We went to Barcelona!

Barcelona has been on my list for a long time now, and I finally got to check it – and a new country! – off as visited. Originally, we had planned to visit Barcelona in the summertime, for the prime-time experience of beaches, sunshine, all the good stuff. Unfortunately, life got in the way and by the time we were in a position to plan a trip, we were looking at mid-November. We decided to head on down to Barcelona anyway, even if we wouldn’t be splashing in the waves this time of year. (Spoiler alert: toes were dipped).

A long weekend in Barcelona

We left bright and early in the morning for our short flight – less than 2 hours – to Barcelona. We were in the city and checked into our hotel before it was even lunchtime.

We set out for a walk to get our first taste of the city, both metaphorically and literally, as our plan was to find a place for lunch. We hit our hangry limit just after 1:00 and the (quite touristy, but convenient) restaurant we chose was practically empty. I was aware that people generally eat meals later in Spain, and yet it’s still sort of odd when you get there, it’s 1:30 and this large, popular restaurant is a ghost town.

Anyway, over our meal of essentially high-end fast food, we planned a bit of how we wanted to organize our few days; when to visit the Sagrada Familia basilica, when to see the beaches, and most importantly, when we were going to hit Frenchman’s favorite tapas place.

The answer to that question was: that night for dinner. And two more times. Shh don’t judge us.

Frenchman found this place (Cerveceria Catalana) a couple of years ago when he came to Barcelona with friends. On that trip, they returned daily for their entire stay. I thought they were silly for not exploring more of the food scene, but after trying to explore other options around the city, we just kept coming back. The food is, hands down, better than any other place we tried. Plus, their prices are shockingly reasonable in a town where a tiny plate of mediocre tapas can break the bank. We went all-out on our first dinner – delicious sangria, all the tapas we could handle, AND dessert. We returned for breakfast another day (actually the exact same menu, plus coffee) and dinner again for our last night in town. We just had to get another of those beef tenderloin tapas! So, so good.

But back to the city.

I had a rough list of the things to see, and in the end we managed to get to almost all of them. The advantage of visiting a beach city off-season is that you miss the huge lines most people complain about. What you don’t manage to miss, however, are the prices. Honestly, my main takeaway from this trip was how outrageously expensive everything was. Not food, for once, but actual tourist sites. The Sagrada Familia? 14€ just to go in. 35€ if you want to go up one of the towers. The Gaudí-designed Casa Batlló? 22.50€. Even the cathedrals charge. 6€ here, 9€ there… I watched them turn away an old Spanish woman who just wanted to pray. By the time we had paid for one or two things, our wallets were feeling a little bruised. But in the end we saw a lot, did a lot of walking and plenty of good eating.

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Second Thanksgiving in Paris

Last year, I got lucky. I had moved abroad, but I was still working for an American company. The result was that I had Thanksgiving day off as a holiday, just like always,  allowing me to focus my time on cooking way too many mashed potatoes, picking up our fresh-ordered pumpkin pie, and generally lazing around the house to the smell of a feast in progress.

This year, I officially work in France where they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. In theory I could have taken the day off and, honestly, I had fully planned on it. But between our recent long weekend in Barcelona (which I will tell you about soon), plus being in the middle of a HUGE project at work, plus needing to take scattered days off soon for signing on our apartment and moving and all that good stuff, well, it just wasn’t feasible to take my Thanksgiving day.

So here we are, working on my treasured American holiday.

Thanksgiving in France

I cannot count the number of times in the past week that I have had to explain any of the following:

  • When is Thanksgiving?
  • What is Thanksgiving?
  • What is that thing you’re drawing?
    • Answer: This
    •  thanksgiving-abroad-cornucopia
  • Where’s the turkey?
  • Are you going to eat macaroni and cheese?
  • … among other confused questions

The French, as it turns out, are very unaware of ‘Thanksgiving’ as a concept. When I was in Wales, I had found that most people were vaguely aware of the idea of the American holiday and that it was, in fact, an official holiday.

My French coworkers, on the other hand, have been saying things like “people are really into Thanksgiving!” with a bemused look of someone who doesn’t understand, but won’t question, a silly thing they see someone doing. I’ve found myself repeatedly explaining that Thanksgiving is, actually, a major national holiday and that it’s actually illegal(?) for offices to be open and that it is not, in fact, just a made-up occasion driven by marketing for Americans to stuff their faces.

They’ve all been pretty surprised.

