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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part six

We woke to cloudy skies and cool temperatures on Sunday morning. My German friend told me that “back home” in Wiesbaden, the temperatures were pretty high. But in Belgium, I had to put on a pair of pants. I’m glad I thought to bring them. Bill was wishing he’d brought a long sleeved shirt or a light jacket.

Because of the inclement weather, we ate breakfast inside the hotel’s breakfast room, instead of outside in the courtyard. We deliberately ate less, even though we were paying 30 euros per person to have breakfast. I was hoping to enjoy lunch somewhere interesting.

After breakfast, I did some writing, and then Bill and I walked to the Scheldt River, where we explored Het Steen, a castle like structure that now houses the tourist office, but was once used as a gatehouse and a prison. Het Steen is Antwerp’s oldest building, and it’s been used as a saw mill, residence, and museum. Until 2008, it was the site of the National Maritime Museum. According to a sign outside of Het Steen, a “striking detail above the Steen Gate is the Semini statue, an ancient fertility statue. The Jesuits maimed the statue in the sixteenth century, hacking off the penis.” I have to admit, I didn’t notice that!

More loud guys singing, pedaling, and drinking.

After we walked around Het Steen, we walked along a boardwalk next to the Scheldt River, then made our way back into the Grote Markt. On the way there, we encountered a processional of religious folks, led by a brass band! I managed to get a video!

Religious parade!

By the time the parade passed us, it was about time for lunch, at which point we soon found ourselves sitting outside at a restaurant called Elfde Gebod (The Holy Place), which is billed as Antwerp’s oldest and most reviewed restaurant. This is one place where I would have liked to dine inside, as it was very cozy and cute, with tons of religious relics and angels. Alas, we sat outside, where I was downwind of a smoker. About five minutes, later, we were joined by a group of twelve young men who were pretty rowdy. Some of them were smoking, and most were drinking Australian Rose wine. I got the sense it was a “fraternity” thing.

Elfde Gebod had a pretty good selection of beers, as well as comfort food. I love comfort food, so it was my kind of menu, and I had some trouble deciding what to have for lunch. I ended up having Apostle Fish Stew, which was a very nice concoction made of cod, mussels, and shrimp, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes, which went very well with the stew. It was more of a chowder than a stew, to me… and it reminded me of what I found in Dublin a few years ago. I loved it. Must be all that Celtic heritage I have.

Bill had rabbit stew, which came with excellent frites and mayo. I didn’t try his stew, because even though I’ve had rabbit before and it “tastes like chicken”, I’m not trying to develop a taste for other kinds of meat. It’s bad enough that Bill introduced me to duck, which I love. I ventured inside the restaurant to use the facilities and was surprised by how interesting it was inside. If we ever get back to Antwerp, I would definitely try to dine inside Elfde Gebod. The decor is something special.

As we were eating lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse. It started to rain. The restaurant staff turned on heaters, which was very welcome! By the time we finished lunch, it was time to find somewhere else indoors. I said I was in the mood to find a bar, listen to good music, and drink some exotic suds.

Bill suggested a cozy bar called Billie’s Bier Kaf├ętaria, which got great reviews on Google. That turned out to be a very successful stop. The bartender was a pretty young woman who knew her beers, and they were playing good music. In fact, I even downloaded an album as we were sitting there. I can see why Billie’s is a popular place. I would happily visit again, especially since the bar carries a lot of beers one will likely never find in Germany. I was particularly happy with the excellent Kriek (cherry beer) I had.

We didn’t feel like looking for dinner, so we stuck around Billie’s for a long time, and eventually ordered some snacks to tide us over through my very last night of being in my 40s. Then we went back to the hotel and turned on the TV… and it was TLC! We watched Dr. Pimple Popper, again in English with Dutch subtitles. Somehow, I didn’t throw up. I had forgotten how gross that show is!

Silliness at Billie’s! If you click the link, you can see the video.

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… Part two

When Bill made the hotel reservation, he mentioned it was my birthday. De Witte Lelie Hotel offers upgrades, when available, to those who book directly. Bill booked a Junior Suite. The next step up was, of course, the Presidential Suite. I’m not sure if anyone booked it. We were given Room 9, which is pictured on the hotel’s Web site. All of the rooms are individually decorated. Room 9 really is a very unique room, accessible by a couple of flights of stairs. Room 9 has gold wallpaper that made me feel like I was in a glass of champagne.

On the back wall, there was a sliding door decorated with flowers and multi-colored holograms. Inside the bathroom, there was a huge bathtub, shower, and turquoise blue tiling with silver and shiny multi-colored flecks. One wall was decorated with Marilyn Monroe wallpaper. Another had a huge tiled mosaic of flowers. Three glass fish hung from the ceiling over the tub. It was definitely the funkiest, most stylish hotel bathroom I’ve ever seen. The toiletries were Hermes, which I loved!

