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Turning 50 in Antwerp… Part four

One thing I noticed and really liked about Antwerp is that there’s a huge variety of different types of food available there. Yes, you can find the usual Belgian inspired cuisine, with croquettes, frites, and waffles, but there are also more exotic choices. There’s plenty of Italian food, Spanish food, Greek food, Asian food, and even some fun fusion, like Peruvian-Japanese! For lunch on Saturday, we found our way to an Israeli place called Shuk. Bill and I actually ended up eating on the backside of the restaurant. The front side was facing the street we’d need to cross to get back to our hotel. It was super close!

The weather was very hot and sunny on Saturday, so the first thing we did when we sat down was order lemonade. I had a mint lemonade, and Bill had pomegranate lemonade, plus we had a large bottle of sparkling water. For lunch, I had Za’atar chicken hummus, which came with pita bread, red onions, pickles, and tomatoes. Bill had a chicken schnitzel sandwich. Of all the places we ate during our visit to Antwerp, I think I might have enjoyed the food at Shuk the best. It was very fresh, wholesome, and interesting. Service was also good; our waitresses all spoke perfect English (as did many of the people we encountered) and they were prompt about delivering the food. I’m actually remembering that lunch at Shuk and wishing I could repeat it today. We had beer for dessert, too, although they had some tempting choices for real desserts.

Shuk’s menu offered a lot of healthy options, and would have been a good stop for vegetarians or vegans. I actually felt really good about eating there. If we ever get back to Antwerp, I’d make a point of stopping there again. I think we spent about 60 euros.

After lunch, the temperature seemed to get more extreme, so we headed back to the hotel for a rest. Bill took a nap, while I did some writing, then ended up having to chat with USAA because they erroneously put a fraud alert on my credit card. I was trying to update a subscription to Internet security, of all things, and it tripped their security system. It was irritating to have to contact USAA, but I was actually glad to have the option. I would rather wait to chat than sit on the phone, listening to their God awful hold music from Hell.

As the weather got cooler, we decided to go back into the city to see what was going on. As I mentioned in part 3, there was some sort of festival going on in the Grote Markt with radio DJs playing music, lots of dancing, drinking, and merry making. We did ask two people at the hotel if they knew what the festival was about. Neither seemed to know, although it was totally free of charge to walk through and listen to the music.

There was much merriment in the market square!
I felt like dancing.

We mostly just walked around and people watched for awhile, until it got closer to dinner time, which we enjoyed at a Greek restaurant called Griekse Taverne. Again, we entered the back way, and sat inside, instead of in the huge outdoor area. Neither of us were really hungry, but Saturdays can be crazy, especially when a fest is going on. So we decided to go ahead and have dinner, just to be sure we got it before the hour got too late. The downtown area was really slammed with people!

We enjoyed the food at the Greek place, although the servers were pretty “weeded” and we kind of got forgotten sitting inside. The outdoor terrace was really hopping. Our waiter looked like a Greek God, though…

We did more people watching after dinner, watching many Belgian youths play basketball as we sipped Omer beers. As the sun went down, we headed back to the Grote Markt, where things were really wild. We thought about sticking around for some of the party, then heading back to the hotel for bed, but then I spotted the piano bar. More on that in part five.

More music!
It’s good that we didn’t have a hotel room there!

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Labor Day weekend in lovely Lesa, Italy on Lake Maggiore… Part two

Saturday morning, we woke to rain.  I didn’t mind, since we’ve had a pretty dry summer up here in Germany.  I’ve kind of been missing overcast days.  I usually feel more creative when it rains.  I hadn’t seen Bill all week and was kind of looking forward to just hanging out with him.  I was also feeling inspired to do some writing.  Bill went to the market to get provisions for breakfast while I got to work on my main blog.

Italy’s croissants are kind of different.  I don’t even think they call them croissants.  Down there, they’re called cornetti.  The ones Bill got were slightly sweet.  Cornetti look much like croissants do, but aren’t really the same and they are probably the one food I like somewhat less, probably because they contain less butter than typical croissants do.  On the other hand, my love for these traditional rolls go up when they are filled with something.  Last time we visited Italy, Bill found some that were full of custard.  That just made my fat cells sing like it was Christmas time!  Sadly, this time, the cornetti were empty.

