Friday, July 24, 2009

Why I love Boulder already

What a lovely town.  It seems to be a funny mix of outdoor enthusiasts, crazy hippies, rich retirees, drunken students, professional athletes, and occasionally a normal person.  Regardless of any previous notions, I'm going to have to pick things up a bit if I want to still call myself an active person.  Everyone here seems to bike 200 miles a week and run marathons several times a year.

The downtown area is very trendy and classy.  The Pearl Street mall has a wide array of cutsie shops and restaurant patios.  My favorite is Peppercorn, a cooking store that has more cookbooks than I have ever seen in my life.  It also has quality cookware and utensils and import specialty foods.  Today I visited the spice shop nearby, which has dried spices and spice mixes from just about every cuisine imaginable.  You can buy them in bags of varying sizes or in jars.  And they have tasters out so you know what you're getting.  And there are various nice bookstores.

Campus is very pretty and everything matches.  And I can't get over having the Flatirons just over your shoulder wherever you are.  Never any confusion about which way is West here.  

Yesterday went hiking with Erin in Eldorado canyon.  There were lots of flowers (including cactus flowers) and stunning views of the rock formations. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

The end of my wanderings

I'm writing from my new hometown of Boulder, CO.  I don't move here officially for a couple of weeks, but I feel pretty good about making this place my new home.  I'll keep posting occasionally when something exciting happens, so don't forget all about me.  This past year has been pretty amazing.  I feel like I have changed so much and have a much better grasp on life and its endless shenanigans.  I should be here pretty consistently for about 5 years until I finish my Ph.D. and I am really looking forward to staying put.  

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Our shopping day in Paris

I don't know how, but Friday ended up being mostly shopping.  We got up a little late and headed past the Pompidou center to Les Halles, the old market area.  It's now a huge underground and street level shopping complex.  We bought a few clothes at a cheaper store.  Everything is on sale now.  Really everything.  We went inside the nearby St. Eustace church.  It was really tall and had an amazing looking organ that some woman appeared to be having lessons on.  Afterwards, we went around to corner to E. Dehellerin, a big old-fashioned cooking goods store where I got a lovely fat rolling pin (baton de patisserie sounds so much better), and wooden spatula, and a couple of rubber bowl scrapers.  While we were in the area, we stopped at a cookbook bookstore.  

We walked through some of the arcaded shopping passages that used to be much more widespread in the city.  It was vary charming.  Next:  Galleries Lafayette.  (we had a ham/cheese crepe to keep our energy up).  The shoe level was pretty entertaining, with lots of designers that Amanda educated me on.  And of course the food halls were pretty fantastic too.  We picked up some chocolate waffels to take home and some serrano ham and grissini for that night.  

We were feeling a little tuckered, so picnicked on the opera steps on our favorite Eric Kayser baguette and tune.  Refreshed, we hopped the metro to the Arc de Triomphe (it's bigger than you think) and strolled down the Champs Elysee.  We even stopped at Saphora for a massive whiff of perfume.  

At 4:30, we met some friends at a metro stop at the east end of the city near Maelle's apartment.  We made dinner together and Claire made her chocolate pear tarte.  Henni also brought German wine to share.  It was really fun to spend a last evening together chatting and reminiscing.  I don't really know when I'll see any of them again.  
As the evening grew late, we got back on the metro for the long ride across town and went up the Eiffel Tower.  Paris at night is not quite as breathtaking as in the day, but it's very peaceful looking and fun to pick out the important monuments from afar.  The tower itself was all lit up and occasionally glittered like a swarovski store from thousands of bright light fixtures.  

We finally got back to the hotel around 1AM and packed up a bit before flopping down for our last night in Europe.  

In the morning, we got up and went to the nearby Enfants Rouge market to pick up some last minute things and spend our last euros.  We got mom and dad a chocolate and almond croissant respectively and a nutella crepe for ourselves.  The guys at the crepe booth were funny old men and gave us crap for ordering nutella at our age.  Armed with our last 4 euros, we got an assortment of Moroccan pastries too.  We like sweet things it you didn't notice.  

We took the metro/RER to the airport, entertained by some awesome accordionists on the train.  The airport went smoothly and we found at the gate that we had been upgraded to first class and even sat next to each other (thanks mom for checking us in early!).  The Delta first class seats are very classy.  There are about 6 different adjustable things on your seat and you couldn't touch your toes to the seat in front if you tried.  So they wined and dined us home, including a warm chocolate chip cookie halfway through.  

Dad met us at the airport and we rushed home to unpack a bit before Amanda's EP tournament soccer game at 6PM.  Funny how you can wake up in Paris and play a soccer game in Minnesota in the evening.  

It's nice to be home, and feels like nothing has changed.  I'm a little restless to get out to Colorado, but it will be great to catch up with friends and family here for a bit first.  

Thanks Europe for a swell time.

