Sunday, May 24, 2015

A tiny taste...

One of the “optional excursions” (+€€€) offered in Antwerp was a post luncheon excursion to town called “Delicious Antwerp – Discover the best of Antwerp with several culinary stops and tasting”.  Of course the Feeder signed up for that, eschewing the city tour (also optional) of Brussels.  MFO elected to do that while I would be tasting my way through Antwerp.
So we parted ways after lunch to go our separate ways for the afternoon.  She boarded a coach, and I boarded…. my feet.   We left the ship and struck out for town again for the tasting experience.  Now when you think of Belgium and food, what comes to mind?  Things that leap to mind would include: Beer, Frites, Waffles, Mussels, and the other food group, Chocolate.   
As we walked toward town we passed some nice little cafés with people enjoying the first mentioned above.  These were very nice ladies, and I paused long enough to chat a moment 
(Please keep up Mr. Moody!)

We eventually arrived at a tavern which I didn’t get a picture of, and were ushered into a room looking into a lovely little courtyard.  How nice.

And were each served a “bowl” of beer

The brewery is De Koninck, and in this case the above beer is of the same name, their flagship amber beer.  It was quite good, and we finished the whole glass. I took tasting notes and prepared myself for the next sample.  I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “tasting” I expect to sample the spectrum of the item.  In this case I would have liked to have several (okay, small) glasses of different styles, light, dark, wheat, etc.  But no, we thanked the servers and got up and left!  What kind of tasting was that? 
It was announced the next stop was for the famous “frites”, which seemed like a good idea after the (one glass of) beer.  Fortunately we did NOT stop here

And instead went into

which translates literally to “Chippy”
We were each given a little basket of potatoes

Which are traditionally served with the little bowl of mayonnaise.  After trying that a couple of times I'm not sure i will change my habits there. They were good, but I don’t think they’re head and shoulders above anything you can get here at a higher end restaurant which normally double fries their offerings, these days in trendy duck fat.  So, I asked our guide what fat they used, and disappeared, and eventually came back and announced: “ox fat!”.  No comment.  We were not offered any of these, which is what I expected at our beer tasting.
(some might recognize the Hoegaarden)
While walking off our fries, we paused in front of a famous spot for waffles

And along the way, of course i got distracted by a tempting sign for a place that served Mosselen (mussels) which we didn’t sample either

Served natural, with white wine, and garlic (Look), and by now the readership should know the wine selection is the classic accompaniment to Mosselens.
We did stop at sort of a takeout arm of Désiré de Lille and were given samples of the two types of “Belgian” Waffles, one made with a yeast leavened batter and the other with a heavier, almost brioche like batter.  They are normally referred to as Brussels style (former) and Leige for the latter.  Fortunately neither was glopped up with stuff that we normally get as “Belgian Waffles”.  They were quite good.
Our final stop was at a chocolate shop where I put together a small box of assorted pieces.

Of all the items we tasted, I thought the winner was by far the chocolates.  They were rich, and beautifully made.  They seemed to decorate some pieces with a clue as to what tastes they are

For instance, notice the hazelnut and pistachio pieces.  They were delicious and rich enough that one piece suffices.
So our “taste of Antwerp” included one glass of beer, a basket of fries, and two waffles (which were about the size of pop tarts (common, not a criticism).  Chocolates we had to buy ourselves, although guide did give us a cookie from some famous cookies of Antwerp

I kind of hoped that it would have been better, since it was “Optional” (I think 44€).  But, it did give a chance to see some of the “local” food.

We returned to the boat, met MFO after her tour (she wasn’t happy with that so much either), had a pretty good dinner aboard with a nice final course.

For which, of course, we were appropriately

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ann, don't be a Twerp...

May 19 holland home Antwerp

As Tony Kornheiser would say, pardon the interruption.  We hosted our good friends from San Diego for a few days, and things like chasing prairie and black throated blue warblers kind of halted the Netherlands trip, but they are back home on the other coast and after a wonderful visit with them (several Feeders possible), they are back on the other coast.  So we can return to the Netherlands.

As you might recall, we had just docked in Antwerp, and the next morning we headed out for a walking tour of the city.

They (Viking cruises) have a pretty good way of handling the over 150 guests by breaking them into groups of 15 or so, let by (usually) a local guide who holds up the “lollipop” (that little red thing) with your assigned group’s number on it.  Useful for locating the guide as he/she troops off into a crowded city.

