Insert Sigh Here.

I was going through old Chocolate + Zucchini posts (because that’s where the recipes live) when I bumped into this:

Let me start this post by declaring my love for the Northern European high-speed train network: Northern European high-speed train network, I love you.

Really, can anyone think of anything more enthusing than the fact that London’s Borough Market, Amsterdam’s rijsttafels, and Strasbourg’s flammekueche are just a couple of hours away from Paris, and that the trip to get there does not involve taking off your belt, your shoes, and the filling in your left molar, nor tossing out your only bottle of contact lens cleanser? I can’t either.*

I am so jealous.  Why does the American train system stink?  Why can’t we clamber aboard a train and catapult to  New York, D.C., Baltimore, Montréal?  I know what you’re thinking: Nayiri, you can take a train to New York, D.C., Baltimore and Montréal (but only if you first take a train to New York).  To that, I say Pshaw.

The so-called express train from Boston to New York takes a bit over three hours, barely swifter than the amount of time it takes to drive the 190 miles and running you something like a hundred dollars.  The high-speed train traversing the 440-mile distance between Boston and Washington costs you $175 and almost seven hours of your life — just one hour faster than it would have taken had you been behind the wheel of a car.

On the other hand, the high-speed train between Madrid and Barcelona, which covers 390 miles, takes just under three hours for the same price as our Boston-Washington train.  Ditto the train from Paris to Marseilles: $150-something for a three-hour ride covering 410 miles.

What the heck, Amtrak?  Are you trying to make it difficult for people to travel from city to city with comfort and ease?

Not only is traveling via train clearly a more scenic option than flying (clouds and unrecognizable patches of green both get boring after a while), but it’s significantly better for the environment.  At TerraPass, you can calculate your of CO2 travel emissions; if Keith and I were to fly to New York from Boston, we would each produce 132 pounds of CO2.  Multiply that by the 188 other passengers on our Boeing 737, and things start to get a little scary.  Take those same 188 people and put them on a train with me and Keith; we’d each only generate 77 pounds of CO2.  And that’s only for a 190 mile journey.  Imagine what the numbers would look like for the 440 miles between Boston and Washington, or the 390 miles between Madrid and Barcelona…

Of course, there are some instances in which plane trumps train — I’ll never be able to book a train to take me to my Kenyan safari, or to visit my grandmother in Manila — but the fact remains that trains are not only “greener,” but also more relaxing (no stress at airport security or behind the wheel).  Not to mention you can hop on to most trains’ WiFi, use your phone, and actually move around the cars if you want to stretch your legs.  No waiting until the train is an hour out of the station, unlike planes and their gates.

But here’s one of my most favorite things about train travel, though: you can pack a couple sandwiches and a bottle of wine, and have yourself a nice (moving) picnic as the world whizzes by.  Try doing that on Delta.

* From this post.
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Lunchtime at Albert Cuyp Markt.

Oh, there’s still so much I want to tell you all about our trip last month, and there’s still so much I want to tell you about other things (I know you don’t think I’ve forgotten to keep you posted about my CSAdventures) but somehow time has gotten away from me.  Bear with me while I figure it all out, and in the meantime, enjoy this little slideshow of photos I took at the Albert Cuyp Markt in Amsterdam.  (Click on the legs.)

Albert Cuyp Markt, 8

Unlike London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon, the Albert Cuyp Markt is an actual street market; the vendors set up and break down their carts, trucks and booths each morning and night.  Don’t worry though — the street is closed to automotive traffic during market hours (Monday through Saturday from eight in the morning until six at night).

Also unlike Borough Market and Jean-Talon, the markt offers products ranging beyond produce, including clothing, furniture and even electronics — which reminded me more of some of the markets I’ve visited in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore.  There’s still a lot of food to sample, buy and smell, however.  My favorite was Amsterdam’s infamous raw herring sandwich; fatty, sweet and rich, I wish I had one in my hand right now.  It was that good.

What’s amazing about this market is that it’s in the center of a picturesque part of Amsterdam known as the Pijp, whose little pockets of ethnic communities definitely flavor the markets’ stalls.  Crave a Surinamese sweet?  Need a tagine?  The markt has everything you need, and frites to boot, so if you plan to visit, I highly recommend doing what Keith and I did: skip breakfast.

Albert Cuyp Markt
Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
albertcuypmarkt.com

One Week In Belgium.

Keith and I were originally planning to go on this vacation in the fall.  We both like to travel off-peak for better deals — not to mention for better chances of dealing with smaller crowds of tourists.  Just as we were about to book our tickets for November, Keith realized that such a trip was impossible; he’s TAing a class (beginning tonight, actually) that runs through December… which is how we ended up in Europe in August, surrounded by other visitors.

Here are the Belgian highlights:

Grand Place, BrusselsTuesday
Checked into the Hotel Metropole, Belgium’s only hotel from the nineteenth century that is still operational.  Braved the crowds and wandered around the Grand Place before sitting down to an early dinner at Chez Léon.  Ordered moules á L’escargot with frites and the house beer (€22.20).  Ate outside; it was very warm, and besides, we don’t get to dine al fresco often in Boston.  I think it has to do with permits, which is a shame.  Wandered around a bit more and, after visiting the Manneken Pis, ended up drinking beers outside at A La Mort Sabite.  I had a Lambic Blanche, which was dangerously good.  A girl could get in trouble easily drinking those.

