Au Revior Paris, Thalys Train, Hello Amsterdam

Au Revior Paris, Thalys Train, Hello Amsterdam

We had a great day today despite both fighting colds. We woke up in the morning leisurely packed our things, got breakfast, and headed out. We caught a taxi to the train station and watched people for about 30 minutes until our Thalys train was ready to board. This is the only train ride that I booked first class. For one, it was our longest train ride. And two, they had a deal and it didn’t cost that much extra. Wow, just like flying first class. Meal and drink service was included which we didn’t know so we bought sandwiches ahead of time and never ate them. Oh well. It was a smooth 4-hour ride into Amsterdam with a few stops along the way. When we arrived at Amsterdam Centraal Station, we made sure we had nothing in our pockets (apparently, the station is frequently overrun by pickpocketers). We never saw any though as we headed straight to the taxi line. When we stepped out on the street we saw the most amount of bikes we have ever seen in one place at one time ever. They are everywhere…more on that later. Our taxi driver spoke great English and was very nice to us. He even pointed landmarks out along the way including Anne Frank House and the Red Light District. By the way, the Red Light District is very unimpressive. We saw all of three ladies in windows and in general the street looked seedy and run down. We are pretty much done with that area. As soon as we got out of the taxi we knew we would love it here. It is so beautiful. The canals are amazing. It is definitely a highlight of our trip so far. Just like in Paris, the service at our hotel is just excellent. Everyone here speaks perfect English and the concierge is wonderful. As soon as we arrived, he helped us book dinner reservations for all three nights.

Andrew is really excited because Amsterdam is known for their Indonesian food due to the fact that the Dutch occupied Indonesia for a long time. In fact, the concierge recommended a great Indonesian place within walking distance for tonight’s dinner called Tempo Doeloe. We LOVED it. The restaurant staff was incredibly friendly and the food was delicious. For appetizers we had chicken satay and lemper, which you tried if you attended our bridal shower. It’s minced sweet chicken wrapped in sticky rice. For our main courses we had rendang and prawns with macadamia nut sauce. When Andrew ordered the rendang, the waitress warned him that is was really spicy and that they could make it a little milder if he wanted. He, of course, said no. He insisted on having it the way the chef normally prepares it. Later on we looked at the menu and it was basically the hottest thing you could order. “Hot+++” Yikes! I was confident he could handle it though. The waitstaff wasn’t as confident. As soon as Andrew took the first bite, he said it was really spicy. He kept eating and soon I started to see the sweat start pooling on his neck and cheeks. (Andrew sweats with really spicy food as most of you know) Before long it looked like he had run a marathon and the waitstaff kept coming around asking him if he was okay. They even came by and dropped off some coconut shavings to cut the heat. Andrew stuck it out though and ate the whole plate. I think they were pretty surprised. In the end, he said it was the spiciest dish he ever ate which is saying a lot, but that didn’t stop him from loving every second of it. Andrew kept laughing and saying that his dad would be cracking up if he were here. Next time I guess he will know better than to ignore the recommendation of the waitress at an authentic restaurant. Hee hee! We finished everything off with a cooling pineapple crushed ice dessert and walked back to our hotel.

Now is probably a good time to mention the bikes here. Everyone…and I mean everyone rides bikes. There are hardly any cars. It’s a little weird to cross the street and watch for bikes instead of cars everywhere you go. You also have to watch for the trams which are Amsterdam’s version of public transportation as they will run you over as well. Besides that it is really one of the most beautiful places we have ever been. Everyone is friendly and the canals are just the most beautiful and romantic thing we have seen so far on our trip. My descriptions hardly do them justice so hopefully you can look at the pictures and see how beautiful it is here. Unfortunately tomorrow we have to move hotels as we had trouble finding open rooms here. I hope the next one is as good as this one. Au revior, Chelsie and Andrew

Our first class Thalys train to Amsterdam

The Dutch countryside

Holding hands on the train...aww

Our hotel room

Even better, our amazing hotel bathroom (That tub is calling my name)

The beautiful canals outside our hotel

The hottest dish ever...rendang

Andrew after running a half I mean after eating rendang (he pretty much looks the same in either activity)

Check out all those bikes (this is a very small batch compared to what we have seen)

The canals at night

Read More

The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Night Shots, Paris in the Rain

The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Night Shots, Paris in the Rain