Our first stop was at the “Het Steen” (stone castle) the oldest building in Antwerp, parts of which date back to the ninth century.

Our group gathered on an overlook of the River Scheldt near the castle while the guide gave us some history and an overview of what we were looking at.

MFO is prominently attired in her LLB Gore Tex jacket, a must for anybody travelling to anywhere it might rain or have high winds (the Netherlands qualifies for both).  Another relatively pricey item but worth it..   Anyway, a benefit for the Feeder is the color she chose.  I am not the most rapid walker and also easily distracted by such things as menus and restaurants, so quite often I tend to lag behind the group.  That yellow coat is like a beacon for me..

We then hiked over to the “Cathedral of Our Lady” started in 1352 after growing from a small chapel dating from the 9th to the 12th century. It features this wonderful Gothic tower as seen from the streets

Inside, there are three (original) Peter Paul Rubens depicting various scenes from the crucifixion of Christ, such as the “The Raising of the Cross”

There it is, right in front of you, finished in 1610 by a Master, and what an awe inspiring work it is, regardless of your religious leanings.  Just amazing.  Our guide expounded for quite a while on the meanings of such things as the color of the Virgin Mary’s clothes, where people were looking and various other symbolic images.  One has to wonder if Peter Paul thought all this out..  most likely.  Another of Ruben’s paintings “the descent from the cross” is also on view

Besides the paintings there is magnificent statuary

Once outside we gathered in front of the City Hall, located on the Market Square, another impressive building

Which features the famous statue “Silvius Brabo”

While the guide was telling us about the City Hall and the statue, I spied "the Rascal"

And sort of sidled over and grabbed the beverage menu (the little red cards on the table).  While it did contain coffee drinks it was mostly given over to…. Wait for it…. Beer!  In Belgium of course, with a (top) section for Cask Ales and a more expansive list of Bieren Fles (bottled beers)

You might be able to see some vaguely familiar names.  We then continued our trek around the city seeing various sights (over here we see an example of ….)  oops!  What’s that?

Look! They posted a menu (and in the 14th Century, King….) it shows the luncheon fare with starters (voorgerechten)

and main (Hoofdgerechten) courses

Sir, will that be the grilled brill with Statice and the fried fillet of Seabass, or the sirloin steak with red wine and shallot jam?”  
and dessert for 40€.. with a distant: "and on this spot King James…  Sir! are you paying attention?  oh excuse me.. where’s that yellow jacket?   On the way back to the ship we passed several shops such as this one

Purveyors of another famous Belgian Product displayed in their window, all fresh

And all this was before LUNCH!!   After lunch there was the optional “delicious Antwerp” a culinary excursion..  that will have to wait for the next course..


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

No Jousting..

Another course in the devouring of the elephant, i.e. the Netherland trip.  Think it will be a brief course today, we’re having some guests arrive tomorrow, so need to keep cleaning, etc.

The title of our tour was “Tulips and Windmills” and aside from the touristy one on the first day and the few occasional beds we’d seen little of neither.  After finally leaving Amsterdam, our first stop remedied the lack of the windmills.   We stopped at a UNESCO  World Heritage Site called: 

Which is pronounced “Kinder Dike” meaning, Infant or Child’s Dike.  there's a reason for that, but i don't remember exactly.. but it wasn't the "finger in the dike" thing.  Kinderdijk is a group of 19 historic windmills that were used to pump water from the Alblasserwaard to reclaim the land. Without going into details, most people know that the windmills were used primarily for the purpose of pumping water from low to high, as much of the Netherlands is below sea level.

After leaving the ship via the gangplank (boing, boing, boing)

We entered the site, and were given an introduction to the area by a very knowledgeable guide

besides the story of the area in general, he explained in much technical detail the actual internal workings of a windmill, and, after listening to him for a bit, MFO whispered “this guy is an engineer!”.   Later in the tour, somebody asked the guide “what did/do you do for a living?”; answer: I am a retired mechanical engineer.   Bingo!  She knows her engineers!  Not sure if that is a positive or negative observation...

Regardless of the mechanical use of the windmill, they are extremely pleasant to look at.

(water, water, everywhere)

One of the mills is opened for part of the tour, and we got to go inside and look at the living quarters, which, as you can imagine were quite cramped.  Once outside again the engineer explained the process of turning the movable “head” to move the sails into the wind.  It doesn’t weather vane by itself; it must be turned by the miller.  To accomplish that there is a windlass that is used, and by putting a chain around radially spaced anchors in the ground, rotating the windlass will move the head. 

