Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I spend a quiet morning in my hotel room catching up on rest and my blogs.  

High Tea at Claridges with Jan.
This afternoon, I met a dear friend from high school, whom I haven't seen in about 20 years.  She came to Claridges for afternoon High Tea.  Quite proper!  

Jan has lived in London for years as a representative of professional tennis stars.  I was embarrassed how little I knew about tennis, but sure sounds like she has an amazing career.  

She has two children, Jack, who is 21, sounds like a brilliant child.  Learned to speak Hindu and Arabic fluently and has a high power job in Dubai.  

Her daughter Alice is an actress in London on a television show aired on BBC.  I'm going to look the show up when I get back home to check her out.  She's been in a couple of movies in the US on the hallmark channel.  She aspires to get work in the US and hopefully, I'll see Jan again soon in Los Angeles if Alice comes over.

We had a wonderful afternoon, talking about old times in High School and what we've done with our lives since.  Thank you Jan, for taking the time for an incredible afternoon.

WORST fish'n chips in London!!
After tea, Stevie, Chris and I set off to find the best fish and chips in London.  The concierge recommended Audley's, just a few blocks away.  They were packed, so we found ourselves at a place called Marlborough, for the WORST fish'n chips in London.  The breading on the fish tasted horrible AND it was cooked so long that it was like trying to eat fish jerky.  Lesson learned.  

We wandered the streets of London afterwards checking out shops and making our game plan for Monday.  

After a quick night cap in the lounge, and I mean quick, we couldn't hold our eyes open, we turned in for the evening.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bruges to London

At the train station shlepping our bags through the terminal required a cappuccino break.
Time for a new adventure.  Stevie and I departed this rainy morning heading to London via high speed train.  Our driver, Stef, was an Elvis junkie and had an Elvis CD playing for the entire hour and a half car ride to the train station.  I've never been an Elvis fan, and this did NOT change my mind.  

When we arrived at the train station in Brussels, I thought I would buy some Belgium chocolate to bring home for friends.  Here's what I found in the chocolate shop at the station.

Godiva Chocolates!

Stevie and I are not exactly "train" savvy   Actually, we know NOTHING about train travel.  First thing we learned is that one does not check baggage on the train.  That was a bit of a surprise, but we managed to haul all of our luggage through the station, down the escalator to the train platform, to the train and somehow managed to get the heavy bags on the train and into the baggage compartment.  Whew!  Ten points off for train travel.  (Spoiled Americans!)

Refreshments on the Train.   Can't see anything behind us because it's a HIGH SPEED train.
After changing seats three times, we were finally comfortably rolling through the Belgium countryside.  The ride was quick and smooth, taking us through the Chunnel and finally into London in just under two hours.  

Our London Taxi Driver.  We quickly turned the bags over to him.
We arranged a taxi through the conductor on the train, so we were delighted to see Reginald holding a "Gillman" sign as we were dragging our bags through the London train terminal.  Really folks!  What ever happened to the guys with the big wooden wagons that carried the luggage??  I guess that was back in the 60's, which was about the last time I was on a train. 

We went to the Claridges Hotel in London to rooms that were not ready for us.  Stevie's son, Chris, arrived in London today as well.   Since our rooms were not ready, we met Chris in the hotel bar, where he had ordered lunch.  
The bar at Claridges where we spent a lovely afternoon.
We had a great time talking, laughing, telling old stories and drinking lots of wine for SEVEN hours.  Somehow, amidst all the conversation, we managed to forget to eat dinner so I was starved when I finally made it up to my room.  Thank goodness they had a selection of fruit and macaroons waiting for me in the room.  That carried me over until breakfast. 

Speaking of rooms.  This room is really quite special.  It's a one bedroom apartment with a bath and a half.   The hotel is very traditional yet extremely elegant.  My rooms are huge with high ceilings surrounded by incredibly ornate crown moldings.  The old English furnishings in the living room are comfortably arranged around a warm fireplace.  Although everything looks old world, a touch of today shines through with USB plug-ins and 110V power outlets.  I could be comfortable here for a while.

Time to turn in for the evening.  Nite nite.

Friday, April 24, 2015

From Biking to Sightseeing

Our bike trip ended yesterday, so we are off today for a day of sightseeing in Bruges.  The ride to Bruges took about one and a half hours.  The Belgium country side looks very similar to Holland's.  In fact, I don't even recall crossing the country boarder.  No "check point Charlie."  Nothing to indicate we were in Belgium.

Typical Bruge architecture of step gabled roofs, makes it easier to step up on the roof for repairs.

