Eating our way through Prague

If you remember about two months ago I posted about Vienna. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve written a new post, but then again we’ve been in a whirlwind since then. As promised I’ll update you on … Continue reading

Eating Our Way Through Vienna

It’s been too long since my last post! Things are shaking up in the Townsend household but I’ll share more on that as soon as we’re finished with Europe. Until then, let’s travel to Vienna for the next few minutes.

Mumok Museum

After a 15 minute walk from the train station Wein Westbahnhof, we arrived at our AirBnB apartment in the Neubau (7th district). The apartment was located on Burgasse Street just west of the Museum Quarter.  It was a great location to access most of the city. We just ended a fabulous stay in Budapest, and Vienna was the 5th City/Country on our journey. After settling in to the apartment, we headed out to the Museum Quarter since it was just a five minute walk from the apartment. We stopped at a restaurant to check out a menu for later during the week and walked another ten minutes to a little market for a snack. Naschmarkt is a small permanent outdoor market with retailers, food vendors, flower shops, wine and beer, and gift shops. We were a little apprehensive for our first German encounter. I learned some special all-encompassing phrases like Bitte which can mean please, here you go, you’re welcome, pardon, may I help you and probably a slew of other things I don’t know. We wanted to order cheese and bread for a snack and decided on the cheese and salumi shop with young bearded men instead of the one across the aisle with older more rigid looking Viennese women. A good choice for us since I started with a rambling I don’t speak German… and he helped us select a not too stinky cheese to eat with our olive bread.

Cheesy

Maria-Theresien Platz

Doors THIS BIG

If you visit Vienna, there is no way you can leave without trying a street vendor sausage. These beauties are gigantic and perfectly packed into a roll. The roll is genius. They slice off the corner and place the cut side down over a metal rod. This creates a hole inside that they pump ketchup or mustard into and then slide the sausage in. They tuck the roll top back inside and hand it to you wrapped in a napkin. Amazing. Also delicious and mess free. No crooked-neck-hot-dog-eating for us. We tried them first at Bitzinger Wurstelstand and then at another random stand while we were shopping another day. Some stands also sell pickles and you should probably eat them too. Why? Because pickles are great! They also sell sausages without the bread, sliced on a plate that you eat with tiny forks. A lot of stands also sell beers so grab one and sip it while you enjoy a sausage (sorry vegetarians, I don’t know what is offered instead).

Sausage Lineup

Unfortunate Product Placement

Afternoon Snack

Michael and I decided to make Vienna a stop on our trip because his mom’s side of the family is of Austrian descent. His family has a few traditions that they have carried on since his great great grandparents immigrated to the United States and settled in Kansas. One of those traditions is a Christmas Bread called Strietzel. The bread is dense and sweet and is made with candied fruits (like the kind in fruitcake). We wanted to find out if you could get Strietzel any time of year and the answer was yes. The bread in Vienna didn’t have candied fruit, but the loaf was braided and came with toppings like almond slices, pearl sugar, and plain. One of the bakeries said that the candied fruit only came at Christmas and was called Stollen. Strietzel probably means different things depending on your region. I could get used to eating fruitless strietzel any time of year.

Hunting for Strietzel

We had cake and coffee at Demel. “Coffee Shops” in Vienna are very common. Not at all like their namesake in Amsterdam, these cafes serve coffee and pastries all day long. Demel had a huge assortment of freshly prepared pastries, canned jams and sauces, cookies, and expertly packed chocolates all made in house. After eating we walked to St Stephens’s Basilica. The church was undergoing some restoration to remove years of pollution causing the exterior to turn black. The restoration has reclaimed a majority of the Gothic Cathedral which shines white once again. The roof is immaculately tiled, depicting the double headed eagle which is a symbol of the Hapsburg dynasty.

Boxes of Delicious

Morning Snack

Facade Texture

In Need of TLC

Tall and Skinny

We wandered into Stadtpark, admired some flowers and the shear cleanliness of everything and plopped down in the grass to read a while. It was late afternoon and the sun felt nice and warm. We watched kids chase and feed ducks at the pond and left when the sun started to set. In addition to everything being clean in Vienna, this city has a ton of free public restrooms. They were also much cleaner than you might expect for a public toilet, just don’t forget your hand sanitizer.

Evening Falls

On our way home we stopped for a beer. After three weeks of traveling I was learning to embrace the lighter beers. After our happy hour we walked back to Museumplatz for dinner at Glacis Beisl. We didn’t have a reservation but were still seated almost immediately. I had fish and Michael tried authentic Viennese cuisine. For his starter he ate Clear Beef Soup, a beef broth based soup with some veggies. He also tried goulash since he’d never had this before. All of the food was great and we were stuffed once again.

