Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lune de Miel - Part V - From the plage to paree

Day 3

Our beach day gets off to a rocky start quite literally after Dan's many conferences with the concierge to locate a sandy beach nearby result in the pebbled Anjuna. Still the incredible Indian style beach hut, surrounding cliffs and our scenic voyage a Eze sur Mer make it impossible to be disappointed.

**After a short break of a few days exploring Paris - it's time to finish this story.

My pen left off at Eze when I left off for an excellent train meal of croque monsieur and some sort of brie pesto concoction melted within a baguette; crusty, dusty and doughy. Yum.

Returning to day three and the smooth pebbled beaches of Eze- with cliffs on either side and clear warm water - it was indeed impossible to be disappointed as we alternated between bobbing in the salty Mediterranean and basking, drink in hand, in the fleeting sunshine.

Unfortunately the clouds moved in and we moved out before evening, taking the train back to Nice and stopping to do some souvenir shopping on the way back to the hotel.

For dinner D. had a fierce craving for fruits de mer, which I related to our concierge in Italian as frutti di mare (who knows why) but Italian was what we ended up with at Boccaccio, a gorgeous Italian restaurant with the interior of a yacht.

Honeymoon - Day 3 Eze Beach

After a kir in the lounge, we were seated out front where the patio spills onto the street next to the glow and briny smell of the raw bar where oysters where shucked and sublimated clouds hung around ice filled platters.

Honeymoon - Day 3 Eze Beach

Dinner was a feast of oysters - fritto misto for D. and sole meuniere for me. The oysters were fresh and salty, D.'s fritto misto: all things crispy and delicious and my sole: delicately browned and buttery accompanied by a torte of asparagus and a snowy mound of potatoes drizzled with even more butter. Everything washed down with the now habitual Cotes de Provence.

Our last evening in Nice continued with a walk over to old town where we ducked into the recommended Distilleries Ideales for a Pelforth (D.) and  Monaco - beer, grenadine and sprite (Moi).

Of course this bar was conveniently located adjacent to Fenocchio for one final gelato - a hybrid of favorites: caramel beurre sale and avocat - Au Revoir Nice!!

So - off we go to Paris on a train where I alternately sleep open-mouthed with my head flung back and write at length about the first few days of our honeymoon.

We arrive in Paris via Gare Lyon and then Metro a la Bastille - schlepping luggage all the way. By the time we reach Place des Vosges, we are more than ready to relax in our super-plush room at the Pavilion de la Reine while music pours in the windows from street musicians below and champagne chills in a bucket.

Before long, we are out and about in the Marais, marching about and trying to jog my memory of streets and cafes from five years ago.

Honeymoon - Day 4 Nice to Paris

Honeymoon - Day 4 Nice to Paris

After several blocks (20) and some advice from a man on the corner, we located favorite tomato tarte tatin locale,  Les Philosophes, with plans to return later in the evening, but first more walking, more memories and a citron presse near the Hotel de Ville.

Honeymoon - Day 4 Nice to ParisHoneymoon - Day 4 Nice to Paris

Despite all the sleeping on the train, we call it an early night after canard confit and brochette d'agneau at Les Philosophes - and of course, the tomato tarte tatin for me. Bonjour Paris!

Honeymoon - Day 4 Nice to Paris

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lune de Miel - Part IV - One Epic Meal

There is no debating that D. and I love to eat, but given our financial status, when we go out we usually choose safe investments with tried and true cuisine that we know we'll like and isn't too outlandish on the price scale. This is not to say that we're conservative eaters. Far from it. It's just to say that super haute cuisine, molecular gastronomy and experimental restaurants aren't really on our radar. Which is why it was a good thing that our concierge made our reservation at 11th Art after being unable to secure one of our two 'safe' choices Michelin starred L'Univers or La Cave de L'origine.

We had no expectations when we arrived at 11th Art for our 10 p.m. reservation. A quick flip through the menu made the multiple course tasting menu the obvious choice - which we both made along with another bottle of Cotes de Provence.

