I’ll take some Dijon, Please

Years ago, there was a popular commercial on television. Two limousines are stopped at an intersection. The windows roll down and one obviously rich gentleman asks the other, “Do you have any Grey Poupon?” The occupant nods and presents a jar of  Dijon mustard.

Every view is a beautiful one

I have always equated Dijon with that spicy golden spread and really nothing else. We just got back from a visit to Dijon, France and it is so much more. As we walked along its meandering cobblestoned streets, we discovered a city famous for its wines, cuisine, and history. In fact, Dijon is the capital of the Burgundy wine region, although Beaune (just down the road) is perhaps a better bet if you’re serious about hunting the grape. The city is bursting with ancient half-timbered buildings that look straight out of your average French fairy tale. And the colorful tilework on many of the roofs is gorgeous.

Notre Dame

Dijon is very compact and foot friendly and the best place to start your visit is at the Dijon Tourist Office at 11 Rue des Forges. They have a nifty little guide called The Owl’s Trail that directs you on a self-guided tour of the city. The Owl of Notre Dame de Dijon is the city’s symbol or mascot. Owls are everywhere in the form of magnets, tea towels, or little porcelain figures. But the most important one is the weathered, stone carving on a corner of the cathedral on Rue de la Chouette, (appropriately named Owl Street). Legend is if you touch the figure with your left hand, and make a wish, it should come true. The jury is still out on that since I have not won the lottery (yet). The guide book, along with a trail of small owl-embellished brass plates in the sidewalk, points the way. This is an excellent way to see all the pertinent sites in the city and we will cover just a few of our favorites.

Les Halles is the covered market in Dijon. The imposing ironwork structure is lovely and very reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Gustave Eiffel (who was originally from Dijon) designed the building. We’ve been to many covered or indoor markets in various locations, but this was one of the best. The selections of meat, fish, produce, cheese–oh, that glorious cheese!–and baked goods were some of the finest we had ever seen. Not only did the quality look fantastic, but the presentation was as much of a feast for the eyes as it was for the palate. The market is held on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday each week. We were there on a Saturday and the market extends way beyond the interior of this beautiful edifice and into the surrounding streets. Vendors selling all types of vintage to modern items occupied stalls for a couple of blocks in every direction. Haggling is encouraged and we bargained and purchased a vintage desk calendar with a bronze figure of a gentleman playing a game of Petanque, sometimes called Boules in Paris.

Place Francois Rude
A fine day to stomp some grapes

Place Francois Rude
Smack dab in the middle of the old part of the city is a charming square. It is named after the French sculptor Francois Rude who was born in Dijon. Rude is famous for his sculptural frieze La Marseillaise emblazoned on the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris. The plaza comes complete with a vintage carousel, a wonderful fountain adorned with a sculpture of a well-muscled young man stomping wine grapes, and charming half-timbered buildings. It is the perfect place to sit at a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee as you watch some of the local parents treating their children to a ride on the antique merry-go-round.

Place de la Liberation
In the center of Dijon sits the impressive Place de la Liberation. This semi-circle square is anchored on one side by the palace of the Dukes of Burgundy and there are fountains of water that seem to shoot up randomly from the ground. It is a pedestrian-only area, and another great place and stop at any of the numerous cafes to rest your feet after a long day of walking. We were lucky to be there on a beautiful sunny day, drinking a glass of wine and watching the children and some of the local dogs romping in the fountains.

Notre-Dame Dijon

Notre Dame interior

The imposing Roman Catholic Church of Notre-Dame was built in the 13th Century. The exterior has 51 gargoyles gracing its facade. At the top of the exterior is a clock called the Jacquemart. It has four metal automatons. Two of them, called Jacquemart and Jacqueline, sound the hours by striking a large bell with a hammer. The other two, their children, Jacquelinet and Jacquelinette, strike the quarter hours, each on a smaller bell. Inside the church, the stained glass casts a beautiful shimmering light through lovely gothic arches. And the impressive organ

Cathedrale Saint-Benigne

loft has a gorgeous tapestry complementing the massive bank of organ pipes that are a work of art in their own right.