Bruges is a beautiful city, but we found it to be very crowded.  Also  a walking tour of Bruges with a lovely lady, Yvonne, was not exactly what I was in the mood for.  

Yvonne, our Bruges guide.  
Guess I was still a bit tired from the ride yesterday.  Plus, I found the folks in Bruges to be rather unfriendly, boarding on rude.  What a difference from the smiles of Holland.  

The longneck swans commemorate the Count's friend.
Yvonne shared the story of the Count of Flanders.  Apparently, the Count raised taxes so high that the people rebelled   So the Count had all the rebels killed.  Afterwards, in retaliation, the people tracked down and murdered the Count's best friend who's name was Johnathan Longneck.  The Count was distraught and placed many swans in the moat surrounding his castle to always remember his friend, Longneck.  The swans are still in the area to this day gracefully decorating the area around the Count's Castle.   

Lunch in Bruges for mussels and fries.
Using the mussel for a fork.
We stopped for lunch at a little place that served mussels.  Finally, the girls were able to have their mussels.  Nearing the end of the season,  we had trouble finding mussels in Holland.  

The Hotel Dukes' Palace
After our tour, our rooms were finally ready at our gorgeous hotel, the Dukes Palace Hotel.  
Susie's Terrace.
Later we gathered in Susie's room for cocktails because she had a beautiful terrace attached to her room with a great view of the city.  It was actually one of the nicest evenings we've had.  
Susie's terrace for Cocktails.

We were not rushed to get to dinner and were able to just relax and enjoy the evening.  We decided to go find a place close to the hotel for dinner and stumbled upon an Italian place close by where pasta and meat sauce was the perfect selection.  

It was an OK meal, but the dessert was
Finally!  A Belgium Waffle.  Best thing about Bruges!!
EXCELLENT!  We stopped at a little Belgium Waffle place and had waffles.  I added Nutella and powdered sugar on mine, which brought back such fond memories of my trip to Canada with Kenny and Sheryl where we discovered Beaver Tails.  Yum.

Italian Dinner and cheap wine.  Awesome!
The staircase to our rooms at the Hotel Dukes' Palace.
We were all exhausted when we returned to the hotel.  So we turned in early.  Tomorrow, Stevie and I leave for London.  Susie and Ellen go on to Antwerp.

Taking the staircase to our rooms.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Metric Century Ride 106.6 km

Century Ride of 106.6 km.  See the green outline above.
I suppose I should have read the information Butterfield and Robinson sent regarding the bike trek.  Then I would have known about the Metric Century Ride.  Apparently, in the biking world, a Century ride is kind of a big deal.  And today, I have an opportunity to ride over one hundred kilometers across Holland.  

Today's trek 106.6 km.  I look pretty happy, eh??
 Four out of our group of 12 hit the road at 9:15 this morning.  The ride starts out to Yerseke, famous for it's mussels and oysters.  That's where I lost my traveling companions, Stevie, Ellen and Susie.  They opted to stop and enjoy an oyster snack, while I peddled on, determined to finish the 100 km ride.  

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 posting a copy of our typical "route notes" so you can see how we find our way.  The bike has an odometer, so when the odometer reading matches the mark point on the route notes, we know which way to turn.  OR, you can do what I did and just follow the guide.  I stuck to Abby like glue, because some of the notes can be confusing and I didn't want to be like Forest Gump peddling across Europe for years.

Thirty miles and 3 hours 15 minutes later, riding through the beautiful lowlands and deltas, we stopped in the charming town of Veere.  

 Veere Town Square
Veere is a very small but stunning Dutch town.  The town square is divided by a garden island.  Brick streets are lined with outdoor cafes ad quaint boutiques.  A beautiful church stands proudly at the entrance to the square with bells playing Dutch tunes on the hour.

We found a lovely restaurant call t'Waepen van Veere.  I ordered a tasty sandwich of ham, cheese, hard boiled egg, greens and onions on brown bread.  After riding 30 miles, cardboard would have tasted good, so you can imagine how tantalizing and satisfying this sandwich was.  

At lunch, half way through the ride, our guide, Abby told us that she has never brought a group to Veere before because nobody wanted to do the 100 km ride.  We are her very first group.  NOW she tells us, having reached the half way point and still facing another 36 miles yet to go.  

After lunch, we stopped at a shop to buy a birthday gift for another guide, Alice.  I found a beautiful little blue and white tea pot with a warming bowl.  A candle goes into the warming bowl and the tea pot sits on top.  I had the store clerk carefully wrap the pieces as I was riding a bike.  She did a great job.  I strapped the bags on my bike and away we went.  