Sampling Austria's Beverages

The next morning we decided to try out the City Bike program. All across Vienna there are stations with bikes you can check out and ride around town. Think of it like a library for bikes. The first hour is always free and each additional hour after that costs a few dollars. We picked up our bikes near the apartment and rode to a new coffee shop Michael read about, Caffé Couture. It’s across from the University at Garnisongasse 18, 1090. When we went, the concept was weird and there were no prices. You basically paid a price you thought the coffee was worth. Whew, not great since we didn’t know the going rate of a cappuccino or latte in Vienna. It was good and I think we offered around 3.50 Euros each. Not the best business model, but they are still around and have good reviews. Maybe you can go check it out and report back to let us know if they have set prices now. 

Window Seat

coffee

From coffee we headed out on a self guided bike tour of the Danube. We bought a loaf of pearl sugar coated Stritzel from a random bakery along the road and took the opportunity to use the restroom. It’s really essential to make these pit stops when you’re out for the whole day. There is a fairly well maintained bike path along the Danube but the river is not as celebrated as it is in Budapest.

Strietzel

We exchanged our bikes near the Hundertwasserhaus. This is an iconic piece of architecture that you might have seen before. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was a jewish born artist who in the 1950’s got into architecture. He approached architecture much like his art, stating that “an uneven floor is like a melody to the feet”. We may not all agree that undulating floors are melodic, but we should agree that this apartment building is quirky and inspiring. We had a simple lunch nearby at Cafe Menta. There are not a lot of choices near the complex but this cafe did not disappoint.

Umm

Curry Soup

We continued on our bike ride to Prater Park. I was really hoping to find a pasture with horses hidden in the park (I read about this on a random blog) but we either didn’t ride far enough or went along the wrong path. The Park is humongous! We only covered a small portion with our bikes before we spent some more time reading in the grass. We returned our bikes near the Amusement park entrance and happened upon an Octoberfest. Michael and I stood out among the thousands of people all dressed in lederhosen while sharing a gigantic beer. The only attraction I requested was to ride the giant Ferris Wheel. The Wheel is called Weiner Riesenrad and was built in 1897. It ranks among the world’s tallest ferris wheels standing at 212’tall. It was the tallest until 1985 (intermittently while others were built and demolished) when Japan built a 279′ wheel. We timed our ride perfectly with sunset and Michael captured some great photos overlooking the whole city. You get a real sense of how green the city is from 200′ in the air.

Bike Share

Beer Tent

giant beers

We checked out bikes again for the ride back home. By this time we were pros. We’d pick out the color we wanted along with a good corresponding seat height (since you didn’t want to spend a lot of time adjusting), click a few buttons at the machine and grab a bike. Michael was not very adventurous in his bike selection since he always picked silver. Boring! I on the other hand rode every color bike available, changing each time we checked on in and out. They came in yellow, orange, blue, purple and silver. The city is built for biking with separated bike paths or bike friendly roads. I believe the cars are quite used to bikes everywhere so we felt very safe riding. It’s definitely more dangerous to commute by bike in San Francisco, so riding without helmets seemed not as crazy. On our way home we rode to Burger de Ville located at the 25 Hours Hotel. They had opened the food truck/trailer earlier that year and it was pretty delicious. There are picnic tables and some two and four tops in the garden just outside of the airstream trailer. Burgers were great, beers weren’t over priced, and it was a beautiful night to sit outside for dinner.

25 Hours Burgers

The next morning we started off looking for good bakeries and bought bread from Joseph-Brot Bakery, and an almond topped strietzel from Aida (it’s a franchise in the city but it’s still good and easily recognizable in all pink). We had coffee and ate some strietzel before walking around the city looking for something we might be able to bring back for Michael’s grandparents. We wanted to get them a present since his ancestors are from Austria (they came on the Mayflower!). What we learned via Michael’s Aunt Tracy is that they are from a town located in modern day Czech Republic which was once part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. Most every holiday tradition that his family has kept stems from Austrian roots and finding the right present proved exceptionally difficult. We almost bought the equivalent of an encyclopedia on the history of the town his family came from but it was written in old German dialect. Michael’s grandfather only reads and speaks a little german and who knows how easy an old dialect would be to read… so we didn’t buy that gift and came back from Vienna empty handed. We do have something in the works though!

Josehp-Brot Bakery

Yum

Books in German

It was mid afternoon when we decided to hop back on the bikes and ride to the photography museum Westlicht. They had an amazing collection of Leica Cameras, one of the biggest traveling exhibits in the world that they were about to auction off! The main feature was World Press Photo Exhibition. This collection of photos was serious. Some photos showed incredible emotion some were just really difficult to look at. A few were quirky and happy, but a majority covered events that people don’t normally hear about or see photos from. After the exhibit it was time for more cheese and then a 20 minute bike ride to the Schonbrunn Palace on the outskirts of town. It’s like Vienna’s version of Versailles. We made it just in time to get into the gardens before closing, took some silly photos and hiked to the top. We ended the night reflecting on our trip at the top of the garden and Michael took a few more photos after the sun set and all of the lights came on at the Schonbrunn Gloriette.

