Jill’s European Adventure

Yesterday, I returned from my trip to Europe. And what a wonderful trip it was! Even though this was my second time in Paris, it was a truly different experience than the first trip. For example, my food experiences were very different. Last time, I found Parisian food not very exciting. This time, however, I had the best experiences in food. While in Paris, I ate many different duck dishes. While I have enjoyed duck, on occasion and with the right preparation (mostly stewed), this domestic duck in Paris was quite a new experience. I originally had duck as a replacement for chicken, which we did not find on many menus. But since it was so delicious, I continued to have it throughout our stay in France.

This visit to Paris, we stayed in a different neighborhood than before. We stayed in the Latin Quarter, just a couple blocks away from Sorbonne University. The culture was very energetic in that area. We also had a movie being filmed outside our hotel the entire stay. It was reported that an American film was being made at the time, but we are not certain that this film related to that one. We’ll have to see if this is the case. 🙂

On this trip, we spent a half day at D’Orsay Museum. What a very cool museum! We saw the works of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh. We could have spent more time there, but we had a busy day planned. As it turned out, our last stop was the Louvre, where we literally only had time to see Mona Lisa (no lines!) and Venus de Milo. Versailles was superb, and this time we took the time to visit Marie Antoinette’s hermitage (small farm/ cottage) and grotto (cave she hid out in shortly before her execution). The unfortunate thing about our visit to Versaille was that Libby’s camera was stolen from her. Pickpockets are heavy in that area.

From Paris we headed to Toulouse. Our friends, Amy and Larry, have been staying there for a year while Larry works at Airbus. Larry greeted us at the airport and brought us to their penthouse, which was absolutely divine! We sat on the patio that afternoon, eating cheese along with the others sampling wines from five different regions of France. Afterward, Amy made a wonderful duck dish, continuing my delight of French food!

We headed out to Provence the following morning. Our destination was Arles, but we continued to remind ourselves that it is the journey that counts. We saw the beautiful countryside of southern France, with the vineyards and some olive trees. Apparently, in high summer, the sunflowers line the countryside as well. Maybe I’ll see that on another trip! The Provence area is known for it’s lavendar, so we made sure to get spices and souvenirs that highlighted that plant. Once again, we had a wonderful dining experience as our table sat overlooking the Roman ruins of Arles. Arles is also the location where Van Gogh painted his famous Starry Night scene, as well as other paintings.

In the morning, we took a “car tour” of Arles, since it was raining hard (actually thundering and lightening, which is rare for France), and then we headed out for Carcassonne, which is a walled city. By the time we arrived, driving through heavy winds, the sun was shining brightly. Carcassonne is a beautiful Medieval town completely surrounded by fortress walls. It was very quaint, though a bit touristy, which suited our touristy tastes. 🙂

From Carcassonne, we headed back to sunny Toulouse. We had arranged for a traditional Touloussan meal of cassoulet (I bipassed this meal, as it’s base was beans, which would not agree with my stomach. I did however try it, and it was superb.) It was here that I had foie gras, a goose pate. Delicious!!

Larry had arranged a tour of Airbus for us, which was really interesting and fun to see. We toured the Airbus 380. While we were unable to take photos during the tour, I did get some postcards to remember the experience.

From the tour, we went to Market in Toulouse. That was VERY fun! We started off with a lunch, which Amy’s Chilean friend, Marie Jose, recommended (actually walked us to). We dined on more foie gras (Dianne got an extra serving!) and had steak tartar, which I had not had since I was a kid! It was great, but they served way too much, and it had to be shared. Dad would have been proud of me, though. Our final night of Parisian food was at a place that served Mussels with your choice of sauces. We all tried something different (Larry had the chicken, which he seemed to regret after trying all of our dishes). Each of our meals consisted of a HUGE bowl mussels soaking in the sauce of our choice. French fries (not freedom fries) were served as the side. So spectacular!

The next morning, we had to get up very early to catch the train to Barcelona. Unfortunately, there was a problem with retrieving our tickets, and since it was before 7 AM, when the service counters opened, we missed that ride out and had to reschedule our departure for the afternoon. We arrived in Barcelona around 8 that night, which is not late, as Barcelona is a city that goes on all night. We had a wonderful tapas dinner and then walked the La Rambla. I think we got to bed after midnight that evening.

In Barcelona, we decided to purchase a 2-day Hop On, Hop Off, bus tour, using it as a form of transportation as well as learning about the culture of Barcelona. That was a great investment. We spent much of the day just riding three of the four bus routes and getting our bearings in Barcelona. Barcelona is a city along the Mediterranean Sea and it cuts into mountains as well. The tour bus was definitely the way to go, but taxis are very cheap as well (unless you are taking an early morning trip to the airport – plan to spend 40 euros). After our day of touring, we then walked La Rambla, coming across the Good Friday Passion of the Christ parade, which started at 5:00, blocking La Rambla for a coupe hours. We later discovered, around 11 that night, that the parade was still going on, as it made it’s way back through La Rambla at that time. However, since it was a walking rendition of the Passion story, the floats were different than they had been earlier in the day. Spain is a very Catholic country, with many churches.Our dinner this night was very entertaining. We enjoyed a Flamenco dancing show while we ate. The entertainment was extraordinary! As always the food was delicious.

For our final day in Barcelona, we took a tour up the Tibidabo mountain. It is the highest mountain in the Barcelona area, and at the top of the mountain there is a church and an amusement park. We laughed at the combination! The view was spectacular. We did a lot of shopping on this final day in Europe, but the true treat was our last meal of the trip. We ate at a seaside restaurant, La Fondas. Our meal began with an assortment of sliced meats, olives, and Spanish pan (bread with a tomato jam). Then we had mussels, followed by an assortment of cold seafoods like crab legs, shrimp, clams, calamarie, and things that I had never tried before that tasted delicious! And then the meal came… yes, that’s right! Those were just appetizers. We had seafood paella, which consists of snails, shrimp, calamarie, mussles and again much more, in a bed of a tomatoey rice dish. The plate was huge, so I had to focus on the seafood and eat the rice as filler. LOL. And then there was the dessert (that’s correct, we weren’t done yet). I ordered the chocolate mousse, one of my favorite desserts of the trip, followed closely by creme brulee in France. But the waiter decided to bring us a tray full of cakes and cookies, on the house, to complete our dining experience. Oh, and I forgot to mention, with this meal, the ladies drank complementary sparkling wine, a bottle of wine, and the server brought out an after dinner liquor that Libby described as being similar to lemoncello. I guess it was pretty strong.

It sounds like the focus for the trip was food, which in large part, it was!

We woke early the next morning, 3 AM. By Barcelona standards, people were just going home for the night. We caught our 6:30 AM flight out of Barcelona. After a stopover in Amsterdam, we continued on our journey home to Minneapolis, arriving home on Easter Sunday at 12:30 in the afternoon. Coming home is always a much longer trip that going away.

Overall, the trip was excellent, with a few exceptions (missing our original flight out, Libby having her camera stolen, and then missing the first train out of Toulouse. But we always recovered from those setbacks, reminding ourselves that it’s the journey that counts.

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