Thursday, May 8, 2014

France: Day 5

On day 5 of our trip we woke up extra early and headed to Paris. We planned to return our rental car at the airport and then take a taxi into the city, which was a really good call now that we've gotten back to the US and discovered a few French speeding tickets. I'm glad we didn't try to navigate Paris!

Of course, just as we were arriving in Paris and getting to the airport, it start to rain. We managed to stay mostly dry while we unloaded the car and figured out how to track down a taxi and head to Paris. We finally got a great taxi driver who took us into the city and dropped us at our hotel. We were extra lucky on this trip because Adam had been saving up his Marriott points, so we stayed at the Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel. The location was amazing (just a block from the Tuileries) and we were able to stay for free using our Marriott points! It was so nice to finally settle into a hotel for more than one night, and to top it off, this was a really nice hotel!
Just over a block and across the street from our hotel!

We arrived right around lunch time, so of course our first plan was to find lunch. We ended up at a wonderful little Brasserie several blocks behind the Musee d'Orsay on a tiny side street. We enjoyed yet another fabulous meal.

Amuse bouche. Olive tapenade 
Lunch special: Roasted endive and a grilled pork chop.

After our lunch, we walked to the Musee d'Orsay. Before we get into that, let me tell you that the Paris Museum Pass is the way to go! We were able to gain entrance to several museums and never have to wait in the ticket line. DISCLAIMER: It does not allow entrance to the Eiffel Tower, you must buy tickets and make a reservation for that.

The exterior of the Musee d'Orsay is a work of art in itself!
Love this guy outside the museum too!
For those of you not familiar with Musee d'Orsay, it is a museum that houses some more modern artists works, and has a very impressive Impressionist collection housing works by artists like Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Gauguin, just to name a few. There is also a lovely cafe inside the Musee d'Orsay if you want to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere. 

We spent a few hours there before moving on to see San Sulpice. As we are two avid Dan Brown Da Vinci Code fans, this was a stop we couldn't miss. We just had to follow the "Rose Line" and see where the action from the movie took place. San Sulpice is a beautiful church, but not quite as magnificent as some in Paris, the exterior is certainly the most stunning part of the church.
One of the towers at the front of San Sulpice.
When we left San Sulpice, it was definitely time for an afternoon snack...and we had to take advantage of being surrounded by little creperies on every corner. So, we opted to split a nutella crepe. Nutella crepes are by far my absolute favorite crepes in the world and this one did not disappoint...
Crepe faces...
After touring the church, taking a crepe break, and taking a moment to rest our legs (the only way to travel around Paris and soak it all up is on foot!) we headed to Notre Dame and the Pont des Arts. Of course, I insisted we add a lock to the Pont des Arts. The Pont des Arts is a pedestrian that in recent years has become a major destination for couples in and visiting Paris. The tradition is to take a lock with your names written or engraved on it and lock it on the rails of the Pont des Arts and then toss the key into the Seine. So, we did just that!
Our lock...

Attaching the lock...

One happy camper! 
We took a picture of where our lock was located on the bridge and we hope that if we ever go back, we'll be able to find it! Though my guess is that they have to remove some of those locks every now and then!

Once we'd installed our lock on the Pont des Arts, we headed to Notre Dame to tour and take in the vespers service. As usual, Notre Dame was stunning. The vespers service was really wonderful. We enjoyed just taking in the atmosphere and hearing the beautiful organ. It was a very nice was to end our first day in Paris.
The exterior of Notre Dame

Beautiful vaults. 

I love the stained glass it is absolutely stunning.
Please pardon the blurred photographs. You can't use flash inside the church and it is quite difficult to hold your camera completely still. We tried our best to capture our time inside!

After vespers, we went back to the hotel to freshen up a little before going out to dinner. We went to a great little restaurant just down the street from our hotel, da rosa.

Romaine Salad
Foie gras pate...I vowed to eat foie gras (in any and all forms)
if on any menu while we were in France!
*It is probably my favorite food on the planet!
Adam had this wonderful smoked salmon risotto.
We enjoyed our meal and then headed back to the hotel for a nice full night of sleep to prepare for Versailles on Day 6!

Four Years

Five years ago today, Adam greeted me in my apartment, down on one knee and asked me to marry him...

Four years ago today, we said our vows.

Everyday I love him more than I did the day before and every year we have been together has been better than the last. I can't wait to see what this year holds...and the year after, and the year after that, and the years and years after that.

I am the luckiest.

I love you Adam. Cheers to four years and many more to come!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

France: Day 4

Day four was by far one of our favorite days in France. We woke up early and ate a wonderful breakfast at our hotel and then hit the road. We spent the first half of the day driving around the region, stopping to take photos, and stopping to taste a little wine.

