Highlights from Germany, Austria and BeNe

Hello again!

Last month I took a trip to Europe where we flew into Frankfurt, Germany and then took a train down to Munich and began our sightseeing.

In Munich we revisited some old faves (Neuschwainstein, Marienplatz, Wirsthaus Ayinger) and some new ones (Linderhof).

From top left to bottom: Linderhof Palace, the gardens, the view of Lake Alpsee and Neuschwanstein

From Munich we headed to Salzburg, followed by Vienna. One of my favorite things in Salzburg was the trip out to see ice caves in Werfen – Eisresienwelt (more on this later). The ice caves were quite a hike to get to, but totally worth it.

The last 3rd of the way up to the cave!

Finishing up our tour of Austria was Vienna, which allowed us to get in a lot of culture.
Above: St. Stephen’s Church and the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Afterwards, we went up north to see Belgium and the Netherlands, which was filled with a bit less walking and more food.

From the top: Mussles at Poules Moules, Belgian waffles, Dutch pancakes, and a coffee break

My thoughts overall: It was a lot of fun, but we were on a crazy train schedule filled with lots of walking (intense hiking up the alps to the point that I got some tendinitis). European food is just better on average, even the fast food places. I would love to spend more time in Vienna and Amsterdam (I would like to spend more time in Europe and on vacation in general). Although, I definitely wouldn’t mind eating more Belgian food.


French Canada Pt 3: No beef to be had with Joe Beef

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Pardon the title of this post. (I really couldn’t help myself.)

I first heard of Joe Beef back when I watched the season 1 of “Mind of a Chef”. It was the episode where David Chang visits Joe Beef and eats the Double Down. At that time, Joe Beef was just a passing thought of delicious and fat decadence stuck between two pieces of foie gras. Then it came up again as a recommendation from a friend of a friend who lives in Montreal. And since I was going to Montreal, I figured, “Why not?”

How do I describe it? It was delightfully light, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if my arteries have become 50% clogged from that dinner. There was no shortage of foie gras and I would definitely eat again.
What’s the place like? It’s got this folk/country feel that reminded me of what hipster take on Appalachia would be like, but I suppose it was really more of a hispter take on the Great North.

The place is small, a bit cramped for Montreal, no? But it’s an intimate atmosphere. However, I ended up waiting an hour when I arrived.
But, I’d say it was worth it. Plus, there are all these cute little shops and cafes around the corner where you can hang out, which makes the wait less miserable (although I’d hate to try waiting that long during the winter).

So if you go, please start with some delicious appetizers to stimulate your appetite (or 开胃 as we like to say in Chinese).
These aren’t these aren’t the star of the meal, but they’re certainly not bad.

For our mains, we ordered lobster spaghetti and the double down (which is really more of an appetizer too, but since it’s so decadent, let’s also call it a main).

The lobster spaghetti was delicious.
Although, I really wouldn’t have minded more lobster in it. It’s actually not as filling or as heavy as I would have liked it, but tasty nonetheless.

And of course the double down.
A few lovely slices of bacon with some cheese between two deep fried slices of foie gras. What more could you want? When you eat, make sure you have a clean napkin at hand, because the fat from the foie gras + bacon will definitely dribble down your chin and onto your hand/lap/table. (I prefer licking my fingers, but some of you are classier than that.)

And to finish our meal, we had some cheddar and maple glazed donuts.
I thought this was a weird combination, but after eating it, really wasn’t too weird. It’s like the lumberjack’s version of homemade yogurt covered pretzels; you’ve got your salty and your sweet.

French Canada Pt 2: A walk among the flowers

Oh dear, it’s September already! The end of the summer is nigh! (Which, I find tremendously sad as I feel that this summer was much too short, but as Ray points out, we managed to do a lot.) Since my last post, I’ve finished my summer class, spend a week in San Fransisco and spent a extended weekend in Los Angeles. More on these events later.

But, now that I have a bit more free time, I will finish my French Canada recounts.

While in Montreal, I visited the botanical gardens. (If you rent a car, look up instructions to get there ahead of time. I didn’t do that and as a result we got lost a couple times looking for the entrance causing Ray to get mad at me.)

