Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Food - But Not As We Know It !

I was going to title this blog post "Food Glorious Food" but I think I used that for a previous post so never one to repeat myself, I say, never one to repeat myself, I've decided upon the above....and anyway it's a bit more appropriate.

Being the seasoned traveller that I am (cough), I'm used to strange and wonderful food combinations and in fact, I'm quite prone to dishing up a few myself in the comfort of my own kitchen. I mean if you like 2 foods and 'society' says they shouldn't appear together on a plate, well then stuff 'society' and then stuff your face. Just close the curtains first.

A word of warning though. In my experience, ice cream in a BLT just doesn't work. Messy.

Yesterday afternoon I was going to prepare the 2nd blog post about our trip to Belgium, The Netherlands and France but I made the mistake of wanting to look at a few bits of the excellent movie "In Bruges" with Colin Farrell (a wee bit of naughty swearing goes on in this movie just in case you decide to watch it !) and I ended up watching the whole thing again and going....oh we were there..and there...oh and there too. I was even so geeky as to pause the movie at various places and compare the still frames with photos I'd taken and smiling like an idiot cause they matched !

Yes somehow I found myself excited that 900 year old buildings that were in the movie (made in 2008) were in exactly the same place in my photos, taken a few weeks ago. Quelle surprise !

Of course now being almost intimate with the layout of the old town, I did find lots of clever geographical edits where the main characters would round a corner or exit a building and suddenly be in a totally different spot.

Anyway, I've gone off topic here but as I never did get to do that 2nd day blog post, I've decided to throw in a 'quickie' to keep the pot boiling, so to speak, and that means going back to FOOD.

Being a clever dick, I already knew that the main foods associated with Belgium were frites, chocolate, mussels and, if liquid can be a food....beer ! As I can never have enough of the first two and have lived this long without the later two, I felt I'd not starve in Bruges. Actually the Dutch spelling is frieten but as Belgium has a mix of French, German and Dutch, we normally saw signs for frites.

These fries/chips are much thicker than their US and UK counterparts and are proud to be still cooked in animal fat. Yum. US fries may come in a box, UK chips may come in paper but Belgian frites come in a large cardboard cone. That's when eating them on the move of course.

Early on the 2nd morning of our trip, we walked back to the main square in Bruges, the Markt, as we wanted to climb the bell tower for stunning views over the town. Just in front of the tower entrance and where one of the characters in the movie made a dramatic appearance, there was a frietkot, or stall, selling all sorts of goodies.

Notice how clean it is around the stall ? Notice the 2 bins at each side ? Leeds City Council and residents please take note.

As an aside, there is a name on the stall....Bicky Burger....and I put that into my phone's translation application thinking bicky might be a proper word in Dutch/Flemish. It came back with "Bicky Citizen." Hilarious.

Here is a close up of the menu............

It's not a great photo as I had to take it fast as I always think food stallholders will have someone round the back with a meat cleaver to fend off anyone trying to take photos of their stall.

If you enlarge it, you'll see some interesting offers and I'll leave you to look them up yourselves. I particularly liked the idea of a Hannibal sauce on my frites or braadworst. With some fava beans and a nice chianti maybe !

I'm adding another photo here, and I admit it was taken in Amsterdam, but this seems a good post for it too. Like the word disingenuous, it might be hard to place it in another relevant post. It also shows that the Dutch do score more than nil points when it comes to word play..........

Eh ? Eh ? See what they did there ? A full douze points I think and maybe an extra one as they've dipped into English to get get it to work.

I never did try moules frites (mussels and chips/fries) but I did have frites more times than I should....have....had. Nothing to write home about and I still prefer my paper wrapped UK chips.

I'll be back to showing the picturesque delights of Bruges another time - all this talk of food has made me hungry.

I fancy a nice omelette. Now where did I put that ice cream scoop ?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What A Shower !

Musically speaking, I was a child of the 60's and early 70's and as my little brain was at its peak then, I can happily sing songs from those years and somehow still know all the words.

