Friday, October 24, 2014

Our Honeymoon, Day 12: Paris, by Mouth

Ahh, I've been so excited to write this post! Our honeymoon was incredible, but we definitely saved the best for last, and I'm so excited to wrap up these posts with my favorite thing that we did on our honeymoon - a food tour of Paris.

Doesn't that sound divine?

One of my co-workers went to Paris in the spring and came back raving about this tour. I knew we had to do it! We were so tremendously lucky to have it gifted to us by my big sister Zuzy as a wedding present.

Paris by Mouth is a website about food and wine in Paris. They also run food tours conducted by food and wine professionals who have a passion for eating in Paris. They run a few different tours exploring different neighborhoods of Paris, and even host wine and cheese workshops!

In this post, I'm going to walk you through our tour. It'll be picture heavy, and it will make you hungry. So sit back, grab a glass of wine (or a cafe au lait, depending on what time it is) and enjoy!

The Pilot and I woke up eager to start our morning eating our way through Paris. We made our way to the St. Germain des Pres, our favorite neighborhood in Paris, to start our Tour.

We were instructed to meet at The Polaine Bakery. Our tour guide was an American chef and restaurateur named Sarah, who has been living in Paris for 4 years.

1) The Poilane storefront, 2) A chandelier made out of bread, made for Salvador Dali,
3) Poilane's famous sourdough loaves, 4) Apple tarts...made with croissant dough
The Polaine Bakery was founded in 1932 by Pierre Polaine, who shocked the French when he built a bakery that, to this day, does not sell baguettes. Poilane is famous for those gorgeous sour dough loaves you see in the bottom left picture above. The loaves are handmade daily with four ingredients: stone-ground flour, sea salt, water and a sour dough starter that has been used since the bakery opened. The loaves are than carved with that beautiful 'P' and sent into a wood-fire oven.

The whole history of the bakery can be found on their website. (You can even order a loaf and have it shipped to you the same day!) But to summarize briefly, Pierre Poilane passed the bakery down to his son Lionel in 1970. Lionel Poilane and his wife kept the bakery running until 2001, when they were both tragically killed. At the time, their oldest daughter, Abigail, was an 18-year-old studying at Harvard. She took over the family business and continues to run it, true to her grandfather's tradition, today.

We sampled some of Poilane's bread, along with some punitions (small butter cookies) and the apple tarts you see above...which were baked with croissant dough and were absolutely amazing.

That was just the first stop on our tour. Our next stop: Pierre Herme, a pastry shop with to-die for macarons in exotic flavor combinations like pumpkin and corn, chocolate and passion fruit, and chocolate and foie gras.

Are you hungry yet?
We tried two of his specialties: coffee-orange and lychee-rose. They were heavenly. Macarons are quite possibly my favorite treats in the world. We even served them at our wedding!

Our next stop continued down the sweet, rather than savory, path and brought us to the chocolate shop of Patrick Roger (Ro-jay), a bronze sculptor turned chocolatier, awarded the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), the most prestigious award for craftsmen in France.

That is a lion...made entirely of chocolate. 
Patrick Roger makes delicious flavor combinations of basil-lemon (to die for), pistachio-marzipan, and almond-orange-grape.

Our next stop was the Marches Couvert. The Pilot and I stayed in the St. Germain the last time we were in Paris and must have walked past this Market every day without ever going in. It really didn't seem like anything special at all. What we didn't know was that it houses one of the best butchers, and one of the best fromageries (cheese shops) in all of Paris.

Clockwise from Left: 1) Serge Caillaud with one of his famous black footed chickens, 2) The Marches Couverts, 3) The Sanders, a husband and wife team that runs one of the best cheese shops in Paris, 4) Serge Caillaud hard at work, 5) Sea urchins! 6) CHEESE!
Our first stop was the Boucherie Au Belle Viander, the butcher shop (boucherie sounds so much better) of Serge Caillaud, a famous butcher who appears on French cooking shows all the time. We spent some time talking to Monsieur Caillaud. I love that people buy whole chickens in France...the food there is just so fresh. That chicken he's holding? Sells for some 25 euros A POUND.

