7 Things to Do in Angers, France

Paris is lovely, it truly is. I adore Paris and try to visit as often as possible; I usually make it to France every other year. But France is so much more than just Paris and unfortunately, many tourists tend to overlook the so-called “provincial” areas, opting to stay in the city instead or maybe taking a trip down to the Riviera to soak in the sun and the sea. Well, I can tell you there’s a lot of awesome stuff happening in between Paris and the Riviera so the next time you’re in France, try to take a trip outside of the city and experience some of what makes this country so wonderful!

I spent a semester living in Angers and I have to say – I would move back in a heartbeat. It’s the perfect mix of city and provincial. The location in the heart of the lush Loire Valley is to die for. It’s close to Paris (90 minutes by train) yet far enough away to have its own identity and personality. It’s quaint yet lively, historic yet modern, and so very French.

So let’s explore Angers, shall we?

1. Le Château d’Angers

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Angers is most easily identified by the enormous château fort that towers over the river Maine. It was originally built in the 9th century but underwent further construction during the 1200s. It was a residency, an armory and a prison, but today is a major tourist site in the city of Angers. In addition to being an amazing work of architecture, the chateau also houses the Tapestries of the Apocalypse, that date from the 14th century. There is a nominal entrance fee, but it’s worth every centime!

2. Le Musée des Beaux-Arts

Angers is also home to a lovely fine arts museum in the heart of their downtown area. They have works from the 14th-21st centuries and a special exhibit that focuses on the history of Angers. After you visit the Museum, you can enjoy a nice stroll downtown and grab a bite to eat at one of the numerous cafés/pâtisseries or take in some shopping!

3. La Cathédrale de Saint-Maurice

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Simply known as just la Cathédrale to Angevins, the cathedral is only a few steps away from the Chateau and is one of the first examples of Anjou-style Gothic architecture. It was built in the 12th century and is still standing strong today. I had the privilege of singing with the Cathédrale’s choir and even was able to sing a Sunday mass in this gorgeous church. It’s definitely a must-see!

4. La Loire à Vélo

For those of you who are a little more adventurous, Angers is one of the stops on the Loire à Vélo bike tours! They have several different itineraries, including one that stops at some of the area’s vineyards. The Loire Valley is certainly well-renowned for its wines, so that’s one you definitely wouldn’t want to miss!

5. Saturday markets at the Jardin du Mail

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One of my favorite, favorite things to do when I’m in France is to hit up the local weekend markets. There is really nothing better than the hustle and bustle of the open-air farmer’s markets – in France, it’s definitely a social experience. So get out there, banter and sample, then grab some fruits, cheese, and saucisson and head over to the Jardin des Plantes for an afternoon picnic. You won’t regret it, I promise.

6. Le Carré Cointreau

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Of COURSE, no visit to Angers would be complete without a visit to the Cointreau distillery! It’s located just outside of Angers proper in Saint-Barthelemy-d’Anjou but is easily accessible by city bus. You have to be sure to make a reservation, but when you get to the Carré, you are treated to a comprehensive tour of the facility and the history of Cointreau. Be advised: the tour is in French. It’s really well done though, so even if your language skills aren’t quite up to snuff, I think it is definitely still worth the trip. The best part, of course, is the tasting at the end. The bartender first provides everyone with a sample of plain Cointreau, and then mixes up their current signatures cocktail, the Cointreau Fizz. They also provided several garnishes so we could customize our cocktail to our liking – I chose the strawberry/mint combination and it was delicious. You can also order additional beverages after the tasting, should you so desire.

7. Eat a crêpe

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Angers is just close enough to the region of Brittany to benefit from mostly all of its culinary offerings. This includes crêpes – the much thinner, flatter, and tastier relative of the American pancake that usually comes stuffed with a variety of sweet treats like Nutella and your choice of fruit, caramel, or my favorite – butter, sugar, and a dash of lemon juice. Some places in France (Paris in particular) offer savory crêpes, which is usually just a normal crêpe stuffed with ham and cheese but to you, dear reader, I say non. The true savory crêpe, the one that all others wish they were, is the galette de sarrasin – a crêpe, yes, but made from buckwheat flour. It is thinner, crispier, and saltier than the regular crêpe and is traditionally served with ham, cheese, and topped with a fried egg.

There are so many more things that Angers has to offer, but these 7 are my absolute favorite. Next time you’re in France, take a day or two to get out of Paris – maybe you’ll wind up in Angers!

 

 

Best Craft Beer Bars in Metro Detroit

Happy Friday!

Like many of you, travel is far from my only passion in life. It’s certainly one of my biggest ones but my interests actually do extend beyond my (sometimes insatiable) need to travel. For example, as a French teacher I feel strongly about foreign language education and hope learn several more languages myself throughout my life (side note: I’ve finally found a local school that offers evening Polish language classes for adults! Huzzah!). I love coffee, obviously – and Starbucks doesn’t count. I love my crazy, flawed, wonderful Detroit city.

And I’m nuts about craft beer.