To cap it all off, we had a view from the window of our small apartment that was really spectacular. There is so much more to Dijon than just mustard and more than I have room for here. Why don’t you make a visit to this wonderful and often overlooked city for yourself!

…And Delft Again

Before I start with the promised second half of our trip to Delft, I must apologize for the hiatus. It’s been a little while since you have heard from the two little piggies and we are going to rectify that now. We’ve got lots of upcoming trips planned, along with a few voyages past that we plan to share with you over the coming months. We hope you will join us, and forgive our “slight” delay.

At the end of our last post about our visit to Delft we promised to tell you about some wonderful locally made artisan chocolate. Also, we’ll share our favorite restaurant for Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), and talk about the ultimate Dutch cookie, the stroopwafel. We promise not to keep you in suspense any longer so let’s get going.

Artists at work

It’s no secret that Bill and I are big chocolate fans. We have tasted some of the best varieties that Europe has to offer. Belgium has usually ruled as the victor in the chocolate taste test battle. There was that moment in Troyes, France at Pascal Caffet Chocolatier where we were transported by the most scrumptious chocolates, but I digress. Give me a moment to wipe the drool from my mouth. We were pleasantly surprised to find a wonderful chocolate shop where everything is handmade on the premises in the lovely city of Delft.

The wrappers are nearly as tasty as the chocolate!

We happened upon Van der Burgh Chocolate while blissfully wandering and peering into shop windows. Our chocolate radar is always on and the window display at the building located at Vrouwenregt 2 immediately set off our alarms. The array of lovely blocks of chocolate all neatly wrapped up in exquisite papers had us intrigued, so in we went.

As we walked through the doors of the building that dates back to 1610, we met Richard van der Burgh, the owner and Founder of Van der Bergh Chocolaad. He and his wife Joyce have been creating heavenly handmade indulgences since 2011. They pride themselves on working with small, Fair Trade chocolate producers and utilize only the best ingredients. You’ll bite into hazelnuts from Italy or taste the intense coarsely ground coffee from Ethiopia. But the taste is only one aspect of these delightful treasures. They look stunning as well. Each bar is lovingly created and then hand wrapped on the premises in some of the most beautiful papers. A wide array of bars are clad in designs from Italian Florentine, to images from famous paintings by Vermeer. They make wonderful gifts since they delight all the senses. You can peruse and order from their website at: https://www.vanderburghchocolaad.nl/

Indonesian Rijsttafel

When you think of Dutch gastronomy, some minds usually wander to the old standbys of herring or possibly Dutch pancakes. But did you know that it is also famous for its Indonesian cuisine? It was brought back to the Netherlands by former colonials returning from the Dutch East Indies during the 19th and early 20th century. The spicy and varied dishes which are almost ceremonially presented are a true feast! We made reservations at our favorite Indonesian place, Restaurant Redjeki at Choorstraat 50 in Delft for rijsttafel (rice table). We have enjoyed this banquet in several different establishments in the Netherlands, and Redjeki is one of the best. The rijsttafel is not for the faint of heart, or small of belly. The trick is to show up hungry, eat slowly, and enjoy every morsel. The meal consists of plenty of rice dished up with a variety of seven or more entrees of varying levels of spiciness served alongside accoutrements that might be pickled, hot, cold, salty, or sweet. The dizzying variety of flavors somehow all work together and make for a fantastic and belt-loosening experience. Interestingly enough, you might have a difficult time finding rijsttafel back in Indonesia where it fell out of fashion after that country proclaimed its independence in 1945.