Next up, we made our way over to see the Sanders, a husband-wife team that sell a delightful assortment of cheeses.

We picked some charcuterie from Monsier Caillaud and some cheeses from the Sanders before making our way to Le Dernier Goutte, a wine shop that exclusively sells bio-dynamic wines. Sarah, our tour guide, knows the owner of Le Dernier Goutte and he lets her use the little room in the back of his shop for tours. 

So, that's where we went and laid out our spread of cheese, charcuterie, chocolate, and some wine we picked up on entering the shop.

From there, the tasting began. We sampled both a red and white wine along with our assortment of cheeses which included: a Fermier goat cheese, an ashed Fermier goat cheese (I love ashed cheeses), a Livarot (cow, and the smelliest, most terrible cheese I've ever had), a Comte (also cow, and my favorite), a Brie de Melun (a savory version of the Bries we're used to here in the US), and a Roquefort (sheep).

We sampled the cheese with the wine and the chocolates and talked about all things food, wine and cheese in Paris. I even tasted duck confit. I hated it.  But the afternoon was absolute perfection.

Our last stop of the day was La Maison du Chou. Another MOF owned shop, this one specializes in cream puffs that are filled to order so that they never get too soffy. The filling is fromage blanc and it is flavored with either vanilla, chocolate, coffee, or a filling du jour. I had butter salted caramel. It was divine.

The tour was by far the best part of our honeymoon. We enjoyed an amazing three hours sampling all of the best breads, cheeses, pastries, sweets and wine that Paris has to offer. I would go back and do this tour again and again and again, exploring every other neighborhood where they're offered!

So, there you have it, our last day in Paris, the last day of our honeymoon. It was tough to come home, but we were ready to face reality. The Pilot had to go to fly the next day and I was starting a new job on Monday. Our honeymoon was absolutely perfect and we had an amazing time. I know we'll be back to Paris, and I really hope we make it back to Crete some time. Even if we don't, I know we've got thousands of other adventures ahead of us as we start our married lives together!

The Details: 
The tours cost 95 euros per person.
They're offered every day. Some days, there are as many as three tours offered. 
All of the tours are conducted in English. 
Once on the tour, everything is included (aside from any extras you want for yourself or as gifts).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Our Honeymoon: Day 11, Disneyland Paris

Our flight from Crete landed in Paris on a cold, rainy Wednesday. We were both tired and hungry and went out in search of food. It was Fashion Week and we paid a fortune for a hotel that we already knew we hated, and it was in an area that was a food dead zone. There was nothing around. After an hour of searching, and both of us getting hangry, we opted for sushi.

I don't remember when we realized we were going to have an extra day in Paris, but when we did, I proposed the idea of going to Disneyland. Neither of us had every had much of an interest in Disneyland Paris (formerly EuroDisney) but it seemed like a fun thing to do and a change of pace from everything else we had done, so we went with it!

The train from Paris takes about 45 minutes. Once we got there, we had the option of going to either Disneyland Park or Walt Disney Studios Park. We decided to go to Disneyland Park.

First up, Aurora's Castle. I was super bummed when I realized that it is Aurora's Castle. Belle was from France, shouldn't it have been Belle's castle? Plus, Sleeping Beauty already has a castle California, she doesn't need one in France too. (I'm not a big Sleeping Beauty fan, can you tell?)

Cinderella's Belle's Aurora's Castle...with the wrong evil villain inside.
The whole place was decorated for Halloween and it was awesome. I've never been to any of the Disney parks during a holiday and it was really cool to see. The decorations looked like they've been there year round!

Next up, rides! We started at It's a Small World, then went to the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast (my husband still loves Toy Story just as much as he did when he was a kid). There weren't a lot of people in the park so the lines were minimal, which was awesome. I attribute that to it being a cold Thursday in the fall!

