Gratitude Friday: Living near the Lake

“I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva, – and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.”

– John Keats.

Living near Lake Geneva never gets old.    This Gratitude Friday, I echo John’s thoughts in my thankfulness for this beautiful body of water.     From a nice relaxing place to read or picnic, to summer sporting, to picturesque sunsets, we feel lucky we have gotten to live on this gem for the time we have.   While our apartment is a ten minute walk, it is still pretty cool to be so close.

Here are a few of our favorite shots we have captured of Lake Geneva:

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Bon weekend, everyone!

Eating our way through Belgium: Mussels

Mussels were a must do on our Belgium Foods lists.   It’s proximity to the North Sea makes them very accessible.   And, with the shellfish being the national dish of Belgium, we knew we should experience it at least once.

Delivery of mussels in Brussels

We ordered them as an appetizer at Flemish Pot to share as a group.   We had the mussels with wine, which also came steamed in onions, leeks, and basil.  They also offered beer to throw a spin on the traditional presentation, since it was Brugge.

The Flemish Pot. How cute is this restaurant?

The mussels were very fresh, but as a dish,  ranked average in my book.  It could just be that I am not a mussel-lover, nothing against Belgium.

our mussels

Does anyone else have an opinion – where are the best mussels found?  What do you look for in a good batch of mussels?

Eating our way through Belgium: Chocolate

I feel like I am cheating on Switzerland with my next comment.    Here goes…..

I think Belgian chocolate is better than Swiss chocolate.  

Now that I have said it, let me explain my reasons why.

#1 – I am not a fan of milk chocolate, which Switzerland admits is its best strength due to its amazing dairy cows.  Belgian dark is just….divine.

#2 – Belgian chocolate is more approachable.   I am nervous to go in Swiss chocolate shops in Geneva.  I have heard stories of them yelling at customers.  I am afraid my French won’t be right or I’ll “mess up”, all while shelling out 10 CHF for 2-3 pieces.   In Belgium, they couldn’t be happier to have our business.

At Dumon, they had over 100 chocolates under their counter, without names.   She happily walked us through every single one, while we indicated which ones we wanted to put in our box.    They also gave free samples of basic milk, white and dark, so you could set your preferences or decide if you liked all three.

One on one customer service

At Neuhaus, we explained our friend had recommended the “Caprice” wholeheartedly as her favorite chocolate in the world and that is why we made a pilgrimage to her store.  She talked us through all the options and even let us sample one of the fancy ones to see what we thought.  We ended up buying a few and Ferdinand got a Smurf box set for his sister’s birthday.

Neuhaus’ chocolates

#3 – They have fun with Belgian chocolate – from store layout to displays, its just more fun to shop.   There were storefront that made me blush with some of the displays they had.  At first we thought it was just one racy store.  But about 50% of them had a display which I cannot feature on this blog (we are PG-13 here).

Chocolate Duvel bottles

Milk chocolate mice.

Isabella exploring one of Brugge’s chocolate shops

#4 – They are everywhere.   Literally every third shop is a chocolate shop.  In Switzerland, there are many, but not as many as Belgium.

Chocolate windows are a dime a dozen in Belgium

#5 – More selection – tons more!

This guy is overwhelmed!

Candy-type chocolate

Great selection of pralines

Which truffle will I choose?

So those our my five reasons why I would rather have a box of Belgian chocolate anyday.

And…..If you’ll excuse me, I must run.   I’ll have to dodge the Swiss authorities who are now trying to usher me out of Switzerland…..

Eating our way through Belgium: Frites

I mentioned Gabe had to work in Belgium a lot.   And I didn’t understand some of his comments about it.   He would literally tire of fries (called frites in Europe).   “They come with EVERYTHING,” he would emphatically say after his weeks there, “sandwiches, main dishes, even omelets!!”   How could someone get tired of fries?

Well, I made it my mission in Belgium.

It wasn’t 5 minutes into our arrival that we were at a fry stand, ready to try.

Cones of fries. Ketchup is not common but whatevs.

Fries at the train station.

Fries at the little sandwich joint.  They most typically come with mayo here. Nasty. I went back and got Andalouse sauce which was recommended. Just okay in my book.  I like my ketchup.

During our dinner at Flemish pot, the waiter came by with an enormous bowl and flung the onto our plates.  They were apparently unlimited.

Why so many fries, you ask??

Well, fries or frites were actually invented in Belgium.    Not France.  So not sure why Americans call them French fries?     For a more entertaining recap of this delicacy, check out this Rick Steve’s videos with a Belgian friteur:

And yes, all of us did get sick of fries during our three days in Belgium!

Gratitude Friday: Belgian Beer

Waffles aren’t the only thing Belgium does well.
It is also known for its beer. There are approximately 178 breweries in Belgium and several of those breweries make beers that have been awarded the title of “Best Beer in the World “.  I am not a beer expert so I can’t provide support for any claim as to which is the best.  I do believe that I have consumed more than my fair share of beer in life though.  So take that into consideration when I tell you that I still look forward to traveling to Belgium (which I do for work often) for a good beer.

Belgium’s beer is so good they treat it like wine – special glasses and a table chiller

So while in Brugge, with Ferdinand and Isabella, we completed a taste test of what the country had to offer.  We sampled many delicious beers during our three days in Belgium but I wanted to share two of the highlights.

We were up for the challenge of taste-testing Belgium’s finest.

