Category Archives: Europe Dream Trip

Post Trip Reflections

And arrived safety to LAX!  Land of the free and dry heat.  In other words – ahhh…paradise

It’s heartbreaking to discontinue my lounging and going on my foreign food-ventures.  Unpleasant business returning to my issues and picking up where I left off by following an invisible leash back to the States.  But I was also desperately fearful and reluctant to take off for this trip in the first place.  I guess I don’t deal well with leaving in general. But risk is a necessity for a life well-lived with lots of remarkable memories!

Sibling observations:

– Enjoys grand scale paintings
– Taught me that my communication, manners, and maintenance are poor at best
– Man crushes: Denzel, Leo, Gordon Ramsey
– Similar to myself likes: blocked out windows at home, great steak, driving our car like we stole it

Thankful for:

– Sibling handling all the directions and money logistics and laundry
– Did not suffer injury or illness even though I was around sick people
– All da gluten freeeeeee
– Those poor people who work in airports
– No serious downpour requiring an umbrella
– That dude next to me on the plane sharing fruit candy
– International availability of Coca-Cola
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Travel notes:

– Service is significantly more efficient and polite in Paris vs Venice or UK
– I’m developing a taste for Evian
– United makes a pretty legit chicken and risotto, shocking!
– Weather report means nothing, expect it to change every other hour
– Zig zag lines on the road meant for pedestrians
– Brits like to barbecue (I know, sounds off)
– Most common item being peddled: selfie sticks
– Hobbit doors make a lot more sense to me now
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Summary of countries

Paris (A) – It’s all so fancy
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Venice (C) – hot stone prison island with water everywhere

And people in Italy really are like this!

UK (A) – Radio 1 is the worst experience ever! (on opposite day)

Time stamp: 
– Jurassic World opening weekend ravaged the box office
– Friend had a baby girl!
– Friend conceived
– Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Conversions (that in no way affected my spending):
1€ =  $1.13
1£ = $1.58

Gas in Mildenhall:
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A sense of accomplishment is present when I share my photos with others who say they have never been on a trip like this.  Living out something that will remain only a fantasy for the majority of the people I meet is humbling.  So now that the bird has flown out of its cage more things seem possible than before.  Even if for myself traveling is and always will be a hassle compared to slumming it at home sweet home!

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London, Baby!

We took in as much sights as we could within a single day.  We did good, taking into account a few key Underground lines were down for maintenance.

The water in the Thames is unlike the mild jade-colored Seine or the rolling verdant canals of Venice. It’s sepia and violent like it’s looking to kill someone.

London Eye
The huge wheel near London bridge on the other side of Big Ben.  A point of interest with no historical significance whatsoever.  My brother said last time it was blue when he took his friends there to ride it.  But when we proceeded there at nighttime it was illuminated green in my honor.
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Big Ben
All regal and stern in its wood and gold appearance.

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Reminded me of its graceful presence in English movies.
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St James Park
All the birds!!!

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Buckingham Palace
After traipsing through the park I was barely able to stand and wasn’t in the mood to see another drab building.  The only features I liked were the large fountain with the gilded statues and perhaps the soldiers in the distance if only for their colored uniforms, which I believe make them easy targets.

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                                                           Harrods
 Now this is a shopping center.  Maybe the best one there is. Watches the same price as a new car.  Dazzling quail egg-sized jewels.  7 floors of uncluttered displays of luxurious wares as well as amazing food halls.

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Chocolate Room
A giant wonderland of over 8 internationally renowned chocolate companies for everyone who loves the cacao product.  Of course it hit me right after I made all my purchases that nothing in this room is Fair Trade Certified. That gave me no little remorse, all this pleasure generated from suffering child slaves.

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Ice Cream Parlour
That’s what the place is actually called.  They serve gelato sundaes and their special involves a flowing display of dry ice.  We ordered the Bosco Meringato: Mango and strawberry sorbet, vanilla and yoghurt ice cream, raspberry coulis, meringues drizzled with chocolate, selection of seasonal berries and whipped cream. It was phenomenal, just the right amount of sweet and smooth, like an Ed Sheeran ballad.  Yummm

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Toy Kingdom
Only interested in the Lego replication of Harrods:
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Other la di da home goods

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HOLD UP there’s a Laduree cafe here?!  Don’t mind if I do!

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Tastes the same as home, excepting the Orange Blossom flavor, which I’m not sure you can find easily.  In case you can’t tell, their box is flimsy and poorly designed.  Step it up, Laduree!

A quick peek at the Queen Victoria bridge before our night was over
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Back to the Underground for Eppings in zone 6.

