Category Archives: Travel

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

I love reading people’s Rants and Raves. Here are a few of mine this week.

THUMBS DOWN to a local (not inexpensive!) restaurant that adds a 3.5% service charge for paying with a credit card without noting this on their menu or website, or posting it prominently at the entrance, as the law requires. We’d all been enjoying dinner until this unpleasant surprise, compounded by the server telling us “everyone does it”, which is simply not the case.

Unfortunately, we won’t be going back.

THUMBS UP to another nice restaurant in the area that doesn’t charge customers who use credit cards, telling us they consider it one of their business costs. (On a related note, I wish restaurants in the US would pay their staff more and price “service” into their bottom line, as is common in Europe.)

THUMBS UP to whoever invented pre-washed vegetables and salad. And a hearty THUMBS DOWN to whoever invented those horrible, non-biodegradable, stick-to-everything, packing “peanuts”.

THUMBS DOWN to ink cartridges with the lifespan of a mayfly.

THUMBS DOWN to whoever cancelled our upgraded seats for an upcoming trip. (The airline blames the cruise company and the cruise company faults the airline. Hmm.) THUMBS UP to the airline agent who spent 45 minutes on the phone sorting out the issue and reinstating our seats. They’re not nearly as good as the original ones, since almost nothing is available now, but she worked wonders.

A Taste of the Périgord

Travel is a wonderful way to broaden our horizons… and our waistlines, n’est-ce pas?

Dear Husband and I have just returned from two weeks in France, a trip that was slightly more ambitious (a.k.a., complicated) than might have been ideal. Since many of you have been to Paris I won’t go into detail here, other than to note that the city seemed to have especially poor air quality versus previous visits, not helped by the ubiquitous smokers everywhere. (How is this still a ‘thing’ ?!) And for the love of all that’s holy do NOT arrive for one day in Bordeaux on Nov. 1 which is a holiday, and then return for another day on a Monday when the museums are closed. Oh well, the Intercontinental hotel is still a great place to hang out.

We’d both been eager to visit the Dordogne (inspired by our love of Martin Walker‘s delightful Bruno, Chief of Police novels) and planned the trip based on our schedules, which proved rather an error: Once the tourist season ends (Oct. 31) it REALLY ends, and not only attractions but most shops and restaurants are closed. Note to future travelers: you can avoid the worst of the craziness by traveling in late Sept/early October when the weather is still warm. We also did not realize we had chosen a school holiday period (cue hand smacking head), which also meant crowded trains and limited seating for the Paris/Bordeaux connection. (Bordeaux is well worth visiting but otherwise I suggest flying/taking the train directly to Bergerac rather than renting a car in Bordeaux, as we did, at the rather harrowing 4th-level and hard-to-find train station location.)

Most important — since the Sarlat tourist office had not clued me in when I’d contacted them weeks before — you still need to prearrange tickets for the caves and other points of interest.

Let the photos begin! First up, Montignac, and our home base at the gorgeous Hôtel de Bouilhac.

A partial view of our private terrace at the delightful Hôtel de Bouilhac
A hint of the expansive terrace view
And its wonderful restaurant

Of course, we have to visit Lascaux IV, which is an exact replica of the original cave. I was lucky enough to visit the real one as a child in 1960 before it was closed to the public due to threats of deterioration.

This exhibit shows how the replica was painstakingly created. It’s huge!

On to Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, one of many beautiful villages in the area.

The Romanesque 12th century church was originally a Benedictine priory. Its limestone slate roof is typical of Périgord, with flat stones wedged between chestnut wood slats.
Driving has its challenges (but offers views of sheep and cows along the way)
Imagine building a house up there

Next up, Sarlat-la-Canéda, after which we head to Château de Beynac.

Sarlat
Beynac castle, built in the 12th century, was a key fortification during the Hundred Years’ War
A commanding view of the surrounding countryside, and below

Above is La Roque-Gageac, a lovely town but too far up the cliff to explore when rain is threatening.

A pretty church in Carsac-Aillac:

Another day, we head to the farmers’ market in Périgueux, which is a lively spot at the base of the cathedral.

Which makes us hungry, so we stroll around looking for lunch, and stumble onto a terrific Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Epicurien, quite by accident.

