined it was a “kitchen” of sorts for people to bring their leftovers for heating up.  Or something.  Definitely not where we were going to eat our anniversary dinner.  So, hungry and tired as we were, we walked another few blocks and stopped at the first place on the river we saw that was selling food. :)  Not exactly super French, but we had burgers (his meat and mine veggie) like we had done for our first date. Yummy, quiet, beautiful view, etc.  We were happy.  

And since we were so close, we stopped by the Eiffel Tower again. :)

By day 10, we felt like regulars at the Artisan Boulanger Patisserie (where we ate there at least 3 or 4 times) on Rue Cler around the corner from out hotel.  

We got pretty comfortable using the subway system in Paris as well.  Some of the stations were beautiful!  

Our last day in Paris was a rainy one, but we made the best of it and went to see the Sacre Coeur.  

James took this panoramic photo from the top of our climb up the Montmartre.  The day was gray, but the view was still beautiful!

We loved browsing all of the artists' stalls.  James and I picked up a watercolor piece of a Paris street scene painted just around the corner from the Montmartre.  (We actually hunted the exact spot down and got a  picture in front of it. ;) ) 

Couldn't resist sharing some Rafiki art!

That evening, James and I headed to Bistrot Le P'tit Troquet for supper.  We wanted to have a nice meal at least once in Paris and we had read a lot of really good things about this place.  It didn't disappoint!

The decor was so, so cute.  They do reservations in groups, so we had an early slot and were the first to arrive.  There were lots of other English-speaking groups, too.

We had a seat right by the window. :)

And the food was fantastic.  Not fussy, but certainly not plain.  

After dinner, we sat with my parents to enjoy the view from our hotel room for the last time. They regretted not getting supper with us--so take their advice and don't skip out on at least one "nice" meal while you're in Paris!

While we had gotten to the “must see” items on our list, Mom and I just couldn’t stand to sit still when there was another hour of daylight left in Paris!  We decided that if we were quick, we could make it over the Seine one last time to the Flamme de la Liberté.  We were quick, and we did make it to the flame...a golden replica of Lady Liberty’s torch and the unofficial memorial for Princess Diana, located just above the tunnel where her limousine crashed.  

Since our first night in Paris when we saw a reflection of the Eiffel Tower’s lights “shimmering,” we had been trying to catch another glimpse of the action.  We weren’t sure what time it happened, but just around the corner from our hotel we had a great view of the Tower, so we headed down to wait it out...and it paid off!  At 10pm on our last night, we finally got to the see the show (which obviously doesn’t really translate in photos).  It was a magical way to end our trip.

Au revoir, Paris!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Europe Days 7 and 8: Normandy, Mont Saint-Michele, and Paris!

We left Belgium on day seven and headed south to France.  We first stopped in Honfleur, a beautiful old port city that was popular with impressionist painters like Monet (it inspired paintings like Rue de la Bavolle, below).  I can see why!  I was especially fascinated by Saint Catherine's, the biggest wooden church in France. I read somewhere that this church was built after the city had been destroyed in the Hundred Years War. All of the carpenters in town were away rebuilding the country, so the shipbuilders stepped in and built the church--and it definitely looks like it!

We didn’t spend much time here as it was just a stop on our route--and it was raining again--but I would definitely spend more time here if I was ever in the area again (and I hate that we didn't have time for the Bayeux Tapestry!).  We walked around town and grabbed a quick breakfast to eat under a tree in the park before hitting the road again.  I think the item below is apple-filled....I usually just pointed at what looked good. :) “Meals” like these are some of my favorites, though...people watching and pastries.  Swoon.

We headed south along the coast for another hour until we reached Omaha Beach.  I don’t think anyone needs me to sell this as a “must see” stop on a trip to the area, so I’m not sure what to say.  I just really can’t imagine being an American on vacation in Normandy and not taking the time to visit.  The cemetery, the beach, everything...just standing and staring was beautiful and moving.  I also definitely suggest taking the time to visit the museum and the memorial on the sand.

