Friday, December 28, 2012

Sandy vs. Ceiling

Yay! Another home improvement post since I know at times they can be few and bar between! While Justin and I were gallivanting around Europe, Superstorm Sandy was making it's way through the Northeast. Although we didn't get hit as bad as New Jersey and New York, the DC metro area was hit with its share of stormy weather. That stormy weather brought rain...a lot of rain. The amount of rain we received coupled with the intensity of it cause our roof to leak again, specifically in our new kitchen addition. It seems like we can't get a break when it comes to leaks, since I've discussed leaks on two separate instances here and here.

Here's some shots of the bubbly damage. Don't mind the mismatched paint. That is due to our contractor trying to touch up the paint, but using the wrong color/type. That's a whole other story all together...

Luckily, my sister was home dog-sitting, so she was able to do some damage control by preventing the further spread of the water.  With the careful placement of buckets and puppy pads, our cabinets weren't ruined and our floors were still in tact. Can you imagine if we we had come home to the storm damage without any of my sister's preventative measures? I'm sure it would've been a lot worse.

After some careful thought, Justin and I decided that it would be best if we filed an insurance clam.  We figured the amount of damage exceeded our deductible. The adjuster came a few days later, provided a write up, and told us that our water damage did exceed our deductible.  Our experience with the claims process was running smooth; however, instead of the insurance company finding a contractor to do the repairs, it was our job to find someone to fix the damage within the cost of our deductible. Justin did some research and decided on Carl's Home Improvement because he gave us the best price compared to other estimates we received.  In addition, he could start the project right away.

Here are some shots of the work in progress...

When he replaced the damaged drywall on the ceiling, he discovered that our former contractor didn't install the drywall properly. He didn't screw the drywall sheets in properly, and otherwise did a haphazard job. Why am I not surprised?

The cool thing about Carl was that after he starting working, he discovered that he didn't have to replace entire sheets of drywall.  Carl was able to just patch up the damaged parts, which resulted in him lowering our price, and finishing a day early! Because he was already under budget and ahead of schedule, we asked if he could could repleace our island light fixture with one that we picked up a few months ago.

So now instead of this little, ugly light fixture:

We have this:

It glows like a UFO. ;) It's a new light fixture to match our chandelier over our dining table. Here are some shots of the finished product.

Crack free ;)

The water damaged parts are all patched up, the ceiling is all painted uniformly, and all is good in the Briones household. :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Brioni European Vacation - Brussels

Hello Everybody! Welcome to the last installment of the Brioni European vacation. Our last and final stop on our tour was Brussels, Belguim. With only a day and a half, we left our itinerary light, and just took in all the sights and food of the city.

As soon as our train arrived in Brussels, we took our cab to our hotel, Brussels Aloft Shuman. If you have never stayed at an Aloft before, I highly recommend it. The price was very reasonable, the rooms were sleek and modern with a ton of amenities (e.g.: free wifi, American tv channels, Bliss brand soaps and shampoos, etc.).

Our hotel was located in the neighborhood of Jourdan, which is on the outskirts of Brussels. Although it was raining, we went on foot to explore the surrounding areas, in search of some grub. We had lunch at a doner kabob place. I learned in Europe (since we also had doner in England) that doner is basically meat in a wrap.  Gyros and shawarma fall in that same category :)

Dinner is what really knocked our socks off. We ate at L'esprit de Sel Brasserie and we were not disappointed! I started my meal off with a delicious Kriek (cherry beer). The beers in Belgium are tasty and strong!

Justin had a pot full of mussels, which were both flavorful and aromatic. The broth was to die for!

After dinner, we went bar hopping at the various bars in the neighborhood and continued to indulge in the tasty brews of Belgium. Toward the end of the night we spotted, Maison Antione, a world famous frites (fries) place. Although we ate a ton of fried potatoes on our European trip, we couldn't pass up the chance to eat some authentic Belgian frites (with dipping sauces galore!).

Here is a sign that several bars in the area had posted outside of their establishments. This sign means that they are "frite-friendly" and you can eat the fries while enjoying their beer. I guess since Maison Antoine is so popular, some restaurants probably didn't appreciate patrons bringing in outside food.

Realizing that we had a long day ahead of us, we brought our fries back to the hotel room to get some much needed rest for the next day.

Our day of sightseeing started off bright and early. Unlike the hop-on/hop-off bus that we used in both London and Paris, in Brussels we opted to do a traditional sightseeing tour in a coach. Yes, I know that's boring, but it was the best way to see the maximum amount of things in a short amount of time, in the rain. Here's a shot of the Grand Place before the major crowds came.

