Good-bye Belgium; Hello Roma!

LOCATION: Rome, Italy

WEATHER: Cloudy and in the 50s – Belgium; Sunny and 75 in Rome

The best thing about traveling is meeting people and making great friendships. We have spent the last week with friends Tony and Jenny from Nova Scotia whom we met camping in Newfoundland 5 years ago. Since then, we have met up with them in 10 places, all over the world.

After a great week in Ghent, they dropped us off at the train station in Brussels where we reunited with another couple, Daniel and Minnie, whom we also met camping. They are from San Francisco and we met in a Texas state park 4 years ago. They are traveling around Europe for 6 months, and it just so happened that we were in Brussels at the same time. We had lunch and caught up…..

George said a final goodbye to Belgian beers, and then we were off on an airplane to Rome.

We arrived in Rome, flying on the cheap airline Ryanair, at about 7;30 PM. We were planning to take the train into the city, then walk to our B&B. It was getting late, and we were dreading all the connections. So, when a guy approached us offering to take us directly to our B&B for about the same price as the train, we took it. Rome is always a bit shady on these types of things. We were wary, but it seemed to be legit……until he dropped us off at the wrong place. It was an apartment building. I showed the address to some people, and they scratched their heads with the address. Uh-oh – does that mean that we are a long way away? Turns out that we were fairly close, and after asking again at a pizza place, we found it.

After settling in, we found a very nice bistro just steps from our B&B. I had some delicious pasta with wild mushrooms in a garlic/butter sauce.

Tomorrow we will figure out the train and bus to get to our cruise ship for an 8-night cruise around Italy.

The Best Beer in the World (Times Two)!

LOCATION: Visiting with friends in Ghent, Belgium

WEATHER: Cool. Highs about 60

We stayed around Ghent today doing further exploration. We walked into the old part of town, along streets full of bicyclists. Ghent is a big university town, so there are lots of students riding around.

Our first stop was lunch. We shared a basket of chicken wings. In Belgium, each beer has it own special glass, resulting in a lot of glassware. This is the rack at our restaurant…

The cupboard in our AirB&B also is full of glasses. Here are the beers, each it its own type of glass, showcased by Tony and Jenny, that we had at lunch.

The sun came out, and so did the people. Lots of people enjoying the canals.

We went to a bar where they offer more than 500 Belgian beers.

George had the beer that Beer Advocate and others rate as the best beer in the world. It is the one made at the abbey we drove by yesterday – where people were lined up in their cars to pick up their orders. The bottle does not have any label. George’s beer was $15.

Jenny and Tony had a Delirium Tremens, also billed as the best beer in the world. So – either way, we had the 2 best!

After all that beer, this street urinal came in handy – although it was too high for George!!!

DINNER: Pizza. We jazzed up some store-made pizzas with leftovers- onions, bacon and mushrooms. Really good

George, the birthday boy, goes in search of the best beer in the world,

LOCATION: Visiting friends in Ghent, Belgium

WEATHER: Cool. Highs in 50s.

Today’s destination was Flanders, in the far western part of Belgium, near the border of France. First, we visited the area where some of the worst battles of WWI took place. More than 600,000 soldiers died. We visited a museum, then a Canadian memorial, for that country’s lost soldiers.

Next up was beer. We were in the area where the Trappist monks make their world-famous brews.

In honor of George’s birthday today, we did a lot of partaking. This is a famous Trappist monk brewery.

The brewery that makes supposedly the best beer in the world, according to beer professionals, is made in this abbey…..

Due to the small amount made, it is very difficult to buy it. Customers call ahead of time to a special “beer line”, sometimes a year in advance. Then, an appointment is made for them to pick it up. In the photo below, you seem them lined up at the abbey in their cars to pick up their order. They are not allowed to speak at all to the monks. The transactions are made in silence.

We had a beer in the town nearby, hoping to taste the illusive brew. The bartender laughed at us when we asked if he had it. Nope, but he did have some other good beers….

The Flemish landscape is very rural and full of these windmills.

Back home, we toasted George on his birthday with champagne, then walked to dinner at our neighborhood bistro.

DINNER: At the bistro, we shared some beef tartare as an appetizer. We sampled each other’s main courses – a steak, a pork specialty dish, and a chicken dish in a puff pastry. All amazing.

An adventure in Antwerp

LOCATION: With our friends in Ghent, Belgium

WEATHER: Quite cool. Highs in 50s. Cloudy

Today’s destination was Antwerp, about 30 miles away. It should have been a short trip, but we got into some bad traffic and lots of construction in the city.

Antwerp’s cathedral is its most famous landmark. It is hard to imagine, but it is 2.5 acres inside!

We walked around the old part of the city. As with Ghent and Bruges, there is beautiful old architecture.

We stopped for a panini and beer lunch at an outdoor cafe on one of the plazas.

The train station is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

Antwerp is supposedly the diamond capital of the world, and we certainly did see a lot of jewelry shops.

