Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 27 - NUTS!

Where Our Heroes
  • Return to the Bulge
  • Lose over 50% of their force in the heat of battle
  • Come close to a total core meltdown
  • Only arise like the Phoenix from its ashes in familial glory
  • While having the true experience of the Southwest

NUTS! you say?  Nuts is the famous response of General McAuliffe gave to the Germans that surrounded his forces during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 when asked to surrender.  And indeed today we went to the Bastogne War Museum dedicated to that battle.

It was a very easy drive on major roads and the museum itself was incredibly well done with a ton of material.  If you were not familiar with the details of the causes of WWII and the events leading up to this battle, you could get totally briefed at this museum.  There audio guide was especially well done with the story being told from viewpoints of four individuals - a German soldier, an American soldier, a Belgian resistance member living in Bastogne and a child who was growing up int he Bastogne region at the time.  You could easily spend 4 hours or more in this place.

Unfortunately and perhaps predictably, it was totally overwhelming to our 3 and half year old 3.1.  She didn't even make it inside.  This meant that one of the parents had to skip the museum and amuse the children.  Fortunately there were some great areas for the children to run around and play and both #3 and 3A took turns with the children so they both had chances to see the museum. 

Equally unfortunately we had gotten a late start to the day and by the time we were done with the museum it was after 1 PM.  Now began a sequence of events that nearly led to a total family meltdown.  You know how it is with disasters where a series of seemingly innocent decisions combine for things to crash a blow up?  It was like that.  We had intended to have a nice meal.  We decided to go into the town and that took a while.  The place we went to had a very extensive menu so there were difficulties making decisions on what to order.  Our youngest member was starting a new tooth teething and was in a bitchy mood.  It took us twice as long as normal to get our order in.  The baby starts crying.  Mom leaves restaurant to quiet her missing her first course.  This is a recipe for a total disaster.

Instead, everyone remains in control.  We are almost ready to leave without our meal when first our waiter comes and says the meal is just minutes away and then #3 comes back with the 3.2 finally sleeping.  Everyone is already gone from the dining room at this point anyway.  3.1 has been the best behaved child ever through this whole period.  The meal is fantastic.  So instead of family meltdown we bring you  - Gastronomic Experience!

First, hats off to Restaurant Wagon Leo, a classic brasserie style restaurant which has a train car theme and dates to 1945, right at the end of WWII.  They were really lovely in being patient with us as well as serving some damn good food. Go to the link I provided to see what a cool place this is.

Now on to the meal!

The Appetizers:

#3 had a shrimp croquette
This was probably the least successful dish - in part because she was out with 3.2 when it was served but also because we all felt it was bit fishy flavored.

3A had a Veloute of Legumes (a pureed vegetable soup).
Now this is in reality something done with the prior days vegetables so they won't go to waste but if those vegetables were good and the kitchen is good, you end up with a nice dish.

It was a huge portion with 3A getting two and half bowls and he said it was excellent.

Wife and I shared one of our favorites, White Asparagus.  The preparation we had came with some local cured ham.

The asparagus were wonderfully sweet.  The Ardennes region is noted for its cured ham and this was excellent as well.

The Mains

3A had an escalope of veal with ham and cheese flavoring.

Wife and #3 had Sole and Skate Wing respectively.  Both are very picky about the quality of fish and were very complimentary of these

But now the piece de la resistance!
Cue the heavenly music and light shining down from the heavens

For we have Le Vrai Cassoulet!

This is a dish from the south of France and is one of those dishes that is wrapped in lore.  So often when you have one it is nothing like the real thing.  From the moment this arrived with its dark brown crust and wonderful aroma, I knew I had hit the mother load.  Under that wonderful crust are beans that have been slow, slow, slow cooked until they absorb tons of flavor but still have a bite.  Then there is a selection of meats.  In this case there were two kinds of sausage, a piece of fresh bacon, and a duck leg, all equally tender and delicious.  I've had some great food this trip but this was the best!

I found out that the chef is a member of the Acadmie Universelle de Cassoulet, an organization that trains its members on the traditional techniques which accounts for its quality.

After lunch (which was around 3:30 at this point) we had one last task - getting our sweet 3.1 a treat to say thing you for being such a wonderful 3 and half year old in such a difficult situation.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 26 - Kids Day

Where Our Heroes
  • Start with the best of intentions
  • Only to be thwarted by the tourist machine
  • Even to the extent of gastronomy
  • And 'punt' to the comforts of the rental home
  • But are pulled up gastronomically by the #3

After making the two little ones endure the adult day of Bouillon, we had every intention of making today very kid oriented.  3A had researched a near by animal park and #3 had heard from a co-worker that it was a lot of fun.  It was only about a half hour away from us.

However, upon getting there we found that there were only two options for getting around the park.  You could either take this bus/train contraption that reminded us of the buses on Malta and that looked very restricting for a 3 and half year old or we could go on a 5 kilometer walk.  There were no walks that were shorter.  No loops.  Just the one path.  And they wanted a lot of money for these.  We thought about our little ones and decided that we would be spending a lot of money for something they would probably not like.  Fortunately there was a big, big playground nearby and we went there where 3.1 was very happy. 

