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Traveling is my favorite.  And photography runs a close second.  So, when we’re on vacation, I take a lot of photos.  Chris Hazel would say it was too many.  But I think stopping, breathing it all in, documenting it for those times I’m jut itching to get on a plane and go somewhere… I think it’s good.  I think it’s necessary.

But getting those photos off my computer and on to my walls proves difficult.  It’s always the project that gets moved to the back of the line for me.  That thing I always mean to do, but then never really get around to doing.  I’ve done some recently and just love them so much, I wanted to share.  So there now exists a Wandering Through Print Shop!  Head over, take a look and maybe get a little bit of European pretty for your own walls.  These little snaps make me so happy, hope they do the same for you!

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February 24, 2014 Julias’ Cheese Souffle

 

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On occasion, my dear friend Jessica comes over and we cook together.  We cocktail and catch up while making lunch and it’s one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.   Last week she stopped by, and still on a French high, we made Soufflé Au Fromage.  Surprisingly easy, super delicious and really pretty icon smile Julias Cheese Souffle

Well, it was pretty.  Until it fell.  They were tall and mighty, until I took them out of the oven and they crashed.  Turns out, still delicious and totally worth it!   We whipped up a quick side salad with parmesan, pepper, raisins and a light olive oil dressing, sipped a lemony cocktail and it was absolutely perfect.

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Soufflé Au Fromage (From Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Julia Child)

…Ingredients

1 tsp (for buttering mold), 3 Tb butter

1 Tb grated Swiss or Parmesan Cheese

3 Tb Flour

1 cup boiling milk

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of nutmeg

4 egg yolks

5 egg whites

3/4 to 1 cup coarsely grated Swiss and/or Parmesan

 

…What You’ll Need

Soufflé Mold, 1 6-cup mold, or 6 individual molds

2.5 quart saucepan

wooden spatula or spoon

wire whip

 

… Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Butter inside of soufflé mold and sprinkle with 1 Tb of grated cheese

Melt 3 Tb butter in the sauce pan.  Stir in the flour with a wooden spatula or spoon and cook over moderate heat until butter and flour foam together for 2 minutes without browning.  Remove from heat: when mixture has stopped bubbling, pour in all the boiling milk at once.  Beat vigorously with a wire whip until blended.  Beat in the seasonings.  Return over moderately high heat and boil, stirring with the wire whip for 1 minute.  Sauce will be very thick.

Remove from heat.  Immediately start to separate the eggs.  Drop the white in the egg white bowl, and the yolk into the center of the hot sauce. Beat the yolk into the sauce with the wire whip.  Continue in the same manner with the rest of the eggs.  Correct Seasoning.  *May be prepared ahead to this point.  Dot top of sauce with butter.  heat to tepid before continuing.

Add an extra egg white to the ones in the bowl and beat with a pinch of salt until stiff. *Add a pinch of Cream of Tartar to stiffen them.  Stir in a spoonful (about one quarter of the egg whites) into the sauce.  Stir in all but a tablespoon of the cheese.  Delicately fold in the rest of the egg whites.  Be careful not to overfold.

Turn the soufflé mixture into the prepared mold, which should be almost three quarters full.   Tap bottom of mold lightly on the table, and smooth the surface of the soufflé with the flat of a knife.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Set on a rack in the middle of the preheated 400-degree oven and immediately turn heat down to 375.  Do not open oven door for 20 minutes.  In 25 to 30 minutes the soufflé will have puffed about 2 inches over the rim of the mold, and the top will be nicely browned.  Bake 4 to 5 minutes more to firm it up, then serve at once.

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Years ago I bought a 35mm Nikon FG-20 for $30 at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.  It’s tiny, but hefty, and was the perfect antidote to my giant, obtrusive and somewhat unwieldy digital Nikon D700.  On days when my shoulders just couldn’t take the weight of the digital, I’d pull out the little 35 mm and roam the streets of Paris a little lighter, my shoulders a lot happier.  It’s manual focus, so it takes forever and a day to frame everything up the way I want it, and I’m a little pickier in what I shoot because it’s so much more limited, but the results are just fantastic.

In our six weeks abroad, I managed to shoot 1.5 rolls of film.  I took a bag full of film, but I only actually used 1.5 icon sad Wandering Through Paris, 35 mm Film  While I’m sad I didn’t think to shoot more, I’m so happy with what I did.   Thanks for the developing & scanning Richard Photo Lab!

