Monday, October 22, 2018


Near Cancale, we stayed at the wonderful Chateau Richeux, owned by legendary chef Olivier Roellinger and his wife, Jill. The tidal changes here are the second greatest in the world, after only the Bay of Fundy.

View from our room

Mont St-Michel is visible in the distance

We visited nearby St. Malo, eighty percent of which was destroyed by Allied forces during WWII. The assault involved the first use of napalm in combat. Due to faulty intelligence, the Allies were operating under the mistaken belief that a substantial German force was present in the walled city. St. Malo has been beautifully restored, its massive walls intact, and is a popular stop for tourists. 

St. Malo Cathedral

The village of Cancale was a delightful visit. Cancale sources one-third of the oysters served in France, and we enjoyed a spectacular lunch at one of the many restaurants which line the quay. There may be fresher, finer oysters, but I don't know where!

One oyster already missing--couldn't resist! 

One church wall commemorates all of the fishermen who have been lost at sea

Oyster beds, Cancale 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Amsterdam surroundings

For a great escape from the pace of Amsterdam, spend a day touring the countryside. We began our tour with a visit to the popular Zaanse Schans windmills. As is well known, much of the Netherlands is below sea level. To drain the land of water, windmills were erected throughout the countryside. As they were gradually replaced by modern engines and pumps, some windmills were repurposed to grind various items. Most typically, this would be grain varietals, but one of the windmills at Zaanse Schans grinds pigment for paints.

The setting of the windmills is beautiful, and several other attractions, such as a wooden shoe making demonstration, are interesting. We enjoyed mustard soup for lunch, prepared from mustard seeds ground in one of the windmills. 

We also visited Edam and other small villages in the region. Cheese rules!!

An old scale for weighing cheese

Different colors denote different types of aging cheese 
Water links so much of the Netherlands and every small town has a canal. Small locks equalize water levels and it seems that everyone has a boat of some kind. 

Canal lock 

A very interesting and worthwhile day--a fun peek at life outside the hustle and bustle of the capitol! 


Amsterdam, a city of approximately 820,000 people, makes for a terrific visit. A trade center as early as 1300, the city became extraordinarily wealthy during its Golden Age of the 1600s, when it dominated world trade. The beautiful, ornate townhouses erected during that time still exist today and line the cities network of tranquil canals. Occupied by the Nazis for five years--during which the cities once vibrant Jewish community was decimated--the Amsterdam of today is known as a cultural hub and for its liberal views on prostitution and marijuana.

We stayed in the fine Conservatorium Hotel, directly across the street from the Van Gogh Museum and an easy stroll to the Museumplein and the famed Rijksmuseum.

Photographs are prohibited within the Van Gogh Museum, but it houses some of his most famous works and provides detailed information about his life

The Rijksmuseum edifice itself is stunning

Hours can pass quickly as you stroll through the many rooms of the Rijksmueum, but the focus is typically on the beautiful paintings by Hals, Vermeer, Steen and, or course, Rembrandt van Rijn. 

Vermeer's The Milkmaid

Dutch Masters by Rembrandt. Cigar, anyone?

                                                        Approach to The Night Watch

A boat ride through the canals is an enchanting way to spend a few hours.

Amsterdam has several street markets. Although touristy, they still have many stands which offer traditional foods. 

We usually don't name restaurants, but Cielo Bleu was a true culinary experience. A masterful, multi-course menu with impeccable service and a blissful setting. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the raucous Heineken Brewery tour. The sense of history is muddled by some odd light shows, and a seeming rush by tourists to redeem their beer tickets in the crowded bar.

But the bustle of the Heineken Brewery pales in comparison to the milling crowds in the Red Light District. Even a late afternoon visit is frenetic, to say the least. Hoards of tourists descend and the area seems like an odd amalgamation of Bourbon Street, Times Square, and the Las Vegas Strip

A few of the many, many famed red windows in the district

One of many specialty shops 

Traveler's tip #1: Bicycles rule in Amsterdam. Exercise caution when walking, because a bicyclist is unlikely to yield. #2: Great car service--Heijntax (Ron and Henk)

All in all, you won't go wrong by adding Amsterdam to an European itinerary!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Iceland, Land of Wonder, Redux

This was our second trip to the fascinating country of Iceland (see post of 9/20/12). We made repeat visits to some favorites, such as the touristy but fun Blue Lagoon. We dined at Luna restaurant at the Lagoon on this occasion, and it was very good. Recommended for those who want to linger over a nice lunch and then enjoy the warm waters.

Cocktails available!

As we had taken the famous Golden Circle tour already, we focused this trip on enjoying the countryside. It did not disappoint! 

                                                       Lighthouse south of Reykjavik
The hardy Icelandic horse. It is illegal to import other horses into the country. 

Beautiful coastline 

Rural church 

Hakarl, or fermented shark meat, is viewed as a delicacy in Iceland. The shark is cured and then hung to dry and ferment for at least 4-5 months. I tried some with the traditional accompanying shot of brennivin, a local liquor known as Black Death, brewed from potato and flavored with caraway. As potent as the Black Death tasted, it was not quite strong enough to wash the ammonia flavor of fermented shark away. Like climbing Mt. Fuji, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Only a disturbed individual would do it again. 

A fascinating geographical feature may be visited in Iceland--the mid-Atlantic Ridge, which marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Iceland is the only country in the world where such a phenomena may be viewed. 

The export of codfish heads to Africa, where they are used in making soups, is big business in Iceland. Racks of dried heads are visible on drives through the countryside. 

Shipwrecks line the rugged coast south of the capitol. 

Below is an old wooden corral used by farmers to separate grazing sheep into pens denoting each owner's herd

Steam powers the country (see earlier post for details) and geysers are common

And....last but not least, our favorite hot dog stand in the world!!

                                                       Home of the tasty lamb hot dog!

A glimpse of the Northern Lights 

Iceland makes for a great visit on its own, or a convenient gateway to Europe. Friendly people, a unique landscape, and interesting food--always a fun combination! For a reliable taxi driver and a great guy, contact Ulfar Thor at 354-8973707.