Apparently, the French more or less think that it’s like Halloween, where it’s a made-up excuse to eat a lot and that, as adults, it’s silly and/or optional to participate. Cue sadness.

Thanksgiving is the best holiday, and it’s a real holiday and I take it very seriously. Ok, yes, it’s 90% about food but I love it.

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The Fête des Vendanges

Last year, I just missed the Fête des Vendanges. It ended the 9th of October. I arrived the 10th.

This year, there was no way I was going to miss this!

La Fête des Vendanges 2016

A “fête des vendanges” is a wine harvest festival. THE Fête des Vendanges is a wine harvest festival in Paris itself, in Montmartre. Because there’s a vineyard in Montmartre. Did you know that?

montmartre-vineyard-paris

So this particular Fête isn’t just any wine-soaked fête, it’s a wine-soaked fête perched atop the highest point in Paris, surrounding the iconic Sacre Cœur and overlooking the rest of the city. So you can see why I was determined to go to this year’s event.

Many towns and regions have their own Wine Festivals, as you can imagine, being in France, the Land of Wine. Small or large, they consist of booth after booth hawking various wines, red, white, varietal blends, local specialties, etc. Intermixed are, of course, plenty of booths also selling delicious foodstuffs to help support your wine tasting.

Unfortunately, this year’s Fête fell on a complicated weekend, and we were in Ven-Danger of missing it. Again.

We were both sick, and exhausted from just moving into a new (temporary, furnished) apartment with a small and uncomfortable bed, leaving us both cranky. But on top of that, this was also the very same weekend as Paris’ Oktoberfest, yet another event that has been on my list since last year. And on top of that, it all happened to fall on the same weekend as a family birthday, resulting in an obligatory family gathering. We were down to just one day we could use to attend one event. Obviously we chose wine. Frenchman doesn’t like beer (I know. I know) and we’re so close to Munich we can practically smell the real Oktoberfest, so it just made more sense to pick the event that France is sure to do well. I’d rather go to the real Oktoberfest anyway! (Germany, get ready – l’Américaine is coming for you next September!)

Sunday, the very last day of the event, we made it up to Montmartre.

paris-fete-des-vendanges-cafe Continue reading

Fall in full swing

I’ve had so many things to say – and so little time to say them.

First and foremost… It’s my France-iversary!

Well, almost. Technically it was last week but I didn’t post about it here (just on Instagram). I’ve officially been living in France for a full year, minus those couple of months at the start of this year. But my stuff has been here for a full year and that’s what counts. Home is where the heart your stuff is.

It’s amazing to me that it has been a year already. This time last year, I was just moving into a freezing apartment with no heat, nervous to try the metro alone, and starting a long, strange few months working from home. I can’t believe how much has changed since then. Travel, engagement, married (twice), working, feeling settled… I couldn’t have asked for more.

As for recent events…

The last few months have been quite a blur. I know I managed to finally post something in early September after the summer, but I know I’ve been neglecting you all. It’s not like I haven’t been doing anything to write home about, I definitely have! But that’s exactly the problem.

Since the start of June I have:

  • Started a new job, that keeps me out of the house and busy from 9am-7pm at least
  • Flown to Boston and back for a dress fitting
  • Visited dozens of apartments to buy or rent
  • Got my Titre de Sejour! It only took 3 attempts to get into the Prefecture de Police to pick it up
  • Flown to Boston and back for our US wedding
  • Moved
  • Actually put pen to paper to buy an apartment
  • Spent half a day at the OFII (immigration office)
  • and tried to have some semblance of a life outside of paperwork and real estate

So you can see why it’s been tricky to squeeze in time to write about the various goings-on around Paris. I had hoped to write a post all about La Rentrée here in France, because it’s a really interesting phenomenon. After all the Parisians abandon the city in the month of August, everyone comes flooding back for September 1st in what has been aptly described as a sort of second New Year’s. Everything’s fresh, a new start after a healthy break from school, work, city life, and hustle and bustle. There’s just no equivalent in the US. We have “back to school” season, of course, but the world doesn’t stop turning during the summer quite the way it does here, so it’s not as much of a shock when it all starts up again.

But now, we’re officially into fall, and life and business is completely in full swing. I’ve even started seeing Christmas decorations in a few stores, but don’t get me started on that. We think it starts early in the US, but in my experience, countries that don’t really celebrate Halloween in the big way we do or have a fall holiday like Thanksgiving to take the edge off tend to dive head-first into Christmas wayyy too early. For us, we can look forward to Thanksgiving – the food, the fall colors and atmosphere – to dip our toes into the ‘holiday spirit’ before the full dive. Here, there’s no barrier. It’s holiday anarchy.

