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!

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