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The reason we went to Europe for so long was to see Paris.  The side trips were all happy extras!  But I really wanted to get to know Paris, to feel a little bit like we lived there.  To feel comfortable, to have favorite places and to make some friends.  Our first two weeks were a little difficult in finding that balance… finding a way to be more than tourists, when essentially, that’s just what we are.  It was so lovely to slow down, to not rush, to spend an entire day doing nothing and not feeling super guilty about it.  It’s funny, until I look through the pictures, I feel like we didn’t do anything.  The days kind of merge into each other and I feel like we didn’t really take advantage.  Then I flip through all of the images and realize we were everywhere.  That we saw a lot of things.  That I felt comfortable in the city, that we have favorite places and that we made some great friends.  I realize that you can’t do all of Paris in one week, but for some reason I thought you could in six weeks.  Turns out you cant, that it’s OK, and that I might potentially be able to get Chris to go back in the next five to twenty years.

So, a rundown of a few of my favorites…

…Food…

Au Petit Fer Á Cheval – My aunt took me here in 2012 and I loved how small and old-school it was, the wine list was fantastic and the duck confit was to die for.  Chris and I went six times.  SIX.  I think we only had the confit five times though, and I regret letting the opportunity for that sixth pass me by.  It’s in The Marais and is usually slammed, but if you can snag the bar stools to the right of the horseshoe shaped bar, it will be a fantastic experience.

Burgers – I know, what?!  France.Makes.Incredible.Burgers.  Generally I steer clear of anything non-French on menus when I’m there, but being there for so long, you need to stretch your legs a bit.  There expensive, like 20euro expensive, but are generally made with the same beef that goes in to beef tartare.  My favorite was at Cafe Charlot, The Madame, with a runny egg.  It was heaven.

Crepes – We tried the crepes at both Breizh Cafe and Aux Ducs de Bourgogne.  Breizh is famous for their crepes… you’ll wait in line, but the crepes are good and the restaurant is adorable (all of the staff wear Breton shirts). Aux Ducs de Bourgogne was recommended by a friend and the crepes were fantastic!  The owner will chat with you, the restaurant is super traditional and I’m sad we weren’t able to make it back for a second round.  We definitely will on the next trip!

Le Bistro Paul Bert – for super traditional food in a super traditional bistro.  I think that you have to make it to at least one of the old classics.  Chez Georges, Brasserie Lipp or Josephine Chez Dumonet would probably be just as lovely!

…Sweets…

Le Grande Epicerie de Paris – it’s a grocery store, if Whole Foods was chic & fancy, it would be Le Grande Epicerie de Paris.  It’s in Saint-Germain, across the street from Le Bon Marche (It’s actually the original food counter for Le Bon Marche).  The grocery store is beautiful, and definitely worth a walk through.  But the pastry counter is something special.  Eat all of the pastries.

Ice Cream – Berthillion.  It’s in all the books and recommended on all the sites.  It’s because it’s fantastic.  On the Île Saint-Louis… makes for a nice little walk around the Seine.

Creme Puffs – they’re having a moment right now.  The offerings at Odette and Popelini were fantastic!

Eclairs – I have a long standing adoration of eclairs.  For how delicious they are, and for how freaking difficult they are to make.  L’Èclair de Gènie is making them in the most amazing and unique flavors.  There’s usually a line, but it’s worth it!

…Shopping…

Merci – For super adorable clothing, home goods, stationary… home of all things super adorable.  It’s attached to a coffee shop in a used book store and there’s a tiny vintage Mini Cooper next to the front door.  Super adorable.

Le Marche des Enfants Rouge – It’s the oldest covered market in Paris, on the grounds that once housed an orphanage.  There’s a great photo store, a florist with flowers I didn’t see any where else in the city, delicious food and fresh vegetables.  It’s small, so a good quick walk through is lovely.  There’s some great shopping up and down the street as well (Popelini is just around the corner and Cafe Charlot is across the street!)

The Raspail Organic Market – Every Sunday morning in Saint-Germain, it’s a lovely entirely organic market.  The food is a bit more expensive, but it’s fantastic and the market was a fun way to start the morning.  The markets generally work a bit differently, people line up to the side of each booth and wait to be helped as opposed to just walking in and gathering up what they need.

