Three Weeks in Europe - Paris through food

After our ride on the Chunnel and finding our hotel, our first priority was a bite to eat! Super nearby our hotel, we found a cute little restaurant called Cafe D'Augustin where we got to sit outside, and we shared a croque-monsieur. A staple in many French restaurants, this sandwich has ham and melted cheese, and came with frites (fries) and a simple salad. Nathaniel had an apéritif and I had a glass of wine. This perfectly hit the spot before we started exploring.

The best lunch date 😍

That evening for dinner we went to Le Poincare near the Eiffel Tower. Here we split some steak tartare and a small carafe of wine. Nathaniel also had a French blonde beer, and I opted for a hot chocolate because I was still a bit chilled from the wet weather. We very much enjoyed the proximity to the Eiffel Tower - we were looking for something that was a bit more of a hole-in-the-wall, but as we got hungrier, we decided to go in, because we knew we'd be satisfied with beef and fries. I would go here again but I do wish that we'd done a little more research on where to eat near the Eiffel Tower - this felt easy and safe, which isn't a bad combo, but when you've got less than three days in Paris, it's nice to know you're getting the best (food) experience possible.

The next morning for breakfast, we found Le Ronsard Café right next to Sacré-Cœur, where we had huge crepes for breakfast. While Nathaniel went for a nice and simple honey crepe, I decided I wanted Nutella, almond and banana. 😋 And of course we got some caffeine, too - I've gotta have my coffee! My order of choice in most restaurants/cafes is café au last (coffee with milk). I think it's more of an American thing to make your coffee crazy flavored and super sugary. 

 
 

Also near Sacré-Cœur is Maison Georges Larnicol, a beautiful chocolaterie, where we grabbed a couple truffles and caramels for a snack later. Not only were the chocolates delicious, but they had beautiful chocolate statues of Parisian landmarks, like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and The Arc de Triomphe. 😍 Go here if you go to Sacré-Cœur. It's on the way from the Metro stop to the church, so it's not out of the way at all!

Me and my baguette

On our walk along the Seine later that day, we found a shop called Paris Baguette to buy a baguette to munch on at Notre Dame, and some coffee to give me a little boost. This baguette was perfectly cooked (at least to my American palette). It was crunchy and hard on the outside and wonderfully doughy on the inside. I had forgotten what this shop was called, so I virtually wandered the streets with Google Street View to find it! We also stopped for a glass of wine along the way at Le Reynou, mostly because I had to pee, but it ended up being a lovely place - and they even gave us popcorn to eat! The view out the window was lovely - you could see the beautiful castle-like fortress of Conciergerie (where Marie Antoinette's cell was during the French Revolution), and a bit farther out you could even see the bell towers and steeple of Notre Dame! So happy we stumbled upon this place 😊

For dinner our second night, we decided to take our friend Anthony Bourdain’s advice again, and we went to Chez Denise in the Les Halles area of Paris. This area used to be the home of Paris' biggest market, which was closed down in 1971 and converted into a mall - but this restaurant stays true to the feeling of proximity to the market. It specializes in taking less desirable cuts or types of meat and turning them into delicious entrées. I very much enjoyed my skate - which is a fish that most people wouldn’t choose to eat (it had bigger bones than I've ever had in fish before). It was prepared with capers, lemon and butter, and potatoes on the side. It just goes to show that simple dishes can hit the spot no matter where you're exploring. Nathaniel had beef cheek stew with pasta. I didn’t even know that cheeks were a part of a cow you could eat! But they were very tender, and the “stew” was more like a dark, rich veggie gravy. You also get to drink table wine and only pay for what you drink. The space is crowded (we had to move our table back and forth several times to let other people around us sit down or get up to use the restroom), but the service is good, and the food is amazing. I will definitely go back the next time I find myself in Paris!

Me and another baguette 😜

The next morning, we grabbed coffee, pastries and a baguette nearby our hotel at L’Atelier des Pains on Boulevard des Batignolles to take with us in the car as road trip snacks :) Again, we figured we couldn't go wrong with more fresh baked French bread!