A heavenly feast

Of course, after a meal you want something sweet. And nothing fills that role better than the Stroopwafel. They are not usually served in restaurants, so we have them with a pot of tea when we get home. This divine concoction is a combination of crisp, wafer-thin waffles filled and glued together with a special caramel syrup. They are usually about 4 inches in diameter and sold in packs of 8, stacked like a cylinder. They are heavenly eaten out of the pack or perfect to rest on top of a mug of tea or coffee, where the heat melts the syrup inside. Of course, the best way is to

Filled with crispy, gooey goodness

find one of the outdoor vendors usually out on market day. Your nose will alert you if there is one nearby well before you see it because they are usually found making stroopwafels fresh on hot waffle irons. Hot syrup from an open vat is spread on the freshly split waffle as it comes out of the iron. These are not the small crisp 4-inch models. They are usually about the size of a salad plate and handed to you in a wax paper sleeve soft, warm, and gloriously oozing syrup in the middle. They also sell packs of pre-made waffles in lidded porcelain jars decorated with traditional scenes of Dutch life. The containers make wonderful souvenirs.

Delft is a lovely and often overlooked destination frequently overshadowed by the larger cities like Amsterdam. It is certainly worth a visit and one of our favorite places. We hope it becomes one of yours as well.

Dutch Treat

Delft. For some, the name of this city conjures visions of expensive blue and white porcelain. Others may think of windmills and dikes or paintings by Vermeer. You can find those things, but this lovely and laid back town offers so much more. To us it’s a wonderful place to decompress, with meandering canals, inviting cafes, and imposing architecture.

Het Nieuwe Kerk

The main square is wonderful place to wander. The ornate town hall at one end faces the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) at the other. Even though it’s usually pretty busy, this is one of my favorite areas. Cafes, cheese shops, souvenir shops, and stores selling Delft porcelain of all grades are plentiful and varied. It’s the center of the city and on Thursdays the square is turned into a weekly market. There are more than 150 stalls selling everything from fresh produce and local cheeses, to all manner of household items and clothing. The antique and vintage market is open on Thursdays and Saturdays from April through October. On Thursdays, it’s located along the canals. On Saturdays, the market is bigger (including a book market) and spills into the main square. If you are looking for traditional Delftware, you are likely to find something to your taste here. You can find old hardware, artifacts, stained-glass panels, porcelain, posters, coins, stamps, antique kitchen items, and more. Language is rarely a problem since it seems like most residents of Delft speak English. They often start out by saying, “I only speak a little English.” This usually means they are superbly fluent.

Treasures awaiting discovery

One of the reasons for this particular visit was a bit unusual. We celebrated our 30th anniversary recently and wanted to give ourselves a little “something extra.” During a past visit to Delft, we had passed a costume shop that displayed wonderful historical looking photographs taken of people in traditional old-world attire. Since we are William and Mary, how about dressing up and having a photo session as the original William of Orange and his queen, Mary? The shop, run by the charming Barbara van Gelder, is called “Something Extra.” She came up with this idea several years ago. She liked the concept of period photographs but many of the studios that offered anything close to her idea, usually lacked quality costumes and accessories. She was determined to only use the finest fabrics and accoutrements so her subjects would really look like someone from the past. She designed the outfits to fit a wide range of body types. She picked out everything for both me and Bill and dressed us from head to toe. We all had a great time. Barbara loves her work and she really makes it a fun experience.

Water, water everywhere…

After some indoor shots, she asked if we might like to walk across the street and have our picture taken in front of the canal bridge. Most of the streets and canals in Delft look like they came straight out of the pages of a history book and she thought they would make a perfect backdrop for us. My biggest hurdle was managing to walk the 30 or so steps in a tapestry dress that felt like it weighed about 20 pounds. She posed us at the bridge and began taking pictures. In the blink of an eye, a throng of Asian tourists surrounded us and iPhones and cameras began snapping away. One lady grabbed my arm as she smiled for her traveling companion who was rapidly filling his memory card with images as he repeated, “take picture? Okay?” The clicking from all the cameras began to sound like a swarm of crickets. I empathized with some of the costumed street performers I see everywhere in Europe, but heck, they at least get paid to have their picture taken! Barbara quickly got us back to the shop as we reluctantly re-emerged into the 21st Century. It was a wonderful experience and Barbara is a great photographer. She does take walk-ins but only if she is not in a photo session. You can contact her at her website or send her a message on Facebook at “Something Extra.” Make your appointment to step back in time and live like royalty, even if it’s only for a few fleeting minutes.

