I’m On A Boat! Our Hotel Boat In Stockholm

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He travels a lot for work so he appreciates hotel amenities.  I really don’t care too much about my accommodations as long as they are clean and centrally located.  I’m so cheap that I’m bad.  Very, very bad.  I’ve stuck him in all kinds of hovels.  Stockholm isn’t a cheap city, luckily there are some great places that are easy on the budget, centrally located, have great views (see above and below), have a great on site pub and provide a unique experience.  You can stay on boat hotels in the Södermalm neighborhood (both on the Riddarfjärden and the Stadsgardsleden sides of the link to Gamala Stan).

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They had bikes you could borrow and cool lounges, but the best part was the amazing view from the seats (some of which were in lifeboats) on the upper deck.  We sat there taking in the views, enjoying the sunset and singing The Lonely Island‘s (with T-Pain) “I’m On A Boat” from the movie Stepbrothers.

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I give mad props to people in the Navy who live like this on a long-term basis.  The room was tiny, but had everything we needed.  We even had our own bathroom (It is something that he appreciates, but I have no problem foregoing.  Just ask him about the hovel I stuck us in when we visited Dublin).

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We had some new experiences in the bathroom.  I’d never showered in a place like this.  It was tight (so tight that you can see my toes standing on the toilet lid), but workable.  Everything fit in there like a masterful game of Tetris.  It was impressive and surprisingly easy to use.

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The best part of the room itself was the view from our porthole.  Amazing!

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Oh Champs Elysées

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Paris’ grand boulevard the Champs Elysées runs from the Oblisque at the end of the Jardin des Tulleries to the Arc de Triomphe.  It’s France’s most famous street and part of the national identity.  Every French person knows it.  Many of France’s national events unfold there.  Most high school French students in the US learn the song about it, “Aux Champs Elysées.”   Unbelievably, I can still sing it.

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Bastille Day (France’s national day that commemorates the July 14 storming of the Bastille) parades take place there.  The Tour de France concludes with circuits up and down it.   Cyclists sprint up and down  the storied boulevard lined with bleachers chasing a stage win.  When Greg LeMond won the Tour de France in 1989, he did it by outsprinting the sprinters and the great time trialist Laurent Fignon to win the last stage on the Champs Elysées and the time bonus.  He won by 8 seconds.  Epic.  Although I’m a bit fixated on the Tour de France, New Year’s and many other festivities take place there.

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The boulevard is ancient, created in 1667 by Louis XIV as an extension of the Tuileries Gardens. It became a fashionable spot to see and be seen.   The Champs Elysees connects the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, which used to be a palace (and not a famous museum).   The Rond-Point (traffic circle) at the end is usually decorated for the season.  Beyond that, the Place de La Concorde contains an Obelisk of Luxor a gift from Egypt in the 1830’s.  It was formerly called the Place de la Revolution because a guillotine used to stand where the Obelisk does now.   Over a thousand people were guillotined there including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

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This famous statue of Charles de Gaulle stands near the Champs Elysées in front of the Grand Palais. After the liberation of Paris, on August 26, 1944, de Gaulle paraded up and down the Champs Elysées.  Later, he established the post-war government.

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Today, the boulevard is home to hotels, shops, movie theaters, cafes and even fast food restaurants.   On a side note, McDonald’s is killing it in France and the rest of Europe.  But I digress… Yes, Vincent did not lie in Pulp Fiction.  “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?” They don’t call it the quarter pounder because of the metric system.  Last century, there were fewer fast food restaurants and more cafes.  Elvis probably wasn’t there either…

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Don’t worry.  There’s still some high end shopping left.  There’s even one of the world’s largest Sephora stores.  However, if you are really in Paris to shop you’ll probably want to hit up Paris’ neighborhood boutiques and historic shopping arcades for the best stuff.  If you want to get some high end luggage for your purchases, I think the guys below (Louis Vitton) might be able to help you out.  Balenciaga, Berluti, Céline, Chanel, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Guiseppi Zanotti, Guerlain, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Jimmy Choo, Maison de Baccarat, Marni, Nina Ricci, Petit Bateau and Prada all have shops there.

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If all this weren’t enough, the boulevard is lined with my favorite trees from Geneva, Plane Trees.

 

The Magic of Mövenpick

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We have developed a few favorite Swiss brands.  Visitors favorite is always Mövenpick.  After tasting Mövenpick ice cream, we had a visitor come back to the apartment and spend several hours doing a search to find out where she could get it in the US.  Unfortunately, it’s not available there (another reason to visit Switzerland).  They do export and you can find it in 30 countries around the world including Russia, Finland, Australia and Singapore.