Meetup

Leicas for Auction

World Press Photo Exhibition

We had a fantastic time in Vienna and the weather was pleasant. It’s amazing how bikeable the city is and how easy and quick it was to get around. If you’re not the biking type, there is also a great deal of public transportation to shuttle you around and when all else fails, walking is pretty easy since Vienna is not to hilly.

Gardens are for Dancing

Lean In

Schonbrunn Gloriette

Yellow Light

Next we head to Prague for our final stop on this glorious recount of our travels through Europe.

Be sure to check out Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris Part 1 and Part 2, and Budapest! And as always feel free to check out the rest of our vacation photos on Michael’s Flickr. Thanks for visiting!

Eating our Way through Budapest

Budapest was one of my favorite places we visited and I’m so happy we have finally arrived (in the series that is). If you’re just joining in feel free to look at past posts for Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris Part 1 and Part 2.  We only have two stops after Budapest and our series will be over. It’s been really fun to reminisce while writing these posts, but I am looking forward to sharing a bunch of desserts with you when we’re done.

Buda-Building

We weren’t sure what to expect when we got to Budapest. We had originally planned to go to somewhere in Southern Germany for this portion of the trip but it didn’t work out because our travel dates overlapped Octoberfest. Michael and I aren’t hard core beer drinkers so we opted for a less crazy route and ended up in Budapest. Friends of ours highly recommended it as well. Flights from Paris to Budapest are really reasonable and you don’t have to fly RyanAir to save money. We learned almost instantly (waiting in a coffee shop until our host could meet us at the apartment we rented) that the people are friendly, almost everyone speaks some english, and that everything is really really CHEAP.

Coming from Paris, it was almost shocking how cheap or maybe just affordable everything was. I am not joking by any means. We rented a really nice 2 bedroom apartment in the 6th district, Terezvaros, for $60 USD per night to add a little perspective. Our location was great, just off of Andrassy Ut which is a main road modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris. The oldest underground metro also runs below Andrassy Ut and I’d recommend taking a ride. When you walk underground it’s like stepping into a time warp. The electric rail was completed in 1896 and really hasn’t changed much. It’s actually amazing that so much seems original. Make sure you pay your fare since there are real people hired to check (no turnstyles or machines here).

Weathered

For Scale

The first restaurant we ate at recommended by our host was Menza. We had small sampling of Hungarian dishes including Garlic Soup with Fried Bread, Chicken Sesame Salad, and Mixed Pickles (or Prickles like the menu says) which included a super spicy pepper! Sneaky. A light lunch but delicious and filling. After lunch we bought groceries near our apartment and planned our evening. Budapest used to be two cities divided by the Danube. The West Bank Buda and the East side of the river Pest. The cities were united in 1873 and serves as the Capitol of Hungary. Budapest was freed from communism in1989 which is truly not that long ago and sometimes you sense this lasting oppression walking down the street.

We walked all over the city in glorious sun. The sun shed light on dilapidated buildings next to renovated buildings and I picked out a few for Michael and I to live in. Did you catch that? The SUN! We finally had gorgeous weather for the second half of our trip! We walked down to the river near Parliment and watched the sun set and city lights turn on. All of the bridges are very intricate, though I learned they had to be rebuilt after WWII destroyed all of them. Some relics remained in tact though like the lions on the Chain Bridge. The river was peaceful and there were a bunch of locations with steps into the water lit with candles, memorials I think. The Danube was the site of a Jewish massacre when the city was controlled by Nazis. They killed people on the edge and the river washed their bodies away. There is a monument of bronze shoes along the water commemorating the location where many Jew’s lives ended. It was good to sit at the water and reflect for a while.

Pickled | Garlic Soup

Night Falls

We found out there was a Nobu location southeast of the Chain Bridge at Erzsébet Tér Park and my eyes lit up. Nobu has two of my favorite dishes of all time. They are dishes I’d request as my last meal and they are stellar and simple: Miso Black Cod, and Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño. I was introduced to Nobu back in 2009 when Michael was working in Waikiki, Oahu and I haven’t forgotten that meal since. Four years later it was still as amazing as I remembered. Nobu is probably not in everyone’s price bracket and we were hoping that since everything in Budapest was cheap that somehow the food there would be too, but it was about the same as the restaurant in other cities. Aww shucks. Michael still spoiled me and I loved it.

Nobu

The next day was one of my favorites of our whole vacation. The city was holding the National Gallop while were were there. Saturday morning we ventured out to Andrassy Ut, lined with tents, closed to traffic and full of festive people. The National Gallop  is a horse race held in Hero’s Square in City Park. Cities and towns from all over Hungary send their best equestrians to compete for the title and for their town. It’s similar to the horse races in Sienna Italy. The square is transformed into a race track complete with stands and tents to place bets and gamble on horses. It was a spectacle, even just watching from outside of the fence.

