Thursday, September 24, 2009

Visit to the Orval Monastary & Brewery

Hello loyal blog readers,

We have had no internet at home for six days. After reading nearly all the books in the house (I highly recommend Zeitoun, by the way), all we have left is In Search of Lost Time and Tristram Shandy. Thus I've gone out and found an internet cafe.

Last weekend, we visited the Orval monastery and brewery with Aaron's lab. Orval is one of the seven Trappist beers in the world (the others are Chimay, Rochfort, Achel, Westmalle, Westvleteren, and La Trappe, all but La Trappe are brewed in Belgium). In order to be an official Trappist beer, the beer must be brewed by trappist monks in a monastery, and the profits from the beer (minus the monks' living expenses) go to charity.

Chimay and Orval, if my memory's right, are the easiest of these beers to find in the states. Those cartons behind Aaron in the picture are destined for Canada.

Westvleteren, by contrast, can only be purchased at the monastery where it is brewed, and only after Kafkaesque bureaucratic acrobatics. To buy some, you must call the monastery and give them the license plate of the car in which you plan to arrive. They will then tell you the day (but not the time) on which you are allowed to come and get your beer. On the given date, they will call you, at which point you have one hour to get to the monastery, or you lose the right to buy the beer.

It's widely regarded as the best beer in the world (see below), but since we haven't managed to taste it yet, we can't yet disregard the influence of supply and demand on its reputation.

Monday, April 27, 2009

More of the Antwerp Train Station

This apparently is a viral marketing event for a TV show, not an 'improv everywhere' style stunt, but still pretty cool, and the video has some nice shots of the Antwerp train station:


This weekend, Aaron and I stayed home and relaxed, and attended to some long-neglected laundry (some magical and glorious day, we will actually live in a place with a washing machine ...). But most Sundays, when everything in Leuven is closed, we've been taking day trips.

Here are some photos from our recent trip to Antwerp:

We were very impressed by the train station.

We toured the Begijnhof, natuurlijk!
(I still think Leuven's is the nicest so far. Our next stop: Mechelen)

Mary in the Begijnhof, where she seems right at home...

...Mary on a streetcorner, why not I suppose ...

... and Mary next to a podiatrist's office, for which I have no explanation.

We spent a good part of the afternoon in the antique shops on Kloosterstraat ...

... which had more taxidermied critters than I would have expected.

We had some lunch right near the groot market...

... which is quite nice.

This castle has a highway for a moat!

Churches are everywhere.

We did not buy these, so we are no closer to knowing what an 'American style' chocolate chip cookie actually is.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Explaining American things to Belgians

One interesting part of moving here to Belgium is that I've had to explain some American things that I've always taken for granted, or never thought about too deeply.

Back in November, one of the professors had us all over for Thanksgiving - we had turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce, and it was great. While we were eating, someone around the table looked at John (a fellow New Englander over here) and me and asked us to explain the origin of Thanksgiving. So we started explaining, and realized we were giving the 'pilgrims and indians sat down and were friends' story from the era of hand-outline turkey drawings and paper pilgrim hats.

The other day in lab, we ordered pizza, and one of the secretaries asked me what American pizza was like. After I got the most stark difference out of the way (American pizza is a lot bigger - here, one pizza is for one person) I started sort of rambling about New York vs Chicago pizza and told them about having to mop the grease off of Greek pizza with a napkin (though I didn't make as many grease/Greece puns as I probably should have).

Then of course American idioms are always fun to explain - 'the early bird gets the worm' for example (my labmate: "why do they want a worm?"), or 'catch-22' or 'petered out' (I explained that one to my friend Elseline, and the next day it had morphed in her head into "Jaspered away').

Of course, they've had to explain a lot to me as well, like why the word for "lawyer" and "egg custard" are the same (advocaat - but actually no one could really explain why) or why people always walk into each other on the sidewalk (it's because the sidewalks are narrow, or because people are aggressive, depending on who you ask).

Luckily when it comes to beer we all speak the same language (being "Chimay alsjeblieft"), and no one's asked me to explain NASCAR yet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Our Begijnhof

Here are some sunny pictures from around the Groot Begijnhof, where we live:

This is the outside of our apartment.

This, too, is right outside our place.