All Posts · Transylvanian travels · Travels in Europe

A European Cheese tour

judi-castille-cheese-map-of-europe

Tony and I decided to take a road trip around Europe, in an attempt to see as many cities as we could over a almost four weeks.  Everyone thought we were mad taking my old car, but it seemed the simplest way to see the countries we passed through.  One of the difficulties of making the trip is that you don’t exactly know how long the drive between capitals will take and what time you have to explore.  I wanted to compare the cities, the food and get the confidence to travel without too much organization.  Relax and see what we find.  I also wanted to introduce my love of cheese, of which I will be writing more about in later editions.  Each country has its traditional cheeses, so for each city there is a recommendation of the cheeses you should try.


Paris – No cheddar but good tarts

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Armed with minimal clothes, toothbrush, camera and a map, we took the ferry to France and bypassing Paris, we drove south to Strasbourg, on the German boarder.  Don’t get me wrong, Paris is fantastic city, Tony and I know it well, and I would love to live there for a while, having spent a week in small but opulent apartment of a very well to do designer in Montparnasse.  On arriving it was if she had just popped out the shops for a minute.  She left food, bottles of wine, fresh flowers.  All her personal things remained; books to be read, hats to be tried on, and the odd bottle of expensive perfume to dab on wrists.  The apartment was opposite Montparnasse tower, vertiginous, it took me an hour to pluck up the courage to look out of the windows on the viewing gallery, but in the basement a bloody excellent food market and deli, packed with fresh fish, salamis, chutneys, potted fruits, salted hams and oils. If you want a central, smart hotel, choose the Castille on Rue Cambon, right next door to Chanel.  Opulent interior, late night bar, thick toweling robes and duvets like large puffed up marsh mellows.

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French cheese – endless variety and fiercely protected by the French [AOC denotes protection]. They never seem to have our cheese on their menus! Typical! Hard to choose but here are my favorites.  Banon, Brie de Maux, Cantal, Chaumes, Crottin De Chavignol, Doux de Montagne, Etorki, Explorateur, Laguiole, Mimolette, Morbier, Pelardon, Pont l’Eveque, Raclette, Selles-Sur-Cher, Saint-Agur, Saint-Nectraire, and Valencay. These cheeses cover everything from soft goaty cheeses, moldy rinded cheeses, springy and rubbery ones, to firm and crumbly.  A whole cheese board can be made up and you won’t get bored.  It was too, in the Montparnasse market that I found that France has juices, every conceivable type, something in England we didn’t have. A recent visit to Taste in Regents Park had a supplier who was combining spinach with fruits.  In Poland you have carrot juice with everything!  It was probably here that I first took an interest in food – especially artisan food.  This was food that we never had back in England, although now in London, over the last few years there has been a huge drive to develop organic and home grown produce, and I would say London is very much on the food map now as a destination.

For Paris – fine dining, patisseries – in fact their cakes, tarts and flans are simply delicious, the best hot chocolate and eating crepes in intimate cafes away from the crowds, after scouting the flee markets for books and sketches, is a lovely day.  Sometimes in Paris its best to avoid the tourist stuff and just keep it simple – there is a lovely restaurant on a boat moored on the South bank opposite Notra Dame. Un Mojito Sure Scene serves hot chocolate made with cream and real chocolate, light salads and excellent fish dishes.  The view takes in the whole of the Il de Cite and is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. In fact Paris is about time.

Time to stroll, to dine, to shop. With the world of commerce parked out in La Defence I expect its good each night to leave that behind.  In London you cannot miss the city, it dominates the skyline and is what London is to me – commercial and making money.    As Paris is so alive at night it is ideal if you plan to stay out late for a jazz club in the Marais area, or hit the So-Ho equivalent – Pigalle for Moulin Rouge – but beware the price of champagne there!  Seeing where the Japanese dine will be a good indication of price. The first glass was free, the second a mortgage ….so we had one glass the whole evening!  Heading back to the hotel, we caught a late night filming session at the Louvre, some contemporary hip art group filming a guy in a night shirt waving a balloon about and a long stick loaf.  I couldn’t resist miming what I thought he might be saying, interspersed with English Sinicism and dry wit, to the amusement of the students also staring through the plate glass window. Paris is fun, so always have dinner early to fit a few more hours into the day and head out for the night life.