Librairies Chantelivre – It’s a beautiful book shop specializing in childrens’ books in Saint-Germain.  There were adult books as well, and a large collection of classics, but they seem to excel with the childrens’ section.  Childrens’ books in French are absolutely gorgeous and I bought some for myself as well as for gifts.

La Vaissellerie – there are quite a few locations around the city, but the one in Saint-Germain was tiny, packed with people, and overflowing with all the Lagioule a girl could ever want.  Any serve ware you need, you could likely find here.  I bought half the store for myself, and then went back to buy the other half for gifts.  My only regret is that I didn’t buy more.

Conran – This shop has everything, some of it upscale Urban Outfitters, but some of it just really beautiful kitchen wares, amazing soaps/lotions/bath supplies, beautiful furniture.  It’s a huge store and a great way to kill some time in the rain.

Le Grand Comptoir – I stumbled in to this shop, and I’m so happy I did.  It’s set a bit back from the street, but it’s full of textiles, some clothes, home decor . Really beautiful!

Maille – I’m not usually a fan of mustard.  But the pistachio & orange mustard from Maille is my favorite condiment in the world.  The store is tiny, it’s packed with people, and you’ll wait a bit in line, but it’s totally worth it.

… Parks…

Jardin des Plantes – it’s a beautiful park, with some old houses, greenhouses, a zoo.  Was a beautiful walk!

Arènes de Lutèce – Chris read about this little park somewhere, it’s an old Roman amphitheater from the 1st century and is really beautiful.  But now, little French kids play soccer or practice magic tricks.  We sat on a bench and watched for a bit and it was adorable.

Bois de Boulogne – It’s a huge, beautiful park on the west side of Paris.  There’s a lake, woods, fields and a lot more to explore.  Chris helped rescue a little girl from a runaway pony, and it was a super adventurous day! It’s not easy to get there via metro, but we took the bus and it was super simple.

…Museums…

Musee Jacquemart-Andre – I realized that I’m not big on big museums… I don’t have the energy for them.  But I do love small musuems that I can get through in an hour or two.  This one is the private collection of a very rich man and his artist wife.  The art is lovely, but the museum was once their home and it’s been kept exactly as they left it 100 years ago.  The architecture and the furniture was so interesting.  There’s a tea room in the front of the house where we had coffee and pastries, very nice.

… Tips…

Six weeks is definitely not living in another country, but it’s not a vacation either.  A few things would have made our lives a little bit easier!

NaviGo – get one!  It’s a pre-paid monthly/weekly pass for the metro and the buses.  If you dont’ have one, you buy tiny paper tickets every time you want to use the metro.  It’s more a pain than anything else.  The NaviGo saved us time and energy as we could just run through the turnstiles.  To get one, take a picture in one of the little photobooths outside any metro station.  The picture will be awful, but that’s OK, no one will ever see it.  Then, go up to one of the counters and ask for either the monthly pass.  They are calendar months, so if you buy it on Dec 28, you can’t use it until January 1, and then it will expire on January 31.

Pre-Paid Chip Cards – We didn’t do this, so I don’t know the ins-and-outs, but it would probably be worth it!  Europe uses a different credit card system that we do in the States… it’s a chip in the card instead of a magnetic strip on the back.  In the smaller towns in France, waiters and shop clerks didn’t know how to use our cards and the metro kiosks don’t accept them at all.  I saw some advertisements for pre-paid chip cards, and it probably would have saved us some hassle!

Apartments – we used Paris Address and were super happy with the service.  I do wish I’d thought more about how we would use the apartment and what would be important, because I got it completely wrong.  We decided to spend less on the apartment, as we really wanted to be out in the city for the most part.  But you don’t really think about how difficult it is to spend 15 hours a day out in the city.   I wish we’d spent more to get a view, more light or an apartment with more of a French aesthetic.  At the end of the day, our apartment was comfortable and in a fantastic location in Saint-Germain, with easy access to the metro, the markets and restaurants.
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We’ve been back home for about a week now, and the very first thing that people ask when I see them is “How was your trip!?”  It’s such a tough question, because it was such an incredible trip, full of really amazing things, and some really tough things.  It was six weeks full of super high highs and some slightly lower lows.  So to sum it all up in to a few words seems like I’m not doing it justice.  But then people will ask ”What was the best part of your trip?”  And that’s a little easier, because it’s so clear in my mind that the absolute best thing we did was a one day tour of the Rhone Valley with Paul from Rhone Wine Tours.