Inside the Galleria Marketplace (I can't remember for the life of me its official name...)

A shot of Justin modeling in front of the beautiful architecture of the Grand Place. I love the gold accents. D.C. needs more blingy buildings. :)

Our tour bus made a few stops at several parks, government buildings, and the 1958 World Fair attractions.  The one below is the Atomium

After our tour, we went back to the restaurants surrounding the Grand Place to look for something to eat. While looking at the menus outside of the restaurants, we spotted this faux Manneken Pis statue peeing beer, LOL. However, some of the servers spotted us and quickly escorted inside so we could take a look at the menu. Before you know it, we were sitting at a table with menus in hand--we totally got swindled! At first we were a little annoyed that we got hoodwinked; however, as we walked around, we noticed that all of the restaurants had their tactics of getting customers inside. Oh well, you live and you learn...

After lunch, we walked around some more and spotted a Smurf...

And some Tin Tin street art...

Here's Justin doing his best Manneken Pis (aka: little peeing boy) impression. Apparently there is a girl version of this statue called Jeanneke Pis  (aka: little girl popping a squat) in Brussels, but after an hour of searching, Justin and I couldn't find her!

After a long day of sightseeing, we indulged in some Belgian waffles. Man were they delicious! Crispy on the outside with a light sugar glaze, and warm and soft on the inside. Out of all the cities, I feel we enjoyed the food in Brussels the best.  

That concludes our European vacation! Whew! After a trip like that I have a serious case of wanderlust and am dying to travel more in 2013. I would like to go somewhere not as expensive as Europe (maybe Southeast Asia or Central/South America). Wherever our travels may take us, the Brioni are looking forward to our next adventure! :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Brioni European Vacation - Paris, France

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! Here's the second installment of our European trip. Enjoy!
* * *
Bonjour from Paris! After taking the high speed rail from London, we went straight to our hotel. We stayed at the New Orient Hotel and it was really cute! It was a little bigger than the hotel that we stayed at in London, with really nice inn owners.

Like London, we couldn't help ourselves and signed up for the two day pass for the double-decker tour bus. We waited until the next day to get started off for a full day of sightseeing.

First stop was Notre Dame Cathedral:

The stained glass in Notre Dame was breathtaking!

Our next stop was the Arc de Triomphe. There were a lot of tourists and street performers around that area. After snapping some pics at the Arc de Triomphe, we had to make our way to to Champs Elysees. Champs Elysees is such an amazing street full of shops and restaurants, which meant that I had to make a stop...
At the Louis Vuitton flagship store! I purchased a handbag and wallet, and after completing my purchase, (while they were wrapping up my items) they gave me a glass of champagne! #treatyourself

 A picture of of the sun setting over the Seine...

After a full day of sightseeing, we grabbed a bite to eat at one of the many Parisian bistros. The food we ate was good, but more or less the same, consisting of a protein/sandwich with fried potatoes (frites), and a side salad, like in the picture below.

And of course each meal was accompanied by cute cups of coffee!

The Ecole Militaire lit up at night...

Because there wasn't any room on the lower level of the bus, Justin and I made our way to the top...which wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't so cold, but Paris is super beautiful at night. Plus, it gave us an excuse to cuddle for warmth :)

That night we we went to the Louvre. I highly suggest visiting in the evening when at all possible. We were able to enjoy all the artwork without all the huge crowds.

Instead of showing you typical snapshots of the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, I'll show you works that I the picture below. It reminded me of me and my sisters, LOL...

Egyptian cats...
After a long night of sighseeing, we busted out our box of macarons from the famous Laduree. Can you believe we spent nearly $80 on macarons and pastries? Darn exchange rate. #Treatyourselfsomemore

On our second full day in Paris, we decided to wrap up our sightseeing tour by visiting some of the other well known attractions we hadn't seen yet.  First, we took our double decker bus to Pigalle, Paris' old red light district where Moulin Rouge cabaret is located.

We didn't bother going in, and took a few photos of the outside, as well as other nearby cabarets.  After being hassled by beggars, and other shady characters, we got back on the bus.  The next stop was none other than the Eiffel Tower.  Yes, it took us awhile to make it to this iconic tourist attraction, but there is so much to see in Paris.  When we arrived, we couldn't believe how tall it really was.  We decided not to go to the top of the tower, considering that the lines were pretty long, and we had many friends who have made the trip up that elevator say that it wasn't worth it.  Just seeing this thing up close and personal was good enough for us.

