Friday, August 12, 2011

By the Numbers

OK, we're back. I can't really tell you what time it is, according to my body, or what day (for that matter), but it's very strange to be here.

So much to say. So many feelings and experiences are swirling in my jet-laggy brain. I start to cry spontaneously. Sometimes out of sadness over my return. Sometimes out of happiness for the beautiful weather in Toronto. Sometimes out of fear of my Visa bill. You know what I mean.

What better way to get back in the swing than with a reductive "Best of / Worst of" post! So, here goes...

Best single moment
  • Looking at the Seine from the Pont Neuf, during a clear (cold) sunset. The lights from the Eiffel Tower twinkled in the distance. Boats ambled by. Perfect architecture was framed by a perfect sky. I was in the thrall of a timeless experience. Lovers from all ages - famed and faceless - have watched that same sky with the same awe. Sounds stupid, but it was meditative and profound.
Worst food (overall)
  • Paris. People, I would never recommend this city for the savoury food. Admittedly, I don't know where to go and I might have had no luck, but I am like a food whisperer. I can generally find it anywhere.
Best Pastry
  • Paris. Lord, this was awesome. I ate a lot of flan (a very firm creme patissiere) in a beautiful laminated pastry, pie shell crust. I don't know how to describe it, except to say that it was perfection in every respect. Taste (perfectly sweet, not lingering), texture (firm enough to walk with but not too eggy, the crust was never soggy despite the viscous quality of the filling - how did they manage that?!?!), presentation (110%).
Best Cookies
  • Amsterdam
Best Bread and Butter
  • Amsterdam. I don't even like bread and I was stuffing it down as fast as they would bring it...
Best ice cream (on the planet)
  • Paris - Berthillon, Ile St. Louis
Best Shopping
  • Gotta give this one to Paris
Worst Plumbing
  • Paris
Worst Weather
  • Oooh, it's a toss up on this one...
Best Walking
  • Also a toss up. Gotta go with Paris. We loved the truly hidden Arene de Lutece (1st century colosseum) in the 5th, and then wandering to the Place de la Contrescarpe (the oldest place in Paris, apparently). While en route we found, by accident, Hemingway's home in Paris - though we had searched for it in vain for days. It was walking excellence.
Best Cycling
  • Is this even a contest?? Amsterdam, natch.
Best Crazy Expensive Upgrade
  • Business class on the trip home. OMG - how will I ever travel like the riff-raff again?? BTW, it makes the pain of the end of one's vacation much more bearable. And on KLM, you can upgrade online, 30 hours in advance, if there are any available seats. Note: We did it for an additional $450.00 a ticket and it was so worth it.
Worst Moment
  • Paris deluge, during which my clothing was plastered to me as if I had emerged from a swim in the ocean. It was dirty, freezing, unremitting and it killed any chance of alternate transportation. Stranded us, at dinner time, for about 2 hours. Don't believe me? Well, watch (Note: Video shot by my husband. This is first hand peeps...):

Most Elegant and Delicious Dinner
  • Amsterdam. Run, don't walk to this place. One of the top 25 best meals of my life. And a spectacular experience. PS: We walked there from the city centre - took an hour but the walk was fantastically interesting and it really sparked an appetite. Note: You don't choose what you're going to eat - they serve a fixed menu each day - but they do ask if you have any allergies or food-hates. I hate to give up control of my eating experience, but I was in the best hands. Every single morsel of food was sublime.
Chicest Boutique Hotel Lunch
  • Amsterdam - The Dylan. Please peeeps, someone go stay there and post about it.
Most surprising things
  • Amsterdam has better food than Paris, any day.
  • Every single building in Paris is historically relevant. (Only slight exaggeration...)
  • Paris Plage - extremely weird inner-city beach concept, especially given the weather we had.
  • I really am an adult. I went half way around the world on a fantastic vacation that didn't involve any back packs and it wasn't on my parents' dime.
Biggest brag
  • We didn't take one taxi in Europe. If we couldn't walk it (and we averaged 10 - 15 miles a day), we cycled, took a bus or tram, or went by subway. Somehow this makes me feel very native.
Other deep thoughts and observations:
  • Euro washrooms are MUCH better than they used to be - practically all cleaner and less scary than any you'll find in an average TO restaurant. Having said that, avoid having to pee at any cemetery.
  • The weather categorically sucked in both cities - 15C and rainy most days. Thank God the shopping was so good! Note that, despite my hatred of rain and gloom, this didn't depress me or limit me in any way. I felt liberated! And I was never too warm - you know how I loathe direct sunlight! Mind you, if you live in Amsterdam, you've got to just suck it up and consign yourself to eternal dampness.
  • The French I saw in Paris (and I knew they were, at least French, if not Parisian), were not substantively slimmer than your average urban North American.
  • Having said this, leave your vanity-sizing bias at home. Yikes, those clothes fit small.
  • Yeah, everything closes in Europe in August, but it's still fantastic. Don't let that stop you if it's the only time of year you can get away. FYI, Paris was much more shut than Amsterdam, for what it's worth...
  • This trip has made me realize - fully - how awesome the food is in Toronto (and in Montreal). We really have access to some of the best variety, quality and food ambiance in the world. I would unreservedly recommend either TO or Mtl for restaurants and for vacation.
  • It's also made me realize how tremendously awesome our hotels are in Canada. Esp. in Montreal and Quebec City. On this trip, we averaged $300.00 (CDN) a night per room in Europe and went to very respectable places - but they didn't compare to those I've stayed at in Canada. For that amount in Montreal you can get an awesome, sexy room, great bathroom, space, great bed and bedding, really good room amenities, excellent in-room toiletries and delish breakfast. And, while you're there, you'll find a terrific dinner practically anywhere - and you can even feel French, if you like.
  • Note: I'm not trying to lead you to believe we roughed it. We were in totally charming (and sometimes sexy) 4-star hotels. Mind you, to stay in Paris like I stay in Montreal would have cost me 800 bucks a night.
  • This trip has in no way undercut my love of travel closer to home. It's only enhanced it on its own merits though, naturally, if I could, I'd go back to Europe yearly!
I realize that it's very irritating to hear about someone else's fantastic holiday, so I promise this concludes EuroKris 2011, if at all possible.

