Saturday, November 7, 2009

Heading west and north to the cold.

The Art Fabrik (factory) & Hotel serves a buffet breakfast that is the most expensive we have encountered for ages. At €12 per person we contemplate whether we should go out for brekky but in the end give in and go down to the cafe area where it is served - down in the funky lift. We need not have worried - the spread is amazing with hot and cold foods - meatballs, a couple of different types of sausages, scrambled, fried and boiled eggs, salad ingredients, cereals, yoghurts and additives such as fruit and nuts, cold meats and cheeses, a variety of rolls and breads and pastries and some of the best fruit juices and coffee that we have had for yonks. We eat our fill knowing that we won't have to worry about lunch today!

Although it has been wet through the night, there is just a spattering of rain as we prepare to leave. We marvel at the growing mounds of leaves that autumn brings and while we will miss it back in the hot Australian summer, I can't help but think how much work it must create for the local councils. At least they would have plenty of mulch materials!

And so we hit the road again. There is a cable car like no other here in Wuppertal - it hangs beneath the track. The hotel reception staff tell us that it is a great way to see the city. When asked the duration of a round trip they reply that it is about an hour. Too long for us today - especially in this weather. We have another longish drive and if it continues to rain, I don't want to hurry. Once we are clear of the city and back on the motorway, my fears are realised when the rain continues on and off.

The weather is cold and quite bleak. The trees look naked without their leaf cover, and yet, grown as they are in long lines or clumps, they appear to be huddled together against the ravages of wind and rain. Today we pass through the Netherlands again - just passing through, clearing the outskirts of Venlo and then Eindhoven and noticing again the gothic architecture that is so abundant throughout this part of Europe.

And still the rain comes, although along with the wet, it is a little warmer thankfully - gee we actually get to 8°C! Yes, I know that its not hot, but believe me the difference between 4°C and 8°C is heaps when it is wet and windy! I was hoping that I could leave all the really warm clothes packed for now, but I should have known better! And as we continue to head north before we head home, odds are that it will get colder yet - bring on the Australian summer - I think. (Probably won't be Saying that once we are back in it in the coming weeks!!)

We only travel across the very south of The Netherlands for a total of about 80 kms before we are in to Belgium. Just before we cross that border, we pull in for fuel. At the bowser alongside us, there is a fellow in a van with Lithuanian registration plates on it. Like many other Eastern European drivers, he is towing an unregistered car. I think that they come to the west, buy the older, cheaper second hand cars and then sell them at a nice little profit back home - lord knows, we have seen enough of them! The state of his bullet-holed van leaves us wondering whether he has pushed his luck just once too often. He had better be careful with this one then!

We push on, needing to travel across most of Belgium. When deciding our route back to London for flights home, I had asked Michael whether he had any preferences. He said that he would like to return to Ypres to hear the
The Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper, so I have arranged our route to give him this little joy on his birthday!

Other than that, he had no preference and I did. I really want to see Bruges. It has a fascinating history and is often known as the Venice of the North given its canal system. There are very heavy planning requirements for all buildings new and old in the historic old city centre that means it retains to today much of the same architecture and certainly a uniformity of look, as it first did in its glory days that date from the 12th century. So we travel towards Bruges, calling in briefly at the small town of Damme on the way through. This pretty town sits on the bank of the River Reie that has now been canalled. It is known for its well preserved windmill and has a very handsome City Hall as well as numerous bookshops and coffee houses.

Now, as we all know, one of the best things produced in Belgium is CHOCOLATE. And when we first arrive in Bruges, before we go around to our hotel for the night, we drive in to the old city and take a walk around. Every second shop is a chocolate shop! And while prices are competitive, the chain shops are the dearest! We stop. We look. We smell. We sample. And of course, we buy! No wonder there are so many cows in Belgium (but what is it with all the beef cattle?) And another thing that Belgium is famous for is lace and lace products. Those who know me know that I love fine lacework. We walk past a few very commercialised shops that seem to specialise in mass-produced items and its only when I find one of the smaller shops that we venture in. I get a beautiful tray cloth that is hand-worked. The owner spends quite a bit of time chatting to us and explaining the differences in the various lace pieces she has for sale. Gosh, I could go bananas in this shop for sure! (Got to remember, this is just stuff!)

Its now after 5 pm, dark and getting colder by the minute, so its time to head over to our accommodation for the night - the Golden Tree Hotel. Plenty of time tomorrow to explore Bruges in more detail. We are the last car in to the car park and there is only one spot left that will park in another car. No fear, it belongs to the family running the hotel and they say to park here. When we walk into the room, it is very warm thankfully and it takes most of the evening for us to realise that there is under-floor heating, so I turn the radiators down.

When asked for a recommendation for dinner, Francine at the Golden Tree Hotel warns us against eating near the Markt Square - over-priced and poor quality food she says. She can recommend a local restaurant called Carte Blanche. Michael takes a walk and gets the last table reservation! It's not a large restaurant, but is quite obviously popular with locals as well as visitors and from the greetings between some of the patrons and the owner, it has many regulars.

Owner Kieran and his staff run a tight little ship here and as we are sitting in front of the open kitchen, we get a first hand look at just how productive a very small space can be. The menu is large enough to offer a good range of foods, but small enough for them to manage well. The theme is 'Authentic Flemish specialities with a contemporary twist'. We agonised over having to make choices yet again and finally decided on:
Bloedworst met compote Granny Smith (Blood sausage with Granny Smith compote) Michael
Kaaskroketten (Cheese Croquettes) Maria
Rundvlees stoofpot in bruin bier met chips handgesneden en een salade (Beef stew in brown ale
with hand cut chips and a salad) Michael
Varkensvlees Stew in Cherry Bier met chips handgesneden en een salade (Pork Stew in Cherry Beer with hand cut chips and a salad) Maria
Rijstebrij met bruine suiker (Rice pudding with brown sugar) Michael
Crème brûlée - Maria

The food was fabulous and had us making comparisons with the French food we haved eaten. At the end of our meal we chat some with Kieran and he shows us a photo of his 'very cool dude' new son Maddox at 4 months old with dad's sunglasses on! Very cute!

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