Monday, April 24, 2017

Yes, to quote Audrey Hepburn, Paris is always a good idea!

Last year, I had two utterly delicious trips to Paris. I was even thinking about taking the train from London to go grocery shopping in Paris for the day, but then I started working full-time in the autumn. Now, I barely have time to do laundry, write a blog post or plan any new trips, but we finally do have a few spring trips starting to take shape.

Read on to find out my latest foodie recommendations for Paris.

Foodies at Frenchie’s
One Parisien favorite that I’ve been wanting to try for a long time is Frenchie’s – a popular restaurant for foodies and food critics alike. On my July trip with a girlfriend, we scored a table at Frenchie’s wine bar (Bar a Vins) after queuing up before dinner service. We only ordered a few small plates because we had dinner reservations elsewhere that night. Frenchie’s is worth the hype if you don’t mind waiting. I’d also love to try the main restaurant across the street as it features a foodie-lovers’ tasting menu – all ingredients are locally farmed or sourced.
Fromage and charcuterie
You can never go wrong when there’s cheese, boards of sliced meats and glasses of wine involved. Well, at least that’s my motto! Looking back, I think my girlfriend and I literally had three meals or snacks that involved cheese and wine. Well, we were in Paris after all!

Afternoon “snacks” at Café Richer, 2 Rue Richer, not too far from Gare du Nord. We had two glasses of wine, a burrata entrée and a plate of charcuterie which all cost 32.50 euros.

Late night truffled cheese platter and wine at a cool wine bar called O’Chateau, 68 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the Les Halles district. Cost 33 euros.
Cheese and wine with a view of the Eiffel Tower to the left and Sacre Couér from our Airbnb flat on another stay.

Foie and More
If you love foie gras, then you must make dinner reservations at Comptoir de la Gastronomie, 34 Rue Montmartre! While the foie gras ravioli sounded appealing, I was still doing a gluten-free diet so avoided those temptations. Instead, we ordered a beautiful tomato and burrata salad, one assiette de foie gras, a planche mixte of cheese and charcuterie, a to-die-for salted caramel mousse for dessert and 1 bottle of Cote du Rhone red wine. All in, our bill was a reasonable 76.50 euros.

Another fun wine bar that we loved was L’avant Comptoir that we both had heard about from travel blogger and Instagrammer extrodinaire – A Taste of Travel. This small bar, located in the Saint Germain district, is adorned with pig memorabilia and the menu cards hang from the ceiling. We popped by in the afternoon for some wine, foie gras and one more small plate. After perhaps too many glasses of rosé and singing along to all the words to “Shoop” by Salt n’ Pepa, we made our grand exit. 
Breton Favorites in Paris
While the reviews are hit or miss for LaPointe de Grouin, 8 Rue de Belzunce, our group of friends had a fun, chill experience here. Named after a rocky northern coast in Brittany, this four-year-old, lively wine bar and restaurant by Chef Thierry Breton is an experience worth having if you’re near Gare du Nord.

What’s different is that you must pay for your dishes and drinks with grouins or coins. The coin system makes it easier for the staff, but perhaps the customer might lose out on a coin or two. Honestly, we didn’t find the payment system a problem. The dishes came out quickly and we had a fun tim here! If you love wine, you can’t miss the wine cave here!
Deliciously Good Duck Confit
While we explored the 11th arrondissement east of the Bastille and the endangered Marché d’Aligre, our stomachs started grumbling again. Using social media, we found a local bistro called Le Chat Bossu and grabbed a table for our group. We either ordered the duck confit or the roasted rabbit lunch special.

The French have the most amazing way of preparing duck by slowly cooking it in rendered duck fat. I mean, how can you resist? I’ve made this dish once or twice at home, but generally, I’d rather leave this dish to the experts. If you ever see duck confit on a menu, do yourself a favor, order it ASAP and enjoy! Oh, and you must have a glass of French red wine to pair with the duck.
Mad for Macarons
No trip to Paris would be complete, at least for me, if I didn’t stop at Pierre Hermé for some freshly-made French macarons. I love the pastry chef’s use of interesting flavor combinations such as lychee, raspberry and rose, but salted caramel will always be one of my favs.
Look at all those delicious desserts too!
As you can tell from this post, I had a difficult time eating my way around Paris. Tough life, but someone has to do it!

My Traveling Joys

Saturday, April 22, 2017

W is for Wrocław's Market Square 

Of all the cities we visited while we lived in Poland, I think that Wrocław is one of the prettiest.

