Europe: five cities, five days (and the food)

I’m back from a whirlwind walking tour of Paris, the Chablis region of France, a factory in Germany, Turin in Italy and the World Expo in Milan. Let’s hit the highlights…

Though I minored in French in college, this was my first time stepping foot outside the Paris airport and onto Parisienne soil. So, despite getting very little sleep on the red-eye over, I hit the ground running. I only had a day until the official festivities kicked off that night, so I had to take advantage. A day in Paris with me, my camera and my blisters…

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The highlight of the day, besides seeing inordinate numbers of selfie sticks at the Eiffel Tower, was getting to practice my French with taxi drivers. Thankfully my hotel was right by the Arc de Triomphe or I might have had a hard time directing him to the vicinity, and then we made it from there. I also bought baby clothes (obviously) on les Champs-Élysées and sang the song the entire day.

The next day it was off to the Chablis region of France to visit a winery. I hope to write some stories about the technology being used there, so I’ll be brief. But I had to buy a bottle of Chablis there before it was shipped to the states as Chardonnay. Here, the two are synonymous, but there, it’s just Chablis. The winery owner explained to us how the terroir decides the label and the price point, with the highest tier of Grand Cru grown on a section of the rocky soils that gets the best sun exposure.

Then it was off to lunch at this quaint little spot, Au Fil du Zinc, for a better-than-traditional French lunch (i.e. multi-coursed and wined) in a former mill that straddles this waterway in Chablis. I could have spent the rest of the week right there.

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That night we caught a flight to Munich and prepared for our initiation as firefighters the next day. Why not? While editors from trade publications on the trip took note of engine capacities and the like, I teared up hearing about the story of the European firefighter. The Magirus company that makes many of the firefighting trucks used in Germany and Europe recently launched an awards program to try to revive the ethos of firefighting in this hero-weary landscape. It was heartening to see the video of firefighters feeling the love as if for the first time — a hard-to-imagine paradigm for those of us in the United States who have long seen ours hailed as heroes, especially after Sept. 11.

As part of our “activities” for the day, I also got to shimmy up (electronically) a 53-meter ladder for a breathtaking view of Ulm, Germany, below and navigated an articulated ladder through some obstacles. I hit the test track in a “Super Dragon” firetruck that services airports and can reach 85 kilometers per hour in less than 25 seconds (this time as passenger). More than 1,000 horsepower in two engines? That should do the trick. But my favorite part was pulling the trigger on that fire hose…

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Then to Turin, Italy! We arrived to the Piazza Carlina near the center of this oh-so-Italian town in time for a marvelous dinner and a tour of the city at night — when it really comes to life. Turin reminded me every bit of our trip across the heart of Italy in 2011 (the flag photo of the blog is of a breakfast in Florence), and I wanted so desperately to “tuck in” to this little town, as our guides from the UK would say.

The next day we ventured off for another tour that ended at my happy place: a farm. Although this one produces more energy than food, per se, and will be the subject of a blog post at very soon. To whet your appetite, it involved driving a methane-fueled tractor, which involved manure. I suppose that only whets the appetite of my Bay-minded friends, but still.

That evening, I stuffed my blistered feet into a pair of heels (once you devote packing space to them, you must wear them) for a tour of the palace. Not just any palace. The Reggia di Venaria near Turin was beyond view for several decades after Napoleon ransacked it and the villagers contributed to its disrepair and pillaging in the years to come. The mid-1600s castle was one of 18 built by the Savoy family of Italian royalty during their reign, and this is where they stayed while hunting.

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I won’t get into the sordid history of Italian royalty (partially because I don’t understand its nuances), but the hunting lands are now a vast public park and the castle revived piecemeal to its former glory, thanks to some help from the EU. Our guide explained, with more than a tinge of Napoleon vitriol, that it has been difficult to find all the art and rugs and tiles that were stolen from the castle over the years, so there are still some blank sections. I can only imagine its original glory during a time when royalty ate so much that they slept upright for fear of dying from overeating.

That evening, we had the pleasure of dining at the Michelin-starred restaurant located at the castle, Dolce Still Novo.

It was quite Italian and quite good. Of course, I didn’t get to photographing my favorite course, which involved scalded baby tomatoes and eggplant and some form of cheese. I knew my Italian needed work when I thought the dessert involved fish (pesche for peaches seemed like a fishy word to me). I could also return just for the dessert spread, which involved a dozen mysterious nuggets and a mind-blowing little number on a stick that involved white chocolate and black pepper. I would work on recreating it but…

We are closing on a new house tomorrow! And then moving! And it’s quite busy back on the home front. Which means I’ll have to write another post entirely to tell you about the World Expo, which we hit the next day. Check out my Instagram posts from that day for a preview (scroll past the adorable pictures of the baby I missed like mad, if you must). Until then…


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