The next day, we discover the fascinating museum of prehistory in Les Eyzies, a must if you visit the region. It is a stunning reminder that prehistoric people living 15,000-20,000 years ago were creative, practical, family-oriented, and artistic.

And, it’s built into the cliff (pretty amazing in and of itself), with more spectacular views.

The lovely towns of Trémolat, Cadouin, and Limeuil are also worth a visit.

Trémolat
Abbaye de Cadouin (and below)

A major highlight of the trip: the cave at Font-de-Gaume, which unlike Lascaux is the real deal. We are a group of four (joining us, a couple from Paris who’ve never been here before) with a guide who explains the drawings in both French and English. After climbing the steep hill to the cave’s entrance, it’s a dramatic conclusion to our time in Périgord.

Photo from the website, as cameras are forbidden

And, finally, the food. I don’t think we had a bad meal anywhere, and so much of it was as gorgeous as it was delicious.

Vive la France!

When Bad Bread Happens to Good Restaurants

I hope this is not a new trend. In recent weeks, Dear Husband and I have eaten at two excellent restaurants with truly inferior bread. What gives??

First up, Toulouse — a lovely French/Creole place in Seattle, where one would expect to find good sourdough or certainly an acceptable baguette. Instead, we got flabby structure and squishy crust; mon Dieu!

Then, last week, a local place on the Oregon coast — the Bay House — which has a relaxing ambiance, superb service, and beautiful food (see below) — with this notable exception. Hey, if it’s too humid, pop the loaf in an oven to crisp it up! I’m tempted to bring my own sourdough next time. Think they’d mind?

At the Bay House, DH’s beet salad starter was a work of art
As was my halibut— those green shapes are pea purée

Bread lovers of the world, unite! And what’s your pet peeve when eating out, dear readers?

Snapshot: Bruges

This is our favorite day of the trip. We dock in Ghent, which I would love to see but alas there isn’t enough time to thoroughly explore both cities, and we want to do justice to beautiful Bruges.

Bruges is a fascinating combination of old and new, from its medieval buildings and churches, tree-lined canals and peaceful courtyards, to its many delectable restaurants, chocolate shops and other modern offerings.

Chocolate tools!

We begin with a stroll through the convent originally established in 1245 as a béguinage. This was a community of religious laywomen who lived and worked together, following the prioress’s rules, but did not take vows: a remarkable opportunity at that time for unmarried women to be (relatively) socially and financially independent. Today, Benedictine nuns call this lovely complex of 16th-18th century houses and gardens home.

We stroll through narrow streets to the expansive main plaza, where horse-drawn carriages await eager tourists such as ourselves. It’s still too early for lunch so off we go for a tour led by our horse Gina. Our driver warns us that Gina can display a bit of a temper if we get too close, so we stay safely tucked in the back while she clip-clops through town.

Other visitors have the same idea

Earlier, we’ve serendipitously stumbled upon the Delvaux boutique, which is enticing to me and tolerated by my long-suffering husband. I spy, and purchase, a silk scarf with Delvaux’s famous Magritte-inspired designs, which goes perfectly with one of my favorite bags, the Tempête.

We see many people taking advantage of the sunny weather to float along the canals but we continue our wanderings until it’s time to return to the ship and rejoin new friends for cocktails and dinner.

One of the most-photographed sites, we’re told

Snapshot: Antwerp

Greetings from Belgium! Today we’re in Antwerp, which seems to have more chocolate boutiques per square foot than anywhere else on the planet. Luckily for me, they are all closed at the moment. Antwerp is also famous for diamonds, should you need a bauble or two.


This magnificent lion welcomes you at the harbor
Wealthy merchants often displayed images of the Madonna outside their homes
Grote Markt
How cute are these little lambs!

Antwerp was the home of Peter Paul Rubens, and you can see his 17th century masterpieces in the beautiful Gothic cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady) in the main square. The medieval guild houses are quite stunning as well.

Cathedral of Our Lady
One of the Rubens triptychs
And the other one
Belgian lace: another art form
Another view at the harbor
And one more street scene

Snapshot: Kinderdijk

Happy Passover and Easter; I hope you’re having a lovely holiday weekend.

Resuming our travels, we arrive at the scenic village of Kinderdijk, a World Heritage site remarkable for its nineteen preserved 18th century windmills. Not merely picturesque, the windmills are an innovative hydraulic system (first developed in the Middle Ages) that harnesses wind power to pump water away from the land, allowing cultivation and preventing flooding. Low-lying Holland would be underwater without its network of polders (land reclaimed from the sea), windmills, and protective dikes (embankments)!

