Sunday, June 15, 2014

Belgium: So Much Good Beer, So Little Time

After spending three lovely nights in Paris, we made our way via train to Belgium!

We did have a slight hiccup with the Paris Metro police prior to getting to Gare du Nord. They thought we were trying to scam the system -- which we weren't -- but they weren't hearing our side of the story, so in order to get to our high-speed train on time, we shelled out 30€ to make it all go away. Paris metro tickets are the worse! [end rant]

{Bruges - 2009 trip with Micah's parents. Look at Micah's babyface! Barely any hair on that face!}

In 2009, Micah and I, along with his parents, visited Bruges and Brussels. This time, since we've been to Bruges, I decided we'd stay in Gent.

Gent is a college town that is very similar to Bruges. It's inbetween Brussels and Bruges so it's easy to get around via train to nearby cities.

It's interesting see tram lines right in front of old buildings, such as this St. Nicholas Church.

Great views of the waterway can be seen from restaurants and bars along the old center.

In Gent, we stayed at the amazing B&B King.

The rooms, host and breakfast were the highlight of my whole trip. They only have two rooms, so we booked both rooms for two nights. Everything was beautifully furnished! If you go, stay here and you won't be disappointed.

Gent has a castle in the middle of the old city! Gravensteen castle was originally built in 1180.

If you're able to, walk the canals of Gent in the evening. So magical and pretty!

While we didn't visit that many bars in Gent, we did like Herberg de Dulle Griet. They have an extensive beer list and the yard beers! If you order the yard glass, you have to give them one of your shoes as a deposit.

We also had a great meal at T'Oud Clooster.

While we were staying in Gent, on our first night, we decided to revisit Bruges. My sister hadn't been before so it was a perfect change to visit one of the coolest cities I've ever visited. I know people say it's touristy (which it is), but there is something about this town. I love it.

We walked from the train station into town, while meandering through Minnewaterpark.

Once we got into town, we stopped off at 't Brugs Beertje. They have a REALLY extensive beer selection and it's always busy.

Here we got some amazing pate and a plethora of beers. I love being able to drink a fresh Brugse zot from De Halve Maan brewery (it was closed by the time we got into Bruges that day).

This kriek is from a guy/brewery that only blends sours. Really nice kriek recommendation from the server.

The second bar we visited is probably our favorite bar in Bruges: 't Poatersgat. If you're not paying attention, you'll miss it entirely -- maybe that explains why I'm going in backwards? It's an underground bar that is dark, a little dank, but it's all sorts of awesome. The selection here is also fabulous and cheaper than Brugs Beertje.

While we were there, we came across a man from Portland who we also saw at Brugs Beertje. He was obviously a little (a lot) tipsy from all the Belgian beers. He said his wife went to bed after the first bar so he was out "getting water." Ha! Apparently he really likes to share good beers, because he ended up buying a couple of bottles of really good Belgian beers to share with us -- we weren't going to say "no!" One was this tripel black and another was the Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux. Micah really liked the Dupont beer.

On our second day in Belgium, we rented a car for the day and went to Westvleteren. If you know beer, you know that most people think the monks at this monastery brew some of the best beers in the world. People pay top dollar for the beer on the beer trade market. It's crazy.

At their cafe (you can't go inside the monastery), you can order all the beers they brew. You can also pick up 6-packs of their beers to bring home. Micah ended up leaving with a pack of the #12. Once again, my sister and I couldn't resist and we ordered another delicious plate of pate at their cafe.


After two nights in Gent, we spent one night in Brussels. I ended up booking us at the same place we stayed at in 2009. 

Our first stop after dropping off our luggage at the B&B? Cantillon, of course. I actually thought the beers we had on this trip were not as good as the ones we had in 2009. I know it's always changing, but these were a bit lackluster.

Other highlights in Brussels:

Fabulous seafood meal at Noordzee Mer du Nord. It's not a real restaurant. You order at the counter, they cook it and you find a place nearby to eat. They have a couple of tables but that's about it. Those razor clams!


Moeder Lambic -- the guy from Portland kept telling us to go here and ironically, they opened a bar right next to our B&B a few years ago.

Flea Market -- found an awesome snake necklace in the area.

Grand Place at night! It's striking.

But it's also really nice during the day!

To me, Belgium is like France but cheaper and with MUCH better beer. Every time I go to this country, I have a great time!

You might be wondering why there is a lack of moules frites in my post -- they were out of season. Sad face.

Monday, June 9, 2014

I Didn't Eat Enough in Paris!

A few weeks ago, we kicked off our 2014 European Vacation in Paris. Micah didn't really want to go to Paris but since we were going to Belgium (again) and Germany, I figured it was only fair that I got to go to Paris. 

We spent three nights in Paris and that wasn't nearly enough time to try the numerous restaurants I had bookmarked. I felt like we spent so much time walking and drinking that by the time chow time came around, I was exhausted. 

Here are some highlights of the Paris leg. 

Drinking Vin!