Cheerio, London!


English Eats

Can any good food come out of England?

Answer: absolutely, mate!

Not only are their dishes tasty, they follow strict regulations that don’t allow as much room for drugs or additives.

WAG Free
London, de la ghetto in the hipster row of Brixton Market
Wheat And Gluten Free place with a Brazilian theme décor.  A hole in the wall would be an upgrade from the small bare interior, I figured my 10×10 room may be larger than this joint.  Their menu boasts the best burger you’ve ever had.  Ok sure, venison burger with white cheddar it is.   The flavors were intense and harmonious, the patty wasn’t gamy but had a vivid taste close to pork filling found in dumplings.  My brother cleaned his succulent pork ribs and guacamole like a vacuum.  The service was knowledgeable and friendly, we were impressed that all the flour blends were done in house.

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Organic Deli Cafe
Located in Oxford
I think their concept was great but the execution was poor.  I ordered a pesto chicken sandwich with sun dried tomatoes.  The gluten free bread was fresh and soft, however the ratio of chicken pieces was low therefore it was difficult to enjoy.  They also had smoothies that tasted like froth and begged for sugar.  I would not recommend this amateur place at all.

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Rumble Fish Bar
Found in Mildenhall
Features more than 5 kinds of fish with a side of chips.  It’s bland, the sort I expect in a small town.  It’s interesting they would season the takeaway food with vinegar, as that would make it soggy when you got home.  At the same time they would not give you small containers of condiments, the only option would be to buy a 10oz bottle.  Makes me appreciate my local fish and chip shop a lot more, considering.

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Maze Grill
London, by a sophisticated posh
district.
Checked in my bag and coat like a boss and was seated near the window.  90% of the menu features dry aged beef. Their rump roast was tough but it was tolerable because of the peppercorn sauce which was an add on option.  I’m so glad that I ordered the first rate velvety deep jus because it saved the meal.   Not a-maze-ing but pretty weak save for the presentation and nuance of aged flavor.  The dulce de leche cheesecake was nice and creamy, not too sweet, but I hated they put peanuts randomly on the plate, so low class (give a girl some hazelnuts at least).  A stream of limos outside were visible throughout the evening with parties leading to the inner dining hall where I imagine they drink champagne with diamonds in their glasses.  By the way, this is Gordon Ramsey’s place.  That tosser needs a talking to, letting us down like this is rubbish.

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Pizza Express
Downtown Newmarket
This is a big chain and most of their pizzas are available with a gluten free crust.  They provide your own pizza wheel which is cute but I never liked to work to get my food ready.  I loved the intensely savory marinara sauce and delicious mellow cheese.  Too bad their crust was tasteless like a tortilla and countered the toppings.   In the end I prefer Domino’s over this place.

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The Bull Inn
Barton Mills in a quaint cottage
“Pan fried halibut & king scallops, potato and thyme rosti, garlic kale, bacon, apple and vanilla jus.” The halibut was cooked just right and it had a great flavor, close to snapper.  And the seared scallops were divine, they really know their seafood here.  I even ate most of the kale which was alternately crisp and soggy drenched in a syrupy sauce.  Dessert was a joyful trio chocolate toffee vanilla pod ice cream.  I shared an apple and cinnamon crumble which was bomb with the side of crème anglaise.

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The Pack Horse
By Newmarket
Food here was a little above average.  No complaints about their presentation and innovation, but the flavors were lacking.

Sole and rock shrimp with baby vegetables

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Loin & shoulder of Fordham pork, pear, spring onion & pomme purée

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Last, but definitely not least:
IMG_7037Steak and rice with a side of broccoli by Chef Jin!  Seasoned and seared in a cast iron skillet, it was a class A job.  Ramsey, take notes.

I was surprised by how elegant their dishes were even away from the big cities.  No one was more shocked than I finding authentic delicious Chinese food at Dragon House and a buffet called Lucky Star.  There is always a full bar with tap beer even in diners that resembled Dennys.  Overall their food is a lot cleaner and sourced locally (“killed next door” stated the sibling) and I’ll miss it terribly.


Odds & Ends in Britain

I was impatient to leave Italy but knew what a stressful hassle it would be….
Pack bags
Take water bus to airport
Check in and wait at the gate
Take plane trip
Go through customs
Finally…
I’m back in England!

