Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Neuhaus

From Brussels, we continued our road trip to Frankfurt via Cologne. As I was walking towards the Cologne Dome, I was awe struck by its size and beauty. Even though its surrounding was destroyed during WWII, the cathedral was left intact. Once inside, the carved high ceilings and the stained glass windows definitely left a lasting impression on me. It was wall after wall of beautiful art. The largest and certainly one of the most beautiful cathedral I've ever seen in my life.

Exterior of Cologne Dome

                                                      Interior of Cologne Dome
              Stained glass windows- I could spend hours staring at the different window designs

From Cologne, we moved on to Frankfurt where my husband was supposed to meet an old high school friend. Unfortunately, the friend came down with stomach flu and was unable to meet us for dinner. After checking into our hotel and taking a nap (due to jet lag), we ventured out to the local residential area for an authentic German meal as recommended by the hotel's concierge. While at the restaurant (Zur Schonen Mullerins), we met a very nice local family who had just finished their road trip to western USA. Of course, we shared with each other stories of the two countries. Along the way, they introduced to us the foods they'd order whenever they frequent this restaurant. We were not disappointed. We didn't do much sightseeing in Frankfurt as it was our 2nd day in Europe and the jet lag bug won't leave us alone- we're sleepy all day long.

Apple wine- must try. I must say it's an acquired taste. Smooth and sour with a hint of sweetness. Less gassy than beer. Still very good. By the end of dinner, I had preferred apple wine to beer.

Hand cheese in vinegar and onion. Spread the butter and cheese on the bread and it's an interesting appetizer. Taste was fine with fruit candy like texture.
Roast beef salad with green sauce- aromatic sauce made up of yogurt with 7 herbs
Hard boiled eggs with green sauce and potatoes
Pork knuckle with sauerkraut. Best part was the skin- must eat it with the sauerkraut. The flavors melded together so well that they created an explosive sensation in your mouth.

                                   Residential street in Frankfurt- clean, organized and peaceful

                                             One of the many bridges in Frankfurt

Romerberg- interesting square with reconstructed half timber houses based on houses originating from the 15th or 16th century
                                                                Fountain of Justice
                                         Gelato with mixed fruits-prefer simple gelato by itself
Gelato with nuts, praline and caramel.

Next up was Heidelberg but that's another post. Moving along we got to Nuremberg on the 3rd day of our road trip. This is the place where I originally wanted to show my kids the history of WWII, the Third Reich and the Nazi Party. Unfortunately, we arrived 40 min before closing time and the ticket lady at the entrance was adamant at denying us entry into the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds. "You don't have time", she kept saying. With that, we changed plans. Drove around the corner to Zeppelin Field where Hitler once stood at the podium delivering speeches for the Nazi Party rallies.  Drove by the Nuremberg castle but was unable to find a parking spot. Decided to head into town for their famous Nuremberg sausages for dinner at Zur Gulden Stern.

Zur Gulden Stern- not sure how old the restaurant was but this building that houses the restaurant was built in 1419. Looks good for a 700 year old building. 
                        Liver dumpling soup- no offense to anyone but it tasted a bit like dog food.
                                      Potato soup- better than the liver dumpling soup
                       Pork medallions- tender and juicy, way better than their Nuremberg sausages
Nuremberg sausages- ordinary but we've the best apple strudel here.

After Nuremberg, we stayed the night at Burg Veldenstein in Neuhaus-Pegnitz. A castle about  40 minutes away from Nuremberg, tucked in a little hill of its own next to Pegnitz River. My kids had fun exploring the castle ground. So many doors to open and look inside as well as holes in the walls to peek outside. We had fun climbing the interior staircase of the castle tower for a panoramic view of the town. The rooms were large and airy with outdated bathroom amenities. As expected, since the castle is a thousand year old. It feels good to sleep with the windows open at night. Very tranquil.  The castle manager and his daughter were one of the nicest people we met on this road trip. The daughter helped us print out google maps for our next destination, Prague, as our GPS did not provide maps for Czech Republic.

