Location: Ambrosden, UK
En route to pick up the cats we stopped at the Christmas Tree farm to choose our tree. On learning that the farm delivers, Jase was persuaded (without much effort) to buy the tallest tree at the farm.
From there to pick up the cats, who were suitably grateful to see us. When we got then home they raced about a bit, checking out the smells. But then they settled in front of the fire for the rest of the afternoon.
Ali wrote Christmas cards all afternoon (apologies to those overseas, as they will be late) and Jase cooked a roast. A nice relaxed day at home.
Location: Düsseldorf , Germany
Last day today. Had a bit of a lie in before heading out to the Christmas market to grab a bite for breakfast and a couple of goodies.
In the theme of the day, it hailed early, resulting in us sheltering for a bit, before going to the Maritime museum in the old castle tower (Schloß Turm). Very interesting, especially the films on Dusseldorf's history and harbour, but we had to rush to catch the start of the walking tour.
The tour was supposed to be in both German and English, but a lot of the more interesting tidbits werent translated for the English sections, so I tried to translate as much as I could follow. Not a lot, tbh.
Freezing cold winds tested our clothing out, resulting in us grabbing lunch at a Japanese restaurant (no port or potato) before sourcing one of the best hot chocolates either of us have had. Even the air in the café smelled like liquid chocolate.
Absolutely pelted with hail whilst making our way back to the hotel for our luggage.
Airport, home, lit a fire.
Location: Bremen to Dusseldorf, Germany
Unfortunately the English language walking tour in Bremen isn't until 1.30pm which is a bit late for our timetable. So we again did the Tourist Information's self guided tour. This one took us down to the river, though a cute little area called the Schloor (string) area which had lots of painted old buildings, and narrow alleys, then into the main square which had the Rathaus, and various other old municipal buildings. It would be a very pretty platz, but was hard to take pictures due to the Christmas market in the middle of it. We saw the statue of the Town Musicians of Bremen, then we went down the picturesque old Cooper's alleyway, before finally finishing the tour and heading to the medieval Christmas market on the waterfront, for an early lunch. Jase failed to impress the stallholder with his 50 note, it wasn't early enough in the day for her to be able to change it easily.
We're now on a train to Dusseldorf, our final stop.
Location: Lübeck to Hamburg to Bremen, Germany
It's Thursday so this must be Lübeck. Yes it's getting a bit like that. We breakfasted at a cafe, before doing the Tourist Information's self-guided walking tour of Lübeck. Lübeck is a pretty town and was part of the Hanseatic League for many years. The tour took us past some pretty bits but unfortunately without a lot of commentary. It was clear to see that the town had been very rich though, with lovely municipal buildings, merchant houses and a plethora of almshouses. The town has a beautiful old gatehouse, which is leaning in various places at some rather alarming angles, but the Germans don't seem to think it's about to fall down.
From there to Hamburg where we aimed straight for Miniatur Wonderland, a recommendation from Fay (she must have read about it, we don't think she's ever been). Well what a surprise! For starters it was indoors whereas the other miniature villages we have visited previously we all outdoors. And secondly, it was absolutely full of tiny little jokes and details, such as underwater cows starting scuba tanks, aliens in the Arizona desert, and a dead body with related Police investigation. There was also a surprising amount of sex going on, in offices, cars, sunflower fields and up mountains (it would never happen in Bekonscot!) It also had a working miniature airfield, complete with aircraft taxi-ing, taking off, landing and taxi-ing back to the gate. Parked at one of the gates was the Millennium Falcon too. We thought it would take us a couple of hours; we were actually there for about 3 and 1/2!
Back to the station for the train to Bremen. We had dim sum for dinner, we're getting a little tired of German cuisine.
Location: Berlin to Hamburg, Germany
We have done Berlin pretty thoroughly in the past, so today we just walked up the Unter den Linden from the Brandenburg Gate to Museum Island.
We started with a visit to a lovely music box shop that Ali had been visiting since she first came to Berlin in about 1999. Then breakfast at a lovely cafe, the Einstein. We've eaten there before, it's a great place for brunch. Newspapers and plenty of time to relax.
Then a trip to the Amfelmann shop before Ali persuaded Jase to go to a Berlin Christmas market that was supposed to be a little different. It lived up to its billing ... we picked up a few Christmas presents there.
Finally we got to the other end of Unter den Linden to see how the rebuilding of the Imperial Palace was going. What a surprise! When we first started coming to Berlin it was a horrible orange glassed Palace of the People, full of asbestos. Then an empty building site with nothing but design plans. But now Berlin has practically finished rebuilding the Imperial Palace from scratch. It looks absolutely phenomenal, and you would hardly believe it hasn't just been standing there for the past 500 years, in all its glory.
From there to the station, and the train to Hamburg.
From Hamburg, a change to another train, this one to Lübeck. Checked in, then dinner at a Bavarian restaurant because, apparently, Jase cant go to Germany without eating Apfelstrudel at least once...
