Monday, October 16, 2017

Friet-ful Experience

WITH A SIDE OF FRIES:  In my seemingly never-ending quest to play catch up, I'm still way behind on chronicling our excellent European adventure.

We started off by landing in London (Gatwick), spent the night in Dover, took a ferry over to Dunkirk/Dunquerque, France, and then drove up to Bruges, Belgium, for night number two.

Before leaving Bruges, we had one important item to check off on our 'to do' list. Funnily enough, it wasn't even on the list until a bit after we arrived in Bruges.  However, in the lobby of our hotel, we happened to see a little flyer about the Friet Museum. 

We don't really read or write any Dutch or Flemish, but we know fries (frites) when we see them and the thought of a whole museum dedicated to the deep fried wonders? Be still our hearts! 

Suddenly, it became SUPER IMPORTANT to find said museum and tour it. So, that's just what we did. We were waiting at its door when it opened that morning.

A museum dedicated to the history of the fries is an interesting concept, and it was a surprisingly compelling collection.

We loved the artsy, suspended potato mobile near the entrance. 
The history of the potato was documented. Most agree its roots are in Peru.
Then, the story became about how potatoes made their way from Peru to Belgium. 
This book, below, is thought ot be one of the oldest writings about the glorious potato. 

Displays in the museum extolled the many attributes of potatoes, including its medicinal qualities. 
Throughout the museum, there were a number of photo opps. Who could past this one up? Not us!
One section of the museum was all about implements used to cut fries. I have to admit, it's hard not to type FRENCH fries. We learned in the museum that fries probably maybe might have originated in Belgium.
Did you know Belgian fries have been to space? I did not, but we saw a video of them heading space-ward in the museum!
 There was even a display all about the various paper kinda cones that they are served in in Belgium.
All sorts of friets art was to be found in the museum. I wish I had something to show you the scale of the friets shop below. It was micro tiny!! Half the size of a shoe box, and so detailed!
We saw this fry guy not just at the museum, but in a number of places in our travel in Europe. We're thinking he must be the face of friets for some restaurant chain or brand of friets. 
There were a couple of pretend friets stands in the museum. 
Christian and the kids pretended to whip up some.
A friets food truck!
So, before we came to the museum, we'd had the most WONDERFUL breakfast. We were stuffed. But, can I tell you that after wandering through three floors of friets-related displays, suddenly you're hungry. And not just for anything, but for FRIES!!!

As luck would have it, there is a fry shop right in the basement of the museum. 
We had the place to ourselves and had some AMAZING friets, complete with "American" sauce. :)
Bottom line: If you're ever in Bruges, Belgium, you simply MUST visited the Friet Museum.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beautiful Bruges

BELGIUM BOUND: Our second night abroad was Sunday, Oct. 24. After taking a ferry from Dover, UK, to Dunkirk, France, we headed up the west coast of France to Belgium, stopping in the lovely city of Bruges for the night.

In northwest Belgium, Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of the country.

Our home for the night was Hotel 't Keizershof
It was clean, convenient, affordable, had parking on site, and though it was advertised as a shared bathroom, we had the third floor to ourselves (the two windows on the right side of the building below). It was a wonderful starting spot to explore the pretty city on foot.
Our view out the hotel room window was this pretty building. I took a photo because the end of it was so pretty. I had no idea it was such a big deal (literally). Turns out it's the Minnewater Clinic, a former Catholic hospital for 'needy' women and children, run by the Sisters of Love of Jesus and Mary. It's now a residential care center. It stretches for a couple of city blocks (by Seattle standards) beyond the brick end we spied out our window.
Believe it or not, the first thing we did after dumping our backpacks off at the hotel was head across the canal to a huge flea market, Called Zandfeesten, it's held over three weekends during the summer. (We happened upon it by happy accident - a trend on this vacation.) The market is held in the sprawling Koning Albertpark (King Albert I park).

There were thousands upon thousands of things to see ... everything from comic books to mid-century modern furniture; cuckoo clocks to super antique oddities.