Warmup

From Hero’s Square we headed west around the park to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. For around $20 US Dollars you can enjoy a day at the Turkish Thermal Baths. When Turkish people settled in Budapest in the 1500’s, they built a lot of baths to make use of the natural springs in the region. Széchenyi is not as old as other bath houses in the area but it’s the biggest and most impressive. This complex is spectacular with three large outdoor pools (two warm at around 85˚F and one cold lap pool for exercise) and 15 indoor pools of varying sizes and temperatures. The water source is a natural hot spring which runs below the site and the spring water contains minerals people believe to be healing. There are saunas and steam rooms in addition to the baths and some of the steam rooms have scents and colors to change your mood. Michael and I altered our moods with a relaxing one hour full body massage after soaking in the pools for an hour or so. The massage cost $30 US Dollars… so cheap Michael was convinced to have one too. After our massages, we made the rounds trying out each pool and a few saunas and steam rooms. The cold plunge pools were the hardest. It felt like jumping into ice cold Lake Tahoe. We took a break to drink water and eat snacks then resumed our floating and plunging. We ended in the early afternoon feeling rejuvenated and relaxed.

Day Baths

With the horse racing well underway outside, the streets were filled and there was a ton of delicious street food to eat. Giant cast iron woks filled with meat and peppers, giant sausages, potato pancakes, strudel, candies, and my new favorite street food I’ll have a hard time finding in the states Kürtőskalács (kur-toe-squa-latchs). Easier to say “Chimney Cake” as it’s translation. It’s a sweet bread treat wrapped around a wooden dowel, rolled in sugar, and grilled over coals on a rotisserie until the sugar crystalizes and the bread puffs and cooks to a golden brown. Then they sprinkle an assortment of sugar mixes on top when done (we opted for traditional cinnamon and sugar) and they serve it to you in a bag piping hot. It’s a wonderful pull-apart treat and fun because it’s hollow. I want to make these someday. I have no idea how I’d do it without a rotisserie but maybe someone I know has a fancy grill and I can try it out. I’ll need to befriend a woodworker with a lathe too…

Chef Moustachio | Wok it to ya

Roll It Up

Roillin'

Kürtőskalács (chimney cakes) at the street festival for the "National Gallop" horse races #streetfood #budapest

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Chimney Cake

We ate so much food that afternoon I don’t know how neither one of us exploded. That evening we wandered to a “Ruin Pub” called Szimpla Kert. It’s a funky mish-mash of bar, concert venue, and outdoor garden space built in an old factory building destined to be demolished. We hung out there for a while sipping beers sitting in the back half of a rusty old car (cut in half). We listened to a band warm up and play a few songs. Michael drew on the wall, and then we headed to a late dinner at Zeller Bistro.

Szimpla Kert

Leave Your Mark

Reservations are recommended at Zeller since this restaurant ranks among the top in the city according to travel sites. We didn’t have one, but decided to stop by early that evening and see if there were any openings or cancellations for the night. When I asked, they told me to come back around 10pm and they’d seat us. Our lunch was late and gigantic so a late dinner seemed appropriate. We eat fairly late most nights anyways so pushing it an hour or two later than normal wasn’t a big problem. When we came back, the host greeted us with a small glass of wine and a chocolate truffle. The wine and chocolates are house made and the restaurant is a family business that just celebrated their one year anniversary this March. One of the owners was our waiter and he gave us some fantastic recommendations. I did have a very strange (and traditional) starter of fried tiny fish called Aquadelle with dipping sauce and lemon. There were so many I couldn’t eat them all. After eating about 2/3 of the appetizer it started to get too fishy and I couldn’t help but imagine eating a basket full of minnows. They aren’t actually minnows, but little baby sardines and they came from our waiter’s parents property. It’s easier to think about eating sardines than minnows too. Never say never though, try new things! (at least try them once).

Michael had a goose liver pate to start. He likes trying weird foods too. He also likes duck and had duck confit as his main dish. Duck was a reoccurring meal on our trip (remember the duck story from Paris?). I had goulash that night. It was hearty and delicious and warmed me from the inside out. It also made me a little sad because I think it was likely veal goulash. Ahh, I’m a baby cow killer! Our meal was complete with a bottle of house made wine and dessert. I honestly can’t remember dessert but I do believe I forced Michael to eat something chocolatey with me. Tipsy, we strolled the few block walk home.

Tip Top

Inner Sanctuary

Dome's Eye View

The next day we started with a walk to St Stephens Basilica. The church is beautiful on the inside and you can go up to the top and walk around. On your way up you can walk between the inner and outer domes, a treat for two architects. The views from the top are fantastic and you can see a long way in most directions since the landscape is fairly flat. After our church tour we had lunch at Hummus Bar on Október 6. utca. (That’s the street not the date!) The falafel platter was so good, maybe better than our favorite falafel place in San Francisco, Truly Mediterranean at 16th and Mission. Yum. Perfect healthy and light lunch. And they have free wifi which is always helpful while traveling. We stopped across the street at First Strudel House of Pest Restaurant to get a couple of Strudel to go. We bought one Almás (apple) and one Mákos (poppyseed) and headed across the river via the subway.