Location: Dresden to Berlin, Germany
After breakfast we had an hour or so before our walking tour, so we wandered over the river to Neustadt Dresden (new Dresden) which is actually older than the old town given that it wasn't bombed. We wandered through some stalls and Jase participated in the biathlon challenge at one stall, doing 15 knee-bends then shooting down five targets in standing position. The prize was a free ticket to the World Championship Cross Country Skiing Championship in Dresden in January. I don't think the stall holder was expecting him to do it with such ease!
We then did the walking tour, which took us around the sights of the Aldstadt (old town), i.e. the historic centre of Dresden. Dresden is the capital of Saxony, and the residence of Saxony's kings. The DDR couldn't afford to mend the palaces and other grand buildings after the war, but the people of Dresden wouldn't let them put up nasty brutalist buildings. So the ruins (and luckily all the building materials) were fenced off and stayed in situ until reunification brought the opportunity to rebuild what had originally stood. So wow, Dresden now has its schloss, Protestant cathedral (Church of Our Lady), Catholic cathedral, Opera House and Zwinger Palace all back and looking magnificent.
The Church of Our Lady was rebuilt using funding from all around the world, and the British man who did the cross on top was the son of one of the RAF pilots who originally bombed it.
We also saw the Procession of Princes, a lengthy mural showing all the Saxony rulers from the 11th to the 19th centuries. The clothing, hairstyles and even the horse heads' shape all change from one end of the mural to the other.
We watched a film about the wedding of the century (a month long extravaganza when the King of Saxony's heir married the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor), and enjoyed a hot chocolate at a cafe our walking tour guide had described as serving the best in town.
All in all, we really liked Dresden . It was interesting and rather lovely.
Then off to the station for the next leg. To Berlin!
Our hotel in Berlin was a bit of a distance from the station so we just relaxed for a bit, then went out for dinner at a Croatian grill restaurant in the Red Light District. As you do.
Location: Leipzig, Germany
Today we were viewing Leipzig. We looked up the things to see in Leipzig, but that seemed like a pretty dull list. The main thing we wanted to see was a museum that is closed on Mondays. But then we discovered there was a walking tour, so we decided to head for that.
It started at Augustusplatz, where we also found a Finnish Christmas market involving fur-lined teepees and smoking salmon.
The guide (Juan) walked us around the sights including Gewandhaus (the new and old concert halls), Opera Leipzig, University of Leipzig and the destroyed cathedral that used to be next to it (destroyed by the GDR, not by war), the old and new Rathaus, the Federal Administrative Court of Germany, Bach monument, St Thomas church, Goethe monument (his head faced the university, but his feet faced the beer kellar - he never did graduate from Leipzig University) and finally St Nicholas church and the peaceful revolution.
We stopped for lunch and a beer at Auerbachs Kellar before going for a quick look at the Stasi Museum. Then picked up our luggage and we're now on a train to Dresden.
Checked into the Hilton, couple of drinks in the Executive lounge (thanks to Jase staying in the Hilton a lot with work). unfortunately not at all a relaxing or executive experience given that there were two toddlers running around and a baby wimpering.
Visited a medieval style Christmas market, whereby Ali did an impressive piece of Barlowing (google Dave Gorman Barlow and watch the clip : 8.20 or so, here:
https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5t4wnm ) to get a mug of hot mead. We also tried out some archery, had some crisped potato on a stick and am apple doughnut- like concoction, and and saw some impressive barbecued pork being made over a flaming rotisserie.
Back to the hotel to chill out. Tomorrow, Dresden tour and then off to Berlin.
Location: Frankfurt - Erfurt - Leipzig, Germany
After arriving last night in Frankfurt we had a lovely comfy night at the Scandic hotel.
We dropped off our luggage at the train station before heading off for a walk around Frankfurt. Sights included the Reine, the only medieval house to survive WW2 bombs, Old St Niklaus Church, the Christmas Market in the city centre square (we stopped for gluhwein), the holocaust memorial wall (so many names), the medieval Jewish cemetery, a 12th century guard tower from the original city walls, and the old opera house.
Then we headed to the railway station. We are now on a train to Leipzig, but have a planned stop off at Erfurt, which has a bridge like old London Bridge.
Stopped off at Erfurt. A bit of a walk to the Krämerbrücke, a medieval bridge with timber-framed shops and houses on it. Probably the closest to the old medieval London Bridge you will find anywhere in the world. It was charming.
Christmas market next, then up to the Erfurt Dom. A taste of the best bratwurst in Thuringer (allegedly) then a wander through the Christmas market, something I suspect will be a theme of this trip. Of note to you, dear reader, when ordering a bratwurst in Erfurt, it is considered polite, and mandatory to hold the sliced roll open so the server can deposit the Bratwurst in the roll. Dont let our mistake become yours.
Back to the station for the train to Leipzig. Booked into our hotel, about 15 minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof, then a wander to the Leipzig wehnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). Like I said, a theme is developing.
Ali started to OD on Christmas, I proceeded to self medicate with Glühwein and Bratwürst. Its amazing to announce this, but after 4 Glühwein, Christmas markets are fun.
