This probably isn’t going to be of much interest to anyone but me, maybe some immediate family and maybe some fans of art deco and/or historical homes. I was born in this building, which is now a museum of art deco architecture, furniture, arts and crafts.
The villa, Hohenhof, was commissioned by Karl Ernst Osthaus, a great German art lover, and built by Belgian architect, Henry van de Velde in 1908.
Osthaus lived in the place for a while. Then the early 1920s it enjoyed a short stint as a school. From 1924 to 1930 it was a craft studio and workshop. In 1933 the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, aka nazi party) took over the space to house a Gauführerschule. This was, shall we say, a special political-type school that taught kids how to be good party members. Toward the end of the war it ended up being used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. (I guess the whole political schooling thing wasn’t working out so well by then).
After the war, from 1946 to 1962 Hohenhof became a women’s clinic and somewhere near the end of that period is where I appear!
When the women’s clinic closed, the place was once again converted to a school – but a more or less regular high school this time. In the late 1970s the school closed and Hohenhof was turned into a museum. It’s only 3 euros to get in.
This was so familiar because my mum has a tin with this design. Freaky.
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Are you out food? Alcohol? Cigarettes? Too bad…you’ll have to wait until Monday. Are you sick and need some medication? Too bad, you’ll have to wait until Monday.
But, by golly you WILL have fresh bread products on your table seven days a week.
As I sort of mentioned the other day, Germans are obsessed with bread and other baked goods. If you are gluten-free here, you might as well be Satan.
This town has a population of 188,000 with at least 100 official bakeries and probably another 100 places where you can buy (or get delivered) fresh, baked goods – like every grocery store, corner store, café and restaurant.
You are never more than a block from a bakery here (and that is no exaggeration), so it’s not a hardship to get your bread fresh every day or even twice a day.
And the bread is substantial and varied. It’s made of a variety of grains (and sometimes potatoes) and available in every imaginable shape, size, texture. Here, bread is not just a conveyor for fillings, it is food.
You’ve heard of the paleo diet? Well here, it’s all about the medieval diet — bread and beer. Throw in some meat and that’s 90% of the daily food intake.
Bread and other gluten products are part of every meal. Breakfast is coffee and fresh rolls or bread picked up from the nearest bakery every morning with jam or Nutella or cheese and/or sometimes cold cuts.
The bread basket also appears at the mid-day meal, though, as the largest meal of the day, there are also a host of other carbs to choose from. And some nice beer to wash it down with.
Then there is the 4:00pm coffee/cake/beer thing.
And then supper (around 7:00 pm) is more bread with perhaps some form of processed meat or a hunk of cheese. And some beer maybe.
Germany is ranked the largest bakery market in the EU and the fifth largest in the world. (with a population of only 83 million).
As my cousin, Patrick, says “brot ist liebe” (bread is love).
Thank goodness this area rife with l hills and dales so I can get in lots of cardio along with all that love.
Germany is a strange place to me. I was born here and raised in a German family and have visited many times and still have lots of relatives here. So it’s very familiar but still very foreign.
Where to start? I’m in a fairly small town in the North Rhineland – an industrial area that was pretty much demolished during the war, so it’s mostly post-1945.
Much of my experience here is going to be coloured by my relatives’ perspectives and I’m trying to keep that in mind. They’re all very old school. For instance, they have travelled quite extensively throughout eastern and western Europe, North American, Africa and Asia but have managed to avoid really experiencing any of their cultures. Wherever you go in the world there will be German tourists, guaranteed. And they will be complaining about something. Other countries, apparently, lack Germany’s perfection.
Germans get a lot of vacation days, so they can afford the time to see the world. My cousins get around 70 days per year, depending on how long they’ve worked. (That’s 14 weeks. And they start at a minimum mandatory 5 weeks for every job.)
The other thing that’s interesting is that university is not pushed as fervently as it is in North America. Apprenticeships are still very much the norm here and generally favoured over university. Every job from store clerks to office managers to receptionists to restaurant servers to food court cashiers to hotel maids (along with, of course, computer techs, plumbers, electricians, and everything else you don’t absolutely need a university degree for) undergo a stringent 2-3 year apprenticeship program complete with practical and theoretical training and exams. Success means job security and a good salary and benefits. The German program has been lauded as an excellent model worldwide. And, it makes for some really kick-ass customer service experiences.
