Monthly Archives: June 2011

Honeymoon 5B: The Underbelly and Overjoyment of Paris

We started our last day by getting in an hour-long line to visit the Catacombs. (Sidenote: while we waited in line, I had to go to the bathroom (surprise, surprise), so I used one of their street toilets. This was a space age system! The whole thing, ceiling to floor, is sterilized and dried between each use. When I was in there it told me exactly how much soap and water I should be using and wouldn’t let me turn on the hand-dryer until they thought I should be done washing. Neat-o.) You enter the Catacombs through an unmarked door and by taking 100+ stairs down. It starts with stone-lined hallways which are spooky enough, but then you go through room after room lined with bones! “All femers & skulls” seemed to be the decorating scheme, but we figured that’s because they were using those bones to decorate (ew) while stacking all the others behind. The Catacombs started in the 1800s and people have been having gatherings and parties in here since. While gross, this was the most unusual & fascinating stops of the trip.

We did this visit as part of a recommended walk, so we explored the neighborhood, including an observatory that has been around & still functions for a record-breakingly long time. We also had lunch in this neighborhood, which was great. We sat just outside a street-market, so we had the best people- watching of the trip!

After lunch, our plan was to go on one of the walks that included the Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge. We decided to take another train than what was suggested for the tour. Wow. Mistake. As we got close to our stop, the crowd got more and more shady. When we stopped, it was just plain scary! There were a ton of creepy people just milling about with a lot of folks selling stolen-looking goods and looking for opportunities to pickpocket. I’m sure if I knew the French version of “pot” or “cocaine”, I would have heard it here. We tried walking a few blocks to the start of the walk in hopes that things would be more comfortable, but for me, we never got there. We took the obligatory Moulin Rouge picture and got the heck out of there!

There was one good thing that came out of this mini-excursion. On our ride up, a reggae singer stood right by us singing and playing his electric guitar, amp and all. He was the first Metro musician to be good, really good. This lead to one of those future “remember when” moments for me. It was too perfect.

Our feet dictated the rest of the day, which still included much more walking. Our dinner stop had some of the best ambiance of the strip, but it wasn’t until we were done that we realized we were just two blocks away from the Eiffel Tower. After dinner, we found a spot on the lawn in front of the tower, along with a number of other folks having wine and cheese picnics (kudos to the North African dudes for finally getting it right – they were selling wine and Heineken here) waiting for the light show to go off. Blog friends, I witnessed the most beautiful sunset of my life that night. It was just perfect.

It was chilly that night, so we took off right after the light show, stopping underneath the tower for a picture and a kiss. Randy stopped me again by a merry-go-round. I jokingly asked him if he wanted to take it for a ride, but instead he led me in a dance. At the beginning of our trip, I suggested that there would be at least on burst of spontaneous dance, but it had not happened yet. Randy said our music was weak that night, but he didn’t want me to miss out. And thusly, the merry-go-round jingle is my new favorite song. I love this man.


This vacation was 15 days of perfection. If we do half as well in real life as we do while honeymooning, Randy and I will be the luckiest ever.

I made a wish in the Louvre fountain that we would come back to Europe soon, but more than that, I hope Randy and I always laugh, talk, eat, explore, and enjoy other parts of honeymooning for many, many years to come. I am a lucky girl.

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Honeymoon Part 5a: My Night(s) in Paris

Our TomTom took us on beautiful back roads since we were trying to skip tolls (7,80 euro for a tunnel and 11,80 euro for the freeway the day before!) We went through a number of quiet, country towns before BAM, Paris traffic. We ended up in almost stopped traffic for 20 minutes (6 miles), but that wasn’t the issue. The motorcycles driving between lanes were. Man, my mom would have fainted. City streets were no better. During the mile-long ride from the hotel to Avis station, we ran into two accidents and one large intersection that had no directionals. We happened upon it while two huge trucks were plowing their way through, so we used them as shields from oncoming traffic.