We visited a printing museum, a UNESCO site. Very interesting to see how they had to print things in the 1500s, before the printing press. Here is George “fonting” around…

DINNER: Back home, it was my time to cook. We had pasta with artichoke hearts, shrimp and veg in a Parmesan sauce.

More of Belgium – Belgian lace, Belgian mussels, and even more Belgian beer!

LOCATION: Visiting friends in Ghent, Belgium

WEATHER: Even a bit cooler. Highs 50s. Cloudy

Today we were off to Bruges for the day, only 35 kilometers away. Our friends have a rental car, so we can do a lot of exploring.

Bruges is a very old, historic city. The old part is surrounded by a canal.

The fronts of the buildings are so picturesque. Here are George, Tony and Jenny consulting a map to decide where to go next.

We walked all around the old part of the city. The crowds weren’t too bad, but there were a lot of tour groups. I can’t imagine what it will be like in the summer.

LOTS of chocolate shops….

And beautiful lace…

And Belgian waffles with Belgian chocolate – a 2fer!

Bruges even has a frites (French fry) museum…

And of course, Belgian beer. We went to a brewery that supplies the pubs in town with beer via underground pipes!

From Bruges, we drove a short distance to the coast. We went through cute, upscale beach towns. And, finally to our destination…..a Musselhuis (mussels restaurant).

We ate fairly late in the day – 2:00 PM. We ordered our mussels, and were told sadly that they had sold out for the day. Crushed, we started thinking of Plan B – maybe a bowl of soup? Then, the cook called out that “Yes, we can get mussels”. They called the local mussels supplier and 10 minutes later a delivery man came with a box of them, fresh off the boat. Yay! They were delicious. We shared 2 pots – one cooked in white wine and one cooked in beer.

DINNER: It was Tony’s turn to cook tonight. We had porkshops and a very nice salad.

Belgian everything! Belgian fries, Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolate, and of course Belgian beer!

LOCATION: Ghent Belgium

WEATHER: Cool – about 60 and nice

Our first full day in Belgium with our friends Tony and Jenny was jam-packed fun. We walked from our AirB&B into town, following a canal, about an hour walk.

Arriving in the old town, we encountered lovely town squares around every corner.

The old architecture is fantastic. Many beautiful churches. Lots of outdoor cafes.

Belgium is famous for its frites (French fries). There are many stands where you can buy them, along with an assortment of sauces from which to choose.

We ordered ours with Andalusian sauce, a kind of spicy mayo..

We walked past the restaurant that invented the Belgian waffles, and watched a lot of people eating them as street food. We also passed a lot of chocolate shops. We found a brewery (of course) and did a tasting and had some bread and pate with the beer. Very tasty.

More walking around, admiring the architecture and historic buildings, with an occasional stop in an outdoor cafe for a rest and a beer.

There are bicyclists everywhere – you have to get out of their way. Here are some parked in front of the train station…

We took the tram back to our Air B&B, only getting lost a couple of times.

DINNER: We are taking turns fixing dinner. Tonight was my turn. I made an Asian stir-fry with chicken.

Bus to Belgium!

LOCATION: Ghent, Belgium

WEATHER: Beautiful. High 70s and sunny

We got up quite early to prepare for our trip today. We played with the dogs, and I did some last-minute tinkling of the ivories on the homeowners’ grand piano

The day was filled a busy travel itinerary. Everything worked! First the taxi picked us at the lodge where we were housesitting, exactly on time. He got us to the train station early, so we took an earlier train into London. Then, we jumped on the tube just as it was leaving the station – literally, George’s backpack got stuck in the door.

From Victoria train station, we were supposed to walk to the Victoria coach (bus) station. We turned the wrong way and ended up in Buckingham Palace! Oops! George asked a doorman at a fancy hotel for directions.

Then, we caught the bus from London to Ghent, Belgium. It took us almost 2 hours just to get through the city as there was terrible London Marathon traffic. After about 2 hours through SE England, we arrived at the English Channel Tunnel. It was an interesting experience – one more thing to check off the bucket list. Each vehicle gets a reservation to travel through. We did passport control in England and France, then our bus boarded this strange-looking grey, windowless train. It looked like something that the Auschwitz prisoners boarded.

Inside, it was like being in the bottom of a car ferry. It took about 35 minutes to get through the tunnel.

Here is our route of our 6.5 hour bus route.

After about 2 hours traveling through northern France and western Belgium, we arrived in Ghent, where this sign welcomed us!

We met our friends Tony and Jenny from Nova Scotia who are traveling through Europe this spring. We’ve rented an AirB&B together here for a week. It is so fun seeing them again.

DINNER: Tony prepared dinner tonight. – stuffed pasta and a green salad. With, of course, some good Belgian beer.

