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I really enjoy studying languages and I do think they come a bit easier to me than they do to others. I’ve studied Spanish in High School for three years, German in College for two years and have been studying French as an adult for a few years now. I’m not fluent in any of these languages, but when I find myself surrounded by these languages, it starts to click again. I get re-energized on language study after spending a couple days surrounded by another language.
I’ve taken a few months off from my official French Language Study, and I’ve decided to start it up again. I’m going to take a basic French Literature class in September. We’ll be reading and discussing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. I’m going to make September my French Language month.
In addition to this class, I’ve got these additional items on my list to push my French brain:
- Read the entire Le Monde, that I picked up while in Singapore
- Watch 7 Jour Sur La Planete (a 30 minute world news show in French with French subtitles) each week
- Use Duolingo four times a week
My goal for September, obviously isn’t to be fluent in the month, but just get back into the swing of things.
Do you set language goals for yourself? What recommendations do you have for me to make it through September and beyond?
After doing a bit of research on fine dining in Montreal, I decided to give L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon another try. I wasn’t overly impressed with it when I was in Hong Kong, but I had delayed planning a nice dinner until late in the game and I couldn’t find a reservation that would fit into our overall schedule. L’Atelier it is! I didn’t realize, until the day of the reservations, that the restaurant is actually in the Casino, which honestly, if I had known, I likely would have changed my plans. Casino food can be hit or miss and if I wasn’t sold in the excellence of L’Atelier from a previous visit, I was sure the locale wouldn’t make it better. Plus, it was too late to cancel without a forfeiture fee.
I roll into the casino about 5 minutes before my reservation and like all casinos, it was like a maze finding the restaurant. Eventually, after a few escalators, an elevator and a flight of stairs, I arrive. The Maitre d’ greeted me by name as I walked up. The restaurant was booked full and I was a single diner showing up about 10 minutes after my reservation time – process of deduction lead them to me.
The welcome crew was great, no comment about my tardiness. There were a couple of single seats around the counter, of which I had my choice. Selecting a corner seat gave me extra elbow room and only one opportunity to have a talkative neighbor.
The menu was delivered right as I sat down. Before I could even get situated, I was presented a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and was asked if I’d be joining in a pre-dinner glass of champagne. OUI! Madam, OUI!
As I sipped my champagne and perused the menu, I finally got a chance to check out the restaurant. It looked remarkably like the Hong Kong version, bar seating, highboy tables around the perimeter, although this restaurant looked out on the river and was quite bright and sunny, despite the deep red and black lacquer finished.
I had basically decided I’d be doing the tasting menu this evening. The final decision was which menu to try, the Decouvert de Saison or the Experience. I was pushing for the Experience, but I didn’t want the sweetbreads and I couldn’t swap out a course, so it was the Decouvert for me. It wasn’t a big let down, I just really wish I could have had the canard – I love duck.
I decided to do the wine pairings as well – why not, right? So I sat at the bar, alone, enjoying a 10-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and I couldn’t be happier. First up, an amazing bread basket was delivered. I knew I wouldn’t eat all that bread by myself…but I did a damn good job. I just left one of the olive loafs behind. So perfect, so buttery, so not needed based on the amount of food I was eating!
Service was surprisingly smooth and knowledgeable. I kept replaying the dinner in Hong Kong and how disappointing it was. Not at all like that here. The service was well timed – a glass delivered, then the wine poured with about 20-30 seconds of explanation of the grape, the region and why it was chosen to pair with the next course. I’d have about a minute or two to smell, taste and admire the wine before the plate was delivered – again with a 20-30 second explanation of the dish, then I’d be left to enjoy it in peace. Dinner continued like that for about two and a half hours.
By the time the L’Asperge Blanche was delivered (which was SCALDING hot by the way), a couple sat next to me. She was loud and brash. She ordered a double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary. The server confirmed and gave her fair warning that that drink would likely destroy her palate, truly diminishing the tasting menu. She ordered the tasting menu and a second double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary. All before the champagne was served.
Despite my initial frustration with this woman, we ended up having a really great time chatting. Her husband (boyfriend?) was more of the silent, look at his phone type of guy and she was a chatty Kathy. She ended up being quite respectful, when my dish would arrive. She’d turn and lavish attention on her date, who couldn’t care less about her (or so it seemed). Once I finished, she let me savor for a moment, then she’d jump right back into her story, without missing a beat. It made for an enjoyable experience.
Finally the petits fours were delivered. Eric Gonzalez, the head chef, came out and chatted with me for about 15 minutes. We spent a lot of time talking about port (I love a beautiful Portuguese fortified wine) and about proper duck preparation and how he doesn’t really dig the whole duck press service. I loved pressed duck, but many places do it so poorly.
