Where are we?: Germany
countries Visited: 9
Days on the Road: 111

Friday, May 17, 2013

PIZZA- Italy!


    Another one of our must do’s while in Italy was; eat pizza! Everyone knows Italy for its pasta, its bread, it gelato and other fine desserts, and also its PIZZA!!! I mean they practically invented it, hahaha I mean they did, they did invent it. So while travelling through Italy, go for it, have yourself a pie.

     Our first pizza experience was in Venice at a place beside our hotel called Trattoria All’Aquila. We were wooed in by the maitre d, and seated. We figured on splitting one, but were told that they were small, and got one each instead. He lied, they were huge, but they were delicious! The thing that makes Italian pizza different is the crust, so super thin that you have to eat it with a knife and fork, or fold it over itself, either way is acceptable. So we both eat half our pizza, and stack the other half ready to wrap, mmm, we got lunch for tomorrow, but I guess there are not used to take out there, after clearing our plates, we watch as he slid the entire contents into the garbage. It was a sad, sad day for pizza lovers everywhere.

    This was not our last pizza experience mind you, there was that one in Florence in our hostel, and the one in Rome by the Coliseum, and they just kept getting better and better. Do yourself a favor however and share, they are large, and please, please whatever you do, ask him to wrap it up, don’t expect him to know because you have neatly stacked it in a take home manner. Actually I have an even better idea, use napkins.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Happy Birthday Sarah in Venice Italy

 My Birthday in Venice

    It’s very hard to pick where you want to be on your birthday when you are travelling Europe. It couldn’t be Spain, that much I knew, but Paris, Italy, Turkey? I had never been to any of them, and they all held their charms. In the end it was simple timing that made the choice. We had to catch a flight in Rome on the 18th, so Venice it was, pretty good choice Universe, thank you.
    As we have already stated, Venice is beautiful, and one of the things that is a must do while visiting is a gondola ride. Isn’t that everyone’s dream to be pushed around in a boat, by a gentleman wearing strips and a straw hat, while singing Italian love songs? Well there was no singing, but as a birthday present Kristen and I splurged and split on a ride. Now technically it was the day before my birthday, but my actual birthday was supposed to be rainy so we went early.   
 We got a great deal, well actually we have no idea not having anything to reference it to, but we were told the ride was 80 Euros, but he gave us 45 minutes for 70, although he did jip us 10 minutes on the ride. Never the less we got our gondola ride. Around the water canals we were pushed, while getting snippets of history and architecture. The most fun part of the ride was everyone taking your picture as you past by. Every bridge, and there were a lot, had 20 something people ready to take a shot. Kristen and I are probably now in 700 random peoples Venice Vacation photo albums, so keep your eyes peeled.   
 On my actual birthday planned to go out for dinner. Venice has an incredible amount of restaurants, millions I am sure, and they all offer tourist menus, which is a 2 or 3 coarse meal for a cheap price. We picked Al Cantinon, just a little ways off the main strip. In truth it was why we picked it, it was quiet and cute, right on the water, and they had gnocchi, I had been craving gnocchi.
     We had drinks to start on the terrace beside the water, and then moved inside for our dinner. We grabbed a bottle of Italian wine, I had the tourist menu, with had gnocchi in a four cheese cream sauce to start, and steak for dinner, while Kristen got the Bolognaise. Her pasta came with my gnocchi, with turned out to be a good thing, since the gnocchi was to my disappointment not very good. I have no idea how it is possible, but the gnocchi was the same texture as the sauce, which was no texture at all, it was very strange, but being content with sharing Kristen’s, and then sharing the steak, we continued on with our meal. Everything else was amazing, and the service was extraordinary. Our server really went out of her way for us, and made our dining experience special. Venice is a very good place to spend your birthday!
If you are ever in Venice try Al Cantinon;

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Venice Italy, a First Impression

     We take a bus from Paris to Venice, and we managed to get a seat together this time. This was not easy I should add people were pushing shoving and practically fist fighting to get on the bus. I honestly have never seen anything like it. Even waiting to put our suitcase on the bus people budded and pushed. I patiently waited until everyone else fought their way through, and put ours on last. The bus driver asked me where I was from at this point, and I said Canada, he laughed at this, of course I was from Canada.

    We get dropped off in Venice, or so we are told. It is literally a parking lot, there is water, and some industrial looking buildings, and not much else. So what do we do? Is there a boat? A ferry? We have no wifi, and there is no one even around to ask. We then see a sign to a Metro, sort of.

