July - August 2017
  • Day18

    Happy Meyboom!

    August 9, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Today is the day of the Mayboom planting, a delightfully odd tradition born from a dispute over the taxation of beer in the 13th century. Each year, a parade of giants, marching bands, ceremonial soldiers, and a large birch tree make their way into the Grand Place with much pomp and ceremony. Afterwards, the tree is carried through the city until it is planted.

    I spent a good while figuring out when and where it actually started, and then decided to just get a good spot in the Grand place to watch the finale.

    The branches and leaves are distributed to the crowd and along the route, primarily to women and girls. Happy Meyboom :)
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  • Day17

    Don't let the rain hold you back

    August 8, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ 🌧 15 °C

    Forecast called for a rainy day, so I figured it was a perfect day to spend inside some of Brussels' many museums. Went to the Musée Old Masters Museum, the Musée Modern Museum, tge Musée Magritte Museum, and the new Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum.

    It was a bit of a struggle, given that most things of interest were written in French or Dutch, but there were some helpful kiosks that gave history and context to some of the more major pieces.

    I had skipped breakfast, and by the time I got out of the museums, I was half starved. Lunch was at Moeder Lambic, offering up a selection of fantastic sour beers straight from the cask. I went home and read on the balcony while the rain came down, and once it abated, headed out to dinner at Nüetnigenough. They were completely packed, except for the tables outside. The waiter was reluctant to let me have one of them for fear of rain, but I insisted. The weather held, and the food was sublime.
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  • Day16

    Bruxelles 2

    August 7, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    When I woke from my hibernation, I was immediately ready for breakfast, so I set out to get an authentic Belgian waffle. It was hot, and accidentally placed in a little bit of chocolate, which was the perfect amount of chocolate for me.

    I then started the attempt to get myself good and lost exploring the city. It didn't take long, and I saw tons of cool stuff when wandering the streets. The flowers come out in a few days at the Grand place, but other places in the city are already gearing up for it.

    I plopped myself in À la Bécasse for lunch and a flight of beers, and passed the afternoon sipping and reading.

    I'd hit all the major Belgian flavors this point, save moules + frites, do dinner was my chance to change that. When you don't understand any of the three languages on the menus, sometimes what you think is a tomato bisque really is a tomato with mayonnaise, pretty much my two least favorite foods. At least I got the mussels right!
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  • Day15

    Arrival in Bruxelles

    August 6, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Laura made her way to the airport, and I made my way to the train station. The theme of the morning for both of us was "Security Lines". Laura spent an eternity trying to get on her first flight due to the line, but mine was merely annoying. (She made it back to Madison just fine.)

    Once I got in to Brussels/Bruxelles, I had beer on the brain, so I stopped for lunch and a tall pour. Checking in to my place was challenging due to a language barrier and some cell phone issues, but it worked out in the end. The place I'm staying at is modern, and a sweet bachelor pad. It came with a fully stocked bar -- too bad I'll be focused on beers. I did a little bit of walking around, and had street food for dinner (with frites).

    Also found a pretty cool place called "taste this beer", which let you have about 20 small self serve pulls of various Belgian beers. It was an interesting concept, but their selection wasn't too exploratory. Still, talking with the owner was fruitful about where to go to buy/try, so it was worth the €15.

    We had gotten up earlier than normal, and I was feeling fairly exhausted -- it's been an active trip, so I went to bed early and slept for 14 hours. Feeling refreshed, it's time to go exploring.
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  • Day14

    Paris

    August 5, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Headed to Paris as the finale for Laura's leg of the trip. We got in too early to check in, so we dropped our bags at the hotel and started walking. We were only a few blocks from the iron lady, so we headed straight there to take it in. It was fun to watch all the other tourists jump around and do other silly things while posing for pictures. We kept ours pretty simple.

    We had a quick lunch, and headed on over to the arc de triumphe. Took us a while to figure out that you need to go underground to actually get to it. We watched the chaos of the heavy traffic of cars and busses going around roundabout, and then hopped on a hop on / hop off bus to see the other landmarks.

    We rode for a good ~90 minutes, before hopping off at the Louvre. Our sunscreen was still in the bags at the hotel, and we were starting to turn a little pink sitting in the sun, and the music selection on the bus was more than a little repetitive.

