Calves Head and French Passion

Three weeks since our last blog, how time flies when we’re having so much fun. In the past three weeks, Phil’s been away with his fishing buddies for a “blokes weeks”, and when we got back together, we’ve travelled through Belgium and are now half way down through France.

We’ve had seriously hot days when we’ve had to hide away from the afternoon sun, and we’ve had to scrape clear frozen windscreens, from nighttime frosts. We’ve stayed on river and canal banks in the Alsace, and watched the water lazily wend it’s way through valleys and vineyards, and we’ve stayed high up on mountains and watched the clouds below us fill those same valleys with their white mist.

        The green and yellow vinyards of the Alsace cover the hills and valleys for miles

The beauty of this travelling life has been so evident to us over the last couple of weeks, as now we’re away on the continent, almost every day now is bringing us something new to experience.

  Chris and Peter, friends from Antwerp

Phil always enjoys his week away with the boys, but it really was a very poor weeks fishing this year. Netherlands used to be a Mecca for Fishing, but with fewer and fewer fish each year, it’s now reached a point where the “Fishymens” annual trip needs to find a new venue.

Our week apart raced by, and when Phil finally joined back up with Carol, we headed straight down into Belgium to meet up with some friends we’ve made through our blog. Chris and Peter live in a beautiful area in the suburbs of Antwerp, and we spent a fabulous day with them walking through local forests as we talked and shared stories of motor-homing and life on the road. We look forward to meeting up again in some distant part of Europe maybe!

France is an amazing country for motor-homing. The infrastructure is way beyond anything we’ve experienced so far. As well as normal camp sites, France has a network of “Aires”, and “France Passions”, all in place to give Motor-homers places to stay. There’s no booking involved, you just turn up.

The Aires are generally simple no-frills areas set aside on the outskirts of villages and towns, with room for parking a few vehicles, and providing water and waste emptying facilities, and sometimes electric and toilets. They vary in quality and facilities but there are so many that we’re never short of a place to stay. At least half of the Aires are free, provided by the villages and the local tourist boards, in the hope of bringing tourists – and money – into their villages. Others make a small charge, anything between 3 and 10 Euros.

France Passions, are a network of winegrowers, farmers and trades people who allow you to stay over for free at their premises. They generally don’t provide any services – motorhomers are expected to be self sufficient. While there’s no charge for allowing you to stay, the Passion owners do hope – without expectation – that you’ll visit their shop or restaurant and purchase some of their goods.

We were hoping for one of these for dinner!

Our first visit to a Passion was a huge disappointment. It was a duck and goose farm that specialised in pâté and fois grois. We were really looking forward to a scrumptious meal at their rustic little restaurant, but when we arrived we found the owners were away on holiday. We spent the night in the company of 300 noisy ducks and geese, with beans on toast for dinner.

Our second night of Passion was altogether more successful, when we stayed with a wine grower, in the most beautiful little village of Eguisheim, in the Alsace wine region of France. He was most certainly there and we enjoyed tasting (and buying) some of his fantastic wines.

Eguisheim village, and nearby Colmar town are two of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited. Close to Strasbourg and the German border, Eguisheim is ranked one of the beautiful villages in France, and was voted the “Village Préféré des Français 2013! It’s clear to see why it won this distinction. The cobbled streets are built in concentric circles around the market square, with half timbered painted houses and the most amazing floral displays. With more than 30 wine tasting houses in this tiny little village, all we can say, is go visit! The pictures below give just a taste of these two beautiful places (click to enlarge)

The last week has given us two new gastronomic experiences that won’t be forgotten.

Phil was fishing in Lac-de-Vesoul-Vaivre just outside Vesoul, when he was lucky to hook into a large fish. After a bit of time playing the fish, and the gathering of an audience on the Bank waiting for the fish to be landed, Phil, eventually landed a 9 pound Zander. (This is a cross between a pike and and a perch, common in Europe but rareish in the UK). From the reaction and feedback from the crowd, it was clear

        Phil’s 9lb Zander

that this was a fabulous fish, and one that should not be wasted, it had to be eaten!  To UK “catch and release” fishermen, the concept of eating a freshwater fish was very alien, but Zander is often seen on the menu of European restaurant’s and we knew they were good eating, so we listened to the voices of the crowd and bagged it for the kitchen.

Trying to fillet a 9lb fish in a small Motorhome with barely sharp knives, without covering the walls with blood and guts was a challenge, but what a fantastic meal we had. Zander is flaky like cod, with a delicate flavour that was absolutely beautiful.

Conversely, two nights before, we were staying at a Passion high in the mountains, at a skiing lodge near the Ballon d’Alsace. On the menu was La-tete-de-veal. “Boiled calves head” said the waiter, “a French delicacy, delicious”. We though it rude not to eat what our hosts call a delicacy so Phil bravely gave it a try. Big Mistake! What turned up was a clear broth, with a few vegetables, a few lumps of meat with a thick gelatinous skin, and a massive lump of what looked like solid white fat.

The meat was just about ok, though the calf obviously needed a better shave as there were lots of black hairs floating in the broth, and the thick lump of fat didn’t even get tasted. Lucky there was a great cheeseboard that night! Sorry French people, but I did try!

Looking forward – In two weeks time it’s Phil’s 60th Birthday. We’re borrowing a friends house on Lake Geneva for a week, and all of Phil’s kids, partners and grandchildren are flying down to celebrate the passing of another decade. We’ve been away almost six weeks on this trip, and we’re so looking forward to seeing some family faces.

When the Birthdays over…..we’re heading down to Spain and hopefully some sun!

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