But, I digress.

The point is, I’ve neglected you all and had a lot of things going on and haven’t been sharing it all with you. Here’s my apology, in the form of a collage of delicious things:

If that doesn’t make up for it, here’s (as we say on the internet) a cat tax:

American in Paris Cat Tax.jpg

Next up: I’ll tell you all about my thrilling visits to the OFII – Office of Immigration and Integration – visits to the Prefecture de Police, and on a more exciting note, our upcoming trip to Barcelona! (Surprise, family! I don’t think I told you about this yet…)

Thoughts from Paris, Spring 2016

A lot has happened in the last couple of months, and I haven’t written about any of it.

It’s not like I didn’t have the time. For almost all of April and May, I was home just about every day. With exceptions of course for that time I got married and the week I showed my parents around Paris, I’ve had a pretty wide-open schedule. I’ve filled my days with job-hunting for hours on end, cat-snuggling (a full time job on its own, really), and going for really long walks to get lost and find my way home again. And yet somehow, I never found time to tell you all about it. Or maybe I just wasn’t inspired after several days straight on the couch.

Human contact is a funny thing. Too much of it and you’re dying for some alone time in your jammies with a snack and your favorite shows. Not enough, and you start to become a bit too attached to your Netflix account, who is always there for you and would never do anything to hurt you.

Over the last couple of weeks though, things have been looking up! Good stuff has happened, the weather got better (briefly), and I started to spend more time with fun people other than my cat. Lunches here and there with friends, shopping trips, and – most important of all – I found my people in France for weekly Game of Thrones viewing. It does a person good to find their fellow nerds.

Anyway, I’m bouncing back with a few random thoughts from the last few weeks of “Spring” here in Paris:

  1. Happy birthday to me! I got to celebrate my birthday in France this year, which was neat. After a couple months of boring unemployment, realizing you don’t have to go to work on your birthday is a nice perk. I got to sleep in and hang out. I also got to go to the Prefecture de Police, in an odd twist of date fate. See #5 for more info on that – this one’s about me. After a nice dinner out with my Frenchman (and gifts that included both popcorn AND maple syrup! what a man) My fellow expat friend Jayne was nice enough to organize a fun dinner at Ober Mamma with a few great people.
  2. French banks are even worse than originally thought. You can set up a personal account and a joint account, but the joint account can only have one name on it and one card… Then, you can receive your cards for those two accounts on the exact same day, with no way of knowing which card goes to which account, and even when you activate them on an ATM, the view is identical so there’s still no hope. And then, just when you think you’ve hit the peak of French banques, you find out you are not allowed to change your randomly-generated pin. You just have to memorize this string of numbers, plus the random numbers for the other card, plus the 10-digit numbers-only password you had to create to access your online banking. Ugh.
  3. There is a speakeasy through the freezer at a pizza joint. No, really. No, this is not Brooklyn circa 2010. There’s a pizza place near Bastille that has a hidden bar in the back that you access via a giant freezer door, and it’s speakeasy themed with jazzy music, ceiling tiles, and awesome cocktails. I didn’t take pictures when I was there, so here are some I grabbed from the internet: dragonfly20131119-23145-1tqsv2qThe Beef Club Ballroom, Paris, France
  4. There is no summer in Paris. While everyone else at home was posting beach pics and talking about how hot it’s been, we were here in Paris wearing sweaters and coats and talking about how we got more than a month’s worth of rain in just a few days. There were floods and the Seine was overflowing and the Louvre had to move their precious art. It was all very exciting except for the fact that it’s not summer which is a real bummer, you guys. Paris floods SeineParis flood Seine EiffellParis flood Seine swan
  5. I got (and started) a job! As I mentioned in my last post, after what feels like a year of job hunting here in France, I finally landed an offer. I couldn’t be more excited, both for a reason to leave the house every day and to have income, but also for the job itself which seems like exactly what I was looking for, on either side of the Atlantic. The only hitch was that I still didn’t officially have the right to work in France despite being married to a Frenchman, as I was on a visitor visa. I had a date at the Prefecture of Police, scheduled coincidentally on my birthday. I gathered yet more paperwork, including as much government-approved proof as possible that I had lived together with Frenchman in France for a minimum of 6 months. Oy. But ultimately the appointment went fairly smoothly, and I was granted the right to work, effective immediately! As soon as I realized I could start ASAP, I panicked a bit. It all seemed too soon! But it was fantastic news, so I enjoyed last few days of funemployment and jumped in feet-first into all-French, all-day.