Also, everything is incredibly clean around here…not so much in the bigger cities as far as I can remember, but here, people are forever cleaning – houses (inside and out), streets, sidewalks, parks, shops, etc.
They also have the best toilets here. They use about a cup of water and flush everything away in 5 seconds. No idea why that can’t be implemented everywhere. Toilets around the world are a source of endless fascination to me. Seems like such a basic thing that the less efficient could easily learn from the more efficient.
Smoking is still promoted here, with a subtle nod to possible deadly effects. (See tiny print at the bottom of ad for fun smoking lifestyle).
As my daughter once said, “they used to have ads FOR smoking?”
Germans eat incredible amounts of meat – especially pork and animal circuses are still legitimate entertainment.
Germans drink their required 8 litres of beer per day. They won’t let a day go by without consuming some pretty significant amounts of bread, potatoes, butter and/or noodles. They are passionate and well informed about football and politics and think Martin Luther was a fun old guy
It’s a bit horrifying for the North American in me, but on the other hand, Germany seems to have their shit together. They’ve made a nothing less than remarkable recovery from the Euro conversion and incorporating east Berlin into their economy; they’ve taken in a shitload of refugees; have one of the lowest unemployment rates, great social health care and they also some of the strictest gun laws in the world, with (coincidentally) one of the lowest rates of gun-related deaths in the world — the US has had 16 times as many gun-related deaths as Germany.
(PS: Send help. I haven’t eaten this much bread and cake in ever in my life.)
I thought I was done with the whole Brussels-Pis stuff, but turns out that was only a drop in the bucket! My hotel overlooks a lovely city square that is flanked on one end by the beautiful gothic-baroque Sainte-Catherine church.
On one side of this church is a public urinal where one pees against the church wall (see first photo). I did try to get a photo of it empty, but there was a regular parade of full bladders heading in there – some talking on their phones, some with a beer in hand, one juggling a beer and a sandwich (can’t see how that’s going to go well).
The church is adjacent to the Little Red Booze Truck (My name for it. I believe it’s actually called Dona Flor Cocktail Truck) and the Noordzee outdoor stand-up fish bar, so I guess it’s a perfect evening out with the boys trifecta.
I also happened on Manneken Pis again and this time he was naked.
Then I was told I had to go find his peeing dog, Zanneke Pis. I got the usual convoluted instructions so it took forever to locate that mutt, but I did it. Now I have the entire family.
For those not able to urinate standing up, public toilets are 50 cents and rare. They were 80 cents and almost non-existent in France, but at least they were clean for that price. Here, not so much. In England they were mostly free and plentiful. The worst case of public toilet robbery ever was in Venice, though. I think they had one public toilet in the whole city and charged 2 euros to get in and it was the most disgusting place I’ve ever seen or smelled (and that includes the pong off coming off that church wall as you walk by). I actually sent a sternly worded email to the city of Venice.
So far, Brussels has been the most expensive city I’ve been in on this trip. Housing prices in the downtown core look to be about the same as downtown Toronto, but other stuff is a lot higher. Gas is around 1,43 euros for a litre, which is about $2.10 CAD/$1.70 USD (And for the Americans, there are almost 4 litres in a gallon, so gas is about $6.80 USD per gallon here). So basically double what we pay. And it’s around the same in most of western Europe and the UK.
Food in Brussels is really pricey though. They seem to think that 25 euros (aka $38 CAD) is a good deal for a lunch special – not including drinks. And they won’t give you free water here, you have to buy a 3 euro bottle or buy booze which is about the same. At least in France you always get a large bottle of water automatically with your meal. Here they give tourists some song and dance about how the tap water is not good for drinking, but it’s perfectly fine.
I did laundry the other day and it cost me 14 euros for 2 washers and one dryer. And that didn’t include a member of the royal family coming by to separate the colours beforehand and fluff and fold afterwards.
Anyway, before I head off to Deutschland, I figured I’d better have one of those waffles being flogged everywhere.