Shadow Play

The Buda side of the river is hilly and home to Matthias Church. The church is located in the Castle district which is an old site looking down over the Danube and Pest. It was originally built in 1015 in the Romanesque style and has undergone a series of renovations and rebuilding over the years, settling on the Gothic style in the late 19th Century. We entered the city through a long tunnel which is part of a Labyrinth of tunnels below the city. You can do a tour of the tunnels, but the free portion where you can enter the city (a not well marked door) was enough for us. The buildings within the Castle District varied a lot in style and the farther from Matthias Church, the quieter it became. We sat on the west side of the castle wall for a while enjoying the day’s last few hours of sun. We also took this opportunity to eat our Strudel. The Apple was great and what we expected, and the poppy seed was strange! I imagine a drug test following the amount of poppy seeds we consumed would have turned out poorly. The poppy seed is a symbol of wealth among Eastern Europeans with the seeds representing tiny coins, and they use them in a ton of different dishes. The strudel had a ground poppy seed paste which was a little bitter. Since our palates aren’t used to the shear amount of poppy seeds in that small sampling of dessert, I’m sure it’s the reason we didn’t enjoy it as much as the apple.

Matthias Church

Upward

 

Strudel

After our lazy afternoon in the Castle District, we walked down the hill towards the Danube and hung out on the river. The view of the Parliment Building from the Buda side of the river was magical in the setting sun. The pure white building glowed golden in the evening light. The walkway at the river is about 15 feet below street level. We dangled our feet over the edge and laid back for a bit to rest our tired legs. Apparently our bodies were tired too because we both fell asleep for a while and were startled awake (20-30 minutes later) by a loud car horn! We continued our walk back to Pest on the Margit Bridge. On our way to dinner we watched families roller skate in Szabadság Park and unfortunately made a poor choice for dinner. We should have eaten at the chicken restaurant on our list but it was closed and the closest restaurant to us was Mexican food. Why did we go ahead and eat Mexican food in Budapest? Well, because the Iguana Bar & Grill had good reviews and we wanted something different from meat and potatoes. Next time we’ll know to stick to meat and potatoes (or make sure we go to the Chicken restaurant on a night it’s open). We ended the night with a scoop of gelato shaped like a flower (it’s what they do) and walked back home.

Parliment

The next morning we were off to the train station, Budapest Keleti, for our next adventure in Vienna, Austria. Stay tuned for the next episode of our travels through Europe! If you want to see the rest of our vacation photos please feel free and click this link (or just click any of the photos and they should take you there too!).

Budapest Keleti

Eating Our Way Through Paris Part Deux

We’re continuing on our journey through Europe and we are in Paris (part 2). Just as a little reminder, we started in Amsterdam, stopped in Brussels, and shared the first half of our trip in Paris. I mentioned before that … Continue reading

Eating Our Way Through Paris Part Un

So far in our journey we have traveled through Amsterdam and Brussels and now we’re on to Paris. We arrived in a light drizzle at the Gare du Nord train station on a Friday afternoon in September. We took an amazing fast train traveling at nearly 200 mph. The trip was just under 1.5 hours compared to a car ride lasting 3.5 hours. Looking out the window was strange, especially when we passed near a highway and the cars were creeping along. From the station, we walked to our apartment located in the 3rd Arrondissement. It took 15-20 minutes and was a good way to get our bearings and stretch our legs. Some say the area surrounding the Gare du Nord station isn’t the best, but it seemed fine to us (especially compared to some of our neighborhoods here is SF) and we saved some money on a cab since we didn’t want to navigate the subway while carrying our backpacks.

Teleporting to Paris #thalys #train #rail #travel #france #betterthanflying

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Our apartment was a good size studio with a washer and dryer (a necessity when you pack for two weeks at a time and need to do laundry a few times on the trip). I can’t say enough how much we appreciated having a kitchen for most of our stay. Eating out for a month straight would have been rough, even for two crazy foodies. So, settle in and find the closest grocery store and stock up on some staples.

Parisian Stair

If there’s one fact of life we are most in denial about when planning a vacation, it’s poor weather. Rain was the unfortunate daily theme of our six days in Paris. Expectations of lazy afternoons in parks reading books and strolling along the river with a slight autumn chill in the air quickly evolved. Vacationing amidst the threat of rain isn’t necessarily a negative, it just requires a lot more planning. So, how did we do it? We chose a district for the day and mark on a map a selection of great coffee shops, stores, museums, and even a movie theater as indoor escapes. Being in the city for the first time and for most of a week, we sought to see a large portion of the city. From our apartment, we had easy access to three major metro lines, an underground world we spent a lot of time navigating.