And that about catches us up to today! It has been a nice few months back in Paris, giving me the opportunity to relax, explore, and get more familiar with this city I now call home. I’m excited to see what the next few months bring as I transition from existing here in a semi-vacation state to really, truly living here and participating in the day-to-day. Stay tuned for a post all about commuting on the Metro, I can only assume I’ll have stories to tell.

I’m still here, I swear.

I’ve been slacking.

I was supposed to write about Christmas in Paris, but Christmas came and went and I didn’t get around to it. Then I thought, hey fine – I’ll write about Christmas and New Year’s Eve together, that’ll be great. Then New Year’s came and went and I didn’t get around to it.

I’d like to say that I’ve just been so busy with my fabulous life and that I was just “living it to the fullest” so much and that’s why. But that’s not exactly true.

True fact: I have been busy. True fact: it is not with fabulous life-living. It’s with paperwork and planning and flights home and trying to find enough sweaters to not freeze to death in this arctic New England weather we’re so nicely experiencing just as soon as I got back here.

So here’s your quick recap of the past couple of weeks, in photo/summary format. Settle in – this is a long one.

Christmas.

Christmas in Paris seems like a fairytale. To be fair, it is totally gorgeous. Though the weather was oddly warm (same at home, it seems) it was still festive. Frenchman and I were headed to his brother’s house just north of Paris, but not before having a little mini-Christmas of our own.

Christmas Eiffel Tower MarketChristmas Paris TreeChristmas Buche de Noel

In France, Christmas Eve is the bigger event compared to Christmas Day in the U.S. We got to Saint-Germain-en-Laye after hardly eating all day in preparation for the huge meal to come. This was a good decision.

There were snacks, and drinks, and then a first appetizer, and then a second appetizer, and then the huge main meal, and more drinks, and bread and more bread, and cheese. And, of course, dessert! We each got our own individual tiny Bûche de Noël. It was adorable (and delicious). No pictures, sadly, but use your imagination (similar to the baby bûche above, which I was able to hold off from eating long enough to snap a photo).

It was all super delicious, and we left decidedly full to spend the night at a hotel around the corner as his parents’ new house nearby was too paint-fumed to support a night’s sleep.

We made our way back to Christmas Central the next morning to find the most enormous pile of presents I have ever seen. Frenchman’s nephews are 3 and 1 respectively, and couldn’t even begin to appreciate the number of gifts they had to open. While they could easily have kept half the gifts for next year and no one would have noticed, I must admit that the kid in me was SO EXCITED to see a literal mountain of brightly wrapped presents spilling out from under the tree.

We spent the day snacking on tasty brioche for breakfast, watching little kids unwrap their toys, and then eating even more food in another multi-course (though less formal) meal capped off with yet another gorgeous dessert – this time a citrusy ice cream cake.

The Lull.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always weird. Half the population is on vacation, the half that is working is …”working” and all you really want to do is hang out in sweats and eat leftover holiday goodies.

Married in France

Frenchman and I used this time to go to our local Mairie (city hall) to start getting our paperwork in order to get married in France. 🙂 That’s a whole post (or seven) in and of itself, so I won’t go into the paperwork stuff just yet. Just suffice it to say it’s insanely complicated, difficult, and overwhelming and stay tuned for the full write-up sometime soon.

New Year’s.

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, as many of you probably heard, they announced that Paris’ celebration would be subdued. Not cancelled, but toned down to show respect and solemnity after the attacks in November. Obviously understandable, but I won’t deny I was disappointed as “New Year’s in Paris!” was a thing I had been excited about since the first mention of moving.

We planned ourselves a nice dinner at home rather than trying to go out anywhere, with all the bells and whistles (fancy foie gras-stuffed tiny chickens, bacon-wrapped date appetizers, fancy desserts from the boulangerie across the street – the whole shebang) including not one, but two bottles of champagne. Go big or go home, right?

