Posted in , Travel

Auvergne from above

We are slowly starting to travel again, in small steps…

We decided that we did not want to go too far, and not across more than one border.  Our first trip was to Auvergne, right in the center of France, a region that neither of us had visited before.

And in Auvergne, the first thing we did was an early morning flight in a hot air balloon!  How early? See below!

This was the clock in our apartment as we were eating breakfast – cannot go out without some food and a cup of coffee.  The real breakfast will be after the balloon trip.

We had to meet across the street from the apartment (fortunately) at 5:30 AM and discovered that there was quite a crowd already waiting.  That photo is actually quite deceptive as at 5:30 AM, it is still dark! We finalized the formalities and were introduced to Stanislas, our “pilot” for the day and the gentleman on the right.  After introductions with the rest of our crew (we were in a small balloon with only 4 passengers + pilot) we were off to a nearby field in order to prepare the balloon for flight.  You can see our basket in the lower left photo.

Here you can see the various steps in the preparation of a balloon for flight.  The passengers are actually doing quite a bit of the work, under the directions of the pilot and one or more helpers.  On today’s flight, there will be four balloons, which could be quite interesting as we will not be the only ones up in the air.  After unloading the basket, the balloon shell is stretched out and securely attached to the basket.  The balloon is inflated initially with powerful fans and only once it is well inflated, it is heated up with the burners to get lift.  That will be the next step for the crew of “Auvergne Montgolfière”, the red balloon here carrying the name of the company we are flying with.

This is our balloon being inflated with one fan – it is called “Volvic” after a local water.  It is quite noisy actually as the fan is powered by a petrol engine! No power necessarily where you want to start your flight.  The departure point is determined to give us the best possible flight, carried by the dominant wind.  As we saw during the flight, there is a possibility to steer the balloon in flight by changing height, actually, a lot more than I thought but the general direction is still dictated by the wind.

Continue reading “Auvergne from above”

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Les Deux Maisons

PIERREO.COM Restaurant Review

Restaurant Les Deux Maisons

Val des Seigneurs, 81
1150 Bruxelles

+32 2 771 1447
Website: LesDeuxMaisons

Overall :

This is a very nice restaurant to which we have been going regularly for 6-7 years.  We returned on the first day that the restaurant re-opened after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

Pierre Demartin is an excellent host and his staff is very attentive.  This makes for a very enjoyable experience every time we come.


This is “fine dining”.  The Chef only uses the best ingredients which he then prepares in unique combinations of flavors.

We had the “Menu Tradition” with the wine pairing.

The amuse bouche already provided an interesting surprise: a cucumber sorbet on a slice of mozzarella cheese.  It was very tasty.

For appetizers we had the “Millefeuilles de raie et crevetes grises” (Millefeuilles of sting ray and grey shrimp – on the left) and the “Velouté de petits pois à la menthe et féta avec caille fumée” (cold pea soup with mint, feta cheese and smoked quail – on the right).

AS for the main, we had the “Dorade royale au poivron rouge et au condiment niçois, roquette, oignons frits et olives noires.” (Sea bream with red pepper and Nice condiment, arugula, fried onions and black olives – on the left) and the “Filet d’agneau, ail et romarin, tian provençal, blinis (Lamb fillet, garlic and rosemary, Provencal tian, blinis – on the right).

To top it all up, very nice desserts: Poire rôtie à la vanille, tuile au romarin, beurre salé glace caramel and Tarte fine aux pommes, glace vanille. Both were delicious

We had wine from Portugal and the Pays d’Oc that went very well with each dish.  A real feast

Atmosphere :

The restaurant itself is well appointed and what we appreciate even more now, the tables are spaced out.  In this occasion, we ate on the outside terrace (in the back of the restaurant) and enjoyed the beautiful evening.  The chef limits the number of tables that he serves so that he can concentrate on the preparation of each dish.

Comments :

There is a very nice terrace outside with just 7-8 tables – same inside.

We always enjoy the very high quality of the food prepared with attention and creativity by the chef.


Reservations: It is essential to make reservations, especially on week-ends

Credit Cards: Cash, Visa, Mastercard, Debit Card

Parking: There is usually ample street parking not far from the restaurant which is free after 18h00



Posted in Travel

The Florida Keys


I cannot count the number of times that I have thought about going to visit the Florida Keys in the past.  I always ended up not going as I was not sure what there was to do there and I did not look forward to the drive from Miami all the way to Key West.  These are all the wrong reasons for not going somewhere!

