Monday, August 31, 2009

Ahhh Gay Paris!

Neither Michael nor I slept very well last night - combination of traffic noise and worrying that we will sleep through the alarm probably did it! I think everything is done so that we each have an easy time over the next few days - train ticket sorted - well sort of, travel cards topped up, contacts for each other in our bags, suitcases packed. Belgian chocolates in Michaels bag. Kate updated. Camera batteries recharged. I think thats all - anything we have forgotten we will need to just wing it with now! Just got a text message - looks like Donna (my sister) will be joining us for two weeks in October - how super is that!

Helen is well and truly en-route and will be in Copenhagen later today before her final leg to Paris. I am on my way there too and will go to the apartment to chill the champers before leaving to go to Charles de Gaulle Airport to collect her when her flight finally lands tonight at 8:10 pm. Michael is off to Albert for 4 nights and will spend the next four days criss crossing the Somme and this area. His blog update will come once we have met up again.

Haha - Hel's sister Sue has just chatted with me on GMail. We are not sure if Helen is online in an airport terminal somewhere, or the kids at home are using her GMail account because she just appeared online! Guess I'll find out tonight.

The trip to Paris was a fast and efficient one. One thing you can count on is that the French trains come on schedule and leave on schedule and arrive at the destination on schedule. And even though I am travelling second class (and not in the direction of travel) the seats are comfortable and the leg room amazing! The hour and a half to Paris passes quickly.

In between watching rural France fade into urban France, I am reading the Fodors Guide to France - trying to reconcile my need to show Helen ALL of this amazing country with our need to get to Italy. We still haven't decided which route we will take, that will be a conversation for the next couple of nights. Michael and I are pretty relaxed about it - we don't mind going back over parts of the country we have seen, but also want to still keep moving southeast.

OK, so I have now arrived in Paris Nord (the northern rail terminus) - now all I need to do is get the appropriate ticket and change to the regional rail system RER. I need to travel just two stops to St. Michel Notre-Dame and then change lines to Champs de Mar - Tour Eiffel to reach the apartment. Gosh, aren't even the names exciting! No problems. Down the escalators and what do I come across - the local McClean (bathrooms) - gosh how that dreaded phrase has entered every part of our daily lives!

Waited in an efficiently moving queue and when I reached the seller in response to her Bonjour, I replied (in my best school girl French) Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas le français. Parlez-vous anglais? (Excuse me, I don't speak French. Do you speak English?) She showed me a little with her fingers and then in quite fluent English, helped me to get the correct ticket. Who said the French won't speak English? I am convinced that it is all in the approach!

Ticket in hand, off I go following the clearly marked directions. Screens tell you when the next train is due and which station it stops at, so no problems there. In less than an hour, I am sitting here writing this update! And that was allowing time for the WOW factor. Coming up out of the station and turning to face the Eiffel Tower that is just behind, throwing open all the windows and gazing across the Seine that is literally across the road from where we are staying.

And the apartment is everything that has been promised and then some. Light and airy, but quaint with room hidden behind ceiling to floor drapes. And the second smallest bathroom I have experienced during our trip yet. There is a table and chairs just like the one that Helen's family gave her for her last big birthday - so girls, you got it right! And a folder filled with useful information and recommendations from both Isabelle and previous guests. I think that our problem will be - so much to see, so little time! And yes - we CAN see the Eiffel Tower just two blocks away (well, if we lean out the window we can!!!!)

OK so I am about to leave to the airport to meet Helen. The sun is shining as is my mood! Arrived at the airport without drama - oh except that there was a delay on the train and all the locals were pissed of - but not me-ee! So its about 6:15pm yeah yeah I know I am early - but the excitement bug got to me. Couldn't sit in the apartment waiting any longer. Its much more fun people watching here in the airport. I love to see the family reunions - there is some young sports star arrived home to the raucous attention of her family - we'll never know if she won, lost or drawed, but to the family she is a star! Like the whole extended family that is.

I've been to the Tourism Office desk, bought 3 day metro passes and collected more maps. I keep checking the board for the SAS (Scandanavian Air Services) flight that Hels is due in on - and the time is dragging. It is due in on time so as soon as I see it has touched down, I go and stand in front of the double steel doors through which everybody arriving must stream. No opportunity to see them before they actually come through the door and so it is hard to have the camera ready! So, after standing for about 50 minutes finally SHE IS HERE. Standing in front of me, moving away from me, pushing her luggage cart as she heads for the exit. Elbows out I head straight for her - don't care who you are, just MOVE.