Since we only had limited time in Paris, we didn’t get to explore that much - I would have loved to find a market to eat at, but Chez Denise was definitely the highlight, and I’d recommend just eating as many fresh baguettes as you can 😉

Three Weeks in Europe - Paris Sights and Attractions

Our next stop after London was Paris! It was nice and easy to take the Chunnel (a train through a tunnel under the English Channel) into Paris. We headed to our hotel, which we were too early to officially check in, left our bags and started to explore. We were staying right off of the street where the Moulin Rouge was, so we decided to just walk up and down that street until our hotel was ready. As we were heading back it starting POURING on us, and we were not at all prepared. We got back to the hotel, checked in, and changed our clothes, which were completely soaked (my one pair of jeans, my boots and my sweatshirt all needed to be dried!). It was our fault for not checking the weather report more carefully, but we didn’t expect that kind of rain anywhere on our trip. We were actually there right before the floods that made the news (where they had to move all the art on the bottom floors of the Louvre to protect them).

After we dried off and changed our clothes, we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower. Nathaniel took lots of pretty pictures (much more artsy than mine), and then we decided to go up to the top. It was just wet and overcast at this point, but because the weather was less than ideal, there were far fewer people than there would have been otherwise. We didn’t have to wait long at all to get our tickets (17€ each), and the line to the elevator wasn’t long either. The view from the top was incredible. You could see the whole city, and because of how high up you are, it’s hard to see other structures, since they just flatten out over the landscape. I highly recommend going to the top here (honestly, I would have gone to the top of more things in other cities, but we had to be budget conscious). The photo ops are wonderful, and it really gives you an idea of the expanse of the city. You get to see the iconic old rooftops, which to me really help you feel the romance of the city. We had just less than two days in this gorgeous city, but these views made me want to stay and explore until there was nothing left to see. 

We went to dinner nearby, and, afterwards, came back for photos of the Tower at night. It’s crazy to think that this was only supposed to be a temporary structure in the city (since it was made for the 1889 World’s Fair), and now it’s an icon of France. If I could transport myself instantly to this exact location and see the tower right this moment, I would. It’s such a testament to what humans are capable of, from both a standpoint of engineering and art. ❤️

As we walked home from the subway, it started to pour, so we hung up another set of clothes to dry and went to bed.

The next morning, we set out again, our first stop being Sacré-Cœur. And of course it was pouring again, but we kept trucking along, because this was our only full day in Paris. Once there, we went inside, and walked around. They were having a mass, and the nuns were singing, which couldn’t have been more perfect after being out in the pouring rain. This church also has a great view of the city out front, and even though it was rainy and misty and visibility wasn’t great, I very much enjoyed this start to our day.

Our plan for the rest of the day was to go to Musée d’Orsay and walk along the Seine to Notre Dame. Unfortunately the museum was closed (it was a Monday), so instead we went to the Louvre, because it was nearby and we could continue our plans without too much of a hitch. Quick tip to get into the Louvre faster: if you’ve got internet access or data right outside the museum, you can purchase your tickets online and then get into a shorter security check line. This museum is gigantic, and includes masterpieces like Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is a bit underwhelming since you can’t get close enough to see any true detail, plus you’re fighting a crowd who all have their smartphones out. That being said, I can check it off my bucket list, and the history of the painting is interesting. My favorite work of art was “Winged Victory” - the statue has incredible feathered wings, and the woman’s body is wrapped in sheer cloth, which is blowing in the wind - I was astounded at the mastery that went into this sculpture. A lot of the art here is religious art, which reminded me a lot of the Vatican, and while it isn’t my favorite genre of art, I'm definitely glad we went. Also, it's fun to look for the works you might be familiar with from The Da Vinci Code. 😜

After the Louvre we walked along the Seine, and eventually made it to Notre Dame. While walking, we got to peek down little roads, and it was actually quite empty along this stretch - it was a perfect walk to mellow out after the Louvre’s crowds. Once we got to the cathedral, it was too late to go inside, but luckily the bells soon chimed for 8 o’clock, and the sun came out for the first time! It was low in the sky, directly hitting the front of the cathedral, and it was so magical - if only Quasimodo had been there singing with his gargoyles. 😉 When you visit, make sure to go around to the back - there were no crowds, and the rest of the church is completely gorgeous and much different looking than the iconic front.

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We then walked to the Les Halles area, got dinner, and went to see L’Écoute, the statue by Henri de Miller of the head and the hand outside St. Eustache. They were doing construction on the Mandela Gardens, so the head had been moved so it was facing the church (usually the church is behind the statue), and had a giant neon green construction wall as a backdrop. This ruined Nathaniel’s photo op, but we still had fun exploring before we headed back to our hotel.

