Madrid, Te Amo!

Siestas are much needed. I know this now. Large lunches in the afternoon and tapas at night are a way of life in Madrid, or at least it was my way of life when I visited over the holidays. I ate so much during lunch that I needed a nap (didn’t take one though), and by night I wasn’t that hungry so, I ate small plates, or tapas. Totally get it now. Here are the food highlights during my stay:

Cañas y Tapas

I visited this tapas hotspot in the Sol district of Madrid where you can order a beer and get a free pre-set tapa. That’s right, free with each purchase of a drink. Talk about your 2 for 1 special! Unfortunately, I am a vegetarian but my carnivorous friends got to benefit from my meat-happy tapas. They do have vegetarian tapas, which I ordered: Verduras Fritas (fried vegetables) and Tortilla Española. Yum!

Chocolatería San Ginés

Within walking distance of Cañas y Tapas is this wonderful churro mecca. There is the sit-in café as well as a take-away shop directly across the street if you don’t want to wait for a table. The procedure: order at the register, get your receipt, find a table, provide waitress/waiter with said receipt, and patiently wait for churros with cups of chocolate. These are traditional churros, so you won’t find them sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, instead, you get plain churros with mugs of chocolate. You then dip your churro in the mug and bathe it in chocolate deliciousness.

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Café Irlandés

I also ordered an Irish coffee, because why not? (Café Irlandés on the menu). And woah. It was like whiskey with a hint of coffee. It was so strong that my waitress saw that I drank it all and patted me on the back for my accomplishment. Needless to say, after the beer at the tapas place and the Irish coffee here, I was a little drunk. #WorthIt

El Caldero

Along the Barrio de las Letras is this A-MAZING paella restaurant. Cards on the table: I got drunk here as well, but to be fair there was only two of us and we shared a bottle of wine, and to top it off, our waitress surprised us with aperitifs at the end of the meal. For appetizers, I ordered artichokes that were breaded, fried, and bathed in garlic. It. Was. Delectable. My friend ordered jamón ibérico, which you can compare to prosciutto. Most of the main courses are for two as the paellas are large and a waitress will serve you at the table. We ordered the vegetable paella and it was glorious! I couldn’t even finish my half. It’s also served with three different types of aioli. If you are planning a trip to Madrid, this paella place is a must.

La Casa del Abuelo

Located just outside Plaza Mayor is this tapas place established in 1906. We ordered una jarra de sangría (jug of Sangría) and patatas bravas, which is potatoes covered in a hot sauce. It was delicious and I was keeping my buzz going from visiting El Caldero earlier. Don’t judge.

Markets and Macarons

During my Christmas trip to Paris, we stayed in a super quaint Air B&B in the Latin Quarter. Lucky for us, there was a small cobbled street lined with markets and cafes within walking distance. If you find yourself near the area, please pay a visit to Rue Mouffetard.

Walking through this pedestrian only road, you’ll find bakeries, delis, a seafood market, cafes, fromageries (is that right?), and wine shops that also sell local craft beer. It was such a lovely surprise going out looking for breakfast and coming back with jam, fresh-baked bread, and cheese, which I ordered in broken French. Yummy!

Next was the battle of the macarons: Pierre Hermé v. Ladurée.

We first stopped for dessert at the Ladurée on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We opted for eating outside as the line for inside the restaurant itself was quite long. If you wanted to stop by for just macarons, the shop is also located in the restaurant itself but expect long lines for that as well. We had various cakes for dessert, which were so decadent and amazing, but a friend also ordered macarons to go. They were a delicious assortment of coffee, hazelnut, vanilla and other flavours.

On a separate day, on our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, we stopped by the nearby Pierre Hermé shop and ordered more macarons. It offered more varieties and odd flavours like foie gras. In the end, we agreed that Pierre Hermé was the better of the two. If you would like to judge for yourself which is better, you can visit both places without much of a crowd, along Rue Bonaparte, which is on the way to the Luxembourg Gardens. You will find both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé along this road. You’re welcome and happy eating!

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Christmas in Paris

I recently came back from a whirlwind holiday trip from Brighton, to Paris, to Madrid, and finally, London. Lots of Metro riding, lots of walking, but it was to compensate for the lots of eating that occurred during this trip. I, and three other friends first stopped in Paris.

We booked our trip via the Eurostar which now comes equipped with WiFi, but be warned, the WiFi is not that great and goes in and out the entire trip.

Here are some of the highlights:

Les Catacombes de Paris

Metro line 4 or 6; Stop: Denfert-Rochereau

What says “Christmas” more than visiting a subterranean catacomb storing thousands and thousands of bones? In all seriousness, the catacombs are underground and an exhibit is also placed describing Paris’s rich history and how the Catacombs came to be. Full rates were 12€, but there are reduced prices for full time students aged 18-26 with valid I.D.

Shakespeare and Company

Metro line 4; Stop: Saint Michel Notre-Dame OR line 10; Stop: Cluny-La Sorbonne

If you are a book lover as I am, pay a visit to this long-standing independent bookstore right across from Notre Dame. It’s wonderfully cozy, has a café, and an antiquities section for all you who like to collect first edition or rare books.

Added bonus: a super friendly cat on the second level often found lounging on a chair. Fun Fact: You can also arrange a free stay at the bookstore in keeping with George Whitman’s “Tumbleweed” tradition. To learn more click here.

Musée du Louvre

Metro Line 1; Stop: Louvre-Rivoli

What’s a trip to Paris without visiting the Louvre? We purchased and printed our tickets prior to the trip (15€ for one single adult). I recommend arriving before opening (Opens at 9:00am), if you are interested in taking an unobstructed photo of the Mona Lisa, otherwise you’ll be clamouring with other tourists if you wait until the afternoon. However, while others may flock to Mona, my favourite at the Louvre is the Winged Victory of Samothrace. You’ll bump into her on the way to see Mona.

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Also, don’t forget to look up; the ceilings at the Louvre are so beautiful. Do pay a visit to the museum’s newest exhibit, which walks you through the history of the Louvre, prior to it becoming a museum. You’ll walk through original architecture and castle walls.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Numerous Metro lines, but we rode line 4; Stop: Saint-Sulpice

If it’s a sunny day, pay a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens, which are beautiful to walk through. Get a baguette, some cheese, and wine and relax. Note: Not sure of the legality of drinking at the Luxembourg Gardens so best do it on the low low. Legal or not, it’s never deterred me from enjoying a glass (or disposable cup) of wine at the park. (lol)

Christmas Mass at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Metro line 4; Stop: Cité or Saint Michel Notre-Dame

Myself, and two other friends attended midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The décor was beautiful and the choir was amazing. There were a lot of tourists there to take photos but seats do clear up throughout the mass when they’re done. Since I was actually there for the service I stayed the entire time. The only hiccup to this trip occurred on this night. After the Eucharist when everyone was sitting down, a group started shouting in French and waving an unknown flag, one individual even made his way to the Cardinal who was presiding over the mass. Needless to say, everyone ran out of mass real quick, especially because the terror warning was on a high level in Paris during the holidays. So as I’m running out of mass I thought, ‘Is this really happening?’ However, in the end, and luckily, it turns out it was a group of protestors and no one was harmed. Whew! Anyone else out there attended this Midnight Mass & a Show?

Tips:

Take the metro as much as you can! It was super convenient and if you have a great sense of direction, it’s really easy to get around. If you do not have a great sense of direction, pay attention to the maps prior to deciding which platform you want to go to.

Want to get that great shot of the Eiffel Tower in the background? Take Metro line 6 or 9 to Trocadéro and head on up to the scenic view of the same name in order to get that worthwhile selfie.