So yesterday I mentioned that the Louvre’s availability might be disrupted today because of a strike going on here. We headed out this morning hoping for the best and when we arrived at the Louvre, we were happy to see that they were letting people in. We got in line and made our way down into the pyramid via escalator. We purchased our tickets and audio guides in English since everything is written in French. We immediately headed over to see the Mona Lisa since that is the big attraction and we were very excited. She is enigmatic although the painting is actually smaller than I had imagined. There were so many people crowding around to look that it was a little hard to get a look, but we finally made our way to the front and enjoyed the unobstructed view. She was worth the wait. In general there are a few things that are very different about this museum from museums at home. For one, there is rarely glass or dividers separating visitors from the art work. This means that some people even though it clearly says not to, feel the need to touch the artwork and sculptures. The other thing that is different is that they don’t enforce the rule about no flash photography. Apparently, it can damage the works of art, but no one seems to care. I say if you want to see some of this great art, do it soon before the flashes of a million tourists ruin it for all.  The other thing we really wanted to see was the area on Egyptian art and artifacts. It is the largest collection outside of Egypt. Unfortunately, we didn’t look too closely at the signs for closures so we wandered around for about an hour trying every entrance possible with no avail until one of the workers said “ferme” (closed). Oops, I guess we should have read the sign. The good thing about it was that we saw lots of art that we normally wouldn’t have visited. Our favorites were the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, both pictured below. They were just breathtaking. After we finished at the Louvre, we took the Batobus down to the Eiffel Tower to get some closer shots. People warned us about the beggars and people selling cheap imitation souvenirs, but they were everywhere. Usually if you say no they leave you alone, but there are just so many that you seem like you are constantly saying no. Plus there are some other generally shady characters down there as well. Nonetheless, we got some great photos of us in front of the Eiffel Tower.

After that we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We asked the concierge for his recommendation and he made reservations for us at Jamin, a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Jamin turned out to be Modern-French Asian fusion cuisine, and offered a great selection of comfort foods with the delicacy of french dining. We both ordered from the tasting menu, I ordered the goat cheese starter and Sea Bream and Andrew chose the salmon starter and duck skewers. For dessert, we had pear tiramisu and chocolate ganache with pralines. Everything was delicious and the restaurant staff was  friendly. We had heard that some restaurants allow dogs inside, but this is the first time we saw it. A French woman came in with her small pooch and he sat under the table with her while she ate…inside. We were a little surprised by it even though we knew it was possible. He even barked a few times during the meal. Dog or no dog, Jamin was the perfect way to end our last dinner in Paris.

After dinner we realized it was raining but that didn’t stop us from heading over to the Arc de Triomphe. On our way, which we thought was the right way, we ended up at Musée national de la Marine which is directly across the river from the Eiffel Tower up on a hill. The area was a huge courtyard area with buildings on both sides, and down below was another courtyard area that is overrun by skateboarders during the day. It was perfect location to stop and enjoy the tower without any obstructions. We stayed there for 20 minutes admiring the view along with all the other tourists that found this great lookout.  Again the peddlers were present but they’ve upped their game with LEDs and light-up tchotchkes . From there we headed the right direction to the Arc de Triomphe about a mile or so walk. No trip is complete without a hooker sighting and lucky for us, two were fighting, yelling, and making quite a scene.  An entertaining change from dodging motorcycles, crazy taxi drivers, and winding roads. We knew the Arc is spectacularly lit at night and can be seen from afar, but nothing can prepare you when you walk out and see it in its entirety. The building is so amazing large and beautify lit. The traffic is continuously circling creating such a focal point of the Champs-Élysées. Andrew stopped to take many photos of it before the rain kicked into high gear. It was an fabulous way to end our evening. Au revior, Chelsie and Andrew

Andrew inside the Pyramid of glass at the Louvre

Nike... Just doing it (Winged Victory of Samothrace)

The Mona Lisa

The Louvre

Venus de Milo. Pretty hot stuff for not having arms.

Creepy Greek Statue

Us in front of the Tower

Eiffel Tower Upskirt Shot

Restaurant Jamin

Eiffel Tower at night

Arc de Triomphe in the rain

Read More

Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries, Louvre, Notre Dame, Seine Boat Ride

Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries, Louvre, Notre Dame, Seine Boat Ride

UPDATE:Sorry for the lack of pictures yesterday. Our internet connection was spotty and I was only able to post one. Now there are more. Enjoy!