Barcelona – the city that never sleeps

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It’s a long haul to Catalan Barcelona including crossing the Pyrenees but worth the visit.  Tree lined boulevards, the marina, the old Gothic quarter, Gaudi and hundreds of restaurants. Barcelona comes alive at night, with many bars open till early morning.  Typical dinner time is eleven in the evening and hangovers have to be postponed until siesta time.  The city doesn’t sleep [ I worked that out after the first night and our neighbors closed the café at 4am!] and being on the coast, fish and seafood is a specialty. We stayed in La Rambla, the more downtown part of the city, but where you will find cheaper cafes, local wine, local gossip, and local prostitutes!.  For a change we bought food from the local markets here – numerous and mouth wateringly stuffed with local farm produce – and cooked back in our apartment.  Spicy Spanish sausages, stuffed olives, bread, and cheeses.  My favourite being Garrotxa – a local Catalan cheese, made from sheep’s milk. It almost went into extinction back in the 1980’s, but is now being produced again by Artisan cheese makers.  Its almost impossible to get in the England, a shame, but worth tracking down through a specialist deli.  Works well with walnuts and washed down with a refreshing white wine.

Barcelona remains a favourite city. In July its hot, the warm breeze coming straight off the Med – so the narrow streets of La Rambla are an ideal – and a good place to start your visit. Don’t miss the Sagrada Familia  – simply stunning and you get to see the actually logistics of building a cathedral.  Barcelona is full on in the architecture front, flamboyant, Gaudi and the eccentric Art Nouveau, popular here but not back in England, which makes Barcelona unique.  Shop fronts are set in sinew styled frames with intricate stained glass and metal work.  Buildings think nothing of planting extreme modern art atop and within.  Street art is brash and the streets are noisy, bustling, and always awake, you need stamina to walk this city, so make sure you grab some good food along the way.

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We had a great Chinese near the old bull ring.  The only problem was, that back in England you order a number 5, 26, 31 and 42, but here, and now realizing why the other diners were looking so shocked, that number 5,26,31 and 42 were all self-contained meals on their own.  Not speaking the lingo, nothing being translated and not wishing to be awkward, it took us over two hours to try and eat the 11 plates of food we had ordered.  In the end we had to explain about doggy bags and had enough left to cover another full day of site seeing.



Strasbourg – a passing trip

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No mishaps to Strasbourg.  Using the very reliable and simple Booking.Com website we had booked a night in this city more out of curiosity and found a hotel right in the center – basic but at only 55 euros per night who’s complaining.  In fact most of the hotels we booked over this trip were between 35 and 85 euros per night, and all exactly as the website described, clean, good and central – including being able to offer last minute rooms at silly prices, ideal when you arrive late at night and haven’t booked ahead.  For some reason we had a window that was so huge, when open it cut across our bed! I have to say Strasbourg is a lovely city for a couple of days, but I found it a little claustrophobic.  Its Teutonic style architecture and narrow streets along the river, especially La Petite France, are quaint but it was expensive and as eating is a great pleasure, the pleasure was undermined by price. It is the center of fine dining and I happen to love sauerkraut, crispbreads, Munster cheese – creamy, with a stinky orange washed rind, which once removed the smell disappears.  Washing the rind gives the cheese flavour as it matures, good on the cheese board, and nice with a White Muscat.  I studied the Protestant movement years ago, and Strasbourg was at the heart of the religious revolution, so from an historical perspective and cultural worth a visit.

judi-castille-strasbourg-reflections

Early morning, we head off in our old car for Vienna – dodging the fast BMW’s and Audi’s as we hit the autobahn. Very soon we know our place, inside lane!  After a few hours our engine was smoking and it was apparent our top speed was mere 50mph.  Mid Sunday, we wouldn’t make Vienna so we pulled into the outskirts of Munich in search of a garage.  The boys at Audi treated my Ford Focus with all the usual German efficiency and it seemed like a good opportunity to stay in Munich for a few days.


