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Don and Donna visit - Amsterdam and Brussels

AMSTERDAM

A beautiful day trip.

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Unfortunately I came down with a very sore throat (the first time I have been sick since we moved to Belgium) so D, D, and D ventured out to Amsterdam for the day without me.


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This entry is written through Donna's eyes, based on her travel journal which she wrote in daily and the photos were taken by D, all nine of them.  I take 500, he takes 8.

7:30 D woke us up and said it looked like a good day to visit Amsterdam.  Can we be ready in an hour?  We left the apartment at 8:40; took the metro to the train.  The train ride was 2 hours and 45 minutes.  We read and played cards (hearts).  I won the game!

We arrived in Amsterdam and it was a beautiful sunny clear day.


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First, we took a one hour canal ride.  It was an enclosed glass boat (like the one above Don's shoulder).  We saw houseboats from beautiful to shabby.  Our boat barely made it under one of the bridges.

After the boat ride we walked through part of the Red Light District to get to Chinatown where we ate lunch.  We had ribs, duck, veggies, rice and tea.


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We walked back through the Red Light District.  Some very attractive girls.  Some on the phone in the windows with red drapes.

Cathy's comment - The red light district has been on Don's "bucket list"....so glad he had the chance to see it in person!


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We walked around the city for awhileSaw the Ann Frank House, but the line was too long to get in.  Saw cafe smoke shops.  Cathy's comment - if you remember from an earlier Amsterdam Blog.....pot is legal in Amsterdam and they smoke it openly at the coffee shops. 


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Thousands of bikes in parking garage.  Lots of young people. 


 

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Walked through the flower market.  Don bought Cathy an Amaryllis bulb. 


 

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Back to train station.  Picked up sandwiches and water to eat on the train ride home.  A lady around 60 sat in our pod with us on the train.  She had several bags and a violin.  She drank a coke and was very chatty.  She told us she was a "busker" - a person who entertains in public places for money.  We got home around 9:05. 

 
 

Fun days in Brussels

A visit to the Victor Horta House and Museum.  He was Belgian and one of the most prominent Art Nouveau architects of the century.  Many of his designs survived the years including his own home which is now a museum. 


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 Don and D went to the car museum in Brussels where they have over 400 cars.  Don saw many he would love to own.  They ranged in age from 1886 to 1970. 


  

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Drinks at our favorite wine bar.  We like to stop by on Wednesday's on our way to the evening market.


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How sweet is this? 

After 50 years of marriage they are still holding hands. 


 
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They truly are our role models for a great marriage and I hope that we will one day see our 50th wedding anniversary!

HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY!


  


The Ardennes and the butterfly park

 
 
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We decided that we need to explore Belgium more so we planned an over-night stay in the Ardennes (southeast near the border of France) at the lovely B&B, Le Prieure Saint Gery.  It has two star Michelin restaurant where we had a spectacular four hour dinner.  If you would like to enjoy dinner with us, please click  here.


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Our first stop was the Maredsous Abbey, founded in 1872.  Not very old by European standards.  We had a casual lunch at their outdoor cafe.  They are Benedictine Monks who created the very famous Maredsous beer, but it is now brewed in Puurs Belgium in the Duval Brewery.   They also make a very nice cheese.   


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 We then headed to the town of Dinant know for their Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame completed in 1227.  Look closely at the top of the ridge behind the church and you can see the Citadel, originally built in the 11th century.  It was destroyed in 1703 by the French and was rebuilt  in 1821.

 

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There are colorful homes and shops along the River Meuse.  


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Dinant is also know for their couque (American cookies) known as the hardest biscuit in Europe.  And I thought mine was just stale!  We tried to eat this cookie.  Impossible!  We even dipped it in coffee, still as hard as a rock.  Next time I'll just paint it and keep it as a souvenir!


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For those trivia buffs out there, Aldolphe Sax was born in Dinant, the inventor of the saxophone. 


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If this isn't the cutest euro-car.  The keys were left in it.....I should have taken it for a little ride. 

 

 


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The next morning we headed out to La Grange Aux Papillions.  On the drive we saw a beekeeper which I found fascinating.  If you look very closely (or double click on the photo to enlarge), you can see hundreds of bees flying around.