It looks good and the strawberries and whipped cream were nice, but the waffle I couldn’t eat. I don’t think I’ve had a waffle since I was 10, so obviously not a big waffle fan. This one was so sweet, I could instantly feel cavities taking hold. It was also kind of gluey. Maybe I didn’t pick the very best Best Waffle in Belgium. Whatever. I tried Belgian Waffles in Belgium and that’s what counts.
I had a lot of Belgian chocolate, too. Neuhaus is my favourite.
I also put in a really valiant effort to find some Brussels Sprouts in Brussels, but apparently nobody eats vegetables of any sort other than potatoes here. Oh well.
When I was about 9 or so, I got a subscription to Children’s Digest. Does anyone else remember that magazine?
I’m not sure how I happened to get this – maybe it was a gift from one of the old ladies I used to befriend or something. I know my parents wouldn’t deliberately have given me reading material.
Anyway, I loved that magazine. It came in pocket book size and was printed on green tinted paper to save our young eyes. Once a month it would come in the mail and it was jam-packed with fascinating things to read including classic stories from people like Kipling and Asimov and Hans Christian Andersen.
My very favourite, though was Tintin.
So it was kind of cool to be where Georges Prosper Remi (aka Herge) created the little guy and all his adventures.
Brussels is Tintin mad, with an Herge museum and La Boutique Tintin downtown and Tintin murals around the city and the Herge home tour and the Dieweg cemetery tour where Herge is buried and the Tintin themed Faubourg Saint Antoine restaurant and a tour of Herge’s Tintin-related inspirations around the city, just to name a few examples.
I didn’t do any of those. I like the stories and everything, but come on….
I hope recognize the quote from the movie, In Bruges, and don’t just think I’ve sunk to using gratuitous expletives. As soon as people heard I was going to Belgium they all said “ I hope you’re going to f**cking Bruges! So, of course I had to go. (I succumb easily to peer pressure.)
I opted to do the Ghent/Bruge bus/walking tour. It seemed like a simpler and better option than hiking out to the train station and making my way just to Bruge on my own. Also, I’m finding that when doing guided tours you meet all sorts of interesting people from all over the world.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations in various languages and half-languages with South Africans, Argentians, Columbians, Chileans, Australians, Thai, Czechs, Poles, Pakistanis and Latvians along with the usual Brits, Americans, Canadians and western Europeans. Most of them know some English, so between that and French and German and a lot of hand gestures and expressive facial expressions we’ve all been getting along famously. And all the Americans I’ve met have been really nice and not the least bit trumpy!
So anyway, Ghent and Bruges. I will begin by saying that either Belgium has the most boring history of any country whose history I’ve ever heard anything about or there was something wrong with our tour guide’s script.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely country from what I’ve seen of it. I love Brussels – it’s lively and has a really great vibe. It’s extremely diverse and very casual for a European city. If it weren’t for the fact that all the streets have two completely different names, the lovely architecture, the not-so-lovely crumbling architecture, the crumbling cobblestones, the weird sounding emergency response vehicle sirens, and the lack of condos, it could almost be Toronto. Brussels has a lot of young people and the culture to go along with it, so it also reminds me a bit of Berlin in that respect. And then it has a bit of the French ambience as well. Well worth a visit. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the city so far and look forward to seeing a bit more.
However….it’s been really painful listening to the tour guides trying to make Belgium sound like it has an interesting past. Buildings were built. Some buildings burned down, but were fixed up again. Cities were occupied during the wars but nothing was destroyed and nobody was inconvenienced much . Everybody likes the king and the past king. Spain has been a long-time bff of Belgium. Some artists with names that sound like you’re clearing your throat were born here and some of their work is around. Lots of people have been making chocolate and beer for a long time.
I think Belgium should embrace this lack of historical significance. It would be more fun than trying to pretend there is some. Also, they should embrace that they are really no one’s #1 travel destination. Belgium is a place you visit on your way from or to somewhere else. Like me…and every tourist I’ve met here. Poor old Belgium. I think it would be an awesome PR campaign to promote all this..just sayin’.
