‘gotta love the Maastricht Food Festival and Chateau de Jehay, but CarTrawler and Microsoft are causing trouble…
Thumbs up to the four-day Bite of Maastricht, rolling into the Vrijthof Square this weekend with 40 food booths and live entertainment. More properly known as the Preuvenemint, it resembles US festivals from Seattle or Chicago, where local restaurants offer low cost / low volume samples. It’s ideal for noshing a wide selection, discovering a hidden gem or finding an old favorite. It seems to be yet another opportunity for locals to dress up, eat, and socialize against a backdrop of colored lights and bouncing music. I can’t fault a culture that enjoys so many varieties on this theme.
It’s a more expensive event than its American counterpart: patrons purchase coupons for 1.80 euro each, then redeem them at the food stalls. Beer and wine cost one coupon (lassen); small samples cost 3, small plates cost 5, and champagne and drinks run 6-8. This pricing tends to attract an upscale crowd: there were more evening jackets and cigar smoke than I remember from any other Dutch festivals. The grounds were packed, though, and the food samples were excellent.
Thumbs down to Skyscanner’s new Car Hire service. I’m a big fan of their discount airlines search engine: it’s the first place I go when I need to find a cheap flight. I was excited that they added car and hotel booking to their service, and found offers at about 2/3 the price of other sites. The first booking with EuropeCar went fine, but the second, with GoldCar, got ugly very quickly.
My flight arrived early, so I was at the rental counter at 3:15 rather than 4:00. GoldCar told me that I could accept a micro-car for the same price, or wait 45 minutes. I cooled heels until the appointed time, then went back to claim the car. The booking, prepaid, was for 165 euro. However, the desk agent started adding fees for taking the car out of Spain, for extra insurance, and for prepaid gasoline charges, bringing the total to 300 euros. When I objected, he said that was between me and CarTrawler, the agent behind SkyScanner. I called them, and they said that the fine print in the contract allowed the agent to add on excess charges at pickup, at will.
So, there is really no way to know what the booking will cost, and because it’s prepaid, I can’t refuse and go to another vendor? “Sorry, sir, you need to read the contract and call us if there are questions.”
Since I had already dropped 45 minutes, I had time and inclination to press the point, and got the booking down to about 200 euros. But beware: the quotations can be an absolute fiction.
Another thumbs up for the Chateau de Jehay outside of Liege, a large country house with a wonderful collection of rococo procelein and clocks. The owner was also a sculptor scattering his uninhibited copper statuary across the gardens and pools that surround the house. There’s an exhibit of abstract works expressing the idea of colour in the gardens, and a museum exhibition of drawings by the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux.
The owner’s tastes are both colorful and erotic: he depicts the female form in many happy poses and variations. Having taken a few life drawing classes, I always enjoy seeing how artists capture the human form, and there are wonderful works in this collection. Some of the works will surely provoke a smile: his statues of women draped over insects and waterways are absolutely unique.
And one last thumbs-down to Microsoft. A recent update to 64-bit Vista has infected my computer with the Blue Screen of Death every time I unplug a USB device; no fix is yet available. Both Windows Live Writer and Windows Live Mail have died; tech support has escalated my issues for the past week before notifying me that they have reproduced my problem, thanks for bringing it to their attention. In the meantime, I have yet to find an alternative WYSIWYG editor for Blogger: I’m limping along with a combination of Word 2007 and a draft editor from Google.
Windows 7 can’t come too soon…