Happy Anniversary in Burgundy!

The French countryside is all it’s depicted to be in the travel books, oozing with rustic charm and countless cute villages dotting the vineyard-laden landscape. I actually started getting carsick because I kept on whipping the camera out to take pictures while driving along the famous Route des Grand Crus (note we deleted over 2/3 of them, but hey - I had fun). And I can’t tell you how many people we saw in the various villages we passed through who were carrying around exactly 3 loaves of French bread, I guess for their Saturday dinner; it was just the cutest thing.

We started our adventure by renting a car from the Geneva airport, where Tyler, thank God, got behind the wheel to take on the responsibility of keeping us safe, and other people / bicyclers alive. It took about two and a half hours to get to our bed and breakfast, Le Petit Clos, which has to be one of the most adorable bed and breakfasts I’ve ever been to (ok, the only bed and breakfast I’ve ever been to - but it was perfect). The hosts, Elisabet and Denis, were unbelievably attentive, and their dog Polka rocked! (For the record, it really is spelled Elisabet – we’ve met a few people here with that name.) After settling in, they armed us with maps and sent us on to Beaune, which considers itself the wine capital of France (apparently there’s a capital of everything in France), and we began our wine tasting and vineyard touring. But not until we ate lunch at this little cafĂ©/restaurant where we were served an amazing 3 course meal for only 11 Euros! I do have to say, the French definitely know how to cook. Anyway, Beaune is another quaint, cobblestoned city, with all kinds of caveaus (cellars), cafes, and boutiques littering the streets, as well as a historic hospital that has retained its colorfully-tiled roofing from medieval times. After a small tasting and a tour of the hospice, we went on to explore some of the world’s best Pinot Noir vineyards, of the ilk of Corton, Vosnee Romanee, and Veugot. It was amazing to stand amongst these vines, knowing that these grapes are the source of thousand-dollar wines. I have to admit, they were pretty yummy (we only plucked a couple!). Another amazing thing about the plots is how small some were, and that people actually handpick many of the vines (we saw a little of this, as we went during the vendage, which is harvest time). After driving through the vineyards and another tasting, Tyler navigated us back home through the narrow country lanes to our B&B; the roads were insanely thin, and at one point we had some oncoming traffic and Tyler exclaimed he missed a whole appellation b/c of having to concentrate on the road!

Upon our safe arrival back at Le Petit Clos, we were given a little tour of Denis’s wine cellar, where we picked out a wine to go with our dinner. Denis and Elisabet sat with us in their living room and talked about wine, their lives, and where we were from; I have to admit I thought I’d be uncomfortable with such a personal bed and breakfast, but they were just so easy to talk to and knew so much about the area, and are so passionate about what they do. Elisabet fixed us an amazing five course meal that started out with some puff pastry thing that was absolutely delicious…the French have perfected the puff pastry concept!!!! And it goes without saying that the rest of our courses were incredible; we could barely waddle up the steps at the end of dinner!

The next day, after a breakfast on their terrace, we headed out to explore the Chardonnay vineyards (THE best Chardonnays come from Burgundy). What was great was the fact that there were virtually zero other tourists here; not sure why, but at one point, we stopped on the road and were walking through a vineyard (in the famous appellation of Puligny-Montrachet), and a good twenty minutes went by without a car passing by. So of course we used this time to eat some more grapes...haha! We also stopped in Chassagne-Montrachet (still home to our favorite white wines) and Meursault, where we learned that the size of the village and the danger posed in driving through it are inversely proportional; the houses, built of stone, are built on one-lane roads, but cars drive both ways on them!

Anyway, we eventually made our way back to Geneva. It really was a perfect way to celebrate our anniversary, with such good food and drink, and of course each other. I still can’t believe it’s been one year already, as it feels like yesterday that I was frantically running around trying to get married! But Burgundy was wonderful and we will definitely try it again, although maybe not so soon, as we paid 90 dollars for a tank of gas. So everyone out there in the U.S. can’t complain to us about gas prices!!!!

Next weekend: Moving into our new place!!!!


Sep 5-9 Amazing gothic architecture…great food…easily navigable subway system…all these things make it hard to describe why there was something a little…off…in Belgium. It started when we bought our first Belgian Waffle (a nice, sticky, chocolate-covered slice of heaven). When we started to eat it, I realized we didn’t have a napkin. So I asked the vendor for a napkin, and he proceeded to rummage around behind the counter, come up 20 seconds later, and hand me – one – napkin. Ok, I thought, no big deal. I’ll just have to live with it. Later on, we went to a kabob shop, ordering the delightful meat concoction that every city should sell, and again, upon asking for napkins, we were presented with one, single napkin. Yet after that, we ordered some hamburgers at The Quick, basically a McDonald’s without the grease (why would you get rid of the grease?), and once more, after asking for napkins, we were given a lonely, solitary napkin.

This happened on, and I don’t exaggerate, 8 different occasions – which clearly makes it a trend. (Ok, maybe 6 occasions.) Why would all of Belgium, a country who prides themselves on being the best at so many of life’s luxuries – chocolate, beer, seafood, etc. – why when they have so many ways in which they make the world a better place, why are they so protective of their napkins? How, from a sociological evolutionary standpoint, does a culture develop the need to conserve as many napkins as possible? They’re not even nice napkins; they’re ordinary. I could understand if they were silk or lace, but they’re rough and scratchy.