"Bienvenue, mon ami. Bienvenue a Paris!" Welcome, my friend. Welcome to Paris!
I had been practicing my French in my head while I was waiting for her and managed to pull it off. Thanks Madame Isert - all your badgering in class has paid off! And in the excitement the camera wouldn't work - bugger no first photo (turns out I had knocked the switch!) OMG it DID work - it was on movie setting!! How cool is this!

She looks fantastic - not at all as I expected her to look after 40 hours of travelling. Poor thing, having experienced similar, I know just what it is like! She tells of her fellow travellers and her experience - don't think she realises yet, but she's a little shell-shocked!

Loo is the first stop as it always is and then we head for the shuttle train to take us to the RER station. I had originally planned that we might get a shuttle bus and do a little night seeing, but when I arived by train this afternoon and realised the vista that you get when you come up out of the subway, I figured that Hel's first view of the Eiffel Tower would be under lights at night, just steps from the apartment and thought that this would be cool. Mind you, her impression of the trains was very different to mine. "Dirty and smelly" she said. Huh, she ain't seen nothing yet! And I don't think that I helped by following the wrong yellow (brick road) footprints as we changed lines and we have to re-trace our steps for a couple of hundred metres through one of the underpasses. C'est la vie!

Anyway, we finally get up on the Quai Branly and she sees the ET. It's time to eat - I had a sandwich earlier today, but nothing else and I am starving and Helen too says she is hungry. there's a little brasserie on the corner opposite the Pont de Bir Hakeim that les between the Eiffel Tower and our apartment. As we sit down at a table (you have to realise that it is now almost 11 pm) lugging her suitcase close in the the table with us, I realise that the people at the next table are struggling to close one of those collapsable maps. Looks just like the one I have. "London-Paris?" I ask. "Yes" they replied. "Do you have a better map? I have a spare if you would like it." Turns out they do have others and decline my offer.

So that was how 'met' Danny from London and (wait for it) Helen Marie from Killarney in Ireland who works in community development in the grants area! Do, do, doo, do! How small a world is that! (for those who don't know, Hel's is Helen Maria, I have a aunt whose ancestors came from Killarney and Mum and I visited when we over in 2006, and I work in the grants sector.) We spend the next hour or so chatting with them as we drink a Kir Royale each (Champagne and Cassis) to toast us being here and then eat half a Margeurita and half a chicken Pizza - the rest we take home for tomorrow. We get quite chatty and after a while they get a card with the blog details and we are shouted a wine each. At the end of the night an invitation to come up and have a look at the apartment is graciously turned down, its hugs and kisses all round and a slight expectation that one day we might see them in the 'borough!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And in Fromelles, the Aussies fell

This morning is bright and sunny and a little warmer than the last two days have been. The bed was comfortable, as were the pillows and we both slept soundly.

Hels has been safely set on her journey by the family. I see that she is online this morning and think that in her rush she has forgotten to sign off her account on the computer - but wait, what is this? Ah, she IS online - in the Sydney International Airport terminal! So it is a quick chat before we head off for Fromelles this morning. Oooh - so exciting.

We go in to Béthune so that I can try to get my rail ticket printed. A month ago I made an internet booking and I have been trying unsucessfully every day for the past two weeks to print the ticket. Unhappily for me, the rail office cannot print an internet ticket either. So all I can do is buy another one and argue it out with TGV (the rail operators in France) later - I mean, I really MUST be in Paris tomorrow to meet Hels - heaven forbid if I am not!!! Not happy because this ticket was €39 for a second class seat instead of the advance purchase special of €16 for a first class seat that I had paid earlier.

And so, off towards Fromelles. Passing bunker after bunker, abandoned to the elements, a constant reminder to the locals of battles waged and lives lost. We pass through the town of Beuvry where in the church yard amidst the community's dead lies the other reminder - the town memorial to their own sons, lost in the battle for their lands. Our next stop was at the Gorre British and Indian Cemetery just outside Beuvry where the only thing littering the manicured lawns are dead and dying oak leaves fallen from shading trees, as though they were weeping tears for those beneath them.

The tombstones stand as silent sentinels - row after row after row. Every so often you see two or three headstones much closer together and the only reason I can think of is that they fell together. And there is a single lone white cross with a bronze plaque. It belongs to the only Frenchman in this cemetery.

What can we say about Fromelles. A quote at the Cobbers Memorial Park at Fromelles sums it all up:
"We thought we knew something of the horrors of war but we were mere recruits, and have had our full education in one day." Lt. R A McInnes 53rd Bat. AIF writing of the Battle of Fromelles.