But let's open up the lines here - what was your best and / or worst in Paris or Amsterdam? Share your experience - I want to know!


  1. sounds like such an amazing trip. i would love to do that one day. I agree with you about the food in tornonto and montreal, and the hotels in canada. for under $150 a night i have stayed in some amazing hotels in montreal and in quebec city. Its a great deal, and the food (in quebec city especially) is spectacular.

  2. Wow, I've never had a bad meal in Paris! I'm wondering if your experience has to do with it being August.

    One of my defining Paris memories was sitting at a cafe in St Germaine with my now husband/then boyfriend. It was our first trip together and while watching Parisian life go by we realized that we had been together for 7 days straight and had been totally happy. We've talked about it since - for both of us it was the moment that we realized that we would eventually get married. Such a cliche! LOL But Paris is amazing that way.

  3. I'm still reeling that you didn't like the food in Paris. :-) We've had so many incredible meals there, and sometimes just at places we wandered into because they looked interesting. Le monsieur and I often say that you have to try REALLY hard to find a bad meal in Paris.

    We must have very different tastes!

  4. I'm so glad to hear you had such a great trip! I half-expected to suddenly spot you in Paris, especially when I was sightseeing after Mimi arrived.... X

  5. I actually loved reading about your best and worsts of your Euro vacation!

    Worst in Paris: getting kicked out of a cafe for only ordering coffee pastries and ice cream (at considerable cost) at 3 pm and being told we could only stay if we ordered the full lunch. And it was pretty much empty. Ah well, guess they didn't need paying customers. Or they didn't like Americans with their kids.
    Best: Climbing to the top of Notre Dame with our 2 kids (who were maybe 6 and 9) and the amazing views.

    Worst in Amsterdam: getting separated from my then 10 yo daughter on a bike tour. She was perfectly safe with the group though, and thought it was a marvelous adventure.
    Best in Amsterdam: Wandering around the city with my 2 kids and just having a ball! This trip was actually just me and the kids as my husband had to work. And the weather happened to be unusually gorgeous while we were there (I think it was late June/early July).

    We also had beautiful weather in Paris. I'm thinking it was in the spring.

  6. Farah: And I'm always complaining about how expensive it is here :-)

    Clio: I love your story - and you could be right about the food being off because it's August. That's a very plausible reason.

    Une Femme: I'm sure we both love fabulous food - I have a feeling :-) I think you have either had better luck, better recommendations or you weren't there in August. I mean, if the pastry and ice cream are anything to go by, there shouldn't be any better food in the world.

    Minx: I'm so sorry we didn't have an opp to meet. When next I am in Paris (sigh) or you are in TO, we will def get together. This hol was a bit of a whirlwind in some ways, and very couple-centric. I cannot get over what land you live in. You are stunningly lucky.

    Elle: I'm happy it has amused you - rather than bored you :-) And I love your anecdotes. I can't believe you got separated from your kid. That must have been horrifying! Although all was well and followed up by many more adventures...

  7. Best subway system in the world? Paris Metro hands down. We never took a taxi in our 10 days in Paris either. We also never waited more than 2-3 minutes for a train ever. didn't matter what line, what station, what time of day. Incredible!

  8. "Sometimes out of fear of my Visa bill." Boy do I know that feeling.

    I'm so glad your favorite moment in Paris was standing on Pont Neuf, taking in the Seine and all of the amazing buildings. It is so timeless. I'm reading McCullough's "The Greater Journery" about Americans traveling to Paris in the 1830s and later and that was a favorite spot of so many of the famous people he writes about.

