B&A’s Benelux Journal

October 29, 2016

Long-awaited for…

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 5:45 pm

Well, we’ve been here over a week (originally typed “year”), and I have blogged once. ONCE. I’m so sorry. (For all my devoted fans. Hahaha.)

Since I last wrote, we have journeyed through more of Brussels and surrounding towns and cities, and we have ventured over to Paris. I’ll try to reminisce on some of the things that really stood out for me. Hit the highlights, I guess.

Bruges. I have been to Bruges before, but I do not remember being as charmed by it before as I was this time. I know, I know, it’s all touristy and whatnot, but everyone just shut up. Bruges is kind of like that city I loved in Vietnam, Hoi-An: both cities fell out of industrial and economical relevance, so they kind of just hibernated until they got discovered by tourists and have been reinvigorated as recreations of past days. I love those “frozen in a past time” kind of towns, no matter how touristy they get. Anyway, I particularly loved the bell tower of Bruges. Annoying climb up on of those Medieval spiral staircases, but it was SO worth it to get to the top and not just hear but WATCH the bells chime away while someone played the carillion a few stories below! Back on the ground, we meandered the cobblestone streets, leaned over the canal walls, and enjoyed a number of delicious beers.

The next day, we checked out a town that our tour book (written by the incomparable Rick Steves) does not acknowledge, Dinant, Belgium. I do so enjoy the colorful, narrative-driven walks and touring tips that Mr. Steves offers in his books, but I have to admit that I feel a certain rebellious energy when I stick it to the man and go somewhere off the beaten path. Dinant greeted us with gloomy, gray weather, almost Scottish in nature. The drizzly skies provided a dramatic backdrop for the stark rock-carved Citadel and dark, looming onion dome church. The drama is amplified by the fact that the train station is actually on the other side of the river from the village, so you pull up and see this unique scene waiting for you in another realm. It’s a fun walk across the river, though, because the bridge is lined with colorful saxophone sculptures, an homage to the town’s most famous Adolphe Sax (the instrument’s inventor).

In addition to the photogenic features of Dinant, the Citadel offers some interesting perspective on the town’s more somber history. One of the most intense stories — and arguably what may have put Dinant on the map outside of the world of music — is one about how a platoon of German soldiers basically slaughtered hundreds of civilians there in the early days of WWI. It was really a chilling story, and it definitely gave that old, stony citadel a haunted feel. Anyway, Dinant overall was sleepy but had some great surprises.

The rest of that day was summed up in BEER. I won’t go on and on about all that. But trust me, it was delicious. (And Cantillon Brewery still makes beer in, like, a 14th century way of brewing, which includes only using yeasts that come into the beer from the air. FROM THE AIR, PEOPLE.)

Tuesday found us on an EEEEAAAARRRRLLLYYY train to……… Luxembourg! That’s right, one of those tiny countries you learned about in middle school geography class that is little more that a city and its suburbs. At first, neither Brandon nor I were much impressed, beyond the novelty of hanging out in a city-state. We toured a big church, dined on some delicious hot chocolate (seriously, folks, if we’re not drinking beer here, we’re drinking hot chocolate), and perambulated along some of Luxembourg’s elegant streets that offer nice views of this city that seems perpetually perched on a hillside. All nice things but not mind-blowing. But then… then we discovered the Casements. I think Brandon has pretty well described them and raved about them himself, so I won’t be too redundant on that. But I will just say that it was a pretty unique experience. We enjoyed scurrying through the beehive-like tunnels and underground trails, and I really liked the “cannon holes” you’d occasionally stumble upon, offering new stunning views over the lower part of the city. It was really special and really fun.

Mid-week, we hit up Ghent, a Belgian city I had never visited before. For me, Ghent fell on one of my “slump days,” when I could not imagine doing any more walking or touring or picture-taking or museum-brochure-reading or ANYTHING. So I was in Zombie Mode. Still, it had some impressive architecture, and I enjoyed learning about its history as Europe’s cultural epicenter in The Good Ol’ Days (like… the 13th century). I’m sure hot chocolate was consumed at some point. One of the most important stops on the entire trip, though, was in the next town over, Melle: The Delirium Brewery. Okay, technically its name is Huyghe Brewery, but most Americans know it for its most famous line of beers, Delirium. You may know them for their Tremens, Nocturnum, and/or the pink elephant in their label. Anyway, we ended up having a private tour, and it was amazing. I’ve never toured a brewery that has such extensive production but still makes quality beer. I’ve also never toured a brewery that gave me such generous “samples” as part of the process, haha. AND! We got to say hello to the master brewers, just because they happened to be hanging out that afternoon. It was a great afternoon, and you can durn well bet I bought a T-shirt.