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It was a bit overcast so the Papillons, or butterflies, were a bit sleepy.  But for us, this was perfect as we were more interested in photographing them rather than seeing them flutter around.


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I was anxious to put my new camera to the test.  How close could this new macro lens get and still take a clear photo.


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It passed the test.  Check out the detail on this butterfly's eye.

   

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And the detail of his wing.  Amazing patterns which are to help camouflage them from predators.  The patterns are also used in courtship rituals.


 

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Butterflies weigh as little as two rose petals. 


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A butterfly lives between three weeks and a month. 


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There was an elderly French couple who were also visiting and they were helping me find the butterflies to photograph.  The women kept tapping me on the shoulder.  It was very sweet and helpful as sometimes they were hard to see.


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Butterfly wings are actually transparent.  The vivid color comes from iridescent scales which overlap each other.  All butterflies have four wings.


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And all butterflies have six legs.  But many keep the front two tucked in.  Did you known that they taste with their feet? 


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They do not have mouths rather they have a long tube-like structure called a proboscis used to suck juices and nectar from flowers.  When not in use, it coils up.  You can see this in the photo below.  Some also eat rotten fruit.


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This flower certainly looks like it would be a good one for them to nibble on. 


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There are 28,000 known butterflies throughout the world.


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These were so delicate they were behind glass.  The life cycle of a butterfly consists of four stages; egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (seen below) and adult (butterfly).  The pupa can last from a few days to a few months.  They do not eat during this time.


 

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Looks like this one will be ready to release into the hot house garden very soon.


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I was pretty sure nothing could top the beauty we saw at the butterfly park, until we passed this field of poppies - which are one of my favorite flowers in the wild.


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Poppies are so delicate, they look like paper flowers.


 

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We found a quaint little restaurant to eat lunch just outside the town of Chimay.  Donald had frog legs in a sauce that was so good we wanted to drink it and I had a specialty of the region fish escobeche.  It was a white fish in a cream cabbage sauce. 


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Our last site was the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont where the Cistercian Trappist Monks live.  They have been making the famous Trappist Chimay beer here since 1863.


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It was a very peaceful oasis.  Tours of the brewery were not permitted.  Trappist Monks are very secretive with their beer making.  There are only seven Trappist Beers in the world.  Six in Belgium ( Chimay, Oval, Rochford, Westvleteren, Westmalle , and Achel) and one in the Netherlands (Koningshoeven). 


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What  makes a beer a Trappist beer is that is must be brewed on-site at a Trappist Abbey or under the control of a Trappist Monk.  Donald has tasted every one of the Trappist beers and we have visited four of the Abbeys. 


 

 
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Here's D with a bottle of Chimay in hand!  For those of you who are interested this is one of the Trappist beers you can buy in the US.  You will probably pay three times what we pay...but hey, a special treat.


The four hour dinner

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WARNING:  Do Not Read if you are hungry :  )

 

Le Prieure Saint Gery is one of 14 two-starred Michelin restaurants in Belgium.  We have been wanting to try it for awhile, but it is hard to get reservations.  They have a special offer which includes dinner, and over night stay in their 6 room B&B, and breakfast.

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The meal lasted four hours and it had 13 courses.  We selected the flight of wines where the sommelier paired a wine with each main course with a sweet wine for dessert. 

This was the pre-pre amuse-bouche.  Tomato mousse with mini savory waffle.  It is a little dark as I took this first photo without a flash.  I was trying to be "cool".  The restaurant was very relaxed so I didn't worry about the flash later.  My Blog readers needed good photos!

 

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Next course, and one of my favorites (because of the ice cream) - cold asparagus soup topped with parmesan ice cream and a parmesan crisp.

 

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The next two came on a plate together - oyster in a pesto broth and 


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white fishwith olive tapenade with creme fraiche.

 

 

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Another amuse-bouche - seafood egg roll with aioli sauce.

 

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Wait, one more amuse-bouche - warm egg salad topped with shrimp and broccoli gelee.  This one definitely tasted better than it photographed.

 

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Oh and I can't forget the bread.  I could have just eaten this along with the butter.  It may have been the best butter we have had.  It was from from Brittany France and they are known for their superior butter.  Guess where I want to go next?

 

 

 

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And finally the real appetizer - a lovely white fish, called Saint-Pierre served with eggplant, grapefruit, saffron and a few other tasty morsels.


