My first Euro trip involved stops at 15 cities in 6 countries, and it was one hell of a ride. Lessons Learned Included:
- Driving a manual (or any) car, with or without GPS, around Ireland means you will barely make it to any of your destinations in twice the expected time, especially when alone (no navigator)
- Put your phone away before the cab stops
- Do not get comfortable with checking luggage – it WILL get lost
- When riding the late train from Düsseldorf to Dortmund, bring beer
- The Düsseldorf Hbf is not the train station at Flughafen Düsseldorf
- They really love sandwiches in Europe
- You cannot rely on consistent data connections anywhere (phone or Wi-Fi)
Enniscorthy, Thursday 5/2/13, Dinner at Riverside Park Hotel Promenade Bar
The hotel was the only restaurant I could find that was open after 6pm (when I was done with work), so that’s where I ate by default. I got the Ranch Burger – A soft Flour Bap filled with a juicy 6oz Pure 100% Irish Beef Burger, smothered in aged Cheddar Cheese and topped with Homeade Relish. It was decent, but the 2 Guinnesses I had alongside it made everything better.
Enniscorthy, Friday 5/3/13, Breakfast at Riverside Park Hotel
For my first time in Ireland, I had to get the Full Irish Breakfast – hashbrowns, mushrooms, ham, tomato, egg, sausage, white and black pudding. Not sure how I feel about the “puddings.” The mushrooms were clearly the canned variety, and the tomato was strangely bland. Either way, it was the experience I was hoping for at the time.
Dublin, Friday 5/3/13, Dinner at The Temple Bar
I ditched the rental car early and decided to cab it to the airport the next day to avoid the ridiculousness of driving in Ireland. No regrets, since I easily got lost in the construction around the airport a few times before I was able to get to the rental car return. After the exhausting effort of driving, I decided to wander around the hotel and find a place for a beer and food. The Temple Bar seemed a lively if very touristy spot, but I didn’t feel like spending a weekend night in a lonely, snobby restaurant. I of course enjoyed more Guinness and partook in the Irish Smoked Salmon and Smoked Trout Platter (Served on Guinness bread with our special recipe cucumber pickle and salad) and the Irish Cheese Board:
- Cashel Blue (Medium Strength Cream Bule with full flavour, firm texture)
- Gubbeen (Medium Strength semi-soft cheese with a nutty, sometimes buttery flavour)
- Smoked Gubbeen (Lightly smoked semi hard cheese with a good sweet/salty finish)
- Cheddar (Full flavoured fruity with a salty-sweet finished pleasant grainy texture)
Brussels, Saturday 5/4/13, Dinner at Le Brassins
I made it to Brussels for a couple days in the city before more work. After researching the area, I ended up at Le Brassins, a lovely restaurant tucked away down a small side street in the Ixelles neighborhood. Took a bit to find the right spot, but thanks to offline maps and GPS on my phone, it wasn’t too much effort. I asked for a recommendation from the bartender while I waited for a spot to open up in this tiny and packed venue and ended up with the Taras Boulba (Extra Hoppy Beer), Brasserie de la Senne. I also took the article’s recommendation and got the lapin à la Kriek (rabbit stewed in flavored beer), listed on the English menu as Rabbit in cherry beer sauce and added a side of pommes frites and was not disappointed.
Brussels, Saturday 5/4/13, Beer at L’archiduc
I also took the NYT’s recommendation on L’archiduc for a drink. You could feel the history in the atmosphere – the place is famed for being frequented by Nazis during their occupation and also for its live jazz performances by renowned artists such as Miles Davis. I enjoyed a Westmalle Triple and tried to avoid the very forward European male types before heading back to the hotel.
Brussels, Sunday 5/5/13, Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien
Another NYT recommendation, I sought out the original location for Le Pain Quotidien for Sunday brunch. I ordered some tea and the Tartine “Boeuf basilica” L vers rundvlees, basilicumolie en Parmezaan. I don’t think I realized it was going to be beef tartare, but fortunately, I don’t mind raw beef. I also enjoyed the outdoor/covered patio in the back.
Brussels, Sunday 5/5/13, Beer at Delirium Café
After breakfast, I didn’t really have any plans, so I figured what better time to get my fill of Belgian beer without the evening crowds? I made my way to Delirium Café, guided by a separate NYT article. Being familiar with the namesake and reading the description, this seemed the perfect place to try a variety. Being a bit overwhelmed by the 300+pg beer list, I asked the bartender to recommend something interesting, and he hooked me up with a sour beer – not my favorite of the group but that was probably given the cool and slightly dreary day. After that, he introduced me to the Floris Apple, which was absolutely delicious – perfect apple-y flavor, like hard cider on crack. Though I could have been content to drink the apple all day, I rounded out the morning with the very pleasant Rulles Estivale. That was certainly one way to spend a morning in Brussels, and I’d do it again if given the opportunity!