Catacombs and Rodin. And more food of course

On the 9th, we tried the catacombs again.  but first we visited the Blvd. Richard Lenior open air market in the morning at the Bastille square. (The bastille isn't there any more, it was torn down in all the hulaballoo two hundred years ago).  When we got to the catacombs just after it opened, there was already an hour long wait to get in.  So we hunkered down and waited.  The catacombs were originally mining tunnels in the outskirts of Paris.  Sometime in the 18 hundreds, there was no more room to bury people in the city, so they started unearthing mass graves and sections of cemetaries to make room. The bones were carried by monks into the tunnels and stacked as much as 80 feet deep in the corridors.  Each section was labeled with date moved and origin.  When we got down, there was a little walk before the ossiary part.  Once there, we had to hold hands despite the plethora of people down there.  The bones were arrayed behind walls built of femurs and decorated with skulls.  It was hard to imagine all the thousands (millions?) of people whose bones we saw.  Very humbling.  I don't know if I've even seen human bones before in real life.

After we got out and dusted off the creepies, we hopped a metro up towards the river and had lunch at a neo bistro recommended again by Clothilde, Pre Verre.  They had a nice set lunch menu for 13 euros with two dishes and a glass of wine.  Pretty yummy.  Amanda actually enjoyed the wine.  We'll have to watch out for her. . .

Post lunch, we stopped by the roman baths outside the Cluny museum, and had a nutella crepe from a roadside stand.  We wandered through the left bank, stopping at pastry shops and chocolate store intermittently to the invalides area.  The Rodin museum is in a house he used to live in and surrounded by beautiful gardens littered with sculptures.  We decided we really like sculpture.  It's so expressive and Rodin's style imparts so much life into the forms.  In fashion eyes, it's like shoes while paintings are like clothes.  We still don't quite understand the bronze casting process (how do they mechanially enlarge them?) but approve anyhow.  In the gardens, we enjoyed our chocolated from Patrick Roger, even though their store was very intimidating.

We walked Rue Cler, which is an upscale foodie street with shops for honey, olive oil, cheese, fish, charcuterie, butchers, and produce.  We bought some cheese, a Rebuchon and a Sa__chon for a later picnic on the Champ de Mars.  We ate cheese on baguette under the eiffel tower, taking amusing pictures at intervals.  The S. cheese was amazing.  Kind of like a firmer camembert, but a little more pungent.  The R. cheese was very pungent.  On a scale of one to pungent, I'd say it was about 13.  Pungacity: high.  The inside resembles brie in taste and texture, but the rind imparted a little cow-flavored funk to it.  Oh lovely.  

By this point, we were pretty sleepy, so we went home a little early.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Paris, the city of foodies

  "please leave box five open for my use." -Phantom of the Opera

We had quite a wonderful day yesterday.  Not quite according to plan, though.  I really like to plan our days out, but the enjoyment is not really dependent on whether we actually follow the plan.  We started out visiting the Enfant Rouges market near our hotel in the morning, but it was a little early and all the places were still pretty sleepy and closed (at 9:15!).  Wandered down to Place des Voges.  It was built by Henry IV as a square for the high-class and home for royalty, but fell into disrepair in the 19th century, when it was a working class area.  Victor Hugo lived here.  At 10, we went to the Carnavalet museum of Paris history.  They followed the entire span of history in art and artifacts.  The french revolution part was the coolest, though I have a hard time keeping track of all the republiques and reinstated monarchies.  We were one of the only groups visiting so early, so there were a lot of curators, which made us feel very hovered over.  We stopped afterwards for a huge meringue in a pastry shop.  It was amazingly fluffy and light and delicious.

After the museum, we took the metro down to the catacombs, but on arrival, the line was super long (everyone else seemed to give us the impression that the catacombs were little visited).  We opted to postpone to another day and walked through the Montparnasse cemetary instead.  We were close to the Montparnasse station, so we stopped in at Creperie Breton for a creppy lunch.  This station is where trains from Brittany come in, so the people from there just stayed in the area and opened up an absurd amount of crepe places.  Not that crepes are ever really absurd.

We strolled around luxembourg gardens for a bit watching the cute kids playing on the playgrounds.  Poliane, one of Paris's bread celebrities had a place nearby, so we stopped in and picked up a quarter of a miche (large loaf of bread) for a later picnic.  We then went to Christian Constant's tea room (recommended by Clothilde) for a mille-feuille (Napolean) and a pot of oozing rich hot chocolate.  I really think this stuff at room temperature could not be classified as a liquid.  It was so rich and thick and delicious. Like drinking ganache.  We were very full afterwards, but lumbered to the puppet theater in the gardens for the 4:00 show.  There were a lot of little kids that enjoyed chanting and reacted to all the stage happenings in very cute ways.  