 

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Ta-Da - our first main course.  Red fish, bouillabaisse with clams, zucchini, arugula pesto, with a to-die-for cream broth.

 

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A palate cleanser, again one of my favorites as it was sweet pea ice cream served with crispy bacon salt and asparagus cream.  Doesn't this make your mouth water just reading the description.

 

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The second main course.  It had a sauce, but I was so anxious to eat it, I forgot to take the photo after the sauce was poured.  Duck breast, duck rillettes, asparagus, wild mushrooms, spring onion and red fruit.

 

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Of course there had to be a cheese course.  One of the most beautiful cheese carts we have experienced.  

 

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Worthy of three photos.

 

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You are able to select the cheeses you want.  But we told him to just make a plate for us, each one different so we could share.  We told him small.  He gave us each seven cheeses each.


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The cheeses were served with a plate of condiments.

 

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I now have no room left.  But wait, how could I skip dessert? 

I can't  :  )      Good thing it was small.

 

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The little chocolate one deserves a close up

 

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Perfect......until we discovered this was just the pre-dessert to dessert!  Below is dessert, a parade of chocolate.  Again, another one that was hard to photograph, but trust me - it was so devine it melted in our mouths.

 

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And believe it or not.....there was a post-dessert, dessert cart with coffee and ICE CREAM!!!  Now you know I was completely full as I passed on the dessert cart.  Just to make sure you caught that.....the dessert cart had ice cream and I passed on it.  I could not find one teeny-tiny spot to put it in.  It may have been the first time in my life I skipped ice cream  :   (

We were very happy that we only had to walk upstairs to go to sleep.  Certainly an unforgettable meal!


Le Tour De France

The tour De France is making it's way through Belgium and today it went through Brussels.  The starting point for today's race is just one block from our apartment.  The area was crazy with paparazzi, chase cars, support buses etc....Very exciting!  


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We got there early so we would have a good view for photos.  There were crowds of people all along the route.  This is the path D takes when he walks to work.


 

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Here they come!


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swishing by in a matter of seconds

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In the yellow is Stage 1 winner, Italian, Alesandro Petacci, who escaped the terrible crash yesterday that took almost the entire race to the ground.


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We are pretty sure the one in red is Lance Armstrong he is racing on the Radio Shack Team this year.


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And this poor fellow....we hope he catches up!

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After the bicyclist go by, the team cars carrying the extra bikes proceed.  There were probably 40 team cars.  It really is quite an event.  They even had French Police on motorcycles that travel with the race.


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A fun thing to see - but wow was it fast!


 

 



Artsy Edinburgh

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We were pleasantly surprised to see that Edinburgh, Scotland was such a creative, humorous, and an all around fun city.  And always high on our list...it had delicious food!  This is Elaine Davidson, the world's most pierced woman.


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She has a grand total of 6005 metal adornments on her body.  She is in the Guinness Book of World Record.  In 2000, when she was first accredited, she had 462 piercings, with 192 in her face alone.  Nine years later she is up to 6,005 including more than 1,500 that are internal.  Not sure I really want to know what that means!


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She was born in Brazil and was a nurse.  She now owns her own piercing and tattoo shop in Edinburgh.  At least she has real experience with needles!  I paid one pound to take these photos.  Money well spent!


 

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Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland.  It has an old town where medieval architecture was preserved.  This old town city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  As you can see from the beautiful blue skies, had unusually sunny and warm weather.  A real treat for Scotland.


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There is also what is called "new town" built in the neoclassic style in the 18th centuryThe juxtaposition of the old and new gives the city such unique character.
 

 


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The main feature is the castle, built in the 16th century.  It sits high on a hill above the city.

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It is built on a Volcanic Rock (now extinct).  History shows that there was a fortress on this site as early as AD 600.  We toured the castle many years ago so we skipped it this time.

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 We visited the reputedly haunted, Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard.  Burials have been taking place there since the 16th century.  

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The haunting is attributed to the restless spirit of the infamous "bloody" George Mackenzie.  Many visitors report feeling stage sensations; touched, pulled, bitten, and scratched.

 

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The most recent was in March of this year, a women suffered a single stabbing sensation to the top of her head and scratches on her arms.  Me thinks she was at the pub too long.