I love wine, and I’ve been a big fan of the Rhone Valley wines since my Aunt introduced me to a Crozes Hermitage.  I’ve wanted to visit the beautiful hills that produced this wine for a few years now and it was the perfect way to round up such an amazing trip!  I found Paul through a Google search and he was absolutely amazing!  Wine tasting in France is much different than in Napa or Sonoma; it’s no where near as commercialized as it is here.  The vineyards and their productions are fairly small, and the wine growers will be the ones to show you around and pour their wines.  Whereas Napa feels like Disneyland, this feels like real life.

Paul set up appointments at three of his favorite vineyards: Domaine de Gouye, St Jean de Muzols in St. Joseph, Domaine Betton, La Roche de Glun in Crozes Hermitage and Domaine Alain Verset in Cornas.  At our first stop in St. Joseph, everything was done super traditionally… vines staked to posts with straw and fields ploughed by a horse named Ramses.  The winemakers Philippe & Sylvie gave us a two hour tour of their farm, showed us how they plowed the fields by horse and then shared their incredible wines with us. It was nothing short of amazing.   Our second stop was a much larger vineyard in Crozes Hermitage, and Christelle, the winemaker at Domaine Betton was so much fun!  A larger operation, it was more modern.  We were just a few miles away, but it was amazing to see the differences between two areas.  We ended up at Domaine Alain Verset, a super small vineyard in Cornas.  This was one of the most interesting stops because we were able to taste the exact same wines over the course of six vintages.  Each one was so different… a 2008 that was absolutely incredible, next to a 2009 that will need to age in the bottle for another five years, next to a 2010 that is pretty fantastic to drink right now.

I’m not sure how you could do a trip like this on your own, because it’s really all about the relationships that Paul has built over the years of working in this area.  Paul is British, but speaks French fluently, so he was able to tell us about each vineyard before we arrived and then translate for us while we were there.  He picked us up, drove us around, selected a fantastic restaurant for lunch and then dropped us back at the train station.  Each vineyard was so different and we learned so much about wine in general and specifically about this region.  It was a full day and, hands down, one of the best experiences we had in all of Europe.

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I went to Ireland once.  It was October and I thought I would never again be warm.  It was rainy and frigid.  I swore I’d never ever go back in the winter.  Chris really wanted to make a quick trip while we were in France, but I stood my ground.  If it was frigid in October, I could only imagine what January looks like.  But luckily for us, the East Coast was holding all of the frigid for the entire world in the Polar Vortex and temperatures in Ireland were about the same as in Paris, maybe even a bit warmer.  My big plans for a South of France adventure were shattered, as I discovered that the small towns I’d wanted to visit were shuttered for the winter, so I gave in.  And I’m so glad I did.  Ireland is just marvelous.

It’s still cold.  It’s still rainy.  But it’s green, and the people are so incredibly friendly.  One waitress, who’d just moved from Galway, told me that she was having a hard time in Dublin, as the people were more standoffish than back home.  I can’t even imagine what people in Galway are like, because the Dubliners we met were some of the most friendly people I’ve ever encountered.  If you go to Ireland and come home without making any friends, you’re doing it wrong.

We stayed in Ballsbridge, just a 15 minute walk into the Dublin city center at The Schoolhouse Hotel, a converted school house.  It’s a small boutique hotel, but it’s attached to a bar and restaurant with live music every weekend.  Rooms were quiet, but it was so nice to be so close to a bit of nightlife, especially on cold evenings.

The food is all about comfort… stews and hearty pies and fish & chips.  It’s not groundbreaking, but it makes you feel good.  We ate one night at The Chophouse (a Bourdain recommendation), an updated gastropub and the food was fantastic!  And then there’s beer.   It’s too cold and wet to be outside, so you pub jump, drink a lot of beer, and then roll yourself home.  It’s not such a bad life.

The parks in the city are absolutely beautiful and totally accessible.  We spent one day walking through Phoenix Park, a huge park in Dublin. We ended up at Farmleigh House, once owned by the Guinness family, but now the place where visiting dignitaries stay in Dublin.  Tours are free, only 30 minutes and really lovely.   A walk through Trinity College was lovely as well.  Of course there’s the Guinness Factory which is a lot of fun and the pint at The Gravity Bar is absolutely worth the price of admission.  The top of the building is a floor-to-ceiling windowed bar with beautiful views of the city.  You can eat downstairs, but at least go see the view from up there.

