Archive for the 'Belgium' Category

Shhh….please…for me…just….shhhhh. North by Northwest, and stoofvleessaus

The Wandering Nerd September 8th, 2007

While I’m not prepared to say the affair is over, my relationship with Delirium Tremens is certainly under scrutiny. I love it but it hurts me so. I met some interesting folks in the hostel bar and my plan to crash early pending the day’s travel sort of went to hell. To a point where I actively told the bartender that no matter what anyone else says, don’t let anyone else buy me a drink. Apparently I have some newly developed sense of self preservation. I’m not sure how well it will be able to handle my well developed sense of self destruction, but I’m not willing to bet, as it will probably go to the judges. Needless to say I’m looking and feeling my best this morning. Which is great because they call Brugge the ‘Venice of the North’ due to the number of canals winding through the city. I currently happen to call Brugge the ‘City of Too Many Goddamned Bell Towers.’ Have some mercy - though some would argue I don’t deserve it.

Add to the bells, and the Delirium pink elephants still frolicking about in my nugget, one big market festival chock o’ block full of people. It was a grand day out strolling through the row up on row of stalls with women arguing over prices. They had these strange Transformer-esque trucks that turned into essentially store fronts for what looked like fancy retailers. I know precious little about women’s clothing - other than how to occasionally extract one from the other - but this looked like high end stuff. So, ladies, if you’re in the market for some new threads Brugge, Belgium, on a Saturday.

Well enough about me, how are you? Having a good time? Are they treating you alright? Sitting comfortably? Good, good. Well, I suppose we should get started.

I’m not really sure why Brugge is such the hoppin’ travel destination that it is. I’ve seen it referred to as a tourist trap, but those sources clearly have never been to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Brugge is just a small town. With a lot of bicycles, and crazed riders, high on waffles and beer, with some sort of death wish/vendetta against all of humanity.


I felt it was only right that I should get involved too. So I rented a bike, bought a bottle of wine and headed off. Check out this bad boy. I wanted to take it off some sweet jumps. Scooters are allowed on both bike paths and roads here, so it was kind of frustrating getting passed buy some guy driving a chainsaw while I was tearing it up on my one-speed.

They provided me with what could loosely be referred to as a map. In as much as it had some lines on it, some numbers, and pretty colors in appropriate shapes such as to give the illusion of being informational. What it lacked however were three important aspects of map-iness. Road or street names, the names of the points of interest that are denoted by numbers on said map and, most importantly any sort of accuracy. So I ended up just heading north and figured I’d hit the ocean eventually.

I brought an iPod with me, but usually I don’t listen to it when I’m out wandering about. I prefer just listening to the soundtrack of the area, not imposing one on it. I broke a little with tradition since it was a longish ride. It was pretty cool just toolin’ along listening to some Gorillaz and Eels. The sun finally came out as I got to the coastal town of Heist. So I sat on the beach of the North Sea, had my Salmon Baguette, drank some of my wine, and watched a woman teach her kid how to fly a kite. Overall, a worthwhile excursion.

The Belgians, and Brugge in particular, loves it’s fries, or ‘frites.’ There are shops all over the place, and two right in front of the big belfry - and it’s stupid stupid bells. Theses two shop get lotteried off every three years so that every fry shop in Brugge can have a shot at them. The fries are okay, but they have 15 or more types of sauce they slather over them. The primary being ’stoofvleessaus,’ which is more of a roast beef gravy. Then there’s the ‘Bicky Burger,’ a breaded sort of burger…thing with crisped breading and remoulade sauce. I would almost expect everyone here too be around 300lbs, but after all the biking I suppose that takes care of it.

There’s not really any one big thing that’s a draw for Brugge, there are some museums, a cathedral - which does have Michaelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges - the big belfry, and the canals tours. Justin and Ang - the South African couple I met in Brussels - rolled up for a day and we hit up the few sights and the chocolate museum. Though, that turned out to be really small, and I’m not sure it was worth the admission. We did luck into this little confectionery shop giving a demonstration. You know those little round hard candy that has little fruit images made into the candy? Or it has someone’s name? Yeah they make that stuff. We spent a good hour there enthralled by the guys working with molten sugar…plus we kept sneaking more and more of their free samples.

I’m heading to Rotterdam, where I intend to take it easy a bit. I know Amsterdam is coming up so like any good professional athlete I’m going to have a couple of rest days before the big match. If nothing else, I’m a consume-it professional.

i’m useless but not for long
the future is coming on

Not just a pancake, what kind of beer did you say?, and peeing children…statues of peeing children, sicko.

The Wandering Nerd September 5th, 2007

I ended up going to Belgium, quite honestly because I knew nothing about the country, and certainly nothing about Brussels. I was vaguely aware that Antwerp was the diamond hub, but I am currently not in the market for large quantities - or indeed small quantities - of diamonds. Beyond that all I had flapping about in the dank, musty parts of my brain about Belgium were the waffles and the chocolate. I certainly wasn’t prepared for this place. It has one of the best ‘feels’ to it I’ve found yet. Usually when I arrive in a new city I have the first day of disorienting fumbling about and then as the stay progresses the town unfolds and I decide on my own internal scale how it rates. Eleventeen being the best and ?-1 being the worst. I can go into my scale at length if you really want but it involves a white board session, a protractor, a Lite-Brite, and a bottle of scotch. The scotch isn’t strictly necessary, but while you’re gathering the rest of the items it will keep me occupied and then when I start explaining, it will help you to understand.

Belgium itself is sort of divided along a linguistic line, with the French speakers in the south and Flemish speakers to the north. With Brussels as the capital everything is written in both languages. Flemish - not to be confused with phlegmish, which is bit more nasally - seems to be pretty close to German but with more phonetic spellings. Walking around Brussels you’ll have no clue where someone is from, nor what languages they speak. I stopped using the little bit of French I’d picked up, and just went back to ‘HOW YA’LL DOIN!’ Which seemed to work well enough. While I’m kidding, I did hear that from another American randomly on the street. The looks were priceless.

