Monday, January 14, 2008

Christmas in Europe 2007


Frank and I celebrated Christmas 2007 with Lisa, John, JP and Megan in The Netherlands. The grandkids are at a perfect age; every moment we spent with them was magical. Even endless games of UNO and dancing to the Quack Quack song was a delight. There's something about being on vacation that makes all things tolerable and even enjoyable, and it has nothing to do with the amount of alcohol consumed.

This photograph was taken in Amsterdam. I have a Mad Magazine mentality when it comes to photographing people with amusing backdrops. My husband is forever protesting that he isn't a big baby. And yet, here he is, dutifully posing before a shop on the Kalverstraat. Sissy or not, I dare anyone to mess with "The Gunner and his Mate".

Lisa met us in Amsterdam to get her "American Fix": a juicy, bacon cheeseburger at the Hard Rock. We were happy to oblige since that's an indulgence we rarely allow for
ourselves. Greasy goodness!

We traveled by train to Lisa's home (the Weavers live in Schinnen, located in the southeastern part of The Netherlands). We were so excited to see the grandkids! JP is 8 and Megan is 4. They call Frank Gramps, isn't that funny? I get a kick out of it whenever they call his name in a crowded place.

Nevermind what they call me.

After a few days Frank & I took another train to Paris and stayed at an interesting hotel called Latour Maubourg on the Rue De Grenelle in the heart of Paris, between the Eiffel Tower, the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and Saint Germain des Près.

The rooms of Latour Maubourg were individually decorated in a Napoleonic style. They boast having a gym with Turkish baths. The temperature in Paris was in the upper 20s, so we looked forward to the toastiness of a nice, warm Turkish bath. We quickly discovered that Latour Maubourg's idea of a "gym" was 2 pieces of exercise equipment tucked into the corner of their basement, and "Turkish baths" was a tiny closet with steam pumped into it. Not exactly what we had in mind. We gave up after 5 minutes when Frank scalded his calf on the steam pipe just trying to turn around. This is a photo of the way our room was decorated. Don't be taken in by the gold lamé accents... It's just as garish as you're imagining. Even the chandelier was decorated with wispy, grey, boa feathers. The hot pink Christmas tree in the lobby should've been a dead give-away as to what was in store. Somehow we managed to sleep here.

I'm really not complaining. I'd stay in a cardboard box under a bridge if it meant vacationing in Paris. Besides, the hotel staff couldn't have been friendlier or more accomodating.

Let's face it... With enough wine I can sleep anywhere.

Possibly the best thing about the Hotel de Latour Maubourg was its proximity to a metro station. That was our only form of transportation while in Paris, and it was fantastic. We made good use of our multi-day passes and went everywhere. Sometimes the turnstile was broken at the Métro Line 8 (Latour Maubourg station), and we rode for free. You can't beat that.

Cobblestone streets wound past shops burgeoning with luscious cheeses, freshly baked breads and wine -- three things I love! We enjoyed afternoon picnics in our room. For me, this is the main reason for visiting the City of Lights.

And here is the other reason, of course. J'adore Paris!

Now let's talk seriously about yet another fine reason for visiting Paris: the food. Can those Frenchies cook or what?! We made a point in revisiting Guy Savoy's trendy bistro La Butte Chaillot on the Avenue Kléber in the 16th Arrondissement. Guy Savoy is one of France’s most celebrated chefs, and while this particular restaurant hasn't earned the Michelin star garnered by his other establishments the food is still pretty darn tasty. Guy's privately labeled Bordeaux was affordable (€25) and delicious with our steaks.

We made a new culinary discovery on this trip, the Restaurant Le Bosquet, a traditional brasserie located in the 7th Arrondisement on the corner of Avenue Bosquet and rue du Champ de Mars. It has been around since 1932. The prices were extremely reasonable, even considering the strength of the euro, and the food... It was so good that we dined there 3 times. I ordered the perfectly cooked filet des saumon sauce béarnaise that was served with a gigantic mound of steamed, garlicy spinach. The wine I selected was a Sancerre, which was a superb accompagnement.

Those who know my love of vin rouge will be scratching their heads when they learn that I ordered that same entrée and wine combination all three times. Ahh, but those who try it will understand completely. Très bon!

Lisa & her family joined us after a few days and we moved to the Cercle National Des Armees, (National Officers' Club of the Armies) located across the street from the Church of Saint Augustine. It's a hotel for military officers and their guests and was surprisingly grand. Not an army cot in sight.

We did the things we missed on the last trip to France, such as visiting Versailles, the Sacre Coeur church in the artistic community of Montmare, viewing all of Paris from atop the Arc de Triomphe, and lingering in the Louvre (instead of dashing frantically from wing to wing in order to see it all -- a futile exercise, I might add!) Did you know that there's a Starbucks in the Louvre? I imagine there's even one in Hell.

A view of the iconic symbol from the Place du Trocadéro, located in the 16th arrondissement.

The gardens of Versaille, still beautiful in Winter.

Film clip of Megan outside of the Chateau:

Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmare is one of the highest points in Paris. The view is not to be missed.

A mere stone's throw from our hotel was the Hôtel National des Invalides. The golden dome in the background is known simply as "The Dome Church", which is where Napoleon's tomb is located. Another interesting tidbit: Many of the arms used by the mob when it attacked the Bastille on 14 July 1789 were taken from Les Invalide on the morning of that day. Roughly 28,000 arms were taken.

This complex includes the Musée de l'Armée, where Vizir, one of the Emperor's favorite horses still resides, albeit stuffed. Hmmm... I wonder where Josephine wound up.

The impressive Arc de Triomphe - top & bottom.

While similar in design to the Arc de Triomphe, this is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, modeled on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. It is located outside of the Louvre.

Back in The Netherlands... Frank and Lisa demonstrate how to be in three places at once. This marks the 3-country point, "Dreiländerpunkt" in Dutch, where Belgium, Germany & The Netherlands touch.

Other highlights included the Thermae Spa located in the medieval town of Valkenburg (natural thermal springs, whirlpools & saunas). We became as buoyant as a leaf on a stream, floating around and around in the warm and soothing water: the epitome of total relaxation. We went to Cologne, (Köln) located on the Rhine, and peeked inside the city's famous cathedral, (Kölner Dom), as well as getting squashed by the masses at the Christmas market. I can honestly say I know how a canned sardine must feel after that experience. Thank goodness my senses were dulled by the spicy glühwein. A rainy afternoon was spent in Aachen (in western Germany) to tour the Imperial Cathedral, which is the final resting place of Charlemagne. The ceiling of the cathedral is embellished with many tiny tiles, beautifully arranged and glistening in the flickering candlelight. It was unforgettable.

A specialty of Aachen is the gingerbread (Aachener Printe). The chocolate-covered variety was particularly delicious.

Christmas in Schinnen was the very best part of our trip.

1 comment:

Just Mary said...

What could be more precious and more delicious; the perfect holiday, fabulous wine, gourmet foods, and happy times with loved ones? Well, to have all that and Paris too! Thank you for sharing the descriptions and the photos.