Our choice included some French menu regulars from jambon et melone to magret de canard even foie gras, but nothing could have prepared us for the deliciousness we were about to incur.

Course #1 Foie Gras & Pain Perdu

A long rectangular plate  - on the left: raspberry preserves in the middle: raspberry sorbet with crumb swirl, on the right: a thick slice of foie gras perched on top of a piece of french toast.

Exquisite. Foie gras with raspberry? A revelation. 

Course #2 Jambon et Melon 

A reservoir of raspberry coulis topped with a pastry cylinder filled with cream nestled next to a miniature ball of cantaloupe. Inside the cylinder: surprises. A mound of gelatin or aspic and a singular chive.

I go for the melon first. D. accuses me of being short-sighted, he was right. Although delicious with a light coating of coulis, it is nothing compared to the smoky, meaty filling of the cylinder. Maybe it isn't pastry, but bacon? No. Maybe the aspic is ham? Not really, more melony... no it's the cream - whipped ham bacon cream. Ham bacon cream that tastes better than bacon or any other pork product on earth. Salty & rich; I literally licked my plate clean.

Course #3 Sea Bass

A perfectly cooked sliver of fish served on top of green peas with a smudge of red paste of deliciousness. Neither D. nor I can place the flavor of said smudge (paprika?) but we eat it in its entirety and eagerly await...

Course #4 Magret de Canard et Peche

Gorgeously browned and glistening with fat the duck is tucked into a mound of polenta. D. keeps exclaiming 'what is this!!??' in reference to the polenta. Its creamy sweetness the perfect off-set to the rich meaty duck and juicy morsels of peche.

If not for the jamon et melone, this would take the cake.

Course #5 Pre-dessert

A rice-pudding like concoction of coconut served in a petite bowl with an equally petite spoon and drizzled with more of the raspberry coulis.

Course #6 A Grand Finale

A small chocolate sphere, more raspberry coulis & sorbet drenched in grand marnier and set ablaze, the chocolate shell melting away to reveal additional sorbet on the inside.

Although the pyrotechnics receive high marks - I would have preferred a second helping of the foie gras.

We wrapped up our meal with deux cafe and stumble out of the street, the last ones in the restaurant. We toss around the idea of going out before realizing the time - already well into the next day...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lune de Miel - Part III

* Note - if you're already tired of the honeymoon posts, we've got a long way to go... sorry

Day 2 began the way our best European vacations always do; with an expansive breakfast buffet filled with all manners of cold cuts, fruits, cheeses, breads and juices. Our breakfasts in Nice were no exception. Incredible lox and scrambled eggs which D. likened to his own plus wheels of chevre spread on crusty baguettes and plenty of pain au chocolat.

We were in a museum state of mind as we walked back to Place Massena to catch the bus up to the Musee National Marc Chagall.

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

Created and curated during his lifetime, Chagall is one of the few artists to oversee his own museum, and I think it shows in the careful placement of his biblical masterworks and the almost transcendent peacefulness of the space. Although the exterior of the building is an awesomely mod relic of the 60's, the inside is timeless, expansive and light-filled.

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

The museum focuses on his biblical cycle but also contains a handful of other well-known pieces including one of my favorites; a female acrobat created for a London theater, inverted (as are all things Chagall) next to a green horse. A moon and a cockerel provide musical accompaniment for the scene. I love his human-eyed animals and there are many of them here.

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

After Chagall, we continued up the hill to the Musee Matisse with a quick side venture to the Musee Archeologique and the Roman baths. This musee had a modest collection of Greco and Roman antiquities discovered in the region and the baths were fairly expansive but required greater explanation.
Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

The Matisse Museum was an unfortunate disappointment - although I am quite fond of his work, the limited offering and poor curation of this dusty rose maison does little to showcase who he was as an artist. The permanent collection was meager and made up mostly of sketches and preparatory drawings instead of the paintings, collages and most of all color he is known for.

The temporary exhibit showcasing Matisse's assistant and model of over 20 years, Lydia was the highlight, but still contained a disproportionate number of sketches during a period in which he created many of his best known paintings. My favorite part? Matisse's illustrated notes to Lydia, translated by D.