The room had a king sized bed, made up with a duvet and several comfortable pillows. We brought two of our own, just in case, but we would have been very safe leaving them at home. They don’t skimp on pillows at this hotel. The bed was VERY comfortable. I wish I had thought to ask who provides the mattresses to De Witte Lelie, since we both really liked the one in Room 9. There was air conditioning that worked well, and a complimentary minibar stocked with local beer, still and sparkling water, Coke, and juice. There was also candy and applies available if we had the munchies, but if we needed anything stronger, the reception was willing to bring drinks to the room. Or, we could have hung out in the courtyard and enjoyed libations there.

Since there was no restaurant at the hotel, we did decide to venture out for food. By sheer luck, we ended up at a very cool restaurant called Brewers’ Kitchen. Open only a year, this place focuses on dishes that use beer, and it’s run almost entirely by its chef and his girlfriend, who is, herself, very knowledgeable about beer. There were only two tables outside, and both were taken, so we sat by the window. That was actually a lucky thing, since we got quite an interesting show while we dined on innovative beer inspired cuisine…

But before I get into the side show, I want to write more about the restaurant. The chef/owner quit his job in 2017, got trained to be a chef and zythologist (beer sommelier). The restaurant has a small menu, and everything is made at the moment. I liked that, since everything on Friday night’s list of main dishes included mushrooms, and I don’t eat mushrooms. Since nothing was pre-mixed, the chef was able to make my dish without fungus. The chef only buys ingredients that come from within 40 kilometers of Antwerp, to include local beers from Belgium and the Netherlands. He also told us that he is interested in buying from farmers, brewers, and suppliers who respect the planet. Everything he presented was organic, and could be matched with a beer.

Bill and I went all in with the experience. The menu changes often, since it’s based on what is available. Most days, the chef has a meat, fish, and vegetarian dish. Vegan is possible if one makes a reservation and mentions a desire for vegan cuisine at the time of booking. Brewers’ Kitchen had no fish option on Friday, since there was an issue with their supplier. However, he did have lamb chops, which Bill loves. I went for the vegetarian option, roasted celery root, which I had never had before. I have to say, I found it surprisingly enjoyable. It might have been because there was a lot of butter in it! We prefaced the main courses with a starter of white asparagus with smoked fish and a poached egg.

After the main course, we both had dessert. Bill had a small warm cake with buttermilk ice cream, fresh strawberries, and salted chocolate caramel sauce. I had a Dame Blanche (white lady), which is vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. What made the desserts special, though, is that the ice cream was house made. The vanilla ice cream was actually made while we waited!

The whole time we were eating, there was some kind of party going on in the street. Next to the restaurant was a little art gallery of some sort. The chef’s girlfriend told us that Antwerp is a very artsy city, and there are a lot of young people who attend the university there. I was astonished by the fashion show going on… which she said was probably prompted by the local fashion institute. We saw all kinds of looks going on. Most of the people were very young and hip looking, although some wore clothes that looked like they were influenced by the 1970s. There were plenty of smokers and drinkers, which made me glad we were sitting inside. Still, it was fun to look at the styles they were wearing!

I see from their Web site that they also have an Air B&B apartment for rent. That may be why the chef asked where we were staying. He was very approving when we told him our hotel. Dinner came to about 134 euros, before the tip. We thought it was well worth the money. Bill paid with a credit card and we walked back to the hotel, where we enjoyed our first good night’s sleep. Until 4am, that is… more in part 3.

Below: scenes from our very short walk back to the hotel…

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Lunch at Momenti di Vita Italiani in Hofheim!

We had pleasant weather yesterday, so Bill and I decided to take a quick trip to the nearby city of Hofheim. I really just wanted a change of scenery, but it was also time for lunch. We parked at our usual venue, the indoor lot at the Chignon Centre, which is an indoor shopping mall. It was kind of weird walking through there maskless. A few people still wear masks indoors, but for the most part, that custom has been abandoned… at least temporarily.

We looked around at some of the places where we’ve previously dined, as well as places we’ve wanted to dine, finally ending up at Momenti di Vita Italiani. This restaurant is right in the middle of the town, along the main drag. Though there weren’t a lot of people sitting inside the restaurant, the outside area was bustling. In retrospect, we probably should have eaten inside, if only to avoid the smokers and flies. But at least we could people and dog watch, which I did.

