January 30, 2010

A Home Exchange to Portugal

Oh how I love home exchanging!!!

On November 20th 2009 I received an inquiry for a home exchange from a family in Portugal. It was actually a quite desperate one as they had an exchange confirmed with some other people here in Las Vegas, but ended up cancelling the exchange just a few days earlier.

So lucky for me, the family from Portugal contacted me through "HomeExchange.com" after reading my listing and took the chance that I would be able to do this exchange on such short notice.

Of course I can!!! Why? Because they wanted to come to Las Vegas on December 27th and stay until January 4th. And if you have been following this blog and read my last post, you know that I would be leaving Las Vegas on December 28th for 2 months. So this exchange works out perfect for both of us.

The exchange had the flexibility of a non-simultaneous exchange which means that I can go to Portugal at a later date. So I thought that I would take advantage of my half of the exchange sometime in the fall of 2010. But then Stijn was looking at airfares to Portugal and found some ridiculously low fares from Brussels to Portugal during the time that I would be in Brussels. So guess where we will be going on February 11th? Yep, "Ferragudo Portugal" for about 2 weeks. And the best news is that we will be there for Carnival!! That's Mardi Gras people!!

Well on December 27th I went to the aiport and picked up my family from Portugal and brought them back to my house and showed them where their "Home" would be for the next week.

I wasn't flying out until the evening of December 28th, so I was able to take them up to Mt. Charleston for a little lunch. They loved the snow as they don't get any of the white stuff in Ferragudo.

I hope you keep checking back here on my blog to see how my home exchange went to Portugal!

Maaaannnn, Do I Have To Go Home?

My three weeks in Europe came to an end this past November.....RATS!

I had arrived on Oct 22 and returned to Las Vegas on Monday, Nov 16. But I wasn't leaving without one more walk through the streets of Brussels, especially to the "Grand Place" to have myself one last hot Belgian waffle before leaving!

This trip was filled again with so many firsts for me....watching my first professional football (soccer) game, my first Belgian volleyball game, my first cycling race, and my first trip to the coast of Belgium.

And then of course another wonderful birthday surprise from my honey.....a trip to the "Alsace Region of France"!

So is there any doubt as to why I did not want to go home?

Awe, but there is always a happy ending. I will be returning to Belgium on December 29,2009 for the longest trip I have ever been on.....2 months!

January 29, 2010

Our Last Day in France

It was a wonderful three days in France, but sadly, my birthday present to the "Alsace Region" came to an end this past November. But the party wasn't over yet!

Our trip back to Brussels on the 14th included a stop of a few hours in the beautiful city of Strasbourg. "Strasbourg" sits right on the border of France and Germany and is where the Alsace region begins. Which by the way is very evident by the typical architecture with the half timbered buildings and cobblestone streets.

I had been to Strasbourg once before in 1998 for a very brief moment. And I mean brief. My sister and her family and I arrived late at night while driving from Italy to return back to her place in Germany. We saw this massive church tower lit up and peering over the city. So we found a place to park and took a look. We were there for probably about only 30 minutes. I've always wanted to go back and explore this city, and that is why Stijn made sure that I would see Strasbourg again.

But we must first find a place to park! I have to share with you that I think sometimes Europe has so much more going on then the US when it comes to, let's say, convenience, organization, planning. There are these signs that tell you where parking is available and how many parking spots they have left! What a concept! So you are not blindly choosing a parking garage only to find out that it's full.

The main thing I want to see is that Cathedral! But I'll tell you this, you don't need a map to find your way there because you can see it from everywhere as it rises above Strasbourg some 466 feet. (142m).
We began our trek through the cobbled streets of "La Petite France". This is a picturesque neighborhood that looks like it came right out of a storybook with it's quaint buildings overlooking the Ill River.
As we walked over bridges it made me feel like I was in Venice again. We continued to walk along streets passing shops and bakeries. And then there it is....Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. From here on out our heads are in a back tilt position.

This Cathedral is so magnificent with all of it's carvings, statuary, and stained glass windows. I will just tell you right now, that if you want to see more pictures of the details of this Cathedral you will certainly get your fill by going to "Where's Debbie". But here are a few pictures to entice you.

And as luck would have it, we were at the Cathedral to hear the bells ring at 12:00pm.

As we made our way around to the side of the Cathedral we got to see a live demonstration of a working farm as it would have been centuries ago.