1) A replica castle in one of the rides, 2) Small World, 3) The Pilot and his ultimate super hero, Buzz.
For lunch, we headed back to Main Street (which was still Main Street USA, but would've been better as the main street in Belle's provincial little town). I was really surprised to see that the food in Disneyland was so much cheaper than the food at any of the other Disney parks. It was actually priced similarly to the rest of the food in Paris.

After lunch, we made our way to Adventure Land and went on the Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean rides. We made our way through Peter Pan's Adventure Isle, and then went on the Peter Pan ride. (Peter Pan is a close second to being my favorite Disney movie.)

1) The Jolly Roger, 2) The saddest Disney movie of all time, 3) AGRABAH!
We made our way around to Frontier Land for a ride on Thunder Mountain before lining up for the parade. I felt like I could take or leave the parade, but it seemed like the whole park shuts down for it, so we went and I'm so glad we did. It was awesome and definitely made me feel like a kid again.

L>R 1) Elsa, 2) Peter Pan!, 3) Minnie Mouse!
4) M-I-C-K-E-Y
Having worked for Disney for years, I really appreciated how well done the parade was. After the parade, we went on another one or two rides, took a stroll through downtown Disney, and then made our way back to Paris.

Evening shots of Disney
When we got back to Paris, we decided to take a trip to the Eiffel Tower. We hadn't been there when we were at the start of our honeymoon, so we really wanted to go back. I just love seeing it at night, and one of my favorite things to do in Paris (as cliche as it sounds), is to eat crepes under the Eiffel Tower. We were both hungry (and low on cash), so we each ordered a crepe - 1 savory and 1 sweet (nutella, of course) and shared and looked up and marveled at just how gorgeous that tower is.

We were pretty worn out from the walking around and riding all the rides that day, and we caught the Metro shortly before it closed. The next day was our last day in Paris...and of our honeymoon, and we definitely saved the best for last!

The Details
We got a discount on tickets to Disney which ran us around $75 USD each.
In hindsight, I wish we had gone to Walt Disney Studios Park instead Disneyland Park. The Park we went to wasn't much different from the Magic Kingdom in Disney World (Orlando), whereas Walt Disney Studios Park (we later learned) had a bunch of different, and exclusive to Paris, rides like a Ratatouille ride, and a Cars ride.
I had heard some bad things about Disneyland Paris. The one thing I will say, it is definitely not as impeccable as Disney World, but it was still a lot of fun and I would recommend it. I might even go back to the other park, if we ever find ourselves with an extra day in Paris. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blog Update

Hi everyone,

I've been sick with a fever for the last two days. I'll be back as soon as I'm feeling up to sitting behind a computer for more than 5 minutes!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Our Honeymoon: Days 8-10, Crete

We left Santorini at about 5pm on a ferry to Crete. The ferry took about 3 hours and put us into Heraklion around 8:30pm.

We had heard that there wasn't much to do in Heraklion and that it was 'just a city' so we only booked one night there.

As soon as we got off the ferry, I knew that Heraklion was wildly different from both Athens and Santorini. We were staying about a 20 minute walk from the port and the walk was just so refreshing. Despite it being mostly up hill and us lugging our suit cases up those hills, I instantly knew I loved Crete. The streets were quiet and peaceful, there were tons of families out and about, and it just felt so much more relaxed than either Athens or Santorini did.

Our hotel was gorgeous, and immediately upon checking in, we regretted the fact that we only had two nights in Crete.

(We actually thought we had three nights and realized in Santorini that we miscalculated everything by a day. Oops!)

We were starving when we got in so we went to an adorable little pizza place across the street from the hotel and ordered a bottle of wine and a pizza complete with yummy Greek toppings. As sad as it is to say, it was the best meal I'd had in Greece. Post-pizza, we took a walk and stumbled on Georgiadis Park, which, despite being really late at night, was very well-lit and packed with young couples and students walking around, reading books, and just hanging out. I loved it!

The next morning, we got up and started our day with the most unbelievable breakfast spread I have ever seen in a hotel. Greek yogurt, fresh fruits, cheese, freshly-baked bread, and delicious desserts like halva and baklava.