Leaving the Musee Matisse, we thought the church spires across the park belonged to the Russian church built by vacationers from the mother land in the early 20th century (the largest orthodox church outside of Russia) but as we walked in that direction we discovered the monastery instead. We skipped a tour of the interior and opted to poke around the cemetery grounds (home to Matisse's grave) which hung on the backside of a cliff providing excellent views of the city and port below.

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

Our bus returned us back to Place Massena where, famished we sought out a late lunch of Nicoise specialties in old town's Lou Pilha.

We ordered at the counter: calamari nicoise, farcis and a salade nicoise before grabbing a seat on one of the orange benches over-flowing the corner. The salad was unremarkable with what D. found to be too many onions, the calamari also, just ok cooked in a paella-like sauce and served over rice. The real stars of the meal were the farcis, onions tomatoes and zucchini stuffed with some sort of deliciousness and then broiled - our favorites by far.

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

We continued through old town after our late lunch, ducking into a petite palais for a quick walk through a few baroque rooms situated around two open staircases providing a cool (and necessary) cross-breeze. Highlights included the pink frescoed staircase, an eighteenth century pharmacy and an incredible glass and plaster screen separating the sleeping area off from the rest of the bedroom.

Our walk back to the hotel included one more detour a la Fenocchio where I opted for some of their more unusual offerings, tomate basilic and avocat. The former was almost a sorbet, icy fresh and full of flavor. The latter, incredibly rich and delicious, even slightly sweet - my absolute favorite. Obviously I was too consumed with my gelato choices to pay D.'s much attention, but if memory serves me he opted for two of his favorites: citron and pamplemousse.

Honeymoon - Day 2 Nice Musees

We took a break before dinner to enjoy our complimentary bottle of Cotes de Provence on our balcony overlooking the city, then departed for what was probably the most outlandish meal of our lives.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lune de Miel - Part II

After a quick freshen up, D. and I headed out for a walk around Nice beginning with the seaside "boardwalk" the Promenade des Anglaise. Although Rick Steves promised us a quick stroll through the lobby of the promenade's gem, the Hotel Negresco, we caught little more than a glimpse before being turned away as non-hotel guests. Turns out they must have been flooded by Steves-reading-tourists and as a result have stationed stern security guards at each entrance. Pity because it did look divine.

We shook off our hurt feelings with a walk down Rue Jean Mendecin - pedestrianized and totally commercialized on our way to Place Massena, named as most things in Nice are after Napoleonic war hero, Andre Massena. 

The buildings are pink and yellow with vibrant shutters and chalky finishes that are all Italian - pl. Massena itself is broad and open with fountains at one end and odd fiberglass men kneeling on elevated platforms throughout. We only later discovered that they glow changing colors at night.

Beyond pl. Massena, we descended the steps into old Nice, a treasure trove of narrow streets, more Tuscan architecture and distinctively Italian piazzas.

The famous flower market, Cours Saleya was in the process of turning over to cafes for dinner and the streets were fairly quiet as we ducked into the church of St. Retable for a quick look around.

Although baroque in style and iconography, St. Retable lacked the heaviness of its Italian counterparts. Chalky frescoes had all but worn away from the domed ceilings and the overall impression was distinctly coastal as if a persistent sea breeze had worn down the walls over the years.

Honeymoon - Day 1 Exploring NiceHoneymoon - Day 1 Exploring NiceHoneymoon - Day 1 Exploring Nice

D. energized after the cool church and a quick coca from the corner suggested we climb Castle Hill for the vistas certain to be heightened by the approaching sunset.

The views as we climbed were remarkable from the initial city panoramas to the man - made waterfall ("the cascade") to the port-side terraces and balconies that felt suspended over the ocean.

Honeymoon - Day 1 Exploring Nice

Honeymoon - Day 1 Exploring Nice

Unfortunately, sunset was not quite as impending as imagined, so although the light was warming and tinged with pink as we descended, there was still plenty of sunshine while we enjoyed dinner at Festival de la Moule beneath Matisse's apartment back in the Cours Saleya.