Last day for this housesitting assignment

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Cambridge, England

WEATHER: Third day in a row with fantastic weather. Highs in 70s & sunny

Today is our last day here at this assignment, so we took it easy. We walked the dogs – I walked them in the fields behind our house. Once I put on my “wellies”, the dogs go berserk knowing that this means “walk”. They dash to the gate that leads out to the fields. Then, George walked them around the estate, watching one dog almost getting a pheasant.

In addition to the dogs here, we also have a cat. She mostly sleeps in this chair, and then is outside catching mice

We drove to a village near us for a nice pub lunch. We had lamb skewers, Greek-style. We sat outside and enjoyed the weather, and chatted with this cyclist.

This pub, like many, have water stations for dogs. This one is cute…

Since today is our last day, we spent time tidying up and I cooked a couple of meals for the homeowners’ return.

DINNER: Leftover fish with some veg.

A return visit to Cambridge

LOCATION: Housesitting near Cambridge, England

WEATHER: Another fab day – 70s and sunny

Today was another hectic day here at the estate – gardeners and housekeeper coming and going. So, after a long walk in the fields with the dogs, we headed back to Cambridge to get out of their way.

We took the train as parking there is impossible. In the week that we have been here, the flowers and trees have really “popped”. The rape seed fields have turned from green to beautiful golden yellow. This is the view of a field from the train…

There is a lot to do in Cambridge, and we wanted to tic off more of Trip Advisor’s “Top 10 Things to do in Cambridge” list. First up was lunch. We went to the Eagle Pub, Cambridge’s oldest pub, built in 1353. It has two major claims to fame: 1) Cambridge scientists Francis Crick and James Watson used to eat here 6 nights a week. One night they came into the pub shouting “We have discovered the secret of life”, announcing their discovery of DNA. And 2) the RAF (Royal Air Force) and American soldiers used to hang out here waiting to be called to the front. As they waited, they drew pictures and wrote their names on the bar’s ceiling, using candles and lipstick.

We walked through a lot of the Cambridge colleges. Lots of tourists and students. The students were enjoying the sun on the green.

Then, we took the bus to a village outside of Cambridge, also on the Trip Advisor list. One reader had described the village as a bit “twee” and perhaps it is, but it is darned cute – with almost every building having a thatched roof!

Even the pubs!

Back home, we relaxed on the deck and ate dinner “al fresco” since the weather is so gorgeous

DINNER: Using some of the leftover roast chicken, I made an Asian pasta dish with chicken, green onions, mushrooms, and ginger with sesame oil and soy sauce

Thatched roof house heaven

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Cambridge, England

WEATHER: WOW!!! A record high of 82 degrees for April in England. Sunny.

A lady came to take our dogs that we are caring for on a “play date”. The dogs do this regularly for their socialization. With them in good hands, we took off for the day to tour the countryside. We went to an area that my brother (who lived in England several years ago) recommended.

We don’t have GPS in the car that we are using, so I mapped our route on my ipad. Due to my finely-honed navigational skills, it took 2.5 hours to get to our destination 35 miles away!!!! Poor George. I gave him terrible directions, and at one point, got us on the expressway on our way to London. Not good!

Finally, we made it and had a lovely lunch in a pub that my brother recommended.

We made a big circle to another village he recommended, following narrow country roads. We spotted a LOT of thatched roof houses, my favorite!

As we were driving along in one village, we passed a brewery so, of course, had to stop.

There are a lot of things I admire about the UK and think they do smashingly (like pubs). However, in this case, I say that American engineering far surpasses the Brits’. This is the British version of a growler….

In the USA, we have a growler which is a big glass jug that we fill up with our favorite brews when we visit microbreweries. This is the UK version – like a milk carton that holds two pints. We bought this filled with some good beer at the brewery we visited.

As I said, my direction-giving is not the best, and it often includes shouts from me like “Stop! – we missed a turn!”, or something similar. At one of these shout/stops, the container of beer turned over. Unlike the American version with a tight cap, this one just burst open and the beer came sloshing out. What a mess, and the car reeked of beer smell. I just hoped a policeman wouldn’t pull us over and we would have to try to explain the smell.

Then, our route took us through a town with very narrow streets (like most of them). The roads are sometimes only wide enough for one car; other times they will accommodate two cars, but then parking is allowed on the roads, resulting in one lane again. At one town, we faced a big lorry (British English for truck). He couldn’t get by us and we could not pull over any more. So, after a lot of backing up, horn-honking and shouting, we made it through.

Just as I was feeling pretty good about getting us home, we encountered the much dreaded “Road Closed” sign. We couldn’t figure out an alternate route. As we were sitting on the side of the road (with me now hugging the beer container), we saw other cars going on that road, so we decided to try it. Yay! No sign of road closure.

We really had a lovely day and enjoyed the beautiful countryside. The flowering pear and cherry trees are at their height. Daffodils and tulips everywhere. The fields are full of yellow rape-seed flowers.

Back at home, we recuperated in the garden from the drive.

DINNER: The homeowners left us some ready–made fried fish (like in fish and chips) which we had with some lentils and veg.