Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Today began with cooking. We made chicken paprika, courtesy Delia, for our guests' enjoyment. IH even found some real Hungarian paprika in the spice cupboard - a gift from a well travelled friend. When all was done, we decided to spend the afternoon in Scheveningen. It was a beautiful day - much too lovely to stay indoors.
This time we took the bus up and got off by the Kuurhaus. From here it is a short stroll down to the Boulevard and the beach cafes, hustle and bustle that epitomise this jolly seaside resort.
IH had a plan to show us the 'Sprookjes beelden' on the specially constructed terrace outside Museum Beelden aan Zee. These are just delightful, and we enjoyed finding the tiny curious people that seemed to pop up all over the exhibit. But it was very warm this afternoon and the temptation to buy ice-creams was too great and three two scoop cornets soon found their way into our hands! We ate these strolling back along the promenade and eventually caught the bus back to the flat.
We quickly had things on the go for the guests that would be soon arriving. And when they did, it was great to see so many old friends. We had plenty of catching up to do, and everyone enjoyed gossiping over our typically Dutch starter of smoked eel and salmon and Hollandse garnalen (little local shrimps), followed by our chicken paprika with noodles and salad. T had brought a pavlova for dessert and coffee followed, so it was a fine feast in fine company.

Tom Otterness
Sprookjes Beelden

Monday, August 24, 2009

Days in The Hague

We arrived yesterday and were so happy to be back in what was our home for fifteen years, on and off! Our hostess suggested a walk into town via the Hoytemaplein, area of many a shopping expedition. Then we walked on into The Hague where we discovered the tribute to Gustav Vigeland, the celebrated sculptor who features in Oslo's Frognor Park. This has been sculpted in sand and the artists hope it will last long enough to set European records. We had coffee at a traditional Dutch Cafe, Restaurant 'T Goude Hooft, before catching the No 1 tram. This is the best tram in The Hague (No 1!) as it takes you to Scheveningen one way and to Delft, our destination, in the opposite direction.

Delft was hopping with students undergoing their initiation at the start of the new university year - such vigour and vitality and noise!! We found a wonderful restaurant for lunch with an 'al fresco' part on a barge. Kleyweg's Stads-koffyhuis had won the best sandwich of the year award. This was delicious with a cold beer. Then we walked around Delft, enjoying the bustle and seeing some typical Delft views along the canals. We even popped in to see the amazing ceiling at the back of the Royal Delft porcelein shop. But then it was time to go back to The Hague by tram. We had shopping to do for the dinner tomorrow for some of the old Bridge crowd.

Albert Hein provided most of the required ingredients, so we were fine pleased with the purchases and stowed them all away to await our culinary efforts. Now we needed to change for our treat - dinner at Lemongrass, an excellent fish restaurant at Scheveningen Harbour. This has been a wonderful meal - all fish as you can see, and despite the strange label, the chablis lived up to expectations. Altogether, a really lovely day.

Stads-koffyhuis, Delft
Lemongrass, Scheveningen

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Giverny Day

Today we visited Giverny where Monet had his house and beautiful garden. This includes the famous lily pond that he immortalised in his paintings. The day promised to be very hot, but we set off early with plenty of water in the car, and cameras with all accessories polished and ready for use.
The journey was about an hour and a half, and we drove through some lovely rolling French landscapes into Normandy where the village is situated. We were not a moment too soon as the queue to enter the estate was fairly long - or so we thought. Nevertheless, we soon bought our tickets and walked through the shop, that was once the studio where Monet painted his largest canvasses, out into the garden.
At this time of year the flower beds are a riot of colour with dahlias and sunflowers vying to be queen of flamboyance. Banks of impatiens in red and white resembled huge mounds of strawberries and cream, and delicate bell flowers wafted in a tiny breath of air. Despite the many visitors we had plenty of time for photographs and to appreciate the sheer exuberance of the planting.
Our path took us to the under road passage to the Japanese water garden. Here it was cool under the tall trees, and we followed a path around the periphery of this area, getting tantalising glimpses of the water. At last we were led round to the bridge at one end of the lily pond, although it is more like a small lake, and there in front of us the lilies pushed their lovely flowers up above the sea of lily pads floating on the water.
After we had taken many photos we made our way back to the tunnel and the main garden, strolling up the avenues of flowers towards the house. Here we went in and saw where Monet lived. We were surprised and delighted to see his collection of Japanese prints. These treasures are hand-printed from wood blocks and represent the life of the "floating world" of geishas, Kabuki actors and pleasure houses of the 18th and 19th century in Tokyo that was known as Edo at that time. The collection includes works by Utagawa Hiroshige, Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro.There are also battle scenes; pictures of Westerners; and sketches of animals and the ordinary people of Japan. All are said to have influenced his work and the movement he was part of, The Impressionists.
By now, the men were getting hungry, so we bought our postcards and left Monet's house and garden to find a suitable hostelry. The queue had grown enormously while we had been inside, so we were lucky to have arrived when we did. We found a cafe with a terrace covered with sun brollies and ordered tartines and refreshing drinks before driving back to Margency.