Darlington Brussels, 3Wednesday
Darlington‘s living in London now; she took the Eurostar in to hang out with us for the day**. Ate breakfast in the hotel, then headed out for a gossipy walk.  Sites visited included the Place du Grand-Sablon, Parc de Bruxelles, the newly-opened Musée Magritte Museum*, the waffle vendor outside the museum, Pierre Marcolini on Avenue Louise, A La Bécasse and all the nice little neighborhoods in between.  At Pierre Marcolini, we bought an obscene amount chocolates and had a tasting on a bench directly outside.  Similarly, at A La Bécasse we each ordered the “Lambic Dégustation” and sampled Timmerman’s Lambic Doux, Lambic Blanc, Kriek and Bourgogne des Flandres.  After a sad goodbye, Keith and I walked over to the Saint Catherine neighborhood for another mussels dinner at Le Pré Salé.

Pretty Antwerp StreetThursday
Hopped a train to Antwerp; met an incredibly friendly Dutch woman who gave us a tour of the Grote Markt before going on her way.  Ate an unremarkable (but economical!) pizza lunch at Da Giovanni.  Meandered  into Walter and Yohji Yamomoto.  Couldn’t find the Ann Demeulemeester store and MoMu was closed, so headed over to the river Scheldt, where we ate more waffles and watched couples make out.  The view’s romantic, so we couldn’t blame them.  Looked like it was going to rain sowe walked back towards the center, and just before the water started crashing down ducked into Quinten Matsijs and had a couple beers.  (Later, I found out it’s the oldest bar in Holland and Belgium.)   Dinner at Amadeus, back to Brussels for one last beer, then bed.

Pictureseque BrugesFriday
Caught a train to the incredibly picturesque city of Bruges, which is so pretty it’s almost ridiculous.  Also ridiculous were the sheer amount of people present, taking photographs of the canals, the city hall and Sint-Salvator Cathedral.  Checked out the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where I lit candles for my grandmother and grandfathers.  Ate sandwiches from Deldycke whilst sitting on the river Dijver, then dropped into ‘t Brugs Beertje, which stocks over three hundred Belgian beers.  I tried two different flavors of Lambic; Keith ordered a ‘t Smisje Dubbel after a mostaardbier by the same brewery.  Dinner at the mundane Poules Moules before we traveled back to Brussels.  Nightcap at Le Corbeau.

Ghent SkylineSaturday
Mid-morning train to Ghent.  Got the bus to the center, walked over to see The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb at Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral.  Lit some more candles.  Climbed way too many narrow winding stairs at Gravensteen, a castle from the Middle Ages that sits practically in the center of Ghent.  Incredible views, though interrupted by cranes.  Drinks at De Dulle Griet, which means Mad Meg and is a very famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Utterly delicious dinner at Brasserie ‘t Klokhuys, where I ate a Flemish beef stew and frites (€12.70) until I was stuffed.  Beers at Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, where we met a retiring-in-one-week naval man who insisted Keith have a Rochefort 10.

Another vantage point of the Grand Place, BrusselsSunday
Last day, sort of, in Belgium — our plane tickets were round-trip out of Brussels Airport.  Brunch at Café Mokafe in one of the covered galleries in the city.  People-watch while chewed crusty baguette sandwich, then Keith-watched as he ate a waffle while we walked to Delirium Café for a beer.  Directly across the entrance is the Jeanneke Pis, which made me wonder what is up with this city and peeing children.  Strolled around aimlessly until stopping for a break at Chaff on the Place du Jeu de Balle.  Fell madly in love with the cleverest street dog ever, then stopped by Lola for dinner before packing up at the hotel.

* I know it is redundant.
** Darlington took some of these photos.
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

Belgian Graffiti.

I love graffiti, always have.  I remember riding in the backseat on the way to my father’s New York City office and sitting up straighter when we passed my favorite tags along the Henry Hudson.  I’d count how many times I’d see them spray painted on brick walls, cement underpasses and in between windows, and that number would glow behind my eyes until I went to bed that night.

New York is different these days, tidied up, and graffiti isn’t a common sight in Boston.  Europe, on the other hand, is teeming with street art, and I make a point of documenting what I see wherever I go.  Keith, I think, gets a bit frustrated with me, as I can tend to wander off down miscellaneous alleyways with only the most perfunctory of hold on for a second‘s, and then spend a good few minutes angling my camera this way and that.  The things we do for love, right?*

Click on the picture below for a slideshow of graffiti I photographed in Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent — unsurprisingly, there was no graffiti to be found in Bruges, but considering that the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even the teensiest tag would be instantly rubbed away.

Graffiti in Ghent, Belgium

* I’ll leave it to you to determine if I mean Keith’s love of me, or my love of graffiti.

Taking Off.

I’m sitting in my steaming hot dining room, contemplating the pile of dirty dishes from yesterday’s charcuterie fest (more about that later) in the sink, and avoiding packing.  We leave tomorrow for a week in Belgium, followed by a week in Holland, and I don’t know why I’m putting off packing, since I’m so efficient at it.  I think it’s because it’s too hot to move and I still have to turn the two cups of blueberries we haven’t eaten into muffins (or scones) that I’ll stick in the freezer and consume when we get back, and the thought of turning on the oven makes me want to cry.  Or crawl into the freezer with my muffins.  Or both.  I am that hot.

Yesterday my cousin Nikita came over to teach me and Melissa how to make charcuterie, and now my fridge is full of three different kinds, all of which must be eaten or given away before noon tomorrow.  I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t think I’m up for the task.  There’s that much food.  I’ll put up recipes on how to make duck liver pâté, rillettes and pâté de campagne when I get back, but here are is a picture to tide your interest in the meantime:

Charcuterie Saturday, 1
It’s called a tease for a reason, my friends…

I may have Internet access while in Europe, I may not, so just in case:  au revoir, à bientôt.