I am excited about the whole Tintin thing though. There’s a Tintin Museum I’m going to try and get to. But all that is neither here nor there right now because this post is about Ghent and Bruges.
Okay, did you know that Ghent is vehemently trying to promote vegetarianism? Every Thursday is Donnerdag Veggietag! (aka Veggie Thursday). Vegetarian food is promoted in all civil servants, city council and school cafeterias. A “veggie street map” is also distributed throughout the town to encourage others. The campaign is linked to the recognition of the detrimental environmental effects of meat production rather than preaching about personal health benefits or animals rights – apparently this has more impact here.
Ghent currently has the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita, which is awesome. Of course it was Monday, so most of the restaurants were closed.
Also Ghent has a cool castle in the middle of the city.
Best thing about Bruges was the Madonna sculpted by Michelangelo.
Other than that it was an extremely tourist-oriented place, with lots of shops selling tat and second-rate chocolate, which is sad, but I guess they have to make a buck.
I had a great lunch though at the Marco Polo Noodlebar. Some of us skipped out on the group lunch at the place the tour guide kept trying to foist on us and I’m glad I did. This place was a real find. It was all locals eating there and even they said it was the only place in the old village worth going to.
No..seriously, who thought two months of travelling would be a good idea? Why didn’t anyone stop me? I wake up all disoriented every morning. Interestingly, I’ve been waking up at 6:20 every morning regardless of time zone or how late I was up the night before – same time I wake up at home.
Oh well. I’m here now and am determined to suck the marrow out of it. So here’s another clue as to where I am.
Grand Place – view from two sides.
One last clue:
Ha! Everybody knows the Mannekin Pis. Copenhagen has a mermaid, Brussels has a tiny statue of boy peeing. He’s normally naked, but they dress him up for special occasions. Not sure why he’s dressed as Santa at the moment. Sometimes they also fill his reservoir with other liquids like beer for the beer festivals or milk for the agricultural events.
What a lot of people don’t know though is that Manneken also has a sister — Janneke Pis.
So rude, eh? I wonder what it means when a culture is this obsessed with urination.
And speaking of rude, I went on a walking tour where they did lots of quizzes along the way and some annoying Swiss woman, who totally hogged the prime spot next to the tour guide the whole time, kept shouting out the answers before the rest of us even had a chance to hear the question. But then at one point she all smugly shouted out the WRONG answer and everybody sniggered and then I shouted out the right answer and got a round of applause. And the Swiss woman never said another word. The end.
For those who need to know, I’m staying at a Citadine hotel here. I’ve stayed at them before in other cities and they’re always pretty good. Reasonably priced, nice clean, well-appointed apart-hotel rooms, central to the action. It’s kind of a relief to be in a comparatively big, modern place for a change. Queen bed, fluffy pillows, a real bathroom with tub and room to swing a cat (cat not included), an elevator, a closet, kitchenette, lovely view, no manual required to figure out the plumbing, a door lock that opens with a card rather than some rusty old key that requires a special satchel, chain belt or wagon to lug around all day.
I know it probably makes me a philistine that I’m not revelling in living in quirky Old World accommodation, but I really sort of did while they were happening. Just now I’m happy that they’re not anymore. Okay?
One final note — next time you’re in Brussels, go eat at this Noordzee place. I happened across it last night and it was so jam packed and hopping that I knew it had to be good. And when I googled it, sure enough, it’s listed as one of THE places to eat like a local in Brussels. It’s fresh, reasonably priced fish and seafood. You order at an outdoor counter and eat at the stand up tables in the square. Wine and beer and other beverages are obtained from the booze truck in the square opposite the Noordzee. The meal of choice seemed to be a bowl of the fish soup, a hunk of bread and a glass of white wine.
I took the tram tour around the city and learned all about silk. Silk is what Lyon was famous for from about the mid-1400s until the French Revolution. Once the upper classes were overthrown, the silk producers had no one left to buy the stuff and the city was thrown into economic despair. Ooops.
By the mid-1800s, however, Napoleon was able to revive the industry by making everyone wear silk. This second wave of silk industry success lasted until WWI. Priorities changed.