As you can imagine, the afternoon ride was a bit more difficult than the morning trek.  And of course, remember what I said about the winds in Holland, well they picked up this afternoon, which REALLY made the ride hard.

Riding alongside the dike blocked some of the wind.
I couldn't figure out why it was suddenly impossible to keep up with Abby, when suddenly, I glanced down to see that I had unzipped my vest, which made a perfect sail to catch the wind, holding me back.  So I zipped up and caught up.  

About the 89 km mark, Torrey and I were really getting tired.  The delicious sandwich had worn off, our water was running low, the winds were getting stronger and we still had a long way to go.  So we signaled Abby that it was time for a rest stop.  Abby pulled off the road and brought out a bag of trail mix and began to munch.   I drained my water bottle and then began to salivate as I saw that trail mix bag.  I figured Torrey and I could easily take Abby out and split the trail mix.  Just about the time we were preparing to make our move, NIRVANA!

Alice and the B & R Van to the rescue!!  Good thing for Abby.
The B & R van pulled in.  Alice to the rescue.  She unloaded snacks and drinks.  Her timing could not have been more perfectly timed ... especially for Abby!  She had no idea how close she came to being robbed of her trail mix snack.

Torrey and I enjoy a few snacks and a much needed break.
Later, when we refilled our water bottles and bellies, we set off again for the final stretch.  It's amazing how refueling the body can work wonders.  The last 17 km was surprisingly easy.  

Tired, hot and happy!  I completed the 106.6 km Century Ride.
When we arrived back to the hotel, there was much appreciated fan fare with horns honking, feather boas,  cards of congratulations,  hats and I was so thrilled to see Stevie there to welcome us back.

It was a very challenging ride for me, especially since my bike training consisted of the 4 previous rides.  But I was so happy that I was physically able to accomplish this biking milestone.  This summer, my goal is to do a US Century Ride, which is 100 miles.  That would have only been another 34 miles further than today's ride.  Only difference is, Aspen is NOT flat.  We'll see.  Might be a good goal to set for myself and maybe I'll rediscover my waist line in the process of burning those calories!!

I usually shower instead of taking a bath, but that tup looked so inviting after the ride.  I climbed in and soaked for about 20 minutes.  I felt revived afterwards and was excited about our 5 course meal tonight.  

Alice, Claudia and Jannes Brevet and Abby.
Chef Jannes invited us into his kitchen tonight before dinner to see the inner workings of a Michelin Star restaurant.  
The kitchen is filled with every kind of gadget known in the world of cooking.
The kitchen was huge and spotless.  I was amazed by the different shapes and sizes of his serving plates, all of which he designed and had made especially for his dishes.  

Different dishes for specific foods.  Much more impressive looking when they contain food.
Each dish served tonight was properly paired with the perfect wine by Jannes' sommelier.  His enthusiastic description of each wine was so informative and interesting that we waited with anticipation to try the dish and wine together.  Sure enough, the perfect match.  Standing alone, I would not have ordered any of these wines, but when matched with specific foods, they were quite good.

After dinner, we retired to the lobby where a slide show of our trip was playing.  We gave Alice her birthday gift - which arrived undamaged after 36 miles strapped to a bike.

Alice's birthday tea pot.  
We all exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes with promises to keep in touch.  I think we all have good intentions of doing just that, but I must be the world's worst at reaching out to folks I've met when traveling.  I do think of them often.  Like Paddy from Australia, or Monte and Karen from Richmond, whom I met last year on my New Zealand cruise.  Perhaps I'll slow down long enough to drop all of them an email greeting.  It's the people we meet along the way that makes traveling so interesting.  People touch our hearts and minds.   All the rest is just bricks and mortar.  

Time to turn in.  Tomorrow, we head to Bruges.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Windmill at our hotel

Good morning from Bergambacht, where we are beginning our day with a tour of a working windmill.  This particular windmill mills grains.  Our "miller," Marc, opened the canvas on the windmill's blades.  Now the windmills make sense.  I couldn't figure out why they all had lattice work on the blades of the mill.  How could the wind make them move?  
Marc unfolds the canvas.
Well, canvas has to be rolled out, just like on a sail boat.  The whole top portion of the mill, the head, is moveable and done by hand.  A structure of wooden beams is connected to the head of the windmill and the base of the platform surrounding the head, use pulleys and wheels to move the head into the wind.  Maybe this will make more sense when you see the photo.   The blades begin to turn and when the gears inside the mill are engaged, the wheels spin to turn the stone wheels grinding the meal.  The faster the winds, the faster the wheels turn.  
Freshly milled Corn Meal.
I bought a bag of fresh stone ground corn meal.  Mom, it's coming to you.  When I come to visit, I would love to have some of your home made corn bread with the corn meal I'm bringing you from Holland.  Yum!!