William & Mary

In our next post, we’ll talk a little about food in Delft. We’ll taste some artisan chocolate, find the best Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), and figure out what exactly is a stroopwafel anyway?

Tot de volgende keer! (Until next time!)

Troc and Titi and Cheese, Oh My!

There are many benefits to living overseas—like the opportunity to hunt for great antique or second-hand items that we’d never find back in America. Or we can go shopping in a large grocery store in say, France, and it’s filled with French food! Yes, retail therapy is a little different over here. Flea Markets abound with everything, from stuff that looks like it fell off of the back of a delivery truck to beautiful antiques. We woke up on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago and felt the thrill of the hunt come upon us. We took the back seats out of our trusty Honda Odyssey van (just in case) and the we were off.

We had heard about two secondhand stores near Metz that we wanted to explore. They were only a little over 2 hours away and it would be an easy day trip. Plus, our favorite French hypermarket, Auchan was only about 30 minutes away from our planned stops. So the die was cast—ROAD TRIP!

Aladdin’s Cave?

Our first stop was “Troc” in Forbach, France. Troc is a large consignment store filled with treasures (and some trash). Mid-century modern chairs sit next to Edwardian marble-topped sideboards, which stand beside

I love this stuff

Bavarian farmhouse tables. The place is massive. And it’s not just filled with furniture, but also artwork, china, crystal, lamps, chandeliers, and tons more. But there’s also the junk. They have the inevitable ceramic clowns and various items from the 60s or 70s that make you shake your head and wonder what possessed someone to buy this on its first go-round. We found ourselves going down aisle after aisle of furniture and other treasures. They had a fairly large selection of shiny lacquered Italian inlaid wood furniture. These pieces when new are rather expensive, but here at Troc their prices were just a shadow of their former selves.

A few dainty morsels

I found myself attracted to the vintage dishes from the town of Obernai in Alsace. They bore the scars of many a meal, with the odd chip or discoloration here and there. But to me, this was just evidence of a very happy life, and now I can display them with all their history. I thought they would look splendid hanging in a grouping on a wall. The plates were cheerful and full of colorful scenes of Alsatian village life. Obernai pottery is quite expensive when new and a bit too rich for my blood. But these were going for a paltry 1 Euro apiece for the well-worn and well-loved dishes. I splurged on a large presentation platter that was newer and in perfect condition for 5 Euros. By the time I was done, I had spent 14 Euros for the lot. I couldn’t even purchase a new saucer for that price. I left Troc a very happy girl.

It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but..

Next on our itinerary was Titi International. Okay, everyone can stop making those little snickering noises now. I think the name is a bit silly as well, but the contents of this place are anything but. The prices seemed a bit higher than Troc, but the quality was a bit higher too. The furniture was gorgeous! They had a number of beautiful vintage pieces that I would have been happy to take home immediately. Even the smaller home décor and china seemed nicer. I’m still kicking myself for not purchasing the vintage transferware tea set from Maastricht in the Netherlands. Like Troc, Titi is basically a large warehouse filled various kinds of stock in widely varying conditions. Unbelievable as it sounds, we walked out

A Dutch treat

without purchasing anything, but  it’s not likely that we’ll get away unscathed on our next visit. This trip was sort of our maiden voyage, and we decided that we need to come back once every three months or so and check out their inventory. Of course, the seats in the van will stay home, just in case!

