amsterdam and paris

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After a brief hiatus, I’m back to the recap of our trip to Europe that I promised. I just had a sneaking suspicion that you might be more interested in a recipe for the most amazing pumpkin pie ever just days before Thanksgiving. Now I’m back to Europe, so to speak.

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After Brussels and Bruges, we headed to Amsterdam where we promptly set out to find rijsttafel. What’s rijsttafel, you ask? Translated, it’s rice table, but what it really means is a table full of small Indonesian samplings. Why we don’t have this in every city in the United States is beyond me. It’s the perfect way to get to try several different dishes ranging in color, level of spiciness, texture, and of course flavor. In short, you get to try a little bit of everything. We had 10 small dishes ranging from chicken satay to lamb curry, to tofu curry, plus a large bowl of rice to share between the two of us and we had no problem polishing it all off.

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The rest of our trip in Amsterdam is a bit of a blur because of our limited time there and because I got pretty sick, which really cut into our time seeing (and eating) all of the many things that I wanted. We did manage to visit the the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank house. I love Van Gogh and it was such a treat to get to see so many of his paintings up close and learn a little more about his personal life. Seeing Anne Frank’s house was truly sobering and certainly helps put all the trivial annoyances of everyday life in perspective. Frank’s diary made a big impression on me when I read it as a little girl and I felt both privileged and humbled to see the small quarters that eight people lived in while hiding for two years during the Holocaust.

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Despite feeling sick and miserable, I still enjoyed walking the streets of Amsterdam and taking pictures of the beautiful canals running throughout the city. I look forward to returning and getting to visit the many places I wasn’t able to make it to (like the boathouse museum!) and trying more of the Indonesian cuisine peppering the streets of Amsterdam. Alas, my being sick got in the way of seeing some of the things I wanted to before we had to leave. But the good news –  we were on to Paris!

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That being said, it was still a few days before I could eat much of anything, but still… I was in Paris! We rented an apartment for five nights in Paris about 80 feet from Rue Cler, a marvelous street brimming with food shops that would make any foodie’s eyes pop out of their head. Despite all of the Parisian bistros literally outside our doorstep, our first dinner in Paris was at a Thai restaurant because it was the only place with a clear broth soup (i.e. something I could eat). A mere block and half from our apartment was a full view of the Eiffel Tower and nearly every morning we would stop at the boulangerie just a couple doors down and eat our croissant in front of the Eiffel Tower.

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We had stunning weather while we were in Paris – in 70s and 60s and sunny every day – and we did many of the outdoor touristy things such as visiting Montmartre (twice), strolling around the Marais, Jardin du Luxembourg, and of course went up the Eiffel Tower. There were several museums we had on our list to visit and we kept waiting for a cloudy or rainy day to go, but it just never happened. All the more reason to go back some day!

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We did however get to do something that I hadn’t expected – we went on a day trip to Champagne! More specifically, we went to Reims (rhymes with France), which is just under an hour away from Paris by highspeed train. As soon as we arrived, we headed straight for the House of Martel Champagne where we toured the wine caves and of course tasted some Champagne. The 2,000 year old caves, originally Roman chalk mines, are huge, cavernous spaces with the perfect steady temperature and humidity level to age Champagne and also makes for interesting tours. Martel is one of the smaller Champagne producers and our tour was very informative and very personalized – we were the only ones on the tour!

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For lunch, we ate at a cute little restaurant called Au Plat du Jour where I was ecstatic to finally feel well enough to eat lunch and got an enormous bowl of homemade tomato soup. Joseph ordered some sausage, also on the enormous side, served with brussels sprouts. Maybe it’s just because I had barely eaten over the last few days, but this meal made me so happy. The service was friendly and welcoming, the ambiance was nice and cozy, but most of all, it just felt like I was in the French country. It was exactly what I wanted. Oh, and the food was fantastic – fresh, homemade French country cooking at its best.

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After lunch, we headed to Pommery, one of the bigger and more well known Champagne houses. It’s known for its expansive caves and art exhibits. When we entered the main room above the caves, we were greeted by two unusual pieces of the current exhibition: an elephant hanging perpendicularly from the ceiling with its trunk just kissing the floor and a small cabin with rain pouring inside from the ceiling. It’s certainly not boring here!

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Our last day in Paris was spent trying to squeeze in all the food that I had hoped to eat over the last few days but had been unable to. That meant hitting up several patisseries, because we just had to hit all the main macaron stops. All in all we went to Ladurée, Pierre Hermé, and Gérard Mulot. Ladurée is over the top with a long line cordoned off with velvet ropes, glamorous lights and glass cases filled with some of the most gorgeous pastries I’ve ever seen, but the macarons completely missed the mark and were easily our least favorites. They were overly sweet with not much flavor and are in no way worth the hype. Our favorites on the other hand, were from Pierre Hermé which were packed with flavor and perfectly airy with just the softest bit of crunch – just the way they should be.

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Our last night in Paris we did one of the most predictable, clichéd, touristy things you can do, but I figured you have to go up the Eiffel Tower at least once in your life, right? It was a beautiful night and seeing Paris at night was a perfect way to draw our stay in Paris to a close. The next day we headed back to Brussels armed with cheese, cured meats, and pastries for the train (I had so much catching up to do!). Once we were back in Brussels, we spent as much time as possible with our friends who live there and stuffing our suitcases full of Belgian chocolate.

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