Our first few glasses of French wine were at Caves Bourdin in the 18th. It was in the area we were staying so it was perfect. We really wanted to try "natural" wines so one we tasted was the Beaujolais Villages and it was funky and perfect. 

Another place we really liked was a place called Wine Touch in the 4th district. It's the type of place where you get a card, put the card in the wine dispensing machine, pick the wine and serving size you would like.

It's a great way to try a bunch of new wines at a very reasonable price. Most small sample sizes were around 1-2 Euro.

This one was our favorite wines we had at Wine Touch. Even though the Bourgognes (from Burgundy area) are supposed to be more "feminine," Micah and I loved it. This one is listed as "culture traditionalle." 

The few days we were in Paris was also the kickoff for Paris' first ever Paris Craft Beer Week! What are the odds of that happening? I didn't even plan it! Paris' craft beer scene is growing, albeit slowly. It's probably where Austin was a decade ago. All of the beer bars we visited were packed, so Parisians definitely want good beer. 

The only stand-alone brewery we visited was Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or in the 18th. I actually saw this place on Esquire's Getaway show with Aisha Tyler. While I didn't love any of their beers, Micah did buy a bottle of their smoked beer (Charbon-niere) to bring home. 

A brewpub we visited was Bar Demory Paris. We opted for the flight to see what they had to offer. The pilsner was good and their Nova Noir (schwarzbier) was sour but I don't think it was supposed to be sour. This place was packed the Sat. night we visited! They were having some Quebec beers on tap for the Beer Week. 

We also checked out Les Trois 8, which is a stand alone beer bar. This place was also packed to the gills! You can see folks spilling out into the street in the picture above. They have a good selection of Paris-made beers on tap and some Belgian beers as well. I would say that a pint of beer in Paris usually cost around 5 Euros - so a little pricey compared to the states. 

I can't say the beer in Paris was great but it was nice to try some of the beers they had to offer and to see that their beer scene is growing! Say "no" to Leffe, go local. 

Eating Paris!

Finally getting around to the food! Of course I wanted to eat at Frenchie and Bistro Paul Bert, but it was not in the cards on this trip. I guess I'll just have to make a return trip to Paris in the future! 

As you would've guessed, the pastries and breads are divine! People buy their baguettes daily. Le Grenier de Pain on Abbesses was our favorite place near the rental apartment to pick up croissants. 

Check out that crusty bread!

On one day, we went to a fromage shop near the apartment, got three cheeses, some jelly and some bread and made a "light" lunch at the apartment. It was perfect. 

Another place near our apartment was Coquelicot. We had a great breakfast here (which we needed since we were doing a full day of sightseeing that day, starting with the Louvre). The best thing about this place? They serve the coffee in BOWLS. Who needs a cup? 

What's a trip to Paris without a crepe? These were at West Country Girl, odd name, right? These little bundles of joy were filled with emmental cheese, eggs and spinach and mushrooms. Perfectly crisp and gooey. This place is so small so they usually take reservations -- we managed to get seated on a Friday night with only a 10 min. wait. 

Steak tartare! I probably have mad cow disease now. Wait, you can't cook out mad cow anyway... so give me the raw meat!

I also had to check out Berthillon. Some say it's the best la glace in Paris. I got the fresh strawberries and it was glorious. Tart with chunks of small berries in it. I don't know if it's the best ice cream in Paris, but it was pretty good! The line can be a bit long, but it moves pretty fast. I think we only had to wait in line for 10 minutes.

On our last night in Paris, we were dead-set on a eating a GREAT meal. We ended up going with La Cave Gourmande on Rue des Martyrs in the 18th. It was near our apartment, so it was perfect. A lot of locals actually eat in the area so we knew it was going to be good. 

The chalkboard menu in French (they also have an English menu).

My sister and I decided to start the dinner with some roasted bone marrow. This was probably the best bone marrow I've had (besides the stuff in pho). It was perfectly roasted and served with some sea salt and crunchy bread to sop it up! You kind of need that salad to cut the fattiness of it all.

Bone marrow on some toast. It doesn't get much better than that, folks.

Our next dish was the escargot served with butter and herby goodness. Micah's not a huge fan of escargot but he did eat some of these.

And then this beef bourguignon came out. The stew came in a small cast iron pot with a plate of perfect mashed potatoes.

Plop the meat on the plate and it looks like this. The stew had sweet pearl onions and bits of bacon. 

The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender and you can still taste the red wine used to cook the stew. The sauce was rich but not where you get sick of it. Yum!

I will be dreaming about that beef dish for the rest of my life. 

Tourist shenanigans

Not only did we eat and drink, we did get some touristy things in. I will say that I did not LOVE Paris. It's kind of dirty (lots of cig butts everywhere, dog poo and trash). I can't imagine using the Metro during peak of summer! Blech. And a lot of men don't use deodorant. That's gross. 

But, I did enjoy the food and the sites. We did good and didn't have to wait in line for the Louvre or Notre Dame. Score!

Will I go back? Of course! J'aime manger (I like to eat)!