Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Brussels '08 - Part TWO (finally!!!)

Hey, Gumballhead is BACK - with more travelogue from our August 2008 trip to Belgium and Germany. I know it's late, but it's still fun to look at pictures, right? And this provides Deb and Jeff with a photo album with commentary. Sorry for the long absence. Lots of things have been happening in our lives - a new granddaughter (Madeline Ruby, born June 30 - yay - she's beautiful!!!), doctoral candidacy preliminary exams for Deb (yuk!!!), and some gastro issues for Deb (also yuk and still unresolved - more medical tests coming soon!). But we are blessed!!

After our wonderful tour of the Cantillon brewery in Brussels, we walked back to the city center, checked into our hotel, and dropped off our purchases (yes, Cantillon beer!!!). On our way, we passed a fun street carnival.

Below are a few pictures of the Grand Place, which is the old city center - the star attraction of Brussels. Built in the 15th century, it is composed mainly of the town hall and guild houses for the various trades. Lots of gilding and statues - very beautiful by day and by night.

The Hotel de Ville, Brussels' town hall. Built in the 1400s, it has a 315' tower topped with a statue of St. Michael, patron saint of Brussels.

It started to pour rain, but we had to do what we had to do! Beer quest!!! Even though cats hate rain, Deb shoved me into her backpack, and off we went. Our first stop: the Mort Subite (shown here getting a facade facelift). This is a nice little brewpub located only two blocks from the Grand Place - just a quick run through the beautiful Galeries Royale St. Hubert (see below) and then across a street. Our hotel was conveniently located between the Galeries and the Grand Place - we stayed at the Hotel Aris Grand Place - (liked it!) for less than 80 euros.Yay for covered streets! The Mort Subite is actually named after a card game. We enjoyed an omelette there, giant slices of toasted bread (like 15" long!), and of course, we had to try the local delicacy known as "kip kap" - some kind of ground up meat in aspic, cut into little bite-sized cubes and stuck on toothpicks. Deb thought they were pretty, Jeff thought they were disgusting, and I liked them. ;) We found the beer to be mediocre, and because it was early evening, we decided to head out in search of action.

Here's a pic of Jeff and a street sculpture just across from the Mort Subite.

Next, we found the famous Rue de Bouchers, a very colorful, narrow street filled with cafes and neon lights. With its awning-covered outdoor tables on both sides, I must admit it was very pretty. Most tourist guides recommend that you avoid it, and we discovered why. Desperate restaurant owners stand out in the narrow street (Jeff could spread his arms and touch tables on both sides at once) and try to convince you to sit down at their tables! It felt like we were running a gauntlet! And, to make matters worse, the rain was running down the awnings on both sides, dumping directly onto our umbrellas (which barely fit in the narrow space), splashing everywhere and soaking me as I tried to hide in Deb's backpack! However, if you want to go to the Delirium Cafe and the Floris absinthe bar (and see the Janneke Pis - the female version of the Mannekin Pis statue), you have to walk through this street.

We decided to go to the Floris absinthe bar next. It was very interesting. The server brought out a huge binder filled with a list of over 400 brands of absinthe. We were a bit overwhelmed, so she suggested we choose a country to narrow down the choices. We chose French absinthe, since we had been in France that week, and because there isn't a Belgian absinthe, and because we like the way it is served. Mine was a little greener in color than Jeff's, and smelled and tasted strongly of anise. Jeff's looked more like champagne and had a different aroma and flavor. It is served in a small, footed glass along with a cube of sugar, a small crystal water pitcher, and an absinthe spoon, which looks almost like a little tiny pie server, with filigree cutouts in the center. The spoon is placed across the mouth of the glass, and the sugar cube is set on top of the spoon. Then, water is slowly poured over the sugar, which dissolves the sugar into the absinthe. As it drips into the glass, it dilutes the liquor slightly, and it becomes cloudy. Mine turned an interesting "glow-in-the-dark" green, much like the plastic stars kids stick on their bedroom ceilings. It was pretty tasty, but we didn't experience any hallucinations as the old wives' tale would suggest!!

After enjoying our absinthe, we reluctantly headed back into the monsoon-like rains to sneak a peek at the Janneke Pis little tiny bronze statue. She is located high up in a little niche in the wall of a dark little alley (creepy at night actually), and locked behind bars to prevent vandalism. Like the Mannekin Pis, she is peeing - this time squatting, and yes, you get a pretty graphic view. I am reminded that Europeans are far less concerned about nudity than Americans!!

Our next stop was the famous Delirium Cafe, in the same alley as the statue and absinthe bar. This place is well known for its selection of over 2000 beers, and is accordingly noisy and smoky. If you ever go there, go during the day to avoid the noise and snag an outdoor table to avoid the smoke! We were fortunate enough to get the ONE table that was outdoors and located under an overhang. We enjoyed a vantage point there from which we were able to watch the long lines of tourists, walking up the dead-end alley to glimpse the Janneke Pis, and then back out the way they came. They looked dog-tired and bored (and soaking wet).

When we were quite done there, we decided it was time to bestow a bottle of coveted Dark Lord beer on someone (something we did pretty much daily while in Belgium - to be good beer ambassadors for the USA). Our choice du jour was the young lady in the absinthe bar who had so patiently helped us, even though we didn't speak French. She was stunned, and it made our day.

Then, we headed over to the Grand Place, which was beautifully lit up in blue, green, and purple lights. If you've ever been to Disney World and seen Cinderella's Castle lit up at night, it is reminiscent of that). Hundreds of people were just standing there, silently in awe of the spectacle, which continuously changed colors.
On our way back to our hotel (only a block away - yeah!!!), we stumbled across another brewpub, and despite our exhaustion, we decided we just HAD to go in. It was called Le Brasseurs de la Grande Place. It had some pretty awful (watered down????) beer. They had live music, which was fun, and we decided to stay and enjoy some pomme frites (in "USA speak" - French fries - but don't ever call them that in Belgium; it offends them!). They are usually served with mayo (Jeff likes; Deb doesn't like, Gumballhead is ambivalent), but our server, who seemed to hate Americans, threw some ketchup packets at us with much disdain. We tried it, but it didn't taste tangy like American ketchup. More like tomato paste. No wonder Belgians don't like ketchup on their fries.This beer quote was painted on the wall in the brewpub. Can anyone translate???

After about two hours of packing and repacking (why did we buy so much beer???) for our flight to Munich the next day, we fell asleep, hoping and dreaming that our luggage wasn't going to be over the weight limits, but very content that we had seen some of the best that Belgium had to offer.

We WILL be back someday!!!

Well, that's enough for today! Will update with other local brewery adventures soon!

~ Gumballhead

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Okay.... a COUPLE of little, tiny detours.......

Gumballhead is vacationing in some imaginary "la la land," so Deb is filling in today.

Well, the dissertation proposal defense didn't go as well as I would have liked, but I have a verbal contract with my committee to sign off on the proposal if I revise and resubmit. The revisions are not really so major. I am still not feeling well, went to a specialist today, and will be having more medical tests mid-July. The timing is great, however, since I am on a research grant for summer, and can go be with Lindsay, Derrick, and our granddaughters Val and Ellie, while waiting for the arrival of their new baby sister. I need a break from the stress of school, and am really looking forward to playtime with the little ones. Hope to get the brewpubs and travels back up soon.
~ Deb