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?
Bread lovers of the world, unite! And what’s your pet peeve when eating out, dear readers?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
At least I now know I need to keep the house clean at all times!
“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.
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!
Greetings, dear readers, from The Netherlands, where my Dear Husband and I are attempting to escape world events with a delightful Viking cruise. My own photos to follow, but so far we have spent time in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Kinderdijk, and other locations. Also, I just finished reading Dear Mrs. Bird, about life in WWII-era London; charming and recommended, but all too evocative of a troubling time.
How are all of you coping? Resilience? Denial? Resolute Optimism?
We were excited: Our first live performance since COVID hit! Even the thought of wearing masks throughout the evening was bearable, although the prospect of a musical featuring 80’s pop music was far less appealing to my husband than to me. C’mon– big hair, Bananarama, what’s not to like?!
So off we went on Friday afternoon for the hour drive to Eugene, OR for “An Officer and a Gentleman“, planning for a 5 pm arrival in time for a 6 pm dinner reservation and 8 pm curtain.
We get halfway down the highway when a text message pops up that the performance is canceled. No reason given. We pull over so I can call the hotel and plead with them not to charge the full night’s fee since this is the only reason we are coming to town. They are very nice and say I can reschedule for a different day. OK.
Then I get a new message: They are adding a Sunday performance just for those of us Friday ticket-holders. No need to change anything; the tix will be good. Yay! I call my new best friend Emily at hotel reservations and rebook for Sunday. OK again.
We get home, put the overnight bag in the closet, and look forward to tonight. Ha. Wait.
Yesterday, I get another message: the ENTIRE weekend run has been canceled due to COVID. Someone (or many someones) are sick so there will be no performances at all. They’ll “let us know” if they can reschedule. My gut feeling is that, even if they do, the production is doomed to a run of bad luck to match those 80’s mullets and big shoulders.
Our hotel is now scheduled for a January performance of something called “Waitress“. Wish me luck.