It’s kind of funny that I consider myself such a beer enthusiast; after all, when I started college I could hardly choke down a can of Bud Light – a stout or a porter? Forget about it! Now, though, a good beer list is a sure-fire bet to get and keep my business. And luckily, my state was named the fourth best state in the US for craft beer lovers. Founder’s, Bell’s, Short’s, Perrin, Atwater, Dragonmead – you can’t go wrong with any of them!

So, where in the metro Detroit area can you sample the best Michigan brews? Here is a list of my favorite places to imbibe! Please note: These are places that feature a wide variety of rotating local taps, NOT necessarily places that brew their own beer.

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5. Hopcat – 4265 Woodward Ave, Detroit

HopCat has its roots in Michigan – it’s first location was opened in Grand Rapids (craft beer mecca) in 2008. The Detroit location is relatively new, but no less excellent for craft beer lovers and foodies alike. There are at least50 beers on tap at any given time, many of which are local brews, and they have a respectable food menu as well. The crack fries are what people rave about the most often and they are good, but my favorite menu item is the meat head pizza rolls – pepperoni, cheese and tomato sauce wrapped in a wonton. Um, yes please!

4. Rochester Tap Room – 6870 N Rochester Rd, Rochester

Rochester is sort of the northern edge of what most would consider metro Detroit, but it’s a fun, safe suburban location with a nice Downtown area for shopping and eating. The Tap Room has 60 taps of primarily Michigan beer, but also other offerings from around the United States and from countries like Belgium and Germany. The food menu is smaller than HopCat and is comprised of interesting takes on traditional bar fare, with attention paid to creativity and quality as in addition to being a taproom they also consider themselves a gastropub.

3. Ale Mary’s Beer Hall – 316 S Main St, Royal Oak

Ale Mary’s is only just about to celebrate its second birthday but it has already made quite the impression on the Downtown Royal Oak bar scene. The tap list is smaller than either HopCat or the Rochester Tap Room but changes with more frequency; additionally, they also have an extensive collection of bottled beer. Ale Mary’s is one of my go-to options if I have the taste for something that can be harder to find in other bars. They also participate in tap takeovers and regularly host themed brunches and dinners and pair each course with a beer that nicely complements the food. The regular food menu is small but what they lack in variety they make up for in quality.

2. One Eyed Betty’s – 175 W Troy St, Ferndale

One Eyed Betty’s of Ferndale is the real deal, folks. This bar lacks nothing in terms of quality or variety and its only downside is that every knows how awesome it is. Expect to wait at least an hour for dinner on any given night of the week, but also expect that wait to be totally worth it. With 47 beers on tap and over 100 bottles, there is literally something for everyone and the food is absolutely impeccable. Get the poutine to share as an appetizer (I’m drooling right now as I write this) and the Betty Burger for yourself. You will not regret it, I promise.

1. Michigan Beer Growler Company – 31221 Southfield Rd, Beverly Hills

Let me be honest, a visitor to the Detroit area has only one reason to ever set foot in Beverly Hills, and that’s the Michigan Beer Growler Company. It’s inconspicuously located in a strip mall, next to a pet store and a Papa Romano’s, in a neighborhood that boasts no particular tourist attraction. It’s purely a neighborhood joint and my absolute favorite place to just sit and have a beer or to swing in and fill up a growler (their intended purpose). They have no food, though you can bring your own, but feature 32 rotating taps of Michigan beer, cider, and craft soda. My favorite thing is to order a sampler of whatever’s on tap – the sample sizes are generous (4 ounces each) and priced based on the quality of the beer. It’s locally owned and operated by a woman named Janae and her family, which I can’t help but love. A woman operating a very successful craft beer business? Sign me up!

 

 

Fun & Games in Detroit

It’s certainly no secret that Detroit gets a massively bad rap, especially from people who have never visited. The reputation is not totally undeserved – you do need to watch your back – but there are a LOT of really awesome things happening in the city, too! In addition to the normal tourist sites such as the Heidelberg Project, the DIA, the Henry Ford museum and the Auto Show (just to name a few) there are many places you can go to just have fun.

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Feather Bowling at Cadieux Café (4300 Cadieux Rd, Detroit, MI)

Feather Bowling is a a sort of bowling-bocce ball hybrid originating from Flanders, Belgium and the only place you can play it in the United States is right here in Michigan. It involves rolling a wooden cheese-wheel shaped ball down a dirt lane toward a feather, attempting to get your team’s wheels as close to the feather as possible. Cadieux Café is probably the most well-known feather bowling spot in the state. It’s a family run bar that was once a speakeasy during Prohibition and in addition to their feather bowling lanes they’re well known for their selection of Belgian beers and delicious mussels. Cadieux also regularly features live music, for those moments when you need to take a breather from the bowling.

