Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Economy Plus Plus? Or Busines Minus?

We're almost back.  We flew from Amsterdam to Chicago and we are going to spend the night here as part of an experiment on handling the long distance travel challenge. 

Living in Albuquerque means that you have a pretty long flight any time you travel internationally.  This is in part because we are just not that close to anything but also because of the deterioration of air travel service to smaller cities throughout the country.  With fewer flights from smaller cities to major hubs, the ability to schedule flights that are not overly long is difficult. 

In general there are two factors we're trying to manage:
  • Wear and tear
  • Cost
Let's deal with the wear and tear issue.  Flying from Albuquerque to Europe is a 17 to 20 hour journey.  ALL of the flights from the major hubs in the US to Europe are red eyes - they fly over night.  You leave Albuquerque some time in the morning usually, catch a flight from the hub in the early evening, and arrive at the European hub in the morning European time.  The ideal situation is to go business class with a lie flat seat because you can actually sleep and start getting yourself adjusted to the new time.  Whereas sitting up over that period of time leaves you totally wasted (at least it does Wife and I). 

Coming back is different.  The flights leave late morning from Europe and arrive at the US hubs in the early afternoon local time - the early evening your European body clock time.  If you lived in the hub, you'd be home and get adjusted fairly quickly.  However, if you go on to Albuquerque, you would need to change planes (a few hours at best), a 2 to 4 hour flight, another hour and a half to get luggage and get home, and then you need to get settled at home before you can try to sleep.  This adds another 8 hours to the process and puts your local European body clock time at 3 to 5 in the morning making it really tough to sleep.  Using the business class option is nice but it doesn't necessarily solve the body clock problem.

Buying a full fare business class ticket is way pricey.  Getting upgrades is a better option if you have the miles and status.  You can be selective on the legs you upgrade.  You do have to play a bit of gamesmanship as most of the time the upgrades are not available when you first make your reservation.  On this trip we bought a very low cost economy fare and used the upgrade on our flight out.  We decided to try breaking our flight home into two pieces.  We reasoned that since I get the Economy Plus seats as part of my status, and we were flying during the waking period, that would be sufficient.

As it turned out, there were a lot of open Economy Plus seats so Wife and I were able to get a row of three to ourselves.  They actually feed you on an international flight in coach and it wasn't all that bad (a Thai chicken curry), certainly not terribly worse that some of the meals we've had in business.  As we did not pay for that upgrade (not an inconsequential amount) we felt free to buy a couple of drinks each.  So assuming we can get the three person row in Economy Plus, we have a flight that really is not that difficult on the body.  I'm calling this new service Economy Plus + or maybe Business Class minus a bit.

We'll see how sleeping goes tonight, getting home tomorrow and getting adjusted

Monday, April 27, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 33 - Time To Head Home

Where Our Heroes
  • Immerse themselves in family
  • Make sure they are Fritified one more time
  • Make sure they honor the King
  • Look forward...very forward...to their own bed!
Hard to believe that our trip is just about at an end.  We fly back to the US tomorrow, spend the night in Chicago (an experiment to confirm a methodology for reducing the effect of jet lag) and get back on Wednesday.

We've been chilling in Amsterdam with the 3's and totally immersing ourselves in our family especially the grandchildren.  I've been especially doting on 3.2 as she is just 1 year old and in a phase of totally loving to be mushed up.  This will most likely be the last one we have in this phase and I've been totally taking advantage of it.

On Sunday we cruised around the neighborhood.

Found Daughter #1's International Empire continuing to expand

Found places for our sons-in-law

Had to have more frites before we go right?
(Kids weren't convinced)

More street food

And on Monday it was Kings Day Again!

