Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The definitive guide to travel within fellow G8 nations

Steph and I as of late are getting back in the swing of things, as said in the vulgar tongue, since returning from our super sweet adventures in Europe. We certainly had ourselves a time! I'll attempt to explain.

Firstly, this trip was first and foremost a family trip, more specifically Steph's family and I was just ever so lucky enough to asked along for the ride. I was hoping for a Griswald-ian adventure across Europe and I was not at all disappointed. I might also add that when you are much younger hanging out with family be it your own or that of another provides almost enough material to write an authoritative treatise on hiding and not being seen by others in public. However, when you get older hanging around with a large family group especially on vacation provides enough low comedy and material for a well received three act play.

Our trip actually started about two weeks before we left because we were in search of proper quarters for our dogs who will be hereafter referred to as "our girls" or "our babies." The selection process took no less than two and not more than three trips to Sacramento to view a few different kennels. As to why we chose Sacramento, let's just say i had an idea and we ran with it. We ended up settling for a place which seemed to have a lot of outdoor activities for them to take part in all the while fitting in with our fiscal plan.

Day 1: With the girls all squared away it was time for us to leave. We had booked a 4:45 am shuttle to take us to the airport and of course we ended up finding out that it wasn't going to come until like 5:15 which means I woke up a half an hour too soon. GRRRRRRRR! I may or may not have been a little grouchy. The first leg of the journey took us to Toronto as we were meeting up with Steph's Aunt and Uncle. Fortunately since we had like a six hour layover we were able to leave the airport and we went to the most amazing Asian supermarket I have ever bared witness to. It's called TNT and it is DYN-O-MITE!!! Seriously, the prepared foods section was teeming with what was once life,, pork, cow, chicken, duck, octopus you name it, they had it and it was deliciously prepared. Way to go Canada. Later that evening we were on our way to Europe. We first touched down in Paris, even though our first actual leg of the trip was to start in Florence. We had another nice little layover and it was at this time that I had realized since I hadn't set my watch to local time yet that we had eclipsed the 24 hour mark in our travels. We were in the same clothes and hadn't brushed our teeth even. I felt like a wax dummy, with a porcelain veneer of goo accenting my features. But, Steph and I had been prepared for this, we brought a pack of Wisps with us. Fail! Even though they pretty much sucked, they were far better than nothing. Although a "how disgusting can I possibly get" contest would have been a little fun. Next time perhaps. Annnnnnd, fast forward to us landing in Florence. It was about 5 or 6 on balmy evening. I had hoped for a nice shower before hitting the town, but my hopes were dashed upon the rocks. Everyone was feeling a bit peckish and dinner plans were called for. We wandered into a nice little Italian (imagine that) restaurant and had a very nice little meal with some nice wine. Two things about Florence. The bread is the most god awful bread I have ever tasted. It is not meant to be eaten alone. As I later found out it is because the Florentine bakers don't use salt in their local breads. If you put stuff on the bread it's fine, and I assume that is the point. The other thing about Florence, and I would go so far as to say Italy in general, is that THEY MAKE THE BEST COFFEE I HAVE EVER TASTED!!!!!! I like my coffee, I drink lot's of the stuff(Read: Acidosis). It did not matter where we went, every place of business seemed to be equipped with an espresso machine and from it they would turn out the most amazingly delicious cappuccinos. Eff you Starbucks I'm sick of your shitty burnt tasting beverages! One thing we noticed and really appreciated was that Italy did not seem wholly given over to becoming the throw away society we have become here in the states in that when you get a coffee it comes to you in a cup and saucer and you drink it as fast or slow as the case may be. I don't even think you can get coffee in a mug at Starbucks unless you bring it with you, even if you're just sitting in Starbucks and not leaving your drink it still comes in a paper cup. These things admittedly never seem as absurd until you see something different. Anyway, to sum up I love coffee in Italy.

This trip to Europe was actually my fourth visit, but my first to Italy so I was very, very excited to be in Florence. Let me just say I am a great lover of history and I find a great appreciation for being in a town that has such a huge impact on history. It's like I have my own personal time machine as I'd walk down the streets imagining what it must have been like to walk down that same street 600 years ago. Then of course I bump into people or almost get hit by a car and have to readjust my focus.

Later that night, at about midnight, I took some time for myself and walked around the town by myself. I sat across from the Duomo and had a beer. What a great first day in Florence.