    We go up to this “Metro”, and get in. It seems there are 3 stops, the one we are at, the Marina, and another one that’s name means nothing to either of us. We get to the Marina, and it looks much like the stop we just left, maybe even a bit more industrial, where the h@#l are we? Next stop looks better, at least there are people, still no sign of the Venice we have pictured.

We ask directions to a hostel, and simply get told to go over the bridge. I don’t want to! We have no idea where we are, there are 6 men asking to carry my bag for 5 Euros, no thank you, and unless I do pay some strange man to carry my bag, I will have to drag “The Beast” over the bridge. But again, it must be done, so I drag “The Beast” up and over this bridge, and there it is the water canals, the gondolas, the streets lined with Venetian masks. It is all everyone has ever said it would be, it’s beautiful. Yup, we are in Venice. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Eiffel Tower - Paris, France

WE MADE IT and we lucked out, our one rain free sunny say we decided to venture over to the Tour Eiffel!

It was busy, but not as bad as I was expecting! Tourists all snapping pictures of the world renowned tower, and "street vendors" trying to sell you miniature versions, saying hello in every language possible until they feel they have found the right one! (helpful tip, if you say No thank you in the native language of what ever country you are in they tend to only ask you 4-5 times, not like when you respond in English and the follow you for 8 blocks!)

We didn't go up, we didn't feel we needed to, after all the best view in this part of the city is from the ground looking up! (also it costs WAY to much, and we already had an incredible city view for free from the hill at "Sacre Coeur").

We spent a lovely afternoon snapping pictures and admiring the view, and also enjoying some yummy treats from a near by cafe! A tangy lemon and a buttery pecan tart with coffees to finish up!

Au revoir Paris, à bientôt and thank you for everything... especially the cheese :) ! 

Tomorrow we are off to Italy...Venice to be more specific! See you soon!

Monday, April 15, 2013

La Duree - Paris France

Before going to Paris, the one thing everyone told me was "YOU HAVE TO GO TO LA DUREE". I had herd of it before, and I do like Macaroons, but I really had no idea why everyone was so passionate and excited about this shop!

We walk in and it was rows and rows of incredibly sweet smelling, brightly colored little circles of amaingness, lining the counter! There are tarts and pastries and macaroon towers, coffee, tea and even a bar in the back!

The people that work the counter move the line along very quickly, so fast that I didn't even have a chance to look at all the flavors! They were pleasant but seemed a little bit impatient with the customers who all seemed to be distracted and intoxicated by the wonderful aroma! I ordered quickly, choosing some traditional flavors like Vanilla and pistachio, then some of the more interesting ones like rose and blood orange! Sarah and I both got a box for gifts, and then we decided to get a couple to try for ourselves! We shared, Vanilla, rose, salted caramel and blood orange. Let me tell you, they were all melt in your mouth SPECTACULAR! The shop was incredible, so wonderful in fact that the hurried service of the counter staff doesn't seem to bother me or deter me from going back! Actually I don't think anything will stop me from going back! 

I for sure had a "travel moment". There I was walking on the streets of Paris with one of my best friends enjoying one of the best things to come out of the city! Between the amazing cheese, macaroon and wine....I would be in serious trouble if I lived in Paris!

We were not actually allowed to take pictures inside the shop, as I found out in a lot of shops in Paris....after I took a picture and got in trouble! But!! We did manage to get a few before we ran out!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dinner Out In Paris France

    Being on a five month get away, you can’t exactly afford the luxury of fancy dinners out every night, especially in Paris. You can find very affordable spots however, with really great food, and cheap wine. We managed to get in two dinners out, and both very impressive;

Bouillion Chartier

    Emmanuel chose this place; it is very popular, with good food and cheap prices. It’s is very old, and used to feed blue collar workers home style cooked meals at inexpensive prices. Part of the decor is many little chubby holes that the workers could keep their tabs in while awaiting pay day.

    First I had the snails; you have to have snails in Paris. The problem was I ordered 12, thinking that one of the other 7 people at the table would have some, and they didn’t. 3 or 4 snails are enough for me. Next I had the duck confit, and this was a very pleasant surprise. I have had my share of duck confit, and it is fall off the bone tender. This little guy came out looking dry, and crisp. But after removing the skin, the meat was just as tender as I am used to, but I also had crispy skin! Amazing!

    Kristen had a beautiful salad to start, and the steak for dinner. The steak had great flavour, but was very fatty and tough in spots. It was probably a translation problem, but it definitely wasn't the cut of meat she thought she was getting, but it was not a total loss. The whole meal cost us 30 Euros!

George’s Place

    After a long day of touring, we found ourselves in the swank part of Paris, and starving! So what to do? We walk a few blocks, and down a little side street, and find George’s. It is a beautiful and quant looking place, with a server that takes your hand to show you to the table, and a piano man to boot.

