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.

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