The 3's celebrating!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 31 - Finding The Real Ardennes

Where Our Heroes 
  • Sneak out from under the control of the Masters
  • Discover that there is a 'forest' in the Ardennes Forest
  • Find that maybe a touristy area is not so bad after all
  • Contemplate that the word "Trippel" actually means something significant 
  • Discovers 'Tom's' love of Liege
  • Go one more gastronomic road 

You know how the whole elder abuse thing works.  The young ones take advantage of their speed and quickness to leave the old ones bewildered and not knowing what will happen next.  Wife and I realized that if we were to maintain our freedom we would have to make a break for it!

Of course nothing of this sort actually is our situation - but it would make for MUCH better drama and story telling.

I reality, Wife and I told the 3's that we were going to take a little time on the way back from our Belgian Rental to Amsterdam to do a little photo op driving.  While we've had a good time here, one of our disappointments has been that the general area had not met our expectations of the "Ardennes Forest".  Everything we'd read about the area talked about the hills, forests, valleys, etc.  But what we had seen mostly had been agricultural land like this.

3A had given us some names of towns and areas to visit that would represent the more authentic Ardennes.

After not too long of a drive, we started to go through more forested areas with valleys.

Our first stop was a very nice looking town called Saint Hubert.  Unfortunately this is one of these towns (we've run into this before in Europe) that really doesn't want tourists because all of the convenient, downtown parking is restricted to permit only parking.  So I stayed with the car while Wife went off to take some pictures.  I did squeeze off a couple but the best shot I had of the town church required me to stand in the middle of a busy street so it didn't come off that good.

So we were a little bummed and headed off to the next town which was La Roche en Ardennes.  This place was absolutely tourist friendly.  In fact it was like, "hey you tourists, we love you, come in and spend money."  Actually for a tourist focused town it was very well done, not over the top, and very picturesque. 

There was a very nice river that went through town

This town also had a Battle of the Bulge Museum.
I tried to get this picture that had two tanks - one in town and one up on the hill

The way the town was laid out in a valley with roads coming down from the hills into it, you got a much better idea of the challenges associated with the Battle.

There were nice streets and plazas

A fine church

A really cool 'broken' castle (a term that dates back to a trip taken with our kids to Luxembourg in 1979)

And some lovely vistas containing both

We went to one more town that looked pretty good too but we'd run out of time because we needed to be back in Amsterdam by 5 PM.  So we grabbed a quick lunch.  At lunch I decided to have a small beer.  I'm not much of a beer drinker so I didn't quite get the term 'Trippel' that was part of the name.  This beer had a 9.5% alcohol lever!  So I didn't get to drink the whole thing as I needed to drive.

Once again our Tom Tom navigation system seemed to have a mind of its own because we had to drive all the way through the city of Liege on our way back.  However, I need to publicly apologize to Tom here as in looking on the map I think that was the only way to get where we were going.

Back in Amsterdam, I totally lucked out and found a place to park right by the 3's flat.  Then it was...wait for it...see if you can guess...right...WE WENT OUT FOR A BIG ASS MEAL!

It was a very nice Italian place that specialized in Rome regional cooking - really good - matching as good as we had during the trip but I was too tired to do the play-by-play photo journalistic gastronomic report.  But I will tell you that everything was so good that we had appetizers, mains, and desserts. 

We took the tram back to the flat and collapsed.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 30 - The Gastronomic Acorn Falls Not Far From The Tree

Where Our Heroes Find
  • A way to return to their roots
  • The upside to discount airline weight restrictions
  • That there will be serious sibling gastronomic compettion
  • The effect of the full weight of social pressure
  • A wealth of cuddles and snuggles
We're leaving the rental in Belgium early tomorrow morning so there was a lot of getting ready to go today.  Wife and I wanted to do some shopping for things that are hard to get in the US.  I decided I wanted to get some of the Ardennes Ham that the 3's had bought yesterday to bring home.  The drive to the little town not far from us was actually one of the nicer ones and as Wife and I were on our own we could stop and do some picture taking.  It was back to our photographer and camera Sherpa roots with me happily having to drive back and forth to find a place to pull of so Wife could get the best shot. 