It seems our day turns out to just be filled with little surprises. And I love surprises!! We need to start heading back to the car because we still have a long drive ahead of us back to Brussels. While on our way we discover our first surprise. An outdoor market! I just love these things. Full of vendors selling fresh fish, vegetables, fruits and crafts right along the river.

Well today seems to be the day for outdoor markets. Because we stumble upon yet another market. But this one is full of people selling antiques!!! Oh now I am in heaven! Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to leave behind these fabulous blue crock jugs?

Okay, let's eat! Since we had arrived in this region Stijn had been wanting me to try the "Flammenkucke". If you don't know me by now, I will tell you that I will try anything! We decide to have lunch at a little restaurant/pub called "Academie de la Biere" where they just happen to serve this flaky crust pizza like dish. Yes, this one is MINE!

I can't think of a better way to end my birthday surprise in the Alsace then with a birthday "Flammankucke". Sure beats a birthday cake!

If you would like to see more pictures of our time in Strasbourg just click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Brussels via Strasbourg".

A Symbol of Happiness

Our day of driving the vineyards along the "Routes des Vins d'Alsace this past November is not quite over yet.
As we drove off of the mountain leaving "Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg" we arrived in another little village, "St. Hippolyte", located at the foot of the Vosages Mountains. From here we continued through "Ribeauville" once again and then coming to a screeching halt in "Hunawihr" when I burst out to Stijn "Honey, there's a Stork nest!!!!"

I had been so hoping to see a Stork before we left this region. But hey, I'll take a nest. These nests are huge and can weigh up to 500 pounds!

Oh I was so excited and this had just made my day complete......I thought. We drove out of "Hunawihr" to get back on the "Wine Route" that would lead us back to our little village of Riquewihr, when we spot a field full of Storks!! Well Stijn couldn't stop fast enough so we had to make a U-turn to get back to see these magnificent birds. Because you know I must have pictures!

It actually turns out that these birds are right in front of "Parc Cigognes-Loutres" a nature reserve for Storks and otters.

After making it back to Riquewihr we enjoy dinner at the "Au Dolder" along with the friendly old lab who makes his rounds through the restaurant to let everyone have the chance to pet him.

They say the Stork is the "Symbol of Happiness". Well I am certainly filled with happiness after those 3 days in the spectacular region of the Alsace. And I make a toast to my honey for another unbelievable birthday gift!

Sadly we have to leave this beautiful place the next morning and head back to Brussels. But we are going back via "Strasbourg"!

If you would like to see more pictures of the end of our day, just click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Symbol of Happiness".

January 28, 2010

Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg

Our ride through the vineyards today (Nov 13) along the "Route des Vins d'Alsace" has led us to a site very common in this region. A Castle! High above the vineyards sits "Chateau du Haute-Koenigsbourg" . And lucky for us, the Castle is open today!

However, it is 12 noon and when we arrive we discover that the Castle is closed during the lunch hour and the ticket office will reopen at 1:00pm. Perfect!

Without a ticket we are allowed to walk just inside the walls of the Castle and get a glimpse of what's in store for us after lunch. And as luck would have it, there is a cafe just inside these walls!

After a nice warm bowl of soup, we purchase our tickets at only 7.50 euros each and start our tour of this 12th century Castle with a climb up the stone staircase.

Restoration was done from the period of 1900 to 1908. The Castle was then fully restored again in 1993 and classified as a historical monument. So as we walk through all the different rooms and hallways we can see the changes made to the Castle through the centuries.

One interesting piece we see in almost every room is the massive ceramic fireplaces.

And of course what is a Castle without a room full of armory?

Or a draw bridge.....though this one was quite small.

The views from here are magnificent, looking out over the Alsace plain as far as the Black Forest and even the Alps.

Well we have spent about 2 hours roaming around this Castle admiring the history that is evident throughout with it's stone walls, displays of cannons and armory and ancient gardens.

So we say good-bye and head out the door to finish our day of driving along the "Route des Vins d'Alsace."

There are so many more pictures to see of this fabulous Castle~ Just click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg"

January 15, 2010

So Many Vineyards, So Little Time!

Today is Friday the 13 of November, and it is an absolute perfect day to drive along "The Route des Vins d'Alsace".

The route begins in Strasbourg and extends nearly 70 miles to the south. We are in that southern part of the route and so we decide to start our drive by leaving Riquewihr and head north along the route for a few miles and then circle back to our starting point.

But first there is a market this morning in the center of town in one of the little side streets. So while Stijn gets the car I take a look at what the vendors are selling this morning. Fresh flowers, fresh cheese, meats and sausages. And even some grape vines should you want to try your hand at having your own vineyard.