Naturally, since we were traveling abroad and traveling super light, we weren't in a position to pick up much of anything.
But guess what we did find at one booth ... a Shar-pei calendar for 2018. (In case you haven't heard, CJ is obsessed with Shar-pei, and the fact that we found a keepsake at this market made us all very happy.)
After the market, we were all feeling the drag of jet lag. The kids fell asleep for a couple of hours. About 7 p.m., we knew that 

The owner of the hotel we stayed in owns a number of properties, including the restaurant next door, de Stoepa.
It was soooo hard getting CJ, especially, out of bed. He wanted to be down for the night, but I knew if we let him be, he'd wake up in a couple of hours, starving, and we had no food to give him. 

We took him downstairs, he was draped over the table, but this brought him back to life ... the most amazing plate of spaghetti bolognese we'd ever seen. He inhaled it and two Coka Zeros in no time flat, and he was a new man. 
The next morning it was back to the table, this time at another restaurant our hotelier owns, 

What a beautiful breakfast. 
 Can you imagine eating like this every day? A girl can dream, right?
After breakfast, we were off on foot to explore the city. Our eventual destination was the Frites Museum (that's right, an institution paying homage to fried potatoes), but that's a story for another day, like tomorrow.

What a picturesque place Bruges is. There are canals and cobblestone roads all over.
We walked our way toward its world famous market square.

The Grotemarkt sees three to four million visitors a year, per Visit Bruges, and has had a market operated on the site continuously since 985. (Wednesday is Market day. We missed that.)

However, it's a spectacle any day of the year. Below is the provincial court, Provinciaal Hof.
Horse-drawn carriages wait to take you on a tour of the city.  The statute in the middle is of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, Bruges heroes dating back to the early 1300s.
The imposing Belfry Tower can also be seen from the market. We were treated to the belfry's chiming multiple times during our walk.  A medieval bell towerit was added to the market square around 1240. A devastating fire destroyed much of it, and in 1280, the tower was largely rebuilt. 
We could even see the belfry when we were visiting the Bruges Bottle Shop, stocking up on some of Belgium's finest - and a couple of IPAs from elsewhere, to please our Seattle palates.
During our stroll, we walked through a very modern commercial district that had stores qith marquees you'd expect to see in any American mall, including a Claire's and a McDonald's.
Oh, and did I mention we found some lovely old unicorn art? Check it out in the photo below!
We also happened to cross paths with Del Halve Maan, or Half Moon Brewery (home to Christian's favorite Belgian beer, Brugse Zot).
The brewery is famous for its beer pipeline under Bruges' streets. Check out this fun factoid, from the brewery's website: 
Since 16th September 2016 our beer travels through our unique pipeline, connecting the brewery in the inner city to the bottling plant, over a distance of 3.2 km. This unique project was not only realized to reduce the heavy truck traffic in the inner city and the ecological footprint but also to keep the production where it has been for the last 160 years. The first “zotte” ideas started in 2012 when there were works on the utilities on the Walplein. A similar project never had been attempted so it came with an array of challenges. The pipeline was inaugurated with an unforgettable party, many of the crowdfunders who made this project possible were part of the honor guests. There were numerous interviews regarding the pipeline and we were in the news worldwide!
Below: Random old building. Actually, it's not random at all, but my memory is. I think this day in Bruges was the hardest, jet-lag wise. I had There were many, and they were intriguing and compelling and I neglected to catch all of their names.
The Church of Our Lady is another dominant fixture in the Bruges' skyscape. Its tower is 115 metres (377 ft) high, and is the tallest structure in Bruges, so it was a good landmark for us as we were wandering around kind of lost at times. The Church of Our Lady also happens to be the second tallest brickwork tower in the world (second only to St. Martin's Church in Landshut, Germany).

Our last Bruges memory? A swan song - there was a small park with a flock (OK, a game of swans, to be correct, apparently. It's a wedge of swans in the air, and a game on the ground).

