Thursday, June 27, 2013

This Little Wild Piggy Went to Market

You know by now that we never pass up an opportunity to check out market day in small town Europe.

We got lucky and hit white asparagus season at its peak. Called asperge in France and spargel in Germany this pale delicacy grown under mounded sand is a wonderful treat. 

Many restaurants have entire spargel menus this time of year. We ordered it every chance we got.
The classic preparation is with ham slices, boiled egg and hollandaise sauce. We also had it with smoked duck, and in warm and cold salads. 

We had it at a fancy restaurant and at a highway rest stop cafeteria in the same day. Oddly, at the cafeteria  it was crisper and more palatable (despite being reheated in a microwave and the sauce squirted out of  a bottle), than at the restaurant where we were served an unpleasantly mushy plateful.

Sausage vendors are typically at every market day. This item caught our eye. Wild boar ham. We were offered a taste. A taste was enough.

We cleansed our palate with the only available option - more cured meat.
The choices? Starting at the bottom: Duck, nut, munster cheese, goat, garlic, deer, basil, myrtle, fig, 
roe deer, pheasant, porcini mushroom, smoked, country, olive, pepper, and...

donkey and bull.

We'll now try to cleanse your visual palate by ending with another shot of the picturesque flower van 
(and its suspicious owners).

You don't have to know French or German to recognize the universal skunk eye we were receiving as we took the photo. A little wave and a mouthed "merci" as we walked away seemed to unfurrow their brows a bit. Usually we try to ask permission in advance and even make small purchases from vendors in exchange for being pesky with the camera, but some products definitely pack better than others. 
Sadly, this was not one of them. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Let's Make a Deal

This little quilt, made from pieces bought at someone's stash busting thrift sale, needs a binding. 

If you recognize these fabrics and can come up with a spare 1/3 yard of any of them, 
have we got a deal for you!

Let's see...a gnome statuette? 1/2 pound of our favorite coffee? A batch of cookies? 
Some pesto? A blog post dedicated to you? Name your price!

Let us know how the hunt goes, and please tell someone your whereabouts before you dive into your fabric closet for a look around. We once heard of a women who went into her stash for a scrap of gingham and was never heard from again.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Target Hearts Canada

Oh, yes it does.

From the dollar section,

to the displays of uniquely Canadian fashion brands, 

to iconic images on everything imaginable, but unmentionable, 

as well as the expected items,

 in the bi-lingual junk food aisle,

full of favorite treats found only up North,

to Canada Day supplies,

it is evident,

Wait a minute! Who forgot to take out the blue whiffle balls?

that Target truly hearts Canada.

We will have to wait and see if Canada hearts Target back.

Photo Assistant and mother of the Junior Photo Assistant: L. Raine    Thanks!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Le Petit Dejeuner

The French have their faults, but they know how to do breakfast right.

This one is at a hotel in Alsace. Are you American chain hotels taking notes?

This is also how we were able skip lunch most days and have a good appetite for wonderful evening meals at, yes you know it, French restaurants. 

Oh zose French, zey're cheezy and zey know it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chateau with a Small c

This is what he saw on the internet.

"How would you like to stay at a French Chateau?", he asked.

The best clothes we packed for the entire trip were for the four course dinner that was to be part of our stay at The Chateau. We didn't want to take the chance of looking like hicks in front of the owners who might be titled French landowners, or for that matter the other probably very posh guests.

 So as we got close to our target, after we passed the less than romantic scene of a laundry line-strewn gypsy encampment on the riverbank and thought we were headed out into the 
bucolic countryside we were totally bewildered when, as we entered a dingy little village,
 the GPS said we would be at our destination in 40 metres.

Disbelieving, we determined this was the chateau where we would be sleeping that night.

The meal prepared by the owner's wife was indeed four courses and very nice. 
Madame Bullwinkel would have thought the magret de canard overcooked, but overall the dinner was delicious, generous, and beautifully presented. 
During the evening we enjoyed chatting with another American couple who shared their horror story of being stuck in a French toll road exit gate without a machine-friendly credit card or the correct coins to make the gate go up. As they struggled to get out they were holding up a long and growing longer line of angry French drivers. We immediately programmed our GPS to avoid toll roads. Our French is not good enough for arguing over a scratchy intercom with remote toll booth attendants or pacifying irate Frenchmen. The small roads we took for the rest of the time in France were incredibly scenic and almost completely stress-free. 
As an unexpected side benefit we are now experts at roundabout negotiation.