From 18 onwards, my memory has gone downhill and I blame my love of all things NASA for this as the facts they churned out totally filled up my cranial hard drive. For example I can still tell you the weight of a fully fueled Saturn V rocket (with Apollo capsule on top.....6.5 million pounds) but I'm hard pushed to remember the name of our prime minister....or is it ministers ?!

So I pride myself as a bit of a geek regarding the music of the 60's and early 70's and would wipe the floor with anyone in a quiz about those years. However now and again a song comes along that, although I know the tune, I'm at a loss to remember the group wot sung it and an example of this came along this morning....while I was in the shower, as it happens.

I only listen to the radio when I'm showering as I'm a tv man the rest of the time. Even in the car I now watch tv (thanks to my wonderful HTC phone app) and I can tell you it really makes the miles fly by when you can watch a good movie as you weave in and out of traffic on the motorway. It's probably not legal but how else am I supposed to keep up with Coronation Street, for goodness sake ?!

Anyway back to this morning and there I was trying to stuff my flowing locks into a shower cap when this song came on that took me back 34 years, seeing as that's when it was released, reaching the dizzy heights of No.14 in the UK charts. Despite having literally thousand of songs from that period on my external hard drive, this one somehow missed my pirating skills and as I lathered my wet, virile six pack (steady ladies....and men !!) without once dropping the bar of soap, I briefly racked my brain for the group name.

It just wouldn't come to me. You know how sometimes an answer is just out of reach or on the tip of your tongue ? Well this was the opposite. I knew I'd never get it as I hadn't a clue and in a way this was a good thing as it meant I could relax and enjoy the song.

Ohhh those lyrics and the fact that a lot of them were spoken in the song and not sung. The expression 'they don't write lyrics like that anymore' was made for this song and if you don't believe me, have a read...........

Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's two-timin' me.
Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's cheatin' on me.

I was outside the one stop
When I saw her in the corner
And I didn't like what I see.

Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's two-timin' me.

She was sharing her spin dryer with a guy in a tie-dye
When she saw my reflection in the chrome.
I knew that she'd seen me 'cause she dropped her bikini
The one that I got her in Rome.

Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's two-timin' me.
Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's cheatin' on me.

When she finished her laundry she was all in a quandary
And made it for the street like a hare.
Her escape was so urgent, she forgot her detergent
And dropped all her clean underwear.

Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's cheatin' on me.

No weed smoking lyrics there then ! Hell no.

This was the 70's and lyrics had moved on from the flower power, love-in, hippy dippy nonsense of the 60's. Now we had hard, biting, satirical lyrics which wanted to distance themselves from the previous decade and make a stand.

Yes I know. Somehow this one slipped through the net. These were certainly lyrics worthy of the 60's but despite that, or maybe because of it, I love this damn song. I love over production and this song was definitely over produced. Think Phil Spector and his wall of sound in the days before they became the walls of a prison cell ! Think of every song by The Ronettes or The Wombles. (sorry US readers you'll need to Google that last one).

Mentioning The Wombles is quite appropriate actually as the song I'm talking about was produced by the very same man who brought us those furry bodied, litter pickers from SW19....Mike Batt. The one and only.

And if the lyrics didn't give you enough clues about the name of the song, it's Little Does She Know but although you may recognise the song and even be able to sing along with it, do you know the group name ?

In the days before t'interclacker I could have set this as a quiz question - although I'd not have been able to write this blog so you'd have got the question by telegram or pigeon post or something. Now there is no point as you'd all just cheat and look it up.

The group name ? The Kursaal Flyers.

Don't anyone DARE say they knew that !! Liars, the lot of you.

Anyway, without further ado, here they are on Top Of The Pops and if you really want more info, there is also a web site. God help us.

So watch the video and try and ignore more classic examples of British orthodontic and tonsorial failures. As well as listening to the lyrics, listen to the over production especially towards the end, when apparently an army marksman with a rifle was used to add a bit of 1812 overture sound to the recording.