I probably should not go any further before I thank our friend Rebecca for providing us with some amazing insight, restaurants to visit and quirky things to do. A true Francophile, fluent in French, and wanderlust crazy are just a few travel related descriptions she fits. I wish we could have had her as our guide a few days. There is something about being able to truly communicate with people, especially the french, that changes your experience in any country and there is definitely less stress when language is not a barrier. I’ll work on my french for the next 10 years because when I’m 40 we (Rebecca and I) are going to France to take some classes at Le Cordon Bleu.

Paris is huge and felt similar to NYC in its expanse, intensity, and stunningly iconic sights, sounds, and tastes. Our first evening there we walked down towards Notre Dame, passing the Pompidou along the way. Michael is an amazing night photographer so I accompanied him on his quest to ever perfect his timed exposures. The rain had also subsided for most of the night so we were able to walk around and stay fairly dry.

Siene

Our first full day in Paris we took a self guided tour of pastry and chocolate shops in Arrondissements 1, 6 and 7. Michael’s goal for Paris was to eat Pan Au Chocolate every day so we stopped for a coffee and pastry and headed out for the day. We didn’t take full advantage of the subway until a few days in so we walked a TON. We walked from our house to the Lourve, then through the Jardin des Tuileries. We stopped at WH Smith Bookstore (an English Bookstore) for some new reading material and then on to Pierre Herme for some gorgeous Macarons. I’ve made a few successful macarons but for some reason they are never the first thing I think of when I want to make cookies. I should try and make them more often so it becomes second nature instead of scientific but we’ll see what the future holds. The macarons there were exquisite. Minimalist display with his cookbooks and other chocolate and pastry creations lining the walls made me happy and made me want to change careers. We bought two macarons to share. I wish we had stopped in Paris last though and I would have brought a bunch home. (Though it’s a 50/50 tie with Austria as the last stop in order to bring home Strietzel but we’ll get to that in two more episodes).

Pierre Herme

After Pierre Herme, we walked to a couple of pastry shops and chocolatiers. Our first stop was Hugo et Victor at the Boutique Rive Gauche location. You’re not allowed to take photos of the chocolate (Michael found out after he snapped the first), but we did buy a little box that looks like a moleskine notebook to bring home. Amazing morsels filled with fruit and herb infused ganache. We also went to Henri le Roux and La Chocolaterie de Jacques Génin and drooled on more gorgeous chocolates. If you’re not traveling to Paris anytime soon, some of the best and comparable chocolates we’ve had in the states are from Christopher Elbow. He hails from my hometown in Kansas City and also has a store here in San Francisco. He has some retailers across the US but I believe you can order online.

Hugo et Victor

On Sunday we woke up to glorious sun and embarked on our most memorable day starting in Montmartre. We first stumbled on a street “garage sale” of locals selling stuff on blankets in the sidewalk. I had to use utmost self control knowing we were pack mules for another two and a half weeks. After walking up to Abbesses, a neighborhood tour of boulangeries, patisseries, and fromageries we ended in a beautiful picnic in front of Sacre Coeur to bask in the sun.

Kid Sits

We bought a baguette from a corner bakery (I’m pretty sure you can get bread anywhere in Paris and it will be delicious) and went on to find the rest of our picnic lunch. We stopped at Gontran Cherrier by strong recommendation from Rebecca who would probably move there at the drop of a hat if Chef Cherrier happened to propose. He makes amazing pastries and breads, including some crazy varieties like squid ink baguettes, and he’s a handsome man. We bought a fruit tart for our picnic, Michael drank an espresso, and then we moved on to find cheese. Thankfully the 18th Arrondissement is full of great choices. We stopped into Par Ici les Fromages on Rue Caulaincourt and bought a small log of goat cheese. We purchased salami from the grocery store before we left so we headed for Sacre Coeur looping around from the back. We took some photos and found a place on the grass to eat. Perfect picnic and my that cheese was good.

Pain et Pain et Pain

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Lunch

The clouds rolled back in soon after our picnic so we moved on. We walked by Moulin Rouge because I guess you should see it, popped into an old cemetery, and then made our way back to the apartment to regroup for the evening. We finished our fantastic day with dinner at Jim’s House. Every Sunday night for the past 30 years, Jim Haynes has hosted a communal dinner at his house in the 14th Arrondissement.  We felt lucky to be in Paris on a Sunday night and were very glad we got to experience it. There were people from all over the world, including some resident Parisans. The common language is English so don’t be alarmed. We met some great people and received some great advice on places to eat or visit for the rest of our trip. It was fun to connect with fellow travelers and find commonalities with people you may never cross paths with again. The guest chef prepared a three course meal that we ate casually, some standing on the patio and some inside his atelier. Jim has a vibrant personality, he’s an expat, and he is very good at introductions and will make you feel at home in his home. I really recommend you go if you can.