This being a big time family tourist area, the eating options were quite limited.  We chose one at random and it was pretty blah (to put it kindly).  We drove to another town not far off in hope of finding something more picturesque but were disappointed there.  Instead we came back to our rental.  It has a lovely, large back yard with swings and lots of areas to run around and play.  Plus which there are all kinds of electric toys for the under 5 set and puzzles and other things for very young ones to play with.  We spent the whole afternoon with various adults playing with various children and they actually seemed to have a nice time and got quite tired out.

#3 cooked dinner tonight making a classic sausage and cabbage dish which we served with a nice Alsacian white wine that was way better than our lunches.

Tomorrow we have another 'adult' day planned

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 25 - Bouillon, It's Not Just For Soup

Where Our Heroes
  • Find a bullion cube of another dimension
  • Take the tour de 3.1
  • See a place that's for the birds
  • Find just how young one can develop a sense of gastronomy
  • Confirm that this is indeed trout
  • Marchons, Marchons to artisinal ice cream and discover eating a cone is not a natural process
Yes we may be with our kids #3 and 3A and their children 3.1 who is 3 and half years old and 3.2 who is one year old but that doesn't mean that the primal urge to go forth and be tourists has been lessened in any way.  The 3's don't believe that life stops with children so we've a full schedule of things that we are going to try and do while we're in the Ardennes.

We are very close to the town of Bouillon.  Yes there is a town of that name.  The clear broth was named for the town.  And it has a big ass castle to visit.  The history of the castle is very interesting.  It goes back to the late 11th and early 12th centuries and the life of Godfrey de Bouillon.  He was the second son of noble and was made heir to an uncle who lacked one.  He had to do a lot of fighting to secure his inheritance and hence the importance of the castle.  As a side note he became a very important figure in the First Crusade and was a prime exemplar of Christian values such as the slaughter of all those who don't believe in what you do right up to his capture of the city of Jerusalem and the putting to the sword of all the inhabitants.  The castle of Bouillon continued to play important roles in history because of its location right through WWII.

The Chateau Fort (Castle) of Bouillon

This is not one of those fairy tale castles.  This is a real castle that was for serious defense.

Let's listen to our tour guide


Looking at the castle from the surrounding area

Before we go in we have to make sure everything is in order

Is there any confusion as to why #3 calls her second daughter 'Sausage'?

The Castle interior

There was a live falconry show in the castle and we got to meet some of the actors afterwards

Some views of the town of Bouillon

We continued to be gastronomically focused.  #3 was all for a nice meal.  We saw signs that the month of April is Trout festival time in Bouillon so we  found via the Trip Adviser App a good place down from the castle in town.  Here granddaughter 3.2 distinguished herself by eating over half of Wife's Soupe a l'Onion amazing her Mother and all of us because of her (3.2') loud protests if Mom didn't keep the soup coming.

We had two kinds of trout and a very, very nice Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace (freaking 26 Euros/29 Dollars for a Grand Cru wine).  The reference to trout goes back decades ago when #3 was a student in France. Wife and I visited her and while there had a meal at a nice restaurant where we insisted to Wife that she had trout when in fact she was served eel (for which she's never let us forget).

Son-in-law 3A showing that Frites are no laughing matter.

We wandered town afterwards until we found the one real artisanal ice cream maker (two flavors; vanilla and  chocolate).  We got one for 3.1 and quickly found that eating an ice ream cone is actually a pretty complicated practice.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 24 - If It's Saturday, It Must Be Belgium

Where Our Heroes
  • Again take on the challenge of driving the Benlux
  • Get taken advantage of by a recalcitrant GPS
  • Find a way to meet up with our kids - even when they tried to not meet up with us
  • Settle roots
  • Master recycling
  • Plunder the local grocery
  • Double our expenditure on brandy
Our kids and we had decided that it would be a good idea to go visit somewhere since it is pretty tight in their flat when we visit if it is more than a few days.  The result was our decision to drive into the Ardennes Forest in Belgium and get a rental house for a week.  This means our picking up rental cars in Amsterdam and making the journey through the Netherlands and Belgium.  Where we're going is almost the opposite end of the the countries from where Amsterdam is.  Of course the worse part of this is driving in Amsterdam as that requires not wiping out a few hundred bicyclists at each intersection.

We're using (what has been) our trusty Tom Tom GPS.  There had been a panic before we left for this trip getting the new map uploaded as there was a software update that the MAC security settings were keeping Tom Tom from being uploaded.  Anyway it picked out where we were and found were we were going so all was good.  Except that about 45 minutes into the drive the Tom Tom just stops giving directions.  We took a wrong turn and it was clear we were no longer getting directions.  After stopping and resetting it, we found our car has a GPS also so we set that and ended up having two devices giving us directions.  They agreed by the way.

Our detour with the GPS error meant that we were behind the kids in our scheduling.  They made this big to do about we'd just meet at the rental and didn't need to coordinate our driving together.  Guess they get embarrassed by the old folks.  We'd called the kids one more time to see if they wanted to meet with us but hey insisted they had snacks and were driving through.  After a couple of hours we needed to stop for lunch and a pit stop. So we walk into the restaurant at the rest stop and whose sitting there, desperately trying to avoid being noticed by us - The Kids.  So we had lunch with them anyway.