In the evening we had a treat in store - a meal of galettes bretonnes (special buckwheat pancakes filled with ham, egg and a little cheese) and crepes bretonnes (dessert crepes served with sugar or in our case, Nutella) accompanied with Breton cider. What culinary delights around the family table!
Recipe for galettes bretonnes

Friday, August 14, 2009

Day out in Paris

We drove into Paris and S parked the car in the St Germain area. Our first stop was to see the Jardin du Luxembourg. This is a garden of about 22.5 hectares and is the garden of the Luxembourg Palace which houses the Senate of the French Government. It is a lovely peaceful green space amid the bustle of the busy city. We entered in the south west corner and looked across to colourful flowerbeds and sculptures. There are over a hundred sculptures in the park, including a series of twenty or more French queens and famous French women. Just to our left we found the Apiary School with its wonderful beehives, all behind a fence for everyone's safety. Huge trees shaded us from the sun which was already beating down, and we could see many Parisiennes taking advantage of the many seats scattered under the trees, reading their newspapers. We walked along curving paths, and came upon the area where the Orchard School has its orchard of espaliered fruit trees protected from the birds - and maybe the public - by fine netting. The pears and apples were ripening in their dozens on the specially trained branches.
Now we took a turn to the centre of the garden, passing the little creperie kiosk and seeing some of the statues of the French queens as we walked down to the pond. Lots of people were sitting in the sun, enjoying the beautiful weather. We walked diagonally across this area and down towards the Palace, making our way to the Medici Fountain - a popular tourist feature and glimpsing the Pantheon on the way.
We left the garden and S lead us on an interesting route through the small streets of the St Germain area. Here we passed some lovely, interesting boutiques as well as churches and old inns. Down one narrow street we came across the oldest cafe in Paris Le Procope, dating from 1686. It leans a little into the street, but otherwise is still looking in excellent shape. It claims Voltaire, Danton, Robespierre, Marat, Molière, Diderot and Benjamin Franklin among its illustrious patrons. The name comes from its founder, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli.
Our aim was to arrive at a very special place for lunch, and suddenly we saw the first sign directing us down another side street. We followed this and some way along there was our destination on the corner.
We planned to visit the famous tea emporium of Mariage Freres where the most exotic tea is sold. D and S rave about it and we have been treated to the Bolero tea, which is delicious. Rows of different teas in tins greet you as you enter. These you can sniff so as to choose your favourite. There are green, grey, blue, red and black teas with various additional flavours - anything from a whole range of herbs, spices, fruits and flowers. But before we got too carried away, we were due upstairs for a little lunch accompanied by tea, of course. Everything was beautifully served at our table by an open window and we all chose different teas - Bannockburn for the Scotsman, Sweet Shanghai for me, Festin D'Or for S and Gold Himalaya for D. After various savoury plates, we shared scones and muffins, then there was a choice from the dessert chariot, which I just couldn't manage - but no worries, take a cake home in a bag, instead! We then went downstairs and chose some tea to take home.

S and I had an appointment with the dressmaker, so headed off leaving the men to sort out the business of paying. We would be in touch by mobile to meet up again a couple of hours later. When we did, they were very chuffed to have found another cake shop from D's book, Laduree. So we had to go and look at it, and then had to buy some of their signature macaroons to take back to Margencey. Time was getting on, so we now took the Metro to see the Louvre and its glass pyramid. A had never seen it before, so he was very interested. No time to queue to go in, so we walked around it, then found a street cafe for some drinks - water and coffee. Then we walked down to the Seine and along the embankment, looking over to spot the people enjoying the Paris Plage on the Voie Georges Pompidou. We crossed the river on to Ile de la Cite, and walked through the streets to have a look at Notre Dame Cathedral. Again, the queue to go inside was enormous, so after a couple of photos, we found our way to the Metro and took a train back to where the car was parked. S drove us back to Margencey with our parcels.
Here we met the rest of the family before we went out to dinner at Hotel Du Lac, Enghien Les Bains. We sat on the terrace and dined on delicious food and wine in great company, as the sun set.

Info about Mariage Freres