Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Driving [and Drinking] in Belgium

Note the order of the activities in the title - we were very responsible; as Doug pointed out in his recap post.  We made a road trip from Derby to Brussels with our friends, fellow expats, and travelers-extraordinaire Doug and Tara by way of the Eurotunnel.

Chillin' in the car as the train speeds along the bottom of the English channel at 90 mph.

Thanks to Doug for getting us into Brussels city center despite the fact he's not allowed to drive in Britain (at the time of this writing)

Celebrating a successful arrival in Brussels with an Orval and red wine. (Kerry is not a beer fan.)

Celebrating a successful arrival in Brussels with a framboise (raspberry) lambic and a Duvel.

STOP HERE - go read Doug's post about the trip, then come back for my recap.

It may seem silly to say, but Belgian beer is best in Belgium - the freshness, serving temp, and proper glassware all roll up into an elevated experience that lacked when I'd drink it back home.   I think freshness is the key:  a few of the breweries do permeate the international scene thanks to partnerships with big name distributors, but most Americans are limited to the dusty selection of questionable age at the well-stocked package liquor store.   Here in Brussels one may walk into the equivalent of a 7eleven convienience store to pick up top-rated quality beers such as Westmalle, Orval, Chimay, or Corsendonk for under $2/bottle.

For me, the Belgian style has always been the most complex in terms of flavor profiles due to their "no rules" brewing methods.  Here's what I mean:  when you read a beer connoisseur's tasting notes of Belgian ales, you will see some really pretentious descriptions of the taste like orange peel, banana, clove, cracked pepper, leather, apricot, pineapple, or even cough syrup.  All this has to do with the type of yeast used to ferment the beer, and the temperature at which this process takes place.  In addition to ethanol production, the yeast  produce many byproduct chemicals called phenols.  While the Germans tightly controlled their beer recipes and brewed at low temperatures to prevent phenol production, Belgians are a bit more relaxed and used the phenols to characterize the style.

All that to say, this last weekend in Belgium was a delightful beer appreciation weekend (except for Kerry) with friends, and we just barely scratched the surface.

Beer was not the only Belgian delicacy that was appreciated this weekend 

In 1958, Brussels hosted the World's fair, called Expo '58 and they haven't stopped talking about it since.  To my surprise, there are still World's fairs occurring, with the most recent being last year in Yeosu, South Korea.  For some reason I thought these fizzled out in the early 20th century after the invention of the ice-cream cone.

Under the Atomium
We walked through the bubbles to experience modern Brazilian architecture from 1930 to 1960. This small exhibition introduced us to an exuberant, humanist and utopian architectural style thanks to Sergio Bernardes.  In addition to other architects with a modern, socialist theme.  In other words, we looked at chairs...


The views from the outside were great, so I'll steal one from Doug.

Smart looking group, I'd say.

Moss on a tree in the park, funny how I'd rather look at this over chairs.
Back in the city we hit up some chocolate shops and tourist spots like this one below.

As I type this I just ate my last whisky-filled Godiva chocolate.

This picture makes me laugh.  Kerry's look on her face as I took a picture of the crowd admiring at the statue of the peeing boy.

I quickly lost interest in the statue when I found the escargot street vendor nearby.  11 snails for 4 euro in a very nice broth.

The Delerium Cafe is a must!  Doug and I approve.  Thousands of beers, with a huge selection on tap.  If they served food no one would ever leave.  We picked a table under a giant kettle top.

We walked by this functional art a few times on the way to the hotel and back.  I think the Atomium should buy it as a reading lamp for that chair I was looking at earlier.

Kerry looking cute at dinner

So the next day the Schetzels devised an intricate plan to get away from us even though it meant they'd miss Bruges.  I joke of course.  I don't need to rehash what happened (because you read Doug's post).   I will say that my rental car (a Focus now) has an average MPG calculator.  When I handed the keys over to Doug, that number dropped significantly.  He might want to consider some weekend rally car races once he gets his UK license.  

While they ran laps around Belgium, we took a Rick Steves walking tour on a foggy day.  We started out in the square.

The cost to go up in the tower was definitely not worth it today.  It did play music nearly the entire time!

Here's a nice [creepy?] video for those who couldn't be there in the courtyard of the Groeninge art museum.

This must be the nicest post office building I've ever seen

You'll notice all the times are different.  That's too bad - it would've been a neat experience to visit this Christmas shop at the top of the hour.

The liege waffle is different from the lighter Brussels waffle.  Yes, we're waffle connoiseurs too. 

In the Basilica of the Holy Blood is a vial of Jesus's blood brought here by Thierry of Alsance after the 2nd crusade in the 12th century.  They were having a service (it was Sunday morning) so we just popped our heads in for a quick look around.
Thank God for Wikipedia for pictures of the vial.

Bruges town hall - Stadhuis.  We didn't have time to go in, but I'll recommend it to Doug and Tara to check out if they can make it back (they're here for another year yet).

I took this because it was a picture in the guidebook as an example of scenic Bruges.  I can't complain!  And mine is in color, but the fog blocks the bell tower.

Admiring the picture in the book at the same time as being in the actual place the picture was taken.  I used to make fun of Doug's obsession with Rick Steves, now look at me.

De Hallve Maan is a brewery in the heart of town.  A nice pit stop to enjoy some more beer and eat some of our chocolates.   Beware - the chocolate covered cherries contain the pit!

More picturesque Bruges

A Michelangelo sculpture of Madonna and Child in the Church of Our Lady.  Very nice, but tell you what, artists were obsessed with this topic for about 200 years...

My favorite chocolate shop for its interesting flavors - we found rice wine vinegar, soy, chili, Cuban cigar, vodka-passionfruit, mint-coriander, and hempseed (they called it cannabis to be edgy).

Horse fountain surrounded by horse-drawn carriages.

More mossy trees in the park with swans.  Very peaceful here.

Here's another video that I ruined by talking, but a really nice area, called Minniewater.

No talking allowed in this square.  The white buildings are apartments for beguines, a sort-of informal nun.  This place is called Begijnhof, 

Back at the bus station we waited for the Schetzels to return. 

Here's some footage of them approaching

We made it to the Westvleteren brewery thanks to our GPS...  This place is like an oasis in the desert.  Walking into the restaurant In De Vrede reminded me of when Dorthey stepped out of her house and into Oz.  Also, it vaguely reminded me of my visit to Stone Brewery in Escondido. 

Doug's pics of the Westvleteren beer tasting event can't be beat, so please have a look and a laugh.  I'll just share a pic of of my dream job. 

It will be a weekend to remember!  A huge thank-you to Doug and Tara for letting us tag along.

Be well, all.

1 comment:

  1. The rally car is hilarious. Great job filling in the gaps. I forgot about that damn horse lamp.