Our last morning in the city, before driving to the mountains, we decided to hit Orsay - I wanted to see some impressionist work, like Degas, Monet and Van Gogh (any Doctor Who fans would also love coming here!) - plus Nathaniel LOVES the clocks in the building, especially from the inside looking out over the city. Be sure to get there early in the morning, though, or you'll be competing with a crowd by the clock. The art styles in this museum were much more up my alley than the Louvre, and it was a lovely way to finish up our too-short visit.

Paris, I’ll see you again someday - thanks for the whirlwind romance!

Three Weeks in Europe - London through food

I’ve heard in the past that England doesn’t have good food, but I beg to differ! We ate quite well while we were there.

Our first stop after finding our Airbnb (after customs, and an hour long Underground commute) was an Italian restaurant just a block away called Il Bordello. We showed up 10 minutes before they closed, ordered quickly, and ate way too much, but that meal was such a satisfying one after a day of traveling. Nathaniel got the carbonara and I got spaghetti bolognese, which we just paired with their house red wine. I would totally eat here again. The staff all seemed to speak Italian, too, which added to the authenticity.

The next morning we met a friend (who has lived in the UK since we all graduated high school) at a coffee shop called the Taylor Street Baristas. Delicious coffee just tucked away into the small streets near the Thames - it was a cute little place with eclectic decorations and a nice local vibe.

Our friend gave us a couple recommendations, and since we were going to need lunch, she told us about the Borough Market, which is near the London Bridge Underground stop. This place was amazing - we went all three days we explored the city. The first day we got pulled pork sandwiches from a stand that actually had a whole hog roasting on a spit. The second day we got duck confit sandwiches which were to die for. The third day I got a scotch egg and Nathaniel got an amazing donut. We found some lovely macarons, as well, and it made me want to try to make an Earl Grey flavor myself! I also found The Colombian Coffee Company's stand which uses amazing raw cacao in their mochas. That was hands down the best coffee I had the entire trip. We found a stand that sold beer, where we bought a bottle of The Kernel Export India Porter, but we also found beer from Boulder! They had Oskar Blues and Left Hand - so cool to see the reach of our hometown.

In Boulder we don’t have markets like this. I suppose our farmers market is the closest thing to it, but the Borough Market is up all the time, not just on weekends or special occasions. I think we could have eaten there/gotten groceries for every meal for days on end and gotten something different every single time. In addition, going to a market is probably going to be a little cheaper than sitting down for a meal, and you’re getting quality food from local businesses. Also, if you’re with people who don’t want to eat the same food as you, you can all go to a different stand. I will definitely be going back here many times in my life 😋 Hope the next time is soon!

One evening another friend and his lady cooked dinner for us - having a delicious home-cooked meal of ravioli, butternut squash sauce, roasted potatoes and a caprese-esque salad perfectly hit the spot, and it goes to show that you can find great ingredients to cook your own meals if your hotel or Airbnb has a kitchen. We also checked out a couple pubs while in Cambridge with them - one that stuck out to me was The Mill - they had local beer on tap, and gave us our pints to-go in plastic cups, and we sat outside while we drank - watching the river and the ducks!

While exploring Hyde Park one day, we stopped for a bite - Serpentine Bar and Kitchen has classic British dishes like fish and chips, but I just wanted some ice cream 😊🍦

At the Harry Potter Studio Tour, they have a little food area about halfway through called The Backlot - we got some mac and cheese, Butterbeer, and Butterbeer ice cream! Anything Butterbeer is great in my book!

I’m a bit ashamed to say that one late night we could find nothing open nearby except a gas station and a McDonald’s… so McDonald’s it was. I guess at least the food tastes the same, so we can count on their consistency.

One afternoon we decided to find some dumplings in Chinatown! We ended up going to Dumplings’ Legend, where we had duck, truffle, and pork dumplings. It had been a bit chilly, and we hadn’t yet gotten used to walking SO MUCH, so sitting down for this meal helped energize us a bit.

The other place my friend recommended was called Dinerama. It’s in Shoreditch and it’s made of shipping crates! There was a small cover of £3 to get in, since we got there after 7pm, and once we were in, we had several stands to choose from. There were sliders, BBQ, pizzas, donuts, bars and more! We ended up having a tandoori chicken sandwich, some duck nuggets, fries and sliders, along with a few cocktails. They do end up playing loud music and it gets a bit of a club vibe, so if you’re looking to avoid that, you should probably go earlier in the day, but the food was great, the style was cool, and with all the options, you’re bound to find something you like.

Of course this only scratches the surface of what the food scene in London has become, but hopefully my experiences can prove helpful for someone, or at least entertaining for you all to read 😉 I know I had fun!

