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Mar 29, 2013

NYC Eats: Penelope

The morning of our second day in The Big Apple, we were being all kinds of indecisive about breakfast.

"I need coffee...and eggs."
"I want to sit down somewhere...I don't want just a bagel!" 
"Well, I definitely don't want a square bagel...that's just not New York."
"I don't want to walk too far."
"I want alcohol."

That last request was mine, obviously. So, we pulled out our trusty friend, the iPhone, Googled 'best brunch in midtown NYC' and BOOM!...Penelope's saved the day. Penelope is a small, albeit ADORABLE, establishment with a big fan base, so we knew we might be in for a bit of a wait, especially for their yummy brunch menu. We stood outside on the cold NYC streets for about an hour before finally getting a table, but I have to say...it was worth the wait! I all but scarfed down my 'Sam I Am' eggs, hash, and refreshing Pomegranate mimosa. Another to-die-for brunch selection? The Punkin' Waffles. Out of this world! And with a price point of just $15 including your choice of mimosa, coffee, or juice...it's a NYC brunch STEAL! If you find yourself hungry and indecisive in The Big Apple, make it a no-brainer and head on over to Penelope. You can thank me later. :)

Mar 26, 2013

Paris: The Catacombs

So, this one time, in 18th century Paris...the cemetery of Saints Innocents was overflowing with the dead and became condemned as the origin of infection for all the inhabitants of the Les Halles district. The addition of more suburban burial ground was in order, but the Police Lieutenant General, Alexandre Lenoir, had another idea in mind. Paris had an extensive amount of stone quarries underground that had long been abandoned and needed condensing. What better way to make use of wasted space than to fill them with bones? In 1786, Paris began the great exhumation and transfer of all their dead into these underground tunnels. In its first years, the catacombs were mainly a bone repository, but when Louis-Etienne Héricart de Thury took over the renovations in 1810, he took a bit of creative license and transformed the underground caverns into veritable works of art. Today, visitors can walk through Paris' famed catacombs, marveling at the remains of about 6 million Parisians, arranged by bone type in patterns and littered with shapes (like hearts & crosses) made from skulls. The "romantico-macabrae" decoration, while chilling, makes for a fascinatingly unique look into the not-so-lovely history of Paris. 
A tourist attraction definitely not for the faint of heart.

And yes, I touched them. EWWWWWWWW! ;)

*linking up with Helene for Travel Tuesday!*

Mar 25, 2013

Just 'Cruising' In...

Hi friends. It's Monday again. My weekends are flying by much too fast these days. Are yours? I feel like we should petition for an extra day between Sunday and Monday. Call it 'Gruntday,' maybe? Because that's all I do on Sundays anymore. Grunt and grumble that the weekend's almost over and the start of another all-too-long week is staring me in the face. I'd happily be the first signature on that petition. But until 'Gruntday' is instated, I guess I'll just settle for having ho-hum Mondays. Precisely like the one I'm having today.

D and I spent ALL DAY yesterday researching excursions and tours for our Mediterranean cruise coming up in just a little over a month. I feel like it's consuming my mind here lately. Sorry if you're sick of seeing my laments on Twitter...but I like to vent via social media. I swear I'll stop talking about it...some day. ;) Truth be told, this cruise has totally gotten away from me. I knew it was coming and we needed to start pinning down some concrete plans, but going back to the states for those 2.5 weeks totally threw me off. Thankfully, back in January we locked in our flights and hotel in Rome (where the ship departs from), otherwise we'd be paying out the butt for those things now. 

That being said, we are going cross-eyed from scouring the internet for the best options for tours in all the ports we stop in. So far, we've only got our stops in Ephesus (THANK YOU, JESS!) and Mykonos locked in, but Istanbul, Naples, Athens, and Santorini are proving to be much harder to plan. Mostly because there are SO. MANY. OPTIONS. I think my first mistake was logging into the Cruise Critic forums for advice. We're first time cruisers, so I felt like I needed to do some extra research into what the heck we'd gotten ourselves into booking a 12 day cruise our first time out the gate. Had I just went with my first thought of booking all of our excursions through our ship, our vacation planning would be done. But, alas, I wanted second, and third, and fourth opinions...and now I'm so far in I don't know what to do with myself! I've hit an information wall the size of Mt. Vesuvius (a sight we'll actually see on this cruise, yay!) and this is by far the hardest trip I've ever planned. I know, you're playing the world's tiniest violin for me right now...life could be worse. But I've played travel agent for over 1.5 years now and it's become exhausting. I long for those all-inclusive Caribbean vacations my stateside friends are all taking this summer! Grass is always greener, folks.

So, for the rest of the week, I've devoted my life to finalizing every detail of this darn cruise. The cruise D and I have been waiting all our lives to take, no less. I might not show up around blog land much in the process (because one can only look at a computer screen for so long in a days time), but you can expect a scheduled post from me tomorrow...and maybe Friday. I promise to be back to our regularly scheduled programming (to include some posts on life in Germany that are LONG overdue) next week.

Till then, time for me to get back to business. It's cruise crunch time.