Poking around in second-hand shops is hungry work! So after rummaging through all kinds of treasures, we were off to what is to us, the highest expression of the French supermarket, Auchan! There are certain stores in

Where to start?

France that earn the title of hypermart and all of them are great. Names like Cora, Leclerc, Intermarché, and Carrefour are certain to make our mouths water. Picture the finest gourmet shop you have ever seen (or even imagined), then expand it to the size of a large Costco. Throw in a few dry goods for variety and you have a French hypermarket. The French have a very well-deserved reputation for fine cuisine and it all starts with the very best ingredients. The typical hypermarket is filled with glorious French produce, wine, meats, cheeses, fresh seafood, and of course, a huge variety of baked goods. We have visited many of them, but Auchan (and especially the one in Semécourt, near Metz) gets our vote for the best selection and best quality. It’s always a major hub of activity and we start to drool whenever we get within a kilometer.

Inside the building is a mini-mall of smaller interior shops, eateries, and even a carousel for the kids. But the main event is the big store itself. This company is way ahead of the technology curve with something they call, “Rapid Auchan.” As customers come in, they can choose to get their own scan device that fits in a holder in their shopping cart. They self-scan their items as they go about their shopping. They go through a special line, pay for their purchases, and out the door they go. It’s a pretty cool system and certainly shortens wait times in the lines. Auchan embraces this technology as a way to free up their employees to offer one-on-one customer service throughout the store.

And it’s all good…

To us, Auchan seems like Disneyland for foodies. The cheese aisle—which seems to go on forever—always takes our breath away. The fishmonger calls out the specials of the day as if she were in an open-air market in an Atlantic port. We saw some prawns that looked (I swear, I’m not making this up!) to be about the size of a small poodle. There were several aisles of high-quality French wines, some at rock-bottom prices. The meats, patés, breads—Oh, The breads! Bread is like a religion in France. A fresh loaf is purchased every day in any self-respecting French household. And their bread is best served up with some glorious, creamy, butter from Brittany. I really like butter and to me, pretty much any butter is good butter. But the creamy product of Brittany is a cut above. It’s really special.

The staff of life

Even their “generic” aisle at Auchan is something to behold. Breads, cereals, canned goods, and candies all bearing plain generic labels with super low prices are equal if not better in quality to many of the name-brand products we’re used to in the States.

We rolled our cart to our waiting van and carefully packed out treasures into a large cooler for the trip back to Germany. Of course, a few “small” items were set aside to fuel the car ride home. I mean, after an exhausting day like that, you’ve got to keep up your strength!

A European Thanksgiving

This latest post is a slight departure from our normal travels. We hope you enjoy it.

A setting fit for a König

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. We all sat around the table with our full stomachs as we looked down at the last few crumbs of Bill’s homemade (and masterfully done) apple pie. Ahhh! But this wasn’t Thanksgiving in Idaho, or Wisconsin, or New Hampshire. This, like our last four Turkey Days has been in our home in Wiesbaden, Germany. Our guests were our next-door neighbors Klaus and his adult son Achim along with our friends David and Daniela who lived next to us in Würzburg years ago. As we drank our coffee, conversation turned to many topics, including politics. Sounds dangerous but it was very interesting and enlightening. The conversation proved that we might all be from different countries but we all seem to share many of the same frustrations, hopes and dreams. Despite the language difference, our

A great group of Freunden

exchange was very lively and quite similar to what you might have in any dining room in America, except with German accents. Luckily, all our guests spoke English but when the conversation got spirited, they would lapse into a foreign blue streak that left Bill and me winded. How is it possible to have so many people talking at once and it doesn’t sound foreign, yet you really can’t understand a lot of what’s being said? It can be challenging and tiring, and for a moment it reminds you that this is not