Jim Haynes

The next day we woke up again in sun. We took the metro to le Tour Eiffel. We bought croissants and bread from a bakery close by and ate on the steps of the Palais de Chaillot across the river from the tower. Clouds quickly rolled in again during our walk to the tower and we found refuge under the tower, protected by a construction trailer (not the most beautiful) for a 15 minute torrential downpour. The rain left as quickly as it came and we moved on. By now we were pros at not letting the rain drag us down. We ate bread and cheese in the Champ de Mars before heading to the Pompidou. Camembert cheese can be highly pungent and we could barely eat what we bought so bread and apples was our lunch for the day. The Pompidou had a Lichtenstein exhibit we really enjoyed and the views of the city are pretty amazing from the observatory floor. If you like modern art you should stop in.

Tour Eiffel

Three Lichtensteins

That night we decided to try gourmet burgers for dinner. According to a travel journalist and burger connoisseur we met at Jim’s dinner, Burgers are making a name for themselves in Paris. Neil may be the biggest burger fan I know. He has lived in Paris for nine years and is scheming a famous burger of his own. He suggested a few of his favorite burgers to try and we went to the restaurant closest to our apartment, Big Fernand. The burgers were good, similar to fancy burgers in San Francisco with really good buns. The other places recommended that we didn’t get to try were: Blend, Paris New York, Atelier St George, and Maison Mere. I guess I’m not surprised that burgers are making their way across nations. They are delicious.

I have a bunch more to share from the last three days of our trip but I don’t want to make this post so long you tire yourself reading it. Paris Part Deux will come soon and it only gets better, so stay tuned! Also, the full set of trip photos are on Michael’s Flickr so feel free to catch what I didn’t post here and get a sneak preview of what’s to come in part two.

Sacre Coeur

Eating Our Way Through Brussels

If you didn’t know, I’m creating posts about all of the cities we visited in Europe during the fall of 2013. The previous post was Amsterdam and was the first stop on our journey. From Amsterdam, we took a train to Brussels and arrived in the late afternoon. We planned to be in Brussels for only about 36 hours, mostly because we thought it would be a good halfway point on our way down to Paris. Brussels was a strange experience, and that was mostly due to our housing arrangement. We stepped out of our comfort zone and decided to stay as a guest in someone’s house and let’s just say we had a less than satisfactory experience. A number of factors  contributed to the strange accommodations but it didn’t necessarily impact the rest of our time there!

Grote Markt

We had very few recommendations for Brussels and they were very generic, like “eat French Fries and a Belgian Waffle”! We did the usual and searched for the best coffee, restaurants and other miscellaneous things to do. It’s a very walkable city so you can cover a lot of ground in one day. Just a warning, communication in Brussels is a bit difficult. There are two national languages, French and Dutch, so depending on where you go you might be greeted differently. It is amazing that most of the people there are tri-lingual speaking both French, Dutch and some English. Makes me feel like dirt that I only speak English and a little Spa-talian (when we lived in Italy I was great at speaking Italian but now get it all mixed up with Spanish hence the combo of Spanish+Italian = Spa-talian). I did toss in my Dutch courtesies where I thought appropriate since my French skills are shameful.

It was surprisingly difficult to find a good cup of coffee in most of the cities we visited, including Brussels. I’m generalizing yes, but when you come from a city with boutique local roasters in every neighborhood you expect at least some good coffee in Europe. (I sound like a true coffee snob! I promise I’m not!) David Lebovits wrote a whole blog post on finding good coffee in Paris which I found helpful to know ahead of time. We had a preconceived notion that finding a great cappuccino would take some work and it really did! We spent a few hours at OR Coffee Roasters hiding from the rain. I loved that coffee here (and a few other places we visited) came on a silver tray with a complimentary biscuit aka shortbread cookie. Something about it just made the whole experience more enjoyable.

Mini Fork

An Eye For Fries

After you have your morning coffee you should find Frites (french fries) since this is where the tasty morsels were born! We went to Maison Antoine and the frites were great! Really tasty fries and sauces. Michael has a serious aversion to mayo so we went the less traditional route and got two sauces to try: Andalouse and Curry Ketchup. I loved the funny little forks but I’m guessing they are more useful when your fries come smothered in mayo. Yuck. I’m sure there are more notable frites restaurants to try but since we only had one day we only had fries once.

Old Man Eats Fries

We had a really wonderful meal at a restaurant called Le Fin de Siecle for dinner one night. While we waited for the restaurant to open we had beers at Gecko Cocktail Bar. I drank more beer on this trip than I have in my whole life combined! Don’t get me wrong, I like wine, and tequila is my liquor of choice, I just never had that moment in college where I learned to like beer. Drinking beer in Europe was a new experience and I grew fond of Belgian White Beer. Nothing too hoppy or dark and this girl stays happy. After a couple beers we wandered back to Le Fin de Siecle and were able to get into dinner very quickly. The restaurant was full of locals which is always a good sign no matter what country you’re in. Our sweet waitress helped us with the menu written on a giant chalkboard at the center of the restaurant. Michael ordered meat and potatoes and I a sausage dish with spinach mashed potatoes. Both were really delicious and we were extremely full after our hearty meals.