We really wanted to take a longer day trip, perhaps Cork or out to the Cliffs of Moher, but spending six hours on a bus didn’t seem like a great way to spend one of the few days that we had.  The woman that checked us in recommended Howth and it was absolutely perfect.  It’s a small fishing town, just forty minutes north on the train.  The seafood is great and the town is adorable.  The hike up to the top of the mountain is absolutely incredible.  It’s muddy, but the views are amazing and totally worth it.  When you hit the top, take a right and walk down the road until you hit The Summit Inn.  Reward yourself with a pint and some fish & chips!  There’s a bus that will take you back in to town, or just stay on and go all the way back to Dublin.  The day in Howth definitely gave us the countryside feel without spending half the day on an awful bus!

Cabs are super reasonable in Dublin and we’d take them for longer treks, or if it was raining and we were lazy.  Almost any cabbie can give you an entire lesson on the history of Dublin (on the way to the airport, he didn’t stop talking for 25 minutes) and you can learn a lot that way!  Tipping in Ireland was a bit different that the rest of Europe, but not like in the States.  A bit of a tip is recommended, but our hotel clerk said on a 100euro tab, 5euro would be plenty.

There’s so much more to Ireland than Dublin, and we’ll definitely be making a trip back (hopefully in a summer month when it might be the tiniest bit warmer!)
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Morocco has always been fascinating to me and I’ve always wanted to visit.  The food, the colors, the people, the markets… it all seemed so foreign.  The fact that it’s just a few hours flight from Paris made it my destination of choice for a quick few days.  The fact that the sun shines there on the regular solidified our plans.

Marrakech is an incredible place.  It’s busy and it’s loud.  The food is pretty fantastic and the people are absolutely lovely.  You’re meant to get lost here, and you should.  Our digital maps were completely unreliable, and the paper map from our hotel wasn’t really all that grand either.  Streets have been renamed a number of times, from the original Moroccan names, to French names during their colonization of Morocco, and then back to Moroccan names… it doesn’t seem that anyone really knows where anything actually is.   But that’s OK, because you’ll always be able to find your way back to the main square.  You just have to know how to get home from there.   If you are lost, go inside a shop and ask the shopkeeper for directions to the square… they have to stay at their shops, if you ask someone on the street they’ll take you there, but they’ll want money for their service.

We stayed at Riad Diexneuf La Ksour and were so happy.  It’s a lovely little hotel with just six rooms.  It’s inside the Medina (the old walled city), but far enough away from Jemaà el Fna (the main square) that it’s quiet and we felt safe walking home at night.  The couple that runs the hotel was incredibly helpful with recommendations and advice and the staff made sure we were completely taken care of.  I can’t recommend the hotel enough!

Our first night in town, we ate dinner at the hotel. A private table in front of the fireplace was set for us, and we were served the most incredible four course meal with some pretty fantastic Moroccan wine.  It was perfect!  We ate at two restaurants within the Medina: Cafe Arabe & Terrace des Epices.  Typically, Moroccans don’t eat out at restaurants, so most of them will be geared towards tourists.  Cafe Arabe was lovely with two dining areas, one in a courtyard under orange trees and the second on the roofs.  Terrace des Epices was also a rooftop dining area, with the tables tucked into little alcoves.  Food was great at both, but I preferred the atmosphere at Cafe Arabe.  Our last evening, we went outside of the Medina to Comptoir.  It’s just outside of the old city, in an area of only hotels.  It’s known for it’s belly dancing show, which starts around 10 pm.  Super touristy, but the food was pretty good and the show was a lot of fun.   Most of Marrakech is dry, but you can find alcohol at all of these places, as well as at Kosy Bar, a great bar with fantastic views of the city.  The other option for food is the night market in Place Jemaà el Fna.  There are food stalls, some offering full menus, some offering very specific dishes.  There are also performers (some of whom are very insistent on taking photos with you, all of which will want money from you, generally around 100 dihram or $12), musicians and games. We didn’t eat here, but walking around is an adventure in itself!  We did try some fresh orange juice (it’s everywhere!) and mint tea (also everywhere!).  The tea service is an art and beautiful to watch.  The tea is sweet and flavorful… definitely try some.