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Mövenpick has an astounding number of unique flavors with exotic ingredients like handcrafted Swiss caramel, fine French Cognac VSOP and vanilla seeds from Madagascar.  They introduce new “Limited Editions” flavors for each season.  Think cinnamon in the winter, exotic fruits in the summer…   It’s not just the amazing flavors that make it exceptional.  All products are made without artificial additives, flavours or colors.  The quality of the dairy is phenomenal.  Describing it as incredibly creamy doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

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While the Swiss Chocolate flavor is good, the best flavors are the creamy ones.  Our favorite is Creme de Gruyères (heavenly sweet Swiss cream with crunch bits of real Meringue inside).  It’s so good that you are in real danger of sounding like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally when you taste it.  Other top flavors are Crème Brulée and Tiramisú.

They have over 30 varieties, other flavors include:

  • Pistashio (another one of my favorites)
  • Cocoa & Orange
  • Pink rhubarb,
  • Cognac VSOP,
  • Caramelita (Caramel is a favorite of his),
  • Mousse Aux Poires (pear mousse),
  • Scottish Single Malt Whiskey,
  • Absinthe & Amaretto,
  • Swiss Apple, Edelweiss,
  • Almond & Vanilla,
  • Stracciatella (very yummy),
  • Mirabelle,
  • Apricot,
  • Panna Cotta with Raspberry,
  • White Peach, and
  • Raspberry.

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You can find Mövenpick in Europe at roadside kiosks (highly recommended for lakeside strolls), Mövenpick restaurants (worth going just to check out the insanely large and fancy menu of ice cream), other fine establishments and Co-op Swiss grocery stores (yep, we’re stocking the freezer if you come visit).

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Mövenpick was originally produced in the kitchens of high-end Swiss restaurants.  Eventually, they built factory in Bursins, then moved to a larger facility in Rorschach.   In 2003, Nestlé (in Vevey) acquired the brand rights for the Ice Cream category, but keeps it as an independent unit (classifying it as Super Premium) in their in order to maintain the brand’s knowledge, innovation and quality.

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Mövenpick doesn’t just make ice cream.  In Switzerland, they make yoghurt, chocolate and coffee.  We’ve heard from German friends that they sell wonderful jams and salad dressings there.  I’ve heard they also do wines.  They also have hotels ?!?  Yes, you read that correctly.  In case you’re wondering, they are high-end too.  As you might have guessed, they also serve a phenomenal breakfast.

 

Fribourg’s Wrought Iron Signs With Icons

I visited Fribourg.  It is a charming, medieval town.  Wonderful old details have been preserved and in the historic quarters many new additions are consistent with the traditional surroundings.  Before streets were numbered, buildings and businesses were identified by symbols carved into the buildings or signs hanging from them.  Walking through the streets, I noticed many hanging wrought iron signs with icons over shops, cafes, hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Such signs were hugely popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Their purpose was to attract the public; they were a sort of advertising.  As a result, they were often artistic and elaborate. Even the metal posts from which they hung were elaborately worked.  They functioned not only to identify the business and as advertisement, but also as landmarks for directional information before street names and building numbers.

Over time, certain symbols became common on signs as a sort of code to help the illiterate public identify the nature of the business inside.  They include:

  • Bible = Bookseller
  • Civet Cat = Perfumer
  • Key = Locksmith
  • Mortar & Pestle = Apothecary
  • Red & White Striped Pole = Barber (the red stripe signifies the bloodletting they preformed)
  • Shoe = Shoemaker
  • Sugar Loaf = Grocer
  • Three Golden Balls = Pawn Broker (this became the symbol of the Medici family)
  • Eagle on a bolt of cloth = Merchants, finishers and dyers of foreign cloth
  • Lambs = Wool manufacturers and merchants
  • Alehouse = traditional garland of leaves or hops

Eventually, increased travel led to competition.  To differentiate themselves from their competition, signs began bearing the name of the business and a representative symbol for illiterate customers.  Over time, the sizes and heights became more or less standardized to keep those on horseback from banging their noggin.  While these types of signs were common in Europe, different areas enacted different rules governing their size and height.

I chuckled at some of the more modern twists on the signs.  WC means water closet.  This sign marks the entrance to public toilets.

Even Starbucks got themselves one.

I have to admit, they are a bit more charming (if less hypnotizing) than the giant neon signs that are so prevalent in the US.  Looking for pictures of them made me a bit homesick, but not hungry.

From Getty Images via The Telegraph