My husband is a creature of habit when it comes to a lot of things.  For some reason, when we take these trips, no matter where we are, he gets croissants (or cornetti), eggs, and whatever the local ham and cheese is.  He fries me an egg, scrambles himself one, and serves me orange juice and coffee.  Bill eats the cheese, while I enjoy a little ham.  The dogs beg for a bite.  Then we usually decide what we’re going to do with the day.  On Saturday, due to the rain, we weren’t motivated to hurry.

Ferry stop.

 

A few shots of the tiny downtown…

 

In Lesa, you can pay five euro cents and fill your own bottle with fresh water.  We also noticed a vending machine outside of the local pharmacy, probably stocked with condoms, aspirin, and the like.

Since it was raining and Lesa isn’t exactly a metropolis, we decided our big event of the day would be lunch in “town”, as it were.  The little village of Lesa doesn’t consist of much, but it’s between a couple of larger towns.  For instance, Arona, is a bigger town maybe ten minutes away.  If we’d wanted to, we could have gone there.  But I had seen pictures of Lesa on Google and wanted to see it.  We ended up having lunch at a restaurant called Il Rapanello.  Looking on Trip Advisor, I see this place gets rather mixed reviews.  Many people comment that the food is good, but the service is hit or miss.  When we approached to inquire about lunch, we were told that they only serve fish.  I love fish, so that was fine with me.  We went in and had a seat.

Below are some pictures from our big Saturday lunch… the first decent food I’d had in a week, since I tend to be lazy about cooking when Bill goes away.

The unassuming front of the restaurant.  On nice days, you can cross the street and dine outside by the lake.

 

Obligatory shot of Bill after he chose wine for us.  He had help from the waiter, who also appeared to be the proprietor.  The guy spoke excellent English and warmed up to us after I told him he had served me the best meal I’d had in a long time.  

 

A nice local dry white… 

 

And some homemade focaccia.

 

While we were waiting for our food, I noticed there was a face on the exhaust pipe of the heater.  The waiter told me it was Miles Davis, which I never would have guessed. Obviously, it was done on purpose, but at first I wondered if maybe the face was born out of luck.

 

I was really enjoying the music they were playing in the restaurant.  It started with Dire Straits and proceeded to Santana and then, of all people, John Denver.  Actually, I think they really must have liked Mr. Denver, since they played several songs in a row by him.  I knew Germans are partial to John Denver, but apparently he is missed in Italy, too.  I didn’t mind at all.  I would much rather listen to him than Euro trash dance music that usually plays nowadays.

I ordered the fish of the day, which was “sea bass”, otherwise known as branzino or Wolfbarsch.  It was cooked in cellophane and served with watercress, cherry tomatoes, roasted potatoes, capers, and olives…

Sans plastic…  this was so good!  My tastebuds came alive at the taste of the fresh fish, cooked to perfection and not at all dry.  

Bill had rare tuna served with caramelized onions, salted potatoes, and balsamic vinegar.  He usually doesn’t go for anything with onions, but these were very sweet.  Later, I could still smell the onions, but they were so good it was worth it.

They aren’t lying when they say they only have fish at Il Rapanello.  If you don’t like fish, your best bet is to go somewhere else.  I did spot one couple enjoying mussels and clams served with gnocchi.  You can only get that for two or more people.

We decided to have dessert.  Bill had panna cotta with berry sauce.  It was extremely fresh, like the milk that went to make it had just come from the cow.

I had “chocolate bread”.  That was how the waiter described it.  It was like a bread made of chocolate and served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Then we had espresso, pour straight from the pot.

 

Total damage for our sumptuous feast was about 80 euros.  Afterwards, we headed to the grocery store to pick up provisions for the evening.

Not a big store, but well stocked with good food and serviced by a friendly staff.