Marrakech is a shopping destination.  The main souks spread out from Jemaà el Fna and are a tangled web of leathers, carpets, shoes, scarves and wood.  Shopkeepers here can be a little bit abrasive, and Chris & I are still deciding if it’s better to start here, to get the feel for the markets and be completely overwhelmed, or to start on the outskirts and get used to them little by little.  The markets around Cafe Arabe are a bit less overwhelming and where we spent most of our time.  For the hard sellers, a polite but firm “No, thank you” in French, Spanish or English will generally work after the fifth try.  A few times we met people in small corridors who followed us and hounded a bit and it can be scary.  Realizing that they only want your business is important.  Generally speaking we felt very safe, but it’s a completely different culture and not always comfortable.  Keep your belongings close & secure (Chris spotted a small boys hand in my purse before I did).

We were only in town for three days, so we didn’t get to everything that I would have loved to do.  If we’d had the time, I would have loved to go to a more traditional hammam (a Moroccan spa) and take a day trip up into the Atlas mountains.  There are tons of tours advertised, but definitely something worth checking out.

Definitely book a taxi through your hotel from the airport if you’re staying in the Medina.  Cars aren’t really allowed within the inner walls and the taxi will drop you on the street.  Our driver was in touch with the hotel and we were met by the staff to walk us to the hotel door.  Also, make sure you have a pen with you at the airport.  You’re required to fill in a form, but there are no pens and your fellow travelers aren’t very keen on letting you borrow.  On the way home, security lines at the airport are separated by gender, men on the right and women on the left, so don’t stand in the wrong line.

We loved Marrakech and it was the perfect few days away from the grey skies in Paris!
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January 20, 2014 The 24 Hour Laundry

Some of the hardest things to do here are the things that I don’t even think about at home.  And the worst, laundry.  It shouldn’t be so hard, and yet, please follow along on the adventure of our first load of laundry.

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5 pm – put a load in, follow the directions and feel real proud of myself when it all starts to work.  Realize the wash cycle takes two hours and feel like that’s a long time.

8 pm – the machine stops around 7, but I forgot about it.  Open it up and realize it’s all dry!  Whoa, easy peasy!  The machine is a washer and a dryer, but I didn’t realize it would be so easy! Nope, the bottom is covered in soap and clearly I put it on the dry cycle before.  I spent three hours drying dirty clothes.  F.   Start over again.   Think we’re going good!  Two more hours.

10 pm –  woop!  Clothes are wet and smell clean!  But now it’s too late to start the dryer per our apartment rules. So it shall sit over night.

10 am, the next morning – OK!  I’ve dried before, we can do this.  I set to one of the options under sèchage, which my dictionary tells me means “to dry”.  Set, go.  Water pours in to the machine and we spend another two hours washing the clothes. F again.

2 pm – we’ve been out and about, but we really need to get to the wet clothes.  Pick a button that is DIRECTLY under sèchage. Set, go.  It only dries for 13 minutes. Then stops.  Clearly, it’s all wet.  21 hours ago I dried for two hours, which button was that?!  Set, go, 13 minutes. We do this a number of times.  Clothes are still wet.

3 pm – ohh, one button says “minutes”.  How did I not see this one before?! Hit it repeatedly until we get a solid 78 minutes of drying time.

7 pm – come home to only slightly damp clothes!  3 pairs of socks, one pair of basketball shorts, two t-shirts, one sweater and a few underpants.  Just about 24 hours.

Sometimes adventure really just looks like two educated adults staring at a tiny machine and cursing every thirteen minutes.

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I’d never really had a whole lot of desire to see Amsterdam.  Not that I didn’t want to go, it just wasn’t very high on my list.  You hear a lot about the drugs and the prostitution and maybe a bit about the canals, but not a whole lot more.   But, we really wanted to use Paris as a homebase to travel though Europe, places we wouldn’t necessarily go otherwise.  I’m planning one trip, and Chris is planning one trip.  He wanted to drive; there’s just something so intriguing about crossing over two country borders in the matter of a five hour drive (especially when back home you can drive that long and still be in the same state!) so, he picked Amsterdam as our destination and I’m so incredibly happy he did.  On the way there, we stopped for a bit in Brussels, and then in Bruges on the way home.  Good for a meal, but I won’t be heading back to either in the near future.

