Friday, October 3, 2008

The grand tour: the end

One of the things that amazed my husband in Europe, and especially in Belgium was that the shops were actually closed on sundays. True, in the big tourist cities, some shops might have been allowed an exception if this was regulated by law, or decided to buck tradition if it was not, but in general, on sunday, shops are closed. In Belgium this rule has one or two exceptions: bakeries are allowed to be open a few hours in the morning, and restaurants and cafes are allowed to be open. The reasoning behind this is clear. Sunday traditionally is a day for God and family. Having a big, family sunday breakfast with fresh rolls and pastries is part of that. Or celebrating a special occasion together by going out to eat as a family is part of that. Shopping for a new dress isn't.
In our grand tour of Europe I wanted to observe this sunday as a day of quiet. But that means that today is the last day of our tour of Europe, and I have barely scratched the surface, not just in the countries we have seen, but with the countries we have seen. There is so much more to Europe than the four countries we have visited. Perhaps if there is a second edition of the Finishing School, we will visit some other countries, because there is so much more to tell.
What about Switzerland, with it's famed neutrality, it's bank secret, its beautiful lakes and yummie ricola bonbons... What about Yugoslavia, torn apart by war so recently and trying to build up again? Or the republics that once belonged to Yugoslavia? Kroatia that is swiftly becoming a tourist destination? Macedonia, that is still trying to find it's belance? Serbia, that is dealing with a war history and accusations of etnic cleansing, and still trying to get ahead? Do we add Eastern Europe to what we look at as Europe or not? And then there is Greece, birthplace of Western Civilisation they say, with the wonderful myths that have given birth to literature and theater alike, the great thinkers who are still read and admired. There is Monaco, that went from ill reputed tax paradise to the playing ground of the rich and wealthy, Germany, so much more than just memories of the war, Spain with it's sun baked cities and rich tradition, Austria with it's mountains, it's flowers, it's wonderful kitchen, beautiful cities and picturesque villages....

If you look at the colourful jigsaw puzzle of the map, there is so much more. How can I stop at just four countries? Well, maybe instead of a Grand tour, we have taken a little tour, just a sample of what was on offering. With the hope of more to come one day. What I do hope you have sensed and learned of these posts, by just learning more about four countries that actually border eachother (I really wish I had time for Austria as well) is how different they are, not just in climate, but in history, in atmosphere, in temperament, in the way they offer hospitality, in the way they cook and in what they find important.
Seeing more countries would reveal both more differences and general similarities. The sun, you will find, has a great influence on a countries temper, and on the way they offer hospitality. People in a mountainous climate cook but also act differently. Older countries have different habits and rules than newer countries, and so we could go on for a while. Some countries are firmly established, some are fledglings, still trying to find their balance. And each one has something different to offer: nature, culture, or people wise.
With that, I can only end by hoping that some of you might one day have a chance to actually see some of the countries yourselves. Tickets are not as life alteringly expensive anymore, but they still require some saving. And the dollar versus the euro could make it a very expensive vacation at the moment. So... while you perhaps wait and save and plan, here is a last homework assingment.
In my previous posts, you've seen me post recipes from different countries from the website, if you have a few spare minutes go and browse through them, type in the names of some countries we have not been able to visit. You might find a delicious Schwarzwalder kirsch torte; THE original chocolate cake with cheries. You might find a wonderful Serbian bean soup, an original Hungarian goulash recipe or Swiss cheesefondue. Consider perhaps hosting an international potluck one day, before winter sets in. One of the wonderful things about America is that you find people from every heritage, and a lot of them may still have a recipe from mom or grandma in their books that will give you a new take on some familiar ingredients.
For now, this will have to be the end of the Grand Tour. I hope you have enjoyed the little bit of information that you may have gleaned from these post. Keep your eyes on the blogs of Elizabeth and Emma for further installments of the Finishing School.
Be loved and blessed,

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