We headed south again, this time toward Mont Saint Michel. We stayed at Hotel Saint Aubert, which was less than a 5 minute shuttle away.  Be prepared, though, that the shuttle can only take you to the bottom of the hill...and while it doesn’t look that feels it! We had to walk from where I was standing in the photo below all the way up.  I kind of regretted not spending the money to stay in one of the neat hotels on the island, but I did not regret not having to haul my luggage that far on cobblestone! :)

I could have walked around there forever.  So many alleyways and neat restaurants and shops.  We were there in the evening on an odd day, so not a lot was open, but it also meant that it was not crowded, either.  Every inch of the place was picturesque.  It was like heaven for me.  

After wandering a while, we decided to try one of the omelettes for which Mont Saint Michel is so famous.  Well, everyone else had them, but since I don’t eat eggs...I had a tomato and onion crepe.  My crepe was fantastic, but the omelettes didn’t impress as much.  I think they’re still glad to have marked that off of their bucket lists, though. ;)

That omelette is so darn fluffy!

That night, I was pretty surprised by how “dead” the area was.  Our hotel was full of Japanese tourists, but we saw almost no one else other than that.  We decided to spend the evening hanging out in the hotel lobby and we enjoyed a bottle of DuPont, a gift we received from some other guests staying at the Saint Bernardus B&B.  On our first night at the B&B, we spent hours talking to a New Jersey couple that was living in Belgium and on a weekend trip to the Saint Bernardus brewery.  James and the husband, Jack, discussed Trappist beer quite deeply and when we were checking out our last morning, the hostess Jackie gave us the bottle of beer that Jack and Diane--ah!--had left for us.  Such a sweet surprise and nice ending to our day.

The next morning, we headed toward Paris.  We gave ourselves an entire day for this so we could enjoy the drive.  We stopped at a bakery on our way out of “town” and I still regret not getting one of these precious Mont Saint Michel-shaped cookies, although I can't complain about what I did get.  I took too many photos of the gorgeous homes and streets we traveled on, and just couldn’t get over how beautiful every inch of France seemed to be….We didn’t notice until we’d gotten to Paris that somehow our GPS had been set to “scenic” drives (or something similar).  Good thing we allotted an entire day for that drive! :)  

Can I please move in?

Besides the beautiful homes, we saw (and stopped at) many brocante shops.  While I’m more of a “vintage” kinda girl, my parents love antiques (and European ones at that) so they were in heaven.  Mom had been dying for a French antique cast iron fireback to mount behind her stove (if this idea is as new to you as it was to me, see so we were on the hunt for one of those.  My parents just moved into a new house, so the fireback isn’t installed yet...but when it is, I’ll post photos and tell the whole story. :)

And we finally made it to Paris! After ditching the rental car and checking into the hotel, we headed a few streets over to Rue Cler for an early supper.  We settled on Cafe Central and had the very Parisian meal of croque monsieur and frites. ;)

Gorgeous flower shops everywhere.

Still having a bit of daylight left, we decided a Seine River cruise was the best way to get our bearings in Paris.  They sold mini bottles of champagne where we bought our tickets, so we relaxed on the upper level of the boat and toasted the last stop on our trip.  

We strolled the streets around our hotel and watched the sun set over the Eiffel Tower before checking in for the night (and finishing off a few more of those Belgian beers--sadly our carryon bags weren't great for bringing home souvenirs!).  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Europe Day 6: Belgium

Day six was more or less “James’s Day.”  After a very fun night on day five, we woke up without a lot of desire to leave the bed. So, we had breakfast and headed back upstairs for a nap while my parents did laundry. (Our hostess at the B&B, Jackie, was awesome and let them use the ones they had onsite.)

Feeling a bit more rested, we started out at the Saint Sixtus Abbey to see where the famous Westvleteren beer is made.  Like all of the other Trappist breweries, we weren’t allowed inside, so we just snapped a few (okay, quite a few) photos of James with the grounds and abbey signs behind him.  This part of the trip was the most important to him, so we made sure to document it well. :)

A block or so away is the restaurant/welcome center, In de Vrede.  I honestly don’t remember much about the food and I still wasn’t up for any beer (probably the single worst timing in the world for a hangover!) , but Mom and I did decide to share the ice cream made with Westvleteren beer.  It was delicious!   The guys most definitely tried the different beers, though. :)

If you’re beer nerds like us, you’ve surely heard of the Westvleteren 12 beer--rated the #1 beer in the world by  It is nearly impossible to get your hands on, as the monks prefer that it is only available at their abbey and restaurant, where availability is often limited (and sometimes there is no beer for sale at all). There are waiting lists you have to call ahead for and only certain days and times you can call and that beer is released. It takes quite a lot of effort, so we were really lucky that the visitor's center had some while we were there. (Another perk of a weekday visit!)  James and Dad each got a 6-pack to bring home...James does look pretty proud of it, too, doesn’t he?