    Once we finished admiring the glass pyramids, we walked to Notre Dame, and then back to the hotel along the river, stopping for another crepe (cinnamon).

    We had champagne and dinner at a French restaurant near the hotel, which seemed like the perfect way to end the trip.
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  • Day13

    Bordeaux wine tour

    August 4, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 29 °C

    We had time to kill before we needed to board the van that would take us out to the vineyards, so we hopped back on the bikes and rode up to a lake on the north end of Bordeaux and had lunch.

    Once it was time, we hopped on the bus and started the 45 minute drive out to Château de La Dauphine. Our driver and guide was impressively knowledgeable, so the drive itself was enjoyable and we learned a fair bit about the land, local winemakers, and business.

    At the Château/vineyard, we got to see the Château itself, which was a very old building that had been abandoned/looted and then restored by the previous owner. We walked over to a plot of the actual vines, and learned about the upkeep, growth, and harvest. This year many vineyards lost a sufficient portion of their yield due two days of frost, but the place we were touring only lost about 10%. Since then, the weather has been great, hot and dry (the vines should struggle for water), so it's looking like it'll be a good year if things continue for the next two months until it is time for harvest. They only have 10 people working the several hundred acre land year round, with another 50 seasonal workers for a three week harvest. They run an organic operation, so they're constantly on the lookout for disease or bug infestations to contain and prevent further spread.

    From there we moved on to where they press and ferment. They have a state of the art gravity fed system, which is very atypical for the region. They explained how the seeds and skins rise to the top, and they run the juice through it twice a day for ~three weeks, giving the wine it's color and tannins.

    Then we saw the barrel storage area, and learned about the different barrel vendors and toasting levels that are used.

    At the end of the process, they end up with 100,000 of their 'first wine' - the one they get to name after their Château, and another 50,000 of their 'second wine'.

    We finished off the tour with a game of trying to guess several vials of different extracts by smell. The correct answers were Strawberry, Smoke, Vanilla, and Cherry. We got two of four right (way off on Cherry, but super close on smoke -- we thought it was either smoke or tobacco). They served us a glass of their second and first wine, imparting the methods of viewing, nosing, and tasting them.

    We hopped back in the van and role to another, more modest Château. We tasted the grapes there, had another few glasses as well as some bread/cheese/meat/chocolate.

    Finally, we took a short trip to the nearby town of St. Emillion, named after a hermit monk and walked through the cathedral and town. The cobblestones were a bit treacherous after the wine, but we both made it without any new cuts or bruises.
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  • Day12

    Second dinner in Bordeaux

    August 3, 2017 in France ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    After having eating roughly half the baguettes in France over the past few days, I was dying for a lower-carb, higher-protein meal, so we booked a reservation at 'La Tupina'.

    When we walked in and were greeted by the sight and smell of meats roasting over a wood fire, I knew we had picked the right place. We had ham, scallops, duck breast, and duck confit paired with a bottle of Bordeaux wine.

    For dessert, Laura had red berry sorbet, while I had a pour of 30 yr old Armagnac.

    Delicious.
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  • Day12

    Biking around Bordeaux

    August 3, 2017 in France ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Spent our first day in Bordeaux leveraging the City bikes to get around and see the various points of interest, stopping here and there for lunch or a glass of wine.

    We managed to find that little trinket that we had been looking for as a souvenir for Laura, a pretty little handmade bracelet from a small shop we happened upon.

    We've seen lots of very cool cathedrals in Italy and France, and Bordeaux is no exception. The place we rented on Airbnb is a legit mansion, and definitely the nicest of the trip.
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  • Day11

    Palais de Papes

    August 2, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 34 °C

    Before leaving Avignon, we hit the Palace of the Popes, which was one of the coolest places we've gone in on the trip. The history of its construction, it's inhabitants, and the sieges laid against it through the years were fascinating for both of us.

    They were also using the space for an exhibit for African art, which seemed fairly mismatched. We largely ignored it and focused our attention on the architecture, history, and artifacts.

    We probably spent a solid two hours there, and needed to hustle back to the hotel to grab our belongings and hit the road to head west for Bordeaux. Laura always wanted to run out of gas on the highway of a country where we don't speak the language, so I pushed our luck a bit to make her happy. We made it, but returning the car to the rental place tested our patience. Time for a glass of wine...
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