It was another hour of driving and we got to the small town, got our one hour briefing with post briefing test of the rules of the rental, and got everyone unpacked and settled in.  You laugh about the briefing but the recycling rules alone were enough to drive everyone to drink.

As with all trips to rentals, it is necessary to stock up on all kinds of food stuffs and cleaning materials so we could make sue of it.  This mean heading out and doing a full shopping.  You always say you're going to pick up just a few things but it ends up being a big load because you have to supply all your paper and grocery products.   At least here though we were able to get a decent bottle of Cognac as opposed to the 9 Euro stuff we were getting in Malta.

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 23 - On to Amsterdam

Where Our Heroes
  • Have one last nostalgic Maltese travel experience
  • Test drive the Testla
  • Prove that if there are two dependable qualities of Wife they are children and frites
  • Continue their culinary adventures

Friday was moving day.  We had a really early flight out of Malta, 7:40 AM, which meant we had to leave our apartment at 5:40 - booooo.   Checking into the Air Malta flight was fine, no problems with overweight baggage which was a worry.  The Air Malta seating reminds you of their public buses just put into plane mode.  It was not very comfortable.

Good bye Malta

Hello Amsterdam
It took almost an hour from our landing before we got our bags.

We took a taxi to #3's apartment.  All the Amsterdam taxis are now Teslas so that was pretty cool.

Going to Amsterdam for us is all about visiting family.  We've been there so many times in the 9 years that #3 has been there that we're comfortable with the city and their neighborhood.  So if there is one thing that is going to happen within hours of our arriving it's going to be grandkids


And Frites!!!!

Literally being consumed within 3 hours of our getting their

I got a kick out of the Frites truck art work

It evidently is supposed to convey all the things you associate with Amsterdam - the buildings, canals, tulips, bicycles, and of course hookers

We are visiting our clan so you know what that means....FOOD

#3 and 3A had a reservation for us at an Italian restaurant for dinner.  We went out for drinks first (babysitter having been obtained).  

Lovely Daughter and Son-in-Law

First Courses


Smoked Duck Breast Salad

Papparadelle with Duck Ragout


Tasty local fish that I didn't get the name of

Roasted Chicken Legs with Greens


Walnut tart

Plum cake (something else I forgot)

Chocolate truffles

Tomorrow we're renting cars and heading off to a rental house in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 22 - Last Maltese Day...And No Falcons

Though we did see a number of nifty, fast flying swift type birds

Where Our Heroes
  • Find home is never THAT far away
  • Reach the end of the road
  • Make plans for another great rental house
  • Endorse yet more local product
  • Find proof positive of Earth's impending demise
  • Reach the end of our public transportation rope
  • Hit a golazo at Kris to end our stay
Because of the rearrangement of our schedule yesterday, we decided to fit in one more sightseeing visit - The Dingli Cliffs.  If we are on the far East side of the island this is as far West as you can go and not fall into the Mediterranean.

Say What!  Nueve Mexico right here in Malta!

Lands End - not really as we're on an island but it sounds good

It's Malta so there has to be something old just around the corner

This little chapel has been used on and off since the 15th century

And over the hills some building from the 17th century

New Rental House Concept

Long time readers might remember our stay in Spain in 2012 when we had this fantastic house with this crazy ass road to get to it.  While we were wandering the cliffs we found a place that had so much potential

Couldn't you see fixing this place up all nice?

But best of all is you'd have to go down this steep rocky road that where dome awaits every miss step.
The perfect rental experience!

I had to take this picture because even though it really isn't very clear because you could see way over back to the Valletta harbor area.

Drink Kinnie!

Aspiring Megalomaniacs Like It.  You Will Too!

Don't think assimilation is around the corner?

Wife and I have had it with the Maltese bus system.  It is a hard way (I mean beating up on your body) to get around.  We were done pretty early so we decided to indulge ourselves one more time at Ta Kris.  It was well worth doing because we had one of the two best meals we've had on the trip (the other also being at Ta Kris)

We started with a rabbit pasta and bottle of Italian Verdicchio (no more Maltese wine thank you).  This looks very tomato-y but was more Middle Eastern of flavoring and was very yummy.

Wife and I each had a grilled fish - sea bass and sea bream respectively because that's what's in season.  We agreed that they were the best fish of the trip.  And Kris was back on point with the great potatoes and vegetables that were a little off on Sunday.

Wife decided to try a dessert.  She's been pretty frustrated with desserts in general - sort of the same problem of her being able to make exactly what she likes and finding when she buys it that they don't come out so well.

We had these profiteroles.

These once again showed Kris' great sense of balance.  He put a bit of chocolate mousse (good chocolate-y mousse) around the filled cream puff and then the swirl of chocolate sauce over the top.  Each component worked without overwhelming the others.

We were ready to go but our waiter who had been just lovely over the four times we visited insisted on getting us an after dinner brandy.

It's been a good two weeks and a valuable addition to our learning how we want to travel in the future.

Here's to no more Maltese buses!