Festival de la Moule's unlimited offering of mussles and frites for 13,90€ seemed too good to pass up. Although they were probably not the very best moules of our lives, they were far from the worst. Our unlimited selections included the classic mariniere, moutarde, creole (curry) and roquefort (for D.) - all washed down with a pichet of house wine and some crispy fries dredged in their sauces.

Post-dinner, we sought out famed gelateria, Fenocchio for a dessert to be consumed along the promenade. With an eye-popping array of flavors trumping even the most extensive in Florence, we had a hard time choosing. I settled on all-time favorite, noisette paired with new offering: caramel beurre sale - something about caramel and butter (how could you go wrong?) D. chose chocolat-menthe which he aptly likened to a peppermint patty (intense) and another flavor he'll have to recall. 

Honeymoon - Day 1 Exploring Nice

We strolled back down the promenade, snapping pictures of the now lit-up Castle Hill and patting ourselves on the backs for managing to stay up until 10:30 on our first day. As we returned to the hotel we were greeted by the ultimate congratulatory prize; our luggage, fresh from Amsterdam. I wonder if it had as lovely of a first day as we did.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Quarter Century

Today I am 25. It seems like all the time in the world and no time at all has passed since my last birthday post. There I warned of my birthday nostalgia often resulting in tears and self-pity as a result of not being able to stop the world and slow down my life. When I was nine, the thought of never being a single-digit again was almost more than I could handle.

So, how does 25 feel? Remarkably right. I mean, it sort of snuck up on me with all of the wedding hoopla and travel that's been going on, but it seems apropros, I feel very 25, whatever that means.

Reading my friend Paige's birthday blog from last week made me think of birthday traditions of my own. Aside from the aforementioned breakdowns, birthdays have always been a time of reflection over the past year and of course, an excuse to indulge in buying and feeding myself things I probably shouldn't. For the past two years, D. has taken my picture. Not just a quick snapshot at a party, but a real picture. I started doing the same for him last year. I like this plan because even though it's my birthday, on the outside, it's a pretty normal day and when I look back on the pictures I can see who I was at 23...24. It's not really a big capital T tradition, being just a few years old, but I look forward to making it one.

As I imagined when writing last year's post, this has been a huge year for me. So much to look forward to, so much love surrounding us, it really blew me away.

A few highlights....

Neighborhood dinners - may they continue forever. What could be better than a random Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday with food on the grill (or stove) and anywhere from six to eighteen friends gathered sharing drinks and laughing all night? Doing it about once a week. Always my favorite day of the week.

Thanksgiving in Duck, NC. Beach walks, jumping, slow roasted sticky chicken.

Christmas in Pasco followed by fake Christmas on New Years in Denver. We saw Avatar twice in this span of days and I will not disclose the number of times since then.

Quitting grad school - some might not consider this a 'highlight,' I consider it another step in figuring out what I want to do. Arts management does not seem to be a part of that.

Getting a real fancy pants office, where I can see the top of the treasury building if I lean to the side of my floor to ceiling window.

Amy emails.

Multiple planning trips to Denver where we always seemed to spend more time having fun than doing any real planning.

Multiple road trips to North Carolina where I always seemed to spend more time sleeping than listening to our book on tape. 

Dancing until dawn in NY for my bachelorette weekend, then having milkshakes at the same diner that served us breakfast several hours earlier.

Our Fourth of July get-away weekend to Lewes, DE  - Jellyfish and all.

AND the creme-de-la-creme: spending a week with the loves of my life, laughing at Uncle Pie, air-born blackberries, unexpected monsoons, turtle dance moves and tie-dyed shoes (along with a litany of other inside jokes) Saying 'I do' in front of the world and celebrating the occasion with a party literally out of my dreams before leaving to explore new places and revisit old favorites with my now husband.

So, can 25 get any better than this?