Three Weeks in Europe - London Sights and Attractions

Oh, London - of all the big cities I’ve been to, I think this is my favorite. We almost exclusively walked and used the Underground. What I loved about the Underground was how clean it was and how regularly the trains came. Some lines were a little confusing because they branched off into a couple different end points, but luckily we never got too lost, and made it everywhere we planned to be. Also, any of the main sights you’d like to see are all very close to stops, so it is possible to see a ton without walking miles and miles.

We stayed at an Airbnb just a 15 minute walk from the Tower Bridge, and you could even see the Thames from our kitchen window! Walking along the Thames was our main form of exploration one day. We saw the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, and the London Bridge is just a bit farther. There is a ton of amazing architecture between these two bridges, including City Hall, the Shard, and the Gherkin, which, to me, make the London skyline particularly beautiful. We didn’t go up any of them (though the Shard was super tempting - they had a champagne option!), but just seeing these super modern skyscrapers next to Medieval castles was one of my favorite things about London.

As we continued to walk, we went past Shakespeare’s Globe, walked across the Millennium Bridge, where I kept a look out for scary Death Eaters, and finally we could see the Eye and Big Ben in the distance. We got up close to Big Ben and Parliament, went into St. Margaret’s Abbey (the line into Westminster was crazy), and walked around the back of a few of the buildings, where we found a secluded little bench and a wall covered with gorgeous green ivy (again, just wandering around you see things that the guidebooks might not tell you about!).

One evening we caught a train to Cambridge to visit a good friend. Not only did this get me to Kings Cross (and Platform 9 3/4), but we also got to wander around a much smaller British town and go inside Trinity College, one of many in the area. They take their schooling very seriously over there - they even don’t allow anyone who isn’t a student on the grass in the courtyard. In Cambridge, you can walk along the River Cam behind all the schools, and enjoy the nature and the old architecture. It’s also fun to grab a pint at a local bar!

London’s version of Central Park is Hyde Park, which is very close to Buckingham Palace, so it’s easy to hop off the Underground and see many cool things in this area as well. I’d recommend walking around the park at least a little bit - there are lots of cool birds, you can grab an ice cream, and you can just sit and relax if your feet need a break. At Buckingham Palace, we saw the Changing of the Guard, which I believe happens everyday, and they shut down the roundabout in front of the palace to let horses and a marching band through (and some people actually willingly drive this way this time of day!). The band played quite a long set while we were there, including old Gershwin tunes like “I’ve Got Rhythm”. I would say that there’s no one good place to see the entire ceremony. If you’re up close to the gates, you can see the guards marching around and the band play while they’re in there. If you’re on the outside of the roundabout, you get a better view the horses and the guards march. If you’re on the inside of the roundabout, you can see the marching, and possibly have a decent view (but maybe a bit far, and through the fence) of the ceremony that goes on inside the courtyard. We moved around quite a bit, and saw everything up close at one point or another. The crowds were a bit annoying, but other than that I’d recommend going and seeing it. Unfortunately, at the palace, you can’t get up close and personal to the guards anymore. I wanted to try to make them smile! I guess it’s just a sign of the times - they’ve got to keep their men safe, too.

There are also a TON of museums to choose from (as in any big, historic city), and the one we decided to go to was the British Museum. This is where the Rosetta Stone is, along with a bunch of items the British took from Egypt (including lots of statues and mummies). There’s also sections with ancient money and clocks, which we decided to walk through. One of the best things, though, was that it was FREE! Most everything in London seems to be expensive (though it's a bit less expensive since Brexit), so getting in here for free was a wonderful surprise. Plus there are so many exhibits, you could spend hours here and not see everything.

The cherry on top of an already wonderful trip, though, was our visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Here they have actual sets, props and costumes from the movies. It’s probably the most immersive and educational experience of the movie world you can get (it’s entirely different than going to Universal Studios). Even if you’re just a small fan of the Harry Potter franchise, you’ll find this to be a beautiful exhibit. You get to walk through the Great Hall, visit Dumbledore’s office, the Potions classroom, and Gryffindor Tower, stop by the Burrow, and so much more. They have exhibits showing the work that goes into creating sets and props, showing you models, animatronics, designs and sketches. They’ve even got a scale model of Hogwarts set up that they used during filming. For a muggle like me, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a part of that world, and I’d go back again in a heartbeat.

Now for just three days in the UK, I think we did pretty good! But I can’t wait to go back someday 😉