Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ein Bier, Bitte! (Cologne, Germany)

inspire

There may be many reasons to visit Cologne, Germany. Its status as the fourth largest city in Germany is a good one. It location on the beautiful River Rhine is another. However, we believe white asparagus season is the best reason to visit. We don’t get to indulge in this tasty treat here because it is popular only in northern Europe - it is harvested in Germany between April and June 24th of each year. The farmer hills up sand and compost over the root stocks to blanch the shoots as they grow. We were lucky enough to visit this city on the Rhine during this season and enjoyed our new found vegetable with a little bit of sun.


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As usual, here are our recommendations for unique and interesting places to stay:

You can’t really get better than having a Michelin starred restaurant on the top floor of the tallest old building in Europe, but
Hotel Im Wasserturm manages to have both. This tall circular building has unusual room floor plans with a touch of Paris and a sprinkle of deco. But don’t let the age fool you - this hotel has everything top-of the line: a great lounge, spa, delicious breakfasts, and everything else you would expect from a luxury hotel. The hotel is also just outside the city center so you can relish your unique luxury in a calm environment.

The most famous and grand hotel is the Hotel Excelsior Ernst. Built in 1963, it has had guests from every state head to any important VIP to visit Cologne. The rooms are magnificent and ornate, complete with rich fabrics like heavy silk and velvet. The hotel is still luxurious today, complete with all modern luxuries like flat screen satellite TV’s, spa, and every major city newspaper delivered to your door in the morning. The best part? The amazing French restaurant Hanse Stube that will leave you amazed. In case the hotel gets you in mood for old-world style, you can relax after dinner at the old-fashioned piano bar, complete with mahogany panels.

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In addition to the two hotel restaurants mentioned above, we found a couple more places worth the trip:

La Societe is a small unassuming restaurant with a hefty price tag but the most creative cuisine we have ever experienced. The chef’s surprise menu is definitely worth it - highlights include a passion fruit gelee with a vodka martini foam (woah!) and a very generous cheese plate with samples from almost every region in France.

3 Fritz is a small café in the center of town that makes a mean currywurst with prosecco. Just in case you wanted your bratwurst with a side of sophistication.

don’t miss

You can’t visit any town in Germany and not have a beer, and Cologne is no different. The local beer Koelsch, is a light and fruity ale served in small skinny glasses and has a respect from locals similar to a fine wine. Get your fill of this tasty beer in the historic pub Frueh or in the more young and hip Scheinbar. Be sure to notice the Kobes, the waiters dressed in blue that serve up this local drink.

If listening to the latest tunes is more up your alley, be sure to stop by Paeff, the sister bar to Paffgen. Wear your earplugs, its loud in there.

For all the chocolate lovers out there, be sure to make a stop at the famous Chocolate Museum. You can easily forget about the Dom when you taste some of this delicious chocolate from a continuous sprouting fountain of chocolate goodness. We felt like Charlie in Wonkaland.

Friday, June 18, 2010

holy holland...(Netherlands)

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A trip to Amsterdam may conjure a few seedy images but I spent the last three days in a decidedly different Holland. The mister and I with our babe in tote decided to spend three nights in the Holland countryside. Our first stop is the small waterland Dutch town of Monnickendam - we exit off the motorway to a small town on the water that has the pretty wooden houses, cobblestone streets, and a string of fisherman restaurants and bars next to the mini-canals that protect the town.

We found a treasure that is somewhat common in Europe but less so here in the US: a restaurant with rooms. These finds tend to center around a fine dining restaurant with a small number of cozy rooms upstairs. The Suitehotel Poosthorn was quite a bit more than a restaurant with rooms. They start of course with a Michelin-starred eatery with a decadent five course menu. To that they add 5 perfectly designed suites that are stylishly vintage modern. No detail has been overlooked, from the fur-lined bed pillows to the antique hot/cold knobs in the luxurious over-sized soaking tub.

Monnickendam is close to a few more Dutch water towns, most notably Volendam, Marken, and Edam. A visit would not be complete without a quick visit to Edam (yes the origin of the cheese - yum!) and a chef's surprise dinner at Fortuna in Edam. However, once you are ready to explore the modern capital of Holland, (ps, it's not the Hague) - Amsterdam is a short 15 minute bus or car ride away.

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As usual, here are our recommendations for a other boutique and unique places to stay, and notably they are all in the city and more near the action:

The most chic and hip hotel in the city is undoubtedly the Dylan. The hotel was designed in a theater from the 17th century and screams luxury. The second best thing about this hotel is the location on a very quiet canal street right in the center of the city. The best thing? The amazing restaurant in the hotel that is definitely a splurge worth every penny. Don't miss out on the airy bar in the secluded courtyard in the back. The hotel also has free bicycles for its guests in the front of the hotel. You won't need the bikes to explore the museums; the hotel is next door to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum.

If opulent over-the-top luxury is your style, try the Toren hotel. Think old world style - chandeliers and velvet - all in a modern setting. Each of the 36 rooms is unique and each has a whirlpool to unwind after a long day in the city. Their famous restaurant also will serve you a scrumptious dinner in your room if you can't bring yourself to go downstairs afterwards. The Toren is situated on the Keizersgracht in the centre of Amsterdam, a stone's throw away from the beautiful Jordaan district, which has the Anne Frank house and the tower of Westerkerk.

On a budget but still crave the style? Try Qbic hotels designed around a state-of-the art cube complete with Phillipe Stark accents. You feel transported into the future with a self-service check in and vending machines that have wine, USB ports, and even homemade cookies. Prices are around 60 euros for the night.

Want to save but not into the Jetsens? Try Hotel Vondel. It's a unique design hotel with all the comforts of a luxury hotel and a third of the price. The hotel designer has perfected comfy sophistication and the hotel has a peaceful vibe. Word on the street is that the bartenders serve up a mean cocktail - perfect for unwinding after a long day on the town.

Hotel living not really your style? Try booking the affordable Amsterdam Boutique Apartments. They are five luxury apartments designed with Dutch flair and a touch of the Orient. Each apartment has a fridge, kitchenette, and a couch in the living room that pulls out to a bed.


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The Blonde Hollander is a typical dutch restaurant with all of the local fare: meatballs, herring, potatoes. Go somewhere else if you are watching calories but trust us, this place is worth the extra pounds.

Envy can definitely be the highlight of your trip. It's one of the seven sins that is worth indulging. The food is tapas style portions so you can try a myriad of plates and flavors. Another added bonus is the open kitchen with 26 refrigerators that showcase wines and various food.

If you have a car and can travel a little bit out of town, de kas is absolutely worth the trip. Located on a farm with its own greenhouse, the flavors and textures are as fresh as you can imagine.


don't miss


Once you've had your fill of Van Gogh and Vermeer, rent a bike and hit the Nine Streets to see the retail side of creative. These small nine streets house some of the most creative, stylish, innovative, and just plain funky stores. After you have had your retail fill, have a glass of wine in the area at Vyne. Sit outside on the canal if its nice, or cozy up to your date in the long suede benches and dimly lit modern wine cases that line the walls.

There is nothing better than having local friends to show you around a city - you somehow avoid any tourist traps and get to the heart of the town. No local friends? Fear not - try finding a few at like-a-local.com. Your new "friends" can do a host of activities with you: take you on a shopping tour of Amsterdam, invite you to their canal parked houseboat for a nice meal, or explore the less-touristy parts of town on a bike. It can work out to be quite the deal as well - prices range from 20 to 40 euros, and dinners usually include a decent amount of wine.