I took the the first two photos in Friesland, which is in the north and most rural part of Holland. We saw perhaps 6 of these older wind mills, some of them still at work.
We stopped for coffee. There were four older men playing cards and after we got our coffee, the waitress showed up with these appelgebak mit slagroom (apple pie with whipped cream), one of our favorites. One of the gents treated us, and as we were waiting for the coffee he even paid that! I have no idea why, other than perhaps we were the rare visitor to these parts. They would have known we were speaking English, although none of them seemed to understand anything we said to them directly. The waitress spoke it quite well however.
This event has more meaning if you know something about the Dutch. Some might call them stingy or tight. For example in our airbnb in Dordrecht they had coffee in the guest room. Very nice. But there were two coffee creamers. Not four, not six, just two. In another, it states if you use a whole roll of toilet paper you have to pay 2 euros extra. The generosity we experienced was quite the surprise for us, having spent almost a year in the country over the past 20.
The little restaurant sits across the field from the restaurant. Earlier we were in Dordrecht, in the southwest part of the country where we spent the night on in a small outbuilding. Our friendly hostess showed us around her lovely property, sitting on water’s edge. Across the way is an island hosting beavers, hawks and owls and more, as well as the usual ducks and coots.
Vernon is in Normandy on the Seine downstream from Paris. It’s castle, built in 1204, served to protect Paris. The mill ground flour, which could then be readily transported on the Seine. It is a very short distance to Giverny, where Monet established his studio and residence. There is also a museum of Impressionists.
The first mention of the town dates to Roman times. The town was referenced circa 750 by Pepin the Short. The name might be Latin or Celtic in origin. In French today ‘verne’ is a speckled elder tree. In English it is a proper name. (I add this as non-native English speakers read my blogs).
There is a small dock for pleasure crafts, as you can see in the photo. The mill sits on a bridge destroyed following the D-day invasion. A new bridge crosses the Seine to town center, a charming village.
Dating from the 11th century, Notre Dame is a good example of a Gothic church. The lead glass windows are impressive modern pieces, replaced also as a result of WWII bombing. The rose window is flamboyant thus of later Gothic origin. The stained-glass windows are contemporary. The originals were replaced after World War II bombing raids. The many half timber buildings are mostly from the 16th century.
We had lunch in a picturesque restaurant with some good examples of Normandy cuisine. Andouillette is tripe in a sausage casing. I stuck with steak pomme frites, however. I asked for it medium and they got part of it right. They grilled it a bit more but it turned tough. The frites are the best I have had anywhere ever! Peg ordered fish delightfully grilled, and a side of polenta with a bit of cheese.
I find our evenings with friends in Paris especially charming. Could it be the views?
Tonight, yes, with a balcony facing the Tour Eiffel at night when the weather permits an open window to the balcony. The Tour flashes at night and the searchlight on top spins 360 degrees.
Could it be the wine? Well, there is that. The French often start with champagne, although in this case it was a white wine.
Perhaps the cheese? (The French usually serve butter with the cheese, this was an especially rich butter.) I am forever shocked when the cheese comes out. I’ve already had enough to eat, what with the snacks while we wait for the wine to age, the night to darken, the dinner to finish its oven time, the conversation to get past the what’s new stage.
The conversation never lags, in part because of the catch up conversations, the latest news about children and friends, and the news about the news. Joining us: the Romanian boyfriend, offering another perspective on things, shall we say, with a story about a disappearing ship.
We have been to Romania twice, once in 1998 and again in 2004. In 1998 the country was dirt poor. There were few goods in the stores, and they had trouble making change for lack of currency. We had a wonderful dinner in an Intercontinental hotel, with a live band. It cost a mere $20, an amount then far beyond the means of the locals. We were the only ones in the place for most of the evening. It was so intimate that Peg sang with the band. She has a lovely voice which I rarely get to hear. By 2004 things had improved some and things are perhaps a bit better now but still some emigrate.
We’ve met quite a few Romanians in our travels in Europe. They look for better opportunities. Most seem to struggle in the west though. The next day we met another, the husband of a consultant, one of the few we have met who makes a good living in financial tech. We know two restaurateurs in Valencia, both succeeding but working endless hours. The consultant was born in Venezuela, whose disintegration goes far beyond even what happened to Eastern Europe during the transition to a market economy.
Another evening was just with Americans, with equally charming views.
Mark is an exceptional cook with a neat apartment on’Ile Saint-Louis. During the summer on the right bank there is music every night, lovely if you are me and there for an evening, but for those residents who can not tune it out it’s another matter. Likewise with the lights from the tourist boats, and for metro riders who hear Have Naguila and Those Were the Days over and over again.
I might tire of a tian if I had one every night, but never having the experience, it was highly rewarding. I shall quote Mark on the serious matter of French cooking: “The tian is the name of the round baking dish. Anything that’s made in it, then, is a tian. This one was a tian méridionale, basically the same veggies as a ratatouille… No browning; the veggies cooked slowly with olive oil and their own sugars until they caramelized.”
The wines were superb. Mark’s friend is a delight, someone whom we’d not met. Here as at chez Agnes the conversations just flows. Other Americans friends were there, whom we’ve known for going on 20 years. They have spent far more than that in Paris for about 6 months at a time. She in particular likes warm winters so they return to Florida. She is a trained and very fine chef, about which I could go on and on.
We walk to museums, to look at buildings of particular interest, to lunch or dinner. I can not help but look at the people. Ukraine was part of Russia for hundreds of years but the area has been inhabited for over 30,000 years. Who are they? The ethnic group called ‘Ukrainian’ is Slavic, as are Russians, Poles and parts of the old Yugoslavia. They do not seem in general to be quite as blond with super light skin tones as I noticed in Russia, but close enough.
We flew with friends to Dar Es Salaam, the capitol of Tanzania, to go by train to Zambia. The train trip was an adventure of its own. Our destination was a tiny village where our nephew Travis worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, helping the locals build a damn for their fish farm.
Saint Sofia, dating from the 11th century, is one of the most important churches of Kiev. It is named after the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, an amazing structure dating from the 3rd century Roman period, when Istanbul was called Constantinople after the Roman emperor Constantine. The buildings bear no resemblance to one another, however. Saint Sofia’s origin is in the Kieven Rus period, when the region was governed by a loose federations of Slavic and Finnish people. It has the impressive golden domes you find in Poland and Russia. The art decorating the interior has the same Byzantine look as well.