I went to one of the silk ateliers where the sign said I could come in and learn all about how silk is made in an authentic workshop. I was the only one there aside from the people working and they just ignored me and went on with their work. It was like being invisible. Nobody even said bonjour. I was hoping to see some silk worms and the spinning of the thread, but all that seemed to happen in the atelier was dying and printing of the silk. I didn’t stay long because it was all kind of creepy being invisible. I can cross that off my list of which super-power I might like to have, anyway.
Elsewhere, I also I learned that Lyon has over 150 murals painted on the outside of their buildings –most of the trompe l’oeil variety. The biggest, at over 1200 square meters, is the Mur des Canuts. (The term “canut” means silk weaver in France. It seems to mean completely different things in other cultures).
Anyway, this entire wall is a painting. It’s really just a big blank wall. Everything you see here is all a painting — the lamppost, the car, the trees, the buildings, the people…everything — and this is only one section of the wall. Every few years the whole things is upgraded. The people in it age, acquire families, the kids get older, the cars and bicycles are updated, the plants grow and recede over time. It’s kind of cool.
Uh oh..can you spot the upgrade made to the wall today?? I had to scrunch down so it would look like I was sitting on the steps. Are your l’oeils tromped or what?
So once the tour was over, I found a Roman ruin, as promised in a previous post. The crumbling old amphitheatre (Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls), pictured below, was first built in 12 BC and held an audience of 20,000. Not sure what they performed there since most of the good playwrights and composers hadn’t even been born yet. The plaque says this is where “the representatives of the 64 nations of the three Gauls would meet every year”. The three Gauls (Gallia Celtica, Belgica and Aquitania) encompassed most of what is Europe today. So, basically an Iron Age EU.
Aside from politics, this amphitheatre was also a hotspot for torturing Christian martyrs.
I like this because nobody has tried to restore it or fix it up. They just put a fence around it and let it be. I can’t even believe how intact it all is after over 2,000 years. (PS: the buildings in the background aren’t part of it and were built more recently)
Then I decided to climb these stairs. It’s what everybody does here. There are a lot of stairs like this all over Lyon.
Then I took a photo of the view from almost the top.
Apparently the Alps are back there somewhere, but they are only visible if the weather is about to turn really bad. Nobody here likes seeing the Alps.
Then I went back down the stairs.
Then it was time for un petit dodo.
Things get pretty quiet in the hood here after 2:00pm. Lunch is precisely from 12:00 to 2:00 and everyone and their dog is out wining and dining. Then most of the restaurants and shops close. Around 4:30-5:00 the kids get out of school, so they make a bit of a racket and some of the shops re-open. But nothing much else happens until 7:30ish when the restaurants and all the other shops re-open for the supper crowd. That goes on until midnight when everybody finally stops eating and goes home.
And then nothing much happens until about 10:00am.
One of the things I wanted to do in Lyon was eat at a Paul Bocuse restaurant because he’s reputed to be a world class chef and has lots of Michelin stars and stuff. His main restaurant, Auberge du Pont de Collonges (aka Le Auberge or just The Paul Bocuse Restaurant to the in crowd), has 3 stars and is renown for it’s novelle cuisine. But whatever, I had a look at the menu and it’s 99% meat-based so I figured it would be a waste of my euros to go. So I did the next best thing I had lunch at one of his Brassieres. (Le Nord)
I will admit, I was expecting a lot. The place had a lovely ambience and the service was incredible, with people bringing me stuff and taking stuff away from me all the time. Also, lots of linen table accessories and a whole new set of cutlery every 5 minutes and extra bits and pieces to make me feel special – like a bowl of delicious green olives. It was a challenge to hang on to them, though, as they kept trying to move them off my table. Maybe they only have so many and need to recycle them.
After the main course I had the option of dessert or cheese. I don’t even see how that’s a choice. Who wants to eat cheese when they could have dessert? I like cheese, don’t get me wrong, and sometimes cheese and some fruit is my whole supper. And I do know having cheese after a meal is a thing in some circles, but come on…dessert.
Their dessert options for the set meal were pretty limited. They consisted of two types of cheese desserts (neither of which was cheesecake) and an apple pastry.