That all changed in 2019 as Bee and I talked about it more and more and I discovered that there were a lot of good reasons for going there.  We did so in January 2020.  We flew to Miami and rented a car from there.  Our first stop was at a Cuban Restaurant in Little Havana where we had an excellent lunch.  After lunch, we drove onto Route 1 and left the mainland USA.

Our first stop for the night was at Marathon Key where we stayed at the Hampton Inn (we are frequent users of Hilton chain hotels as they always treat us really well).  That evening, we had an excellent meal at The Island Fish Company, across the street from the hotel.

We had all day to go from Marathon Key to Key West so we decided to do some sightseeing on the way and stopped at the Curry Hammock State Park where we did a coastal trail on the North side of the Key.  Nice trail but very much in lush greenery all the way and therefore not much to photograph.  Here is an example of the typical trail we followed.

It was a very pleasant walk that only took us about 1 hour and we seemed to be the only people on the trail.

We arrived early at Key West and checked into our B&B called the Old Town Manor (details at the bottom of the post) – I would certainly recommend this B&B as it is beautiful, with very nice rooms and a great location.

The first order of business was to finalize our plans for the next day, when we were scheduled to take the Yankee Freedom to the Dry Tortugas.  This is an all day trip to the very last key, one that cannot be reached by car but only air and boat – we chose the boat.

And it is coming back from the Ferry Docks that we really lucked out!  In the main marina, I saw this boat which I thought was just gorgeous!  This poor picture does not do it justice.

As we got closer, we noticed that it was available for local cruises – a bit more discussion and we found out that the Sunset Cruise will be leaving in 1/2 hour with only 15 passengers on board.  We quickly signed up and almost ran to the B&B to get warmer clothes.

It turns out that this is “America 2.0” a replica of the yacht “America” which beat the Brits around the isle of Wight to win the very first “America’s Cup” on 22 August 1851.  It is not a perfect replica as it is made in modern materials but made to look like the original yacht.

They asked for volunteers to help raise the sails – no modern conveniences, such as electric winches here – it is all done with arm, and leg muscles.  I was only tailing, and trying to help a bit the person actually lifting the sail…

Here she is, almost fully rigged.  The wind was just perfect for a good sail and she sailed very well.

I even got to steer her!  Am I happy or what!

The two photos above with me in them are courtesy of Bee… Continue reading “The Florida Keys”

Posted in , Food

Estaminet ‘t Kelderke

PIERREO.COM Restaurant Review

Estaminet ‘t Kelderke

Grand Place 15

+32 2 513 7344

Overall :

I do not trust a lot of Restaurants in and around the Grand Place in Brussels.  Most places are tourist traps which serve so-so food at inflated prices.

I have been eating at this place for many years and have not been disappointed once.  You also cannot beat the view from their terrace.


We went there for lunch and had, as always, excellent food.  I had the Burger “L’Estaminet” and my wife had the Carbonnades Flamandes.  Both came with Belgian Frites which we ate with mayonnaise.

They specialize in Belgian Food and for the moment have only a limited menu due to the current restrictions (outdoor dining only) – they also have an excellent selection of local beers.


Eating ‘al fresco’ at the foot of the Maison des Bouchers with the full extent of the Grand Place in front of you is unbeatable.  There is a constant spectacle developing in front of you: tourists taking lot’s of photos; groups on a horse carriage ride; tour guides looking for their next victims, sorry customers; locals happy to just sit and absorb.

They have a very large room inside as well – I have never eaten there.

Comments :

They are highly rated on TripAdvisor:

As I indicated above, one of the addresses you can trust in that neighborhood.

If you do not have reservations, you need to come early for lunch or dinner as they tend to fill fast especially with good weather.


Reservations: accepted on the phone or by email

Credit Cards: American Express, Cash, Visa, Mastercard, Debit Card

Parking: The Grand Place in Brussels is a pedestrian zone.  There are a lot of choices for parking around the Grand Place.

Posted in Culture, Travel

Big Bend NP – Texas

In a short lull in the Covid19 Pandemic, we decided to go to Big Bend National Park.

We had actually booked the Chisos Mountain Lodge, in the middle of the park, for the first week in June six months earlier as this was a trip we really wanted to do.  However, the lodge was still closed.  We read that the Park would reopen on June 1, 2020 for day-use only so we made preparations and decided to drive there with a short stop in San Antonio on the way.