Hello again! Today we had a much better day than yesterday, although Andrew still isn’t feeling better. We woke up and got out of the hotel around 9:00 a.m. I asked the concierge on the way out where we could find a bakery for breakfast and he recommended this great place only two blocks from our hotel. It is called Josephine and if you look into the windows on the side of the building you can see them making the fresh bread and pastries. I knew from the start I would like this place. They also have amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice which Andrew really needed. After eating quickly on the patio we moved on toward the Seine stopping briefly to buy Andrew some meds for his sore throat. It was interesting to say the least to try to buy OTC drugs in a foreign country where you can’t read the boxes and the workers speaks English “un peu” (a little). Haha, after a bunch of funny gestures and yes and no statements we were off with something for Andrew’s sore throat.

We continued walking down the main road until we reached the Seine and saw the Eiffel Tower unobstructed for the first time. It took my breath away. It is so stunning. Then we headed East along the river until we reached the Place de la Concorde with it’s beautiful fountains and Egyptian Obelisk. Along the way we passed lots of people walking their dogs and some pretty amazing park areas along the river. It’s amazing the difference between London and Paris. In London, if you walked too slow, people would run you over. In Paris, everyone seems content to walk at a leisurely pace. I can now see why it is considered such a romantic place. Everyone seems to be taking their time and enjoying life. And one thing we noticed right away is that people have dogs everywhere here. In the first hour of walking, we saw more dogs than we did the whole time we were in London. We even saw a pug from the taxi on the way to the hotel. Next we headed into Jardin des Tuileries, a beautiful formal French garden that leads into the Louvre. Again, people were just strolling around although we did notice some panderers and people selling cheap imitations of the Eiffel Tower here. Once we had enough of the park we crossed the street into the area where the pyramid that forms the entrance of the Louvre is. We spend lots of time watching people and just enjoying the plaza before venturing back into the gardens to grab a quick sandwich to eat while enjoying the view. Andrew had salami with pickles on a fresh baguette and I had ham and butter which is apparently very popular with the Parisiens. Since we knew we would have to save our trip to the Louvre for another day since the lines were getting long, we headed East again to Notre Dame. On the way we noticed some very loud music playing across the river so we crossed the bridge to check it out. It was a free benefit for heart disease where they had all kinds of fun Cirque du Soleil-like performances. There were amazing pole and trampoline acrobats as well as a group of men playing music on oil drums. It was really moving and all free. We couldn’t believe our luck to stumble across something this awesome. After the act was over we continued on to Notre Dame. Wow, all I can say is “spectacular!” It’s the most incredible church we have been to so far. And it was the first church to allow us to take photographs inside. I included a few below, but you really can’t tell the scale of it’s beauty unless you are there. We even ended up just sitting in the seats for about a half hour enjoying how amazing it all was.

By this time we were getting tired and Andrew was a little worn out because he was feeling sick. We walked about halfway back and then decided it might be a good idea to try a water taxi or “Batobus.” It’s basically a hop-on hop-off boat service on the Seine. We got to see Paris from another angle and it was wonderful, although it was a little warm. Did I mention that it’s about 80 degrees here? Nice, but we didn’t know this when we left the house and we had our jackets with us. The Batobus dropped us at the Eiffel Tower which is close to our hotel and we headed back. On the way we noticed that none of the restaurants were open yet (it was about 5:00 p.m. at the time). When we got back in the room Andrew took a little nap while I asked the concierge to help us make reservations at a nice Michelin Guide-rated restaurant two blocks away from our hotel. We were in luck, they had some seats open. Our concierge is the best, I just have to say again. They will help you with ANYTHING and do it with a smile. We couldn’t ask for more. The restaurant is called “ETC…” and is a modern and seasonal take on classic French bistro food. Turns out it was a good choice because the food was out of this world! Just what I was hoping for in a French dining experience. We started out with the mushroom ravioli in a mushroom foam with a cheese crisp on top. Wow, so earthy and delicious. Then I had the cod with spicy sausage, spinach-stuffed squid, and white beans. Another home run. But I have to say that the best item all night was Andrew’s quail stuffed with fois gras and served alongside the best pureed sweet potatoes you could ever imagine. They were so fluffy and smooth. I have no idea how they got them that way but we were definitely impressed. And the perfectly-cooked (medium) quail literally melted in our mouths. We finished the whole meal off with a poached pear with homemade caramel, and sesame brittle. It was an amazing meal we’re not soon to forget. We are finishing the night off with a few episodes of Modern Family on the laptop so we can fall asleep and hopefully do some more sightseeing tomorrow. We are going to try to see the inside of the Louvre, but I’ve just found out that they may be closed tomorrow due to some labor strike. We will see and keep you posted. Au revior, Chelsie and Andrew

