Belgium

The Grand Adventure Part 1 – To Amsterdam & Beyond!

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The Grand Adventure begins.

We flew KLM to Amsterdam in World Business Class. The food was more Delta grade but generally the flight went smoothly. We picked up our Volvo V70 ( the best they could offer us), and were extremely relieved to find that the luggage would fit in the car. We piled in and headed for Belgium. We stopped at a service center and I got us water, chocolate, 2 kinder eggs and sandwiches. After munching some ham and cheese (Beemster) on very nice crunchy baquettes Trent fell asleep and slept for most of the 2.5 hr trip to Belgium. Jack had to pull over just before Maastricht to sleep for 20mins. I took a cat nap of maybe 10 as we drove slowly through the Maastricht traffic. We found our way to Pepinster at 5pm and were greeted warmly at Hostellerie Lafarque our base for the next few days. My high school French was pretty difficult to access on very little sleep and English was only partially understood. We immediately were shown to a lovely large room on the ground floor (rm 7) decorated in gray and blue. Trent was thrilled with the huge bathroom which had a large bathtub. Trent took a bubble bath, and wrapped in robe planted himself in bed with a sliced apple and his dvd player until dinner.

Dinner was long and the service was slow as the restaurant was very busy. The food was great, more than we expected.

Amuse: White Asparagus & Yellow Tomato Confit/
Bresse Chicken Galatine
Smoked fish pyramid
Smoked Salmon mousse on pumpernickel

Crab salad with wasabi tobiko and white asparagus
John Dory with Mauritis sauce (like a like Masala curry) and Zucchini
Foie Gras with Star Anise and Spinach with yellow carrot/citus puree
Pigeon with polenta and romano beans
warm molten chocolate cake, tropical fruit parfait (with Valhrona chocolate pearls) and lime ice cream.

Mignardises: Financier with fruit, Pistachio nougat, chocolate tartelette with coconut and ground cherry dipped in white chocolate.

Day Two – The Maze & The Castle

    Morning: Labyrinth of Drielandenpunt – the maze built by Maze Master Adrian Fisher at the point where Germany, Belgium & The Netherlands meet. Took us a while to solve it because somehow we weren’t thinking there were 3 bridges. Maybe 40 mins for this one. Blame it on the jetlag. The water “walls” were lots of fun for the youngest member of the party. Note to self: Makes sure there are spare clothes in the car at all times.

    Lunch at nearby casual Dutch restaurant. Trent had tomato soup. I had a pancake with speck. Oh my gosh was it good. A big thin pancake with thin strips of bacon baked into it. The crust was crispy. Sure it wasn’t good for me but boy was it a treat.

    Off to find the Liege Aquarium. The area around Liege is known for Coal mining. The outskirts of the city were very industrial and all the road seemed to have tons of trucks. After viewing tons of massive (and I mean massive) factories (Steel?) we found the Aquarium building near the University, but didn’t find parking. We bailed. Instead we headed out to Chateau de Jehay a 16th century chateau with a moat and interesting stone work. It had awesome finials – including a spiked ball. The roman fountain was cool too. Lots of bronzes around the place. The one that greets visitors is a nude girl riding on the back of a huge cricket who’s eating the head of the man who’s kneeling in front of it. Of course the prize possession of the house is the Shrunken Head.

    Spa, Belgium for dinner. The name Spa is actually from this town. It comes from a roman term which the town was named for. Spa boasts healing thermal waters and a Casino.

    We ate at La Tonnellerie (which we had a really hard time finding) and while it was packed with locals, it isn’t making our must return to list any time soon.

    What we had: Amuse on the table: Cantaloupe balls, pistachios, and puffed spiced chips

    St. Tropez salad with mozzarella balls, shrimp and basil vinaigrette.
    Salad with Magret de Canard, foie gras and raspberries in a raspberry vinaigrette
    Lobster half with kiwi and a side of pasta
    Vegetable ravioli with salmon.
    Kid’s plate – fried chicken breast. Carrot curls, Cheese sticks, puffed chips and a tomato/mayo sauce.,

    Day 3 We ventured to Brussels to go to the Musee de Beaux-Arts, unbeknownst to us all the museums are closed on Labor Day. So we strolled around. Trent had a Gaufre (a Belgian Waffle street-food style) and we got to see the cool clock in the square go off.

    Our next stop was the Royal Botanical Garden.

