Sunday, March 17, 2013

European Adventure 2012: Paris Day 1

Ah, Paris!  It was just as beautiful, unique, and stylish as I had expected! 
We hopped off our train and were greeted by Dan's high school friend, Tom. Tom is fluent in French and was living in Paris studying French law. He was the perfect tour guide! He helped us buy our metro tickets and took us to a little cafe for lunch.  I had a duck pate sandwich on French bread (of course)!  This began my love affair with French food!

Peter instantly bonded with his new best friend, Tom.  Tom was good enough to read a story to him while we waited for our food.  (Because French cafes, though adorable, are a little cramped and not very kid friendly.  So Peter had to stay very, very still.)

After lunch, Tom headed to class and we set out to explore Paris! 
First stop: the Arc de Triomphe! We snapped photos of this massive structure over the Champs Elysses--a busy, noisy street. 

We walked a bit further to catch our first glimpse of THE one-and-only...Eiffel Tower!  It was much bigger than we had pictured and just as lovely as we'd imagined.  So, of course, we had to take a zillion pictures!

Our visit was just a few days after Valentine's Day! Well played, Dan Beaudoin.

Aw, my sweethearts!
We continued our stroll through Paris with all of its sights!  We walked by the building where Napoleon is buried and peeked through a fence to catch a glimpse of the famous "The Thinker" sculpture in an outdoor garden (we were too cheap and too short on time to go inside). 
Next, we visited the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul.  Saint Vincent de Paul's incorrupt body is entombed there!  What a beautiful, powerful place for silent prayer before Christ and His faithful servant.

Then, we walked to the Church of the Miraculous Medal.  Here, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Catherine Laboure three times and showed her the image to use in the design of the Miraculous Medal.  It was a beautiful church filled with quiet, prayerful pilgrims.
After spending time in prayer, we continued our walk through the streets of Paris.  The sun had set and everything seemed even more impressive at night.  
Isn't this an incredible sculpture of Saint Michael the Archangel?
Oooooh la la!  Paris came alive at night.  The lights, cafes, shop windows, art and architecture all possessed a magical glow.  We caught a glimpse of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  Incredible!


We met Tom outside of the Cathedral and walked to dinner together.  He took us to an amazing restaurant (the BEST of the trip)! 
After ordering, the waitress brought us our drinks and some intriguing looking tools.  Soon, a sizzling dish of escargot was placed before us.  Tom taught us how to use our "tools" and we slurped down the Parisian delicacy. 
My first taste of escargot...
(Peter stuck with the bread...)

Dan's first adventurous gulp...

The verdict: snails, when covered in butter and garlic and eaten somewhere trendy like Paris, are actually quite deee-lish. 
Dan...eating French fries in France.  Life is good. 
We waited hungrily for a long time for our main course.  Finally, we discovered that in Paris, they cannot bring your main course until all of your appetizer is finished!  Once we made that important discovery, we slurped the last of the escargot and our next course arrived soon after that.
For dinner, I had an absolutely heavenly duck with plum sauce and Dan tried a tasty traditional stew. 
But wait.  There's more.
Mmmmm...I can still taste it.
The Grand Finale:
Creme Brulee

and "Stuffed" Ice Cream
(stuffed with almonds, creme puffs, chocolate sauce, and pure happiness)

Our dinner was the perfect ending to a wonderful first day in Paris. 

European Adventure 2012: Belgium and the Netherlands

I look back on our last European Adventure trip with deep was one of my favorites.  This trip was packed full of amazing "bucket list" moments, incredible spiritual experiences, and oh-so-delicious food!  Additionally, I was about 11 weeks pregnant and just at the end of an overwhelming bout of 1st trimester morning sickness.  I was still a bit queasy, but the worst was over and I was thrilled to be functioning again! 
We took a "Space A" flight (a free flight on the extra seats on a military plane that "hops" from base to base) to Germany.  After a stressful rental car mix-up at the base in Germany (long, annoying story), we took a cab and rushed to an off-base car rental company that was just about to close.  We luckily grabbed an overpriced car and hopped in; grateful, tired, and hungry.  To our great happiness, we spotted a McDonald's down the road (McDonald's is so comforting during stressful foreign travel) and grabbed a late dinner to go.  (After two months of non-stop nausea and a diet of bagels and malt-o-meal, those french fries tasted pretty magical.)
Though it was late, our night was not done.  We drove through Germany and crossed into Belgium, where we encountered a crazy snowstorm.  We pushed through the storm and finally arrived at our adorable, cozy bed & breakfast a little before midnight. (Lesson learned: our b&b host was quite surprised to see us so late.  After all of our travel delays, we forgot to contact the b&b.  He was very forgiving!)  After a long day of travel, that Belgian b&b looked heavenly.  
After a restful night's sleep, we welcomed the new, chilly morning in Belgium with a delicious breakfast.  The B&B owners served an array of scrambled eggs, cheeses, meats, breads, yogurt, and fruit.  We feasted in their quaint little kitchen with two other guests, a student and a businessman. 
We drove down the road to Gheel, Belgium to visit the tomb of Saint Dymphna.  According to John J. Delaney's Dictionary of the Saints, St. Dymphna lived in the mid-600s A.D. and was the daughter of a pagan Celtic chieftain.  She fled from home on the death of her mother to escape her cruel father and went to Antwerp accompanied by her confessor, St. Gerebernus, and two companions.  They then built an oratory at Gheel where they lived as hermits.  Tracked down by Dymphna's father, the two companions and the priest were murdered by his men, and Dymphna was beheaded by her father when she refused to return with him  Her feast day is May 15th.  We were excited to visit the resting place of this courageous Saint!
It was a coooold February day with the kind of wind that just cuts right through you.  And yet, all throughout the adorable teeny European town of Gheel were elderly people riding their bikes seemingly oblivious to the arctic chill.  As we approached the magnificent church that held St. Dymphna's relics, we discovered that dozens of those bikes were parked right next to the church.  Their elderly riders, all dressed in black, were entering the church.  Then, a hearse pulled up.  A funeral was going on in the church...
So, unfortunately, we did not make it inside of the church to see St. Dymphna's tomb.  But we prayed on the church doorstep and felt that Saint Dymphna was smiling on her little pilgrims.  

After snapping some photos, we hopped back in the car to defrost our fingers and toes.  Next stop:  the Netherlands!  
Dan's Aunt Ettie and Uncle Jim live in Den Haag, the Netherlands, which made this colorful Dutch city the perfect next stop on our dash across Europe.  We dropped off the rental car at an airport in Den Haag and waited for Dan's uncle to pick us up.  The weather was even more extreme in Den Haag.  Icy  cold sideways rain slapped our faces as we trudged to the rental car station, stroller and luggage in tow.  We were absolutely thrilled to see Dan's uncle's warm smile.  We spent the afternoon and evening in their cozy, European downtown flat drinking tea and chatting as the rain poured outside.  Aunt Ettie served us a delicious dinner and a dessert of chocolate mousse.  After dinner, we were ready for a nice warm bed.  Peter and I slept in Jim and Ettie's daughter's old room, complete with enormous stuffed animals.  Peter loved it!  

We had a wonderful visit with Uncle Jim and Aunt Ettie!

The next morning, Uncle Jim drove us to the train station where we bought our tickets for the fast train to Paris!
Paris, here we come!