The aim was to seize a 4,000 yard stretch of the German front line (and so stop them from advancing) but it was a disaster. Although the Australian forces initially succeeded, the Germans re-took the space and on the morning of 20th July 1916 we had to withdraw to the original lines. That attack on the single night of 19th-20th July cost the AIF 5th Division 5,553 casualties (wounded and dead). The 60th Unit AIF suffered the greatest loss - at roll call on the evening of 20th July, only 106 men were present of the 887 who went into battle one day before.

In all, Australia sent 180,000 men to the Western Front - three times the number we sent to Gallipoli. One third of these men died because of this war and our commitment to it - 43,000 in the fields and 17,000 as a result of their wounds. Why so many? Well, we were ill-equipped and ill-prepared but mainly because of infection. After all, they were fighting in farmlands where animal excrement littered the soil and turned the most minor of wounds into septic messes.

Then another car with British plates pulls up (our has GB rego plates as well). A couple in their mid 30s get out. "Hi, where are you from?" asks the man. "Australia" I reply. "I can see that" he answers. (Of course, Michael is wearing his Akubra.) Der, the accent is an Aussie one! Turns out they are Australians from Geelong and Melbourne living and working in London and down for the weekend. "Maryborough" I reply, hastening to add "Queensland, not Victoria!" Yes, it is a small world and is kind of fitting - as the men we come to visit are from all over our large country - strangers till fate threw them together in this hell.

Now, it is overcast with a stiff breeze blowing. Not unpleasant, but you know that autumn is on the way. Most of the fields around the memorial have been recently harvested and re-ploughed sort of simulating the churned earth of the battlefields. (My imagination is in overdrive as well you can see!)

Then it is on to the VC Corner Memorial. This remembers the 1,299 men who died in the battle of 19-20 July 1916. 410 of these corpses could not be identified as their dog tags had been removed to send home to family. But the names of all 1,299 men are inscribed in the marble wall that provides the backdrop for the lawn. Tombstones were not erected here because so many of the bodies could not be identified. Instead, 2 simple large white marble cross lie in the lawn each framed on three sides by straight garden beds [+ +]. Filled, not with poppies, but with fragrant red roses, the colour of freshly spilled blood.

Bugger. The battery in the camera just died and the spare is also flat although Michael is sure we charged it. Bugger, bugger, bugger.

Finally we call in at the Anzac Cemetery and opposite, its counterpart, the Canadian Cemetery. There, a wind break of firs thickly planted on two sides shelters those in their eternal rest. And it does not matter that we have seen hundreds and hundreds of the white headstones, the last is as sad as the first.

For those who want to read in greater detail click this link. Chapters XII and XIII deal with Fromelles in some detail. Here endeth the lesson, pray God we have learned from it.

With the camera now well and truly dead we decide to return to the hotel. And what a blasted pity we can't take photos! Lost opportunities on the way home include:
First: how now, one brown cow leading 30 - 40 creamy Charolais ones down the edge of a fence;
- Second: the fair around the sale of the onions and garlic freshly harvested at Locon where it seems that every home in town has a table outside selling braids of garlic that look just like a young girl's hair and everyone from miles around has parked on the side of the road and is walking back, chatting with the sellers. Onions in large bags are being hauled away by everyone - from the strapping young man with his girl on his other arm to the old lady, with her older mother shuffling behind her;
- Third: AgroTrend a la France (in true Nord-Pas-de-Calais regional style), complete with live machinery demonstrations and crawling traffic - whether you wanted to enter the filled-to-the-brim parking lot, or like us, just wanted to pass.

Actually, an earlier return to the hotel suits me just fine. I still have to pack my neat new little suitcase for the next four days in Paris and my emotions are just a little jaded.
Helen is now en-route to Tokyo where she hopes to find an internet terminal so we chat before her next leg to Copenhagen. I, on the other hand will travel by train to Paris to wait for her.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Iepres (Ypres) is a name that lives in the collective memory of Australia.
Like many of the other town names from this corner of Europe where Belgium and France meet, where the battle for a free world was waged just out of the time of our personal memory - but in that of many of our forebears.

You know, it is a pity that we have this history with this town in so many ways. It is a delightful place that goes back to ancient times when it was the heart of a very prosperous linen trade - particularly with early England. In fact, the town is mentioned in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales!