Our hotel in Paris, Les Hauts de Passy was much cuter than I expected it to be. Our room was clean & recently remodeled. The street was a perfect Parisian street. There were restaurants that were packed at lunchtime and grocers, florists, cafes, patisseries, and specialty shops up and down the street. On the Friday of our visit, they were even filming an outdoor scene of a French film!

After we dropped off our bags and the car (and got a parking ticket, oops), we found a lunch place and got our bearings. After a stop at an internet café (and another new-to-me keyboard) we walked to the Eiffel Tower. The line was long, so we decided to get up early on Thursday and try then. We were in this area long enough to be accosted by the North African men selling crap, but we discovered a new con – groups of gypsy looking girls come up to tourists and point to a clipboard. The paper is a petition for a “deaf and mute” charity. But you’re also supposed to give money. No dice. The girls get 5 feet away from the tourist area and start talking and laughing. This REALLY bugged me and I can’t figure out why what they are doing isn’t illegal. The North African men at least give you something (albeit crap) for taking your money.

We went to the tourism office to get museum passes and then a café for a Coca Lite and people watching. Walked again and passed folks gathering for the G8 Summit (and the President’s Mansion that’s like right there). We picked a place for dinner on a whim and boy, did we find a winner. (We never found losers in Paris, only runner-ups.) After dinner we did a sunset boat cruise which would have been so romantic if you got rid of the German teenagers (did they follow us from Florence?!?) who hollered under every bridge. Otherwise, it was a great way to see the sites. We ended the night by enjoying a leisurely stroll home. Well, it was leisurely before we realized we didn’t know where our hotel was. The maps weren’t well marked and we weren’t 100% sure on the street name. AND, when the stores are closed, our street looked completely different. Oops.

As promised, we got up early and made it to the Eiffel Tower to get in line at 8:30. It opened at 9:30. It was very cold, but it was fun to watch the area come alive and to be on the first elevator up that morning. I’m guessing the line was 45 minutes to an hour-long by the time the doors opened. We went all the way to the top where we could enjoy the view from inside and out. It was here that we discovered that Paris has a modern downtown. Who knew?

After the tower, we had breakfast (er, for the second time that morning…we were on vacation, you know!) It included fresh squeezed orange juice and hot chocolate that was for me to assemble to my liking. The juice glass was only filled about 1/3 of the way with a small pitcher of water (and a sugar packet) to mix in. The hot chocolate was a mug of melted chocolate, also filled about 1/3 of the way with a pitcher of warm milk. Add in crumbly croissants and you’ve got yourself a winner!

We saw a couple museums  that morning and the Arc de Triumph that afternoon. Lunch was at a place filled with businesspeople drinking wine and eating Croque Monsieurs. Sigh. After the Arc, we took the Metro to Napoleon’s Tomb. I liked their Metro. It reminded me of the DC system-relatively easy, clean, and safe. We did a LOT of walking that day, so I cried “Uncle” early. We headed back to the hotel and I got my only nap of the trip while Randy read and watched the French Open.  We ended up going to dinner at the restaurant down the block (also breakfast the next day), so we really started to feel like we were fitting in.

Randy and I got a more leisurely start to the next day which was nice. Our first stop was the Notre Dame area. Employees were striking, so we couldn’t go into the tower (shucks, no stair workout that morning…), but we did go in the church, which was amazing. I liked the stain glass. We also hit up the crypts under the Notre Dame, which weren’t what I expected with the name “crypt”. It actually was the ruins of ancient Roman and native people’s buildings that were found on this same sight. Our next stop was going to be the Sainte Chapelle  and the Conciergerie, but they were closed for a private concert.

Since we couldn’t do two of our stops, we decided to tackle the Louvre. Upon entry, we made a beeline for the Mona Lisa. Everyone warned me that it was much smaller than you expected, so I was ready for a 5X7 picture. I’m going to guess it was really 11X17 and exactly what it looks like elsewhere. However, I was intrigued with the rest of the Italian Renaissance paintings due to the Medici book I was reading. After that section, we went to the café for lunch and then Napoleon’s apartments so I could check “French palace” off of my to do list. Randy really enjoyed the sculpture area, so I sat and caught up on journaling (and here you were wondering how I remembered all these details!)