I have a few suggestions where the rifle should've been pointing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

European Trip Day 1 - Leeds to Bruges

Yes I know, here we go again....another holiday blog series. I know I've not finished the Italy one but if I don't get this latest one down on 'paper' so to speak, my few memories of it will go the way of a politician's promises.

I need to make one point first; I used 3 cameras on this trip (a Canon Dslr, a Nikon compact and my HTC Desire phone camera) so any photos on these trip blogs will be a mixture - the phone ones will stand out as they have a date stamp on them.

So with that in mind, sit back with a cool drink and lets go.......

7am on Wednesday 4th August 2010 and the intrepid trio (Daphne, Stephen and my good self) set off from Leeds for the 280 mile drive to the southern English ferry port of Dover. We stopped at Leicester Forest East (100 miles) for a break and a quick snack as I for one had only had a cup of tea before we set off.

We arrived in Dover after no real traffic issues and with time to spare for the 2pm crossing. We were going with Norfolkline and we had no problems finding our way to their terminal.

Once we were in the line to board, Stephen had time to attach the car lights deflectors to comply with regulations for driving a British car on the Continent. Without them, we'd blind oncoming drivers with our main beams as, of course, they drive on the wrong side of the road over there. Pah !!

It was a dull old day so not great for photography and once on the open sea, there wasn't much to photograph anyway. For the world's busiest shipping lane, The Channel seemed remarkably empty to me !

We did have one hitch hiker though as this one footed seagull stayed with us the whole way across and given the blustery winds, I don't blame him for letting the ferry take the strain. We christened him 'Stumpy' of course but I wonder how he lost his foot ? Suggestions in the comments section please.

Crossing The Channel only took 2 hrs but due to crossing a time zone, we had to put our watches forward an hour........and so it was 5:15pm before we reached Dunkirk. Then we were off and on the road to Belgium in double quick time as there were no customs or border controls at all. I'd only ever flown to Paris before and so this was my first time in the French countryside and how lovely it was. I didn't have long to enjoy it as after 20 miles, we were in Belgium ! I totally missed the sign saying "Belgie" and so never knew I was in Belgium for some miles.

It was less than 60 miles from Dunkirk to Bruges and so we arrived at our b&b around 6:15pm and I'd picked it mostly because it was in the town centre and had off road parking. The plan was to park the car and not use it again till we left.

It was a picture postcard sort of place and although fairly basic, our host, Stefaan, was kindness and helpfulness personified. Once we'd dumped our cases in the room, we were off and walking the short distance into the centre of Bruges and despite the overcast skies and occasional light rain showers, what a wonderful place it was. Everything I'd hoped for and more. It's probably the best preserved medieval town in Europe and it's so charming that you sometimes think you're in a Disneyesque location as opposed to a real life town.

From the cobbled streets to the high rise colourful houses, from the picturesque canals to the delightful goods in the shops, Bruges enchanted me from the start. It seemed that every other shop sold chocolates and as I've already courted controversy in my previous post with my photos of those 'anatomically correct chocolate shapes' I'll say no more about chocolate !

By now we were hungry again so we found a little restaurant and Daphne chose the local favourite, mussels and chips (fries to my US readers) and what a lot she got !

As you can see from the menu, it wasn't hard to order food in Bruges as it was very much geared up for us Brits who pop over on day trips in our thousands thanks to that short ferry crossing. In both Belgium and The Netherlands we found menus were usually in different languages with English being second favourite after the local one. This suited me as like most Brits, I've been very lazy learning a foreign language although I could just about get by with my school French.

After the meal we walked to the town's main square, the Markt. On one side is the Belfort, the belfry of Bruges, built in 1240. The 83 metre tower was heavily featured in the 2008 movie, In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleesson.

Excellent movie btw.

Being late and wet, we decided not to go up the tower that night. Of course being closed was a better reason. So more of that next time.

By now we were flagging and after a scenic walk back to the b&b, we called it a day, or a night, and went to bed.