There’s just something wonderful about seeing flowers in the peak of their blooming glory. (I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this.)
The Montreal Botanical Gardens aren’t difficult to get to (just confusing to get to the correct entrance as Google Maps won’t take you to the actual entrance) and it’s also right next to the Bio-Dome.

Sitting at the entrance to the gardens is the Lion de la Feuillee.
This lion was a gift from the city of Lyon for Montreal’s 350th birthday! (I didn’t know cities gave each other gifts.)

And it was peak rose season.
There were so many different varieties of roses here I think I must have taken around 100 photo of just roses.

That’s not to say there weren’t other flowers.
Just none nearly as lovely as the roses, but they were also pretty.

In addition, there were all these little paths where you can make-believe you’re in some storybook place.

And lovely fields of other flora.
I didn’t realize there was wild grasses that was purple like this. (Is this even grass?)

There’s also a Japanese garden, but it was a bit underwhelming. The real highlight of it was probably the pon behind it that was filled with koi.
The koi are super friendly and will even let you touch them if they’re resting near the surface (but maybe you’re not supposed to actually touch them).

Next up (soon), a twist on French Canadian food at Joe’s Beef.

Night Play: Snapshots of Montreal at night

A short and belated post.

Just wanted to share the nostalgia of spectacular views from the summit of Parc du Mont Royal.
If you go up here in the evening, you might also run into the raccoons that live there. They’re rather friendly and are often looking for things to eat.

And some fun night time long exposures around downtown Montreal

French Canada Pt 1: Out and about in Old Montreal

It’s been quite a busy summer. I’m not entirely sure how it passed by so fast. Earlier last month (oh em gee, it’s August already!), I started taking a class in Data Mining at Columbia. Since it’s a summer course, it’s cramming a semester’s worth of material into 6 weeks, meaning I’m all work and no play. (I’m trying not to be a dull girl though!)

It’s already August, and I’m just now sharing the photos I took during my French Canada trip during the 4th of July holiday. During thsi trip, I went up to Montreal and Quebec City. It wasn’t quite like going to a far and distant land, but enough of a trip to stave off my wanderlust temporarily.

French Canada is very much the land of French-y woods-y lumberjacks, sort of. It’s very French in a American South sort of way. The Quebecois speak in their characteristic accent, French with a twang. Some people dislike this accent, but I thought it was rather cute.

Ray and I got into Montreal around the morning and spent the day walking around Vieux Montreal. The first thing we went to go see was the Notre Dame. What can I say, the stained glass inside was gorgeous.


The whole basilica was so magnificent that later when in Quebec, we took a sniff at the Notre Dame there and didn’t even bother going in.

Walking around Old Montreal, I wasn’t too impressed with it’s cobbled streets and little touristy knick-knack shops, so instead we took a little bit of a stroll by the water.
IMG_1167.jpg IMG_1178.jpg

And then later rented one of those pedal boats and just floated around for a bit. After our watery excursion we were pretty hungry and determined to get something authentically Canadian. What’s more Canadian than Poutine?

Poutineville is this little restaurant all the ways across town from the old part that specializes in Poutine. The poutine there was delicious. I managed to try two variations, the classic and the fire-breather (below).

This was real Canadian poutine, not the wannabe poutine you find in the states that is box gravy, lame cheese and stale french fries. No sir, this was super crispy potato wedges slowly soaking up the gravy made from real beef au jus, topped with generous helpings of real cheese curds and beef shreds (in my case, chicken wings). Every bite was beefy, crispy and cheesy goodness that made me feel as if it had come from some long lost French-Canadian aunt’s own kitchen. And of course, even though we was bursting at the seems with Poutine, we managed to fit in some dessert.

We waddled over to Juliette et Chocolat for some ice cream and brownies.

More Canada to come soon.

5 months later, Dallas for 72 hours

Well hello! It has indeed been a while.

I regret not posting more, but I’ve just been lacking the motivation and free time I used to have.

Recently I’ve been taking a lot of photos on my new camera. (I got a new camera and now use some photo editing software.) And, I thought it was a pity to keep them all to myself on my computer or post them to flickr unacknowledged.

