Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tales of the beard 35

In Amsterdam, with more beer. What can I say? Its that part of the world.

The final day

Well Wednesday came and marked a very significant day for us. This was our last full day on this world odyssey. There’s something very weird in that feeling. For all the ways we are excited for the future, to jump into whatever God and life brings us next, there is that slightest bit of loss in knowing that this trip is behind us. It’s just something that’s been in planning for so long, it’s all so hard to believe that it’s nearly done. So we resolved to thoroughly enjoy our last day in Amsterdam.

My thoughts on Amsterdam: It truly is a city like no other. Two things invariably happen to you wandering its streets. You invariably get some sort of second hand high, without any further purpose of your own. There are just so many “coffee” shops and general pot smoking throughout every street in city center, that it simply can’t be helped. You also invariably become paranoid of walking. Because Amsterdam is divided into two groups: the assassins and the victims. Assassins ride bikes and rule the streets and sidewalks. The victims choose to walk. So without knowledge of the cast system prevalent, we became the victims without knowing it. Luckily, Kris and I never got mowed down by the assassins but endured plenty of close calls and more than a hand full of annoyed shout-outs and looks from these two wheeled marauders. We’d like to believe we stumbled on the day of benevolence amongst them all. Maybe they already met their quota for pedestrian run-overs for the month, I’m not sure. Anyhow, we have no broken bones and for that we are fortunate. I have two favorites for a comparison for this city. The first coming out in moments of near accidents and that being “It’s like Venice meets CHAOS!!!” But the probably more accurate description would be a three way combination of Venice (canals and old buildings), Paris (bustling European city) and Boulder, CO (for the bikes and “hippy” culture) Yet for all the “chaos” we really did enjoy our time there.

After exiting the enormous train station we quickly got to our hotel, thanks to the Duncans and quickly checked in so as to get the most out of Amsterdam before nightfall. We proceeded to walk through the city, snagging cheap and easy pizza slices along the way, to the Heineken brewery and museum, which I would have to say is, by far, the most informative and interactive brewery I’ve yet visited, complete with the whole history of the museum, a thorough description of the brewing process, a ride where you “get brewed” yourself, free samples and a gaggle of interactive exhibits which we tried out and even sent out (enjoy fathers…).

After the brewery/museum, we braved our way through more of the city where I got a chance to visit the Anne Frank House while Kris roamed about looking for a dinner spot and taking pictures, since she had already seen it before. I was grateful for the opportunity, growing up on the play converted for TV on videotape and knowing plenty about the story and background. There was such an appreciation in seeing this commemorated so well and yet a sadness in knowing the fate of 7 of the 8 hiding in the house, including Anne, who after 2 years spent hiding and hoping for the end of this atrocity was betrayed to the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp where she died a month before the liberation. I took a few pictures before being BOLDY told by a fellow guest, “Sir, they DON’T let you take pictures here.” Well then! After finishing, I met back up with my poor wife who had to endure 20 minutes of rain waiting for me. She’s a trooper. Dinner was delicious; our magnet search was a success as was Kris’s picture taking of the many, many crooked houses, seemingly leaning on the house beside it as a young kid would lean on their mother when the day was getting too long. Hilarious! We made it back to our hotel to enjoy the big bed, the hot shower and Cast Away on TV.

It was a fine last day to wrap up such a big trip. Though we know not what is next, we have taken steps in a future direction and are trusting God’s grace and plan to see us through. Final trip notes, reflections and statistics soon to follow.

P.S. - note the picture of the houses, like dominoes, seemingly ready to fall over save the building right next to it. Comical really.

Tales of the beard 34

Another picture from Belgium at the locally famous waffle restaurant. We ate omelets. Hmmmm. This one is the Rochefort 8.

Belgian Brews

This is really only for those of you who enjoy beer, especially Belgian beer. Here are the 9 different types of beer I was able to try during my time in Brussels.

1. Guize – This is beer brewed very specifically at the Cantillon brewery. It is a type of Lambic brewed using a sporadic type of fermentation which lets in a lot of wild yeast strains during the process. It’s what helps give set it apart from other beers as does the three year cycle to brew a batch. It is denoted by a sour taste and lack of CO2, something I’ve only had one other time, at the New Belgium brewery with their wine casket brewed beer. It’s exceedingly unique and quite tasty. (Kris liked this one and the following one ladies)

2. Raspberry/Cherry flavored Lambic – This is also brewed at Cantillon. Like the Guize, but during the brew process they add in different kinds of fruit to enhance the flavor in different ways. They allowed us to sample the two above. Real good, and much more a true Lambic then you are bound to try on the US market

3. Westmalle Tripel - A dark, heavy Belgium beer. Brewed three times to enhance alcohol content and flavor (hence the Tripel). Had very fruity overtones and a high fermentation (10%)

4. V Cence – Recommended to me by the bartender after I told him I wanted something Amber, bitter, hoppy but still Belgium. It is all these things, along with having spicy/fruity aromas and taste. Very good. Liked this one a lot.

5. Val Dieu Grand Cru – Probably my favorite of the darker beers I tried. Very strong, definitely a sipper beer, at about 10.5%. Just a whole lot of flavor.

6. Chimay Bleu – Chimay is one of the six trappist breweries in Belgium still brewing and, along with Westmalle, probably the most commercial. This one was similar to Westmalle but I didn’t think it had as much flavor. Go with the Westmalle in my opinion. Still good though.