We rented a house in the Terlingua Ranch district so that we would have cooking facilities and be more independent; we also brought essentially all of own food and drinks as we read that not much was available locally.  We arrived to a wonderful house on Jun 1 around 4PM and settled in.

On 2 June, we drove into the park early in the morning – we quickly found out that this was a good strategy: (1) there was no one to collect our money at the entrance gate and (2) we were ahead of whatever crowd would come in.

One warning – if you do not like photos of wide-open panoramas, you might as well stop right here!  Big Bend is nothing if not wide open country with many different types of views, but always expansive.

As we drove into the park heading for the Santa Elena Canyon I could not resist this shot, just to prove the point above…

I did not drive very fast, we we were able to stop for the odd wild-life on the side of the road – this one was difficult to miss…

As I was photographing, he decided to fly away.

This last one is probably the best … we were so close, I hardly needed to crop this photo to make it look better.

Even early morning (about 9:30) it was already hot as we prepared to explore the Santa Elena Canyon.

Here is the view as we approached the canyon.  The Rio Grande makes the border between Texas (USA) and Mexico.  The left side of the canyon is in Mexico.

Continue reading “Big Bend NP – Texas”

Posted in Travel

Alaska – Part 4

We are completing our wonderful trip after such a wonderful evening.

As we are heading towards Petersburg we run into more wales.

It is impossible to tire of the view of the tail from a diving whale in such scenery – maybe you are tired of these photos, so I will try to be even more creative for this last blog.  We did have a lot to see in the last two days.

We continued to stay away from the larger cruise ships. At a distance, they are not too bad…

Cruising along Storm Islands that lies between Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound.  It has an interesting light house called the Five Finger Light House, unfortunately no longer in use.  It was first lit on a very auspicious date – spring equinox of 1902, the second lighthouse to be lit in Alaska.

The lighthouse appears to be a magnet for breaching whales.  We sat there for quite some time just watching one whale and then another doing this several times in a row.  Not a full breach, but close to 50% of the whale comes out of the water in the sequence above. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 4”

Posted in Culture, Travel

Iowa in August

Yes, we went to Iowa in August 2019.  There was a very good reason for that: Bee had to drive a large farm tractor.

We also went to the Iowa State Fair and visited Madison County.  We had a really nice trip.

The tractor deal was a promise made by a friend many years before that and she did come through – her brother provided the tractor and the instructions.

Bee was concentrating hard for the maneuver to take the tractor out of the hangar.  It would not ave been good to crash right away.

It was not a very long ride, just enough to get a feel of the “beast” and say “I did it!”  We were fascinated by the switch with a hare and a tortoise – allowed to select between high and low speed.

While we were there, I drove it too.  It was by far the largest tractor I ever drove.  The oldest one must have been the Porsche I drove in the 70’s in Belgium – it was over 30 years old at the time.

The State Fair was quite an occasion.  Neither of us ad ever been to one and so it was an opportunity to see a side of American Culture that few visitors see; even a lot of Americans who live in cities have never been to a state fair.  We saw lots of farm animals, a wagon driving competition, explored some very large tractors, had chicken on a stick and tasted the six wines who had won the “Best” awards that year.  At the end of the day, we saw a concert by “Foreigner” (great – but I did not care at all for the opening act!)

This was a new experience for me: the first time I did not finish the glasses that were offered in a wine tasting.  Actually I finished one out of the six that was drinkable – the other five were way, way too sweet for my taste.  Later on during this trip, we went to one of the wineries in Madison County (The Covered Bridge Winery) and found very nice wine.  We started talking with the Winemaker and he reminded me that in judging wine, one has to differentiate between wine that one likes, and wine that is well made.  The wines that win the competition are very well made, but maybe not in a way that I like; that is a good point that I had not thought about before.  From that point on, I am now saying “I do not like that wine” rather than “that is not a good wine”.  Apparently people in Iowa prefer sweeter wines and most winemakers will make a sweeter wine to please the local palate – surprisingly enough, they do not make wine to please just me and I have to accept that.

