Monday, February 24, 2014

European Adventures 2014

Over the holidays, I went on a trip to Italy with my family, and followed by visiting some friends in France and Belgium.  The first (and one of the best) things we did was to go on a foodie tour in and around Bologna, which included a trip to a traditional balsamic vinegar producer, a parmagianno reggiano factory, an epic lunch, and a winery.  No surprise that this was my idea.  The cheese place was my favorite, as we got to see the whole process of turning curds to aged parmesan.  

Apparently balsamic vinegar is supposed to be made in the attic

So much cheeeeese

We spent a few days in Venice, somehow avoiding the seasonal rains.  When Matt and I traveled Europe in 2006, this was one of our favorite places, and it didn't disappoint this time.  (Nerd note:  I played Assassin's Creed II, a historical fiction RPG, since then, and it was really cool to see the city in another light).  We spent a fair bit of time wandering around the streets.  Which were less slippery when wet than we remembered.  We also ate some awesome prosciutto and pastries.  And saw a lot of art, including the excellent Peggy Guggenhiem collection.

Puddles in San Marco Square

We ate the one on the left.

After my parents left, I had a week before meeting my friend Erin in Johannesburg, and spent it visiting some friends that I hadn't seen in a while.  Stop one:  Paris.  When I was in high school, I played a solo in band about Pere Lachaise cemetery, and finally got around to seeing it.  It's vast and peaceful.  I met my friends M and G at a cute little cafe and wandered town with them with stops at the Louvre, the new BNF (national library), and a most excellent hot chocolate place.  

A view of Pere Lachaise cemetery

I took first class on the fancy Thalys train to stop 2:  Brussels.  Once I managed to meet up with my friends (train stations are hard) C and M, they gave me a little tour of old town Brussels, which was still lit up for the holidays and scattered with Christmas markets.  We had some awesome brunch - which is apparently a big thing in Brussels.  We also went to the Parlementarium, a museum on the European Parliament, which was really well designed.  In my favorite part, each visitor got a little kiosk to push around a map of Europe and watch videos associated with different places.

We stopped for a Liege-style waffle drenched in chocolate

Stop 3 was Bruges.  I had spent a couple of days alone here in 2006, and it's always been one of my favorite European towns:  cute canals, chocolate shops, charming building facades.  I had a day to myself before meeting friends, and decided to spend it determining which chocolate shop has the best chocolate truffle.  The abundance of types of truffles (butter, ganache, coated, rolled) undoubtably compromised my science here, but I ate 11 truffles and determined the best to be from Pur Chocolat in a little lane by the Bejinhof.  

Two of many truffles

Bruges at dusk

I met my friends S and O at the train station and went to their sailboat home to catch up and enjoy a wonderful carbonnade that O made in the little boat kitchen.  We took their little dog, Kiki, on a long walk through town at night.  In the morning, they brought a traditional Belgian Sunday breakfast - pastries!  We went to see one of the history museums in town.  It had a lot of cool things, including a mustache cup designed with an extra piece to keep you mustache dry as you sip your tea.  

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