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Eating our way through Europe

August 3rd, 2009 Comments off

We are not food critics so this little story won’t be passing judgment about local tastes and customs.

Well, we do have to mention that that most menus offered pig knuckles, which I resisted at every opportunity, and that in Poland they serve pork lard with the bread.

We ate at McDonald’s twice – but once was legitimate because it offered an international menu with its Greek burger (feta cheese and three, maybe four, black olives). (See, we didn’t have a quarter-pounder.) This was, as I recall, at a highway stop in the Czech Republic.

Jeanne’s favorite meal was the crispy-yet-moist duck in Prague. I remember the cheese-dumpling soup in Strasburg that was awesome. Daughter remembers  the beers, everywhere.

We all raved about the lasagna in Luxembourg, the Chicken House’s rotisserie chicken with all sorts of different sauces in Antwerp and the German potato salad served at the beer garden in Munich. (Well, of course German potato salad has to be good when you eat it at a German beer garden in Germany!)

Desserts were mostly conventional but in France we were delightfully surprised by the bowl of meringue drizzled with a kind of caramel-vanilla sauce.

If you eat with your eyes, take a look at the four pages of food photos in our gallery.

Marvelous Prague

July 13th, 2009 Comments off

Prague may have been the single most important stop on our trip, because Czechoslovakia was home to one branch of her family. You could spend days visiting Prague and not tire of it, but given our ambitious itinerary to see as much of Europe as possible, we are not spending too much time at any one city. Imagine skipping a stone flint across a pond — skip skip skip skip before it slows down and sinks. We are skipping across Europe.

We decided, then, to take a walking/bus tour of Prague to see as much as we could. Our guide looked 40 but said he had been giving tours for 35 years, which puts him around my age, 57, I’d guess. I didn’t ask him because he was shy.

We were in a small tour van, about 15 of us. It had been billed as an English-speaking tour but there were French speakers on board, too, and our guide was trilingual — Czech, French and English.  We visited all the “towns” of Prague — New Town, Old Town, Lesser Town (on the way up to the castle) and the phenomenal Castle town, with the only functioning castle in Europe and perhaps the finest cathedral I have ever seen. I was more impressed by it than by Notre Dame, which we saw on our last trip to Europe to visit Daughter.  (Daughter is expanding our horizons, you see.)

While walking the castle grounds, I asked the guide what is the greatest frustration of his business. “It’s when I’m told I’ll have a van filled with English speakers but when I get in, I discover there’s not a single English speaker among them. They are Turkish, Chinese, Portuguese… and there is just nothing for me to do.”

I won’t go into a blow-by-blow description of our day, but rest assured we ate local food (for dinner, Jeanne had what she proclaimed as the best duck of her life, and Daughter and I had pork ribs; for lunch, the ladies had beef goulash and I had lamb). We ended the day at the ballet, “The Best of Swan Lake.” Because of ticket confusion — we wanted reserved seats and were sold general-admission seats — we were re-seated in the third row center. 

Back now at the campsite, I’ll see how many photos I can download into an album called “Prague” for you to click on if you want to see some of the sights. As time permits — maybe after we return home — I’ll add more. 

Prague is very photogenic.

The search for authentic Germany

July 8th, 2009 Comments off

The danger to sticking to a tour book (we relied heavily on the Lonely Planet’s “Central Europe”) is that it leads you to where everyone else goes. So yes, in Heidelberg we did visit the local castle, the Heidelberg Schloss. It is considered one of Germany’s most prominent examples of Gothic-Renaissance architecture and a place, as Mark Twain wrote in his “Tramp Through Europe,” that commands a sweeping view of the city and the river valley.

Jeanne found another view she liked. At the gift shop just outside the gate, Jeanne purchased a small cuckoo clock, which had been one of her missions of this trip. Now she could relax.

Then we started our day in earnest, not sure where we would go, except south toward the Black Forest. Somewhat randomly, we thought we would try for dinner at a town called Rotweil, and then for a campground alongside the Danube, deep in the forest of southern Germany.

Rotweil, which did not show up in our tour books, was a prize – a delightful town with all the architectural trimmings you   would expect, and with a view down its main street dissolving into a pasture and then the forest beyond. And, it turned out, it seems to be the home of the Rotweiler dog breed – if the statues of those dogs along the main thoroughfares were any hint.

Our goal was dinner, and we peeked into a few places. One was mostly a tavern, and so was the next. Then we found a restaurant that seemed authentic: no one inside spoke English. That would work just fine.

We asked to eat outside. The waitress brought us a menu that was printed in German, French and English, so there wasn’t much mystery in what we selected.  Jeanne chose veal and pork in white cream sauce, alongside spatzle (a  German noodle). Daughter favored pork with paprika cream sauce and spatzle, and I selected breaded veal stuffed with ham and cheese. It came with fries, and whether that’s a German traditional food, I don’t know.

Each came with a house salad of greens, German potato salad, sauerkraut, carrots and something white and thin. Hmmm, don’t know.  And beer.   It was all very good, for about $65.  Because we ate outside, we are probably responsible for diverting five other pedestrian groups into the restaurant for dinner after they passed us, stopped in their tracks, spied what we were eating and returned for dinner.

Just shy of 9 p.m. we made it to a campground promoted in the guidebook that came with our international camping card (called a “carnet” and which is given to the camp manager at night to vouch for us). This campground was situated alongside the Danube, shrouded in trees and at the bottom of a river valley framed by 500-foot-high walls of granite. We fell asleep thinking life was good.