your home country. We love living here in Germany. We enjoy the lifestyle, the food, the travel, but it’s still not home however much we delight in our European adventure. Our dinner companions looked at us and said (paraphrasing) we Germans don’t live like you Americans. We don’t travel all the time. We go on maybe one trip in a year and it’s usually someplace where we can enjoy sunshine and maybe a beach. But you drive for an hour and spend a day in a small village and tell us of your visit. This just would not occur to us. It was a keen insight for me at that moment. Bill and I have felt truly thankful for the opportunity to live overseas—not just once, but three times. Each time we have traveled fairly extensively and we try to take every opportunity to see as much as we can. We know there are people who may save their entire lives to spend a few weeks riding on a tour bus trying to see as many far flung European locales as their tour guide will allow. Yet we can hop in our car and head off and experience not only the big-ticket locations such as London, Brussels, or Florence but also small out-of-the-way or not-so-famous places full of charm and history. We talked about how we will be heading back home to the States in a little over a year. We showed pictures of a house we are hoping to purchase in a small town in Idaho. One of our guests questioned whether I might have problems adjusting. Surely I had become more European than American. This really made me think about what he was saying. “Look around this dining room,” he laughed. “Where is America? I only see Europe everywhere!” At that moment, it was a bolt out of the blue. My eyes darted around my dining room, and I saw he was

An American outpost

right. He started making gestures with his hands, pointing and exclaiming. “Look! The tapestry from Belgium, the shelf from the Netherlands, the Venetian masks from Italy, the painted cupboard from Germany.” I feebly noted that the tablecloth and napkins had been purchased online from ‘Kohl’s.’ Bill pointed to a wooden plaque with a scene of Williamsburg that I had painted years ago saying, “that’s American!” But my neighbor had hit a nerve. Have I become so Europeanized? Did I prefer apple strudel over apple pie? When it’s time to go home, will I fit in back in the land of my birth and mother tongue? Only time will tell. And when the next chapter of our lives begins, my dining room will once again look like Europe, but in Idaho.

Welcome to our home

The experience did make me reflect on all the blessings Bill and I have, as perhaps we should reflect on Thanksgiving. We hope that all of you that read our little posts about our adventures have much to be thankful for as well.

Next week, we’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled program, with a post about Christmas in Europe. It really is a season here and not a shopping marathon. We’ll tell you all about the opening of the Wiesbaden Christmas Market, which included flying angels, no less!


London Bill and Mary
Les deux petits cochons

Welcome everyone, to the debut of our blog, Les Deux Petits Cochons, (translation, The Two Little Piggies). In a future post, we will fill you in on the story of the origin of our title, but that’s for another time. For now, we are Bill and Mary, husband and wife for nearly 30 years who were bitten by the travel bug and never found a cure. We have a habit of getting itchy feet if we stay put for very long in one place. We have moved 12 times and three of those moves took us to Germany, where we currently reside.

I (Mary) am the main writer and frequent photographer, and Bill is the graphics and techie guy who is also a great writer and photographer in his own right. We decided to start a travel/lifestyle blog because I was always trying to keep friends and family updated about our wanderings. Then I found myself sending travel information to the teller at the bank who wanted to know about a trip we just got back from. Or someone in a restaurant overheard us talking about our trips and wanted to know more. This started to get out of hand, so voila! A blog is born.

We have a fairly unique perspective on life in Europe. This is our third shot at living here (actually the fourth for Bill, who lived in London for a bit before we met). Our first time was in the late 80s and Europe was a very different place back then. It was pre-internet and pre-Euro, and East Germany was alive and well and enclosed by the Berlin wall. During our second stay (1998 – 2003), we witnessed all sorts of changes. The introduction of the Euro and the opening of European borders resulted in—alas—no more cool stamps in our passports. But hooray! It meant no more eight different types of currency to carry around.

We will be posting about our current travels, as well as some “blast from the past” stories. We hope this blog will enlighten you, entertain you, and maybe even answer some questions you might have about living and traveling here in Europe. Whether you have your boarding passes ready or you’re an armchair traveler, we hope you enjoy the trip with us. Welcome aboard!