 

After dinner, we packed up and took ourselves down to the Champs Elysees to check out the festivities. As part of the adjusted plans for the evening, instead of fireworks they would be showing a short video splashed across the Arc de Triomphe and displayed on large screens all down the street to avoid a large crowd jammed at one end. We were pleased to go through two separate police security checks as we made our way through, checking coats and purses and everything. Security was obviously high, but so were spirits as even the police joked with people that they’d only let them through if they shared their champagne.

New Years Champs ElyseesNew Years Arc de TriompheNew Years Paris 2016It was a fun night, albeit relatively short. And as we walked home from the 8th arrondissement to the 16th to the 7th and finally the 15th where we live, it was really amazing to see Paris through such a festive lens and know that that’s where I live.

New Years Eve Paris

The rest.

We started off the New Year with a brunch of mimosas and praline brioche. Not a bad start, I think.

New Years Paris Brunch

From there, we started hustling to get all sorts of documentation in order for our marriage dossier for the Mairie before I had to head home. Burying the lede, I know, but the fact is I had to head home to Boston the 10th of January. Remote work was coming to an end and my passport was turning into a pumpkin.

But I’ll wrap this up before this gets much longer, and tell you about some good food and good friends that kicked off the New Year another time.

Thanksgiving in Paris

I’m not usually one for gushing, “let’s go around the table” declarations of what we’re grateful for at Thanksgiving dinner. To be honest, if someone asked I usually wouldn’t know what to say (I would probably make some snarky comment). If you suggested it with my family, we would all probably awkwardly ignore it and try to move on. We’re not touchy-feely types.

But this year, there is so much to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my safety, after a stressful and tragic few weeks. I’m thankful for my aforementioned family – awkward as we are – for being totally on board with Project: Elizabeth Moves to France. I’m thankful for my job, giving me the ability and opportunity to keep it and still be here.

And I’m thankful that I get to live in this amazing city:

Notre Dame Paris

Francegiving: An American Thanksgiving in Paris

I may be in France, but there was no way I was going to miss out on one of the best holidays of the year. A holiday entirely devoted to food? Impossible.

I fully intended to celebrate my Thanksgiving, and celebrate it properly.

I only had 2 problems. A mini-oven that doesn’t work well, and no access to critical ingredients since I’m, you know, in France.

My oven is mediocre, at best, and in no way suited for supporting a holiday feast. While it technically is an oven, it is not only microwave-sized, but also doubles as an actual microwave. And grill. And some other setting I don’t quite understand. Anyway, this jack-of-all-trades appliance is, as they say, a master of none. Even if I could find a turkey small enough to fit, I wouldn’t trust the thing to be cooked.

And so, I turned to my favorite solution when things get tricky: get someone else to do it. Though my original plan was to find a tray of turkey breasts and make do that way, I realized that our friendly neighborhood boucher was right next door and fully capable of handling a turkey order. And order one we did! First obstacle: successfully maneuvered.

The next obstacle is the other pillar of Thanksgiving feasts, pie. In a test-run last weekend, I couldn’t even cook the simplest of simple pies in this oven. (Report: Swedish Apple Pie was burnt on top and totally undercooked just below) If I couldn’t make that recipe work, there was no way a regular pie was a risk worth taking. That’s a disappointment I couldn’t stomach. So again I turned to having others solve my problems: I ordered a pumpkin pie from the American market, Thanksgiving.

American Market Paris Thanksgiving

Yup, it’s a store called Thanksgiving, filled to the brim with very American foodstuffs

American Market Paris ThanksgivingAmerican Market Paris Thanksgiving

And so we came to Thanksgiving day perfectly positioned to not totally fail at recreating an American spread. Frenchman took the day off to be with me, so together we set out to the Marais to pick up our pie. The weather was spectacular for a quick walk across Ile de la Cité.

Paris Seine Ile St LouisLove Locks Paris

An unfortunate upside of the Paris attacks is the almost complete absence of tourists. While it’s sad to see, it’s also really refreshing to have Paris so empty and be able to really see the monuments and streets for once.

After picking up our pie at the completely overwhelmed Thanksgiving – line curled completely around the store full of American accents discussing their ingredient needs – we made our way back conveniently passing through Ile St. Louis, which happens to be the home of famous ice cream maker Berthillon. We literally can’t come near this neighborhood without Frenchman asking if we can stop. I gave in and we picked up a lovely container of vanilla to go with our pumpkin pie!