It was going to be a hard day - I knew that.
One million dead.
Despite the larger numbers that we have so recently experienced, this one for us is perhaps more horrifying. This is our kith and kin. We lost the hopes and dreams and aspirations of generations as part of this loss by the Commonwealth - fighting for a cause not directly theirs, in a land so far from the comfort of home.

We arrived in Iepres about 11:30 am from Kortrijk. Parking was not a problem - there seems to be plenty of street parking and affordable too. Francis, bless her, finds us one less than a block from the Cloth Market in the street facing in to this impressive building. As we cross the market square, we admire the work of the modern artisan - because as old as this building looks, we know it is a reconstruction as the city of Iepres was almost totally levelled in the dying days of WWI.

We walk through the passage in the centre of the Cloth Market and out the other side to see St Martins Cathedral again standing proudly just beyond. We choose to have a look here first, knowing that if we leave it till later, there will be no time. The original church was built in the 13th century and at the end of that century nearly lost to a fire. Rebuilt, it was reduced to a pile of rubble, a few pillars and parts of the walls, when, like the Cloth Market, this building too was burned to ruins by the Germans in WWI.

Totally rebuilt to the original plans but with a few modifications (spire on tower, changes to entry doors), it is now a cavernous space of stone. Cool but not cold. A little aloof but bearing the scars of the horror of its people honourably and meekly. A memorial covered with paper poppies is the busiest spot in the whole church.

Some of its arts works were saved by a quick thinking dean, but its statues were not so lucky - most have sustained severe damage. All that beauty, destroyed at the hands of a force without thought. This new old church is quietly beautiful. There are stained glass windows in the old style next to very modern ones - and it is a pleasing marriage, neither dominates the other. There are frescoes in porticoes, and tombstones reassembled and laid in a dignified and reserved space that we can only view through glass.

I light a candle and leave a message in their memorial book. Oh God, what loss. What waste.

The Cloth Hall now houses the In Flanders Field Museum and the Visitor Information Centre. It is connected to the City Hall, now again, as it always was. You come in to the museum from the central passage and through one of two identical long courtyards. So the Cloth Hall from the air looks a bit like a squared off figure 8.

Inside the In Flanders Field Museum your senses are accosted in almost every sense of the word. Not just by the descriptions and the photos, nor just by the movies or the stories. But by the sounds of an exploding shell that rings in your ears for minutes after. And by the approaching and then receeding sound of British troops marching gaily to take on Fritz. But mostly it is the personal accounts of the experiences - the snapshots. the poetry, the letter to a loved one. And while the museum has been established to tell of the City's unwitting involvement in the war, it too pays homage to those naive men from all sides who started with such patriotic fervour and who finished broken and forever harmed, often unable to recall their own names in the moments after a shell.

There are signs of the humanity that shone through - like the Christmas truce (for which a Belgian Leiutenant was sent back to the ranks for allowing) on Christmas Eve in 1914 and the unwritten rule that shelling stopped at breakfast and tea time - for some. During the Christmas Truce men from both side left their trenches and they met in no mans land to exchange pleasantries and small tokens of friendship.

Michael has to duck out and feed the meter more euros. Two hours just isn't enough. He isn't gone long though.

And then there was the last exhibit.
I died in hell.
They called it Passchendaele

With a grim warning about the simulation posted at the entrance, I wondered whether I could even keep my emotions, aready at the brink, in check. But how could you not go in - in the safety of sight and sound when so many paid the ultimate price in this horror. You sit in a large room, glass panels in the floor light to reveal the churned mud underfoot. A piece of human body here. A bloodied helmet there, half sunk. There is a post in the centre of the room around which barb wire, rusted, is looped. Then two screens come to life.

Each show different footage and as you struggle to concentrate to keep the plot of each together, you realise that in this battle, there must have been so much happening all the time that the concentration of those poor souls must have been shattered. A yell here, a grenade there, gas wafting across the field, a mate lying dead beside. Its a wonder that any of these men returned capable of anything functional.

The large model under dim light, of the city of Iepres at the end of war in 1918 bears almost no likeness to the medieval three dimensional relief that was on display behind the glass in the cathedral. It is a flattened ruin surrounded by a wasteland that to this day continues to spew out its horrors when freshly dug.
As we are leaving, we are stopped by a young lass who is undertaking a survey. "Do you plan to see any of the other WWI sites in the area?" she asks. "Yes" says Michael. "Which ones?" "All of them." I on the other hand reply - "No, I'm going to Paris - I can't take any more."

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The Larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.

