Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Snapshots 2011-Paris with the Brazell's

After Belgium we headed to Paris for three jammed packed days. This was Andrew's first time to Paris and a second trip for the rest of us, Meredith's first was only 12 hours though. My first visit was back in October 2009 after I had only lived in Germany for 2 months. It was great to be back and with two of our good friends. As you can imagine there are so many pictures so I will let them do the talking. You will notice lots of gray skies, jackets, and umbrellas. We didn't have the best luck with weather on our trip to Paris, but we managed to have a good time in spite of it.

Versailles Chateau 

Trying to stay warm as we waited to enter. You better believe we had our trusty Rick Steve's guidebook and downloaded free audio tour. Meredith is totally hooked on Rick now after this trip.

Outside the Chateau

Look at that excitement as we start our tour.

The hall of mirrors. Personally I think this is the most impressive room in the whole Chateau. It is huge and overlooks the beautiful gardens below.

Overlooking part of the gardens and a lake 

The Garden. Last time I didn't go through the gardens and I am so glad I did this time. With a little encourage from Meredith and some slick moves from Andrew we all enjoyed a stroll throughout the enormous gardens. The long lake in the background was a mile long and Louis XIV brought gondoliers in from Venice to add to its splendor.

Enjoying more of Rick Steve's audio tour as he included the gardens.

Walking through the garden

We walked to one of the summer homes on the grounds and this amazing exhibit was taking place. They had current designers make dresses inspired by the fashion of the 1400-1600's. This one is by Christian Dior.  Hello Project Runway Masters!

Paris Sights

The Arc de Triomphe 

We made it to the top and checked out the view of the Eiffel Tower

The Louvre

Did Da Vinci think he would be this popular centuries later?

Don't we look so happy and not cold at all. I mean it is July, come on!

This is the Orangerie Museum, one I also didn't see on my first visit. It housed some of Monet's lillie pads. It was designed just as the artist had intended. They were huge and quite beautiful.

This museum is definitely worth it if you are in Paris. Next to the Musee D'Orsay this one might be my next favorite. 

Notre Dame Cathedral

The side of the Notre Dame. This place has sensational architecture.

To complete the view here is the back view

This was one of the best locks on a bridge I have ever seen. There was literally no room for more. This is a tradition you see all over Europe. Couples put locks on bridges to show their commitment to each other and the world.

One new area that we explored was the Latin Quarter. This was the English bookstore that many famous writers have passed through such as Hemingway and Joyce.

This area had a great vibe with bistros, boutiques and creperies. If I lived in Paris this is the neighborhood I would live in for sure.

Just look at the cute!

St. Chapelle-This place was full of scaffolding last time I was here, but on this day it was in all it's glory. 

This place is a sight to see with all the sainted glass windows. Truly amazing!

We were lucky and had a clear, slightly chilly night to take in the Eiffel Tower.

We enjoyed a picnic, French style, with some cheese, bread, chocolate and a little wine.

Then we sat back and enjoyed the show. I love watching it twinkle!

The Rodin Museum's beautiful rose gardens

The rain gave the statues an awesome effect. I really love this one, I can feel his pain and despair.

My all time favorite, the Kiss.

This one caught my eye this time. This is the prodigal son. Rodin really knew what he was doing.

And lastly we couldn't leave Paris without enjoying a crepe!

Despite the weather we had an awesome trip to Paris with the Brazell's. We ate plenty of French cuisine, I know Meredith loved that part. We saw tons of art and experienced a lot of culture. These are many of the things I love about traveling.  


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Snapshots 2011 - Belgium with the Brazells

We kicked off the Summer tour this year with a visit from our friends, Andrew and Meredith. They stopped by for a whirlwind day trip in Frankfurt before taking a train with us to Ostend, Belgium for a couple of days. We always stay with them whenever we're in Atlanta, so it was nice to turn the tables and host them for a change. It was their first exposure to Germany and we only had one day, so we had to make a good impression quickly............