The trip was off and running and what a start we'd had. Belgium and its inhabitants may be generally regarded as getting nil points in the excitement stakes but even on a dull, overcast and wet evening in early August, Bruges got a full douze from me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Far From The Madding Crowd

Sometimes I take a bit of time to think of a decent title for these blog posts but this one came to me as soon as the page came up. I know it's down to the one huge difference between my recent experiences in France and then returning yesterday to England........the land of madding crowds.

And their cars.

Yes after 17 days, 3 countries, 2680 miles, 8 bed and breakfasts, 2054 photos, 102 video clips, 2 boat trips and 214 comfort breaks, we got back to England yesterday at 1:30pm and by 2pm, boy, did we know it. Straight into a traffic jam for miles on the M20 from Dover and then a long long queue for the Dartford tunnel followed by more jams on the M25 and M1 and finally home to Leeds by 10:30pm.

9 hours to travel 289 miles !!

We have simply too small a country for so many cars and it's got to be the main complaint made by tourists as it ruins driving here. We obviously need to follow the example of Dubai and increase our land mass to provide more roads for the cars we seemingly can't do without. We could take land from Scotland - actually as it's there already, we could just rename Scotland as North England and move everything up a bit. Leeds would be in the Midlands and Oxford would be our new capital city. London could then be cut free and left as a huge island car park between this New England and France.

I like it. As Jean Luc would say...make it so.

A close second in the list of complaints for foreign drivers (and us too by the way) would be the food at our motorway services. It says it all that most now sport a fast food outlet (McD's, Burger King, KFC etc) but at least you know what to expect from them and sad to say, they've probably upped the quality of food at our motorway rest areas.

We stopped at the Toddington services on the M1 run by Moto. I'm being specific here as I'd advise anyone thinking of stopping there to avoid it or at least, eat at the Burger King if you do stop - as their food is usually edible at least. And their staff probably speak English too which helps !

Anyhoo, with so many photos and stories to share about our travels in the strange lands of Johnny Foreigner, I feel like it's a good time to return to blogging. I may well have to call upon my travelling companions to remind me about most of the stories as although I exclaimed many times "that'll make a great blog post", frequent readers will know my memory is like an English goalkeeper....it doesn't hold onto much.

Here is one to be going on with while I sort through all those photos.

We spent last Wednesday night at a French chateau, complete with huge spiral staircase and enough chandeliers to keep Del Boy in business for decades. Sadly it had seen better days and really shouldn't have been available even for b&b business but anyway, we were the only guests spending that night there and in the morning had breakfast in one of the huge dining rooms. As a result, I was able to do something I'd always wanted to do.......eat my meal at the far end of a long table with my companions at the other end.

Daphne took this photo and I've had to 'up' the brightness using Photoshop so you can see me as the camera flash wasn't powerful enough to light me up at the far end of the room !!

Another sign that the lady of the house wasn't really clued in to b&b services, when Stephen asked for hot chocolate (as he had all trip and had always been presented with a lovely mug of hot chocolate), she placed that box of 'Super Quick' chocolate powder on the table and told him he could use the nearby microwave to heat up the milk for it !

Well what can you expect from French aristocracy ? Off with their heads and then let them try and eat cake, I say.

Fear not as subsequent posts will be in trip order (Bruges up first) and yes, I know I STILL have to finish up posts about our Italian trip last summer.

I feel the stress levels rising again. I bet Alan Whicker never had these problems !!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Travel Broadens The Mind

Visiting Belgium and The Netherlands for the first time has given me so much material to talk about that I'm feeling refreshed about blogging - and so this little gem of literary excellence (well, if I can't lie from the get go, what use is a blog !!??) will be starting up again when I return to the UK.

Right now I'm in Amsterdam for a few days and then off down to tour a bit of France.

So watch this space and in the meantime, here is something that I think sets the tone and shows what those fun loving Belgians can do with a bit of chocolate (ok a LOT of chocolate) and a fertile imagination.

In a warm climate, I think getting one of these for a present, would be best summed up by the expressions "well it was fun while it lasted" or "one size fits all" !!

I'm sure you will have your own thoughts on the subject so comment away. Hey, don't blame me. I'm just the one who instructs and educates.

Go on admit it, you've missed me in your lives !

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