After the Eiffel Tower, we made our way to the Musee d'Orsay.  Here, we encountered our first "long tourist attraction line".  Although it was cold (as demonstrated by me being bundled up below), the wait was worth it.  Some of the notable works we saw were Seurat's The Circus, Whistler's Mother, and various works by van Gogh.

For dinner, we tried out a restaurant that I read about in my Frommer's guide book.  Upon our arrival, it appeared a lot more people got the same idea.  We once again were confronted with another line.  Le Relais de l'Entrecote provided a simple menu: salad, steak, and fries.  The steak came with a dijon sauce that went well with the meat.  When I initially read about this restaurant in the Frommer's guide book, it appeared that this place gave generous helpings of steak to its patrons.  I interpreted it as an "all you can eat" steak menu.  When I told Justin about it, he took it upon himself to "starve himself" for the day.  Unfortunately, "all you can eat" is not the case here.  They do provide patrons a second helping of steak, but no more.  When Justin asked for a third helping, our waitress was puzzled and finally broke the bad news that two was all he was getting.  Other than that, the food was great and would definitely say the wait in line was worth it.

Me realizing my "all-you-can-eat" steak mishap...

While we were walking around our neighborhood, we came across some electric car charging stations. As green as I think a lot of Americans are, I still haven't seen a car charging station in D.C. I know they exist, but I'm sure they're few and far between.

We had a blast in Paris seeing all of the wonderful sights, but after hitting up two major European cities, we were ready for a change of pace. The next city on our tour, Brussels, although metropolitan, isn't as big as London or Paris.  We're definitely looking forward to a little more relaxed schedule. See you Brussels!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Brioni European Vacation - London, England

Our first day in London, started at about 10:00 AM or so after taking the red-eye from Washington Dulles Airport. We took a highly appointed 777 that had the latest in movies (e.g. just released films like "Dark Night Rises", "21 Jump Street", and "Ted."). Unfortunately, I couldn't stay up to finish most of the movies, but that was okay since I would catch them on our flight back to the U.S.

After taking a nap, we decided to explore the surrounding neighborhood, Westminster.  Of course, "exploring" meant diving right into the bar scene, and our neighborhood wasn't short on the amount of pubs that were nearby. :)

We started off our night by grabbing some traditional pub food. I had the fish and chips and Justin had a meat pie, both of which were delicious.


As we walked to the next bar, we couldn't help ourselves to another snack. Have you ever had a scotch egg? They are basically hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, covered in bread crumbs, and then deep fried. Man are they good and they go great with beer too! They were so good that they were our go to snack while we saw the sights around London. The best ones we had were in a bar as seen in the picture below. On a related note, the mustard in the picture is really good! It's called Colmans, and man does it pack some heat! My favorite kinds of mustard are the spicy kinds-the hotter the better!

Each day we did the total tourist thing and got around town using the double-decker/"hop on hop off" tour buses. Yes, I know it sounds cheesy, but  if tourists can do it in my city (D.C.) why can't I do it in theirs? LOL...  Also, since both of us have never been to London before, this travel option was the perfect mode of transportation to see all the sights.

Like the London Eye...

And Big Ben...

And Westminster Abbey...

And of course we couldn't go to London without visiting the famous, Harrods Department Store. We bought some dog bowls for the boys, and I bought a few other souvenirs as well. Unfortunately, we didn't shop too much because the dollar/pound exchange rate really stunk! 

But of course after a long day of sightseeing, you can probably guess where we ended up. :) This particular pub, Cask, was highly rated and had an extensive beer list.  Most, if not all of the beers they had available were microbrews, coming from different parts of the globe.

 Here we are ending the evening with a tasty pint (and Justin taking advantage of the free wi-fi).

Starting off our dinner at Cask with a lovely pate...

A picture of my beer of choice for the evening, Bee Sting Pear Cider. Yummy!

Or course this little blog post couldn't capture everything we did in our few days in London, but if you've seen one picture of a London landmark, you've seen them all, right? j/k...

Justin doesn't look too thrilled to take the high-speed rail to Paris (aka: the chunnel), but it turned out to be a smooth ride.  Maybe it's the fact that this photo opportunity doesn't catch his good side :)

We had such a great time in London, but were excited for the adventures that lay ahead of us in the City of Lights! Until next time!