Munich – what Germany does well

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We loved Munich. So did Hitler! After some confusion over key codes to gain entry, we found ourselves in a self-contained apartment with a balcony overlooking the city rooftops and very central. I had been to Germany a few years earlier, camping throughout Bavaria in a tent.  The great pine forests, with their aromatic, woody, resinous smell, extend for miles and perfect for setting up camp for a few days and settling down to some good beers round the camp fire.  Munich, its capital, with narrow streets full of cafes and restaurants and large boulevards with grand terraces to dine from,  sport a varied menu.   German fair, including my favourite sauerkraut,  Kartoffelsalat [ marinated salad and potatoes] with  pork sausages includes excellent beers – sometimes up to 30 to choose from– top selling popular Pils comes from here, Lowenbrau and many far better local Bavarian breweries selling wheat beers – light  and hoppy to heavy and malty. The alcohol content rises to 9% vol.

The Oktoberfest is the place to be if you like your beer and want a hangover to remember! The start of the festival is typically German, a countdown to exuberance and seeing who can drink the most in a short space of time. The flagons are huge and the German bladder must be as tough as the leather lederhosen they often sport.  Munich’s food was a revelation as years before it appeared to be mainly very salty steaks, a couple of floppy lettuce leaves and no veg in site.  Even today though, the menu is mainly meat based. For cheese I would recommend Cambazola –  a creamy blue cheese, cow’s milk with cream and with a slightly sour taste to compliment the meats from this area.

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For designer clothes and accessories, all the main fashion houses are here along tree lined boulevards.   It’s a smart city, clean, cosmopolitan but you can picnic down by the river if you want a relaxed afternoon.  Don’t swim though, as the police will appear and wave you out.  We dined at a hotel restaurant on one of the boulevards, on a large terrace.  The interior was ornate and Deco, the food excellent and you had a grand, expansive view across the city.  Where often London can seem hectic and often work orientated, Munich seems more work hard, play hard.  I would live in Munich, it has variety, old and new architecture juggle together, wide open parks, quiet spots, great shopping and plenty of culture with German class, and attention to detail.


Vienna – hidden secrets

judi-castille-vienna-trams

The Audi boys left the Ford in pristine condition, fully valeted.  We headed speedily onto Vienna.  I had high expectations of Vienna, was excited, expecting opulence and night life.  I don’t like Strauss,  [Austrian airlines play him as you embark and disembark – in a loop] Freud  lived here – I can’t comment and its apparently number one venue for conventions and congresses – yawn.  Not surprised.  On the whole I found a large part of Vienna dirty, unimaginative and as if it were stuck in the 1940’s.  The tram we took from our out of town hotel, excellent hotel in the grounds of a palace, was a museum piece.  Even the walk, don’t walk sign had a man in rather above the ankle trousers and he wore a trilby hat.  The shop staff were sharp and rude, and the waitresses were curt and impatient. The shops were dowdy, their idea of advertising, to find a sun faded clipping from a magazine and tape it to the window, maybe sticking a dusty vase of faded silk flowers in front. My mother said back in the 1950’s the Austrians were somewhat unpleasant and arrogant, and I have to say, many it seemed haven’t changed!

judi-castille-vienna-cafe-life

Food wise – apple strudel and schnitzel are traditional but our schnitzel was salty, overpriced [the café owner must have seen us coming] and we spent the next hour feeling dehydrated and conned!  Coffee is very popular in Vienna, we stopped at a pleasant outside café, tables on a raised wooden platform, draped with pastel curtains and ordered an espresso and lemonade.  The change was thrown on the table and I was glad to leave, even though it was raining heavily.  I am sure Vienna is lovely if you have money to attend the opera, museums, galleries and fine dine, but on our budget – it was rather cold and uninviting. The main shopping center was a revelation however, and did have some high class stores, innovative shop front designs and elegant restaurants. But very soon we were back into the more built up, out of center area.  The historical aspect of the Jewish community pre-war was very evident here in the large villas that lined the streets and the shop signage in the old quarter.  With the Jewish acumen for business I think the balance of power would have been quite contentious in this city.  Tony left his hat on a train – it looked too like what Hitler would wear, so we donated it to the Austrian transport system.