    En route to it we passed the big park in Brussels which has a shrine and, a Japanese pagoda, as well as the Palace. My navigating skills were being challenged with a map out of scale with our needs, so we were Google-mapping on demand. Just as we started toward the Orangerie for a quick lunch the rain began. Our big consolation was seeing lots of baby ducks on the pond as we trudged on through the light drizzle. Umbrellas? Yes we brought umbrellas, and raincoats. The umbrellas were tucked safely and warmly in our suitcases at the hotel. Raincoats were in the car…/

    After a meager lunch of “croque monsieur” or rather more apt description of grilled ham & cheese., and a piece of nut flan cake, we were pleased to find the rain had stopped. Our walk took us through the Rhododendron forest (where many were just blooming.) and on the way I got to see some Tree Peonies as a special treat.

    The 12th-century Bouchout Castle is right in the center of the gardens so it was an extra treat. Our last stop was the Greenhouses which house plant collections from all over the world. We saw Cacoa, banana, rubber, starfruit, dragonfruit, coconut, date, coffee, and all sorts of other plants & trees. There were some spectacular orchids too as well as some truly amazing waterlilies and lily pads that would support small children. Very cool.

    Dinner at Hostellerie Lafarque:

    What we had:
    Trent ordered the Pigeon 2 ways.
    I had the Asparagus 4-ways and the Lobster open ravioli
    Jack had the Clam appetizer and Bar – line caught with artichokes.
    We ordered the cheese cart and were pleased to be presented with a number of Belgian Cheese options as well as some French and Italian.
    We had a spectacular bottle of Georges Vernay Condrieu with dinner.

We’re Going…but Where are We Going?

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Airline Tickets are booked. We’re heading to Amsterdam. That’s as far as the solidity in the travel planning goes.

Hotel booking is in progress – a slow, arduous project. We’re close on a couple and are narrowing a few more. We’ve spent our hours remaking and reworking the itinerary. I’ve made some notes of the top running choices we’ve cross-referenced so I can keep track.

So here’s that list of the leading hotels for our upcoming adventure:

Near Liege (Belgium)

  • Hostellerie Lafarque – Domaine des Douys
  • Near Rhine/Frankfurt/Mosel (Germany)

  • Auf Schoenburg
  • Near or in Rotenburg ob Taubern (Germany)

  • Schloss Sommersdorf
    Hotel Markusturm
    Jagstmuehle
  • Salzburg (Austria)

  • Schloss Leopoldskoin
    Schloss Haunsperg
  • Wachau (Austria)

  • Gasthof Nikolaihof
    Hotel Schloss Durnstein
    Hotel Richard Löwenherz
  • Alto Adige (Italy)

  • Schloss Korb
    Villa Tivoli
    Hotel Gardena-Grödnerhof
  • Some Castle & Historic Hotel Links:

  • Germany: Culture & Castle
    Germany: Castle Hotels
    Castle & Palace Hotels
    Live like a German (this site offers vacation rentals but some are castle apts.)
    Historic Hotels (Germany)
  • Other Travel/Hotel/Trip Planning Links:

  • Via Michelin (Yes that Michelin. – Also look at the Online Green Guides)
    The Romantic Road
    NY Times Travel Guides
    The Fairytale Road
  • The Wind has Shifted… The Search is on.

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    We’re back to flying into Amsterdam and then driving to Germany. I think watching Rick Steeves Benelux/Germany DVD cemented it. Trent was taken with a museum in Belgium, and I want to see the Van Gogh museum. Currently the plan is at 25 days and up to potentially 8 countries (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy & possibly the Czech Republic) with 9 actual hotels to book. If we slipped into France & Switzerland it would 10 countries. If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium…

    Hotel searching is tough for us. We like luxury, but like to not pay exorbitant amounts/night – and we try to avoid big chain hotels. We also prefer country to town/city properties. We need WiFi, a comfortable bed, decent food near by (that means something *we* would eat) and I look for something special about the property – a castle, on a park, a great restaurant, near something we need to go see, etc.

    If you think that’s an easy task – you are mistaken!

    Here are the sites I’m currently using:
    Relais & Chateaux
    Trip Advisor (taken with some large grains of salt)
    Small Luxury Hotels
    Leading Hotels of the World
    Historic Hotels of Europe
    Historic Hotels of the Benelux
    Great Small Hotels
    Five Star Alliance
    Castle Hotels (Mainly Austria)
    Karen Brown (taken with an even larger grain of salt & cross checked extensively – not trusted)
    Kiwi Collection
    Mr & Mrs. Smith
    Epoque Hotels
    Rocco Forte Collection
    Romantik Hotels
    Historic Hotels of Europe
    Luxique
    Starwood Luxury Collection
    Johansen’s
    Authentic Hotels

    Chic Retreats