Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weathering the Rain with Mai Tai's and Snoop

After the last few weeks of traveling, I was happy to jump back into daily life in Paris this week.


While we were teased with some warm spring temperatures last month, it has since left us for the now often repeated phrase that better be true about April showers bringing May flowers...and Rosé.  OK, maybe I threw in those last 2 words because I'm starting to get concerned that my warm, weather wine time is being condensed.

It's been raining off and on for weeks now, but I'm trying to find the silver lining to all of it, which seems a lot easier than building an arc.  I took a trip through Luxembourg gardens this week and saw some of the rain's results and a very different place from just a few weeks ago.






























The rain has also made me go underground.  I have done some biking in the rain, but the cars and buses are what really get you, so I've had to trade my bike for the metro. Again, I was rewarded this week by an amazing 14 piece string orchestra that was playing in the middle of one of the stations.  They were fantastic, and another ray of sunshine to the week.

 

I'm also highly entertained at some of the things that you see on Metro, especially later at night and on the week-ends.  Like last night, some kids got on heading to a party as I was actually heading home (it was almost 1am after all) but they had a wine bottle with them and were just taking turns drinking from the bottle and passing it around.  You do see people drinking booze at nights on the metro, but what you don't see is people eating.  You don't see people eating on public transportation, or even outside walking.  Food is met to be eaten and enjoyed in a restaurant.  Fair enough.


On a rare day, no few hours, of non-rain this week, I took a food tour of St. Germaine, given by a Canadian woman who has approached me to possibly lead some food tours of my own.  Her tour was a nice 3 and 1/2 hour walk through patisseries, boulangeries, olive oileries, ending with cheese and wine, so a nice day no matter what my food guide future may hold.



Many of you will also be happy to know that I've returned to French class at Alliance Francais.  I've resumed the oral class where you just focus on speaking, and trying to understand what the other non-native French speakers are attempting to say.  The teacher was one I had last year and she gave me a cross between a reprimand and a pep talk.  She said, you know the words (or at least the one's having to do with food), you know the pronunciation (as compared to some of the Asian students), you just need to quit hesitating.  Speak!  Yes, like a dog begging for good food (and wine), I'm trying to speak more.


I have been meeting more French people so that definitely helps in the practicing the French department, but their English is always so much better than my French, so the pain can only last so long sometimes.  At least I had one Frenchman tell me this week that the language is really hard, even for him.  True or false it doesn't matter because it was nice to hear.

This week we tried out Paris' first Tiki spot, appropriately called Le Tiki Lounge




52 Martinis hosted a party there and a good time was had by all, even if we weren't drinking martinis.  I can't remember the last time I had a Mai Tai, and I probably never thought my next one (or perhaps 2) would be consumed in Paris, but they were pretty authentic, and very lethal.


I can pretty much say the round of tart Tom Collins' was not necessary, but we were at a Tiki Lounge in Paris, so who's to say what's appropriate?


Last night we went to a fun international party at O'Sullivan's, where we were also joined by some of our new friends from Le Tiki Lounge, including this one who learned of my passion for vodka, and put me to shame by wearing a shirt in its honor.


The DJ was also playing great tunes from the 70s, mixed in with Madonna and some Snoop, so a fun night of dancing ensued.


Tonight will be a low key, recovery evening filled with queso and guac at one of our favorite Mexican spots.  Bon week-end!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Amsterdam

 


















Not only is A for April and Andalucia, it's also for Amsterdam, and its A-mazing tulip festival held every year at this time in Keukenhof.  There's over 7 million flowers in these gardens, and I think I took a picture of about 4.5 million of them.  My flower memory card on my camera, and in my mind, is full...for life.


You might be thinking, oh I must be a real horticulturist-gardener-green thumber to want to go to a festival like this?  Uh, no.  My thumb leans more towards black and most flowers in the nursery wish they had legs when I come near them as they seem to know that they will not have a long life in my care.


Yes, the tulip festival is for anyone who likes pretty things, bright colors, nice smells, and can also deal with thousands of people also enjoying these things.


I'm getting ahead of myself though.  Stephanie and I took the 3 hour 20 minute train from Paris to Amsterdam Friday morning.  We had a lovely day of walking around the canals in the fabulous shopping district of the Nine Streets, which is simply a great collection of cute boutiques, cafes and galleries over...guess how many streets.