Major John McCrae 1915

We leave the carnage of WWI to its bed and head back outdoors. I just want to sit in the sun with something nice. I just want to feel human again, not inhuman.
We stop at a local pattiserie where I buy six des petits gâteaux dans la fenêtre s'il vous plaît (six of the small cakes in the window please). These are works of art in their decoration and I am sure that later we will find that they are culinary works of art as well. Boxed and bagged we are ready to go. We were going to try for some lunch (at 4:15pm) but the kitchen at the closest restaurant is closed. Bugger. Back to the car.

Then as we are driving away, we realize that there is another restaurant still serving food - and with a car space outside! We don't want anything heavy and so settle for a Croque Monsieur avec une petite salade (ham and cheese toasted sandwich with a small salad) and a Croque Madame et oeuf sur le plat (ham and cheese toasted sandwich with a fried egg). They were fresh and tasty. And Michael's coffee came not only with the standard small biscuit, but also with a shot glass of the smoothest, lightest chocolate mousse you can imagine - yep, I ate most of that!!!

While we are sitting there watching the passing parade of Iepres, I wonder where the wealth of today is coming from given that the cloth trade never recovered after the blockade of trade route during the 100 years war in the 14th Century. But there is evidence that the City has regained some of its former wealth all around us. From the restaurant prices, to the fashionable clothing outlets and the exclusive boutiques, to the fashion and jewellery of the women walking by and to the high end cars driving through the market square.

Michael goes to have a look at the Menin Gate Memorial while I check out the Belgian confectioner's pralines and buy a box to share with Hels in Paris. Yes, I need some nice things in my life. The shopkeeper assured me that they would keep - "After all, it is not so hot now madame!" Michael has also found someone who has been able to give him directions to Hellfire Corner. Turns out it is just next to the roundabout that we came in to town through. I have a conversation with the rooster and hens of Hell Fire Farm while he goes to reflect and get a photo.

So we leave for today. Michael hopes to return to Iepres in the coming days to further explore the Iepres Sallient and the Yorkshire Trench and Dugout amongst other areas. We head further west and back in to France along the back country roads to an area just outside Béthune where I will get a train from to Paris on Monday.

Tomorrow we head for Fromelles. This is how the Australian War Memorial describes it:
"The worst 24 hours in Australian history occurred 90 years ago at Fromelles. Not the worst in Australian military history, the worst 24 hours in Australia's entire history. The Australians suffered 5,533 casualties in one night. The Australian toll at Fromelles was equivalent to the total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together. It was a staggering disaster."

Another day to wear at the emotions.
And then Paris. Hels leaves tomorrow (today her time) and I am so seriously in need of bright, happy and gay company after this weekend! Can't wait.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Off to the Western Front

So this morning we leave Hotel Friends in Köln. First we are going to spend a little time having a quick look at the old town. When we went in yesterday we passed the car park for the Zoo and right next to it is located the Cable Car that runs over to the Rhinepark across one of the main road bridges and the Rhine River! So as we have to go past it, we figured we may as well check it out. Very affordable at €6 each return. We hadn't really planned on what we would do on the other side - just as well. Up came the wind and down came the rain. So much so that they stopped the cable cars! Gosh, yes, there was some wind, but nothing like when we were going up to the Great Wall of China or to the Reichenbach falls in Switzerland - still I guess it pays to play it safe.

So we waited on the other side above the Rhinepark for the weather to clear some - its too wet to try to do anything here. After about 20 minutes we get the all-clear and so head back across the river. Back to the car. And still the weather continues. Nothing else for it - its time to hit the road. We don't have long enough to be rushing about in the rain from one site to another, so we will just have to try to come back this way after we leave Stephi later in the year - after all the Putschli's have put out the welcome mat and invitation!

We head north. We had decided not to go to Belgium but as Michael is trying to maximise his time touring the Western Front battlefields, we changed our minds and are headed for Kortrijk so we can have a look around Iepres (Ypres). And because the non-motorway option adds 2 hours and then some to the trip, we decide to do the boring thing today and take the motorway. Our entry onto the motorway however was far from boring for bearing down on the traffic from the other direction was about 350 Harley Davidson motorcycles. Go the H.O.G.S!