- Gueuzerie Tilquin (4.8%) Gueuze Tilquin on tap is a spontaneous refermentation beer resulting from the assembly of a lambic, light in alcohol and 1 and 2 years oak aged lambics. Non filtered and non pasteurized, it is refermented in stainless steel casks. The lambics used have ermented and age in oak barrels on our premises. The taste is sour, dry, and refreshing. The aroma is fresh and citrus. A light gueuze ideal for summer terraces and to discover spontaneous referemnted beer.
- Floris Apple (3%) – The aromas and flavours marry perfectly in this rich and warming beer. Rich in its composition fabouring a pleasant and apple conversation. It rests satable in its fruitiness all the way through its journey to the end of the tongue and to the bottom of the throat. It is a perfect success and example of the ingenuity of new beer flavours.
- Rulles Estivale (5.2%) – Lovely initial hop aroma juicy orange peel and leafy notes. Earthy fruitiness underneath this, the malt body is reasonably firm and drinkably dry. Not overly bitter in the finish but with a long flavoursome hop finish with slight tartness like a chunky orange marmalade. Very drinkable. This is the beer that made me come back to La Rulles over and over again.
Brussels, Sunday 5/5/13, Lunch at Friture Leon
After finding one of the recommendations for Moules Frites closed and learning at the snobby Aux Armes de Bruxelles that mussels were out of season, I decided to ignore their advice and find a more casual spot where I could freely order a bucket of mussels without feeling judged. I ended up at Friture Leon and got my fill of Les Moules Frites. Even if out of season, I still enjoyed them thoroughly and used the generous helping of bread to soak up all the tasty juicy broth. Aux Armes is probably great when they are in season, but I was turned off by the atmosphere.
Aalst, Tuesday 5/7/13, Dinner at Café Safir
Spent a short night in Aalst and took the opportunity to wander around the main square with the cathedral and surrounded by cafes and shops. I sat down at Café Safir, which had a nice view of the square. I ordered a Westmalle Tripel and the croque bolognaise met spahettisaus, basically a toasted ham and cheese sandwich doused in a Bolognese sauce. It was the most amazing comfort food ever. This one definitely needs to be brought home.
Frankfurt, Saturday 5/11/13, Lunch at Konstablerwache Farmers Market
Having the weekend in Frankfurt, I made a point to make it to the Saturday farmers market in Konstablerwache. So happy I did. This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. The market is huge and alongside the produce had lots of tents set up with various breweries and wineries doing tastings and vendors selling both raw and cooked meats, all at very reasonable prices. I bellied up to the Heinstadt Weinhof, Zornheim tasting booth and sampled the Wein (1.6-3.5 euro) and delicious Bowle (0.2 ltr. Glas 2.60 euro). At another booth, I tried the Hugo (2.50 euro) and found a Rhöner Hausmacher Bratwurst mit Brötchen – sausage on a roll (2.40 euro). The Hugo was alright, but I could have drunk Bowle, sort of a spiced wine, all day.
Frankfurt, Saturday 5/11/13, Dinner at Klaane Sachsehäuser
I was told that when in Frankfurt, you have to try the “Frankfurter Schnitzel”. I found a lovely spot with picnic tables outside under trees and umbrellas to give it a try. On the menu, the description was listed as “Frankfurter Schnitzel” mit grüner Sosse und Bratkartoffeln or Frankfurter Schnitzel (pork) with Frankfurt Green Sauce (seven different herbs) and boiled potatoes. Not too bad, though the abundance of fried meat and potatoes in European cuisine was starting to wear on me. I would definitely get it again if I found myself in Frankfurt.
Amsterdam, Sunday 5/12/13, Dinner at Restaurant d’Vijff Vlieghen
On the concierge’s recommendation, I secured a reservation at d’Vijff Vlieghen (five flies). This restaurant claims patronage by many famous people, which are all engraved on metal plates displayed on each chair. The restaurant actually spans 5 houses, which you might get a glimpse of as you are led to your seat. The interior is quaintly decorated, with filled nooks and crannies – enough to keep a lone traveler’s interest during a lovely meal. I opted for the 5 course tasting menu. It started with a gazpacho shooter followed by seared tuna, tuna tartare, cucumber, sweet potato mash, marshmallows. The local fish was pleasantly prepared topped with crushed toasted nuts. The steak was served with a very nice red wine sauce. Though I’m not big on desserts, the portion was perfect, and I actually at the entire serving of icecream with pistacchios, strawberries. It was a lovely meal with great atmosphere and not a terribly unreasonable price considering the solid service that accompanied the meal.