Krakow – Tolerance except in trams

judi-castille-krakov-square

Central Europe – Poland – the hub of the German genocide in a country of great beauty.  Huge tracts of forest where wild boar still roam, lakes to take a dip and camp by, and meadows full of wild flowers where the Polish have huge family picnics in summer.  Krakow is the cultural capital in the South, North of Zacopania the national park in the Tatra Mountains.  During the war, this city became the home of many German officials and their social playground.  It also housed the Jewish ghetto and not made obvious in the popular guidebooks – the factory of Oskar Schindler.  You turn the corner of a small street full of DIY stores and there it is.  Just the front, but a slice of history nevertheless.  German locals travelling across the river from central Krakow through the ghetto, took trains that had blacked out windows facing the ghetto walls to prevent them from seeing anything.  Out of site out of mind.

But that was then and this is now.  A city of diversity, centered round the central castle, the tree lined Planty park leads you out into boulevards where you can dine, shop and take the tram out to explore.  But don’t forget to get your tram ticket stamped in the ticket machine. No stamp, it’s not valid.  We spoke to the driver on boarding to check our destination.  Then on finding we had gone too far, we stayed on board to return back towards the center.  The ticket inspector was very aggressive and proposed to call the police even though we had paid for a ticket and the driver knew we were tourists.  Remonstrating he called for reinforcements.  By now the locals were arguing too with the inspector and at the next stop we jumped off leaving him to now defend himself with the locals.

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Our hotel was very central.  A late deal made with the reception on the basis that we had a specific sum available.  Being Thursday and little hope of selling a suite, we got a first class bedroom with dressing room, bathroom with gold taps, bath robes and a silver tea service, for four days, for less than a hundred per night. The Francuski Hotel. It has it controversy with the chef Gessler running it, but I couldn’t fault it.

On the food front Polish food is very varied here, picking up other European and Russian cuisine in its menus.  On the main square where the horse drawn carriage promenade,  we had stuffed cabbage Golabki, Mizeria – cucumber in sour cream cool and refreshing, spicy schnitzels, Saltka a salad of potatoes, hard boiled eggs, peas, celery, mustard and mayonnaise and parsley root, and Pierogi dumplings filled with sweet curd cheese.  Bigos is popular – cabbage is the big thing the more East you go.  It’s lovely but in England we associate cabbage with less desirable consequences!

A quick trip to the Jewish Bookshop – a great place to drink a coffee [ your given a wooden spoon with a number on it to make sure you get the right coffee] ,  you can take your hot beverage to anywhere you want to read the second hand books sitting on homey chairs or peruse to buy .  It’s quaint and down a quiet backstreet.  Its worth exploring the outer edges of the city, communist architecture abounds and there is still a large communist development worth visiting to see the banal concrete provided to create an alternative and mind washing Utopia – Nowa Huta district. Freedom and equality images are carved into the facades of some of the government buildings and a stark contrast to the center of the city.  Krakov is a city of tolerance – one evening we ate an Italian meal in a Jewish restaurant, playing English music, full of German diners.  The waiter served us an excellent cheese board requested as I dislike sweets and deserts – mainly a variety of European and English cheeses.  Polish cheese does not fare well on the cheese itinery.  One to mention is Oscypek, a smoked cheese molded into conical shapes, decorative and very rustic.  Many others are variations on this cheese.  I asked how the Polish could be so tolerant given the history of the city.  He replied that a German on his own is a guest but a group…..I got his meaning.