    I think I already mentioned that we also were disappointed at times with food in Paris.

    I love the Metro :-).

    I'm so glad to hear you say that you think Canada offers more value without sacrificing excellent food and lodging. I've only visited TO once, in 1984 for about 10 days, but visited Montreal multiple times during the 80s and once during the 90s. It seemed very European and food was fantastic. Not so fantastic in Quebec City but then the scenery makes up for a lot.

    I'm sure TO & Montreal have changed since the 80s but I'd love to get back.

    Thanks for a terrific write up -- I hope that deluge didn't wreck any of your clothes/shoes!

  9. I was not irked at all - totally living vicariously through you! I had wonderful experiences in both Paris and Amsterdam, but both were far too short - I went to Paris for a 3 day weekend when I was in my early 20s and to visit a good friend in Amsterdam for a long weekend when I lived in Madrid a few years ago. Very different experiences - the best soup I ever had was in Paris and the best apple pie was in Amsterdam. The weather sucked in both places though in August and November respectively.

  10. That deluge is something to behold. I had no idea things were that bad, even though it has been a very wet summer all through north-west Europe. Are we going to see some of those fabulous purchases? if I can't go shopping in Paris myself, I'd like to enjoy it vicariously :).

    Best moment in Amsterdam; Standing breathless and almost tearfully between a wealth of van Gogh paintings. Overwelming and very beautiful.

    Best moment(s) in Paris; Nighttime festival at the quartier Latin, all the beautiful people were out and about, and the whole night was just light up with music and laughter. Fairytale-like (although a bawdy one ;) )

    Such a great post, really descriptive! Thank you.

  11. Couture: My husband totally agrees with you. It was a terrific way to get around, but man the map was complicated.

    Susan: Thanks for your perspectives! You know, QC has improved on the food front even within the 10 years we've been going. It's got some very good to excellent meals now. But it doesn't have the size of TO or Mtl so the choices aren't as broad...

    R: Isn't it amazing how the food experiences linger so long?! And what's up with the weather there? :-)

    Roses: I shouldn't have said EuroKris is entirely over. I do intend to post on all of my purchases - maybe one at a time just to maximize the ahhh factor :-). I got 6 new items. Thanks for being interested!

    You know, on Une Femme d'un Certain Age, there's another video of the same rainstorm (while it was happening, not just after) and it's shocking - way more dramatic than mine. You should check it out.

  12. We were in such a deluge many, many years ago out with our two youngest, took shelter in a bookstore, but there was consternation there when water started seeping through the door. Eventually tried to get home, which required taking Metro, and I remembered an elderly man yelling out to us, Le R et R, ça marche? Le R&R, ça marche encore? Given that he anticipated the inter-urban rail being shut down as at least a possibility, I got the impression this was serious, but also that it had precedent. we walk everywhere, when we're there, and I've come back to our hotel soaked to the skin, shoes nearly ruined, on at least every other trip.
    We've had indifferent food in Paris, but never bad, and we've had some wonderful meals. However, when we were in Bordeaux this past spring, we realized that the percentage of, say, really great fries, was higher -- in restaurants chosen purely by chance -- than in Paris. Obviously, some ennui develops with tourists. We stay further away from the centre and I think that might help, but research and going in a diff. month might make a difference next time -- meanwhile, Amsterdam sounds amazing.

  13. That is some major rain. Did you see anyone loading pairs of animals into a huge boat?

    "Paris - Berthillon, Ile St. Louis " -- totally agree.

  14. F: I had no idea that the rain was so violent there?! It's bizarre. Maybe you, with your West Coast experience, are more able to manage it... On the topic of the food, I really didn't research well enough, and I was too close to the centre of town. The best meal we had was a hole in the wall (not a cheap one, mind you) and it was a bit of a walk from the Ile.

    Wendy: Hilarious - it was totally Noah's Ark. Bad scene, that I overcame with ice cream.

  15. Whoa that is some crazy rain! And such a cute trash receptacle :) also I've never been to Paris or Amsterdam, but after reading this I'm thinking I'll be very happy with a Montreal trip in the meantime.

  16. glad you had such a wonderful trip, while i love france, and paris, i have not been to amsterdam, yet. i suspect that your food experiences in paris may have been due to the august holiday. my experiences in the spring and fall have been nothing but positive. the left bank artists tents are always a great source of inspiration, your scarf is beautiful. what i find interesting after a long trip, no matter where, is how i appreciate what is near to me when i return.

  17. Tricia: I thought the garbages looked a bit makeshift - like any old wind could take them out. Not that I ever saw the weather interfere with them. Montreal will be as beautiful a trip - it's all about loving where you are!

    Corrine: Isn't that a gift of vacation!

  18. How much I have missed!! You were here on my damp continent and I missed you!!!

  19. Lisa: I know! Next time I'm coming to Ireland and I'll force you to have me over for dinner.xo