The Jack Horner Pub, Fitzrovia, London

I’ll admit it up front, I’m a sucker for Fuller’s beers. This is especially fortunate because London has a lot of Fuller’s pubs. They have become quite a large brewer but they have not lost the knack for making very tasty brews. However, a visit to a pub is certainly more than just an excuse to drink beer and a good pub has to have a bit more going for it than a line of beer engines on the bar. I like a pub that makes me want to have a seat and relax. The Jack Horner in Tottenham Court Road is one such place. When we were in London over Christmas, we stayed in a flat in Fitzrovia and the Jack Horner was right on our most common walking route.

A feast for a weary traveler

Staying in a flat was great but it was not without a downside. Whenever we have stayed in hotels in London (or elsewhere in the U.K.) they have almost always included a full English breakfast. Renting a flat meant we were on our own. So when we spotted an item on the menu posted outside one of the doors as we walked past the Jack Horner one morning touting a full English breakfast starting at 8:00 am (9:00 am on Mondays), we decided we needed to investigate further. The barmaid handed us a menu with a number of tasty options but there was really only one choice for me—the Full English.


I have to say that one item on the bill of fare gave me a moment’s pause. I had never eaten black pudding and it’s not something that struck me as particularly appetizing. But I have spent a lot of time in the U.K. and I love pub food, so I reasoned that this represented a gap in my education that needed filling. For those unfamiliar with the finer points of English culinary practice, black pudding is an English form of blood sausage, typically made from oatmeal, pig’s blood, fat, spices, and sometimes barley or oat groats. In a breakfast context, it’s usually sliced and fried. I’ll try (almost) anything once.

If you’ve never eaten a full English breakfast, you should try it at least once in your life. In this case, it consisted of eggs, bacon, toast, baked beans, half a grilled tomato, a large grilled portobello mushroom, sausage, and black pudding. Not surprisingly, this will probably fuel you through a whole day, even if you walk all day long. It was all very nicely prepared and I must admit, the black pudding was good. I don’t think I would go out of my way to find it but I’ll eat it if it turns up with my breakfast rations again. A pot of tea to wash it all down and we were set for a full day’s exploration.

A proper pub

We liked the Jack Horner and decided to have dinner there later in the week, an easy choice as it was only a few minutes’ walk from our flat. It is certainly a comfortable and inviting establishment. A long and attractive mahogany bar greets you as you enter. I counted a total of twelve beer engines, although some selections (notably London Pride and ESB) were offered on multiple pumps. Still, there was a good variety of Fuller’s ales on offer, and that is never a bad thing. Lots of mahogany wainscoting and comfortable seating made for a warm feeling and there were snug little spaces throughout the interior. We settled down to a table, got comfortable, and started perusing the menu.

Where to start?

The Jack Horner is one of Fuller’s Ale & Pie Houses, so there was an emphasis on pies in the menu. I ordered the Ale & Pie Tasting Board while Mary settled on chicken and chorizo pie (sadly no longer offered) and a cider. I really like pub food and to me, pies are the most eloquent expression of the genre. They are typically served with mash (mashed potato in American), and a small pitcher of gravy. Many people would think that this is a bit too much starch, but it works. I actually got two varieties of gravy with my sampler and both were delicious. I was a bit leery of the vegetarian pie but it was excellent. The steak and ale pie was quite tasty, as I have come to expect in Fuller’s pubs. The chicken and chorizo was probably my least favorite of the three in the sampler, but still quite enjoyable. The three ales were ESB, London Pride, and Seafarer’s (in a Frontier lager glass for some reason) and all three were delicious, though I have to say the London Pride would be my choice with a meal.

Come on in

I intend to include write-ups on other pubs we have visited, but the Jack Horner was a good choice to start with. It’s a good, friendly pub in a great location. The Fuller’s ales are well kept and the food is delicious and filling. I admit to a bias here. I love well-prepared meal and I’ve enjoyed some memorable dining experiences in restaurants from Portland to Paris. But sometimes you just want comfort food and few things fill that bill for me better than a good steak or chicken pie and a glass of well-brewed ale. Cheers!

A Different Bit of The Netherlands

Many people tend to use Holland and The Netherlands interchangeably, even some people who live there. But North Holland and South Holland are just two of the twelve provinces that make up The Netherlands. We have traveled pretty widely from one end of the country to the other but the province that keeps drawing us back doesn’t seem to be on most peoples’ itineraries. When we point the car north, it seems like more often than not, we wind up in Friesland (or Fryslân in the local West Frisian dialect). I think it’s because more than any other province, Friesland seems to capture for us the essence of Dutch life. It’s a little more relaxed than its southerly neighbors and it really allows us to leave the outside world behind, in a way that very few places do.

