Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Only in Rome...

Had to post this picture! Found this advertisement for scooter rental on the streets of Rome! Only in Rome can anything like this can be pulled off!

For those who don't know, the picture here is one of Michael Angelo's famous paintings depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I always thought I don't like ice-cream ..

And then there was Paris. Bidding 'au revoir' to Paris, all I can think of are the ice-creams and sorbets I had. The first spoon of melon sorbet was a melon explosion in my mouth. I had never tasted anything like it other than the fruit itself, and this was much better. The sugar content was just right, and surprisingly, the one thing about cold things I don't like - the coldness - didn't bother me. I was enjoying it so much that Madhu was truly jealous that she chose panna cotta instead. The panna cotta ice-cream she got was good too - light, creamy and just right.

After our first taste, we tried many many others - mango, passion fruit, pistachio, caramel - they were all scrumptiously good.  And, I enjoyed ice-cream as never before!

And we ate, and we ate and we ate...

No matter what you taste - from a blueberry muffin to a penne with tomato basil to a raisin cake to a warm apple galette with ice cream - everything tastes special - from a road side hole in the wall to a nice sit down restaurant, the quality and flavor of food is mind-blowing.
The flavors are always spot on. Not too greasy or sugary. And when your waiter says something is spicy, you better believe it. There is also a great variety of food here. As vegetarians, to say we were apprehensive of our chances for good food in Paris is saying it mild. Paris really surprised us, from the libyan galette with zatar to crepes with cheese, eggs or with nutella to falafel, there is great street food at low cost anywhere you go.

Having cash at hand definitely has its advantages, a glass of wine will cost you €3 at the bar when the same might cost you double if you order it from your table! A crepe from a small street side vendor (with a couple of tables) is better taken to go than use their table. If you want a quick picnic, hop into a neighborhood boulangerie for a baguette. Don't forget to get some cheese at the fromagerie next door. Oh, how about those macarons at the patisserie across the street? There you go, doesn't that sound perfect? A cherry on top would be to pick a great spot - the gardens in front of Eiffel tower, along the banks of Seine or just any neighborhood park. You can't go wrong in Paris.

By the way, once you get a table at a restaurant, they don't expect you to leave anytime soon, they don't give you a bill unless you ask for it. You don't really have to leave after you pay your bill! And no tips, service charge is included. We always rounded off the bill, but there is no expectation of that too.

I did not see anyone hurry anywhere except on the subway. Maybe even that was to get the best street-viewing spot at their favorite cafe? I don't know how the French do it, but I am amazed by how much they enjoy the simple pleasures of everyday lunch, always taking time for food, chatting with friends and of course wine with a cigarette alongside.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Paris and the culture shock!

Have you really planned well? Think again, if you don't speak French, you can easily get lost here. After buying like what seemed to be the train tickets to Paris from an automated machine, we accidentally disabled them by walking in out of the ticket protected area of the station! oh boy! €17 down the drain? The people at the kiosk were kind enough to speak English, we were on our way!

The metro system is really good - but only after you get a hang of it. The tickets that we bought were supposed to take us all the way downtown, but not knowing that we were trying to buy a transfer ticket when a proactive old man saw us blank faced at the ticket counter and set us on the right course before we boarded the subway! The people are very nice too! Thanks mystery old man, you saved us some money and a lot of time.

The noise level is amazing, like New York! People are loud and happy - on the subway, on the street, in the cafe! It really reminds me more of Bangalore atmosphere than anywhere else. The subways and the streets are crowded, with tons of people everywhere. Living in the US, we had forgotten how it feels to be surrounded by so many people. Even though we had read about all of this, experiencing it is a whole different matter altogether.

Smoking is as common as chewing gum! Out of the airport, the smell of smoke is everywhere. Both of us being non-smokers, it was a bit overwhelming. The crowded cafes where the tables are so close that if you are not careful, you can knock a glass on the next table (well, Madhu actually did that :) ), it is hard to ignore the smoke right next to you!

People sit at the restaurants for hours, enjoying each others company, with no sense of urgency whatsoever! This was a nice change from our regular lives where going to a restaurant was really just to eat!

We are really liking Paris so far.

Friday, September 3, 2010

And off we go!

Sept 3rd '10 6pm, finally the much anticipated time has arrived, and we are all packed and ready. Can't wait for the flight crew to start boarding and fly out way to Paris.

Paris, Rome, Venice, Pisa - the names that I had heard so many times in my history lessons, and have seen gazillion pictures over the years - The dream is about to come true, and we will be there in person, watching the magnificence of European history (okay, I really mean food) and contemporary culture.

To soak up as much culture as possible, we have decided against driving in Europe. Taking trains all the way, and traveling in public transport should give us a chance to interact with the people, and force us to eat when we are hungry at the local restaurants.

That does not mean that we did not plan! Oh, believe me, we planned like there was no tomorrow. Walking into a strange country may not all be very romantic if we are stranded on the streets looking for a hotel. We have a few long distance trains booked, all the hotel rooms are ready and not to mention the flight to get us to Paris and back to San Francisco from Vienna. It was a long and hard task, one which should not be taken lightly if you are planning such a trip.

I hear the metro system is one of the best in Paris, and we are somehow fairly confident that we can find our way around in France and Italy. We know a few phrases, and we have read about a few gotchas. I completely understand it when people say that French people are easily offended when you start speaking to them in English. It is fair for them to expect foreigners to attempt speak in their native language first, before switching to English. So, I know I have to politely ask if they speak English before I blabber along my question about where the train station is! "Je parle peu le fran├žais, parlez-vous anglais?" (Don't quote me on this, my confidence level is as good as translate.google.com)

Seriously, why don't they board already? Signing off!