Thursday, April 29, 2010

Five hours in Paris

Thanks to the lovely volcano, our Paris trip was cut from 3 days to 5 hours. But we were thankful that we even got that much. We were able to catch the rest of the vacation we had planned in Brussels and Amsterdam. And we were very fortunate to have so much sun!

So what do you do in Paris for 5 hours? Well, we got to go to Benoit and have a nice French meal. But we both decided that it was a lot of rich food for lunchtime. Afterwards, Richard had to run to make a meeting, so I spent a lovely sun-filled hour at the Jardin des Tuileries. It was fantastic. I just sat in one of their famous green chairs and soaked up the sun and the atmosphere.

 Once Richard was done, we headed to the Louvre for a quick look at the Mona Lisa and some of the other masterpieces in the collection. We barely had time to run through the highlights when it was time to catch our train.

After waking up at 3 am, it was nice that I  was able to take a nap on the short 90 minute train to Brussels. Hopefully, we'll be back in Paris soon. And next time it will be for at least 24 hours!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pommes Anna

Since Paris was taken from us by the volcano, I decided to bring a little Paris to Dublin. I made Pommes Anna. According to Wikipdepia, Pommes Anna created during the time of Napoleon III by the chef Adolphe Dugléré, a pupil of Carême, when Dugléré was head chef at the Café Anglais, the leading Paris restaurant of the 19th century, where he reputedly named the dish for one of the grandes cocottes of the period. There is disagreement about which of three beauties the dish was named after: the actress Dame Judic (real name: Anna Damiens), Anna DesLions, or Anna Untel But regardless of how the dish came about, I couldn't see anything wrong with a dish made of just 2 ingredients, potatoes and butter. There's a lot of butter, so how can it be bad? I don't have a pommes Anna pan, which is specially made for this dish. So I had to adjust the recipe some. I made it in my square baking dish with no stove preparation. I think next time I'll do what some others have suggested and make it half on the stove and half in the oven. But it turned out pretty well even with my "adjustments".

 And, no matter how my cooking experiments turn out, my faithful "helper" is always ready to be a taster.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ash the World Turns

Well, here we are, day 5 of the Icelandic volcano erruption's air traffic disruption, or Ash Attack as some are calling it. There are hundreds of thousands of people stranded all over the globe, unable to get back home to the UK, Ireland and 20 other European countries. This has now gone on longer than the September 11 air traffic grounding. Airlines are losing $200 million a day and other industries relying on air freight are starting to feel the effects as well. It's largely becoming a problem that the already recession-strained economy can not handle.

I feel horrible for all those stuck away from home. But in a completely self-absorbed tone, why-oh-why did this have to happen when my trip to Paris was scheduled? As our 7am Wednesday scheduled departure creeps closer with no change in the volcanic ash cloud forecast, I'm growing increasingly desperate. And this "act of god" is of course not covered by travel insurance. So not only are my chances of enjoying my holiday decreasing, but I will have to live with the fact that I've paid for the mostly non-refundable trip as well. Sigh.

With that said, I really just hope this gets resolved by next week, as we're expecting more visitors to the US. And I don't think I could stand it if their trip got cancelled as well.

Always in our hearts...last day in Rome

After our people-filled, standing-in-line-filled Vatican day, we decided to just sleep in on our last day in Italy. After finally getting up we headed back to our little bakery in Campo di Fiori and had delicious pizza bianco and Italian cookies. After exploring one of the best markets I've been to in Europe so far, we headed out to the Palatino and Roman Forum. It's amazing that these are still standing. Though it takes some imagination to picture the ruins in their former glory, it was fascinating.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the "last truly Roman neighborhood", Trastevere. It's home to many cute shops and cafes. We found a cute newly opened boutique, Trast, that makes casual, stylish, comfy clothes. We decided to support the local economy with a new dress for myself and a t-shirt for Richard. Trastevere also has a wonderful church, Basilica of Our Lady's in Trastevere. The church, built beginning around 300 AD, has some beautiful 12th century mosiacs on the front, some of the only that have survived from the medieval period. It's also the first church dedicated to Mary.

Arrivederci Roma!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Roma and Vatican City - Day 2

Day two in Italy was our Vatican City day. we started the day with some fresh pastries from the bakery on the corner of Campo di Fiori - a recommendation from Richard's boss. We loved it so much, we went back twice more. But that morning, we just had croissants to accompany our stroll to the Vatican.

To say I was looking forward to this day of spiritual pilgramage would be an understatement of grand proportions. I had booked the Scavi Tour, which allows guided access to the necropolis under the Vatican and both the original and current tomb of St. Peter. The tour starts in the Vatican Grottoes where you are taken down a small hidden stair case, then through two sets of electronically-secured glass doors that keep the necropolis humidty and temperature controlled. Our guide, an art restorer at the Vatican, first showed us several tombs, both Christian and Pagan. These 2000+ year-old tombs were some of the first rediscovered when researchers started excavating under the Vatican decades ago. As you head through these tombs you learn the different ways researchers have identified the resting places as Pagan and Christian during this transitional time in history. I wish photos were allowed of the beautiful mosaics decorating some of the earliest Christian tombs. It's pretty amazing to be walking on ground and through doors that had last been used or even seen by people before 200AD. Finally you get to St. Peter's original resting place, the  "Trophy of Gaius". When archeologists first excavated this area, they were extremely disappointed to not find St. Peter's remains. But they later discovered a nearby spot with ancient graffiti honoring St. Peter. This along with several other signs, lead them to the discovery of St. Peter's final resting place where the remains had been moved in an effort to protect and preserve them. We ended the tour after a moment of prayer in that sacred spot. And we said goodbye to our guide at the tomb of Pope John Paul II. This reintroduced us quickly to the throngs of people we had come to expect at popular sights in Rome. I'm very grateful for our small tour. The intimate number of only 12, made the Vatican experience much more enjoyable. We spent the rest of our morning experiencing the splendor of St. Peter's Basillica.

After a quick snack and rest, we headed to the Vatican Museums. To see everything that these museums hold, would take a lifetime, I'm sure. You follow a one-way system through to the Sistine Chapel. After our trek through the Raphael Rooms, Map Room, Hall of Statues, among many others, we and about 1000 other people were able to enjoy the Sistine Chapel. It was breathtaking, to say the least. Even the crowds couldn't reduce the beauty of these works. The museums are simply exhausting to get through as evidenced by crowds in the pictures below and the sleeping couple we found in the gardens. We only spotted them as we sat for a rest ourselves. See below.