I think we're just getting started.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lune de Miel - Part I

"Bienvenue a la Avignon TGV" wakes me from part 16 of my never-ending nap. Unfortunately, my hopes of gazing out on the French countryside as we shuttle have been trumped by my inability to keep my eyes open. Well, we are supposed to be relaxing, right? So far we've relaxed about as much as we do on any international trip, which is very little.

So, to re-cap....

We arrived in Nice on Tuesday after breaking our own record of hours traveled. We stayed up all night Sunday-Monday packing and squeezing in the final moments of our wedding week. 4 a.m. found us at DIA after an informative ride with our hippy cab-driver/philosopher. His penchant for folk music and scraps of useless information kept us awake as I mopped my teary face with a paper towel.

Although our departure seemed to be a successful one, our travel luck caught up with us in Atlanta where we were pulled from our flight to JFK after waiting for mechanical issues to be addressed, a delay I hardly noticed as I slept through most of it.

Re-routed through Brussels, we spent several more hours in Atlanta before our business class Atlantic hop filled with champagne, filet and a solid six hours of sleeping. We rushed gate to gate in Brussels, confused about baggage and setting off the metal detector with my lingering wedding hair pins. We even donated our gifted bottle of champagne for our 'anniversary' to some helpful guides at security who were much younger and hipper than the cowboy hat bedecked ones at our Denver airport.

We made it to the gate just in time to fall wearily in line with other travelers bound for the sunny Cote d'Azur, but were unfortunately turned away from our final leg of travel as we were warned that our luggage had not made the transfer and we were left with two options: to return to the airport and fetch it ourselves after arriving in Nice, or to wait for the next departure in an hour when we would arrive alongside our luggage.

We waited for the next departure with a long line of passengers at the Brussels Airlines ticket counter with tested patience. Our flight was again spent sleeping as D. could hardly be roused to enjoy his cold pasta with prosciutto or marvel as snowy alps gave way to sparkling sea beneath us.

Although it had been promised, when we arrived in Nice, our luggage did not. In fact our waiting in Brussels had little to do with our luggage which was currently making its own separate journey from JFK to Amsterdam and then on to Nice. Turns out we had been separated from the very beginning, and luckily, despite the threats from our Air Brussels gate agent, our bags would be delivered once they reached Nice.

Honeymoon - Day 1 Exploring Nice

With that somewhat comforting news, we departed Nice's 60's Bond-esque tropicana airport and boarded city bus #98, bound for the Promenade Anglaise and our honeymoon residence, the Palais Mediterranee.

Honeymoon - Day 1 Exploring Nice

While we waited for our room to be ready, we enjoyed a rose (por moi) and a biere a pression (D.) on the terrace as we gazed out onto the shockingly blue water where swimmers frolicked and para-sailers were dramatically dunked.

The Palais is a behemouth of a hotel (and a casino which we never visited) situated behind a massive, colonnaded, art deco facade.

The original hotel has been scraped and replaced with a modern one replete with open air pool and the aforementioned terrace over-looking the sea on the third level where the ballroom/dining room once were.
A few black and white photos depicting the Palais as it once was in the 1920's make its current appearance seem, well, disappointing. Although comfortable, to let an architectural artifact like that fall into ruin seems a total shame.

Honeymoon Hangover

I'm sure you were asking yourself if I'd ever blog again. Wondering if now that the wedding was over and I was happily hitched why I would need to post floral arrangements, save the dates, and lots and lots of shoes. Well my blog readers (all five of you) I'm here to tell you that life goes on post-nuptials and so will this blog.

But for now, I have a lot of re-capping to do. I mean, I couldn't tease the wedding details out for months and then fail to cover the day itself. Unfortunately it's not a one-post sort of story so I'll start by working backwards with our honeymoon itself, which we returned from almost one month ago, and I'm still suffering withdrawals from.

If you think it's criminal for me to take three weeks off work, have the most joyous time of my life surrounded by family and friends I love with all of my heart, travel through my favorite city eating exquisite food and then complain about having to come home, you're right. But that's not going to stop me.

The following posts are taken from the journal I kept through Nice & Paris. They will be long and self-indulgent. Don't say you weren't warned.