Halve Maan Brewery (Half Moon)

Halve Maan Brewery

The four of us visited the Brugge brewery and took the tour. Half moon is the only brewery stilling making beer inside of the city limits. The tour was interesting but our guide was hilarious and really made it special.

Rooftop of  Halve Maan

Round of Zots. Because Isabella was pregnant, we all had to drink her free beer too.

We tried two beers from Half Moon…Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik.  Straffe Hendrik was the crowd favorite and my personal favorite also.
Unfortunately, at 9% alcohol I had to limit my intake a bit.  Please don’t worry about my happiness though….I plan on having a few the next time I am in Belgium!
Cambrinus
 
This bar is located in central Brugge and has one of the most impressive beer menus I have ever seen.

Behind the bar at Cambrinus

Both the variety and quality of the beer served at Cambrinus was impressive.  Their menu actually intimidated me but luckily Ferdinand didn’t miss a beat.  He immediately asked the bartender for a suggestion.  That question lead us to Westvleteren 12.

Isabella with the menu. This is ALL beer.

A happy man

Westvleteren 12 is international renowned and is brewed by Trappist monks in a Belgian monastery.  Westvleteren has been awarded the title of “Best Beer in the World” on multiple occasions.  And let me say….the beer is delicious!  But don’t take my word for it.  Here are some other expert opinions….
“In my opinion, things are overhyped these days, everything is the best this or the best that.  When I tried Westvleteren 12, which is often regarded as the best beer in the world by beer nerds everywhere, it was everything it was said to be.  Perfect beer is what I would call it.”– JC –  
 
“I don’t have a distinguished palate.  I am not a beer connoisseur.  But even I could tell that Westvleteren was unlike any beer I had ever tasted.  It was such a diamond in the rough that I even went back the next day to have it again.  For the price of a 30 pack at Harris Teeter, the two bottles of Westvleteren I drank were worth every penny.” – Ferdinand –  
The production and availability of Westvleteren beer is very limited so we felt lucky to have the option to throw a few back.  I would highly suggest trying it if you have an opportunity.
Gezondheid  (cheers/health in Flemish)!

Related links:

http://www.ratebeer.com/RateBeerBest/bestbeers_012012.asp

Schwingen in Switzerland – Beer in Belgium,

Schwingen in Switzerland –  Kinds of Belgian Beers

Schwingen in Switzerland –   Belgian Trappist Beers

Eating our way through Belgium: Waffles

Everyone has heard of Belgian waffles.   Growing up, we had a special “Belgian waffle” mix instead of “regular waffle” mix.    I thought they were just slightly sweeter.

However, my husband has to travel to Belgium quite frequently for work.   Before our official move to Geneva, he lived in a hotel room in Ghent for about a month.   And he was able to taste some of Belgium’s best waffles.   He bragged about how delicious they were, a special formation of crunchy and light.  And best drowning in chocolate.

How much is that wafffffle in the window? The one with the chocolately trail?

He made me jealous enough that I added Belgium to my “must visit” list so I could try these waffles.   And, we finally made it, alongside Ferdinand & Isabella.

Isabella & I had one within our first 30 minutes of being in Brugge.   While the boys had beers, we preferred our calories covered in fruit.

Isabella’s waffle – chocolate & banana.

My waffle. Cherries & whipped cream.

And it continued the next morning.  You aren’t really supposed to order waffles for breakfast, but we wanted waffles no matter what time was ‘typical’.   For goodness sake, we were only staying in Brugge 36 hours.  There wasn’t any time to spare!

My breakfast waffle. Strawberries & cream.

Even with two under our belt, Gabe still protested we hadn’t had a real one yet.  We needed one off the street.   Studying the street vendors, I saw what he meant.   And doing so, I think I learned Belgium’s secret.   The batter is more like a hunk of dough than a liquified batter like we use back in the USA.

There is one of these on every corner.

Waffle batter is more like dough.

Waffle cone for her. A whole waffle with ice cream for him.

Isabella and I split one when we returned back to Brussels, from a little stand near Grand Place.   And we agree….street ones are the BEST!

In addition to fresh waffles, Belgium offered many beautiful packaged versions.  I am glad because when I start going through waffle withdrawal, I know it might be possible to order them online.

 

 

 

Brugge, Belgium

Belgium was the first city on our travels with Ferdinand & Isabella.    Brugge was our pick based on cuteness + the food factor.  In the coming days, I plan to divulge all of the best Belgian deliciousness, but today, I want to talk about how adorable Brugge is.

We see our fair share of adorable towns.  In a post from a few weeks ago, after a marathon tour of France, I noted that I might be having “cute town burnout”.  So, it takes a lot to impress us these days.   However;  fear no more faithful blog readers, Brugge definitely put a hault on the burnout and I was quickly snapping photos of this wonderful canal laden village.

Here is some evidence to prove it:

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Brugges’ historical center is a UNESCO site.  It’s height was from the 12th -15th century when it was a major trade route.  However, the water silted around 1500, and it lost its prized reputation to Antwerp (now known for diamonds).   Now it’s prize is tourism.  And pumping out waffles, frites, mussels, chocolate and beer.  Outside of diamonds, what more could you ask for?

Related links:

Schwingen in Switzerland: Why is Antwerp a center for diamonds?

The Clevelands’ Pad:  Trip Recap Part 3 – Brugge, Belgium