Anway, the food was just okay. I wanted to be blown away and I wasn’t. I got the 3 course set meal of the day, and really…meh. Of course, I suspect Paul wasn’t actually in the kitchen cooking, so that could explain it.
To round out my attempt at high-brow holidaying, I went to the Musee des Beaux Arts. It was more muse than beaux arts with mummies and artifacts and stuff. Amazing building though and lovely, lovely gardens.
I also went to this book store and tried to look like I was someone browsing for important French literature in French.
PS: I can’t believe I just reviewed a Paul Bocuse restaurant!
I hopped on a train yesterday and came to Lyon. I’ve never been here and always wanted to visit. They Lyonnais(e) are always bragging about their food and their Cote du Rhone wines. So, since travel for me is pretty much 90% about food and drink, here I am!
I booked a little apartment in the Vieux Lyon sector which, coincidentally is right on the Cote du Rhone. The apartment looked quaint and medievally on Tripadvisor and got good reviews so I figured why not?
My host told me to take a taxi from the train station, so I did. Everything was fine until we got to the old part of town and then the taxi driver got all bent out of shape about having to drive through the narrow streets. He finally just stopped and said he couldn’t access the street I had to go to. Which was crap because we had just passed the street I had to go to and it looked perfectly accessible to me. I think he just didn’t want to turn around and go back. I argued with him in my awkward government French, but he wouldn’t budge and just go out of the car and put my suitcase on the road, shrugging a lot and waving his hands about in mock despair.
See, the thing about a medieval village is that it’s all big lumpy (and very hilly) cobblestoned roads which weren’t made for handy roller suitcases — and vice versa. So, even though the apartment was maybe only a block away, I was a tad annoyed. I couldn’t figure out how I was going to maneuver my bag up that one block. Then I realized that, in his haste to be away from me and my luggage, the taxi driver had forgotten to take his fare from me. And that made everything better. Ha! Fifteen euros, sucka!
At any rate, before the free cab ride high even wore off, a frantic Frenchman rushed over, waving his white-linen-clad arms and (from what I could gather) cursing the taxi driver. It was my host Patrick. He was all apologetic and said the taxi driver was an ass, or something even more scathing in French, as he’d seen us circling the area and couldn’t figure out why the taxi had dumped me so far from the front door.
I explained, while Patrick heaved my suitcase up into his skinny little French arms and carried that big bastarding thing all the way up the hill and over the cobbles to the apartment building — and those cobbles aren’t easy to walk on at the best of times.
And then —then when we got to the building, Patrick carried that 20 kilos of suitcase all the way up 4 narrow, winding flights of very tiny steps to the apartment. I was tres, tres impressionne.
Patrick – who was not even out of breath despite the fact that he had a smoker’s aroma about him, then gave me a 20 minute orientation on how everything works, or is supposed to work in the apartment. You won’t be surprised to know that medieval buildings don’t always function as they should, despite all the renovations. He has done a pretty good job at modernizing the place for functionality, while respecting the history, but there are still a lot of quirks. I told him it was all fine because it’s a real thrill for me just to be staying in such an ancient place. Sure, I wouldn’t want to live here full time, but it’s something different for a few days. All but one of the other units in the place are permanent homes though. I can’t even imagine.
Before he left, Patrick called a taxi for me for the return journey and promised to be back in a few days to drag my poor suitcase back down the stairs. The man is a prince, I tell ya.
If you’re ever looking for a place to stay in Lyon, I’m wholeheartedly recommending this place so far – central, comfortable, very well equipped, very reasonably priced — and features a lovely, stronger-than-he-looks host.
I almost never depend on the kindness of strangers in regular life, but boy-howdy, in a foreign country, I find myself constantly accosting strangers for information and assistance. And, thankfully, there really are so many kind strangers out there. I’ve always tried to do my best to help out tourists or newcomers in Toronto when they ask for, or look like they need help and I’ll be sure to re-double my efforts when I get home.
By the way, if you’re interested, Lyon was originally founded in 43 BC as a colony for the Roman Empire. Probably my apartment isn’t quite that old, but I’ll try to go hunting for evidence of Roman occupation over the next few days.