Our little bakery

Our first unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower

La Place de le Concorde with the Eiffel Tower in the background

Beautiful fountain in the Place de la Concorde

Enjoying the Tuileries Garden

A monument at the edge of the Tuileries Garden before you get to the Louvre

In front of the pyramid at the Louvre

An arobat from the heart disease benefit

Inside Notre Dame

All we could think of was that this is a fire blanket for those who spontaneously combust (we were laughing...quietly)

The outside of Notre Dame from the front

View of the Seine from the Batobus

Read More

The Chunnel, Taxi Driver, Hotel Keppler

The Chunnel, Taxi Driver, Hotel Keppler

So I apologize for not posting yesterday. To make up for it, I will post two tonight. We had a sort of exciting travel day yesterday. As you have probably read in most of my posts, we have been taking the Tube or underground subway everywhere. We have never had an issue with it being delayed or broken down or anything. That is until we were trying to get to the train station yesterday on time. We woke up at around 5:00 a.m. so we could be out the door no later than 6:00 a.m. to catch a 7:30 train. As soon as we got on the Tube, they started making announcements about delays, but assured us that we were okay where we were getting off. Every train station, there were more and more delays until we had just one more stop to go and they made us get off and figure out another train to take. After walking a bunch, going up and down about 20 flights of stairs, and changing lines twice we barely made it to the train station on time to go through the security check (just like the airport). I of course made the metal detector go off so I got a very thorough pat down by a very friendly (haha, imagine the sarcasm here in your head) French woman/official. That was fun…but hey, at least we made our train in the end. Another not-so-great thing that happened as soon as we got on the train was that I got a bloody nose. It must have been all the running up and down stairs in the Tube stations. It was a little embarrassing, but I tipped my head back so it would go away ASAP. The train itself was amazingly fast and quiet and I’m sure that most of you know how excited we both were to go through The Chunnel. Unfortunately, they didn’t even make an announcement that were were going to head through The Chunnel like they were supposed to so we didn’t even know we were in it until we popped out on the French side. A little anti-climatic, but it was awesome nonetheless.  Such an amazing engineering feat.

We arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris and were amazed at all the people and the armed militia walking around. It’s a little weird, but I guess it’s safer that way. I finally had to put my French to the test and ask how to catch a cab. Parlez-vous Anglais? Haha, many people speak English here so it wasn’t a problem. I just had to ask them if they spoke English in French. The train station worker I asked was really friendly so that made it easy. We caught a cab from the train station and there was a little bit of a cab driver issue. I kept telling him we wanted to go to Rue Kepler, but he kept insisting that we wanted to go to Ave. Kleber even though I spelled it for him in French he still insisted. When we pulled up in front of Ave. Kleber and I said this wasn’t the place he got really irritated. Hey, you can’t blame me. I even pointed to it on the map for him. Good thing the two streets are pretty close by. I was glad to see him go. He seems to be the only cranky French person we have encountered so far so that’s good. Everyone else has been really nice. The porter from the hotel met us at our cab and whisked us away inside to be checked in at Hotel Keppler. The service here is excellent. They speak English and French and everyone has been incredibly helpful and friendly. I definitely don’t regret my hotel choice. They even gave us free water and snacks upon arrival when they could see how tired we were.

The day after that got way less exciting quickly. I haven’t mentioned yet that Andrew is fighting a cold. He has been for a few days now and it finally took over. We basically spent the rest of the afternoon ordering room service, napping, and watching movies. Between his cold and my bloody noses we are a little under the weather. Don’t worry, the next post gets more exciting as today we ventured out and saw lots of things. Hope you all are well. Au revior, Chelsie and Andrew

St. Pancras Station in London (It was amazing and houses the longest Champagne bar in Europe which we could not visit because we were busy running to our train)

In the Eurostar train

Inside Gare du Nord in Paris

Waiting in the taxi queue

Arc de Triomphe as seen from the taxi

Our beautiful hotel room

Even better...our wonderful hotel bathroom

The chocolate Eiffel Tower the hotel gave to us (a nice touch...we, of course, ate it promptly)

Read More