After two days in the Des Moines area, we decided to move to Winterset, in the middle of Madison County where we had booked at the beautiful Heavenly Habitat Bed and Breakfast.  More on that at the bottom of this post.  On the way, we stopped at the Living History Farms – a large park where life in Iowa 100-150 years ago has been recreated with some original buildings.  We had a very interesting visit starting with the farms which are only reachable by taking local transport – a cart pulled by a tractor.

We went for a walk in the fields and saw this fence overgrown with wild flowers – very simple way to separate fields if you do not need barbed wire to keep animals in or out.

Not far from the fence we saw this beautiful bird who did not seem to mind our being there – or maybe he was waiting for us to leave so he could eat the bug in peace.  He is very discreet, keeping an eye on the bug, but looking distracted while doing so.

Continue reading “Iowa in August”

Posted in Culture

Christmas Eve – Bonfires on the Levees

In 2004, while I was living in Baton Rouge, I decided to stay home for Christmas.  My parents were coming and spending New Year with me, but I was free on Christmas Eve.

Somebody told me about Bonfires on the Mississippi levees around Lutcher and Gramercy so I decided to check it out.  At the time, I was still using film, but the company I used to develop the film had a special offer to put photos on CD and I took advantage of it.  I therefore had saved digital versions of the photos from this first visit – not necessarily the best quality, but good memories.

I arrived a few hours before the fires were lit, and was amazed at some of the constructions.  This is a log cabin that was fully equipped inside, with tables, chairs and dummies.

The ghost that you see in front of the photo is the result of a technique I used with my film camera when I was faced with a crowd.  I would put the camera on the tripod and take several super-imposed shots without winding the film.  Since people move, only the fixed objects that I am trying to photograph are clearly visible.  Here, I probably only took 3-4 shots.

At 7 PM, the fires are lit, and there are fireworks, by individuals.  Some of the fireworks are quite nice – I have no ideas how much money people put into these.

There were quite a few people, but it was not crowded.  Even the River Road was not totally jammed.

The majority of bonfires are pyramids that tend to burn quite well.

I like the movement of the embers in this photo.

Even the log cabin went up in smoke Continue reading “Christmas Eve – Bonfires on the Levees”

Posted in , Travel

Alaska – Part 3

Our continuing saga on a small ship in a large state…

It is still day 4 of our adventure and we have now moved all the way to the Northern end of the Seymour Canal, not far from where we were on Day 1. We are going to visit Park Creek, a bear sanctuary, not to rehabilitate them, but just an area that provides safety for them.  The rangers have interacted with the local bear population for many years, and quite a few bears have their own name; the bears are left alone as much as possible, but are used to human presence and do not see it as a threat.  We took the dinghy to go ashore and just as we were talking to one of the rangers, this is what we saw coming towards us.  That is when I remembered I forgot my bells!

Mama Bear with two cubs, slowly coming along the shore to where we were.  The rangers did not panic, so I figured we were safe.  They kept on coming very close to us, but then followed the shore to our right, without taking a second look at us.  We will encounter her again.

The cubs just followed Mommy.

Our valiant vessel parked in the sound waiting for us.  She is such a beauty, I have to show more pictures.

After a very short walk, we came to a river where the salmon are running.  Mama bear is now fishing for herself after she provided fish for her two cubs.

She jumped on a salmon and immediately started to eat. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 3”

Posted in , Travel

Alaska – Part 2

Continuing where we left off the first episode at the end of Day 2 we arrived at Ford’s Terror where we were not alone.  As we approached our anchorage for the evening, another boat was already there – crowded!

We went for another walk near narrows on a rising tide.  We had no problems landing from the dingy on a pebble beach – after our walk, and after the tide rose a bit more, we had more problems getting back onto the dingy as there was no beach left.

The walk was very nice – and we did not see bears, maybe because Kristin kept yelling “Hey Bear” – I have already shown you a picture of Kristin fully equipped for our defense, but she took no chances.

We were walking through beautiful scenery – this is a view of Ford’s Terror from land.

Time for portraits!  Behind is the narrow inlet that leads to the rest of the bay.  With the rising tide, the water was violently flowing making a roar, which you cannot really see or hear on this picture.

More spectacular views along the way

I liked this little pond reflecting the mountains and trees.

At the end of the walk, as we were wainting for the dingy to take us back to Catalyst, we saw a few curious harbor seals

Later in the evening, when the tide reached its highest point, we took a dingy ride around the whole bay and into West Arm Anchorage. Unfortunately it was raining the whole time so there are no pictures of that. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 2”