Back to the hotel for Glühwein, beer and a cup of tea before retiring for the night.
Location: Rennes to Dinard, France
I finished packing and unfortunately the gite owners weren't home so I couldn't say goodbye. I sent them an email instead.
Brian, who has been staying at the school itself, gave me a lift to Rennes. We parked under the Saturday market, and then wandered around the market together. Brian then headed off to his ferry at Caen, and I headed to the train station for my train (which turned out to be a bus) to Dinard.
I checked into my hotel, the Printania, which is rather run down but had some interesting antique Breton furniture. I changed then walked around the coastline around the headland, along the beautiful beach, and around the next headland, then back again. I stopped for a drink and ice-cream on the beachfront then walked back. Dinard has a wonderful tide-filled lido pool.
Then I had a light dinner and read in the hotel's lounge for a bit, before bed.
Friday 13th, and the last day of cookery at the cooking school.
We started the day by de-bearding mussels (rejecting any that wouldn't shut), then they went into the pot. After cooking we rejected any that wouldn't open.
We also put together a salad with the leftover chicken breast. We did a big salad with mushrooms, and (knowing I dislike mushrooms) another smaller version with asparagus.
In preparation for later we also prepared a ratatouille (lots of chopping for everyone), deboned a rack of lamb, and stuffed it then rolled it for roasting. Finally we prepared the layers for the almond, liquorice and white chocolate cake. We should have a nice simple evening.
Before eating, we trooped outside to the courtyard and practiced tossing like a chef, with salt in a frying pan.
Harder than it looks! Then we did some group photos.
- mussels soup with saffron
- chicken salad with mushrooms/asparagus and pancetta
Several people went for a walk to the nearest village after lunch, but I missed their departure because there is a competition to guess how much butter we have used during the week, so I was doing a calculation. I made it 2.3kg but I think I will round it up a bit because there had certainly been some extra used for frying and the sauces, beyond what is in the recipes.
I then went back to my gite and read until it was time for the evening meal class. Back to the school and everyone had dressed up a bit. Most preparation was already done, for our evening meal of:
- foie gras with a pear salad
- stuffed rack of lamb with ratatouille and tarragon sauce
- almond, liquorice and white chocolate cake
It was a jolly evening of preparation, with the aperitifs starting early. There was a quiz by Niall, one question each. Mine was 'what is the Breton way of saying "cheers"?' It's something like ya-mad.
At the evening meal we had our butter use competition. Everyone else was guessing far too high, 4.5kg upwards, so I felt safe in guessing 3kg. I was spot on, apparently, and was rewarded with a bottle of French mead. Then we did a graduation ceremony, with certificates, hand shaking, and trying on Paul's cuisine medals.
Lots of hugs goodbye, and I hung around for a drink outside with the die-hards, before heading home to bed.
Location: Kerrouet, France
Today we had a free day until 6pm. This was good because we were all in dairy food comas and desperately needed a lunchtime off. I caught a lift with two other singletons on the course to Dinan where we managed to find a parking space despite the market, and then walked into town. We first went to the market which was interesting although not huge. Then the two guys had not been to Dinan before so we walked around the town and I showed them the lovely little half-timbered cobbled street down to the port and back. We had lunch down at the port, and bumped into several other participants on the course throughout the day.
After arriving back at the school, we all went our separate ways for a couple of hours. I read my book in the sunshine. I then returned to the school for the evening lesson.
Today was a fish day. We started the lesson by deconstructing langoustines, which is quite easy when you know how. Then we created langoustine stock and langoustine mousse for starter, filleted the turbot for main, and made the orange cake for dessert. It was quite an easy day today. We also got the rest of the pasta out and made tagliatelle. While we were all busy Niall made us a drink containing grapefruit syrup and rosé wine. We christened it the Pink De-Niall (denial) which works on all sorts of levels (he is a gay Catholic Irishman for example) and he was absolutely delighted with that.
All the food today was pleasant but I do not think I will be in a huge rush to make any of those recipes again.
Location: Kerrouet, France
Another big day of cooking. For lunch we prepared:
- French onion soup
- vegetable and nut ravioli
We also deconstructed the rabbit, and prepared the chocolate cake in advance for tonight as well as the vanilla ice cream to go with it. The ravioli was a lot of fun. We had loads of stuffing, so we practically had a production line going in the end. We made about a hundred and ten ravioli. See the photo!
In between lunch and dinner I jumped into a car with one of the other singletons here. We went to a town called Moncontour.
It was an interesting town with a citadel which I believe from reading fantasy novels means a town whose fortifications are made up of the roads and houses and gardens and walls winding up the hill to the major fortification at the top of the hill. That certainly seemed to be the layout in this case. Another interesting aspect was that all the shops and businesses had a painted sign like a pub sign. It was very attractive. I took lots of photographs of them.
Then back to the cooking school to prepare and eat dinner. Dinner was:
- salmon with goats cheese and peppers
- rabbit with mustard sauce
- chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream
Top dishes of the day, the soup, ravioli, and rabbit.