After breakfast, we made our way out and about to explore the city.

The harbor
The Pilot and I immediately fell in love with Heraklion. As compared with Santorini, this was much more our speed. It was very cultural, and we absolutely loved walking around the city. The harbor area was a little bit touristy, which is to be expected, but other than that, it was a city where everyone was just going about their days.

More shots on the harbor
Once we left the harbor, we made our way back through the market, which was starting to wake up and become a lot more active.

TL: The bust of Nikos Kazantzakis, BL: The Morosini Fountaion, whose center statue of Poseidon was destroyed during the Turkish occupation
I took that picture of Nikos Kazantzakis because, not only is there a bust of him in the center of the city, but the airport is also named after him. He was a writer (famous for Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ). I just love that a city honors their authors in this way. It's such a testament to what they value as a culture.

After exploring Heraklion, it was time to head back to our hotel and grab our bags to catch the bus to Rethymno,  the next stop on our trip. The bus ride was beautiful and took about 90 minutes.

Once we got to Rethymno, we walked took an exceptionally long roundabout way to get to our hotel, which we were so excited about. It was a mansion built in the 15th century!

Our hotel.
We checked into our hotel and the woman at the front desk greeted us in the most traditional way possible...with shots of raki! Raki is what's left over from the grape during the wine-making process...and is basically pure alcohol. The shots definitely had a bite to them but we enjoyed them nonetheless. 

Once we checked into our room, we headed out to go explore the Old Town.

Exploring the Old Town. The fountain (BL) still functions and was built in the 15th century.
Rethymno was gorgeous and so full of history. We LOVED it. Aside from a handful of German tourists,  it was definitely not a tourist destination! We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then just walked through the town. The streets were so quaint and filled with historic Venetian history that it almost felt like we were back in time.

As we were walking through the Old Town, we passed a fish spa. We had seen tons of these in Santorini and we're intrigued by then but never took the plunge (no pun intended). When we saw that the prices were better in Rethymno, we made our way in. 

It was so weird! You dive your feet into a bucket of (toothless) fish and let them go to town on your feet, eating away at the dead skin.  I was giggling uncontrollably the entire time, but you know what? It actually felt good! I had some blisters on my feet from running and dancing at the wedding and after my 10 minutes was up, they were mostly gone. It was amazing, but also super weird.

Guys, I think I found the cure for runners' feet!

Post-fish spa, we made our way to the fortress, which overlooks the entire city.

It was insanely hot that day so by the time we were done at the fortress,  we decided to make our way back to the hotel to cool off by the pool.

That night, at the recommendation of the hotel, we went to dinner at a place called Pigadi, which was built into the yard of a 16th century stable. (Are you noticing a pattern here?)

Here, finally, was the unbelievable Greek food I had been waiting for. The food was incredible...and the wine, even better.

We spent a few hours at that restaurant...and were served shots of raki with our bill. Then, we decided to have a night out on the town. We went to a bar for some more wine...and were again, served shots of raki with our bill...and that's how the night went. We had so much fun.

<3 Honeymooners
The next morning, slightly worse for the wear, we decided to head to the beach. It was almost 100 degrees but the water was gorgeous. We spent a few hours in the water before heading off for lunch and a day spent walking around the Old Town. 

That night, we again, went to another phenomenal restaurant, where The Pilot ordered some kind of phyllo dough stuffed with chicken and spinach that looked so good, this vegetarian had to try it...and would probably revert to eating meat if I could eat that every day for the rest of my life. I had a truffle oil risotto which was equally as good.

We were really sad that it was our last day in Greece, especially since we loved Crete so much. One of the things we desperately wanted to do was hike the Samaria Gorge, but it would've taken us close to three hours just to get there. We went to bed that night with solemn swears to return to Crete, and spend much more time there.

The next morning, we left Rethymno around 9 to make our way back to Heraklion for our flight back to Paris.