The chilly breezes were more than welcome after days and nights of sauna conditions.  Compared to the big stone cities, it was a positively provincial week with miles and miles of looking at countryside like this:

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King’s Church in Mildenhall
A small Baptist church not too different from mine.  They taught from Matthew about being the light for others, especially our lovely neighbors, and who we can share with in our sphere of influence (complete with tree charting activity!). Didn’t really catch me off guard to meet someone from California here.  A husband and wife with their 2 kids moved there from LA a few weeks back.  I think it was something I half expected to happen and was glad to pray for their adjustment to the roads and weather in UK.

The Oxfordshire
We went to the distinguished Bodleian library and were given a tour where no pictures were allowed out of respect for the students (blast-ended skanks!).  Our guide was a keen sort who was interactive in querying our historical know-how.  I think our group did quite well in going over the impact of Henry the VIII, the beginning of printed books, and electricity.  This was actually the first university and the amount of old books were humbling.  And of course it was exciting that this was a location for filming Harry Potter!

 

 

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Finally I was able to watch Avengers Age of Ultron.  It was an action-packed movie with evil robots and starred a hammer or something.  Loved it.


Venetian Marvels

Kind of strange, but on this part of the trip I missed my mom a lot.  I wished she could have been with us to share the experience because she would have loved the scenery, the buildings, and the stores far more than I ever could.  So yeah, I was kind of down for a day or so but then these fishies cheered me up with their hypnotic grace.
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Piazzo San Marco
An enormous square where you can feed the swarms of pigeons if you wished.  All along the sides were stores and restaurants.  The main entrance housed stairs where most tourists chose to rest and snap photos.  A little ways out will get you to the pier.

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St. Marks’ Campanile
For a fee you can enter the cozy elevator to the top where you are swept into the winds and gorgeous views of the city.  It is a dim area up there but you feel very fine indeed overlooking the matching buildings and glorious ocean.

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Doge’s Palace
Aka Palazzo Ducale.  The seat of this empire’s power resided here along with his council of 10, which reminded me of all the Borgia stories of men in cloaks assassinating each other in the dark narrow streets of Rome.  This place had everything, room upon room of gilded rococo architecture that could only be achieved by skilled ship engineers filled in with ornate paintings in tribute to the prosperous empire. My brother was into the armory displays and large paintings depicting war, his so-called bread and butter. The volume and decadence must have intimidated countless prisoners and foreign dignitaries alike as each room announced that no one messes with Venice.
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Especially these days
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Gondolas
These services were naturally littered everywhere.  We wisely chose to ride on on a weekday first thing so we could avoid the queues.  I wondered if every rower sang or if that wasn’t a requirement.  It was quite a luxurious feeling and our guy was quite a pro with the camera.  I liked that the workers were all friendly and called out to each other during their trips out.

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It is easy to be taken with Venice.  If it were milder weather I may have appreciated her more.  As it was I was moved by scenic views that surrounded us with every step, even when the streets ended at random and forced us to turn back.  Bene, grazie, ciao!IMG_6966

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Mangia Bene

Don’t list: pizza, pasta, calzone, breadstick, tiramisu, cannoli

Say there’s a song on a cd or radio you really like.  You connect to the lyrics and the melody and think it’s the best jam in a long time and enjoy wearing it out on repeat.

Then you buy tickets to a live show where the band plays the song as it was meant to be heard and experience it in a completely different way.

You get swept up and lost it as it lifts you up and binds you with sweet meanings beyond words. There’s no thought about the product being given, only appreciation that you are there in the moment.

Same goes for food.  I’ve had good pasta.  I’ve had semi-incredible fresh pasta assembled from scratch. But never one that affects me like it does when it’s locally made with love and married with local quality ingredients prepared expertly with the right blend of seasoning that harmoniously comes together.

And I’m not even supposed to have it…bother all.

Ristorante Taverna San Trovaso
What seemed to be a normal tavern turned out to be a Trip Advisor favorite packed to full capacity at noon with locals.  The scallop appetizer had a divine flavor even if it was slightly overcooked it left me aching for more.  The fried calamari and shrimp main coarse was standard in looks and taste.  My brother had the spaghetti carbonara which happened to be the best flavor and texture of any pasta dish of my experience. Since I failed my mission to try cheval (horse meat) in France, my brother asked the waitress if she knew of any place that served it locally (known there as cavallo).  The next two places were based on her recommendations.

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Pizzeria Ristorante al Profeta
We found our way to the back dining area where a man with a sweet dachshund was seated next to us.  We ordered a kangaroo dish as well as donkey stew.  You read that right.  The kangaroo was tender and tasted like a lean steak but I preferred the salty flavor of the donkey which balanced well enough with the polenta.  We switched our plates to our mutual benefit.  I kept singing “I’m a kangaroo” to the tune of Albatroaz on the way there and back.