We caught a metro up to the opera and met up with my friends at 6.  The Opera Garnier (as in phantom of the opera) was built by Napoleon III and is a huge building with endless hidden corners.  The lobby is a 5-story atrium with arching marble stairways, golden gilding, carved candelabra, and mirrors.  The theater itself is also about 6 stories and has numerous boxes (for the classy types) and a ceiling that is now painted by Marc Chagall.  And a chandelier of course.  We got rush tickets for the opera, La Fille Mal Gardee, which is a classic French pastoral opera.  It was pretty amazing seeing something there, and wandering the building during breaks.  The opera itself was really good, apparently the best company in France.  

Afterwards, we strolled along the seine a little before heading back to the hotel around 11PM.  It was a lovely day in all.  

Today we have big plans, but again, we'll take it as it comes. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paris day 2

I woke up again at 7:30 and somehow convinced Manda to get up early too.  The hotel was kind of sneaky and although they had no breakfast included when we booked it, now apparently it is.  Hopefully we don't get billed for it at the end.  Anyway, we had some really good croissant and some hot beverages from the machine in the lobby.  I actually enjoy machine coffee better than the real stuff, so I'm happy enough with it.  They also give you a little snack pack bag with a sammy and an apple.  

We left the building and took the metro to Madeline, which has a large church that looks like unnerringly like the parthenon.  It also is home to two of the famous gourmet epicerie food shops in Paris, Fauchon and Heidard.  Alas, both didn't open until 9, so we had to wait a bit, but eventually wandered them both.  We felt a little odd, as we were the only customers in both and they were very fancy.  Fauchon especially.  And pink.  

We walked by the Tuleries to the Musee d'Orsay, where we met my friend Henni.  We had 2.5 hours for the museum which was about perfect.  Impressionism is as amazing as always.  We especially liked some of the pastel works that you don't usually see.  And Renoir seascapes have a special place in my heart.  I hadn't seen much work of Auguste Rodin the sculptor (think the Thinker), but he is pretty fantastic too.  We plan to see his museum tomorrow.  I've always loved sculpture.  It seems so much more organic and expressive.  

After the museum, we met some other friends at Place St. Michel and picked up some lunch for a pique-nique on the Seine.  It was great to see everyone again, and they are as silly as always.  Benjamin, Maelle and Claire, the 3 Parisiens, were amused by my extensive lists of things to see and foods to eat.  

Afterwards we pondered the Luxembourg gardens, but the rain started coming down in earnest, so we went and got ice cream (how does that work?) from Berthillion on Ile St. Louis.  (Not the original store, which is closed in July, but from one down the street).  The hit flavor was cocktail exotique (passion fruit, mango, and papaya).  Another note:  a magic wand in French is baguette magique.  As in magic baguette.  

We walked North a bit to the Pompidou center.  It's the newish modern art museum, and all of the usual innards of a building are placed on the outside:  stairways, elevators, structural steel supports, heating/cooling ventilation, plumbing.  It looks pretty crazy.  We wandered that area near Les Halles, which has a lot of cute shops and ended up at St. Eustice church (apparently in the Da Vinci code (Dan Brown is a n00b)) and sat resting our feet in the square out front.  Afterwards, we passed by the legendary cooking good store, E. Dehillerin.  In an 1860's style, they have all sorts of copper pots, utensils, and cooking ware crammed into little dark aisles.  It was amazing.  It closed right as we got there, so we may have to try to go back.

As early-birds, we said goodbye to my friends and headed back to Au Pieds du Cochon, a classic french bistro with (supposedly) the best french onion soup in town.  We sat our tired little feeties down and supped on the soup, beef tartare, confit au canard with a red wine reduction (aka heaven on a plate), and a dessert called La Coupe Vie en Rose, which had rose and strawberry ice cream and rose jam.  The bread here also came with "confiture du cochon," which literally means "pig jam."  It was actually quite good, though it tasted vaguely like something Asians would put into bao.  We were very satiated and satisfied, but definitely had to sit and digest for a while.  

We made it back to the hotel, and I made our daily list of plans for the next few days (they change every day, so I can make a new list/plan every evening.  Yes I like lists way to much).  Amanda is conched out already at 9:45.  We are trying to get tickets to the Opera Garnier (as in Phantom of the Opera's opera) for later this week.  We also have most of our meals planned out until we leave.  

It's been another great day in the city of food (or is it love?).  We miss you all back at home and think of you a lot.  

Monday, July 6, 2009

bum-kicked by Paris

We totally got our pants kicked by Paris, today and it was awesome.  If I get my bum kicked by anything, it better be someplace as cool as this.  Foodie heaven.