We ended up finding a great snack at this well stocked cheese shop with every variety from floor to ceiling, along with samples of each.  It was my own personal heaven, and there was even an angel there asking if we would like to try their pesto cheese.  I can confirm that you should run out and try pesto cheese, and then purchase as much as you can.


After shopping and cheesing, we found a nice spot for a more proper lunch and a glass of wine on one of the many canals.  After these few hours, I was ready to move to Amsterdam.


For dinner we met the other Stephanie for dinner and drinks at the happening Herengracht Bar and Grill


I was excited to see all my old vodka friends in Amsterdam - Grey Goose, Ketel One, Belvedere, so it was with confidence that I ordered a dirty martini, and then was completely confused on how they messed it up.  I looked on the bar and didn't see any signs of the Parisian drink killer Martini and Rossi.  Don't worry, I improved things later in the week-end.













After dinner, we met Parisian late comers Lisette and Melissa for a little wine and a little pie.  I'm sorry.  That's not true. We met for A LOT of wine and A LOT of pie. 


This was no ordinary pie though.  This was the best apple pie...ever.  Yes, I said it, and instead of trying to tell me about your grandmother's recipe, go to Winkel and then we'll talk.

This pie is almost to scale

One happy pie customer

After all the pie and wine, we managed to be up at a reasonable hour the next day to hit the flower fields.  Driving in, and sitting in lots of traffic, we saw what looked like colored stripes on the horizon. 

 


On closer look, it revealed rows and rows of tulips.  It was a crayon box of color with the tulip heads  breaking away from the long, green stems in a variety of different colors.



Once we got onto the grounds, it was flower Disneyland with every formation, color, size and arrangement you could think of, and never even dream of thinking of.

 
 

There were rivers of flowers, and not enough words to express how beautiful everything was.

 

In case there weren't enough flowers everywhere outside, they had indoor pavilions full of them as well, like this one, filled with unbelievable orchids.

 



















Are you getting the idea of how spectacular the colors were?  The absence of color was also beautiful.


I could go on, but since you're already going to Amsterdam for the apple pie, make sure to time your visit when the flowers are blooming because it really is a site to see.


After recovering from flower overload, we were ready for dinner and drinks.  We went to the hip BO5 for both.  Exposed brick lined the lengthy bar area and again, my vodka friends were all assembled, and no mistakes were made this time.















The food had a Moroccan bent and was all well done and delicious.













The next day was not an early start, but it was a good one with a great brunch along the water at Cafe De Jaren.  I was really impressed with all of the restaurants and cafes where we ate.  Each had a really unique individuality and look.  The people were all very nice, and while the language seems next to impossible, nearly everyone spoke English.


We had a good wander Sunday and took a canal cruise to see Amsterdam from the inside out. 


Again, big fan of the city, and would definitely need to get a bike as everyone is on 2 wheels.  If you're not, you need to look alive as people are coming at you from all angles, including the above ground rail that seems to creep up on you when you're not looking.


Since I am talking about Amsterdam, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the Red Light District, which is still alive and well..ish.  We took a daytime wander through and saw many drapes closed on the street level windows, likely indicating that "business" was being conducted.  There were some scantily clad "ladies" standing in some of the windows, but on closer look, these ladies actually had male parts from the waist down.  Not sure if this is a new trend and who the target market is, but it was not something I would be investigating.


And I should also mention Amsterdam's soft stance on some drugs.  It's hard to walk a block without smelling pot.  You could buy it in many forms.  The Dutch drug policy has always left the matter in people's hands believing everyone can make their own decisions.  Euthanasia is also legal for people who are terminally ill.


What I found surprising was what else you could easily buy and was openly promoted in windows.  The law is a little more grey in the mushroom department.  It seems some are legal, some are not, and you're technically not supposed to sell most as of late 2008, but as you can see, not all are following this rule right now.


Amsterdam authorities believe if you make something forbidden, you make it more attractive to some, so the decision should be up to the individual vs the government.  So there you go.

As we wrapped a great week-end, we were fortunate not to be on an earlier train from Amsterdam that experienced a head-on collision, but it did end up delaying us back into Paris.  Luckily we were still happy from a city that I found very welcoming, beautiful, and full of good energy - and the gorgeous flower festival only added to an already fabulous week-end.