Valcea – Hackerville

judi-castille-vulcea-main-boulevard

Onto Romania our half way point.  Tony comes from Romania, and I come from Essex – a friend of mine said there had to be a joke in their somewhere!! We were going to visit family and the farm where some of our produce is grown.  Just on the boarder, the Hungarian police stop us.  Tony negotiates risk of arrest, want my car – typical British, affronted I say – take it.  No they don’t want the car they want money!  Thrusting my paperwork onto the Hungarian policeman’s chest with “take it” again, Tony guides him away and breaks a deal.  Criminal! We cross and as the sun sets rapidly we make the long, meandering run through the Southern Carpathian Mountains, overtaking the hundreds of lorries, dodging overtaking cars and me feeling very nervous about plunging into the river below.  It used to be more dangerous, with falling rocks, lorries overcooking the bends and often shut for hours whilst the debris was cleared – Olt Defile.  The river cuts through the Transylvanian Alps and leads us to the town of Valcea.

I bought a house in Valcea and from here with Tony, was able to run part of our business.  Romania, as Prince Charles expressed “ is a rich biodiversity with native plants, mushrooms, insects and birds…..flower botany…bears are often seen and wolves.”  The Southern Carpathians rise above the town of Valcea, often still snowcapped in the height of the summer.  From the main boulevard that runs through the city, you catch glimpses of the mountains and it sets the scene for a very smart place to stay.  The honey smell of Linden Trees permeates the warm air in the evening and the cafes and restaurants stay open late.  The bees pollinate the Linden Trees and it’s one of the honey’s we import back to London.  Bee keeping in Romania is extensive and range of honeys diverse.  We also import tea.  A favourite of ours is Mountain Peony – floral but as robust as a good black tea.

judi-castille-vulcea-night-life

Romania is very Latin, its food, its culture, its very language, but after the war in a deal, was handed over to the communists and the terrifying regime of  Nicolae Ceausescu.  Extreme repression, food shortages, and communist communal canteens to control food.  Valcea became part of the revolution to destroy the dictator, who was eventually assassinated and now with investment is a financial and governmental center with all the amenities that bring wealth and affluence.  It’s a clean city, with wide roads, popular retail stores, shopping malls, bustling markets and unusually helpful and fast acting solicitors who seem totally unphased by us dropping in to confer on all matters.  Restaurants serve large portions, tasty and relatively low priced for the western traveler. Shopping, eating, fixing a puncture are all easy in this town.  My puncture at first causing me grief, the vision of teeth sucking and a bill of eighty pounds, in reality came to the grand sum of £7.50, my tyre repaired and lasting for the remaining two thousand miles we drove and back in England until it went below the MOT level of traction.  I was speechless and I realized what a good wheeze it is back in England when we have to change a tyre.

Food in Romania can probably be compared to that in Greece and Italy.  Polenta, fried fish, Sarmale-meat in cabbage, soup,  steak , pickles, chiftele- meatballs and Mititei – lamb, pork and beef rounds of  meat with herbs is extremely popular, washed down with beer and tuica – stronger than vodka, home made from prunes! The Japanese love it.  Mititei is a national institution and along Black Hill, throughout the year, 24 hours, people flock here, driving miles to share the 1,500 Mititei a day.  Brinza is a sheep’s milk cheese, traditional, locally made and in winter preserved in salt, making it more feta like.  Enjoyed with polenta, it originates from the Carpathian area of Romania.

Like many cities – Valcea has also become famous for another very different reason.  Hackerville is name coined by the USA – Cybercrime central, the center for hacking, phishing and with it bringing wealth, fast cars and fast night life in the clubs.  Known to the FBI, it has its underworld.  But then all cities do.  That reminds me, I must install AVG when I get back to the house.


Venice – all that you dreamed it would be

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We stay a week, catch up on the family gossip and plan the remaining route.  The drive across to Venice is going to be a long one, crossing the rugged, wild, mountainous countries of Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia.  We wanted to avoid Hungary and ended up taking almost two days to cross this part of Europe mainly on single lane roads, in bad disrepair and via a town that at the time seem to resemble hell.  We had made slow progress, missed the dramatic views of the Danube as it passes through the deep ravines and suddenly arrived at what seems a huge hole in the ground.  The road wound downwards passed what seems disused tenement blocks and graffiti – Majdanpek.  Spooky and communistic in style.  An ex mining town we needed the Serbian police to show us the way out, via a steep track covered with fallen rocks.