It’s just odd. But I digress…

Belgium, napkin-hoarding aside, has a lot of charm. While we stayed in Brussels for the majority of the trip, we took day trips to Ghent and Brugge. Ghent is one of the nicer “small” medieval cities we’ve been to, and probably has more gigantic, beautiful cathedrals per square meter than anywhere else in the world (sorry – I’m thinking in the metric system - it probably has more cathedrals per square foot than anywhere else). Brugge, meanwhile, is a canal-medieval-city, and was great for biking around, as it’s a bit too large to cover on foot. Both were very beautiful. For the record, Sophia and I are horrible bikers. I’m a bit too kamikaze, especially considering I never quite figured out how to ride in a straight line (I blame the fact I grew up riding a hand-me-down bike without pedals on unpaved roads). And while Sophia is better than me, she has a habit of twisting her ankle when walking down the street; if you apply this level of balance and agility to bicycles, you get the idea (note that she tripped and fell in Brussels, severely scraping her knee and looking like a fool, her words). Anyway – it was cute, we took some pictures, they’ll be uploaded on Shutterfly shortly – blah blah blah. Time for the good stuff…

So my main objective in Belgium was, as some of you can guess, to try as many beers as possible (in moderation). I am, after all, a self-proclaimed beer snob! And for all you other blossoming beer snobs, let me just say that this is the place to hone your craft; good beer flows like water from the old-world pubs of Brussels! But it doesn’t stop there; we also made sure to eat as many waffles and chocolates as possible. This is what vacationing is all about…13 pubs, 34 beers, 8 waffles, 46 pieces of chocolate, 64 mussels, and we even got some Vietnamese soup in there one night! Anyway, I believe we took pictures of every beer, waffle, and chocolate shop we went to. A lot of pictures, and a lot of fun. Made for a different type of vacation, because we didn’t really do any “touristy” stuff this trip – yeah, we walked around and looked at buildings and castles, but that was more because the places we were going to (chocolate shops and pubs) caused us to cross by some of these things. And that’s why Belgium is cool – because you can go there, and not have to feel like you’re missing out on something if you don’t see everything, and you can just relax and indulge yourself.

Great trip on the whole. For the record, I feel I can now officially consider myself a beer-snob. So that leaves me with only a couple of further “snob” activities to learn from my European snobbery to-do list:

  • Cheese
  • Wine
  • Cooking puff pastries
  • Looking down my nose at people who don’t pronounce French with the correct accent

And these remaining snobberies lead perfectly into our next trip…

Next week: Burgundy!


Aug 24-26

Barcelona has become an absolutely enormous city; what used to be suburbs are now teeming city blocks, while the labyrinthine gothic quarter can occupy hours of aimless wandering (or hours of bickering when you inevitably get lost – although I don’t get lost). Yes, it’s hard not to love Barcelona – although some of the more famous areas have become too touristy since I last visited (it’s possible that I just notice this more now that I’m older, but I feel a lot more people are traveling now versus 10 years ago).

This was our first "take-a-flight-straight-after-work" out of hopefully many to come, so that we could spend Friday night hanging out in the city. Of course, as my fellow thirty-year-olds out there can attest, this is always a better idea on paper than in reality – but we did manage to have fun and stay out until almost 1:30 am – craziness! We had a lot of sight-seeing to do the next day though, so we ate what would become my favorite meal so far in Europe (involving many tapas such as fried baby squid, also known as chiperones - Soph loved that word), washed it down with some sangria, and just had a good time. I was amazed at how the chefs could not only broil clams to rival the best seafood restaurants, but also cook a potato, egg and sausage plate that puts Cracker Barrel to shame. One wouldn't think that a potato dish with a mayonaissy sauce on it can be good, but really, it's phenomenal how they do it - I mean, Soph tried to lick the plate. I guess that's the reason Spain is always on the culinary forefront.

The next day we walked the Las Ramblas and stopped by the famous La Boqueria market where all the chefs come to buy their daily menu, and then got our tickets for the tourist bus (I wanted to travel by subway, but I heartily lost that battle). We also saw a bunch of Gaudi’s works, including a park he designed for what was supposed to be an exclusive village for Barcelona's elite – which was pretty cool. What was even cooler, though, was the Borne district, which is where we went that night. It’s definitely my new favorite late-night spot, with its’ miles of small alleyways and endless rows of unique and interesting venues and tapas restaurants. It could be the perfect night-life atmosphere, with just blocks upon blocks of twisting streets and secret paths set amidst hundreds-of-years-old gothic buildings. Sophia also liked it, as this is where she had her favorite meal so far in Europe (another tapas place, which was also insanely good). Alas, the curse of being thirty struck again, as we had to lament our ability to stay out late as the taxi driver chastised us for going home at 2:00 am.

This time, though, we had an even better excuse, for we needed to get up early to see La Sagrada Familia (top pic), Gaudi’s most famous work (and one of the most famous architectural pieces of work in the world). For those who don’t know about it, it’s basically this giant cathedral that is just ridiculously cool-looking. Not sure that it needs more description than that – it’s just ridiculously cool-looking. It’s still unfinished as of now (it was begun in 1902, with Gaudi starting the design in the late 1800s), but when 2024 rolls around, you might want to take a trip here, as I can’t think of any buildings of the past couple hundred years that are anywhere near as interesting as this one. Unfortunately, our pictures don’t do it justice, although there are some good ones of the statues on either entrance (could spend hours just looking at the details).

The rest of the day we walked around the gothic quarter some more, stopped at a couple of awesome cafes, checked out the Mediterranean beaches, and ate some more paella. Walked probably 6 miles in total, which pushed the limits of my knees, but in a good way.

We accomplished quite a bit on this trip – I was able to break out a little Espanol (can I tell you how nice it was to “kind of” understand a language again, because French just doesn’t make sense?); Sophia got to break out her paella-eating clothes (rice + seafood * a lot of it = happy Soph); we got all the tourist stuff out of the way (so that next time we come here we can base the trip around eating and going out); and yeah, it was just a great place. Spain rules.

Next weekend: chillin’ in Geneva!