Berthillon Vanilla Ice Cream

When I’m not passing off my problems on other people, my number 1 resource for all things food is my mother. And with plenty of mom-structions filed away for everything from stuffing to butternut squash, I spent the entire afternoon prepping the remaining pieces of our Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving in ParisThanksgiving table France

French thanksgiving

A soon-to-be very full Frenchman

Turkey Cat Thanksgiving

Cannelle loves her turkey, too!

Pu

I hope that everyone had a fantastic, filling Thanksgiving at home and abroad! We certainly did, and have leftovers to spare.

An American in… Bruges?

I have been dying to go to Bruges for years. I tried to go once before, but was unable to make it happen. So once I knew I was moving to Paris and Frenchman and I would be making plenty of little trips, the very first one on my list was Bruges!

Bruges Brugge train station

It was a short trip – 2 nights and 2 very full days – but it’s a small town and we made the most of it. Bruges (or Brugge) is a beautiful little medieval city with some of the coolest architecture. It’s also home to beer, chocolate, lace, and waffles. I think you can guess which 3 of those things we focused on! (Hint: not the lace)

We arrived late-ish Friday night and walked from the train station to our B&B. We barely saw a soul – Bruges is possibly the quietest town I’ve ever seen, even at 10pm on a Friday. Despite the wet, drizzly rain I could already tell I was going to love it.

Bruges Brugge at night Bruges Brugge canal at night

Unfortunately, we got in later than we hoped and it was Frenchman’s first week at his new job, so we didn’t going back out in search of a drink. Instead, we tucked in and made plans for Saturday.

After a nice breakfast courtesy of our B&B host Lander, we set out towards our first stop, the Saturday morning market, after which we explored some shops and walked ’til we got hungry. We picked a place for lunch right on the Markt square (not a typo) which was touristy, but you can’t beat the view. I ordered a Belgian beer. Non-beer-drinking Frenchman did not. We both ordered the “traditional Flemish stew.”

Belgian Blond Flemish Stew

After lunch, the sun came out and we made tracks to find some chocolate. There are TONS of chocolate shops in Bruges, practically on top of each other, but we weren’t looking for just any chocolate. We wanted quality, top-of-the-line chocolate and were willing to hunt for it. We made our first stop at Dumon, which is adorable and, more importantly, incredibly well reviewed (inside, the woman who makes the chocolate herself made sure to tell me she was in Rick Steves’ guidebook “for many many years”).

Dumon Chocolatier Bruges Dumon Chocolates Bruges

We made our choices, then booked it to a free walking tour suggested to us by Lander. The Legends of Bruges guys are friends of his, but we took the recommendation looking to get a bit of history, and I’m glad we did. It was a full 2 hour walk around the heart of the city with plenty of detail of how Bruges began, grew, and fell. Interesting, for sure, and totally recommended if only for the fact that it was completely free! Can’t beat that deal.

Bruges Belfort Belfry Bruges Brugge Markt Bruges Brugge canal swans Bruges Brugge Belgium Bruges Brugge canals

Then we bought more chocolate.

No, I’m not kidding.

While we felt that a 500g box (and some champagne truffles – my pick!) was a good start, it just didn’t feel like enough. After all, we were in Belgium! So we looked around for just the right place. And boy did we find it. Move over Dumon! Sorry, Rick Steves, but you’ve got this one wrong – we found the best chocolate in Bruges at Depla.

Depla Chocolatier Bruges Depla Chocolatier Bruges

Put THAT in your guidebook! (no but don’t, because I don’t want the secret to get out!)

In googling just now, I just saw that Depla may actually be the oldest chocolatier in Bruges. We stumbled on it on our own, but it really is fantastic. We were so excited that we chose another entire 500g box, which we could fill as we liked with anything that struck our fancy – something we didn’t get to do at Dumon, which handed us a pre-filled box of mixed chocolates.

Bruges Belgian chocolate haul

Chocolate Haul. Shout out to Frenchman for not eating any before I got to take a picture, even though it nearly killed him

Tuckered out from all that excitement, we went back to our room to relax, clean up, and get ready for dinner. We had a hell of a time trying to figure out what to do for dinner. There are bazillions of restaurants for such a tiny town, and yet days ahead of our trip when we tried to make a Saturday night reservation, SIX different places told us they were completely booked. I had resigned myself to pub food and beer rather than the fancy treat we had hoped for.

On a whim, we picked a fondue restaurant well out of the way of normal foot traffic, and it paid off. We immediately got a seat and enjoyed a long, tasty meal at De Nisse before walking it off a bit with a nighttime stroll along the canals.