Happy local butcher who makes all his own cured pork products

I loved this guy because he had this wonderful self-deprecating attitude of a person who really knows his craft.  I mentioned that my daughter had come by yesterday and bought some of his ham and we'd had it and loved it.  He said "Oui, sais pas mal" "Yes, it isn't bad".  Then he had be try something else, a salami type sausage and said, "Pas mal, n'est-ce pas?"  'Not bad eh?"  I smiled and said "Ouis, sais pas mal de tout." "No, not bad at all."  

This is the kind of tiny personal interaction that makes traveling so special for me.

Then we went on to our local supermarket the Carrefour...sorry not Super U's here in Belgium :(  We we wanted to by some chocolate and some flavor bases by Maggi that I can't find in the US.  I've found that the French style plain dark chocolate with whole nuts is far and way my favorite and stock up on it when I can.  As we had to restrict our weight for our Air Malta flights, we have more than enough weight allowance on our US flight to stock up.

Some of you may recall in posts past my discussing daughter #2 as being my foodie ally in arms.  I believe #3 has taken this as a serious challenge and has become a major contender.  There was hardly a day that went by on this trip that she wasn't up for a nice lunch and we wanted to try a place that was just a 10 minute walk from our rental.  

I have gone into a number of these meals with #3 with the best of intentions of maybe eating just a little bit less.  But all it takes is #3 suggesting (as she did today), "Shall we have an aperitif?" or saying, "Well I want a first course" for me to cave in like a French Army in WWII.  The food today was very good.  There were errors such as I thought the sauces were a bit heavy and overly floury but a number of the preparations were very good indeed.  Also, this place was sooooo child friendly.  There was only one other couple in the restaurant and they had a whole room of toys just for kids to play with.  How thoughtful was that!

Allez-y - on to the meal!

Relatively horrible attempt to get whole family in picture
This is just the start of what will be a 3 hour meal

Frogs legs in a curry sauce with some crisped Ardennes Ham

A potage of tomato
Little 3.2 has become a soup fanatic and ate almost all of this

A scallop dish with a sauce that I forget

Fried goat cheese - this was our favorite of the appetizers

Jambonneau - a local dish I saw on virtually every menu while we were here.
It is a should joint of a small pig, cured, and then braised.  This had a mustard sauce.  The meal was excellent.

Salmon filet - loved the way they made the salads so artistic (even if that made them a bit of a pain to eat)

Trout Almondine - Both of the fish were very good

Rack of Lamb - thought this was slightly overcooked

This is a place that take pride in the potato and offered a variety of them.

Dauphinois potatoes (a kind of scalloped potatoes from the Alpine area of France)

Rosti style potatoes - a Swiss preparation that takes already baked potatoes and then hashes them and fries them.

We thought these looked like foodservice bought products but they were really good.

And of course Frites
(Our conclusion of this area is that the Dutch and Flemish are better frites makers)

3.1 insisted that her new Sangelier be part of the dinner

Bonjours Michelle.  Ca va?

"Mais non Monsieur.  No.  I am a wild boar, a Sangelier.  But the little girl, she has given me a female name.  But a boar is male.  So what can I do?  Peut-etre I weel have to become a cross dresser...Michelle the Drag Sangelier.  C'est triste.  It is a sad fate for a wild boar.  More wine S'il vous plait."

The perfect end to the meal

Wine and cuddles

We staggered back after our meal and spent the afternoon doing packing and spending a lot of time playing with our grandchildren.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 29 - Finding Joy In The Unexpected

Where Our Heroes
  • Trial by sick child comes to an end
  • Find that the least expected can be the most enjoyable
  • Introduce one into L'Ordre du Sangelier
  • Are taught yet again by Tom, whose the boss
  • Get yet another gastronomic repreive
  • Lean what can really be done with only a whisk and a bowl 
It's hard to believe but our Spring 2015 idle is almost over.  We get back home in less than a week.  We're winding down our stay here in the Ardennes and only have a couple of days left.  Miraculously, little 3.2 was much better today which made all of the proceedings work better.