Forget almost everything you’ve heard about Amsterdam.  It.Is.Gorgeous.  It looks like it should be created solely out of gingerbread it’s so cute!  The houses have such a unique architecture are very tall and very skinny (they’re taxed on their width, so long, tall and skinny seems to be the way to go).  The vast majority of houses directly on the street & canals have huge windows, but no curtains.  The voyeur in me finds this fascinating.

The people here couldn’t possibly be nicer.  Everyone we met spoke English, which was amazing because our Dutch is the worst (three days there and we still are working on Happy New Year!). One gentleman even crossed the road to make sure I knew that the bench I was sitting on was a “wishing bench” and that I should make a wish.

There are significantly more bikes than people and they are everywhere.  You can rent bikes for the day and it’s incredibly easy to navigate the city.  It’s a great way to see it!

The center of town is built completely on canals, and you’d be absolutely remiss not to take a touristy canal ride.  They’re actually quite informative, super inexpensive (ours was 10€) and a great way to get your bearings in the city.  I’m told that they’re all very similar, so you can’t go wrong.  There are also hop on-hop off boats, a great way to get to the touristy spots.

The food is my favorite way to see a new city, and from what I can tell, Dutch food is all about comfort… Hearty meats and potatoes and whatnot.  They love pancakes and there are pannekoeken huis everywhere.  We tried the Pancake Bakery (very close to the Anne Frank House) and heard great things about Pancakes!, although it was closed when we stopped by. Fries are super popular and I could have eaten ten orders from Vleminckx Sausmeesters with mayo and sate sauces.  The Netherlands had colonies in Indonesia, so there is quite a bit of Indonesian food in Amsterdam.  I’d heard about Kantjil and De Tijgre from a few people and it did not disappoint at all.  You can order a Rijsttafel and you basically receive a table full of small plates, each one better than the last.  At any traditional pub or restaurant you’ll see pea soup and apple pie on the menu.  Try them both, so delciious!   And then of course the beer, so much beer, and all of it wonderful!

Speaking of beer, the Heinekin factory is in Amsterdam, and while it’s a little bit hokey, it’s a lot of fun.  The 18€ entrance fee gets you a self guided tour and a history lesson.  At the end, you’re rewarded with two beers and, if you choose, a canal boat ride back to the center of town. Totally worth it and a great way to get out of the rain for a few hours.

One absolute must see is The Anne Frank house.  They did a beautiful job restoring the warehouse that housed eight people for two years during World War II.  The lines will be long, but they move quickly.  It’s a an amazing thing to see and definitely worth the time.

If you’re there on the first Sunday of the month, Cafe Luxembourg (across from Kantjil and de Tijgre) has a live band that was fantastic! Alderliefste is apparently quite popular and, although we had no idea what they were singing, was so much fun!

The drive from Paris is so easy (about 5 hours) and I’m so glad we decided to take a few days away to see another country. I’d love to come back in the spring, sitting on the canal with a cold beer would be so lovely!

 

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January 10, 2014 Wandering Through Paris

 

I crave change, but I’m not entirely graceful when it comes to the implementation. The transition, it seems, is not my strong suite.  When we adopted our dog Basil, I cried for a week.  He was perfectly lovely, I just needed to transition.  Same thing happened when we arrived in Paris.

Finding the balance was tough.  Because we’re not really on vacation, but we’re not really living real life, we had to really decide what this trip was supposed to be.  If we weren’t doing something that you’re “supposed” to do in Paris, I felt guilty for not taking advantage.  But if we were to spend the day at a museum, I felt guilty for the go, go , go because that wasn’t the point of coming here for so long.  I truly want to feel like I live here, for it to feel comfortable.

So, our first week has been spent just trying to figure it out.  We walk, a lot, picking a new direction everyday and just heading out.  Sometimes, we sit at a cafe for hours drinking wine and talking.  Or sometimes not talking because we’ve run out of things to say for the moment.   And then we walk.  We’re just breathing it all in. Paris is slowly unfurling for us and discovering it this way has been so rewarding. 

We’re finding new favorite restaurants and beautiful views.  Chris & I are realizing that we are not very good at relaxing, but we’re learning.   And it’s been wonderful.  So, first up, a few snaps from our walks through this stunning city…

 

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