Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer in Europe - Part 1 - History and Culture

Our two week trip to Europe this summer afforded us the opportunity to see some truly bucket list-worthy sights.  For the sake of better preserving the memories, here are some highlights.


Having taught British literature for a few years, some of London's literary and artistic landmarks were at the top of my list here.

The "Treasures" collection at the British Library - complete with originally penned works by the likes of Keats, Tolstoy, Byron, Shelley, and Shakespeare.

The gallery of artwork by William Blake, one of my favorites, at the Tate Britain museum.  Some highlights were engravings from Songs of Innocence and The Ghost of a Flea.

Van Gogh's Sunflowers and the unexpected surprises of Sir John Everett Millais's Ophelia and John William Waterhouse's Lady of Shallot at the National Gallery.

The immensely famous Westminister Abbey.  I was particularly excited to see the resting places of some famous writers at "Poet's Corner."  In a single picture, you can see markers for Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Hopkins, Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas, Lewis Carroll, and Byron.

Shakespeare's Globe - the modern reconstructed replica of the fabled playwright's performance center.

The George Pub - the oldest pub in London, frequented by the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare.


We stayed in a small town outside of Geneva, right on the lake, with relatives of our good friend Junita.  

The market in the town Morges, about 15 minutes from our house.

The Chateaux de Chillon, a beautiful ancient castle on the shores of Lake Geneva, which I found out later is actually the most visited historic monument in all of Switzerland.  It also boasted literary intrigue for its self-carved name of Lord Byron in the dungoen, who was inspired by a prisoner of the castle to write "The Prisoner of Chillon."

The United Nations and the UNHCR in Geneva.

The Red Cross Museum, which featured both an inspiring tour of the history of the organization and some highlights global human rights efforts in general, including the original Geneva Convention and names of the millions of holocaust victims whom the IRC attempted to locate and re-connect with family members.


We spent a few packed-full days in Paris living out of a tiny AirBNB apartment in the central 1st Arrondissement.  It did not disappoint on any front.

We spent a Sunday morning popping into famous historical churches that included...

Sainte Chapelle, which contains one of the most impressive stained-glass displays I've ever seen

Notre Dame, which houses some famous Catholic relics that included Christ's purported Crown of Thorns

Some smaller, but equally impressive churches in the Latin Quarter - St. Julien le Pauvre, St. Severin Church, and Saint Germain des Pres. 

As for paintings, we skipped the Louvre and went to the Musée d'Orsay, which displayed such gems as Van Gogh's Sower with Setting Sun, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and some of Monet's Water Lilies.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer in Europe - Part 2 - Adventures in Food

Anyone who knows me knows that I get as excited about new food when I travel as I do about anything else.  Needless to say, I was super excited to eat our way across Europe.  We of course tried to have some of the iconic fare from each of the three countries we visited, along with some unexpected surprises.  There was so much good stuff, I had to write it all down!


 In London, we had classics like fish 'n' chips, steak and ale pie, and British ales in some local pubs.  We also tried Ian and Junita's favorite local spot for Indian food, where we ate four plates of amazing curried rack of lamb.  Alissa was also on a mission to find scones and clotted cream, which I managed to procure on our very last day.


Some highlights here included some moules marinières (mussles) at a cafe right on Lake Geneva and lots and lots of cheese.  Real Gruyère was no joke.

The highlight, though, was Junita's uncle Edwin's offer to share a raclette of cheese with us - which he insisted is far more pure and superior in comparison to fondue.   This ridiculous cheese and method of eating cheese involved heating a huge half-wheel with a specially designed heating element and scraping off globs of melted cheese to eat with potatoes and other things.  And yes, it was as amazing as it looks.


I actually had a list of specific foods I wanted to have in Paris - most of which I'd never had before -  and I think I got to all of them.  This list included foie gras, steak tartare, escargot, duck breast.  All were amazing, and the French more than lived up to their food-glorifying reputation.   I read in a book during our time here that UNESCO has even declared French cuisine a "world intangible heritage."

And of course, we couldn't leave Paris without having lots of pastries - every morning, mind you - and baguette sandwiches.