Upon our arrival to Burgundy the day before, we'd noticed that there was a smoky haze over just about everything and that in all of the vineyards crews were out working and burning. In February each year, the vines are all cut back, the weeds pulled, and then everything is burned. The burning is done to kill any diseases that could attack the vines. Despite the smoke, and the fact that we were pretty much there in the dead of winter, the scenery was beautiful!

The "burning"

The picture below is for my dad...he's a fan of all things tractor and this one was pretty cool. It's built so that it can drive straight over a row of vines...pretty nifty!
Our first wine stop was Puligny Montrachet. We stopped in to visit Julien Wallerand at Caveau de Puligny Montrachet. Julien was kind enough to give us a taste of one of the local wines, while talking us through the region and the different ways that Burgundians classify their own wines. Julien gave us a great list of wines in our price range that he stocks, and ships. Adam and I both agreed that when we get rich (first we have to buy the lottery ticket...) we want to have a job like Julien. He travels around the country tasting wine and when he finds something he likes, he strikes a deal to start carrying that wine in his shop...not a bad gig!

Beautiful bronze statue in the middle of the roundabout in Puligny Montrachet.
Inside the Caveau

Julien's shop had a great map that really helped us get a better idea of the wine
regions in Burgundy, I wish we'd gotten something like this to bring home!
We left Puligny Montrachet and headed on. Our Rick Steve's guidebook had several recommended wine "loops" and so we decided to take one of those.

Our drive took us up to great area that gave us some really nice views of Burgundy. We obviously stopped to stretch our legs and take a few photos.

Check out that handsome guy!

Our last stop before heading back to Beaune for lunch was business that makes wine barrels. You can't go inside, but their warehouse is glassed in, so tourists can stop by and watch as they make the wine barrels. This was such a neat experience and very interesting to see the way the barrels are formed, and burned on the inside.

When we arrived back in Beaune it was definitely lunch time. Some of my parents' good friends had recommended Le Conty, and it did not disappoint! We had a wonderful and very relaxing lunch!

Amuse tasted like bruschetta!
I had the scallop and truffle risotto!
And Adam had the lunch special, a steak with vegetables!

For dessert we split the brioche!
I can say, without a doubt that our next stop was by far the coolest experience we had on our trip. I should first say that we have been using Rick Steves guide books for all of our trips. Most of our hotels we have found using those books, along with some other really great places, like the Caveau de Puligny Montrachet and our all time favorite Mischief and Mayhem!

We decided to visit Mischief and Mayhem as our last wine stop before heading to Semur-en-Auxois for the night. Rick Steves had a nice write up on this English couple and we were curious to meet them and taste their wine. As you'll find on their website, Michael and Fiona Ragg moved to France over a decade ago with plans to learn how to make Burgundian wine. Fiona said at the time they hadn't really planned to stay necessarily....but now, over ten years later they've got roots...and vines.

We arrived at Mischief and Mayhem in the afternoon and met Fiona outside the Cellar Door Tasting Room. She walked us out behind their home and talked with us about their vines and owning vines in Burgundy. Talk about a learning experience. Owning vines and producing wine in Burgundy is not as easy as one might think. Fiona described their experience to us and basically gave us a good background on Burgundian wine production and politics.

She and Michael both apprenticed for wine makers before going into the business themselves. And, much to the Burgundian's dismay, this English couple has been producing some really wonderful wine.
Just a few of the Mischief and Mayhem vines (to the left...)
We were lucky enough to taste four wines, three chardonnays and one pinot noir. All were wonderful, but Fiona's guided tour through each wine was what really made the experience for us. Adam and I are novices when it comes to wine drinking and we were able to learn so much from our visit. I was floored by how different two wines, from the same type of grape, produced the same way but just grown in two slightly different areas, could taste so different. What an eye opening experience.

And if that wasn't enough, their tasting room was très chic! AND Fiona used to work in haute couture...basically she is my idol: worked in haute couture for Valentino and left the fashion world to dig in the dirt and make wine...umm yes, I could get on board with ALL of that.
Cellar Door Tasting Room 

Our tour and tasting at Mischief and Mayhem was the perfect way to end our time in Burgundy. After spending a couple of hours talking with Michael and Fiona, we hopped in the car and headed to Semur-en-Auxois. We stayed at an okay hotel in Semur-en-Auxois. It wasn't somewhere we would ever go back to, but it worked for a night and was the perfect place to have a relaxing dinner and re-pack our suitcases before heading to Paris.
Countryside on our way to Semur-en-Auxois

That evening we had a wonderful meal...but we we literally the only people there aside from one server and the chef...
Empty restaurant
Amuse bouche...we still don't know what it was...
but it was weird (even for two foodies)
My wonderful duck with a cassis sauce.
Adam's mignon du porc...also very very good!
A beautiful creme brulee for dessert!

Major props to the server and the chef at this little hole in the wall. Though we were their only patrons they did not rush us through dinner and everything tasted wonderful and to top it off, the presentation was stunning!

After a great dinner we headed back to the hotel to get to sleep so we could pop up early and head to Paris!