Bruges Belgium at night

Sunday morning, our #1 goal was to climb the belfry. Since they only allow 70 people in the Belfort tower at a time, the line can get a bit long so we got there early. We climbed 366 steps up, broken into several levels with interesting tidbits to see and read. What was most surprising though is that there is a real live modern man who plays the bells which ring deafeningly at the topmost level. You can’t hear a word anyone is saying up there, but it doesn’t really matter when everyone’s staring at the incredible views. We were lucky that the sun was out for this moment after some patchy, rainy (northern) weather.

Bruges Belfort Belfry Bruges Markt square Bruges Belfort Belfry Bruges Belfort Belfry Bruges Brugge Belgium

After carefully making our way down, we immediately set out for a boat tour of the canals. Originally, I wasn’t convinced that I cared much about a boat tour, but somehow we both came around to the idea and for just 8€ it’s worth it for a slightly new perspective of Bruges from the canals.

Bruges Begijnhof Beguinage Bruges Dog Window

After having hit our main attraction goals, I knew that my next item to check off the list was more beer, but we just weren’t hungry for lunch yet. Suddenly, we found ourselves on a walking/biking trail ringing the city that leads to… WINDMILLS! I was so excited. I had the windmills on my list but didn’t think we would be able to get to them. Turns out they’re much closer than I thought, and made for a perfect activity before heading to the oldest and only remaining brewery in Brugge for a late lunch. Frenchman humored me as I sampled not one, but two of their varieties while he enjoyed his plain water.

Bruges Belgian brewery beer

We had just a couple of hours left in Bruges, so we took advantage of the nice weather and walked through some slightly less traversed areas, enjoyed the views, and then checked off the final item on our must-do list…

Bruges Brugge Belgium Bike Bruges Brugge Belgium

… Waffles!

Belgian Waffle Bruges Belgian Waffle on a stick Bruges

As we grabbed our bags and set out for the train station, suddenly we turned the corner to see a gorgeous sunset over Bruges. It was the perfect end to a fabulous weekend.

Sunset in Bruges Belgium

Restaurant Round-Up: October!

One of the first things people ask me about living in France is always about food.

Without fail, everyone wants to know about the food (and wine). Whether they’ve just found out I moved here or they’ve known for a while and are checking in to see how it’s going, there will inevitably be a question about what I’ve been eating, how is the cheese, have you had a lot of croissants…

So I’ve assembled a few of the places I’ve eaten in the last month for a quick Restaurant Round-Up!

In the month of October, we visited a few restaurants, though surprisingly fewer than I think most of you would expect. We’ve eaten at home quite a bit (our own and Frenchman’s parents’ home while we were there) and have been keeping the restaurants to a minimum what with all our trips coming up that we’d like to reserve some money for.

So here you go, the October Restaurant Guide  – this month’s round-up of where I’ve eaten and how it was!

Le Casse Noix – We found this place online and tried once to go for dinner but couldn’t get in. Though it was fairly early and there were empty tables, they said they were all booked up without a reservation. We went back for lunch with a reservation the next week and it was delicious. It’s obviously a very local/family/regular place as everyone seemed to know everyone else and the kitchen staff. Always a good sign.

 

The menu was fairly large (in a good way) with an array of options for both type of food as well as menu style (prix fixe, a la carte, other special prix fixe). This place also offered the most beautiful dessert I’ve ever seen:

Casse Noix Paris dessert

Le Casse Noix
56 Rue de la Fédération
15ème Paris

Comptoir Moderne – We had high hopes for this one to be our go-to brunch destination. Though the restaurant was – I kid you not – completely empty 20 minutes after opening, they seemed put out that we didn’t have a reservation and struggled to find a place to put us. (In the end, the place was never full, not sure what all the fuss was about!) The decor was cool, ambiance nice, I liked that you ordered your brunch menu but hot beverages and charcuteries were serve-yourself on the bar.

The meals, however, were not great. Overworked would be the best description, with the number of different odd things on the platter, none of which were good and none of which worked together at all. They’re obviously trying for something cool but totally missed the mark. Won’t be going back – the search for “our brunch” continues.