Awaiting the Ferry's arrival.
After our windmill tour, we set off for the most picturesque part of our ride, through windmill country to Kinderdijk.  We've added another means of transportation to our travels, riding our bikes on to a ferry to cross the Lek River sending us on our way to windmill land.  We were first to board the ferry, tucking away on the side of the boat.  
On board our ferry crossing the Lek River.
Then cars filled four lanes.  Last to board was a truck hauling gasoline.  What could possibly go wrong?  But we made it across just fine and peddled on toward Kinderdijk.

In the mid 1700's, 19 windmills were built here, one beside the other.  Their function was (and in a pinch still is) to control water.  I took many photos of the
Riding to Kinderdjike.
windmills, which have been the symbol of The Netherlands since the early 16th century.  Each windmill is numbered and recorded in the historical archives and now protected.  Here are a few photos of Kinderdijk.

Riding down the dike toward Kinderjike.

Rows of Windmills define the landscape.

Yes, it's cold.

No wonder Susie can't navigate the.  Check out the route notes!

Ellen and Susie do "the windmill."

After the magical ride down the dike through the beautiful windmills, we hopped on a bus for an hour and a half ride to Zierikzee.   Here, we boarded our private launch, Vrolijke Visser, which means "The Happy Fisherman," for a lovely Dutch lunch as we cruised the Oosterschelde to meet our bikes in
Bus ride to Zierikzee

Ellen shows off her bruises from the bath tub fall.  OUCH!
Wilhelminadorp. Ok, you think these names are hard to pronounce.  Try reading "route notes" which is our means of finding our way across Holland.  If this was "Wheel of Fortune," you'd get a lot of clues if you bought a vowel, but still never figure out the name.  So I apologize.
Our boat for the trip across Oosterschelde.

Lunch aboard Vrolijke Visser.

"Selfie Stick" shot with Captain Jan.

Celebrating Captain Jan's birthday with a shot.
Delicious Dutch Picnic Lunch

The cruise lasted about an hour and a half and then we were back on our bikes heading for our hotel in Zeeland.  Yup, the folks from here discovered New Zealand.  One can see the similarities in these two areas mainly with the "wind rows" which are huge trees surrounding farm land to block the constant winds in Holland.  This brings up another interesting topic.  Bike riding on the flat Holland countryside is pretty easy ... unless you have a headwind.  With windmills as the symbol of Holland, it goes without saying that they have LOTS of wind here.  Duh!  It seems no matter which direction we ride ... it's into the wind.  Just wanted to share that little tidbit with you so you don't think it's all fun and games on this ride.  Well, it is, but it's also a great workout!!  And something else I found out.  The girls I'm riding with have been on MANY bike trips, but they don't necessarily love biking, they just want to burn calories allowing them to eat while on vacation.   Never the less, I've thoroughly enjoyed the bike ride, meeting new folks, the scenery, and the challenge, which I'll address more in tomorrow's blog. 

The ride to our hotel, Inter Scaldes was through more beautiful Dutch countryside with fields being prepared for planting where we saw many pheasants.  They are beautiful birds.  

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Arriving at Inter Scaldes, we were greeted by the hotel staff and directed to our beautiful rooms overlooking Pheasant filled fields.  Haha!  Try to say that three times really fast!  This hotel was designed, built and decorated by Chef Jannes Brevet and his lovely wife, Claudia.  From the furniture to the art work, Jannes and Claudia selected each piece.  I would describe the style as being sort of modern Scandinavian but with more warmth.  Dinner tonight, a tasty three course meal in the dining room, prepared by Chef Jannes Brevet, who has been awarded two Michelin Stars for his cuisine.  
Tomato Caprese Salad
Delicious and unique, the meal was spectacular.  Not only was the food tasty, but the presentation and the plates themselves were a piece of art.  The photo (above) of a Tomato Caprese Salad, had the full flavor of the tomatoes, cheese, balsamic and basil, all molded into a gelatin and served in this beautiful bowl.   I've never been to a Michelin award winning restaurant before.   I must say, although I enjoyed it, I think I prefer a more simplistic approach to a meal.  A really great designer cheeseburger works for me.

After dinner, I was ready to go to bed to rest up for tomorrow's Metric Century ride ... 100K!!  Check in tomorrow to see how that worked for me.