We decided to head to Sedan which is just across the French border from where we are about 35 minutes away.   Sedan is noted as a place where a famous battle took place during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 where the French were defeated and Napoleon III was captured.  It also has a castle and you know how we are about castles.

It is surprising how often you find neat things when you are traveling off the major tourist byways.  Sedan's castle dates from the late 15th century.  It turned out to be a really nicely done restoration with tons of information.  It also turns out to be the largest castles in Europe. 

Our forces arrive and begin to scope out the area for the assult

On through the gates and into the main courtyard

 Clear out all the rooms and terraces of opposition

When you have a 3 and half who has heretofore reacted negatively to castles and does this one with aplomb you treat her to her heart's desire...a stuffed sangelier or wild boar

 We called this one Michel and even Wife was enamored.

Our lunch was a relatively nondescript affair.   On our way back our Tom Tom navigation system seemed to feel we needed to see more of the town and the area so were sent on this tiny little road around the castle and then through some small towns that we totally avoided driving in.  However, our culinary bacon was pulled out of the fire so to speak when #3 and 3A stopped at a local butcher who made his own cured hams and pates.  The stuff they bought we had for dinner and it was the best we've had on this trip.

A special note of culinary courage and savoir faire to daughter #3.  When she made the birthday cake for Wife yesterday, all she had to work with was a hand whisk and a bowl.  To make such a nice cake was realy a tour de force.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 28 - The Belgian Inquisition

Where Our Heroes
  • Find the Inquisition is alive and well in Walloon Belgian and endure
  • Trial by unannounced closing
  • Trial by sick child
  • Trial by grocery store
  • Trial by lack of fire
  • Persevere through all and once again enjoy their mutual company
Today was Wife's birthday.  Happy Birthday Wife!  We had every intention of doing things in a relaxed way that she would enjoy.  However the powers of the Inquisition are alive and well here in the Belgian countryside.

As we are traveling there's a limit on things that can be done but with the loving and capable daughter #3 there are always birthday possibilities.  We had decided that today was going to be a rest day so no running around.  But unfortunately little 3.2 has come down with a a new tooth coming in and a slight cold and was a crank most of the day.  3.1, seeing the opportunity to grab the 'good girl' space behaved wonderfully.

See what a wonderful girl I am - NOT like my cranky sister


One of Wife's favorite meals is steak cooked over a fire with baked potato and a nice wine.  Since there is a grill in the back yard, I decided that I could indulge here this opportunity.  She also thought it would be lovely to walk to a restaurant in town as a family for lunch.  #3 and I went out to go to a butcher shop close by and pick up the meat and check out the time the restaurant opened.  Instead we found the butcher closed (even though the times on its window says it should be open).  We find the restaurant closed as well.  Fortunately we found this small clothing store and they had this cute necklace that I bought Wife as a birthday present.  She was very surprised since we don't usually buy gifts for each other.

We needed to go out to the local grocery to pick up things needed for our dinner.  But we had so much trouble finding things.  I though their meat was not good enough for grilling and we had trouble finding all kinds of other things.  I finally settled on some frozen salmon.  I also bought a bunch of veggies for grilling including white asparagus that Wife loves. 3A and I had a difficult time figuring out what to buy in the way of charcoal.

In the meantime, #3 and 3.1 were making the birthday cake - from scratch I might add.

Mother-daughter cake making

Base cake

Making frosting

Okay the attempt to spell out Wife's name didn't come off that great using a plastic shopping bag as a cake decorating tool

3.1 enjoys the first taste of cake because her bed time precedes our dinner

Next came what I now recognize as a traditional ordeal - the attempt to make a fire and grill in a strange place.  Short version of the story is it took hours to get a fire sufficient that we could actually cook anything.  However, ultimately we did get everything done and it turned out pretty good.

I've been pretty amazed during this trip that everyone, especially myself, has maintained their cool throughout all the various stresses we've gone through.