Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Green Tea Addiction

If you are like most people, you have probably drank green tea before, and it probably looked something like the above picture. I actually like green tea quite a bit, although I usually prefer it cold. But did you also know you can eat green tea? In fact it seems you can make just about it anything out of it.

Green Tea TP

I have tasted a few different green tea treats on various occasions. Green tea flavored Sprite, green tea Kit-Kats, and various other green tea cookies or biscuits. I enjoy them.

But some people really enjoy them. One of those some people is my wife.

The main haul

My wife is absolutely addicted to green tea. With very few exceptions (green tea sprite) if it has green tea in it, particularly Japanese matcha, she wants it. On a recent trip to Japan she acquired the above stockpile of green tea related treats, and over the next few weeks she acquired the additional treasures below. Cookies, candies, noodles, cake, ice cream, cooking powder to make her own green tea goodies, and even some of the regular stuff you can drink. I don't think there is a green tea related product she has not yet sampled.

The second find

and even more.

If you are ever wondering what to get her for Christmas, just make sure it is green.

Pepsi Pink

Pepsi Pink is a strawberry and milk flavored brand of Pepsi, apparently only available in Japan. I know what you are thinking... Pepsi + Strawberry + Milk--that drink must be awesome.

It is not. It very much is not.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Top Accordion

America has America's Top Model or American Idol. The UK has X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent. France has...

Top Accordion!!!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Colmar, France

Colmar is a medium sized city in the Alsace region of France. Just a few kilometers from the German border, this part of France has ping-ponged back and forth between German and French control for centuries. After the end of WW2 it returned to French control, and it seems likely to stay. The German heritage is instantly clear though. From the architecture to place names to winstubs to the local cuisine (sourkraut and flammekuchen and pretzels and other Germanish things).


Alsace is pretty famous for the number of picturesque little villages. The big city of Colmar is relatively huge at 65,000 people when most of the villages like Ribeauvillé or Kayersberg clock in around 3-5 thousand. When you are traveling around the region there is literally a different village every 1-2 kilometers, so George and I had originally gone up with the intention of renting some bicycles and just slowly cycling around the region. However, as we took our vacation in the middle of August, which is when everyone else in France goes to the beach, we go to Colmar only to find that all the bike rental shops were closed.

One of those little villages

Okay, so the bike option is out lets see if we can rent a car. Crap, forgot my passport so the car rental thing is out. Can we take a bus? Buses are on holiday schedule and so are not running on Sunday or Monday (which was the Assumption holiday in France). So as we were out of options we instead ended up hiring a private driver! Yup, from now on we are doing our traveling millionaire style with a private car to provide front door access to all the sites.

Not the car we rented

For 90 Euros (around 130 bucks) we got a private guide for 6 hours who took us right up to many of the cool spots of the area. He took us right up to the front door, and then picked us up wherever we ended up. His was very knowledgeable of the area, and quite funny and interesting too. He took us to see Le Château Haut-Koenigsbourg, the beautiful villages of Rorschwihr, Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, Riquewihr, and even the Statue Of Liberty!

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the guy that designed the Statue of Liberty, is from Colmar

The castle was pretty cool. There are, of course, lots of cool castles in France, but this one was pretty unique in that it seems more like a really, really rich and well-fortified hunting lodge than most of the other castles or France. The Palais de Versailles or the Louvre (used to be a castle) or even Carcasonne all look like castles out of Cindarella or other Disney movies, but this one looked more like something out of The Game of Thrones or some other hardy, northmen type keep. Very woodsy, with lots of animal heads and horns and antlers decorating the walls or used to make furniture. Many other castles in France are physically more impressive, but this one had character :)

I wish we had had time to visit more of the area, rent some bicycles or a car, but at least we packed what we could into our 3 days. For more photos of the area, click here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bubble Tea in Lyon

Bubble Tea is the result of a weird Taiwanese experiment in combining British style milk tea and southeast Asian style tapioca desserts. Apparently not very popular at first, it exploded in popularity in the mid 1990s, and now can be found in many large cities in the world, except--or so I had mistakenly thought--in Lyon. In a rare google failure, searching for "Bubble Tea Lyon", "Boba Tea Lyon", or other common names didn't turn up any results, but a friend of a friend of a friend invited George to this little Taiwanese place the other day, and now the secret it out :)

Taste & See

Apparently this place opened a little more than a year ago, but sadly remained unknown to me until last week. It's a bit out of the way, and not easy to see until you are right up on it, but it's definitely worth a visit. It's pretty close to a popular private school, and Lyon Universities 2 and 3, and apparently gets pretty busy during the school year (especially when the weather is cold and people crave hot drinks). It also has a handful of food options, but not much vegetarian except for Taiwanese style french fries. George, who spent 5 years living in Taiwan, says the food is quite authentic and while I cannot vouch for its authenticity, it was tasty. Like all Asian restaurants in Lyon, they have nems, which I think are originally from Vietnam but are synonymous with "Asian food" in Lyon :-).

Not the complete menu

So definitely a great restaurant/salon de thé to add to your list. FYI, like many shops in Lyon they are closed for the month of August for summer holidays.

Taste & See
50, Rue Pasteur
69007 Lyon

View Larger Map

Monday, June 27, 2011

Torino, Italia

Every couple of weeks I get an email from the French transportation company, SNCF, listing their current promotions, future deals, travel packages, etc., and about a month ago I got one advertising some really cheap train tickets to Turin, Italy. Checking my calendar, I also had a long weekend coming up, the weekend of Pentecost, so George and I decided to take advantage of the 3-day weekend and the promotion on train tickets and head to Italy to stuff ourselves on pasta and pizza and cheese and porcini mushrooms.

