Day 19 – Saturday 23rd July (Lübeck, Aalst)
Moose count = in Germany? What do you think?
So technically not Finland anymore but it was part of the trip so it gets the heading anyway…
This was the day I seriously questioned the sanity of driving all the way from the top of Germany to Calais just to get home, and cursed the fact that there’s no longer a sensible ferry route from the UK direct to Scandinavia, but that came later in the day.
First there was an excellent breakfast buffet at the Hotel Lindenhof in Lübeck, and after that, having fed the coordinates for the evening stop into the SatNav I reckoned we had plenty of time for a quick look at the historic centre of Lübeck first. So long as we were on the move by 11:00 at the latest we’d make it to Aalst by 17:00, plenty of time to get cleaned up, have a pre-dinner glass of something, and go out for one last holiday dinner. So Lübeck it was, walking in through the Holstentor and finding a city full of unexpectedly lovely corners, medieval buildings here, there and everywhere.
Here was a town that instantly made it onto our “must get back here asap” list, no question about it. From the gorgeous market square to the lakeside houses further round, and the cathedral and cloisters there seems to be much to investigate.
Lübeck is in fact a stunning example of what happens when people making money actually get to found a city. In the 14th century Lübeck became known as the Queen of the Hanseatic League, by virtue of being the largest and most powerful (for which read richest) member of that organisation. Apparently In 1375 Emperor Charles IV named Lübeck one of the five “Glories of the Empire”, along with Venice, Rome, Pisa and Florence. It seems to me that Lübeck is now seriously overlooked compared to the other four cities.
Unfortunately we had no time to explore further on this occasion so we reluctantly piled into the car and headed off onto the autobahns of Germany. That would have been fine but it seemed every other bugger was doing the same thing! The first signs of trouble came when the SatNav, which has live traffic information, directed me off the motorway and right through the middle of Hamburg! I haven’t been to the “Free and Hanseatic” city of Hamburg since 1989, and while a large chunk of my childhood holidays were spent there, it really wasn’t on my itinerary for the day.
It only got worse from there. We’d managed to hit the weekend when all of northern Germany was going back home from their summer holidays, and the southern Germans were all going on holiday. And they all seemed to be rammed onto the motorway going the same way. With repeated roadworks all the way to Belgium we hit delay after delay, finally getting off the motorway and battling our own way across country after a delay of 70 minutes appeared on the traffic feed. The area of Lower Saxony known as the Altes Land is all very bucolic, and scenic, but the having to use the D7 was pushing our arrival time back ever further and we didn’t need the aggravation.
Sometime much later that day we turned towards the Dutch border and the traffic finally thinned out. A quick currywurst stop and we were into the Netherlands with only Antwerp standing between us and a bed for the night!
From that point on it got easier and we arrived in Aalst later than planned, grubby, tired and hot, but pleased to find our hotel was very close to the restaurant we’d booked for the evening.
I’d chosen the Keizershof partly for its location, partly because again it had a secure car park which meant we didn’t need to drag all our luggage indoors, but it’s fair to say it delivered on more than that with a lovely, large room, well equipped, and well appointed. The staff on duty were charming, helpful and couldn’t do enough, which was also a plus at the end of a somewhat difficult day.
Refreshed, cleaned up and suitably dressed, we took a slow stroll to the market square, which is very pretty but was also full of a massive marquee for some event or other and thus couldn’t be photographed. We were booked in to the Borse van Amsterdam, in a lovely medieval building on one side of the square.
A cold glass of champagne first, don’t mind if I do.
For starters I went for the fresh herring which was indeed fresh, beautifully marinated and served with lovely, crunchy green beans.
Lynne went with the tuna niçoise, also rather good, with none of that off-putting grey tuna you so often get in the UK because the kitchen has over-cooked it.
For main I couldn’t resist eel, fried, served with home-made tartare sauce and – this being Belgium – frites of course!
It was delicious, though I was surprised when they brought the same amount of eel again after I finished the first four pieces. It was more than I really needed, but was so good that I had no choice but to finish it. Or at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! The frites were superb too, seasoned just right, crisp on the outside and soft inside. Lovely!
Lynne’s salmon appeared to have come from a very large fish and was also very tasty indeed.
It says much for wine prices in Finland that neither or us batted an eyelid at the thought of paying €42 for a bottle of wine with dinner, and thus we ended up drinking an excellent Pessac Léognan 2013 from Ch. Tour Léognan (2°Ch. Carbonnieux).
Dessert was an impossibility after all of those frites, so I had a coffee and we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. In theory all we had to worry about in the morning was getting to the Eurotunnel on time, stopping at the nearest Delhaize supermarket to stock up on wine for home, and buy something for dinner on Sunday evening.