Following the Louvre, we took one of the walks from our book which took us through the Latin Quarter. This was a great area! There were so many people, stores, florists and cafes! We stopped at a chocolatier to explore and bought gifts and macaroons for us. Oh my, where have these cookies been all my life? We had others during the week, but this place was the best. (Note: I can’t find the name of the shop, but I did stumble into this. My life is now complete.)  The salted caramel macaroon was out of this world!

We walked to the Sorbonne and back to St. Germaine to find dinner. Eh. We should have realized it wasn’t going to be the best when we realized we were surrounded by Americans.  Took the train home and enjoyed the macaroons in bed while watching this awful American show, Wipe Out . I wonder if they show this here on purpose…

Since this post is so long, I’m just going to give you a link to pictures vs. including any here. Enjoy!

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Honeymoon 4: “ 5/23: Best Meal So Far”

As you can see from my note above, I was in love with the French countryside. It’s so beautiful & quaint. The food! Oh the food! I have never had bread so good.

But to get back to where I left off, our flight from Venice to Basel was uneventful, as was customs…or lack there of. Nobody even looked at a passport. We got a cab and made it to our hotel, which was very Swiss. The hotel was locked, but after I answered a number of questions to the man behind the intercom, we were let in where a key was waiting for us. Our bed started as two twins, but in the land of IKEA we were able to change it to a king.

In the morning we took the bus back to the airport to get our rental car. (NOTE: O.M.G. Basel’s bus system is ridiculous. Scott Walker would faint. But you could literally get everywhere on it!)  We got to the airport with no problem (and crossed from Switzerland to France by going through an unassuming hallway…), got the rental car and with a little laughing and a few curt words, we were off!

Our first stop was Kaysersburg, a tiny town on the “Rout de vin”. This little section of the Alsace region is precious! There are a bunch of tiny towns all along this 75-mile-ish road. Everything had a German & French feel. We stumbled upon a place for lunch after the TomTom took us truly to “City Center” (i.e. a tiny alley that could barely fit our car.) Here, we sat outside and I had the best meal of the trip – a toasted baguette with a mixture of potatoes, cheese and bacon, topped with 3 rounds of goat cheese. Before leaving town, we climbed its big hill to old castle ruins and got pictures of the beautiful view.

Next up was Riquewihr. This town was bigger and had a lot more tourists. Still, we walked the whole town (uphill!) and stopped for local wine (muscat) and a crepe framboise.

The next stop was Ribeauville, where we found a room for the night. The prices were standard at Hotel de la Tour, but they let us look at multiple rooms and pick our favorite. Then we gave them Randy’s first name and they gave us a key. No last name, credit card, nothing… After getting our luggage in the room, we took off to explore one more regional town, Bergheim. Turns out this whole region is a day-tripping kind of place, so we ended up being the only ones in town. We took a walk through the residential parts of town and daydreamed what it would be like to live there. (Sidenote: Apologies to future kids. It was here that I figured out that making you learn French would be the way I would learn. So you will do it.)

We decided to go back to Riquewihr for dinner since that was busiest during the day, but even they were quiet. Found a place that was open and not too German. (Sorry, no pig knuckle for me.) We didn’t have dessert, thinking we’d hit up a patisserie, but they were all closed (at 8 pm!) Instead, we retired to our room and watched Incredible Hulk in French.

The next morning we got up leisurely and had our first fantastic French breakfast – chocolat chaud, cappuccino, Quiche Lorraine and croissant de chocolat. (Related: yes, I was kicking and screaming when we left France…)

Before heading west, we went to Chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg. Though most of their descriptions were about the remodeling done by Germans before World War I, the castle was really neat to see and the views were epic.

After that, we plugged in “Epirnay – City Center” into the TomTom and took off down the mountain – at times, quite literally! We missed one turn because they wanted us to go down a dirt road. No thanks. We passed through farmland and beautiful countryside. I liked this part of the trip. Since we didn’t have any hard and fast plans, nor any big sites we HAD to see, we wandered around and saw stuff that we never would have had we been on a schedule.