Fortunately, my solo road trip in Lower Silesia in 2015 meant that I got to spend some extra time in Wrocław, which is Poland’s fourth largest city.

Known under dozens of different names as it was passed repeatedly between four countries (there’s a strong German influence here), Wrocław is an architecturally diverse city, which was largely rebuilt after World War II. Ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau, I can’t resist the marvelously-restored facades of the townhouses surrounding the Market Square. The square is the city’s heart and the maze of cobbled streets, canals, bridges and church spires seem to spin off from here. The market square and the urban grid around it was designed by city planners all the way back in the 13th century.
In the middle of the square, you’ll find a medieval structure known as the Town Hall (Ratusz) which also dates back to the 13th century and (surprisingly) was barely damaged during WWII. There’s a large clock on the front and the interesting architecture makes the building look like it’s been pieced together like a puzzle.

Today, Wrocław can be easily reached from most European destinations and is certainly worth exploring for a few days like I did.

I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “W.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

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My Traveling Joys

Thursday, March 30, 2017

During the month of March, London turned on its springtime magic. The dull, gray landscape of the winter months turned into a sparkling land filled with pops of cotton-candy pink, limoncello yellow and cabernet red. Spring is here!

For the past month, I’ve spent my precious days off exploring parts of the city and its wonderful parks. London is filled with heap of green spaces that are landscaped with acres of blooming trees and flowers. Read on to find out where I found the best spring blooms.

Battersea Park
Near our apartment, Battersea Park is a 200-acre (83-hectare) green space located on the southbank of the Thames River, Though the park occupies marshland reclaimed from the Thames, the land is a quiet oasis from our busy city life and we often take a stroll or run through here. We started seeing some blooms as early as late February this year.
Chiswick Gardens
This recently restored, giant conservatory is home to one of the oldest Camellia collections outside China and Japan, dating back to the 1830s. During March and through early April, the Chiswick House and Gardens showcases its beautiful Camellia collection. You’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale surrounded by spring blooms! And to think, some noble family started this garden and collection nearly 200 years ago!
Greenwich Park
During the last week in February, I saw some crocus and daffodils starting to bloom already near Greenwich Park, which is the oldest enclosed Royal Park and covers 183 acres (73 hectares). The park is situated on a hilltop with impressive views across the Thames to the Docklands and the City of London. Also, Greenwich is a darling village and has several museums worth checking out.
Hampstead Heath
Stepping off the train into Hampstead felt like I had wandered into a small English village. I was not expecting a hilly landscape and such a shockingly different feel from elsewhere in London. My main goal here was to visit Hampstead Heath – a large, ancient London park, covering 791 acres (320 hectares.) This huge, grassy public space sits atop a sandy ridge, one of the highest points in London, and offers fantastic views of this crazy city I now call home.
Holland Park
Just minutes away from the hubbub of Kensington Palace is Holland Park – a landscaped masterpiece spread across 54 acres on what used to be the grounds of Cope Castle, a 17th-century Jacobean mansion hidden in the woods. Not much remains of the mansion now, but the park’s gardens are worth checking out. On my visit, I ate my lunch on one of the sun-soaked benches and enjoyed the much-needed Vitamin D.
One of London’s most impressive Japanese gardens can be found here in Holland Park, located between Kensington and Chelsea neighborhoods. The Kyoto garden was designed and built by an eminent Japanese Garden designer and his team to celebrate London’s Japan Festival in 1992. Gorgeous cherry blossoms, fields of wildflowers and peacocks – what else do you need?

Hyde Park
Hyde Park is one of London's eight Royal Parks and every year millions of Londoners and tourists visit the park. Head to the north side of the park near Lancaster Gate if you want to see cherry blossoms and fields of daffodils. You'll also find some magnificent magnolia trees blooming in the neighborhood.
Kew Gardens
In early March, hubby and I spent my Monday off wandering through Kew Gardens. We love this park so much that we became Royal Botanical Garden members last year! No matter what the season, Kew is a delight to explore and see what might be blooming. Luckily, we caught the tail-end of an orchid show as well as the first blooms of spring. We found hundreds and hundreds of dainty crocuses blooming at Kew!
Notting Hill
I swear that Notting Hill must be one of the most Instagrammable neighborhoods in London! Especially if you are looking for brightly-colored houses with flowering trees to match. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking this pink-on-pink photo as well.
Regent’s Park
Starting in mid-March, I discovered a beautiful grove of pink-blossomed trees at the southern end of Avenue Gardens in Regent’s Park. If you continue walking north through the green park, you’ll end up in Camden, where it’s mandatory you grab a pint at one of the many local pubs.