7. Rochefort 8 – This is a dark beer and a Tripel like a couple of the others I had tried already but maintains a more malty flavor in your mouth. It is served in a pretty shallow glass which makes me think it’s a beer that needs to breathe more than most. 8% alcohol content, like the name suggests.

8. Houldon Chouffe IPA – Maybe the best IPA I’ve ever had. IPA denotes a very high hop content, which makes them more bitter than most beers, which for me took some getting used to. Now I love them. Well this one had the hoppy flavor but also was very strong (10%) which is not quite like any IPA I’ve ever had. Like an IPA and a Belgium beer got together and had a baby beer. Delicious!

9. Radermacher Amber – Wanted an Amber after a few darker beers. This one had characteristics of usual ambers but also a lot of chocolate, caramel, even coffee overtones. Real nice finish. Would recommend to someone who likes ambers and stouts alike.

I had 2 more the next day in Amsterdam that I had bought on my way out but I forgot to notate their names. They were good, but no better than any of the ones listed here, so no loss. For you beer folks, hoped you enjoyed this. If not, why are you reading this?? 

tales of the beard 32 and 33

Both of these come from Brussels with some good Belgium beers in my grasp. The next blog explains these more. 32 (bottom one) includes a Westmalle Tripel while 33 (top one) I'm holding a Val Dieu Grand Cru.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Into a carbohydrate dream…

I’m coming to you from Brussels where we have spent out last 48 hours roaming around and trying to figure out this strange city. One thing I can say with all certainty: Healthy eating has completely gone out the window. Our bellies have consumed such items as brewskies, waffles, frites (fries), pasta and some more frites. In other words, as the title would suggest, a carbohydrate dream. Or nightmare. But we prefer dream.
Feeling the end of the trip and the amount of blogging this trip has taken I will sum up our time here all in this blog. We arrived in Sunday afternoon to the south train station and begin a long trek up to our hostel. We figured we could make a couple stops along the way and take in this new city. Well what we came across was not at all what either of us had expected from Brussels. Not really sure what to expect but what we found was, for a lack of a better word, kind of dirty. It took us about 45-50 minutes to get to our place and we just felt like we had stumbled across an abandoned area, devoid of much street/foot traffic in lots of places, trash in the streets and a general lack of upkeep. We arrived at our place a little out of sorts and desperately in need of bathrooms. Well the hostel was the start of the upswing. We got into our place completely furnished with the IKEA catalog. We quickly learned it was a common theme across the whole establishment. The room was big, the bunk beds decent and the internet nice and fast, and more importantly free!
We spent the next couple hours settling ourselves in, getting caught up on blogs, uploads and emails. Feeling in much better spirits we headed around the block, enjoyed some really good Italian food and I started my odyssey to try the best this city had to offer in beers. After eating a lion’s share of food we got back to our place and slept long and decent, to prep for another day of city exploring.
Monday was about the Belgian beers and we set out a map and plan to try places that I had researched and knew about and decided the rest of the day would fill in as it needed to. We took the train to the only brewery still open in Brussels, Cantillon, where they specialize in Lambic beers, a kind of beer that lacks more of the usual CO2 common in most beers and even presents something of a sour taste. It’s really quite good and one of the only places around that offers this type of beer. We got to take the tour on our own accord, wandering through informative rooms full of old wooden casket barrels and cobwebs. The place seemed very old, very natural and very much staying true to the traditions of what they wanted to achieve. We tried a few samples after the tour that even Kris enjoyed and purchased a set of coasters to commemorate the visit. We made our way to the city center which offered much of the feel of the city we were probably expecting and we began to realize the Brussels is much like most big cities, a city with its pretty parts, its ugly parts, its surprising parts and its very straight forward parts. The center gave me a chance to sample three more beers in three different bars, including the famous Delirium CafĂ©, advertising its 2,004 different kinds of beers on site. I had one.  And it was awesome!!
The rest of our afternoon also included super yummy waffle and fries stands, a visit to the touristy famous peeing boy statue (how tragically perfect that this statue is the national icon), a super cool old movie theater that we wandered around its lobby and the Grand Plaza. The beer was central to the day but we did quite enjoy the center of this strange city.
After getting back to the hostel that evening to heat up our Italian leftovers we made nice with our second set of folks sharing our room and hit the hay realizing just how close we were to making this trip a “was”. Now THAT’S strange!
Tuesday was more care free then the last. Sleeping in would have been great, save for the second set of roommates that needed to be up early for whatever. Sooo, waking up earlier than expected we took our time getting ready, doing internet type of things and headed out. We made it back downtown and did what any good world traveler might do: saw movies. No judging! After weeks of cramming ourselves with sights, cities, friends, shows and all the rest, vegging out in the movie theatre was a welcome change. Her and I split off for our first film and snuck our way into a second. This is affectionately known in younger (or poorer, however you look at it) circles as “movie buffet.” 4 hours later we re-hit the streets of Brussels with little else on the agenda. We needed to make sure we knew where to go to get to Amsterdam so we figured that out before eating our last Belgium meal. Plus sides: Great food, reasonable prices and fast service. Down side: A severely irritating case of fruit flies, which I have come to learn are all over this city. Seriously. It seems to be an issue that the locals have just learned to live with. Kind of gross, but not enough to not enjoy our fine omelets. I was able to sample a couple more beers for the night and we headed back to “home”.
Brussels is wacky, Brussels is fun. Brussels is smelly, Brussels is tasty. Not having a ton of expectations for this city, it charmed us in its own strange way. But the time has come for our last stop. Amsterdam is calling us for tomorrow and then sending us on our way. Back to America and whatever comes next.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010