Unfortunately, this is not a long post as this photo series is a bit short. But, I thought these turned out quite nicely.

About slightly less than a month ago, I was in Dallas for work. I got to eat at a pretty good restaurant there, CBD. It was a pretty photogenic place with plenty of mood lighting.
Dallas, I thought, was a very odd (by which I mean not NYC or Chicago) city. The city center, where I was staying, was really dead after 6 PM, so walking around after work meant walking around a dead city. It reminded me of Indianapolis, which is also dead in the downtown area after 6PM.

The quail I had there was delicious. I think it took me under 12 minutes to devour the entire thing. It was perfectly seasoned with crispy skin and a nice sour from some citrus to dress it.

Miscellaneous in Munich: All of my favorite things

I could really write for days about Munich. It was such a quaint and merry city, but alas, I think people would get bored of my if I talked about nothing but Munich for a while. Instead, going to try to sum up my Munich trip with a few of my favorite moments.

Munich, I loved walking down your cobbled streets seeing such old and classic buildings along with the new as if nothing were out of place. (I suppose this was also true of Milan.)
The entire time I was walking around Munich, I felt as if I was walking around in some “It’s a small world after all”-themed amusement park. The houses, shops and streets were just too cute.

I really enjoyed how proud the Bavarians were of their cultural heritage.
I loved the window displays of trinkets.

And of course, I loved seeing food!
Marienplatz had such nice fruit & nut stalls. I didn’t end up buying and but I really wish I had gone and just bought a box of strawberries and walked around the city eating it.

The Glyptothek was a pretty cool place to walk around if you like Greek and Roman art. (I love art museums, I could probably spend months in them and not get bored.) Nonetheless, I would recommend a visit!
There are really nice reconstructed models of broken sculptures which I thought was pretty cool.

And there are also those exquisite statues and sculptures…
Sometime I muse about how nice it would be to just come to these types of places as an art student and just spend my afternoons with a notebook and draw.

And perhaps, one of my favorite things I saw was just this whimsical window display of dirndls…
It kind of made me feel whimsical…

Like this…
Just a little fun.

Munich Part 4: Schloss Neuschwanstein, the fairy prince’s castle

It’s September already, which means the end of summer. Goodbye Summer of 2013, it was a lot of fun! To commemorate the summer (not really), I’m continuing my posts on Munich. This one is about Neuschwanstein. On my last day in Munich, we decided to take a mini roadtrip out to Schwangau, home of Schloss Neuschwanstein. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Munich, easily a nice day trip. The place itself it gorgeous as it’s located next to the Alps.
It was so pristine. The green was so green and the blue so blue that I really felt as if the air were purer and the sky more clear than any I had experienced.

And the trail up to the castle is a nice walk through the woods. Although, one does have to watch out for horse poop!
The site kind of reminded me of Disney World. It was so stylized and had this “small world” feel to it.

Of course, the actual castle was breathtaking. Did I mention that this castle was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle?
It really did look like something out of a Disney fairytale only 100x better. (The above is a miniature Neuschwanstein located in the castle museum.)

A little bit of a history lesson: Neuschwanstein was built by Prince Ludwig II of Bavaria. This castle was dedicated to Wagner and inside the castle the walls are decorated with murals of scenes from different Wagner operas, including Tannhauser and Lohengrin.
Unfortunately, I have no photos of the inside of the castle.

On an adjacent mountaintop to Neuschwanstein is Schloss Hohenschwangau. This was the summer home built by Ludwig II’s father. Hohenschwangau is not as magnificent and fairytale-like as Neuschwanstein, but is beautiful in its own right.
This castle also has murals from various Wagner operas, courtesy of Ludwig II’s renovations

My favorite part of this castle was probably the outdoor garden area.
It really would have been a lovely summer home.

Supplemented by the view from the courtyard.

Munich Part 3: Schloss Nymphenburg

My Munich trip abroad, I managed to do more historically oriented things this time (unlike in Italy, when I didn’t even manage to see the Last Supper). This time, having more time, I went to see two gorgeous Bavarian buildings: Nymphenburg Palace and the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein. This is a photo post about Nymphenburg Palace.