We had a reservation for a tour of the St. Bernardus factory, so we headed back that direction next.  We got to see how the beer was made and Dad even tasted some of the hop pellets used in production (he can’t smell so he had no idea what he was in for!).  We learned a lot about the history of the brewery and the tour ended with a long and generous beer tasting.  There is very little I can tell you about the history of the beer that you can’t read on Wikipedia, but the tour is definitely worthwhile if you are in the area.  The small tour fee even included a souvenir set with four bottles of beer and a large glass!  While these beers are fairly easy to get your hands on in the states, it was really neat to see the production of one of James’s favorites, especially after getting to meet the owner. 

If we ever go back to the area, I would love to take a bike tour.  They are very popular in the area, but just didn’t really fit into our already cramped schedule.  Even the car rides were beautiful, though, as the whole region is known for hops.  These hops fields were right outside of the brewery/B&B:

Speaking of hops...our next stop was the Hopmuseum in Poperigne.  We had read about the museum before our trip, but basically just went because we had the time...and we are so glad we did!  It was a really, really interesting museum and so well done.  The drive to and from and through the town of Poperigne were so pretty, too, and we even saw our first and only maypole of the trip!

That evening, we took the 1.5 hour drive up to Bruges for supper.  This part of our day wasn’t necessarily planned, either, so we went up without any knowledge of where to go or what to do.  We ended up parking where we could and we found this square where we walked around a bit.  As it started to pour down rain, we ducked into a nearby cafe and grabbed a bite to eat.  The menu was difficult to read, so Mom and I got frites and the guys some sort of fried "sampler".  We had fun trying to guess what each bite was and we ended up sitting on the second floor with a great view of the rain over Bruges.  The meal was mediocre but the experience was pretty pleasant.  

And then...on our way back to the car...we realized we were parked basically underneath a fair, so we decided to walk around a bit….and discovered one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life.  I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me to look for a waffle the entire time we’d been in Belgium, but when we saw it, we jumped on it.  And that darn street fair Belgian waffle is one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Europe Day 5: Belgium

So, it has been almost a year since I started posting about our trip to Europe...and I still haven’t finished.  Not much to say about that, but I’m ready to get back to it, so here I am.


On our fifth day, we checked out of the castle hotel and made our way through Luxembourg to Belgium.  Luxembourg was basically just your basic quick stop at a gas station:  lots of gummies, any cold (!!!) drink we could want, cheap cigarettes, and 50-cent bathrooms. ;)

Our first stop in Belgium was the Rochefort Abbey.  We couldn't go inside, but snapped a few photos outside.  It was beautiful and so peaceful.

Our second stop was just down the road at the Chimay Abbey, the location of another Trappist brewery.  We couldn't go inside their either, but we walked around the grounds a bit and then headed to their restaurant down the street.  

James and I each got the Trappist beer sampler and I had the Trappist cheese sampler (all of which is made at the Abbey).  Mom tried to order cheese fondue, but twice got a cheese sandwich...Dad got a grilled cheese that he still talks about.

We headed to our bed and breakfast next, the Brouwershuis connected to the St. Bernardus factory.  There was a little bit of trouble checking in (the front desk closes at 3pm and we did not have phones or internet service while we were there) but with some help from another guest, we got it sorted out, settled in, and headed to dinner at the nearby Sparhof Restaurant.  

The restaurant was beautiful inside and out and I loved the beef stew I got that was made with St. Bernardus beer.  :)

After dinner, we fully enjoyed the B&B's back porch and St. Bernardus-stocked fridge.  We were up until 1 am chatting with other guests and sampling all of the fresh beer.  

We were even lucky enough to be there on one of the brewery owner's rare trips!  Hans was hilarious and we really, really enjoyed getting to ask him questions and hear all about his family and how he got into the brewing business.  

We slept very well that night. :)