Food, Drink and Games at Punch Bowl Social (331 Broadway St, Detroit, MI)

Punch Bowl Social combines all of my favorite things: they have good, high quality food. They have craft beer, cocktails and punch (if your whole group is thirsty for the same thing). And best of all, they have games! At PBS you can choose from any of the following “old-school” entertainment options: bowling, ping pong, shuffleboard, darts, marbles and board games, all while enjoying your dinner and a beverage. Though it’s a relatively new establishment in downtown Detroit, I imagine it’ll be around for a long time to come.

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The Fowling Warehouse (3901 Christopher St, Detroit, MI)

I know what you’re thinking – what’s up with this lady and bowling? – but the Fowling Warehouse is seriously SO awesome. It’s equal parts football and bowling; teams as large as 10 people can stand at either end of two large boards (think cornhole, or elevated horseshoes) that hold ten bowling pins in a traditional formation  and toss a foam football in an attempt to knock as many pins over as possible. The kicker is that several groups can play at any given time, and if someone else’s football flies toward your pins and knocks them over, that still counts. There’s a $10 playing fee, but it’s all-you-can-fowl and the Warehouse has several large televisions and a full bar, including a Mystery Beer vending machine. There’s no food, but you can bring your own.

If ever you’re in the city of Detroit, check out one (or all!) of these places for some unique fun and games!

Rome: Bite by Bite

There are few things I love to do more while traveling than eat really good food. Looking up restaurant recommendations (and asking for them from locals!) is one of my favorite ways to prepare for a trip. And what better place to stuff myself to the gills on amazing food than Italy?

One thing to know about Rome: it’s incredibly full of tourists. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it can make finding real, authentic restaurants – ones at which an actual Italian would eat  – kind of difficult. And I don’t take eating crummy food very lightly!

So when my traveling Partner in Crime found out about Eating Italy Food Tours – well, let’s just say we signed up, no questions asked. We chose the Twilight Trastevere tour, which is an evening walking tour through one of the coolest neighborhoods in Rome, that’s still relatively off the beaten track for most tourists and where you’ll find a lot of Rome’s young people hanging out well into the night (and you may even catch a glimpse of Owen Wilson, who lives in the neighborhood!).

The tour (which had a maximum of 12 people) stopped at SEVEN different places at which we sampled a variety of traditional Italian cuisine. Let me tell you – I thought we’d be having tiny samples of everything but by the sixth stop on our tour (a full dinner) I was stuffed. And there was still one more stop afterward for gelato! Did I mention that this tour also includes a full glass of wine at several stops (including as many bottles as we could drink at dinner)?

Oh yeah. Now that’s my kind of tour.

So, what’d we eat?

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On the terrace at da Enzo.

1. Da Enzo al 29 – Our first stop was at the family-owned restaurant (a hole in the wall, really) da Enzo al 29. There, we got to know our guide, Sebastiana, a bit better and were able to chat with the other members of the group while we dined on prosciutto, melon and cheese and toasted the beginning of our tour with a nice glass of prosecco. This particular trattoria has award-winning food but is almost impossible to get into for dinner without a reservation – try it at lunchtime, instead!

2. Next we stopped by the wine cellar of Spirito di Vino, a restaurant that prides itself on being part of Italy’s “slow food” movement, which started as a reaction against Rome’s first McDonald’s and the concept of fast food. The wine cellar also happens to be 150 years older than the Colosseum and is also where the statue of Apoxyomenos was found (now he lives in the Vatican museum). At Spirito di Vino we sampled two varieties of red wine and four small samples of food that included an amazing baked spaghetti and roasted pork over apples, while taking in the eery (but awesome!) atmosphere of their wine cellar.

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In the wine cellar of Spirto di Vino

3. Feeling a little heady from three glasses of wine, we wandered slowly to Biscottificio Innocentea famous family-owned cookie factory where the owner Stefania loaded us up with sweet treats. The buttery lemon-filled cookies were my personal favorite, with the Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but good) hazelnut meringues as a close second.

4. I Suppli – a tiny, hole-in-the-wall snack shop where we were able to munch on a Roman classic called suppli, a deep-fried ball of bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese. We washed it down with a square of pizza rosa, a cheeseless and slightly spicy red pie that I still fantasize about sometimes.

5. Antica Caciara – Porchetta. Pork that’s been heavily salted, seasoned, and slow-roasted for hours over a woodfire spit. Need I say anything more? I think not.

6. Dinner at a local Osteria – Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the osteria at which we ate dinner (I know, dinner, after all of that)! Of course I couldn’t refuse a few servings of cacio e pepi, gnocchi or the breaded ravioli. To say nothing of the wine!

7. Fatamorgana – Shockingly, we had all managed to save room (however little) for dessert: gelato! Fatamorgana is a local gelateria that serves up the real stuff which, unfortunately, is less and less common as quick-and-easy gelato mix has become relatively popular. Want to know if the gelateria you’re visiting is authentic? Check out their version of pistachio – if it’s the real deal, the pistachio gelato will be brown-ish in color (as is the real nut). If it’s bright green, it’s probably not real!

The tour lasted about 4 hours and was the absolute highlight of our time in Rome – I absolutely cannot recommend it enough for anyone planning on visiting the area.

Buono apetito!