The Departing Conclusion
My early dinner came to an acceptably timely close a little before 22h00, which gave me plenty of time to head back to the hotel, change and meet up with my friends that evening. The L’Atelier in Montreal is head an shoulders better than the one in Hong Kong. I was thoroughly disappointed in so much of the Hong Kong experience and despite the casino location, this team did a phenomenal job. I’d head back and dine here in a heartbeat — but will I dine in Paris, or Shanghai or Taipei or any of the other cities with a Joël Robuchon restaurant? Time will tell.
Have you dined at any of the incarnations of Joël Robuchon’s restaurants? What did you love? How was the service?
After the surprisingly long trip into the airport, the slow moving lines at the border and the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass, I got to the gate after boarding had already started. I pushed my way through the disorganized crowds around the main boarding door and was greeted by a Brussels Airlines employee who scanned my boarding pass, took my roller suitcase (I thought he was going to check it), but he just took it down the gate for me and put it in an overhead bin. Now that is service.
I opted to sit in seat 5K, which is one of the throne seats – ample table space and no neighbors. A perfect way to spend about eight hours to New York.
As I was getting situated in my seat, you know, getting tablet and headphones out, finding reading materials and charging cables, one of the flight attendants came by with pre-departure beverage options. This was the most comprehensive beverage tray service I have ever seen. In addition to water (both sparkling and still), he was offering orange juice, champagne and a Kir Royale. My choice was easy, I’ll take a Kir any day of the week.
The amenity kits were distributed immediately after the drinks were delivered. The amenity kit was quite an embarrassment though. A poor quality spongy bag with an eye shade, socks, a pack with toothbrush and paste, ear plugs and a pen. I love to reuse an amenity kit – I’m currently using a simple canvas bag from Lufthansa to store my travel cables. This kit went right into the garbage once I got home. I did like the unique color and aesthetic design – it just wasn’t functional and it sure didn’t have any feeling of luxury about it.
Nearly 30 minutes after I boarded, the main cabin door closed. The flight attendants were making several announcements throughout the boarding process in English, Dutch and French. It always amazes me that foreign airlines can make the same announcement in three different languages and still be done quicker than US airlines. The Belgian captain welcomed us on board and announced our flight time of about 7 hours 15 minutes – 45 minutes shorter than booked. This time on the ground allowed me ample opportunity to explore the relatively light in-flight entertainment and the seat functions.
There were only 47 TV episodes available and a few dozen movies. That’s why whenever I travel, I always bring at least two-hours of pod casts and one-hour of video (TV or Movies) for every hour of flight. Never get caught without entertainment on a trip!
In general, I thought the seat on Brussels Airlines was pretty comfortable for the relatively short hop across the Atlantic, especially for a daytime flight. The biggest downside is the cubby where your feet go when the seat is in the bed position. To efficiently fill the Business Class Cabin, the seats are staggered. My throne seat had two seats in front of it and my feet had to fit into the small alcove between the two seats ahead of me. Check out the design on Seat Guru – this picture doesn’t quite to the tightness justice, but you get the idea. It really wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I’m on the taller side and often find that I need to sleep with bended knee on a flight.
We taxied for another 25 minutes and were airborne at 10h52. Unlike many other flights, my Kir had been refilled after the door closed and while we were taxiing. It wasn’t the best Kir Royale I’d had (it was a little warm), but it was the best on a plane and a great kick off to this flight.
After a choppy climb out of Brussels, the menus were delivered – we were a good 30 minutes into the flight and just a little north and west of London. I was quite excited to see what the menus had to offer as I knew Brussels took pride serving Belgian specialties and had a nice Belgian beer list.
Another round of drinks were served with a couple amuse bouche, which I thought were surprisingly good. The Smoke Eel Rillette was a great way to kick off the lunch. I selected the King Crab and Lamb Saddle. The King Crab was stellar. Not only did it look great, but it tasted wonderful – I’m not usually a big King Crab guy, but this was prepared perfectly and the addition of artichoke made my day. I wished it was a bit bigger though.
As I moved from the seafood to the meat course, I switched to red wine, from bubbles. Unfortunately they didn’t stock the Pinot Noir that was advertised in the menu, but they swapped it out for a bold Zinfandel that was just too much for the lamb, so I decided to drink a Bordeaux This wine wasn’t stellar, but it did pair much better with the lamb than I think the Zin would have.
After the entree, I switched to the Oregon Chardonnay, which I thought would go nicely with the cheese course. I’m not a traditional Chardonnay guy either, but I do love Oregon wines and I find the style of Oregon Chardonnay is much easier on the palate than a Californian wine – it’s all personal preference though, so taste, try and drink!
The meal service took just about two hours (11h25 – 13h45) from the time the first in-flight drinks were served until the final dessert plate was removed. I enjoy a leisurely lunch in flight – especially on a daytime flight. In the evening, especially to Europe, I’d like to speed things up and hopefully allow me to get a bit of sleep.
