Saturday, September 22, 2012

Food Tour of NoDa...thank goodness we were walking

Spent the weekend in Charlotte with two friends from college...of course we all still look like we did when we graduated over 20 years ago!
Julie was our hostess and picked the perfect way to spend a gorgeous first day of Fall! Tour De Food offers a variety of walking tours throughout Charlotte's neighborhoods and we headed to NoDa (north of Davidson) to check out seven of its hot spots.  NoDa is the artsy district of Charlotte...very funky and eclectic.  Though it is less than 10 minutes from downtown, it feels miles away.
We knew our guide, Scottie, was going to be good when he met us with a box of pastries from Amélie's...a French bakery.  Since the bakery was a little out of the way in NoDa, he picked them up before the tour.  Will definitely visit Amélie's on my next trip to Charlotte!

The first official stop on the tour was The Bodega.  Over the years, this spot has been a variety of establishments...just prior to its current reinvention it was the eye-sore of the neighborhood.  The current owners, one CIA trained chef, one Johnson & Wales trained chef and one banker, are keeping it all in the family.  They're still finding their identity and relying on the folks of the 'hood to help them determine what they need to sell.  In addition to made-to-order deli sandwiches, they offer a selection of prepared foods, craft beers, wine and a few daily necessities.  We had a tasting of their deviled eggs (a definite fav of Southerners), chipotle pimento cheese and haystacks...yum yum!

Next stop on the tour was Smelly Cat Coffee House.  Yes, the name came from Phoebe of "Friends"...and it is definitely the type of place you'd expect to see Phoebe. Outside of the cafe, they have a small plot of land they make available to some of the disabled members of the neighborhood for gardening...on our visit there were giant sunflowers. 
They gave a demonstration of Pour Over Coffee.  The Japanese developed this method of brewing coffee...the water is poured in a thin, steady, slow stream over a filter cone.  As someone who doctors up my coffee, I was very surprised to discover that I was able to drink the coffee black.  Pour Over definitely gives the coffee a smoother taste...of course their selection of beans plays a big part in the final product.
After Smelly Cat, we headed over for a little taste of N'awlins in Charlotte at Boudreaux's Louisiana Kitchen. We were treated to a big cup of Gumbo Ducharme...full of shrimp, chicken, Andouille sausage and crawfish.  The finishing touch was a piece of delicious sweet cornbread.  Again, glad we were walking because we were eating good!

Gumbo was followed by a Cider and Cava tasting at Dolce Vita Wine Bar. Oh and they also brought out a turkey, cheese and fig preserve panini.  There seemed to be a common theme among these small business owners...the owner of Dolce Vita is also a former banker.  This joint is not your typical stuffy wine is very unpretentious. They're all about having fun with beer and there any other way to be with beer and wine?!

As if the sweets from Amélie's weren't enough, our next stop was Tasty Yo for some fro yo.  Tasty Yo was the first frozen yogurt spot in there's a fro yo spot on just about every corner.  The owner, Michelle, started the business after graduating from college in DC where she had worked in the fro yo biz.  Tasty Yo offers a small selection of freshly made yogurts...usually 2 to 3 flavors available each day and of course there's cool toppings (even fruity Pebbles).  We sampled their original tart (de-lish) and a seasonal fav...pumpkin pie (yum).  Then she fixed each of us a small cup of the pumpkin pie with graham cracker crumbs...oh my...just like eating a piece of pumpkin pie!
The final stop of the tour was the newest member of NoDa...Heist Brewery. The building is an old mill and still has the original bricks in the Library.  The owner, Kurt, gave us a great tour of the brew room and of course there was some sampling.  Heist brews 12 different beers...I was particularly fond of their Peach Hefeweizen.  Like many of the restaurants in NoDa, they're working with local artists to showcase their talents.  Heist will unveil locally crafted beer pulls soon. Artists were commissioned to created a beer pull that would feel comfortable for the bartenders and tell the story of the beer.

Kurt has put together an excellent team sure to bring great success.  Executive Chef Rob Masone, of Iron Chef fame, has created a fabulous menu...including some amazing flatbread pizza. Brew Master, Zach Hart, is an award winning brew master...we've already established my fav.  Bar Manager, Stefan Huebner, has created a pretty cool cocktail menu. Heist opened in early September and is a great addition to the is sure to be the anchor to make NoDa a destination in Charlotte. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Au Revoir Paris

Our last day in Paris and what a great day it was!  During my research, I came across a group called Parisien d'un jour - Paris Greeter where locals volunteer their time to visitors and show them their Paris.  It really quite fabulous as you tell them what interests you and then you receive a proposal from one of their guides which you can either accept or decline.

We received an email from Marie (a retired school teacher specializing in teaching English) recommending we meet for a stroll to include a wine bar, chocolate shop, oldest market in Paris, the hanging gardens of the viaduc, walk through the  Le Marais (The Marsh) section of Paris and visit to the site of the Bastille.  As this was exactly what we were looking for, we quickly accepted and made plans to meet at a metro stop.

We met Marie at the LEDRU-ROLLIN metro station and our first stop was Puerto Cacao for a cafe and cake. The tour was off to an excellent start!