    We got a tomato and mozzarella salad to start, because we somehow felt we had not had enough cheese, and this time I got the steak, and Kristen got the duck. Everything was beautiful. Kristen’s duck was juicy, but lacking crispy skin mind you. My steak was cooked to a perfect med rare and covered in a truffle sauce that I honestly think I could just drink. Both came with a big helping of dimed potatoes, and veggies, we could just say we were both really happy. So this meal was a little more expensive, although sitting here right now I can’t  remember the exact cost, it wasn’t extravagant however, I’m going to put in an educated guess of 65 Euros, and that included wine. We both agreed that in Toronto, the cost would be way higher.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre Sacred Heart, Paris France

    Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic Church located in the heart of Paris. What makes this place even more appealing to tourists is that it’s located at the very highest point in the city, on the summit of Montmarte, which means great views all around, literally! But now for the bad part, I’m sure it has been mentioned I am not a fan of stairs, or hills. One or two flights ok, 17 or more and I’m out, but sometimes you have to suck it up to see the important things.
    So up we climb, I didn’t count them, and I didn’t want to know to be honest. The only thing I was thinking about was how much this sucked, and how it better be worth it. So far the explanation that there was a church on top wasn’t doing it for me. Well we get to the top, and there is a church, it is a nice church, sure. Then there is the view, ok it’s a spectacular view, but I have to let my heart beat back to normal before I will grudgingly admit to it.
We start to walk a little farther in, and there is a whole little city, like its own little community. There is art in the park, tiny cafes, darling little houses, shops selling the sweetest little postcards, and low and behold, there is a race about to start. We parked ourselves on a patio and had a Fanta, (Fanta always makes everything better, ALWAYS!) and watch the world run past.
Fantas done, and realizing we are going to be late for our next tour, Kristen, Emmanuel, and I stroll back to climb down the steps, down is fine with me by the way, and I decide that yes, it was defiantly worth it. Then I saw the Tram, the one that takes you from the bottom to top for the cost of a metro ride. If you go, take the Tram!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Finding a Cheese Shop- PARIS FRANCE

Now of all the things to do in Paris, I would think that finding a cheese shop would be one of the easiest! WRONG! I dont know if we were in the wrong area, or just kept missing them but we walk for 2 hours before we found one!

(Thank you Levis Street!)

But boy was this cheese shop worth the 2 hour saunter through Paris. It is situated on a small little market style street that made our hearts sing! Rotisserie chickens spinning away right on the street, cheese, wine, and wonderful cafes line the edges and Sarah and I walk right through out little piece of heaven in Paris!

I feel horrible now because I cant remember the name of the Shop, but its the only on on Levis Street!

When we walked in that horrifically amazing smell smacks us in the face and our little slice of heaven is made so much better! We got way to much cheese, and even some awesome cured duck sausage and a wonderful black fig compote :) AND IT WAS SO CHEAP! I Swear the only thing that saves me from being a cheese-a-holic at home is the price of the good stuff in Canada! I dont think I should be allowed to live in Paris! 

So after our long trek we went home with bags full of our Parisian dinner and enjoyed a wonderful night with our adoptive French family!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Musee Du Louvre : Paris France

While in Paris, Musee du Louvre, or The Louvre is a must see, at almost 9 million visitors per year. Opened since 1793, this gigantic structure brings art enthusiasts and just curious visitors such as our selves together for a truly beautiful experience. It’s most popular attraction is; The Mona Lisa, but it is filled with many other treasures, so many in fact that it would be impossible to do in one day.
    So off we went on our second day, taking the very extensive, but easy to maneuver Paris metro system to the Louvre. The first thing that strikes you is the building itself, it is its very own piece of art work, and many people gather around the court yard for photo ops with the giant pyramid.
    It costs us 11 Euros to enter, giving you access to four giant wings of the museum. Having only one day to take it in, we head for the one with the Mona Lisa. There are sculptures and paintings that look as vibrant and colorful as I’m sure they were when they were first made, pottery and artifacts from many different cultures and eras, and my favorite people setting up easels in the hallways to take a crack at painting like artists of years past. There is definitely something for everyone here. 
     But ok I’ll get to the good part, a little over 2 hours, and four floors later we see her. Off in a little side room, packed with people, there she is, the Mona Lisa. Now I have been warned about this, but it still took me by surprise, that this legendary painting is so small! Being placed in a room with several other paintings that are the size of my house doesn’t help I am sure, but it really is tiny. Guess it just goes to show you good things come in all sizes.
    So Day 2 not being totally over, and already having checked off 4 things on our Paris must see list, we set out for more excitement and fun. Keep checking back for all our adventures in Paris, there is much more to come.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Paris : we are ready for you!