When we told people we were going to Crete, we were met mostly with surprise. It's definitely more of an off-the-beaten-path destination and I have no idea why. We fell in love with the island, the people, the history, the food...everything.  Rethymno is so well preserved, and really pays homage to its Ventian roots, which I loved. It was such a refreshing change of pace from Santorini...and much easier to get to from mainland Europe, so we will definitely be back. I'd love to explore Western Crete, and just more of the island in general!

The Details
In Heraklion, we stayed at the Galaxy Heraklion Hotel for $123 USD per night (amazing breakfast included). I couldn't recommend this place enough.
The bus from Heraklion to Rethymno cost about 8 euros each.
In Rethymno we stayed at the Palazzo Vecchio for 120 euros per night, which I would also recommend.
The fish spa in Rethymno cost 8 euros per person.
Crete was much cheaper than both Athens and Santorini, which was awesome!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our Honeymoon: Days 4-7, Santorini (Part 2)

So, where did we leave off? Ahh yes, watching the sunset in Oia!

We spent about an hour waiting for the sun to set and then just sat back, relaxed and watched. The sunset really was absolutely gorgeous.

Once the sun set, we tried to make our way back into town to find a place to eat. The streets were insanely packed though and it took us a really long time to get back to the center of town.

The crowds just to get up the street after the sunset.
The streets were so crowded that we snuck into a bakery for some baklava to bring back to our hotel. 3 days in Greece and this was the first place I found baklava!

Since everything was so crowded, we decided to make our way back to Fira for dinner. We had an ok meal and sampled some of the locally brewed Santorini beer before calling it a night.

The next day, we slept in and took an afternoon bus to Akrotiri to see the ruins. Akrotiri is a Minoan settlement which was discovered in 1967 after being buried in volcanic ash since about 1600 BC. It's often thought to be the lost city of Atlantis.

It was incredible. The site is a living laboratory where archaeologists continue to work to this day. It is enormous, and impeccably preserved and pictures do not do it justice.

The Akrotiri ruins of Santorini
We spent well over an hour perusing through the city. It was awesome. I wish we could have done a guided tour, but we weren't willing to cough up the 60 euros to do it!

When we left the ruins, we were pretty tired. We didn't get to Akrotiri until two hours after we had wanted to because of some issues with the buses, so we made our way back to Fira to get in some pool time before doing a little shopping, since it was our last day in Santorini.

L>R: The Pilot in front of the volcano, Us at Akrotiri Beach, Me in front of the caldera
The Bold Honest Truth

Sunday was our last day in Santorini. We were taking a 5pm ferry to Crete, so we woke up, had breakfast and spent the day by the pool, reading, sun bathing, and just relaxing. We really didn't have much of a desire to do anything else. To be honest, I really didn't like Santorini.

When cruise shops dock and unload anywhere from 800-1,000 tourists on the island each day, it's really hard to feel like you're anywhere but a cruise ship. The fact that the entire island seems to be comprised solely of tourists left me really missing the culture that I expected to find in Greece, and we were there during what is considered the off season!

I was also tremendously disappointed to find that the food was not very good. Rather than serving traditional mezzes (small plates), the whole island caters to Western style portions of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, which left a lot to be desired.  I was also really disappointed to find that all of the seafood is frozen! I was happy that the menus stated this, but I expected to have fresh-out-of-the-water seafood for almost every meal of the day. I also hated the bus system. It was chaotic, the drivers were rude, and it was not at all uncommon to be on a standing-room-only bus, weaving through the cliffs of Santorini.

The island was beautiful, there's no denying that, but it wasn't at all what I expected and we were both disappointed. We still had an amazing time, how could we not? We were on our honeymoon after all, and weren't going to let anything bring us down, but the is land was definitely more chaotic than relaxing.

Now, I can definitely say that Crete was completely different; but that's a post for another day!

The Details
We stayed at Anamnesis City Spa Hotel for 78 euros per night. It was a perfect little oasis that we adored coming back to every night.
Buses around Santorini cost anywhere from 1.40 to 2.50 euros. 
Our highlight was the Akrotiri ruins.