*FYI-I proobbably shouldn't be asking you this since I've already got too much info to siphon through, but if you've got any stellar recommendations for day tours in Athens (including the Acropolis & Cape Sounion), Istanbul, Naples (specifically Pomepii, Capri, & the Amalfi Coast), or Santorini (to include the villages of Oia and Fira) then send them my way!!!! If you've ever been on a Med cruise with any of these stops, email me. I NEED to pick your brain!*

Mar 22, 2013

In Bruges: Part 2

This post should probably be entitled "That time we drank our way through Bruges," but for the sake of not sounding like a complete drunk right off the bat, I saved it for the first sentence. The rest of this post however? Just stop reading now if you hate having fun. Anywho, D and I had an absolute blast in Bruges. It's probably one of our favorite cities in Europe (behind London, Paris, Rothenburg, & Prague). The photos from Tuesday's post were glimpses of just part of our first night...the photos in this post are what happened after we did all the cutesy Christmas market things...and what we continued to do every night thereafter. DRINK BEER. Before moving to Europe, I wasn't much of a beer drinker. Wine...YES! Beer? A Bud Light Lime was about all I could stomach. I know, eww. After moving to Germany, the German Hefeweizen (a wheat beer) began to grow on me. I found myself quite enjoying the half-liter Hefe's I got served on a regular basis at every restaurant around town. I even thought drinking a liter at Oktoberfest was no big thing. Bring them on! BUT, then we took our first trip to Belgium...Bruges to be exact...and I haven't drank a German Hefeweizen since. Belgian beer is lightyears better than German beer. And so much more complex. They're really barely comparable. You can get Belgian beer in almost every flavor under the sun...from the stout dark porters that taste like espresso and caramel (my personal favorites) or the fruit beers that taste like strawberry, raspberry, and even weirder, banana & coconut. I tend to stray away from the fruity ones. If I wanted a fizzy fruit drink, I'd order a Fanta. Beer, on the other hand, has to pack a punch. And most Belgian beers (aside from those fruity ones) range in alcohol content from 6%-13%. Ironically enough, the tastier ones tend to be 10%-13% alcohol by volume. Precisely why limited and leisurely drinking when Belgian beer is involved, is recommended.

Do you think D and I followed those recommendations our first Belgian beer go 'round? Not hardly. D's got the dog poop boots to prove it. But that's a story I'll save for later. For now, feast your eyes on one of our favorite bars in Bruges...Cambrinus!

A few things to note if you're planning on drinking the night away at Cambrinus:
1) If you want dinner, make reservations. The place is super popular and gets packed quickly. If you're coming just for the beer, there's a decent amount of bar space, as long as it's not already full. If full, be patient. Tourists often come in for just a drink before heading off to other restaurants for dinner, so seats at the bar will open up long before a table will.
2) The Cambrinus beer menu is extensive. Over 400 different beers are served here (some on tap, most in bottles) and the list is ever-changing. As overwhelming as that sounds, never fear. The bartenders give GREAT suggestions and are very knowledgable on all the varieties of Belgian beers.
3) As with trying any new kinds of beer, start your night from light to dark. Unless you're a pale ale, pils, blonde, white, or triple beer fan. I do urge you to at least try a good dark or amber Belgian beer. They hold the most complex flavors. I'm a dark beer convert, for sure. 
4) Keep it to a 3 beer maximum. 2 drinks if you're a lady, or especially unfamiliar with Belgian beer and its potency. Snack or consume a meal before and after you drink. Trust me. If you stick to the fruit stuff (not recommended), it'll take more than 2 beers to get a buzz on. Most fruit beers are only 2%-4% alcohol by volume. Although, you'll be in for a sugar tummy ache later.
5) Steal coasters. We grab a coaster or two from every bar we visit around Europe, kind of as souvenirs and memorabilia for our future "bar/rec room". Try and snag the ones of the beers you tried and liked. Our stack of coasters is becoming mountainous. *Note, we do not condone stealing in any other capacity. Coasters are where we draw the line. :)

As for our favorite Belgian beers...whew...that's a hard one. D and I both have similar tastes in the Belgians...dark, bold, and non-hoppy. Our {current} top 10 (in no particular order):

1) De Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva Vintage 2008 (10% alcohol- hard to find, tastes like heaven)
2) De Struise Tsjeezes Reserva Port Edition (10% alcohol- also kind of hard to find)
3) De Struise Black Albert (13% alcohol- coffee, chocolate, dark fruits flavor)
4) La Trappe Quadruple (10% alcohol- Trappist malty beer, fig & dark fruit notes)
5) Triple Karmelite (8% alcohol- smells like flowers, the only triple I really like)
6) Westvleteren 12 (10% alcohol-highly coveted Trappist beer brewed by monks)
7) Gulden Draak Dark Triple (10.5% alcohol- spiced, creamy, & raisiny)
8) Rochefort 10 (11% alcohol- Trappist beer)
9) Bush Amber (12% alcohol- spicy malt beer)
10) Bush Noel (12% alcohol- Christmas beer)

I promise the next Bruges post won't be as beer heavy. But, there will still be beer. I told you, not much to do in Bruges but drink! Cheers to the weekend, friends! Drink responsibly. ;)
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