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Sunday, July 1, 2012

On the Road Again

Saturday morning, we left Gent sadly in the brilliant sunshine and drove south to Redu, the village of books we were unable to view in the winter because it was Monday and everything was closed. This time it was summer, Saturday afternoon, and everything was open. Every second shop was a bookstore, most French books, mostly used, some antique. There was a preponderance of bound French-language comic books, which was odd. But some of the antique volumes were really beautiful, and there was a shop that made its own paper. It was the perfect place for us, although they didn't have any of my books. That may be because they aren't published in French editions. French publishers, are you listening?

We had a lovely lunch in a cafe where Phil discovered a beer -- St. Monon -- that he had not tried. Hey, are you surprised? I peeled the label off, of course, though the Wall O' Beer is no more. The fact that I had to do that worries me a little. What does he have in mind...?

On we drove in our little Ibizi (no, we never heard of it either), across the Luxembourg border to the Chateau de Vianden. This gorgeous castle is the ancestral home of the dukes of Luxembourg, who are from the lineage of Orange, as in William of.

 I now know why William and Mary became king and queen of England -- through not only his ancestry but hers. They were cousins whose parents were also cousins, all related to the Stuart line of monarchs. That's an awful lot of interbreeding...

After Vianden, we decided we needed some exercise, so we drove to Gorge des Loups on the German border. Our hike took us through some gigantic rock formations, and we walked up and up the steps of a steep gorge to glorious views of the countryside. Well, Phil did. Remembering how I crippled myself in Croatia climbing 400 stairs up a bell tower, I stopped halfway up. I do sometimes learn from my mistakes.

Then onto the big roads and past Luxembourg City to Dudelange, which I picked as a stopover mostly because of its silly name. It's a nice little town, though our hotel was opposite the church and next to a rowdy tavern, and it was Saturday night. No rest for the weary -- but an excellent dinner of summer vegetable soup, veal prepared two ways, and chocolate mousse, washed down with Luxembourgish wine.

Sunday we were off early (those church bells!) to France. It was supposed to be rainy, but the sky turned mostly sunny by early afternoon. We drove through pastoral landscapes, paying large sums of money to the French for the use of their peage, which refused to accept our credit cards.

When we got off the highway on the way to our hotel, my desperate search for a toilette brought us accidentally to the Abbey of Pontigny, which we hadn't actually planned on seeing.

It was a remarkably preserved 12th century structure, impressively high for a Romanesque church, and dramatically stark and undecorated. Phil couldn't even make fun of me for having to stop, it was such a pleasing surprise.

We tried to stop for a degustation of Burgundian wine, but apparently on Sundays, one needs an appointment. Really, Burgundy? When better to drink wine than a Sunday? So we went straight on to our hotel, which turned out to be another lovely surprise.

I'd read that it was an old cement factory, with a swimming pool built "on top of the factory," and assumed this was a strange lexicological error. In fact, it is a gorgeous estate once belonging to the owner of a cement factory, now lovingly restored by his descendants, who also happen to be first-class chefs.

We swam in the pool, which is indeed built on top of the now-defunct factory, and walked through the nearby fields of corn and wheat. Then it was time for dinner with the other guests: a British couple, soon to be newlyweds, a French couple, both scientists, one pregnant, and a Belgian couple from Flanders, not far from Gent. Everyone was kind enough to speak English. We ate an extraordinary four-course meal, wines included, of snails in pastry shells (the amuse-bouche), egg poached in Burgundy sauce, "wife of the duck" in whiskey sauce, six cheeses, and molten chocolate cake. With macaroons.

It's a good thing I left my scale in Gent.

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