 

When we parked, Bill showed me the “souvenir” he picked up in Italy.  Apparently, he was trying to turn around and had a run in with a cement planter.  Fortunately, our car is almost 13 years old and due to be replaced once Bill gets his next job offer. 

I notice this is a common problem in Italy.  This car was parked next to ours and similarly defiled.

Buy produce or grow your own!

They wrap the bananas at that store…

Mozzarella goes with wine!

And anchovies and sausage do, too.

 

We got back to the Rose Apartment at about 4:00, just in time to feed the boys their dinner.  While they were eating, we got a visit from the Jack Russell terrier next door.  He was friendly, but he got Zane and Arran excited.  I guess there is a small hole in the fence somewhere.  Because the weather didn’t improve, we decided to stay in and watch TV… namely, The Handmaid’s Tale.  I have already seen all of the episodes so far, but Bill hadn’t.  I had talked about it and he was interested… and sure enough, he quickly got hooked.  So we spent a not so peaceful Saturday evening watching a show about a dystopian version of America.  To be honest, as fascinating as that show is, it gives me nightmares.  However, it also inspires me.

Below are a few more pictures of Lesa as it was on Saturday.  We had better weather Sunday.

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Farm fresh!

A lot of folks like to live close to the big city, where restaurants, shopping, and night life are plentiful.  Bill and I are big fans of country living.  We like wide open spaces, peace and quiet, and beautiful views.  Another benefit to living outside of the city is the availability of excellent local produce.  We have the good fortune of living near several farms, many of which sell fresh milk, eggs, and vegetables.  Today, we decided to stop by a couple of farms to see how self serve shopping at farms works.

I almost wish I liked carving jack o’ lanterns.

If you’ve spent any time in Germany, you have no doubt seen the self service fields where you can cut your own flowers or buy a pumpkin.  The self serve farms are no different.  Our first stop was at a farm where eggs, onions, and potatoes are consistently offered.  Right now, they’re also selling lots of pumpkins and other gourds!

Pumpkins!

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the pretty landscape.  Our house is within walking distance, though we brought the car.

 

I was surprised by how many people pulled up while we were checking out the goods.  This particular farm just had a little room with stuff on the shelves.  You’re on your honor to pay the self serve cash box (Kasse).

We bought eggs, an onion, and a big bag of potatoes.  The eggs, by the way, have not been subjected to the egg wash that American eggs get.  Therefore, there is no need to refrigerate them as we would in the USA.  They are shelf stable until mid November.

Grand total– five euros and forty cents.

Potatoes!  We’ll be set for awhile.

They always have eggs, potatoes, and onions, as well as other items when they are in season.  I noticed they had carrots, garlic, and a big leek on offer today. 

It helps to bring your own bag.

This farm also has a flower field where you can score sunflowers or other flowers. 

 

Next, we went to another farm where one can purchase fresh, ice cold, raw milk 24/7.  We had a glass bottle from another trip to the machine in town (where the milk is pasteurized).  Bill ran our bottle through the dishwasher so it would be nice and sterile.

Truth in advertising.  No need to ever go without milk because you can get it 24/7 here.  

But if we had needed to, we could have purchased a bottle at the farm.  A liter of raw milk costs a euro.  We will boil it before we drink it.

 

Bill buys raw milk and lentils from vending machines.  Edited to add: a German friend says we should take care to make sure the lentils are free of stones before we eat them.

This farm was also selling lots of pumpkins and squash. 

 

We decided to go into town to see what was being sold at the vending machine on the main drag.  This machine sells pasteurized milk, noodles, lentils, apple juice, and potatoes.

We decided to get some lentils.  On the way home, I spotted another vending machine that Bill had never noticed.  We didn’t check it out,because it looked like it might be low on products.

Our haul today.  We spent 11,40 euros.

 

We don’t do farm shopping nearly as often as we should.  I think now that we’ve done it today, we will do it a lot more often.  I feel good about supporting the local economy and I know we’re getting excellent products.  Better yet, now I know vending machines aren’t just for candy and soda anymore.

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