Arbor

We didn’t eat anywhere else noteworthy on the trip and sadly we had no waffles, but we did take a gigantic walk around the city. The architecture in Brussels is very pretty. There are some hidden gems along the way especially near Ambiorixsquare. We left our accommodations near the Grand Palace and took really long walk to the East. We walked to European Parliment, Leopold Park, Jubelpark (with short stop by the military museum because it was free and we needed to escape the rain and found a great view of the city from the top), Ambiorixsquare, Warandepark, and finally back home. We stopped to rest and read where we could, took silly photos and enjoyed looking at lovely old buildings.

Liesl and Rolf

Almost everyone we met asked us if we were going to Bruges. I’m guessing tourism in Brussels hinges on tourists stopping over while on their way to Bruges. Since we just came from Amsterdam and assumed the two cities would be very similar we decided not to go. In hindsight, I wish we had stayed in Amsterdam a little longer and skipped Brussels all together but we did get to experience another culture with fantastic architecture. I think it’s important to be entirely honest about our stay here, especially if you’re considering traveling to Brussels, because for my slightly less glamorous write up there are probably three hundred others with very positive reviews. Check out our photos on Flickr for more beautiful photos of the city.

We’re traveling to Paris next so stay tuned. Paris has so many good things I may have to split it into two posts!

Bon Voyage

Eating Our Way Through Europe

Michael and I had the privilege of traveling through Europe during the month of September in the fall of 2013. It was an amazing trip that we dreamed up the summer of 2012 and actually made a reality. We traveled through six countries, all places we had never been before, and I thought a great way to start out the blog this year would be highlighting all of our favorite food stops along the way. We had a little write up appear in Delighted Magazine, a fantastic online magazine that should be competing at the level of Sweet Paul (look for the Travel Journal section on page 58). Feel free to read the highlights there and watch here for a journey through Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. Recounting these memories with you will be so fun.  They’ll also make me want to quit my job to travel around the world, eat amazing food, and take in all the amazing architecture the old world has to offer us. I hope it inspires you to do the same.

The Finish Line

 

 

Successful French Macarons!

Last month, I had a Fight with French Macarons. Literally. They stuck to my parchment and the tops cracked a bit. I had no idea why, so I decided to take a class from Richard at Baking Arts here in San Francisco. Richard is pastry genius and a fantastic teacher. His classes range from the most simple biscuit and scones to intricate sugar flowers and souffles. He’s a stickler for his favorite brand of chocolate and makes the most seemingly-difficult macaron easy. So, thanks Richard, a whole new world of baking is in my future. 
The problems I had before were sticky, cracked cookies. This comes from too wet a batter and not enough folding. You want your batter to flow like lava and mine was no lava. You should also just go ahead and buy an instant digital thermometer that can read a temperature while touching the bottom of the pan, and a digital scale is a must. Converting recipes from grams to cups and teaspoons is not very accurate and you may end up with a whole sheet of failed cookies. It’s not fun, it’s sad and depressing and makes you feel like a failure (not good). 
During our class, we watched Richard demonstrate the whole process, then under his supervision made our own batch. It was nice to have someone there to tell you when your batter looked like lava, and give your tips the best piping technique. It’s also good to make a template on the back of some parchment paper. A 1 1/2 inch round makes a good size cookie and the template insures you’ll be able to match your cookies for proper sandwiching. Another good trick to test for doneness is to press down on the center of the cookie and wiggle. If it wiggles a lot, cook it a little longer, if it wiggles very slightly it should be done. Also, you should peel them off the silpat by bending the mat, not attempting to lift the cookie. Fill cookies when cooled completely. 
We made vanilla cookies with a little espresso powder sprinkled on top and filled with chocolate ganache and salted caramel. Yum! They were so good. I can’t wait to try them again. I’ll be buying pre-made almond flour from here on out. If you’ve tried macarons before without luck, don’t give up, keep trying, it’s all about the proper technique. 

I also mentioned in my last post about macarons that I was headed to NYC and wanted to try some macarons from Bisous Ciao Macarons in the East Village. We happend to stay very near here, so a trip wasn’t too far. They have mixed reviews on yelp, but Michael and I really enjoyed our flavors (blood orange with chocolate ganache and strawberry with basil chocolate ganache). The flavors were intense and the cookie itself was just what you expect from a quality macaron. My next traveling macaron stop will jave to be Pierre Herme in Paris. He’s the godfather of Macarons (and french desserts) and why not travel to Paris for another tasting? Do you have a favorite french macaron shop in your city? 
the following photos from Michael Townsend at Bisous Ciao, NYC 

Feel free to peruse the rest of Michael’s photos on Flickr or follow his Tumblr account!