The road was endless, but after a quick sleep in the car, we crossed the beautiful hillsides of Croatia and into northern Italy and onto Venice.  Venice – out on a lagoon – elegant, historical, a maze of canals and alleys, no cars, full of designer shops, beautiful handmade accessories, leather goods, and cuisine from every country drawn from its Mediterranean heritage as a merchant city and major port in the middle ages and renaissance, and the large piazza to spend a long evening people watching and listening to outdoor concerts and art performances.  The waterbus takes you from the Lido Island where we stayed, to the heart of Venice.  The Lido is a better choice to get respite from the crowds after a day of site seeing.  Venice may be small but due to the canals you end up walking miles.  Velvet and tasseled Gondolas ply the Grand Canal and the floating city is breathtaking. No it didn’t smell.  Our hotel on the lido was Atlanta Augustus, Art Deco, good food, quiet, with a romantic four poster draped in cool white muslin, overlooking a cobbled street full of rhododendrons.  We had a laid back evening at the Trattoria Africa restaurant.  Typical Italian menu but tasty, inexpensive and some good wines on offer.  The cheese board was excellent. Italian cheese is now almost part of our daily shopping trips – Mascarpone, Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano [Parmesan], Ricotta.  Italy is protective like France, with DOC.  Inspectors visit cheese factories with strict criteria for manufacture, ensuring where the cheeses are made is designated as protected and ensuring artisan cheeses are promoted.  Try Bel Paese instead of mozzarella, Dolcelatte where Gorgonzola is too strong, and Grana Pedano as slightly less salty than Parmigiano and softer.  For grating on pasta or risotto or in sauces Pecorino, a sheeps milk cheese with an aromatic salty taste.  Teleggio is a semi soft cheese, and has it has a robust aroma it creates a thick creamy sauce ideal for livening up broccoli, leaks, topping steaks and making gratins.

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Venice in the heart of summer is crowded and often its hard to get a quiet place to eat.  In the end we decided to enjoy the back streets, grabbed some bread, wine, fruit, cheese and hams from the local deli and picnicked.  From here, you feel a million miles away and very soon you fall in love with the place.  Italian food is varied but watch the prices.  The ice cream mafia work here as well as in Rome. And like Paris, take your drinks at the bar, at the table it will cost you more.  It is actually hard to write about Venice.  It’s everything I expected and an intimate city that I think will need to be explored further to get away from the tourists.

Passing north, through the Alps, we stop for a quick dip in Lake Como – stunningly beautiful between the mountains, turquoise water and speed boats mooring at playboy villas.  The Alps are stunning and the road through slightly unnerved me being petrified of heights.  As the evening wore on, again we were running late – too much time relishing Lake Como – we arrived in Frankfurt at 4am.


Frankfurt – Techno and a Gay community 

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“Obsession”, the hotel porter stated for the umpteen time, and at 4am in the morning, we were not prepared to go and find a parking space in the road, when we had a reservation.  After he told us to be careful not to run anyone over, and that it was his “obsession”, I decided he was an idiot and the British temper leaned over the check in desk and told him that we would park at the rear, for as far as we were concerned you could get a bloody bus back there!  Booking.Com let us down only this time.  The room smelt, the toilet had pee in it, and the basin was still full of wash water and a hair draped causally over the edge.  We poked the bed to see if it was alive, but in the end the beds turned out to be the most comfortable I have ever slept in.  A strange place!

After an excellent and filling Mexican dish at a local bar, mid-morning we took the train into Frankfurt.  Frankfurt is a huge city, famous for skyscrapers and shopping, culture, especially music and dance.  Only having a day to spare we headed for Altstadt on the river, with its pedestrian shopping precinct – Zeil and Opernplatz. High class retailers here and smart cafes. The park here is nicknamed Central Park due to the skyscrapers and many locals race around the town on roller skates and bikes – in fact you have to watch the bikes – they do not slow down for pedestrians but ring their bells furiously. We enjoyed a cool pint of beer by the river, then headed onto the center where the crowds were increasing as the city nightlife came out to play.

judi-castille-frankfurt-fast-trams

Frankfurt founded Techno Music, and many techno and trance clubs flourished here.  Every July Frankfurt holds their Gay Pride festival, in London it’s in June and throughout the world you could party every week of the year.  A popular lesbian magazine “InsideHer” seems to me the best example of German tongue in cheek.