On my second tour of Europe, I flew through Amsterdam to meet a friend in Prague so we could make our way around by train and back through Munich for Oktoberfest. Since I hadn’t been able to spend much time in Amsterdam on the first trip, I thought I would stash my baggage in a locker and try to find the famous Anne Frank house in the morning. It was about 6:30am and pouring rain when I made it to Amsterdam Centraal, but I had no place to go for my 12 hour layover, so I purchased an umbrella and tried to kill some time before I started my walk, about 1.5 km or 20 min, to arrive when they open (9am every day). By the time I arrived at the door, my gauchos were soaked from the windblown rain and splash, so I was really looking forward to some time indoors. To my dismay, I learned that the Anne Frank House is open every day of the year except 1 – Yom Kippur – which unbeknownst to this non-Jewish person happened to be that day. As I turned to walk back, to top things off, a car came rushing by, completely dousing me in water. This was the day that I learned to love Hop On Hop Off tour buses. It was the only means I had to dry off. I even rode one line around twice just to get feeling back in my toes.
Amsterdam, Saturday 9/14/13, Lunch at the Market
I think one of the Hop On Hop Off tour guides mentioned this market, nearby the windmill stop. With the rain clearing up slightly and getting hungry for lunch, I thought a stroll through the market for food sounded pretty good. I ended up getting a stand by for me – Doner Kebab. Yum!
Prague, Sunday 9/15/13, Lunch at Jan Paukert Lahûdky
Jan Paukert has been around for about 100 years and claims to have invented the Chlebíčky, a popular open-faced sandwich that can come with a variety of toppings. We chose a few – smoked salmon, sausage/pickles/egg/tomato, and vegetable with ham and egg salads on the side. The salads were very mayo-heavy, but the sandwiches were a delightful snack before we hopped the train to Budapest.
Budapest, Monday 9/16/13, Lunch at Nagycsarnok Central Market Hall
Took the recommendation to check out the central market hall, grab a bit for lunch, groceries to make dinner at our AirBnB, and do a little shopping. At one of the vendors, I selected one of the various combinations of sausage and cabbage. A little more bland than I was expecting, I still enjoyed the experience.
Budapest, Monday 9/16/13, Drinks at Palinka House
After a full day of funicular and castle touring, we made dinner at the AirBnB, followed by a walk around the garden bars, and found a spot to sample the local version of schnapps, palinka. We ordered the Nobilis Nemes Pálinkák – fehér eper, füszeres körte (wild mulberry, spicy pear; 5 years old). When I think schnapps, I usually imaging the super-sweet Dekuyper variety, while palinka was harsh and reminded me more of a berry brandy. But when in Rome… We did enjoy a local wine, Takler reserve, Szekszárdi Bikavér 2008
Vienna, Tuesday 9/17/13, Dinner at Salm Bräu Brauerei Gaststätte
Not sure how we ended up here, but Salm Bräu had a great and lively atmosphere and traditional food. I ordered the Jäger – Pfandl – saftiges Wildragout in Rotwein – Pilzsauce mit Kräuterspätzle (juicy game ragout in red wine – mushroom sauce with herb spaetzle), which was delicious. My friend got the Wienerschnitzel, which she enjoyed, too. Both of us ordered big beers, too. I got the Märzen and she ordered the Weizen.
Vienna, Wednesday 9/17/13, Lunch at Gasthaus Pöschl
Recommended by both NYT and The Independent, my friend and I only made it here for a quick snack and drink after walking around Vienna in the morning and before we had to head to the train station. Looked like a lovely place to have a full meal – all the food looked delicious – so I’d definitely make a point to check this place out if I’m ever in Vienna again. We enjoyed our beers, though and were on our way.