Speaking of sleep, I did manage to nap off and on for a few hours on this flight. I didn’t want to sleep too much as I wanted to get a full and proper sleep at home and start the day off right for work the next day.
The champagne continued to flow throughout the flight and despite the menu indicating there was a mid-flight snack of ice cream, it also wasn’t on board. I did prefer the other snack that was left out from the time before we menus were distributed until after we were deplaning. Two 64 piece Neuhaus Chocolate boxes were left for Business Class passengers to enjoy. Each time I made a trip to the lavatory I snagged a couple chocolates going and coming. When the boxes were about half empty, the flight attendants replaced them with brand new boxes, then walked through the cabin asking if anyone would like the chocolates from the first box. This happened twice while we traveled. Yes, I ate a TON of chocolates on this flight. They were superb.
I visited the lav more than I normally would, just so I’d have an excuse to eat more chocolate. The lavatory was a standard airplane lavatory, but it had some pretty strange mood lighting. Very blue. Very strange club like. But the bath products were a minor upgrade from traditional lavatory options.
We landed in New York at 12h02 and arrived at our gate at 12h32 a full 20 minutes early. As we were deplaning each Business Class Passenger was given a large box of Neuhaus Chocolates – containing 16 pieces of dark chocolate. It was a surprise that I loved. The lady deplaning in front of me didn’t want hers, so I asked for Stew if I could have hers and he was only too happy to oblige. SCORE. Since I didn’t have any time at the airport to pick up gifts for the office, I used one for the office and one for me.
Is the Business Class service offered by Brussels an innovative experience? No. Is it fun and unique? Absolutely. The food and beverage (and the chocolate) service was definitely better than I’ve had on most other trans-Atlantic Star Alliance Flights (Austrian is better though). The seats are much better than Business Class on Lufthansa or United (especially because United is still flying that awful eight-across business class product on their B777s). Other than the tight foot cubby, my only other issue with Brussels is that they don’t fly to Chicago and I hate having to make another domestic connection when traveling.
I wanted to fly Brussels before Lufthansa (who just recently purchased the airline) makes changes to the product. I don’t know if they have any plans to do so (Swiss and Austrian remained pretty much intact), but I didn’t want to risk it.
Have you flown Brussels Airlines before? What did you love the most about it? Anything that you utterly hated? Did they lose your luggage – I’ve heard that they have some tough times keeping passengers and luggage together.
As you likely read earlier, I found myself with a return ticket to Vienna on United (and Austrian) through Brussels. We weren’t really interested in visiting Vienna again. While I love that City and can’t wait to return, I was just there in March and was looking for something different. Belgium has been on our list for a while and I figured since I’d technically be flying through Brussels, I may as well just hop off the plane and explore.
I’m a pretty big World War I buff (not one of those nuts who reenact battles or anything, I just love reading personal stories about the war, watching shows that take place in and around the war and of course proper documentaries on the subject). Also, my favorite beers are Belgium beers, so it really seemed like a no-brainer. Since I had the ticket to Brussels, I just needed to find a way back home – which is exactly how I got into this “ticket to Brussels” situation in the first place. I’ve always wanted to try Brussels Airlines and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.
Leaving on a Friday and returning on a Wednesday wouldn’t leave me much time to explore, but we could see a couple of places. Like I always say, I’d rather leave a destination wishing I had just one more day than wishing I had left a day or two prior.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll detail the portions of the trip that I think will provide the most interest to you all. If I’m leaving anything out, just ask – and feel free to use the comments section. Not that I don’t like getting emails from you all – which I love and respond to every one – leaving a comment will help others as well.
We spent all of our time in Flanders, the Flemish part of the country, so I didn’t really get a chance to speak French at all. A bit disappointing – but I did deal with the Brussels Airport and the Brussels Airlines crew exclusively in French.
- Nuit Blanche – Guesthouse Bruges
- Bruges by Bike
- Bruges / Brugge / Brügge – The Venice of the North (?)
- Ypres (Ieper) and WWI: Our Trip Back 100 Years
- American Cemetery on Memorial Day
- 1898 Post – Ghent Hotel
- Ghent by Bike
- Lozerkasteel – Kruishoutem Hotel
- Hof van Cleve Fine Dining in Rural Belgium
- Brussels Airlines – Business Class
You’ll notice I don’t plan on writing about my flight over to Brussels. There was nothing important to write about. We flew coach. Tight seats. EconomyPlus Legroom. Mediocre Food. Nothing to talk about here. Keep Moving.
Are you planning a trip to Belgium anytime soon? If you’ve been, what was your favorite parts of Flanders? I will return to Wallonia to explore Chimay and practice my French.