I couldn’t leave Frankfurt without mentioning sausages and cheese.  The ubiquitous Frankfurter originated here.  A smoked pork sausage that found fame as a hot dog.  Cheese in Germany you might think would be as diverse as it is in France, but the Germans copy many of their European neighbours cheeses and therefore cannot claim to the name, but poplar ones are Quark, a smooth cream cheese, Limburger which due to its washed rind, stinks, but is lovely and spicy and good with cheese biscuits as long as it does not get too soft, then it is unpleasantly slimy; and Handkas Mit Musik – pickled cheese – good with cold meats.


Amsterdam – Going Dutch

judi-castille-amsterdam-cafe

I went to Amsterdam over fourteen years ago and loved this city with its waterways, huge choice of food, enormous pancakes and my favourite rubbery cheeses. Edam is Holland, round, red rind and smooth and nutty in taste. Gouda is lovely and bittersweet. Mimolette is a very mature Edam, orange in colour, and hard and grainy and ideal for baking to give a strong, tangy yaste.  Leerdammer and Maasdam are creamy and smooth, full of holes cause by microbes reacting with lactic acid during fermentation. As the lactic acid bubbles are absorbed the holes remain.  For any dishes requiring a good strong cheese to grill with or get that cheesy flavour, the Dutch cheeses are ideal.  Slightly stringy when cooked, they cool into little golden spots of cheesy flavour.

Packed with history, paintings from every genre, antiques, diamonds and tall houses built to flout the land taxes, clubs and bars run by open minded natives, and museums showing the greats – Van Gough, Rembrandt and impressionists.  It has a language all of its own, unpronounceable.  The prostitutes start early at around 3.30pm and what other country would have clogs as a national shoe!  The Dutch look healthy.  The canals swarm with bicycles, trams and there is an air of happiness wherever you go.  Amsterdam feels energetic and modern.  A real find was a restaurant along the Singel, selling freshly cooked chicken, fish, vegetables while you waited, priced by the plates you accumulated similar to the conveyor belt sushi bars.  The freshly made juices, tasty rice dishes that accompanied called us back three times during our short stay.  I have lost the receipts, so I cannot be helpful with a name.  Bittenballens and Stroopwafels were great as snacks as you explored the many canals that fan out from the central station.

judi-castille-amsterdam-dutch-cheeses

The Dutch know how to design a public toilet too…smart affairs where you can also buy toothpaste, toiletries, mint balls, compacts and other girly stuff.  Funky music plays and the lights change from yellow to pink to turquoise.  One odd thing though – toilets for two people?  Sharing the moment.  Maybe not!

The Dutch luckily all speak English and you can buy the London papers, so you really do not feel too far from home. Watch the trams, they are almost silent and you have a hierarchy here – bikes, trams, cars though few, and on foot.  So you have to keep your eyes peeled.  If you have a chance visit the Art Deco cinema Tuschinski.  After negotiating its labyrinth of corridors and padded doors we were ushered to the back rows of the auditorium.  Being early evening we all but filled the last two rows.  On asking if we could sit further forward the usher sharply stabbed the air with his torch back to the rear seats.  Our neighbour informed us that once the lights go down, everyone changes places anyway.  Then halfway through the film, the lights go up mid scene, almost as if someone has cut it with scissors.  You head for a pee and the bar.  How long do we have? How long you need?  The film just starts again when the operator decides.  We miss five minutes.  And the seats.  Our seats differed in height by almost six inches.  It’s quite disturbing looking up your neighbours nose.  But it was fun and I am too afraid to go back in case it’s not the same.  Unique and eccentric – it has love seats too.  Another case of sharing and going Dutch.


 

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