Saturday, March 26, 2011

Paris, Anyone? Part 4

If you’re just now joining us, we’ve been chatting about how anyone
(that means You!)
can travel to Europe, and on a frugal mama’s budget!

Here’s what we’ve got going on:

March 6th: Intro to Hopping the Pond
March 13th: Get Yer Transportation On!
March 20th : Where to Sleep?
March 27th : Eating your way through Europe...yummo.
April 3rd: Shop 'till Ya Drop!

This week we’re taking a peek at where to eat while in Europe.

Mama Mia…this subject always makes me hungry.

When in Rome, do as the Romans. In other words, while in Europe, eat like a European! Europeans are natural foodies (well, most of them are…) and they truly enjoy food.

My last trip to Paris was an all girls trip (actually it was an all mommies trip!) and believe it or not, my favorite part of the trip was our nightly evening meal. We spent hours over our meal with lots of wine and dessert included. We talked and talked and talked, with no interruptions.

It was bliss.

So be ready to relax a little over meal time – Europeans cherish food and good conversation and you should too!

Here is how our food is typically mapped out within a day. Remember that this is the frugal mama way to tour, to get the best bang for your Euro budget!

Breakfast: we grab a wonderful cup of coffee and a pastry from the local bakery (there are @ 3 bakeries on every corner) and we’re on our way!

Lunch: if we are in more remote area, we stop that morning at a local market and grab some bread, tasty cheese, fruit, and water (or wine!) and pack it with us for the day.

If we’re in a more metro area, we eat off the streets! (no, not literally…).
We find the most delectable paninis, crepes and such, made right there in little street stands - they are wonderful and cheap!

Dinner: We only have about two actual nice sit-down dinners a week. Most nights we will stop at a walk-up restaurant or grocery and purchase fresh baked chicken and scrumptious salads…oh, and of course wine and dessert!

Eating this way will save you a ton of money, you will enjoy a great variety of foods, and you will actually be eating like a real European!

Here are some notes about Food by Country, based on our experiences:

Switzerland Favorites

KaseKuchen. In Germany this is their version of cheesecake (I’ll get to that later…), but in Switzerland, this is an amazing thin-crusted cheese pie. It’s a nice combo of emmental, gruyère, and appenzell cheeses and it literally melts in your mouth. Here’s a recipe that I found that looks pretty close to the real deal.

Poulet Curry Sandwich. This is just a basic curried chicken salad served on some tasty bread. Most bakeries carry this and it’s a perfect grab for lunch!

Laugen bretzel.
These are basic pretzels that have been split and made into a little sandwich. I literally eat my weight in these – I can’t stop. These are found in local bakeries.

Bircher Muesli. This is a must-have for breakfast. I’m not a big muesli girl, but this is a major exception. A mix of muesli, yogurt, fresh honey, juice, heavy cream and fresh fruit. Most tea rooms and hotels serve this. You will also see it in little yogurt cups at the grocery, but that’s not the real deal.

Last on the list for Switzerland (and most important) is a visit to the Sprüngli store. They make the most killer macaroons. I’ve tried them everywhere I can find them and nothing compares to the Sprüngli version. Tons of sugar, but not too sweet and they melt as soon as you bite into them. Besides sending your taste buds through the roof, look how cute they are!

The best advice for Italy, is to stay away from Italian restaurants that advertise a lot or those that are in the heart of touristy areas – go to those found in side streets that don’t have many tourists eating there – eat with the locals!

Gelato: all I can say about this is eat as much as you can possibly stuff down! I realize that there are gelato shops in the States now, but there’s nothing like a scoop of pure Italian gelato- and for only 1 euro per scoop!

The fresh fish on the menu is always tasty and if you order a steak, it will actually be a side of beef – they believe in big portions!

For coffee, order a Latte Macchiato (tiny bit of espresso with lots of foamy milk) – it’s the perfect pick-me-up.

For olive fans, there are Turkish olive bars all over the place. I accidently spent a whopping $22 on olives the first time I stopped by one (my husband was not amused). But trust me, it’s olive heaven.

The pastries are not as good as they look – they don’t use much sugar in them, so their flavor is very floury. Their cheesecakes look divine, but the looks are deceiving . Try one if you like, but your best bet will be a pastry that includes some good ol' German chocolate.

For breakfast, milchreis is amazing. It’s a version of rice pudding that is both filling and sweet.

A note about pizza – in both Germany and Switzerland, pepperoni is actually banana peppers. If you want our version of pepperoni on your pie, you have to order your pizza “mit salami”.