This restaurant has a very extensive menu. They had specials on a large easel, as well as on a smaller one on the table, plus they had the usual pizzas, pasta dishes, and Italian dishes found at most Italian eateries in Germany. Bill and I both decided on specials that were on the smaller, table easel. He had a glass of Pinot Grigio, while I had a Lugano to go with my dorade filet with wild garlic and asparagus pesto. Bill had linguini with sundried tomatoes, black olives, and mascarpone cheese.

Near us was a large table of English speakers. It sounded like three Brits and an American. They were talking about politics. Across from my was a couple who brought their two dogs. One was a very sweet and well-behaved Bulldog. The other looked like a very fit Rhodesian Ridgeback, who was barking at every dog who passed. We spent a couple hours on our leisurely lunch, and spent about 60 euros with the tip.

Below are some photos from our brief outing. It was brief, because the dogs weren’t that pleased that we were going out, but sometimes, I need to get out of the house without the dogs for my mental well-being.

I asked Bill to take the “back way” home, rather than the Autobahn. I like to be reminded that there are some pretty areas near us. Thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t explored this area as much as we should have by now. I’ve been wanting to go on some weekend outings, like we did in Stuttgart. Hopefully, we’ll get around to that again, soon.

I’m not sure what we’ll do today. It’s a bit cloudy outside. I might just give the dogs much needed baths and work on reading my latest book. I’m glad we managed to get out yesterday, though. It’s always a pleasure to visit Hofheim. We should do it more often.

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Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part ten

We want some wine!!!

Friday morning, after breakfast, we made our way back to the center of Florence with no specific plans for the day. We were scheduled to meet Tom, our guide, at 6:30pm at Santa Croce plaza. From there, we would go to a restaurant owned by friends of his and taste our first of many wines. Then, we’d have that Bistecca alla Fiorentina we’d been seeing for the past couple of days. But what to do for the rest of the day? Well, we did what we always seem to do when we travel, especially during a pandemic. We wandered around, people watched, and ate. Below are some more photos from Friday.

Near the Ponte Vecchio, we were in a narrow alleyway, where we were greeted by a “friendly” Italian man who saw us looking at menus and told us his place was opening in twenty minutes. I was more open to taking him up on his welcome than Bill was. Bill was put off by the guy for some reason. I guess he doesn’t like being approached. Neither do I, but I’m somewhat less reluctant than he is.

Unfortunately, after that encounter with the local, it took us awhile to settle on a lunch venue. We wandered around several places and considered dining at one place, only to change our minds when we saw a woman send back an obviously underdone pizza (horrors!). There was an Irish pub that looked inviting, with its many fried options… Sadly, I am a big fan of fried food.

We did eventually find a really great local restaurant for lunch, Osteria Cipolla Rossa (red onion). And we found it just as I was about to give in to the pull of the tourist traps! We got to Osteria Cipolla Rossa at just the right time. There weren’t many people in the place when we arrived. But, by the time we ordered our food, the restaurant filled up with many locals. Bill had a wonderful vegetarian dish of homemade fettuccine with crushed pistachio nuts, mint, and Mediterranean vegetables. It was unique and interesting. And I had chargrilled chicken breast with roasted potatoes. The chicken was tender, juicy, and very flavorful. When Bill tasted it, he had a look on his face that he usually only has when he’s mid orgasm. Sadly, I haven’t seen that face as often as I used to. I know… I know… TMI.

More buskers. Bill gave them some euros.

By the time evening rolled around, we had walked several miles. My feet were killing me. But we had to walk back to Santa Croce to meet up with our wine group. I was curious about who would be attending the tour with us and how large the group would be. We saw Tom De Vries of Sommeliers Choices waving at us from across the square, so we made our way over there to meet Shawna and John, a married couple, and Heather, a married mom of two who came by herself. All three were Americans who live and work in the Stuttgart military community, as Bill and I used to. I think Tom does more business with the Stuttgart community, though he’s also in my Facebook group, which started out being Stuttgart based, and is now more Wiesbaden centric because I live in Wiesbaden.

To be honest, I’ve often regretted starting that wine group. As I wrote at the beginning of this series, I was actually reluctant to do this tour, because I am not good at being in groups. I’m probably even worse at leading them! But… I can’t deny that it has led to some fun travel and food experiences, like this tour we did over the weekend. We did have some lovely experiences on the very brief, but intense, tour with Tom. I got lots of beautiful photos, drank some beautiful wines from small, family owned wineries, met new people and dogs, and found some places Bill and I might try to visit on our own at some point.

Below are some photos from Friday night’s dinner and tasting at Francesco Vini in Florence. The restaurant was really interesting, especially with the cool “bunker” basement, where we did our tasting. Tom says he does a lot of tastings in the cellar.