The first day of castle wanderings, we started off in Olmpiazentrum. We visited BMW World, which was a little bit underwhelming, and enjoyed the nice day in the Olympic Park.
We lounged for a bit by this picturesque pond in the middle of the park.

Later, we took the S-bahn from Olympiazentrum to Gern. At the time we didn’t realize just how far we were from Nymphenburg Palace and ended up taking a long long walk, but the scenery was beautiful.
You can barely see Schloss Nymphenburg far off in the distance, but it’s the tiny white house there.

When we finally reached palace grounds, we saw a perfectly manicured lawn with lots of gee

I don’t think I’ve seen swans in a really long time.

And of course, the flowers! I’ve never seen so many brightly colored flowers casually decorating houses and building as I have in Munich!

Once you get up close to the palace, you can see how lovely it is.
I really like the gold accents around the walls.

Once we got up to the palace, we were wandering around the grounds, which led to the garden.
By the time we finished walking around the garden, we were quite tired and decided to call it a day and head back to Marienplatz.

Munich Part 2: Eating like the Bavarians with Butter & Würst

One thing I noticed when I was in Munich was the lack of fresh vegetables. There was plenty of fruit, but I didn’t see as much fresh greens. I’m not sure if this was because we were tourists and ate at touristy places that pushed wurst and pretzel on our plates, or if eating raw greens simply isn’t as big of a thing as it is in the states. Regardless, by the end of my trip, I was missing my raw leafy greens like kale, arugula and spinach.  (I’m so sorry my arteries.)

Despite the lack of raw veggies, the food there still a lot fresher than some places in the US and reminded me of the freshness I ate in Milan.

My second night there, we tried to go to Hofbrauhaus, the more tourist location, but alas, it was way too crowded.
We sneaked a peak inside. It was definitely very lively!

Since we couldn’t find a seat inside Hofbrauhaus, we ran across the street and found a nice enough restaurant and just ate there. Most of these restaurants that feature Bavarian specialties come with complimentary pretzel.
These are perfect for soaking up your au jus from your wurst or sauerkraut.

This place Wirtshaus Ayinger, which we stumbled upon by accident, was delicious.
Above we have pork loin and fresh fish. Mmmm.. fried and buttery goodness. The potatoes that accompanied the fish tasted as if they were boiled in butter. Not like potatoes covered in butter, but potatoes boiled in butter. Every bite you took was smothered in butteriness. It was a wonderful mixture of starch and butter. All the buttery goodness of the food I ate in Munich left me wondering how Bavarians don’t have higher rates of heart disease than the rest of the world. (I thought I was going to get a heart attack at some point during the week.)

And of course, you can’t forget the beer.
Smaller more manageable drinking sizes this time.

On another day when we were exploring downtown Munich and walking around Marienplatz, we tried a tourist trap place called Ratskeller. The service was a bit abysmal and the food underwhelming, I did learn that these cheese and meat spreads are a Bavarian specialty!
Now if only it tasted as good as it looked. The spreads were unfortunately bland.

The only redeeming quality of Ratskeller was the view (well, you know, it was/is a tourist trap.)
I wouldn’t really recommend this place, but it might be fun to walk in, get a good look at the architecture, and then walk out.

On other meal/eating occasions, we had more wurst, like curry wurst.
When I initially ordered it, I thought it was going to be something like wurst cooked in curry. In reality, it was rather underwhelming. It’s wurst with tomato sauce and curry powder sprinkled over it. A little disappointing, but it makes a nice snack. It kind of tasted like hot dogs and spicy tangy ketchup.

And of course we also made time for dessert on occasion
I noticed that Germans, or at least Bavarians, like their chocolate and fruit kuchens!

And of course, there was one night when we were so tired from walking around that we just wanted to stay in. Thank goodness for room service!
It was a feast of chantrelles and dumplings thoroughly soaked in truffle oil, butter, and cheese. And some schnitzel and frites. Finally, for dessert, passion fruit panna cotta with bruleed peach.