We take the back way out of Riquewihr and while driving along the slopes of the Vosges Mountains, we find ourselves surrounded by vineyards which have taken on the golden colors of fall. Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to stop and read about the grapes that are grown to produce the Rieslings and Gewurztraminers of this region. However, you will need to know how to read French, unless you are very lucky like me and have someone with you who can.

Driving along this route, there are so many Kodak moments, you will certainly put your driver to the test of patience when he has just barely shifted into second gear and you say "Oh stop honey, look at that!"

One of those such moments was when we saw up ahead of us three castles nestled in the trees alongside a mountain.

We must have a closer look of these three castles, Ulrichsburg, Girsber and Hohrappoltstein! This takes us into the town of Ribeauville. Much like Riquewihr, Ribeauville has it's half timbered buildings but also has the added medieval touch of castles peering down on what is one of the most beautiful wine-producing villages of the alsatian wine route.

Leaving here we start up a winding road that leads us to the mountain village of Thannenkirch.

Thannenkirch is well preserved in it's authentic character and simplicity. Here we make a stop at the church and take a walk through the cemetery.

It's just about noon and time to start thinking about some lunch. Looks like we will be having lunch in a castle!

There are more pictures of our morning at "Where's Debbie" Just click on the album "Alsace France - Part 3

January 8, 2010

A Day in Riquewihr

I just love the mornings in Europe. Why you ask? Because in the morning is when you take a walk to the bakery to try and decide which pastry you are going to have today. And today (Nov 12) is extra special because this morning I am in the little village of Riquewihr in the Alsace region of France.

Stijn gives me detailed directions on how to get to the bakery and I am all bundled up and headed out the door of our studio. And you know I didn't leave without my camera!

Well wouldn't you just know it!!! The bakery is closed this week for holiday. No worries though, there should be another one down the street. This is Europe, right?

As I continue walking right down the center of the cobblestone street, my eyes are continually drawn from side to side, up and down.....the architecture is so incredible! And I am going to let you know right now that I have taken entirely way too many pictures for you to see here. So be sure to visit "Where's Debbie" to see all the beautiful pictures I took during my morning walk.

Nothing is open yet, but I'm having fun watching the delivery trucks maneuver their way through these narrow streets to make their deliveries before 10:00am.

Because this region of France is bound to the north by Germany, you will see a lot of German influences here. Not only in the food but even in the little store fronts who are displaying the typical German pretzel.

As I continue my walk in search of a bakery, I repeatably see Storks. Stork magnets, Stork statues, Stork coffee mugs, Stork pictures, restaurants and hotels with Stork signage.

Well it seems that the Stork is the official emblem of the Alsace region. This is an area where the Storks would migrate to in the winter, but then their numbers began to decline and the people of the Alsace took action and created a sanctuary for the birds. Now there is a population of Storks that never leave the area. I've heard that you can see their massive nests weighing up to 500 pounds, resting on top of chimneys and steeples. I am hoping to see one of these before we leave this weekend!

It is evident that there is not another bakery in our little village. We decided then to take a little drive and find ourselves a market where we could purchase some food to have in our little studio.

I must tell you that France has the best supermarkets that I have ever seen. We found another great market called "Cora". Which is actually a Belgium based company. Very similar to "Auchan" with it's huge fresh bread and fresh seafood sections along with the great wine selection. But here you will see the beloved Stork flying above you as you shop the isles.

After shopping we then head back to our studio and enjoy a great lunch of french bread, meats and cheeses before we head out to do some more exploring in this great little village of Riquewihr.

We decided to just stick close to our little hamlet today. So while I have a hot Gluhwein......

.......Stijn takes a look through our trusty book on the Alsace to see what we might like to do tomorrow.

As we head back to our studio, we are enticed by a shop owner for a free sample of "Kugelhopf". A great Alsatian cake that is made with raisins and rum and comes in a variety of sizes. Must have one of these!

Tonight, we have dinner at "Hotel Au Cerf".

Again, dinner is very German. I have the "Baeckeoffe" which is a casserole layered with potatoes, leeks and three types of meat (beef, pork, lamb) cooked together in white wine inside an earthenware casserole.
While sipping on some wine from this region, it is decided that tomorrow we will drive along "The Route des Vins d'Alsace" and just see what makes this wine so great!

There are a ton of pictures to see of our day! Just click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Alsace France - Part 2"
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