Yesterday we got into Gare du Nord around 7:00 and took the metro a few stops to our hotel, Hotel le Marais in the 3eme arrondisement.  It's 80 Euros a night and very minimalist but very clean.  They don't provide soap, but they have free wi-fi.  It's pretty much exactly what you need in a hotel, so we're pretty excited.  There is also a boulangerie/patisserie literally right next to the door.  We took a little stroll through the Marais district to the Seine and walked by a lot of sidewalk cafes and charming shops.  After getting excited, we went back to the hotel and perused the guide books even more.

Today, we woke up around 7 (as per my usual) and walked to the Ile de la Cite for a little breakfast of hot chocolate and tartine (half baguette slices with butter) in the shadow of Notre Dame.  Afterwards, we wandered inside the church.  It was so cool and dark and gothic.  Full of stained glass windows and awe-inspiring.  We were going to climb the tower, but the line was super long just before it was going to open at 10 so we postponed for another day.  

We took a couple of recommended walks in the Rick Steve's book and saw the Latin Quarter.  It was pretty cute with lots of little cafes and old windy streets.  Shakespeare and Co is a really cozy bookstore that used to be frequented by James Joyce, Hemingway, and others.  They had books piled everywhere and an upstairs with a magnificent collection (not for sale).  We also dropped by Le Procope, frequented by the likes of Voltaire, Ben Franklin, and Robespierre. 

Wandering near St. Germain-de-pres we passed by a Eric Kuyser, a bakery mentioned in Clothilde's book, and bought a half-baugette for 60 cents.  I love how you can buy a half-baguette by the way.  And we ate it plain in the square.  Divine.  

We walked up the the Bon Marche department store's "Grand Epicerie de Paris" which took us about an hour to peruse through.  They had just about everything you could look for in groceries, falling just short of Harrod's food hall in magnificence.  We got some pate for later picnics.  

Up at the Louvre pyramid, we met some of my Tsinghua friends Claire and Henni, whom we wandered the Tulleries with.  We also saw Rue St. Honore and a square with all the really high-end fashion types.  At 3:30 we said goodbye planning to go get tea at this divine sounding place that we ended up not finding.  We tried to take the metro home, but got on the wrong direction.  We decided to go to a recommended crepe shop near our hotel, but its closed Monday and Tuesday, so we sat down in a cafe for a snack only to discover that they weren't serving food at 4:30 in the afternoon.  ah the dismay.  So we got a little snack at the supermarket and are currently recouperating at the hotel before going off for Falafels in the Jewish quarter later.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Goodbyes and Hello

The last week at eawag went pretty fast.  We did another step of the lab work we've been doing that involves large gels and UV light (which is why I have a 1 inch strip of sunburn on my wrist) that was pretty cool to finish off with.  

Wednesday was my official last day and Deb's too.  She's been post-docing for a year here, so we co-hosted a little apero after work to day our goodbyes.  I made tiramisu from an American recipe, which amused all of them, and Deb made cookies, which is very American too.  It was fun to just sit around and chat.  Afterwards, a lot of us went into town and sat by Lake Zurich for a few hours.  It was so lively there and was fun to just watch the characters passing by. 

Thursday I didn't leave until the evening, so I did my last long run, checked out of my room, and stopped by eawag for a lab meeting and lunch.  I said my real goodbyes and headed up to the Uetliberg with Aline for a last view of Zurich and a last Movenpick ice cream cone.  

I caught my night train at 8:42.  City Night Line trains are so plushplush.  The chairs lean back super far and are really comfortable.  I slept like a baby, and woke up in the Netherlands.  I met Amanda just fine as she was getting off her flight. 

We dropped our bags in a locker and trekked into Amsterdam for a little wander.  All the architecture is so difference and so quaint.  It's really fun to see what people carry around on their bikes.  Sunflowers is popular, but we've also seen hula-hoops, dogs, edibles, and small children.  The canals and sidewalk cafes are really nice.  

We were a little tired by mid-afternoon, so we headed for our next destination, Delft.  One of my friends from Beijing lives here, and its a cute smaller Dutch town with a lot of history.  (Antonie van Leuvwenhoek, the first person to see a bacteria for example).  Our bags are heavy, but we made it to our nice hotel and were informed that we were the first people to book through, so were upgraded to a suite!  So we have a kitchen, lots of closet space and lots of comfy seating for the cocktail party we could host.  Its quite nice.  We went for a little wander in town and found the fresh stroopwafel (cinammony caramel sandwiched between waffel wafers) stand.  Too bad.  It was pretty amazing.  We then watched all the cute children playing on the central square while listening to the nice church bells that seemed to go on forever. 

Today we meet my friend Matthijs at 10 for a little town tour and catching up.  Tomorrow we might try to rent a bike to get around Dutch style for a change.  And we catch a train tomorrow afternoon for Paris.  

We have two guidebooks for paris, Rick Steve's, and Clothilde's Edilble Adventures in Paris, written by a Parisian food-blogger and food enthusiast.  It's pretty great, and we are quite excited.  

                Doesn't Amanda look European?