I’d love to go ahead and talk about Paris, but I think I need to get to bed. I’ll write about some of our Paris experiences tomorrow.

Paris

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:36 pm

We did all the things in Paris. We also had our two “splurge” meals of the trip, lunches at Michelin-starred Relais Louis XIII and l’Agape. Both were good, but Louis really wowed… this soup and this sea bass were the best things I’ve had on this trip. We’re mostly being pretty “cheap” with food on this trip which enabled us to do these two meals in the capital of the Michelin Guide.

The ossuaries in the catacombs were probably what impressed me most. Yes, those are all bones. I was expecting to not be very impressed with the Eiffel Tower, but being up close, it really blew me away. I was also surprisingly impressed with the Louvre, but more with how things were displayed; the Pompidou’s modern art is more my speed, personally. On the other hand, Versailles underwhelmed, especially compared to the royal palace in Madrid. I did however enjoy walking through Marie Antoinette’s “hamlet” where she lived “like a peasant in the country,” despite having servants to do everything for her.

Overall,Paris was great. The people were much more friendly and hospitable than I had expected. We’ll certainly be back as part of a larget France trip; this was only meant to be a taste. Now we’re in Antwerp. We haven’t done anything here yet (we have three nights), but the train station sure impressed. I also really like our hotel - which is a member of the “Tryp” chain by Wyndham; it’s their hip and trendy looking line of properties.

October 26, 2016

Casements

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:32 pm

Tomorrow we head to Paris, after spending six days in Belgium. We will actually return to Belgium after our quick 3-day jaunt to Paris (I insisted we visit Paris since it is only 70 min away by train but we will certainly return to France for a longer stay in the future). In my opinion, the best thing we have done thus far is the Casements du Bock in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. This is a fortress built into the cliffs overlooking the city which have tunnels running throughout which you can explore. I am a little kid at heart and this was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. I might as well just come home now.

But, if I had, we would not have experienced the excellent hospitality of Jose, our guide at Huyghe Brewery in Melle, who took us on a private tour of the brewery where Delirium Tremens is brewed. Speaking of hospitality, we also say goodbye tonight to our incredible hospitality of our hosts in Brussels, Marie and Renaud.

I hope Amy will post soon, because my posts are boring.

October 24, 2016

A Marriage and a Funeral

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 3:17 pm

This trip marks my first attendance of a wedding outside the United States. It was grand in scope and pomp. This trip also marks my first attendance of a funeral outside the United States. My trusty Canon PowerShot spontaneously died in the middle of our visit to the Atomium, and is now permanently stuck with the lens out. The trip just won’t be the same without you, buddy.

We saw lots of pretty things. Here are some. Brussels’ Grand Place; the fireplace at Bruges’ cold courthouse; the view from Bruges’ belfry; Dinant; and the view from Dinant’s citadel.

This will be the theme of this blog: I will post pretty pictures. Amy will provide colorful narration. Also, I will drink more beer.

October 21, 2016

Nous sommes ici!

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 5:24 pm

Is that how you say “We are here” in French? I ought to look that up.

Well, folks, we are here. In Brussels. I had forgotten what a truly beautiful city it is. So much culture and so many beautiful buildings! It would also appear that I had forgotten how crazy tired I get from trans-Atlantic overnight flights and how hard it is to push yourself through that first day to get a relatively normal sleep schedule. Whatever; I’ll get over it.

We checked out a few top-notch museums today: the Musical Instruments Museum and the Belvue museum. The former is pretty self-explanatory, I believe, but I will add that it was awesome!! I learned so much, and they had an excellent audio guide system that played samples of lots of the instruments and their representative musical styles. The second museum there, Belvue, is basically an interactive, thoughtfully laid out, brief history of Belgium and Brussels. For having hosted a Belgian exchange student in my home and having traveled here twice before, I was shocked by how little I had knew about the country. This was an excellent museum that truly made learning fun. It also helped inform my understanding of this country as a whole. I’m glad we checked that out on our first day here.

The rest of the day was taking a couple of self-guided leisurely walking tours, with the help of our friend and travel writer Rick Steves. Everything wrapped up this evening with a relaxed dinner at the home of Marie and Renaud, friends of my exchange sister Charlotte who are graciously housing us during the Brussels portion of our stay. I cannot thank them enough for their kindness and hospitality.

Well, the beer and wine and overnight flight and say of touring have all caught up with me, so I’m declaring it bedtime. If nothing else, I need to rest up for all the merriment we’ll be making at Charlotte’s wedding tomorrow!!! So excited!

October 11, 2016

Hello world!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Administrator @ 11:28 am

The excursion begins October 20.

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