Lunch in Epirnay ended up being at the only place still serving, but even a veggie sandwich was worth poetry when served on a French baguette. Our night was spent in Troyes; not the most exciting town on our visit, but we can check it off a list of places we’ve been. The hotel was ok. Dinner was icky (only bad meal of the trip.)

We got up really early that next morning due to all the noise in the hotel. We stopped at a patisserie where the lady was quite rude, but then had coffees in a bar. Hopped back in the car. Next stop, Paris!

Here are the rest of the pictures from the countryside.

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Honeymoon Part 3: A Last Stop in Venice

Upon arrival in Venice, we wrestled with the throngs of people to get water bus tickets and finally boarded about 40 minutes later. Once we got to our stop, we didn’t have too much trouble finding our apartment. We only asked three people, which, in Venice, seemed pretty good. A lady was waiting for us there, but she only spoke Spanish! My brain hurt.

The apartment itself was really cute. It was in the attic of the building, so Randy had to duck, but there was a lot of floor space. There wasn’t a true shower in the bathroom, just a hand-held faucet in a big tub. Randy had to sit and I did yoga moves to get all clean. We slept with the windows open, but were kept up by folks on the street and a crazy bird-monkey noise. Here’s what we tried to sleep through.

Anyway, after dropping off our bags, we went back to the water bus and used it as our tour boat. It ended up taking us much further than we expected, so it was a great trip. The water was beautiful and all the buildings were stunning in their history, but man, there were tourists everywhere! I’m glad we saw Venice, but not sure if I have to go back.

We hopped off the bus on a whim and ended up enjoying ice cream drinks and watching cruise boats leave as the sun went down (touché, Venice…touché…).

Afterwards, we wandered through the streets and found a place for dinner. I tried a tagliata, a local steak dish, but it was cold. Not my thang. Randy had a sea bass – eyeballs to fins, and really enjoyed it. (Side note: it made me smile to see that Randy and I don’t even need to talk to know what the other is thinking. The folks at the table next to us ah, had walked a little too much in the sun with too little deodorant. Randy and I had a whole conversation about it without saying a word.) After more wandering, we found our apartment again (in the dark, go us!) and stayed up a bit doing laundry again.

Since there was so much noise, I got up around 5:30am and saw one of the prettiest sunrises I’ve ever seen. So pretty, I almost woke up Randy. Instead, I went back to bed and slept until 10. Oops.

Randy was his fantastic self and got breakfast while I did my contortions in the “shower”. When we left, we took the water bus to San Marco Square, where we toured their basilica while mass was going on. That was neat. This one got the Donald Trump award – it was the same huge scale as the others, but done in half-inch tiles…most of which were gold. Wow.

After that, we wandered through more alleyways and bridges. We found a great spot for our last Italian meal of the trip and a pretty glass bracelet as a souvenir. We stumbled into one more gelatoria where Randy had berry and I had meringue. Or tried-it fell off my cone about five licks in.

We walked some more and even took a taghetto gondola so we could say we’d been in one. After a stop at an amazing looking chocolate shop and a bar for a “spritz”, we got our stuff and started our trip to the airport. It took a hot and stinky bus and boat, but we made it earlier than planned which figures since the plane to Basel was delayed.

I enjoyed Italy a lot, but with all there is to see in the world, I don’t think I’ll need to rush back. Both Randy and I think Rome was our favorite place. I think that’s because we saw un-touristy areas, too.

I didn’t forget the pictures. Here you go!

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Honeymoon Part “Due”: Under the Tuscan Fun

After breaking through the language barrier and buying train tickets to Florence, we were off to the next town. The ride was quick, but we were in a set of seats with a girl playing her iPod for all to hear. She had headphones in, but the thing was on speaker. Odd.