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We encountered many funny signs - Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties, translation: 

Haggis = sausage with oatmeal and spices cooked in a sheep's stomach

Neeps = yellow turnip, turnips

Tatties = potatoes.      D did eat haggis and replied, "it was excellent".  Right!


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Now here is a place to get your hair cut...a shot of vodka with your trim!

 

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And how about the upstairs neighbor to this nursery?  Look closely at that window on the right.


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Edinburgh  has several working artisan studios.  This was a man who made beautiful knit clothing.

 

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He had quite the intricate machine.  I tried on a few of his designs, but you needed what I call "the euro-body" to wear his clothes.


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In another studio a woman made fun colorful hats.


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There were also many vintage resale shops selling clothes from the 1920 - 1980's.  I bought a few pieces of vintage linen but no clothes.


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A very colorful window from a vintage shop.


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And the hot color for kilts was purple and blue.


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And yes, we did see a few men wearing them on the streets.  Since we were there on the weekend, there were several weddings and they wear kilts instead of tuxs.  Here is a sweet photo of a young bridal party.  How cute are the groomsmen in their kilts?


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Maybe the brides father?


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This man was the bag pipe player at a wedding that was taking place in our hotel.  Love the shoes!

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The food was fresh and contemporary, not what we were expecting.  We thought it would be more like British and Irish pub grub.  My favorite was a restaurant called  "the dogs".


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The coronation chicken I ate there was my fav and I have been making it every week since I ate there.  I am including the recipe (my version) at the end of this blog.

  D's favorites were the roasted pig.....

 


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.....a beer at the pub and


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the highlight of the trip.....


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We had read about them in magazines but have never tasted....a deep fried mars bar!  And oh was it good.


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Okay, so it looks gross, but when you bit into this hot gooey mess, if you closed your eyes, you would have thought you were eating a very expensive french dessert.

Oh I so wish you could have a bite!  Oh I wish I could have another bite too!


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And no matter how many times I see them, I am still amused by the red phone booths.


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One last photo of the reflection of a castle in the Pizza shop window.  I hope you try the coronation chicken.


 

 

 

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Coronation Chicken


6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1/3 cup sultana raisins one large mango,peeled, thinly sliced

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped celery

1 teaspoon mild curry powder

1 to 2 tablespoon mango chutney (I used mango chutney with ginger and lime)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 pinch salt and ground black pepper

3/4 cup toasted cashews (I use almonds or pecans)

Directions:   In a large pot, cook chicken in lightly salted boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain, cool, and shred.  In a large bowl, stir together chicken, raisins, celery and mango. In a medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise, curry powder, chutney, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, then toss gently with chicken mixture. Stir in the nuts. Chill or eat at room temperature (not hot). 


4th of July Celebration With the Eddy Merckx

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Happy Fourth of July! 

Our new ambassador, Howard Gutman, planned a big celebration on July 1st so everyone could participate.  In honor of the up-coming Tour De France, he arranged a bike ride from the embassy to the Grande Place with Eddy Merckx leading the pack.


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For those of you who do not recognize Belgian Eddy Merckx (and that would be me), many would say he is the greatest and most accomplished cyclist of all times.  He won the Tour De France 5 times. 


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Here's Eddy (he told me to call him that) at the start with Ambassador Gutman.


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D was between meetings and in a suit so we could not ride our bikes (like we have bikes) so we walked to the Grande Place and made it at the exact same time as the bicyclers.


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Everyone then walked to the Manneken Pis were the Mayor of Brussels joined the group as they unveiled the new Manneen Pis outfit.  (L to R:   Eddy Merckz, Brussels Mayor Freddy Thielemans, cute bicyclist, wife of the Ambassador, and Ambassador Gutman).


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The theme for the US and Belgium's partnership is "Our Future Together".  The Manneken Pis always has a curtain before the big unveil. 

TA-DA........

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During the first few seconds of the unveil his little pisser shoots WAY out into the crowd.  Which is good to know otherwise you could get drenched!


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With the slogan "Yes We Can" on his hat and if you look closely he has both the US and the Belgian flag in his hand.


 

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After the big event everyone went back to the embassy where there was a large tent set up with food and drinks and the Embassy/Nato band Article 5 played.  

 


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Doesn't he does look presidential ?  I know his mom and mother-in-law both think so  :  )

We hope everyone had a fun 4th of July celebration too!