We’re docked near eight of them (built in 1740) — an easy walk — and begin with an overview of the area, aka Windmill 101.

Yes, the wooden shoes are functional and still used

We then stroll over to one of the mills which allows visitors inside. Much like a lighthouse, it features minimal living quarters (and low rent) for the person who tends the mill and keeps it in running order.

The cozy living room

l skip the steep climb to the top, as I can envision one of us losing their footing and everyone tumbling down like dominoes. Even so, the windmill is a majestic sight.

Almost a straight vertical to the sleeping quarters
Up close and personal from the inside

Snapshot: Arnhem

You might not expect the site of a failed WWII operation to be on the itinerary, but the nearby Airborne Museum is well worth the trip.

As depicted in the famous 1977 epic war film A Bridge Too Far, Allied forces tried to secure a series of bridges in The Netherlands in a massive airborne operation that was the largest of its kind at the time. The most interesting part of the museum is the Battle of Arnhem immersive experience, in which you “board” a plane and find yourself dropped into the battle, complete with visual and sound effects that make the events all too real.

Though sadly we didn’t have time to explore the city itself — next time!— it’s worth noting that Arnhem boasts a museum featuring Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and more, a zoo where the animals roam in large ”eco-displays”, medieval cellars, and many boutiques and restaurants.

In the afternoon we head to the Netherlands Open Air Museum— think Colonial Williamsburg, Dutch-style. Unfortunately, all the indoor exhibits are closed, but it’s a beautiful day to stroll outside and admire the authentic buildings and windmills that were transplanted to the site to showcase life as it used to be.

Snapshot: Hoorn

The great thing about a cruise like this is that we see places we would otherwise miss.

Hoorn (pronounced ”horn”, as in Cape Horn, which was named by Dutch navigator Willem Schouten in 1616 in honor of his birthplace) is a charming and historic harbor town in North Holland.

In the 1600s, it was a prosperous trade center for the Dutch East India Company, as evidenced by elegant merchant houses and the Hoofdtoren, the magnificent watchtower overlooking the harbor that was built in 1532, with its clock added in 1651.

Modern shops, restaurants, and sailboats mingle comfortably with centuries-old architecture and barges. We would love to come back!

Snapshot: Amsterdam

We arrive in Amsterdam a day before we embark on our Viking Cruise through The Netherlands and Belgium, and check into our wonderful hotel De L’Europe. The hotel is an easy walk to the Museumplein, the square that’s home to the three major museums, the Rijksmuseum (famed for its collection of Dutch Masters including Rembrandt, Vermeer and Jan Steen), the Stedelijk, featuring works by Picasso, Matisse, Rauschenberg and Warhol, among many others, and the Van Gogh Museum.

But much of the art is the city itself, with its 16th and 17th century brick houses lining the streets and canals.

One of the best ways to explore the city is by boat
Bikes are everywhere, and they can come at you from any direction!
The newly restored Rijksmuseum is glorious
Our pre- and post-cruise hotel
The view from the room is not too shabby!
The gorgeous marble bathroom
En route to dinner
  1. I agree with you on the restaurant service charge. We recently went out with friends only to learn a part of four…

  2. Sage advice! That’s an excellent guideline; thanks for reading and commenting, Alisa

Tulip Time

“Oh to be in Holland now the tulips are in bloom” (with apologies to Robert Browning)! We’ve just returned from a relaxing two weeks in The Netherlands and Belgium and I was eager to post photos except that my computer died over the weekend😩!!! Ah technology— can’t live with it/can’t live without it. Fingers crossed the iPad keeps functioning.

The shots below are from the glorious Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam.

Annual indoor tulip extravaganza
Keukenhof in bloom


I also learned a great trick for keeping tulips from getting all droopy. For years I’ve used the old method of adding copper pennies to the vase, but this works better:

When you bring your flowers home, do not unwrap them. Simply place the wrapped tulips in a container of cool room temperature water and leave them to ”acclimate” for 2 hours. After they’ve rested, you can unwrap the flowers, trim the stems about 1/2” on the diagonal, and transfer to a vase.

On day 5, mine are still upright. Happy Spring, everyone!