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The next day we hopped over to our illustrious goal of trying horse meat at long last.   It was sweltering in this crowded restaurant but we managed to endure until sunset.  The regulars were all crazy for the cichettis (mini bruschetta) which they took outside on plates, sometimes with glasses of wine, to the seating area which happened to be boats.  How cool is that?  We had our horse and though it was a bit tough in places, feasted on the My Little Pony until there was almost nothing left.  Success!

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Pizzeria Casa del Nobili
This place was a stone’s throw from our room so we sauntered in to an abandoned dining area.  Of course I enjoyed the paintings and the grilled sea bass was quite all right.  My brother ordered a pizza and gave me a sample.  Oh man, it was the best I ever had save one experience.  The taste and texture was identical to Barros Brothers from my childhood city, which heightened my sorrow of the forbidden foods lost to me.

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Le Cafe Restaurant
Our nearby plaza featured a nearly upscale place and I wanted to try the gnocchi so we sat and ordered.   I can’t really say I enjoyed the gnocchi as it was too thick and gummy to eat.  If it wasn’t for the rich butter sage sauce it would have been a total loss.  My brother ordered the spaghetti bolognese which I sampled and resented for it was exquisite.  I told him that he was unadventurous but still always won with his simple choices and he replied that they were classics after all.  This cafe also featured many elaborate ice cream drinks and pastries, which I’m sure were amazing if their cream puff was any indication.  The white fluffy center is not merely a whipped cream but a diplomat custard sort which sent me to a state of cloudy bliss.

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Grom
Our local gelato place which we probably visited every time we passed nearby.  The service is friendly and quality is on point.  I wouldn’t say I really like gelato, it’s only ice cream with concentrated flavors to me.  But if it’s creamy enough and helps beat the heat I can’t complain.

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Handay
On our last night we stumbled into this funny location, a self-serve gelato shop.  You had me at yellow butterfly motif…But when we stepped in you could have knocked me over with a feather.  Gluten free cones?!  The lady assisted me by opening the wrapping and filling in with a plain yogurt flavor.  I could scarcely believe my luck and just thinking about this place lessens my scornful memories of Venice.

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Fair Italy

What do I know about Italy?  Pope, gelato, and canals on every coast?  Wrong on the last one- actually I found that canals are unique to Venice.
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So what about Venice?  Murano glass, merchant ships, and gondolas.  Adding to the list: extreme heat.  Humidity that made me want to turn back to a country, any Northern country, to escape.  Figuring out the water taxis was like a mean puzzle which made me realize this place is a crazy maze and I was destined not to like it.  Getting bitten by mosquitos while our clothes were seasoned with sweat made me long for England.  But honestly, the real heroes were the parents who took their strollers up and down the endless stairs and bridges as well as the workers carrying their carts and wagons of goods.  What a city, eh Luigi?

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Giorno 1
After a satisfying lunch at Ristorante Taverna San Trovaso we marched a few miles to the Piazzo San Marco.  Inclusive in the elaborate square is St. Marks’ Campanile as well as the Doge’s Palace, which we discovered led to the interior of the Bridge of Sighs.  The Bridge of Sighs sounds romantic but it hints at something sinister.  It is actually the last grated glimpse of freedom for prisoners before they disappear into the dark dungeons for the rest of their lives.  How tragic!

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They also had a separate exhibition of Henri Rousseau’s paintings which I was bent on seeing.  On the way back we refueled at the Pizzeria Ristorante al Profeta.  I told my brother my Marco Polo game is strong here:
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Giorno 2
Got our grub on at Pizzeria Casa del Nobili.  Now it’s time for a gondola ride!  It was a relaxing half hour of floating down the watery streets to the Grand Canal, I thought it was going to be nauseating but it wasn’t 🙂  We took a break back at the rooms then had a grand old time at Timon.  We discovered Handay on the way back and I barely resisted buying up all the trinkets in sight.

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Our final hot morning making our way to the Palazzo Grimani, which turned out to be an ordinary museum building.  We had no time to visit and took our lunch at Le Cafe Restaurant.

My goodness, I was looking forward to leaving every day I was there.  The visit was made tolerable by the incredible food and the plethora of stunning souvenirs of glass figurines. Everywhere we went a store would tempt me to snatch up the whole collection and it was addicting, kind of like the Sultan in Aladdin.

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I’m going to buy some glass/ only got 20 euros in my pocket

Other than that I was glad to get on the plane back to Luton.

So long, fare thee well, Venice!