Driving up the hill, we were met with this stunning view of the castle. I have to say the photo did not do it justice.
                               Amazing morning view out of our room- so calm and serene.
Another charming view of the town
The castle wall and the road view below.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels happened to be our beginning and ending city of our 12 days European road trip. We had reserved for an automatic compact car at the airport from Avis. At the pickup counter, we were told all they had was an automatic economy which would not fit all of us plus the luggages. We're thinking we paid for the compact and yet we're getting an economy? The lady at the counter said in hard to understand English that Avis only have one price category for all automatic cars. The car you get depends on their availability and there's no guarantee that it's the type that was reserved. This didn't make sense to us and we protested. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang saying a compact car had just came in and it's ours. Thank goodness for that.
After we picked up the car and armed with google maps print out, we headed to our hotel. What should've been a 20 min car ride took us over an hour. We had no problem getting into the city, it's trying to figure out the city streets that we had a hard time with. It's so easy to miss the street signs painted on the building walls. Some streets were either blocked, one way, short, narrow or windy. After circling around for 30 minutes and asking numerous people for directions and going nowhere, we decided we had to find a photo place to buy an European GPS device for 90 euros, still cheaper than renting from Avis. That GPS, Serena, was my best friend for 12 days. Without her, this road trip would've been a nightmare.

                                                               This is Serena!
Roll past the initial glitch in our road trip, Brussels is the city of Belgian waffles, fries, mussels, Manneken Pis, chocolates, laces, Grand Place, St Michael and Gudula Cathedral, St Catherine's Cathedral, St Catherine's Place and Royal galleries of St. Hubert, just to name a few. Feels like a kid around  Brussels with so many chocolate, candy, nougats, cookies and pastries stores- the aromas and colors make them so irresistible. I was ducking in and out of these stores to buy a little of this and that just to curb my sweet tooth.
Not forgetting its local muenster cheese which actually tastes better than its smell (like stinky tofu) and look. The cheese was bought at a local cheese shop. I left it in my handbag while I was sight-seeing and forgot all about it. I kept getting this funky smell everywhere I walked. I said to my husband, " Why does Brussels stink everywhere I go?" My better half replied, " It must be the "pee boy"- Mannekin Pis. He must be pissing around." At the end of the day, the smell followed me back to the hotel. Upon dumping out all the contents of my handbag, we finally realised where the smell came from.  Needless to say, my kids thought that was one of the most hilarious thing of the trip.

Square in front of our hotel- one block from the Grand Place. We parked our car and walked. Had a great time exploring the surrounding areas.
Royal galleries of St. Hubert- indoor pedestrian walk
Grand Place- definitely spend some time here admiring the beautiful structures and people watching.
Grand Place- wish we had more time here
St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral
Gothic carvings at St Michael and Gudula Cathedral
St Catherine's Cathedral at St Catherine's Place- lots of restaurants in this area
Macarons- had better ones at Sprungli's in Zurich
Mussels in celery and white wine broth- ordinary, forgettable
One euro waffles and chocolate manneken pis- just a few steps away from the real statue
Colorful fruit candies- so pretty
                                                      Bags of gold- sweet pastries

So many goodies, so little time and tummy space

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

No smile service, what's up with that?

The idea of going on a 12 days road trip in Europe sounded very adventurous and exciting when we're planning it 5 months ago.Unfortunately, a bad experience at one of its older restaurant (C. Leon in Brussels) sets off a series of bad services for the rest of our European trip. Their wait persons' attitude were pretty much do as we said or no service at all.  It's either you order our set menus or certain amount of dishes, otherwise don't eat here. This kind of attitude was particularly obvious in Brussels and Luxembourg City.  By the third day in Europe, my children had come to expect bad services at the restaurants that we ate.

Since we were short on time, we ate when and where it was convenient. Half of the time we ended up in a restaurant in the tourists spots. I know restaurants in these touristy areas should be avoided but, due to jet lag, new in town and time constraint, we just had to make do with the choices that we had.

Most of the time we were not greeted by the wait staff. We're not talking about packed busy restaurants here. If we asked them if we could seat ourselves, they'd shrug their shoulders with their long faces and gave us the "whatever, don't bother me" look. After we seat ourselves, sometimes the menus were on the table. If not, good luck waving down the wait persons to bring the menus or take down our orders which was the case with the Hotel F. Cafe in Luxembourg City. We had to walk out of that restaurant after having sat there for 20 minutes being ignored by the wait persons. At first we thought maybe it's the language barrier since we don't speak their language. But, that's not the case as we found out later they do speak good English and understood us perfectly.

Having been a waitress myself for 4 years, I know what courteous service should be. It's frustrating to spend money and get arrogant services with mediocre food. They know we're travelling and most likely we will not frequent their restaurants again. But, still there should be a certain amount of courtesy extended to people visiting your countries. Of all the places we've visited around the world, its the people that made our travelling experiences memorable and made us want to go back again. It didn't matter how beautiful their cities were if common courtesy wasn't in place. Too bad, really.