Friday, June 12, 2009

Europe: Josh's Top Ten (1 of 4)

We have so many memories and pictures of our much-loved vacation that it has been a little difficult to decide what to share on this here blog. After all, we're confident that you don't want to read about it until kingdom come. And since we don't agree 100% on what we liked best (really, there were simply too many choices!) we've decided to write separate series of brief blog posts on what we liked best about our trip.

Josh is going to give you his overall "Top Ten" while I plan to concentrate on some favorites from the specific countries we visited (France, Holland, and Italy).

So, in his second ever blog post, here is the beginning of Josh's Top Ten:

10. The view from the Arc de Triomphe

This designation is somewhat of a cop-out as I was trying to decide between the Arc, the Champs-Elysees, the Eiffel Tower, and the museums of Paris, and this kind of covers them all. The Eiffel Tower obviously features prominently from this vantage point as do the avenues, gardens, and buildings of the Axe Historique, but the view extends beyond these things to the curve of the Seine, the spires of Notre Dame, the dome of the Pantheon (St. Genevieve), and the elegant Basilica of Sacre Coeur that sits atop Montmartre.

The Arc also sits in the middle of 12 of Paris’s grand avenues, and it allows the perfect perspective to view Baron Haussmann’s grand plan for the city of Paris. Haussmann’s bold initiative in the mid 19th century bulldozed large segments of the city in order to create broad boulevards and grand monuments, and this has paved the way for urban design projects in cities around the world. This “New Paris” is certainly a sight to see from the top of the Arc.

9. Dutch Food

Going into the trip, I knew pretty much what to expect from the culinary offerings of both France and Italy, but the cuisine of the Netherlands offered the potential for more surprises. Fortunatey, the surprises turned out to be positive. From the Dutch pancakes covered with nutella and bananas to the croquettes (even of the McKroket persuasion), everything was excellent.

Everywhere we went, it seemed like there were foods to tempt us. One day, in Alkmaar, we must’ve stopped at about six bakeries and three cheese stands and piled ourselves high with bread, cheese, and waffles that we could enjoy on the train ride to Haarlem. The next day we enjoyed a roadside stand in Drimmelen that served the best bami croquettes and fries.

Those who know me will vouch for the fact that I am not the most adventurous eater (especially with meats), but I really enjoyed sampling the different foods of the Netherlands and I look forward to having them again.

These are croquettes. They're sometimes served with bread, so you can eat them like an open-faced sandwich.
Jessica's mom wasn't too pleased that we chose to eat at McDonalds while in Europe.
You can sometimes find croquettes at these unique vending machine-type restaurants. They make them fresh behind the scenes, then put them in these slots. You come up, put in some change, and open a little door to grab your treat.

8. The Pantheon

The fact that the Pantheon comes in at number eight on this list really speaks to how much I enjoyed this vacation. This is a building that I have been eager to see for years after learning so much about it from my days as an Architecture major in college. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint.

From the square, this temple dating from the 2nd century AD is certainly imposing, but it is on the inside where the Pantheon really impresses. Upon entering the Pantheon, the expansive coffered dome soars over the circular room that now serves as a church and a shrine (the graves of Raphael and the first two kings of Italy reside in the space). The dome, which was the largest in existence for much of its history, later served as the inspiration for renaissance architects Brunelleschi and Michelangelo as they designed their famous church domes around Italy.

7. Brielle

One of the true highlights of our time in the Netherlands was our day trip to see the places where Jessica’s grandparents lived in the past, and the jewel of that trip was the town of Brielle. Brielle is outstandingly picturesque collection of orange-roofed buildings surrounded by canals. For a small community, it was very lively. There were plenty of shops lining the streets and boat traffic in the canals.

In the few hours that we spent there, we ate on the main canal, walked the streets to the boyhood home of Jessica’s Opa, and climbed the tower of the local church to look out over the surrounding country. Brielle was one of the more charming towns that we saw on the trip, but it was also a wonderful opportunity to learn more about family history.

The view from the top of the church:

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