Turin is much closer to Lyon than Paris--more than 150 km closer actually--but due to the fact that it is on the other side of the Alps and the lack of transportation options that entails, it takes about twice as long to get there by train as it does Paris (4 hours vs. 2 hours), but trains in Europe are pretty comfortable, and our tickets were cheap, so we just packed some snacks and a good book and walked over to the train station to catch our train.

When we got to the train station we checked the big departure board to see what platform our train leaves from, but where you would normally see a platform number, our train had Sortie porte des Alpes (Exit Portal to the Alps). Having absolutely no idea what that meant, we headed over to the information desk and were told to go out the back exit. Out the back exit we went, and there we saw why our train tickets were so cheap. Our train was a bus!

The bus trip over was pretty cool though. The trip from Lyon to Turin goes thru some beautiful mountains and countryside, particularly on the Italian side of the Alps.

Turin itself is not a particularly popular city for tourists. For obvious reasons, Florence, Venice, Rome, and southern coastal cities attract more tourists, but Turin still has a lot of cool stuff to see.

The famous shroud of Turin that Jesus was buried with.

Numerous cool statues

Amazing churches

Giuseppe Verdi

Famous composers

Nice parks

And even cool medieval castles.

And Turin was just a really cool city to walk around. Most of the walkways in the center of town were covered and shaded like the one above, and as you got a bit further out the walkways and sidewalks were still wide and tree-covered and well separated from the roads.

But the most important thing about Italy, of course, is Italian food. I loooooooovvvvveeee Italian food, especially the amount of vegetarian choices.

For more pictures of Turin, click here, and if you are in the area, Turin is definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Paris, again

This is where we stayed

I'd been to Paris before, a couple years ago at just about the same time of year, and to be honest I was a little underwhelmed. I was only there for 2 days, the weather sucked, it was super crowded, our hotel was in a less then desirable part of town (just a couple blocks from the lovely Moulin Rouge), I was sick with Whooping Cough, and with our awesome bad luck we managed to eat at some of the crappiest restaurants I have ever been to.

This time, however, was a complete 180. We stayed in an awesome part of town just across from the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden), in an amazing apartment (pictured above) that some equally amazing friends lent us the keys to. We did a little research first to find some good restaurants (outside the tourist areas :-), and we actually went inside the Louvre Museum (which is free on the first Sunday of the month). In a weird twist of meteorological law, the weather in Paris was amazing and much better than the crappy weather we were having in Lyon. And to top it all off, we had a nice dinner in a little French brasserie with the soon to be famous Bobby.

Cool fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg

Paris obviously has a ridiculous amount of cool things to look at. During our first trip to the city, we tried to run thru the city as fast as possible snapping photos of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe (Arc of Triumph), Notre Dame Cathedral, the outside of cool museums like the Louvre or Musée d'Orsay, only stopping to grab some food and sleep. But this time, since we had already seen all that stuff, we slowed down and just visited a couple places in Paris and even got to go inside! We still only had 3 days, but we paced ourselves.

the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur

We started our weekend with a trip up to Montmartre. I knew absolutely nothing about Montmartre other than Rick Steves suggested it on one of his travel shows, and we didn't go there last time we were in town, so we decided to take the trip up there. Turns out they have the awesome church pictured above, some nice art shops, a cool park, and pretty nice view of the city. As the name Montmartre suggests the area is on a hill, and as we were lost trying to find an extremely poorly marked spot on our map (thanks Rick Steves!) we even made a few extra exhausting trips up and down that hill.

To cool ourselves off after the above impromptu hike, we took a detour thru Belleville to hit up one of Paris' Chinatowns for a refreshing--and impossible to find anywhere else in France--Bubble Tea.

Not available in Lyon

Lyon, France is often called the Culinary Capital of France, or even slightly more pretentious in French Capitale Mondiale de la Gastronomie (The World Capital of Gastronomy). This is mostly due to Lyon being the home of the world famous chef Paul Bocuse, but in their defense, the French food here is REALLY good. The international offerings here, however, are a bit lacking. There is good north African food, great pizza (I guess that's Italian :-P), an extraordinary amount of sushi restaurants (If your only exposure to Japanese food was in Lyon, you'd have to assume that the Japanese eat nothing but sushi), but for the most part the Asian food here is pretty bland, and there isn't much American food outside of a handful of overpriced Bagel shops and a couple decent burger places.

Paris, however, is a HUGE city--many times larger than Lyon with many times the number of people. It is also, without a doubt, the most international city in France with people from all over the world calling Paris home. Because of this, it has a much wider variety of non-French offerings, and also much more authentic offerings. We had really good dim sum, Korean food, Japanese food (not sushi), vegetarian middle east-ish food (falafel, humus, moussakaa, etc.), and some good old American diner food (pancakes and omelets and hashbrowns).

But the highlight of the weekend was the Louvre.

This is as close as we got to the Mona Lisa

The Louvre is a really cool museum. An old palace, the place would be cool even if it didn't house some of the most famous and important art and historical works of western civilization. The place is BIG. If you move thru it a pretty decent pace, you could see everything in a day, but to really appreciate it, you probably need at least 2. We only had about 5 hours, so we decide to take it all in at high velocity (well, most of it anyway).

Taking a break from running thru the Louvre

There are some really cool museums in Europe--The Vatican Museum in Rome, the Prado Museum in Madrid, The Natural History Museum in London, and many more--and The Louvre is definitely up at the top of that list. I've unfortunately never been to any of the really cool museums in the US, like the Smithsonian or MoMA, so some day I'll have to check those out to see who has the awesomest museums :-)

But it'll be hard to compete with the Louvre. I mean, just check out these statues of creepily aroused monkeys below :-)

Ancient Egyptians were weird

For more pics of Paris (mostly of the Louvre) click here