If you’re in a more metro area (Paris!), a quick bite can be found at Brioche Dorée. This is a little in and out café that has something for everyone, and you’ll see them all over the city. Prices are very reasonable and the food is always fresh and tasty. This is a no-frills eating experience, but if you’re looking to get back to the shopping district in a flash, this is where you’ll want to eat!

My personal favorite food in France is the Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame. Let’s just say it’s the gourmet version of a grilled cheese.
The Croque Monsieur is the simple version,

and the Croque Madame includes a fried egg on top.

My husband was the brave one to first order the Madame version and we ended up fighting over his sandwich. True story. It was worth the fight.

The Croque Monsieur/Madame is amazing for either lunch or dinner, and you can find this little foodie in both walk up cafes and nice restaurants as well.

So our trip down Euro-foodie lane was more extensive than I had planned, but it was deliciously worth it. Be sure to take a peek here next week - it's all about the frugal way to shop Europe. You won't want to miss this one!

Now that I’ve been through all these favorites, it looks like I’m heading to the store to stock up on some Euro cheeses. Mmmmmm…..I can’t get enough. Now if I could just find some Turkish olives as well…

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Ahhhhhhhhhhh...back on U.S. soil!

I dearly love to travel, but I'm always so grateful to come home again.

It still warms my heart when the customs officer hands me my passport and says, "Welcome home, Ma'm". Nice.

Europe is a trip - literally. You never realize the absolute blessings (conveniences!) that we have here in the States until you travel abroad.
Trust me - we are spoiled!

While I was packing my little heart out, I did manage to snap a few pics of some of my favorites that are on their way here now.

I'm seriously praying that these babies arrive the same way they looked when I packed them...the hazards in bringing glass across the pond really makes me crazy.

I try not to weep when something sweet arrives in pieces.

So here's a sneak peek of a few faves...

For those of you who like to pre-order, I have no idea what pricing is like at the moment. I'm still calculating cost, shipping, travel, you name it!

Stop in on Saturday night for
Europe, Anyone? Part 4

We'll be chattin' about chowin' in Europe.
Don't come hungry.
You'll be sorry!

Here's who we're hanging out with. Join us!

and...Debra @ Common Ground

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mini Love

A got a nice surprise today. I stopped off to rent a car for a few days, and specifically asked for the cheapest, most economical 4-wheeler that they had.

The price was great, and I was ready to get the keys to my European clunker.

The nice little Euro guy handed me the keys and said, “You will find your BMW Mini Cooper in slot number 9”.

At that point, I felt the need to squeal in delight, but I remained dignified (that’s the European way…) and took the keys.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that a Mini is THE car that I would drive if I didn’t have my munchkins. (just a side note, that I would definitely prefer to have my munchkins than any car!)

So, off I went in my hot temporary wheels!

I’m pretty sure that the cars driving anywhere near me on the autobahn were a little concerned.

After all, it’s not every day that you see a Mini on the road, with a hysterically screaming woman at the wheel.

Woooooooo hoooooooo!!!!!!!!!!

And here’s something interesting. There’s a mini wave.
Yep. Any mini that drove past me stuck their hand right out the window and gave a friendly wave. (yes, all 5 fingers...) Who knew?!

As always, thanks so much for tuning in.
Tcheuss for now! Tomorrow we’re hitting France!

Can I keep it? Please?

Paris, Anyone? Part 3..

How’s your French coming along?
Have you been stuffing more cash into that Europe envelope each week?

Here we are at week three, in the frugal way to Hop the Pond.

If you’re just joining us, here’s what we’ve got going on.

March 6th: Intro to Hopping the Pond
March 13th: Get Yer Transportation On!
March 20th : Where to Sleep? (that's Today!)
March 27th : Eating your way through Europe...yummo.
April 3rd: Shop 'till Ya Drop!

So, onto this week!
Today’s info gets a bit wordy, so I’ve included several pictures of some of the apartments that we have stayed in, to add a bit of splash between the paragraphs!

Okay, so your plane has landed, you have your luggage (prayerfully) and you’re ready to find a place to rest your tired little noggin.

Forget those dingy European hotels – stay in an apartment! Our family finally caught on to the blessing of renting apartments all over Europe and I sure wish we had known more about them on our honeymoon….that’s another blog all in itself!

Here’s why you’ll be glad you booked an Apartment:

1) The difference in price compared to a tiny European hotel room is staggering,

2) you have all the amenities of home and,

3) you get the experience of living like a local – that in itself is priceless!

Our family has used these two companies for finding apartments and we have never had a problem, mishap, or the dreaded…scam.