Seemingly unaffected by jet lag, Andrew and Meredith jumped right in to German culture and cuisine by savoring bratwursts from our neighborhood farmer's market.

We had to get these jokers some Euros from the European Central Bank - despite some protests outside which seemed to push for the dissolution of the use of the Euro (probably not a great idea, but I don't know much).

Signature shot of the famous "Pfifferlingen Schnitzel" at zur Sonnenuhr. I don't think Andrew has ever been more satisfied........gastronomically speaking.

I was pumped to return to Belgium - mostly to sample more of their tasty beverages, but also to see the port town of Ostend and enjoy the city of Bruges with friends. The only disappointment was the awful weather that we endured for practically the entire trip. Seriously, it was cold, cloudy, and rainy for all but one day on a week-long trip. Europe did not deliver on that end, but we had a great time despite it all.

Our view from our apartment in Ostend.

I jumped right back in to the Belgian beer sampling from day one. This one was enjoyed at a neat bar in Ostend called "Bottelje", which served over 300 Belgian beers.

On our last trip to Belgium we missed out on sampling mussels. This time we couldn't pass them up since we were staying on the coast. This mountain of mussels could be ordered with various sauces, such as white wine cream and a house special pepper sauce. It was massive and came with a pan of fries which are Belgian in origin (not French). It was all cooked in a tiny little restaurant where the kitchen was only a few steps away from the tables - now that is integrity! Oh, and the mussels were delicious by the way.

If we hadn't had our fill on mussels at the restaurant you could always buy them from vendors by the kilogram.

We found this little beer shop on the street and came across this gem. The "Trappist Westvleteren 12" is a Belgian quadruple (10.2 %) is rated the #1 beer in the world by Beer Advocate. Trappist beers are made by monks in actual monasteries in Belgium. This one is no different but it's terribly difficult to come by. You have to make an appointment with the brewery and you may only buy one case per visit and the supply is very limited. That is why is cost me 9.50 Euros for ONE bottle (a new personal record). Of course I had to have it to say that I had "the best beer in the world".........which, as it turns out, is not my opinion. It's good, but I've had better.

Belgians love to make chocolates and when they're bored they like to make chocolate in interesting vaginas, for example. You can get them in dark, milk, or white chocolate if you're curious. Of course bachelorette parties would be totally set here as well as they have a fine selection of choco' cocks (not pictured to keep this blog PG-13, and because we didn't buy them).

The North Sea, as seen by Ostend's coast.

Fun group picture in Ostend.

Meredith and Marisa

The one beautiful day we had was in Bruges, which completely enhanced the experience.

I totally recommend the bicycle rentals here as a cheap way to get around for the day.

Ladies enjoying the ride up to the old wooden windmills.

Oldest bar in Bruges - founded in 1515.

Our tour of "de Halve Maan" Brewery, makers of my personal "best beer in the world" - the Straffe Hendrik Tripel (9%).

Lovely view of Bruges from the rooftop of the brewery.

While Andrew and I experienced more Belgian "culture", the ladies got to watch a lace-making demonstration. Although I'm content with my decision to have another tripel, check out the bobs on this ol' gal. There's a lot of coordination going on here and I don't see any kind of color code or anything to keep it straight. "Looks like we're going to extend arts and craft time for another two hours! What's that? Your fingers hurt? Well now you're back's gonna hurt cuz you just pulled landscaping duty!"

Meredith loves flowers and apparently this one is a "snowball", or so I'm told.

One final taste of Belgian cuisine that we missed before was the waffle off of the street, covered in dark chocolate! More than enough to hold you over for a few hours.

As you can see the return to Belgium was a hit. Now we feel like we've covered all of the famous things to consume in Belgium............too bad that Germany still doesn't sell Belgian beer within its borders. I'll have to keep coming back.

-- Justin
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