Those wooden “wings” or poles are what actually applies the torque to the head and moves it around to face the wind

Inside the mill, a horizontal shaft attached to the sails rotates a toothed wheel that gears into a vertical shaft which then drives the scoops down below that move the water. 

One interesting we learned (besides the workings of the thing) was that a windmill was also used to transmit information.  The mills are visible over pretty long distances, and it turns out there was a “code” associated with the placement of the sails when they were stationary.  If the upper sail was to the right of vertical (such as above) it signaled “joy”, like there was a birth, or celebration going on.  If it was past (left) vertical, it was in the “mourning” position for say a death or funeral.  A distinct “X” position meant that the miller was at rest for a while.  Interesting..

After much walking and absorbing of information, we headed back to the boat and cruised some more, passing through some locks.

While this was going on,  high tea served

and yes, watercress sandwiches were served..

And later on a special “cocktail hour” for returning Viking guests. Since our group (Cole Travel) was "returning", we all got invited

Despite the concoction on the right the Cosmos were okay, but eventually I cycled over to a more appropriate drink
Finally we arrived at our next day’s destination, the city of Antwerp.

There was a food experience there which we’ll relate next time.  After cocktail hour, it was time to go below and


Friday, May 8, 2015

Deftly to Delft

Well, here comes the second bite of the elephant!

Our first “full day” in Amsterdam began with a quick city tour again, greeted by relatives of the cheese makers we saw on the farm, although they were dressed a bit differently

Trying to make us believe they were Spidey and sup..  we also passed a branch of a brewery known to all

As part of the tour, were able to take a little ride on the canals in a glass topped canal boat

It does give a different perspective of the city when viewed from the canals, and you got to see more of those unique Dutch (or sometimes called Flemish) gables which we would see in almost every city we visited.

We returned to the Alsvin for a lunch, and then MFO took the (optional) tour to the historical city of Delft (dating from the 11th Century).  You may recall that Delft is famous for (at least) a couple of things, the birthplace of Johannes Vermeer, and Delftware.  It was also a residence of William of Orange, a rather famous (or infamous depending on your slant) figure.  It was kind of a relief to leave the big city of Amsterdam to see buildings like their City Hall

We again had a walking tour, and it was a very charming city of course laced with tree lined canals

Of course while our guide was explaining the history of the local buildings and talking about trade guilds, pointing out features, the Bottom Feeder would wander a bit and find (more) interesting things like “The Shoals”

A purveyor of (guess what?)

Or looking at intriguing cafes

And their menus

The translation of which is left to the reader (mostly coffee related)

Although you can probably figure out who this one honors

But despite all these little charming places, sprinkled among them are signs of the intrusion of modern life, providing an interesting juxtaposition

So after a bit of Vermeer (no there!), we visited a little shop that (hand) creates the other famous export of Delft, called De Candelaer.  It is one of the few (three?) studios that still produces hand crafted and painted Delftware.  The owner gave us a short class in porcelain making demonstrating all the steps from powder to hand painted finish

Who was a pretty engaging guy

He also showed us the only three “authentic” watermarks you should look for if you are in the market for “authentic” stuff actually made in Delft.

His is the top one, with the candle (De Candelaer, get it?) with the candle, the initials of the shop (DC), the initials of the maker (he is SD, the other lady is AR), and their code for time of manufacture. There's your little nugget of knowledge!  
Of course we had to pick up a few pieces to bring home for maybe the FOJ’s (or wives of same... wait for it)

We then bussed back to Amsterdam for dinner aboard

The boat remained in port for the night, and those who wished (and had the stamina) could go ashore for leisure time, starting at nine!.

And I suppose it has to go someplace on any accounting of a trip to Amsterdam, so it might as well be here.  One of the things that the city is known for is the famous “Red Light District”.  They are very open about it, and the tour books always have a little map and description of the famous windows and such.   Well, although that would have been interesting to see (just so you said you did) the closest the Feeder got was on a city tour when the guide pointed out (about ten in the morning), that those awnings “over there” would be occupied later in the day.  To be honest (as I always am), I would have liked to see them, but the only way would have been to go out at night and I have crossed the line of convenience versus curiosity.  Oh, well, I guess I know what they look like.

So we remained on board after being

Another elephant bite to follow, although we may have to take larger chomps to finish