For Paris Apartments only, Centre Paris is our choice.

For Apartments throughout Europe, we choose Homelidays.

Look how cozy this one was. One of our favorites!

Finding the Right Apartment:

Location, location, location…
First you’ll want to figure out what area of the city will be best for your stay. Paris is the easiest place to book, as the entire city is mapped out by numbered districts.

If your stay includes major metropolitan areas (ie. Paris, Rome, Berlin, etc), make sure that it is near a Metro/Train station – if it is, they will definitely have this in the description.

After you have a good location in mind, play online and look through the apartments for location, size, pricing, etc.
Don’t forget to check their availability calendar!

This was the first apartment we ever booked. We were in Paris.

As you can see, it was kid-friendly!

This was the bakery that was directly across the street. I was there, um, several times during our short trip!

Booking Your Apartment
Once you find a few that suit your needs, pick out your most favorite one and contact the owner/property manager (each website has instructions on how to contact the owner or property manager). Typically they are very quick in responding and most of the time, their English is fluent enough to communicate all the details.

Here’s an example of an email we received from booking one of our apartments:

“The place is available.

This large family flat is located in the heart of Paris. The rooms are large, very well decorated and the flat is very bright. The flat is very comfortable, located on the 5th floor with a lift, it is very quiet .

There are many shops and stores for food around the flat and the open air market located rue Montorgueil is just 15 minutes by walk from your flat. There are plenty of food stores, and restaurants immediately around the flat.

This brand new flat is located in the heart of Paris. In less than 15 minutes you can walk to Opéra, 20 minutes to Louvre Museum. It has direct connections with the major tourists attractions such as Opéra Garnier, Champs Elysées and mains streets for shopping (10 minutes). The largest European pedestrian area “Rue Montorgueil” is located less than 15 minutes by walk. This area is full of restaurants, food shops. It can be reach easily by every airports and train stations.
Walking distances from the apartment are: 2 minutes for the nearest metro station and bus.
The area is safe and quiet. There is a supermarket just in your street .

For several days or more, benefit from the large space of the apartment with a living room, 3 bedrooms, a separate kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet.

Make yourself at home, cook for you, your family or friend. For leisure and for business, enjoy this fully equipped, brand new and ready-to-live-in flat. The flat has been renovated in 2004, equipment is brand new. A wooden floor is covering the floor.”

This email from the property management actually went on to tell us about check-in, deposits, etc., so you can see that you typically receive very detailed information prior to booking.

Here is an apartment we booked in Rome.

It had not been updated in quite a while, but you could tell that it had been an amazing home in the art deco era. Very fun!

I can almost assure you that there will most definitely be a deposit required (in Euros, no credit cards), that you leave with the property management upon picking up the keys. Some of these deposits are hefty, but we have always received ours back in full.
Details on your deposit will be in the information you receive from the owner/property management. If they don’t mention a deposit, be sure to ask – you don’t want to be caught off-guard on this one!

So, that’s about it. You find an apartment, you book it, then you get to look really cool amongst your peers when you say, “I have the greatest apartment in Paris that I could recommend to you for your upcoming trip”.

I promise that it's actually a very easy process and you will be so happy that you stepped out and did something different from the hotel route.

That’s it for now.
I'm actually typing away while in Europe right now.
It's Sunday here, so no shopping.
That's okay. An extreme shopper needs to take a rest as well!

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Greetings from Deutschland!

hi Friends!
I'm finally writing to you from "across the pond"!

Ahhhhh...even if the skies are thick with a murky overcast, it's great to be in the land of divine chocolates and pristine coffee!

Sweet Angela greeted me with a treat - this precious vintage leather canteen.

She knows me well!

I just landed this morning, but as always, we've already hit the pavement, finding fun vintage trinkets to bring back!

Here are a few shots from today's shopping ventures...

Check out this custom set of dinnerware.

How blessed were Lara and Maxi to receive this as a wedding gift?

Then we ran across these hand-painted jars. Adorable.

And of course we have to add some shabby into the mix.
Look at these elegant vintage doilies.

Oh. My.

Well, it's only been 23 hours since I've slept last, so I'm going to say Guten Nacht for now!

Stay tuned for more fun from...Across the pond!

Want a peek at more vintage treats?
Visit Suzanne @ The Colorado Lady

and...Debra @ Common Ground

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Paris, anyone? Part 2

This little travel series was originally published in the Spring of 2010, and here it is again...start packing your bags!

Last week I did a brief intro of how we frugal mamas can realistically get “across the pond” (if you’re just tuning in, you can find it here.