Now, motorways in Europe and especially in Germany are a beast unto themselves. They criss cross the countryside forever intertwined - looping around and over and under each other. You can make a trip from one side of Germany to the other in any direction without ever leaving the monotony of a motorway. As Kate says "in 400 m veer right and at the end of the road, take the motorway". I can't tell you how many times we heard that today! I am not joking - it would have to have been in excess of two dozen,

The scenery is changing as we go further north and closer to the coast. Not so much in the landforms, there are still forested rolling hills, open fields either with close to mature corn growing, or paddocks of feed just cut, still lying on the ground, drying.No, the change is in the colours and the vegetation. The Poplars, Ash and Aspen trees have begun to lose their leaves. What are remaining on these trees as well as some others are beginning to turn. I am actually looking forward to autumn in Europe because we never get the spectacle of the changing leaves back at home in Queensland where most of our trees are evergreen. The architecture too is changing - this close to the coast the snow falls will be smaller and and the buildings do not have such sharply pitched roofs, and they are built much closer to the ground - not like the standard two stories we have been seeing for the last couple of weeks.

And in order to get to Kortrijk, we actually enter the Netherlands on one motorway en-route to yet another one. Yes, our route cuts across a small protrusion form the main land mass in the south east of the Netherlands - entering near the town of Bocholtz and exiting close to Nieuwdorp in the west. As we come in to Belgium the wind has really picked up. It is not raining this far north, but there is some angry god, picking up all the fallen leaves and fair hurling them at the traffic as though to emphasise how insignificant it is in the world place! I'm guessing there will be plenty to pick out of the grille when we arrive.

We are now passing or travelling with many more drivers from Great Britain - the most we have seen since leaving the island. I guess that most of them are headed for Oostende in The Netherlands or Calais in France in order to get a boat or train home! The roads in Belgium are wide, mainly in very good condition with tidy verges - something that isn't very common once you are away from the city centre of big cities or near tourist attractions. It makes a nice change.

We find our accommodation easily thanks to Kate - without her it might have been a different story though - the road is so wide here that you can't read the street names on the other side of the road, and there are hedges all along the road edge - the Hotel Ter Linde is behind one such hedge! The hotel is small and personable with a very warm welcome from our hostess. Michael goes for a walk after sitting in the car for much of the day. He finds evidence of locals with a quirky nature around the area. On his return he says there are a few dinner options back towards the town itself.

About 8 pm we head off. We stop at the Sakura Japans Restaurant (as it is titled). I am a little worried that we don't have reservations as there are heaps of cars here, but I need not have worried. There are three other groups there, and we make a fourth. First thing that happened when we entered was that we were given kimonos to wear. Each group had a different colour and ours were white and traditionally patterned. Then we are seated along one edge of an open cooking plate - there are two of these under one large canopy (and another two that I can see in the room). Each can seat seven people. The group opposite us are Belgian and in red kimonos and are quite chatty between themselves.

The people at the other plate on the opposite end of the canopy however are chatting to us as well as the others at their plate. Nice. The menu is presented and you can order either a set menu or a la carte. We are happy to try one of the set menus and we choose:
Michael - Menu 2
Tonijin mit diverse groenten (Veal with assorted vegetables)
Lamskroontje met noedels (Lamb cutlets with noodles)
Dessert (Ice Cream wit fresh fruits)
Maria - Menu 1
Tempura mixed
Scampi, inktvis mit diverse groenten (Prawns and calamari strips with assorted vegetables)
Gevulde runds rolletjes met noedels (Stuffed beef rolls with noodles)
Chinese green tea

Michael's sushi consisted of fried tofu and rice wrapped in nori, tuna and rice and prawn and rice. My tempura had mushroom, sweet potato, capsicum, a piece of fish and a fan of deep fried noodles that was as stunning to look at as to taste.

Now, to say the food was good is the understatement of the year. It was fabulous. But it was not just the food, rather, it was the whole package of the cooking in front of us with the freshest ingredients and lovely fresh flavours of garlic and ginger and shallot and light soy and rice wine and then some! Our chef was Sin Yang Ming and it was fascinating to watch him at work. You have to be a real chef to put yourself on display in front of your diners like a Japanese Teppanyaki chef does. And its not only the food preparation, its the artisitc flair that goes along with it - the drumming of the salt shakers, the twirling of the pepper pot, the skillful way he rolled the omelette - and the way I caught my piece in my mouth - first go! It was the theatre of the slicing, the juggling of the knives and the flare of the flambéed meat.

This, along with the shared conversation of our fellow diners, made it a night to remember.
We are sorry we did not get the other people's names - but their company is DOCA design in nearby Roeselare here in Belgium.
PS Emailed them the pic this morning and now I have names! L to R Marta (Polish girlfriend of) Dominiek, son of Brigitte and Robert!