Le Marais is one of the oldest areas of Paris and the architecture is quite lovely

We were so caught up in our walk and talk with Marie that we did not get a lot of photos. Sometimes it is nice to just be in the moment.  Here are some random shots taken during our 3 hour walk.

We took a quick stroll through Aligre Market...wish we had more time 
there as I do love markets.  Oh visit!

Next stop was Place de la Bastille

Colonne de Juillet (July Column)
commemorate the Revolution of 1830

Larger brick path marks the walls of the Bastille 
before it was stormed on 14 July 1789

After our tour with Marie, we headed back over to Notre Dame to take a cruise on the Siene.  Along the way we passed a street performer and couldn't resist watching his show.  

 A few pictures from our trip along the Siene...what a great way to end our trip!

Au Revoir Paris...until we meet again

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Greatest Generation

I had been looking forward to this day our whole trip as I have always wanted to visit Omaha Beach and see where our troops came ashore on June 6, 1944.  We took the 9:10 train from Paris St Lazare station and arrived in Bayeux at 11:15.  We had a little over two hours before our Omaha Beach tour which was perfect as we were able to see the Bayeux Tapestry!

I remember studying the Bayeux Tapestry with Dr. Willis at Converse.  The tapestry is the story of the Norman conquest of England ending with the Battle of Hasting in 1066.  The tapestry is actually embroidered on a linen canvas and is 230 feet long.  It is estimated to have been completed in the 11th century in a monastery in Southern England. 

Bayeux is a charming little town and definitely one that I would like to revisit. It is the quintessential French town with a large cathedral and lots of little shops and cafes.  We had a Croque Monsieur for lunch and a gelato for the walk to meet our tour.

There are a lot of different tours of Normandy for all the D-Day locations.  We opted for a half-day tour for four and half hours visiting Omaha Beach, American Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc with Overlord Tour.  This was the perfect tour for us as it was just enough information without being overwhelming and allowing us to take in all we saw so we could truly appreciate the significance of standing on the very spot of what began the end of WWII in Europe.

Our first stop was Longues sur Mer where the Germans built a portion of their Atlantic Wall.   It was completed in April 1944 by forced labor.  French citizens were required to work three days a week for the Germans if they had another job and six days a week if they didn't have another job.  While it was hard work, the money was better than anything they could make working in town.

Gunner Seat

Allied mortar took out
everyone in the bunker
There were a few poppies in bloom.

The drive to Omaha Beach took us through small country roads the only made me want to come back to explore this part of France.  As much as I love the action of Paris, I am more drawn to the small towns...very ironic as I always thought I would want to live in a big city.

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting of Omaha Beach but I know what I saw was not what I expected.  Prior to German occupation, Omaha Beach was a tourist beach and today, thanks to the bravery and sacrifices of our troops, it is once again a tourist beach.  It is not tacky tourist beach but just a beach open to the public. 

The tide was out when we arrived so we were able to get the full impression of the distance our troops had to cover to get from the shore to the cliffs.

The bunkers used by the Germans are still standing
and could be seen from our post on the beach.

Seems like no matter where a Charlestonian goes, they always run into another Charlestonian and today was no exception.  What are the chances that the in a small northern French town on a little tour would I run into another Charlestonian?!  Well, Irvin and Michelle Condon  and her sister's family were the other six people on the tour with us!  The really cool part is that Irvin's uncle was a US Ranger and landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944!  Our guide, Sean, was able to show Irvin where his uncle would have actually landed within 50 yards.


Our next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.  Prior to the landing this spot was already designated as the cemetery.  Due to the heavy fighting and inability to take the beach as quickly as anticipated, those killed on June 6, were temporarily buried at an alternate location and then moved once the land had been secured.

There are approximately 9,000 soldiers buried here...including 7 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and 4 women.  While far more than 9,000 gave their lives in Europe during WWII, most were repatriated to the US after the war.  Every fallen soldiers' family was giving the option to have their loved one returned to the US to be buried in their hometown or national cemetery if they did not want them to stay in Europe.  Even to this day, if a missing soldier's remains are discovered, the family has the same options...all expenses covered by the government.

Every soldiers' headstone is identical with the exception of two things.  For the fallen Jewish soldiers, they have a Star of David rather than a cross.  For the seven Medal of Honor recipients, their name is in gold and they have a Medal of Honor on their cross.  All headstones face West towards the United States and are in perfect military formation.

Here Rests In Honored Glory
A Comrade In Arms Known But To God

On our way to the final stop, we passed the temporary
cementary for those that fell in the first days of the invasion.

The last stop on our tour was Pointe du Hoc.  The French created a memorial to the 2nd Ranger Battalion under the leadership of LTC James Rudder.  It was during the landing on Omaha Beach, the Ranger motto was first spoken..."Rangers, Lead the Way"

View from inside the bunker at Pointe du Hoc.
Imagine the view the Germans had on June 6, 1944.

We made our way back to town and Sean dropped Julie and I off at the train station so we could catch the 6:51 back to Paris.  Our train arrived back in Paris at 9:15 and we headed to a cafe by the station for dinner before taking the metro back to our hotel.  Please note that the clock says 10:10...that is PM!  It doesn't get dark here until 11:00PM here in the summer.

What an unbelievable day we privileged we are to to have been able to see the spot where the Greatest Generation landed and began the liberation of Europe!