At the end of the evening our faded-bluejean-clad host gave us a a brief history of the estate which started with the original owner, a nobleman who had only daughters who could not inherit the chateau, followed by a period of sitting vacant, then the sale of the building to the city government with the surrounding property divided up and sold off to build other dwellings, and just before the current owner took possession the building was occupied by squatters comprised of at least 10 families including gypsies and migrant workers from Africa. 

TMI thank you.

The bed linens were lovely. 

The internet is a great tool for making travel plans, but if we have learned anything it is that camera angle and lighting can sell even the most dowdy place and sadly, some of the most wonderful towns, restaurants, and lodgings get less notice as they suffer from poor website design and or honest or amateur photography. We had surprises opposite that of the chateau reality more than once when a spot on our itinerary surpassed the expectations we had formed from what we had seen on the internet.

So, as always, let's be careful out there (in cyberspace) and have a bon voyage in the real world.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wallonian Waterworld

It was drizzling, but even though we were a bit soggy, the weather could not dampen the day.

It seemed fitting even that we tour a garden known for its many water features on a day when Mother Nature's sprinkler system was set for a good, long soaking mist. Les Jardins d'Annevoie were cast in rich emerald green from the abundant moisture and overcast skies. And we had the place nearly to ourselves.

Tres charmant, oui?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Back to Belgium

Thirty years ago we made several stops  in Belgium as part of a month-long wedding trip.

For thirty years we fondly remembered many aspects of our wanderings on the continent. 
We even dreamed of the frites (French fries) with mayonnaise purchased from street vendors in Bruges. 
So back we went to Belgium with a rental car rather than a Eurail pass, and a budget somewhat bigger than the backpacking Europe-on-$10-a-day version we did the first time.

Frites are still for sale and still decadently greasy although not quite as magically delicious as the first time.


For our first stop we stayed at Huis van Loon, in Borgloon and ate at a lovely little restaurant across the street that had wonderful food and drink and congenial young owners. 
In Belgium it is imperative that your lodging and eatery be very close together. Walking distance in fact as it is not uncommon for the Belgians' world-renown brews to have over 10% alcohol content.

The next day it was a short drive to the 400 vendor antique market in Tongerin, Belgium.

We snared a few packable items and had a lot of fun browsing for hours and hours. 

At our next stop we stayed at an idyllic place that we would happily return to 
and even take up residence if we could.

La Bergerie, in Falaen, Belgium.

A picturesque walk through the village took us to the wonderful, La Fermette for an amazing dinner. The owners couldn't have been more kind in trying to understand our wishes through a combination of our rudimentary French language skills and a little bit of pantomime. 
The starlit walk back to the B and B was a nice ending to the evening. 

So if ever we go missing, look for us here and bring your jammies. You won't want to leave either.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Smell of Money

Is not maplicious. Sorry to disappoint, but our first hand investigation has led to the conclusion that it is all in the heads of those who have reported smelling maple syrup when sniffing the new Canadian plastic bills.

The hyper-modern money is super-cool and quite sci-fi however. 
Look at that holographic queen looking over her own shoulder. Freaky, eh?

Of course, another theory is: there is just so much pancake consumption going on in Canada that actual syrup is stuck to most of the country's money. In any case, as they say, "it spends". 

Monday, June 3, 2013

On the Town in Hexham, UK

The great expectation of our travels is to know that we are in a place that 
is different from where we have came from. 

Sometimes it seems that  foreign destinations are being homogenized by mass merchandised fashion, the prevalence of personal technology, and  the encroachment of worldwide franchises such as McDonald's and Burger King. And since our last tour of the continent, KFC.

But it is still possible to find spots and see sights that are unique in all the world.

The courtyard of an abbey.

The quintessential English primrose, primula vulgaris, actually in an English garden.

Buildings commonly hundreds of years older than the oldest building in our town.

We don't have department store entrances like this.

Tchotchke by any other name is still  one man's trash or treasure, 
but it seems so much more alluring part way across the globe in a "charity shop". 
Bric a brac shelves are heavy in practically nonexistent categories at our thrift shops 
such as egg cups, toast racks, and tea serving paraphernalia. 

The Poundstretcher - a wildly more exotic version of 
the dollar store concept we are familiar with. 

The lentil soup is is not so unusual, but look closely at this lunch. When was the last time you saw a cold sausage with red onion chutney sandwich on the menu?