Evening in Bolsward

Friesland really lends itself to touring by car, provided you are not in a rush. The roads are very well maintained and it’s easy to get nearly anywhere quickly. But the entire region is crisscrossed with canals, and they aren’t just for decoration. It’s not at all unusual to wait for several minutes as a drawbridge is raised to allow a boat (or two, or three) to pass. But the scenery is uniformly pleasant and if you’re in a hurry, you would probably be more inclined to a weekend in Amsterdam anyway.

For our last couple of visits, we have chosen the charming town of Bolsward as our base of operations. It’s central and very accommodating to visitors. We stay at Het Weeshuis (, a very

The town hall at dusk

pleasant hotel located in the Kerkstraat in a historic orphanage dating back to 1553. The rooms are large and comfortable, and it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the beautiful, friendly town center. The proprietors, Mylan and Manon Lin, are a young couple and he is a talented chef, always taking advantage of local produce at the peak of freshness. It is worth your while to book a table for dinner for at least one evening of your stay. The menu is fixed for each evening and it’s a very nice dining experience indeed.

A five-minute stroll will take you to the heart of the old town, where the impressive city hall (completed 1617) stands at one end of the town square with the Hotel/Restaurant De Wijnberg at the other. A canal bisects the square, with shops and restaurants lining either side. The railings next to the canal were festooned with flower boxes overflowing with colorful cascades of blooms. The emphasis here is on relaxed. Local families looking like they just stepped out of a tourism brochure, can be seen enjoying the evening air. Norman Rockwell would be hard pressed to portray a more idealized looking family group. Several times we noticed that shopkeepers would sometimes step out for a quick bite without bothering to lock up or even move their wares in from the sidewalk. It was a very nice change.

A stroll into town

One experience really underlined the relaxing, low-pressure nature of the place. We set out early one morning in our Honda Odyssey to explore some of the nearby sights. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn and found myself driving the wrong way down a one-way street. But this wasn’t just any one-way street. To my left was a canal, with tiny little parking spaces for local residents. To my right, pretty gabled brick houses left no room at all. Of course, someone turned into the street coming in the other direction. I was clearly in the wrong here. I couldn’t go forward and I wasn’t sure I could back up without smashing something. I had visions of the other driver jumping out of his car and yelling at me for being the goof-up that I very clearly was. Instead, without missing a beat, he whipped into one of the impossibly small parking spaces that I had assumed was not big enough to accommodate a Smart Car. Then he smiled broadly and signaled me to proceed, waving as I went by as if he was expecting us to stop by for a beer later. What had looked like a very stressful start to the day turned out to be one more exercise in slowing down and relaxing. It set just the right tone for a pleasant day in this least stressful part of The Netherlands.

The “Kerk” in Kerkstraat

I had intended to cover more ground in this post but I’m afraid I got pleasantly lost in Bolsward. In a future post (or posts), we’ll look at a few other places, such as Sneek and Hindeloopen.

Who the Heck drives 2½ Hours for a Sandwich?

Okay, it wasn’t only for the sandwich, but that was the moving force behind the day’s journey a month or so back. The sandwich in question was in Strasbourg, France and it really was that good. Just before Christmas two years ago, we took a day trip to Strasbourg with our dear friends and former neighbors from Würzburg, David and Daniela. Strasbourg always has a really nice Christmas market and it was as good an excuse as any to re-visit this lovely (and conveniently nearby) Alsatian city. The drive was pretty uneventful but when we got there, our usual parking garage was full. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze our Honda Odyssey into a Smart-Car-sized space in another garage with a bit of backing and filling, and we set off to find Yuletide treasures.

Aladdin's Cave?
Aladdin’s Cave?

As morning turned to afternoon, David and I wanted to grab a bite. Daniela and Mary weren’t interested so we decided we would just grab a sandwich on the run. Luckily, we found ourselves in front of a very small and inconspicuous boulangerie called Panette in the city’s “Petite France” district. They had an assortment of freshly made sandwiches under the counter and David and I selected a couple that looked likely to keep body and soul together for the rest of the afternoon. The woman behind the counter popped them into a small oven for a couple of minutes (definitely not a microwave!), then handed them over, nicely toasted. Since there was no seating, we took them with us to enjoy as we walked. We both took a bite and immediately looked at each other wide-eyed to see if we were both having the same experience. This was the best sandwich I could remember eating in my life—and anyone who knows me knows I’ve had more than a few! David was apparently having the same reaction.