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Day in Dunkirk

FIRST DAY IN FRANCE: The second day of our excellent adventure was centered on Dunkirk, or Dunkerque, as the French spell it. Since it's in their country, I suppose we should go with the French spelling and not the spelling that was used in the recent major motion picture about the city in World War II.

We had a lovely ferry ride across a smooth Strait of Dover, or Dover Strait, or Dover Narrows. Whatever you call it, it's the strait at the narrowest part of the English Channel, marking the boundary between the Channel and North Sea, separating Great Britain from continental Europe.
We drove our car off the ferry, and had a short drive to the lovely Dunkerque waterfront business district.

We parked in a lot right across from the "Operation Dynamo" or Dunkerque 1940 museum. More on that destination later.
 We explored the grounds near the museum, and quickly spied this new art installation. 
Dunkerque was home to one of the most told stories about the Allied war effort. Back in 1940, Allied soldiers were cut off and surrounded in the city. Many were killed, but miraculously hundreds of thousands escaped, in large part thanks to civilian boats who came to pick them up off the beach.

For the sculpture we were fortunate to visit, according to a sign on site, the artist chose the Hourglass, "a symbol of passing time, as an analogy for the Allied soldiers trapped in the Dunkirk pocket who slowly trickled out to sea as they were evacuated. This work, which commemorates the success of Operation Dynamo, also pays homage to the soldiers killed or reported missing between 26 May and 4 June, 1940. Moreover, the Hourglass symbolizes the possibility of a reversal capable of turning a defeat into a victory." The installation is called Le Sablier. It's by Severine Hubard, and was dedicated on 12 July 2017.

We were also able to see yet another new-ish installation at Dunkirk, this dramatic bridge over a canal near the beachfront.
There were still some construction signs and fences in the area, but we were able to access the bridge and read the dedication wall adjacent to it.

We also spied a lighthouse. Tonight, via Wikipedia, I learned  it "s an automated first order (i.e. 60 km beam or further) port lighthouse, the highest of this type in France. It is sited near Dunkirk. Construction on the lighthouse was completed in 1843."
Here's a longer shot looking south. You can barely see the lighthouse in the center left of the frame below.
Looking toward the north, you start to see restaurant row along the beachfront.
Meanwhile, out on the water, a few sailboats bobbed.
The kids dug into the sand and were struck by how powdery fine it was.
While walking north along the waterfront, we heard what sounded like a marching band in the distance.  We finally came across them. They were Les Pet'Boontjes, and they happened to be playing a song by the Offspring (an American band whose peak of popularity was in the '90s) at the moment.
Based on signage we saw in the area, we surmised they were playing along a run/walk route that was a fund raiser to fight cancer.

We kept walking and came to a stretch where there were a couple dozen restaurants all in a row. We checked out menus they had posted, and looked on tables of diners, and finally would up at this place.
The kids ordered what I'll call "American fare" (a burger and Annabelle had spaghetti bolognese). I had scrambled eggs. Christian ordered something, not sure what he was getting. As he looked around the restaurant, he was coveting the huge crocks of mussels and the plates of frites (fries) they came with and said he sure hoped he was getting that.
 He was so happy when his order arrived. :)
After lunch, we returned to the Dunkerque in 1940 museum.  
We'd seen the movie "Dunkirk" recently and, honestly, the lovely day on the sunny beach was such a far cry from the Dunkirk portrayed in the movie, where it was dark, cold and under constant bombardment.

Below is a flyer Nazi troops dropped on penned-in Allied soldiers to let them know how dire their circumstance was.
The museum was small - in a former underground bunker.
However, it has a comprehensive collection of artifacts, thoughtfully displayed.
Some of the things that caught my eye were these rifles from the shipwreck of the Norwegian ship Tindejfell or Le Fred  on 28 May 1942.
 This brown leather allied bomber jacket was absolutely lovely. It looked like it was made yesterday.
 The museum had Allied soldiers' supplies on display ...  

  as well as some chilling Nazi soldiers' artifacts.
 Overall, it was a great visit to Dunkirk/Dunkerque, and afterward, we were off on our next adventure - to Belgium and beyond!