I know I was supposed to really get into the architecture, but honestly I only know three architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sir Christopher Wren, and Howard Roark, so I don’t think I really appreciated the Grand Place as much as I could have, but it was still pretty cool to check out.

Coming from London/Paris, this is a tiny town, only around 120,000, but it has more restaurants per capita than anywhere I’ve been to yet. I’d mentioned the French cuisine before, Belgium is more seafood oriented and also tres bien. They are all about the mussels (moussel), in white wine sauce, tomato sauce, cheese sauce, <insert anything>-sauce, etc. Also the escargot here is better than the places I tried in Paris. I think it has to do with the location. The fresher snails. There’s a snail farm just outside of Belgium. Vast herds of snails are raised from calves to adulthood, then as winter draws nearer, the snail herders - or ‘Snailboys’ as have come to be called - begin the treacherous journey of driving the thousands of snails down from the hills to, uhm, well just to the bottom of the hill, before the harsh winter freezes the poor snails in their slime. This annual migration is known as the ‘Trail of Smears’ and is celebrated in most cities.

Delirium bar, or café - bars here are called cafés - has 2600 beers, that’s right, in stock currently. They only guarantee to have 2004 at any time, a little lax I think, but we’ll let them slide when they can pull this big list of beer off. I spent a fair bit of time here and you should too. Try the Delirium Tremen, it’s awesome, and also 9% ABV. Could someone in Nashville stop by the Saucer and see if they have it there? I’m curious. I think they have sort of the same club that the Flying Saucer has in the US, but if you drink one of every beer they have here, you get a new liver.

Literally right across the alley is Floris Bar - yeah, I said bars were cafés I know, just shut it and keep up. They have, in order, a Absinthe bar, a Rhum bar, a Tequila bar and a Beer garden. Tell me that’s not a recipe for either the best night of your life - or the worst morning. I tried the absinthe, the good hard stuff, poured the water over the sugar cube and everything. I saw no green flying faeries, sadly. It’s basically just ouzo, chartreuse or a light Jägermeister. (as an aside, you wouldn’t believe how much time I have to spend finding the appropriate damn characters in all the different languages for you people, you’d better appreciate it.)

They make beer from damn near anything here, cherries, strawberries, chocolate, mango, snails, wheat, barley, water, it’s amazing really. I tried the cherry beer, with plenty of trepidation, but it turned out to be quite refreshing, especially after a long day of exhausting beer drinking. It’s a tough life.

I do begin to wonder what it will be like, or even if I will be able to just simply settle down somewhere back in the States now. I’ve had good - and bad - french wine in France, Belgium waffles in Belgium, Scotch in Scotland, Guiness in Ireland, etc. Something to think about, but not now, the next round just showed up.

Where was I? How did you people get in my room? Brussels, right! I had a shitty experience with one of the hop on/hop off bus tours. For reference if you ever go about the European region, after having sold, give up, or lost everything you had, stick with “City Siteseeing” tours, the cheap half-assed ‘Golden Tour’ is bunk, pure utter bunk. It’s run by Moroccans/Algerians, and I’m really not a fan of stereotyping, but I’ve yet to meet an Algerian/Moroccan that I like, or even remotely respect. When the tour guide spends five minutes at a stop light whistling and hollering at a woman outside the but, I lose a bit of patience. Asshat. No wonder the buses were always about an hour late. Asshats.

The weather was hit or miss in Brussels, the first day was nice, second was overcast and cloudy for most of it, breaking clear later in the day when I was at the Atomium. Unlike the strange French, when the Belgians build something for a worlds fair, they have the sense to put it out of the way. It’s this giant Atomic structure looking thing in a park. I’m serious about the ‘giant’ part, each sphere has three floors in it, and the top sphere has a resturaunt/bar in it. Paris may have the tower, but Brussels has balls.

There was some crazy tourist guy in the Atomium while we were there, he had to have tourettes - which is funny regardless, but even funnier in a foreign language. At one point he just randomly yelled out ‘HAKUNA MATATA!’ It was all I could do not to break into song. Continuing the theme of nutty yelling, when I finally made it back to the hostel late that same night, some guy in the room I was in was drunk off his horse. Funny in and of itself, but he was German and chatty, so he was going on and on as everyone is trying to get to sleep about just utterly random shit in german and english, thing like ‘i’ve got a horse that i can ride to the moon’ in german, and then ‘that’s fine just build another burger king wherever you want’ in english. I can’t make this shit up. The best part was he kept finishing these little episodes with, ‘okay, thank you, good night, sleep now,’ and then about 2 minutes later he’d go off again about how he was going to pizza hut and we should all come along. I got a case of the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing even as I fell asleep…okay passed out, there’s no foolin’ you is there?

Speaking of pissed, there’s a statue of a little boy peeing. It’s called Mannekin Pis, I think that’s what Megan meant by the statue of the dog peeing, if not I missed the dog peeing, but I did see this statue, and the other statue - perhaps not surprisingly outside of Delirium - of Jeanneke Pis. They’re nothing if not equal here. Two interesting points, one, on the third saturday in August the statue of Mannekin Pis actually produces Delirium Tremen - you don’t buy it, just rent it remember, and ‘B’ it really sounds funny when someone says, “I wanna’ get drunk and watch a little girl/boy pee.” No, it wasn’t me.

More people are being met, more beer is getting drunk, and the wander continues on.

said he wanna ran, then you wanna hand,
troddin through the land, yea-hea, yea-ea.
-bob marley