Monday, October 15, 2012

Tired of la Tour Eiffel? Discover Europe's Best Big City Alternatives

So you've climbed the towers in Barcelona's Sagrada Familia enough to give the tour.  And you've waited in that line at the Eiffel Tour more times than you care to imagine but you still have that travel bug for your favorite European outposts?  Scope out of some of those cities' hidden gems, profiled in this Sunday's New York Times travel section.  Experts from Athens, Copenhagen, Moscow and more offer interesting places to visit, each and shop all over Europe.

Sagrada Familia
This piece couldn't have been more timely for me, as I am planning on a trip to Paris in November.  I have no desire to do the Louvre or Eiffel Tower again but am always looking for unique, out-of-the-way options.  Ex-pat Elaine Sciolino, who also authored La Seduction: How the French Play of the Game of Life, a decent French-focused book on how to flirt in the real world, offers a fun bistro:

Notre Dame
Paris at daybreak has little to offer creatures of the night. But starting at 5 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, Pouic Pouic, a sliver of a bistro that opened last June in the St.-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, serves serious food to post-party-goers with big appetites. Diners craving breakfast may go for ham-and-cheese omelets or maybe spaghetti carbonara (which is, after all, eggs and bacon with pasta instead of toast); meat lovers can opt for veal chops, cheeseburgers, steak tartare and entrecôtes.

I would also suggest, Les Ombres located in the Musee du quai Branly.  I discovered this place through some TripAdvisor suggestions.  It was wonderful  My husband had the seasonal summer menu and enjoyed gorgeous views of the Eiffel Tower and Seine well past 11pm.  

Entrance to Parc Güell
For the city fresh on every Mavericks fan's mind, Barcelona, stops at fresh food heaven La Boqueria and home goods emporium Vinçon are must-visits.  Ingrid Williams also suggests shopping at Amato Sole.  

But those who value craftsmanship over mass-produced goods should make the effort instead to explore the narrow streets in the southern part of the Raval neighborhood. 

At Amato Sole (, many of the items for sale, from mirrors fitted within old window frames to wooden chairs inlaid with iron, are handmade in the second-floor studio by Mr. Solé, an industrial designer, and his partner, Annamaria Amato, an architect from Sicily. The couple take a modern, conscientious approach to sourcing their materials, scouring local markets for tattered, broken furniture that they then restore or repurpose to create cool, imaginative pieces with a back story.

I am dying to visit this place.  I would also suggest a popular, yet wonderfully unique experience at La Manual Alpargaretera, a Gothic Quarter store that sells the most fabulous handmade espadrilles.  I have more pairs than I will ever wear.

Also visit the chocolate museum or Museu de la Xocolata located in the El Born neighborhood.  Not only does it share the fascinating history of chocolate but also offers wonderful interactive experiences, a slew of children's activities and perhaps the best museum store you'll ever visit.