The bus ride from Barcelona to Paris was awful! Fifteen hours over night, and neither of us slept a wink. We couldn’t get seat beside each other, and both of us felt pretty awkward sleeping beside strangers, not that they minded, the guy beside me was practically on my lap, and so was the lady beside Kristen. It also didn’t help that our bus driver seemed to have a small bladder, and stopped every hour and a half, kicking us off the bus when he did, to stand in the pouring rain to wait for him.
     We arrive in Paris at 10 or 11 in the morning to notice that Paris is not very wheel chair accessible. This becomes apparent when we have to lug my giant hockey bag I am using for luggage (we have now lovingly dubbed it the Beast) up many flights of stairs to get out. Next problem, we need internet, BADLY! We are meeting up with a friend of Kristen’s, Emmanuel, after he gets of work, and since our phones only work with internet...well. So we set off with Beast in tow walking almost 12 blocks of streets you would not want to find yourself at night, until we find one. I should add that when we returned to the bus station almost a week later to depart, we saw the commercial center right beside it.
    So we find our cafe, and sit to enjoy our first cappuccinos in Paris, and since we have several hours to kill, our first half liter of wine. The server was friendly, the day was beautiful, we were way to over tired to be tired at this point, so there we stayed. Finally hearing from Emmanuel, we chugged our way back to the subway to meet him at a more downtown location, and this is when the real fun begins. I am one of those people that people randomly approach and talk to on the street. I am friendly by nature so no big deal right? Wrong! The people that want to randomly talk to you on the street are generally people you do not want to talk to. Years ago I developed a defense for this; don’t make eye contact, and just walk a bit faster. Unfortunately for Kristen though, my method leaves her to deal with them. So for 12 blocks we had some guy following along, getting so desperate for Kristen’s attentions that he offered to buy her a car if she simply took him back to Canada, sounds fair.
    We get to Opera station and the same problem persists, we need internet. But we find a Pizza Hut, yes a Pizza Hut, in our defense there was a McDonald`s across the road. We get our free internet, and pizza, and wait until around 5 when Emmanuel picks us up, and to our delighted surprise...he`s got a car!
        He takes us on a short tour around, which is where we learned that the traffic in Paris is insane, and we make several stops to get the necessities; cheese and wine. But upon returning to the car, we find the keys locked in. Just to show you how much patients and humility we have learned on this trip, because we did not sit down and cry like you were all expecting, we went for beer. An hour and a half later, we were showered, relaxed, had a glass of wine in hand, and a giant plate of cheese. Ok Paris, we are ready for you!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Catalonia - the end of our visit to Barcelona!

We all know Barcelona as Spain, but in fact it once was not part of Spain at all. It was, and many say still is the capital of Catalonia, which was founded in the year 800 and includes; Gerona, Ampurias, and Sardagne. It later became part of Spain during the Spanish war in the early 1700’s. Today the fight wages on for the independence of Catalonia, Kristen and I don’t take sides, so instead I will tell you a little of what we learned about the Catalan traditions.
   First we learned the story behind the flag. The flag has 5 horizontal red strips on a back ground of gold that is said to stand for blood on a golden shield. The story we were told by or travel guide, is that after the battle againt the Muslims in the 800, a mortally wounded soldier returning victorious was granted a finally wish from the king. The soldier wanted nothing more than a flag to commemorate their victory. The King put his hand inside the soldiers wound, and with bloody fingers, made the 5 red strips thus creating the flag. Is there truth to this? Probably not, but it is the story.
   Next we learned of a very remarkable Catalan Christmas tradition “Cagatio” or the pooping log is a must have for families at Xmas. They take a log, and draw a face on one side, they put a blanket over top of it. Children feed the log cookies and milk for the 24 days leading up to Xmas. On Xmas eve the real fun begins, the children beat the log with sticks while screaming and yelling for it to...well poop. They remove the blanket to find treats and presents that their parents insist their log has pooped.

   Ok, but if that wasn’t fun enough, for many years there is yet another pooping figure in the Catalan Christmas traditions; Caganer or The Pooper, is a figure added to their nativity scenes of a pooping farmer. No I am not kidding. Some people hide Caganer in the back, sort of like a “Where’s Waldo?” type deal, and some place him right at the front. Caganer was added to represent farmers, and down to earth people, and to remind them that everybody poops. Today you can buy Caganer, and much more. Figures including the Queen, the Pope, the entire Barcelona Football team, and our favorite Sponge Bob Square Pants, because even he has to go eventually!

Stay tune for our adventures in Paris France!