Day 2: Ok, So I did not keep a journal during the trip so I can't remember the correct sequence of events nor what day they actually occurred upon so I will hereafter consider the next four days we spent in Florence as falling under the auspices of "Day 2". Over the next four days we had so many fun adventures in Florence. Steph and I went to the Uffizi and saw priceless works of Renaissance art. I dragged Steph into the treasury underneath the Duomo where we also saw one of the creepiest rooms ever. It looked like it should have been in Minnie and Roman Castevet's house in Rosemary's Baby rather than in the bowels of a 600 year old Cathedral. The room was clad in dark red wall coverings and intricately black wood work throughout. Did I also mention that the room housed a glass coffin containing some long dead bishop? Oh because yeah, it did. On another fine day we took an all day bus tour of the Chianti region of Tuscany. I loved it, it was just so pretty. I am usually loathe to take bus tours. I have always been a DIY tourist, but I really enjoyed this tour. We got to have lunch in a medieval castle that has since been turned into a winery. We got to taste many of it's wines and visit the cellars, where I want to shoot a horror movie. We also got to stop in several little medieval towns on random hilltops. In one of the towns we encountered a butcher shop famous for it's cured meats and salami's etc. I could not resist and I bought a slab of aged rosemary and sage and peeper encrusted bacon. OMG it is the fucking business btw!!!!!!! This bacon, which I should have had shrink wrapped caused quite a bit of controversy as to whether or not I'd actually make it through customs. More on that in my final wrap up. Next we had dinner in a little walled town of stone where I insist that we're buying a house to summer in. The restaurant was very nice and the food was amazing. I took note of the fact that it was recommended by the Michelin guide. We had some very typical Tuscan cuisine, sausages, legumes, and some very fresh pasta. And of course some tasty wine. I tried to staty away from Pizza because it's actually not a regional food. But, I love pizza so I had it a few times and it was quite tasty. For real pizza, I need to go to Naples otherwise I think the US can hold it's own in the pizza world. The next day Steph and I took the super fast train up to Milan to see the Last Supper. I love train travel. There is just something about watching the scenery breezing by. Upon arrival in Milan we discovered that our quest to see the Last Supper was not to be as you had to book a viewing about 3 weeks in advance. So as a consolation we went to the Milan Duomo, a huge and beautiful Gothic cathedral. Also, we wandered around all the nearby shops as we searched for someplace delicious to eat. As we walked through a very fancy area we came across a very fancy cafe that served High Tea. Steph ordered a platter of little finger sandwiches which were truly finger sized and weighed and yet in at a hefty 36 Euros. I had a sliver of a sandwich that ended up being 8 euros. When in Rome as they say- right? Also, I remembered, pinkies out.

One of my favie parts of Florence was the central market. It's in a large warehouse-esque building built in the 1800's. It's easily recognizable amongst all of the 15th and 16th century architecture, although it is not an eyesore. Inside are stall after stall of different vendors plying their trades and hawking their wares. To me this is how grocery shopping was meant to be. There were stands selling fresh local veggies and fruits that looked amazing. Also they didn't seem to feel the need to say everything is "organic" in order to hyper-inflate the price of things. Rather it was just quality produce. There were various butchers, fishmongers, fresh pasta makers, olive oil sellers, and wine sellers et al. Steph's mom bought me a jar of truffles. Nice! Also, even though we'd just eaten breakfast there was no way we could pass up the stand selling cured meats. They had all sorts of different hams and prosciutto's to choose from. They slice it thin add a little cheese and give it to you between a crusty roll. It was delicious. I wish I had a hot plate in our hotel room. I would have made some magic.

Ahhh, our hotel. I really liked our hotel, it was on a quiet street not far from the city center. Our room was puce in color, and the breakfast spread was awesome. They had pastries, cakes, cold meats, bacon, eggs, delicious yogurt, CAPPUCCINO!!!!! Oh and did I mention there was a horse butcher selling solely the finest cuts of equine? I loved it. Also, in the entryway there was a rather large portrait of a very regal gentleman whose moustache and finery I very much wanted for my own. So I took a picture of it and photshopped my own head onto his. I look very regal indeed. But most importantly our room had a bidet! I loved it and totally want one in our loft. I think I will name our next dog Bidet.

And yes, I did just describe the hotel last which I'm sure is odd because it was the very first place we stopped in Florence. But, I reserve the right to keep my own chronological order. In my opinion I followed the best for last method as I wanted to give proper consideration to the Bidet!

Not a bad beginning to the trip eh? We've already touched on Sacramento, Toronto, Paris, Florence, Milan as well as small villages in the Tuscan outback. This was just the first leg of the journey. The Italian leg if you will. That in itself is an interesting way to put it since Italy is in the shape of a very uncomfortable boot.

Next we get on to France, Paris to be exact.