A Library of Bread

It’s hard to say what made it so special. As sandwiches go, it wasn’t elaborate and there were no exotic ingredients. It started with a small baguette, baked fresh and topped with sesame seeds. This was spread with butter (Breton, I suspect) but no mayonnaise or other spreads. To this was added ham (definitely not from the refrigerator section), some local Munster cheese, fresh leaf lettuce, and finally, a light sprinkling of fresh herbs. Nothing fancy and nothing odd—just the very best ingredients working in perfect combination. My taste buds danced a can-can in celebration! I made a mental note of the bakery’s location and we vowed we would come back to Strasbourg, if only to prove to ourselves we weren’t over-reacting.

Petite France

Fast forward to July of this year. We went to Würzburg for the opening day of the Kiliani Fest, an annual celebration to honor St. Kilian, an Irish monk who introduced Christianity to the city in A.D. 686. As we sat in the fest tent enjoying the fruits of the vintners’ art from the local Franconian wine district, I asked David if he would be interested in going to Strasbourg a couple of weeks hence to grab a sandwich. “Of course!” he replied, without hesitation. Our calendars were open so we set the date.

It really is this pretty…

I won’t go into most of the details of our visit, except to say that the sandwiches did not disappoint the second time. We found the boulangerie without incident and stood in the street under our umbrellas, savoring every bite in the pouring rain. Daniela and Mary had made sure they brought their appetites with them this time and were able to provide independent confirmation that these were something more than your typical run-of-the-mill ham and cheese. We did notice that the bakery had won several quality awards since our last visit. This is no small achievement in France; the competition is stiff. Just this morning, we drove home from our latest French adventure in Troyes. We picked up a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches for the road. They were on brioche rolls rather than baguettes, but still absolutely delicious. Were they as good as the ones we got in Strasbourg? I’m not sure. But I think I’ll probably need to make several more visits to Panette before I can be really certain.

A Flemish Adventure

Ghent seems to live in the shadow of Bruges. It shouldn’t. This small Flemish city is fascinating in its own right, and well worth a visit. We stayed two nights and while we hit most of the highlights, I left feeling like I wanted to spend more time there. Don’t get me wrong; I love Bruges and I’ve visited there many times. But Flanders has other treasures to share.

Ghent 02
Gravensteen Castle in the middle of the city

We got off to a less than ideal start with Ghent. We were driving and thought we were well prepared. The parking garage near our hotel had been programmed into our GPS. So everything looked good, right up until we drove into the historic center. I’ve driven in Europe for years and I’m pretty familiar with the signs, but as I slowed to a crawl to negotiate a very narrow street, I saw a new sign that appeared to say “bicycles only in this direction,” in spite of the urgings of my GPS to continue forward.

Ghent 04
One of many canals

Then I noticed that all the cars parked on the curbs—on both sides of the street—were pointed toward me. It was obvious I was on a one-way street, going the wrong way. I was able to turn around pretty quickly and try another route. I soon found that route blocked by street construction; and the next; and the one after that. We eventually found our way to an open square that we realized was pedestrian only. I could actually see the front of our parking garage a couple of hundred meters away. Unfortunately, this was a real-life illustration of the old phrase “You can’t get there from here.” Or there, or there, or there… We could almost hear the laughter from some mad city planner sitting at his drafting table creating this labyrinth of barricades.

Ghent 03
No worries about parking for this guy…

I got the car turned around and was trying to come up with a plan when a pedestrian waved at me to indicate the direction I needed to go in order to reach a road I could actually drive on legally. I rolled down my window and he told me we were in a pedestrian zone. I told him where I was trying to go, pointing in vain at the nearby garage entrance that seemed like the impossible dream. He started to explain how to get there. Then he realized that route was also blocked. He tried again and hit the same wall. Finally, he asked, “May I get in your car?” Of course, I grasped at this lifeline and held on like grim death. Following his directions, we threaded our way completely out of the city, circled around, and re-entered from the opposite direction. We drove straight to our garage with no further incident. Our guide let us snap his photo and promised to speak to the Mayor about the traffic situation.
So why the long-winded account of the disaster that opened our stay? To make the point that a really stressful situation that had the potential to ruin our trip was turned by a kind local in a few short minutes into a wonderful experience that really set the tone for a great visit.
Fortunately, Ghent is an extremely foot-friendly city. Once our car was securely stowed, we didn’t need it again throughout our stay. I’ll save the highlights for future posts, but suffice to say that we enjoyed a couple of days of fine architecture, fine food, fine museums, and fine beer. And it was all dramatically underlined by the consistently friendly welcome we received from the people of this wonderful city.

Ghent 01
What a gorgeous place!