Comptoir Moderne
26 Rue de la Croix Nivert
15ème Paris

 

Cote de Mer – Not at all recommended. This place is in Deauville, not Paris, and the reviews on TripAdvisor/Yelp were the most misleading I’ve ever encountered. The wait staff was indifferent, at best; one never even spoke, the other (the owner?) never told us the specials until after we had already ordered. Food was mediocre but the service was appalling. A full 50 minutes went by between my entree/app and the arrival of our main dishes. Well over an hour/hour and a half after we had arrived at the restaurant before we could eat our meals. And they were meh. Our desserts arrived fairly promptly after that, but the moelleux au chocolat was anything but moelleux (instead dry and just cakey) and the crème brûlée was fridge-cold. By the time we left we were still slightly hungry and in crappy moods. (Thankfully next we headed over to the casino for free champagne!)

Côté Mer
35 Avenue de la République
Deauville

 

La Bolée Normande – This gem, on the other hand, was a very pleasant surprise. We stumbled on this creperie/galleterie as we wandered around the hills and “back” streets in Trouville. Really affordable prices, fantastic menu choices, and very welcoming, friendly staff. Our orders were delicious and we were so pleased that we ordered dessert too even though we meant to only have a quick lunch. Our dessert crepes were delicious.

No photos because we couldn’t wait that long. We ate it all before I even thought of taking pictures! Instead, here’s a pretty view from nearby.

Trouville Deauville beach

La Bolée Normande
1 Rue Durand Couyère
Trouville-sur-Mer

 

Bacco – In my first solo venture out of the apartment, I met someone for lunch just a quick walk around the block. This place is a bit pricey at first glance (28€ for most of their main dishes) but their lunch formule is just 19€ for entree – plat or plat – dessert. My lunch partner got the app, we both had a delicious risotto, and I finished the meal with a tasty dessert. All really nice, except the lunch formule menu isn’t written anywhere inside so you’re left to hope you hear the waiter correctly when he tells you your options in rapid-fire French. I would go back, and hope my ears were tuned in really well, otherwise I’m in for another Mystery Meal.

Bacco
13 Rue Mademoiselle
15ème Paris

 

I am also obligated to mention the “Best Restaurant of All” which is my own apartment where Frenchman “cooks” salad. They are most excellent salads full of lettuce and salady things. Written under duress. 

We’ve done raclette, and I even mostly figured out the strange oven/microwave contraption (thanks to googling the serial numbers for an English-language manual) and managed to make a few real meals. #Proud. We have also gone out for a drink here and there or gotten a quick dessert, but those didn’t make the list since I can’t speak to those places as a whole.

Paris France food

A visit to the Salon du Chocolat

Where do I even begin.

Salon du Chocolat

Well let me begin by explaining that the Salon du Chocolat is not a small, intimate, sexy event like you might believe from the name salon. It’s big. It’s in a freaking expo center. And there are two levels.

Salon du Chocolat bear Salon du Chocolat sculptures

I have never seen so much chocolate in one place in my life. And it wasn’t even all chocolate! Nougat, macarons, honey… sweets galore. Oh, and fashion.

Salon du Chocolat dresses

The Salon du Chocolate is, at its worst, a giant fancy candy store. Not like “Sweets From Heaven” mall sugar but like, that local super expensive store you drool at the windows of. All in a huge convention center.

What I’m trying to say is, it was magnificent.

Frenchman and I tagged along to the Salon with Frenchmom and her friend from work. They proceeded to be very selective with their praise and scoffed at subpar tables and disappointing salespeople. I, on the other hand, was wandering around trying to keep my chin off the floor, astounded at the sheer number of chocolatiers. The variety of offerings was exceptional. (and they all offered samples 🙂)

And Frenchmom is my favorite type of person to go shopping with, because she was in it to win it. She had taken out a pile of cash and was not afraid to use it! A woman on a mission: a mission for chocolate.

Salon du Chocolat Salon du Chocolat nougat

She has her favorites, apparently, so we looked for particular stalls but along the way we stopped at plenty of other vendors selling delicious almondy macarons, infinitely-better-than-nutella chocolate noisette spread, bars and bars of chocolate, massive wedges of marshmallow-textured nougat, orange flavored pain d’épices… and more chocolate.

In the end, we spent a couple of hours exploring chocolate heaven and left when our arms were full and the Salon was starting to get busy. We got in pretty early (Frenchmom and friend were some of the first in line!) so we were able to get our goodies and get out before it became a madhouse.

We didn’t actually buy that much chocolate, interestingly enough. Frenchman and I were being pretty conservative since we’re heading to Bruges next weekend. It seemed silly to load up on chocolate before going to a city that specializes in it!

Not that we left empty handed…

Salon du Chocolat macarons