Now I’m going to get into the nitty gritty of travel to Europe.

Here’s how the next few weeks of this series will go:

March 13th: Get Yer Transportation On! (that's today!)
March 20th : Where to Sleep?
March 27th : Eating your way through Europe...yummo.
April 3rd: Shop 'till Ya Drop!

Okay, so let’s chat about booking flights. I know this is not necessarily a Dreamy topic, but let’s face it, it’s probably THE way you are going to get there, so you need to know about it!

Do not (I repeat, do not) book your travel through a travel office. If you have a ton of money to travel, these companies are great, but if you are trying to get there the frugal way, then you need to book tickets on your own.

1) I use the following airline’s sites: American, Northwest, United, and Lufthansa (Lufthansa is my favorite…better seats & better food!).

Occasionally I do find decent prices via Travelocity and Expedia, but for the most part, the best tickets I've booked have been through the individual carriers.

2) Hopefully your dates are somewhat flexible – flying midweek (typically Wednesday) is much cheaper than weekends.

Each airlines typically has a flexible fares chart that shows you pricing by day of the week or pricing throughout an entire calendar month.

3) There are often amazing flights leaving from NYC to Europe. I’ve booked flights using different carriers before. Example: A flight from Houston to NYC via Delta, and then a flight from NYC to Paris via AirFrance. You have to become your own travel agent, but it’s worth it to save some $$$ for other trip necessities (like shopping…).

If you think you won’t have the time for this, carve some time away from your typical online duties (ie Facebook!) and use that time for your travel homework.

4) If you would like to see more than one country (which I would highly recommend), we often fly into one country and then fly home out of a different country. Example: Fly into Paris, take a night train to Rome, then fly home from Rome.

To look at flights like this, most airlines have the Multiple Destination option to search.

5) Flight prices drop dramatically in early September and do not rise much until the end of April. I typically hit Europe in early September or early April as these are not peak months and the weather is still somewhat decent.

Summer months are when you see the crazy flight pricing…try to avoid summer travel dates if you can.

6) One last tip regarding booking flights is to consider baggage charges. When I was booking flights recently for this month's travel, I noticed that US Airways had a ticket that was much cheaper than American's.

I did a little digging and noticed that to check a second baggage, it was an additional $200 on US Airways, while it was only $50 for a second checked baggage on American.

That is very significant to me, as bringing some sweet stuff is at the top of my travel list!

So, now that you’ve made it across the pond, let’s chat about how you’re going to get around those cobblestone paths!

Trains, trains, trains! Most major cities have a metro rail and that is what we always use – incredibly cheap, convenient and fun to figure out!

Don’t be afraid to get lost – your fun little adventures will make for a great blog later on!

Most cities have their rail maps posted online, so you can study them prior to your arrival.

Here is Paris’ Metro

Here is Rome’s Metro

Here is Berlin’s Metro

Once you arrive in your city, you can purchase a Metro Pass that will save you a ton of money (see? Your shopping stash is growing by the minute…).

Most Europeans speak more English than we speak of their native language, so you can always ask for help. I have to say that the Swiss and Germans speak a LOT of English, even though they personally think their English stinks. The French don’t seem to speak as much English, and can be somewhat reluctant to help, but we have always found a good Samaritan in a pinch.

In any country, the key to starting off right is being able to ask for help in the local language. If you do need help at some point, at least attempt a little of their language - they will find your horrible pronunciation endearing, and they will in-turn help you out.

Just a Note: Nothing is more annoying to me than sitting in a quaint European bistro, and being interrupted by a loud American screaming, “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH ??!!!”.

Funny story: When I took my mom to Paris, she had this weird theory that if she spoke in English, very SLOWLY and LOUDLY then that would aid a non-English speaking person to suddenly begin to understand what she was saying. This theory does not work.
Do not attempt this.

Two more Tips before we part for today:
1) To work on your travel cash, start cleaning out your closet. You’ll make some cash in the meantime (don’t touch it!) and you’ll be making room for your new precious purchases from overseas.

2) To get really inspired about your destination, go get a Rick Steve’s book and start planning. Rick has always been right on the money and he’s a frugal dude as well! Here are some of his books on Amazon. You can always buy last year's version - they don't change that much from just one year to the next (more pennies saved!).

Start your planning now and you may be posting a picture that looks something like this:

Thanks for stopping by this week!
Stay tuned next week, as we learn how to book Your sweet Euro Apartment!

Now I'm off to pack, pack, pack. Three more days to go!

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