So there you have it, just a few places where you can find signs of spring in London.

Do you have any favorite parks in London?

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

V is for Vienna

Our trip to Vienna in spring 2015 already feels like nearly a lifetime ago. Moving to two different countries since that trip will do it to you.

Anyway, one of the highlights of this weekend trip was seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Belvedere Palace. I had actually visited the palace nearly 10 years ago as part of my first European trip from the US. But being older, and of course wiser now, I feel like I appreciated seeing this beautiful 18th-century palace and ornate gardens so much more now.
The Belvedere consists of two palaces that were built in the early 18th century by the famous Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt – and meant to be used as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736). Inside, the palaces house a fantastic collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day as well as more modern art from international artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann. Of course, you have to see the glittering Kiss painting by Gustav Klimt. So many tourists!

Unfortunately, we only had 48 hours in Vienna and we spent at least two or three of those hours at the Belvedere and then finding lunch nearby at a classic Austrian restaurant. There’s so much more I still want to see! Luckily, since we are living in London, a trip to Europe is just a click away.

I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “V.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

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My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

All it takes is one visit to Bruges to see why it’s described as the “Venice of the North.”

Filled with a labyrinth of canals and interesting Flemish buildings, Bruges is a fairy-tale like city that begs for photographs. During our visit a few months ago, I took more than 300 photos after we stepped off our hour-long train journey from Brussels where we spent Christmas.

Like Venice, Bruges is filled with small canals and was known for its high-quality lace. During the 16th century, this Belgian city prospered becoming a hub for commerce with merchants from 34 different coutnries that regularly traded here. Even if you’re not one for historical details like these, grab your camera and head to beautiful Bruges!
Shortly after we stepped off the train, this gorgeous reflection of a restaurant located along Minnewater "lake of love" greeted us in Bruges.

Begijnhof (Beguinage)
After a short walk from the train station, we first stopped at the Begijnhof or Beguinage – a tranquil convent garden and museum that was founded in 1245. This little piece of world heritage was once the home of the beguines, emancipated women who chose to lead a pious and celibate life. Today the beguinage is inhabited by nuns of the Order of St. Benedict and several Bruges women who have decided to remain unmarried. In the Beguine's house which is now a museum, you get a good idea of what their day-to-day, simple life was like in the 17th century.

Next, we explored The Holy Savior Cathedral (Sint-Salvatorskathedraal), which was originally founded in the 10th century as a common parish church. In 1834, shortly after Belgium’s independence in 1830, a new bishop came to Bruges and the Sint-Salvator church obtained the status of cathedral. The cathedral’s oldest surviving part, dating from the end of the 12th century, forms the base of the mighty tower which you can’t miss from our next stop. Though the church is undergoing some renovations, it’s worth popping in.

Belfort in Bruges
Standing 83-meters tall, the Belfry of Bruges is arguably the most famous part of The Markt square and one of the city’s main attractions that has a queue. We waited more than 45 minutes to climb some 360-plus steps for an unparalleled view over the red rooftops of the city and the market square, which is dotted with many restaurants and cafés.  

Today, the tower holds the 47 bells designed in 1741 by George Duméry and regularly chimes the hours and important events.

Belgian Waffles at Chez Albert
Lunchtime means you must grab a waffle from one of the many stands or shops located near the square.
Stadhuis (Town Hall)
This Gothic structure was built in the late 1300s, making it the oldest Town Hall in Belgium and also an ideal courtyard to enjoy your waffle. The reasonable 2.50-euro admission fee is worth paying so you don’t miss the ornate Gotische Zaal (Gothic Room) – featuring wall murals of Bruges’s history. The spectacular vaulted oak ceiling dates from 1402.

Tip: go early so you can avoid too many people in your photos.

What is the ‘Rozenhoedkaai?’
The Quay of the Rosary is one of the most photographed sites throughout the entire city of Bruges. Just around the corner from the Town Hall, you’ll find a lovely canal with swans and crow-stepped-gabled houses and boats sailing by you. No matter what the season, I’m sure the Rozenhoedkaai is picture perfect!

Of course, when we weren’t admiring the gorgeousness of Bruges, we found a few pubs to enjoy a Belgian beer, an order of frites with mayonnaise and a few Christmas markets. We enjoyed ourselves so much that I have to wonder why my Belgian friend seemed to downplay her city when she spoke of her hometown.

Grab your camera and let’s head to Bruges!

My Traveling Joys

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