We found our hotel without too much trouble. It was a decent-sized room for Italy with a large bathroom. The window overlooked a street fair; pretty cool. After we dropped off our bags, we headed out. Our first stop (by accident, I swear!) was to the food market. It was closing for the day, so we only got a quick look. After, we found a cute little place for lunch almost immediately. I had risotto with gorgonzola. YUM! (Note, I’ve been way overcooking my risotto!)

Our next stop was the Duomo, Florence’s largest cathedral. Our tour guide the next day explained the opulence of the cathedrals as the way of buying your way into heaven for the historic elite. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would be created if that was the belief today. After checking out the inside, we did the climb to the top of the tower. Oh my. At one point, I turned around and asked Randy if we were climbing to heaven. It was 456 steps , mostly in cramped, really tight quarters. Totally worth it though. We could see the painting in the tower up close, which put the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling to shame…this one used 3D imaging! The view from outside was just as amazing. Florence is much more spread out than I expected.

After we recovered with that day’s gelato, we moved on to the Piazza della Signoria that had a number of famous statues (or copies anyway). Next we tried the Uffizi Gallery where we expected to wait in line for up to an hour. What a great surprise – there was no line! I really enjoyed this art museum. Maybe the overload of art was teaching me how to appreciate it after all!

We were at that gallery until closing time and then walked in the rain to the Oltarno neighborhood to take in the view from Piazza Michelangelo. It was gorgeous, but very, very popular to sit on the stairs and watch the sunset. Needless to say, between the teenage throngs drinking wine and the impending storm cloud, we left before the true sunset. We enjoyed another good dinner and meandered through different piazzas on our way home to work off the $6 bottle of wine. (Good wine. $6. Fantastic.) About halfway through our walk, we ran into the camera crew and one “actor” from Jersey Shore.  And here I thought I couldn’t be more embarrassed to be an American than after I heard the 20-something say she was ready to “slut it up” for all on the Piazza Michelangelo to hear. And yes, she most definitely was an American. Sigh.

We had an early morning wakeup call on Friday to meet our 8:30 departure time for a “Best of Tuscany” tour. Before we left, we had the included breakfast from the hotel, which is exactly what you would expect from a three-star hotel: lots of sugary pasties, hardboiled eggs, and fruit out of can. No worries though because all we did was eat the rest of the day.

Our first stop was Siena, where we took four (yes, four) escalators to get to the top of the hill. Once there, we had a guided tour through the highlights. For me, there were two. First was their duomo. These churches kept getting more outlandish than the last! This one was ornate, which is typically too much for my taste, but I found it pretty. Also, it had some statuary by Michelangelo from before he was famous. Next, I enjoyed their Piazza del Campo, which was huge! So huge, that they have two horse races since 1656. This is steeped in tradition. There are seventeen neighborhoods to this small city; each with a name, symbol, colors and leadership. Through a lottery system, each neighborhood gets a chance to compete, but they don’t know what horse they will be using until four days ahead of time. Finally, we did try the local cake, called panforte. We tried a chocolate and a “cannolla” flavor. Eh. A little too fruit cake-y for my tastes.

Next, we went to Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a farm that produced wine, olive oil, cheese and saffron. We had a quick tour of the facilities and then sat for lunch next to three girls from Alabama who were spending three weeks in Europe to celebrate graduating from college. Sigh again. We tried four wines: a white, a Chianti, a Merlot and a dessert wine.

Stop number three was San Gimignano, another medieval town…this one with 14 standing towers. They were serious towers that could be seen all the way from the farm, which was 15 minutes away. By this stop, we were so full and tired, so we made our own way to the top of their fortress, took some pictures and just hung out.

Our final stop, Pisa, wasn’t what I expected. The touristy area around the leaning tower was what you would think, but on a mini-train tour, they showed us the rest of the town. Did you know they have over 60,000 college students in Pisa? Crazy.

We didn’t get tickets to Venice until Friday night (for a Saturday departure), so we were stuck with a 12:30 train. We used this late start as the opportunity to go the street market where I bought a couple of belts and wander through the food market again where we bought stuff for lunch. I have never had cherries that tasted so good!

For pictures from this portion of our trip, please click here.

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