I'd like to start out talking about our hotel in Paris. It was a pretty fancy hotel. The location was amazing. It was right across the street from the Tuileries Gardens and just a couple blocks from the Louvre and the Champs Elyses. Our room was fine, oddly no Bidet, but the amusing part was the two twin beds pushed together to form a whole. I actually had an incident that bordered on cliche in which I began to fall through the crack in the middle of the bed. Usually this kind of physical comedy is reserved select episodes of Three's company or I love Lucy. I was for sure channeling my best Jack Tripper. The best part of the room was the balcony, or the open window rather. it looked down onto the street 4 floors below. I could see the Musee d' Orsay just across the river. Also, they brought us a nice breakfast to the room each morning.

Let me just say that Paris is awesome. I really do enjoy it there. I like the fact that it has retained some much of it's old world grandeur since unlike most Euro cities it wasn't bombed out during World War 1 and 2. I relish in being a tourist there. I like taking those oh so typical walks along the Seine river, the museum visits, the crepe stands, standing in awe of amazing Cathedrals and people watching in outdoor cafes. So typical and I so don't care. And yes, we saw the Mona Lisa. That makes 3 different times I've seen that painting. Also, I have a great appreciation for French Hip Hop but I didn't actually get to experience any while we were there. Although we did get to see the new Terminator. It was great, the movie was in English with French subtitles which means unlike my fellow French theater goers I was able to turn my head and still have the ability to retain the dialog. Also the seats were like velvety soft pillows with acres of legroom.

Opposed to Italy, France is very spendy. I'll use the coffee scale to demonstrate. A cappuccino in Italy usually cost me 1-2 Euros. That same, but oh so slightly inferior (at least France can bake a tasty loaf of bread) cappuccino in Paris would run about 7-9 Euros. That's no Joke.

The food in Paris is abundant and delicious. A sausage will make or break you in this town. On the "make" side we had a deliciously snappy hot dog encased in a fresh baguette. On the break, and I mean break out the Pepto side we have andouillette What a great segue actually because for lunch one day "I actually ordered this hell sausage." The offending charcuterie was placed before me and immediately I noticed a fog of stink emanating from the beast. Oh yeah, the sausage was made from pig entrails, great stinky chunks of guts all up in my sausage. I managed two bites before I had to throw up a white flag of surrender and order anew. At first I felt bad because since I was a lad I have always been taught that you eat everything that is given to you whether you like it or not. However, Steph's family confirmed that the sausage was indeed stinky. I felt vindicated. So did my stomach. The waiter was pretty amused by all this. We also got to go to a couple of foodie shops I'd been dying to go to, Fauchon and Heidard. Both stores were amazing cornucopias of gourmet delights. Inside they each had little cafes, patisseries, packaged foods, spices, and preserved fancy meats in cans. Um, wow! I bought my dad a "force meat kit." In lay terms I bought him a bunch of canned pate's such as, stag, wild boar, goose, hare etc. Happy father's day dad! I bought myself some various herbs and spices. We also had a nice and spendy little lunch at Fauchon.

The highlight of our trip was getting to go to the Moulin Rouge. What did I think of this spectacle dating from the time when Van Gogh was in town? Um, I was so obliterated by the fact that this even exists. I seriously couldn't process it and then when I checked out the price per person at 102 Euros, I sank even deeper into disbelief. It was hypnotic if nothing else. Also there were so many boobs making their presence felt in the room it was overpowering. If I had to summarize the place I would say only this, bourgeois boobies. Also just up the street was my new favorite store named Pussy's. I can't be certain of what they sell but I can guess.

This brings us pretty much up to the end of it. Oh, except that we had to fly into Frankfurt to catch our flight home. I've been to Frankfurt before. We didn't miss anything by not leaving the airport but I am sad that we didn't get that pretzel. I shall now add a bazillion pictures and I'll do it at will and completely out of order and I won't even bother to caption them. It's to be a Jambalaya of pictures if you will.


Oh, also, I did manage to sneak all of the most likely banned meat products through customs. Nobody takes my bacon!


Polina said...

cute. you look like two kids in a candy store. hope you didn't sneak swine flu through customs.

Anonymous said...

Word! The Moulin Rouge??!! WOW!

I would of freaked if I coulda gone to the infamous Moulin Rouge! Suffice to say the boobies could go elsewheres but damn, that is by far the BEST A|PART of the whole trip - I'm trippin' in fact about the Tuscan thing, I have a weakness for beautiful outdoors mega-euro villages!

I would of never came home, seriously would of just started working my way out the ranks of the villages meat mafia.

Reading further!

Nerd Love-Bot said...

Kid in a candy store indeed!!!!

And yes, the Moulin Rouge was weird and good time. I couldn't stop laughing at the fact that I was even there.

And yes, the Tuscan countryside is all that they say it is. Super enjoyed that.

Some Chilean Woman said...

Awesome post! I think I need to follow just to live vicariously through you.

Cute couple too.

Nerd Love-Bot said...

Thanks my Chilean friend!