Salzberg, Wednesday 9/18/13, Drinks at Augustiner Bräustübl-Mülln / Dinner at Bärenwirt
On the recommendation of some fellow travelers we met at Augustiner Bräustübl, we made our way to Bärenwirt for dinner. Great homey atmosphere and friendly service. I ordered the Bierschopfbratl mit Knödel in “Bärengröße” (roast pork with bear sized dumpling). The sausage was tasty, and the juices were nice with the dumpling, but overall I was a bit disappointed with the dumpling, since I didn’t realize at the time that most European dumplings are bread instead of meat-based. Just a bit too much dough for me. Still a pleasant dinner and I would definitely go back here and try something else. My friend got the highly recommended fried chicken, which she enjoyed a lot. Though overall I think we were both suffering from the overabundance of fried meat in Europe.
Salzberg, Thursday 9/19/13, Lunch at Hagenauerstuben
We were feeling in need of a small bite around lunch time and strolled into Hagenauerstuben. My friend was in the mood for a salad, so we split this salad with a really mild goat cheese that was drizzled with honey. Really delicious.
Munich, Friday 9/20/13, Mike’s Bike Tour and lunch at Chinesischer Turm Biergarten in Englischer Garten
Mike’s Bike Tour was tons of fun and a great way to see the sights in Munich. Also the stop at the Chinese Tower beer garden was perfect. I enjoyed my sausage on a roll and shared some fries with my friend. We both enjoyed some Hofbrau beer.
Munich, Saturday 9/21/13, Dinner at Löwenbrau Tent for Oktoberfest!
After getting up at an ungodly hour to make it to the fair grounds only to wait in line for another hour before even being let in the tent to wrestle for a spot at a table, there were a few lessons learned.
- Definitely get a giant pretzel from the stand outside the tent
- If you bring a deck of cards or two, you’ll definitely make friends
- Beer starts being served an hour later on the opening day of Oktoberfest due to the opening parade/ceremony
- Don’t plan on trying to change tents since you’ll never make it through the lines
- Don’t call it a liter – you’ll be ordering beer by the Maß.
On the local’s recommendation we avoided the bigger tents like Hofbrau and opted for a small one called Löwenbrau. We hunkered down with a group of travelers around our age, played some cards, and drank lots of beer. We stayed in the same place all day/evening, so we definitely were happy that there was a decent food menu for dinner. I ordered the ragout of deer with spätzle and cranberry (Hirschragout vom Jäger Michael Schmid mit Spätzle und Wildpreiselbeeren) and enjoyed it thoroughly. The other crowd favorite was the pork knuckle (Portion gegrillte Schweinshaxe mit Kartoffelknödel).
Munich, Sunday 9/22/13, Lunch at Augustiner Am Platzl
After a long day of drinking before, we opted to keep it low key for our last hours in Munich. Since we didn’t make it to the Augustiner tent (recommended by the Mike’s Bike Tour guide), we went to one of their restaurants, Augustiner Am Platzl. My friend and I each had a small(er) mug of beer. I ordered the roasted spicy sausages with home-made potato salad “Metzgerpfandl” mixed sausages, all grilled with sauerkraut (Pfefferbeißer vom Grill mit hausgemachtem Kartoffelsalat “Metzgerlpfandl” gemischter Würstelspieß vom Grill mit hausgemachtem Weinsauerkraut).
Prague, Sunday 9/22/13, Dinner at V Kolkovnē
On the first train ride we took (Prague to Budapest), one of the ticket agents was finishing his shift and ended up joining us for a bit. He told us that we needed to try the traditional Czech dish called svickova. When we made it back for the last part of our trip, the hotel we stayed at (Hotel Residence Agnes – which had amazing service, i.e. free wine at check-in, private driver to the castle, and bottle of wine waiting for us when we got back) told us to go to VKolkovne for dinner. When we arrived, they told us that they were completely booked, but when we mentioned the hotel that sent us, they were able to squeeze us in. We of course ordered the Beef “Svíčková” – Beef sirloin in cream sauce, served with bread and Carlsbad dumpling. The dumplings were bready again, but the cream sauce and cranberry were nice together. We also noticed an interesting cooler in the corner and asked about it. The server told us it was a Czech liqueur / herbal bitters called Becherovka. He served it to us in the traditional way with tonic (called a “beton”) and a lemon wedge. It was pretty delicious – kind of spicy like a ginger ale, so we had a second round.
Prague, Monday 9/23/13, Lunch at Food Stand Wenceslas Square
Thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, we were clued into this local curiosity. At a random food stand at the far end of Wenceslas Square, you can find the Smažený sýr, a fried cheese patty on a plain burger bun with mayo. It tastes just how you think it would. Probably not worth going out of your way for it, and we were happy we split one instead of ordering one for each of us, but it was a fun adventure tracking it down. So ended the second Euro Tour.