Monday, December 27, 2010

Ninth Word: Beer

Beer: OldE. beor, a word of much-disputed and ambiguous origin, but probably a 6c. W.Ger. monastic borrowing of Vulgar Latin. biber "a drink, beverage" (from L. infinitive bibere "to drink;"  Another suggestion is that it comes from P.Gmc. *beuwoz-, from *beuwo- "barley." The native Germanic word for the beverage was the one that yielded ale (q.v.).

Alex and I spent his birthday weekend in Belgium. That's where the trouble starts.

We took the "bus to the airport," which is not the same as the "airport bus." It was rush hour and we thought the bus only took half an hour to get to the airport. Wrong. It took us two hours. We missed our flight. We were so depressed. We actually took the correct "airport bus" home. I told my parents the story and they generously offered to loan us the money to buy a flight out the next morning. We accepted and took all the necessary precautions to make our flight on time the next day. Except, I set my alarm for pm instead of am. I woke up at 4am and just happened to check my clock: 15 minutes until we needed to catch the airport bus (a 5-7minute walk away). No showers, no breakfast, nothing. Just up and out the door. We caught the bus with some minutes to spare and from this point on everything is smooth sailing (until we try to get home).

fyi: we went on this trip specifically to enjoy and learn about the Belgian beer tradition. And for the chocolate. And the Christmas markets. And I suppose the waffles too.

Alex and I arrived in Brussels around 9:30am and caught a train up to Bruges where we would spend the first two days of our trip. Bruges is exactly the kind of Christmas postcard town you want to be in around the holidays. Charming. But, of course, it was raining. When I stepped out of the train station I noticed two things immediately: the rain smelled like a sewer but the air smelled like chocolate. Also, we were not going to get by with our English. Hardly anyone spoke it. Bruges is in the Flemish region so that made it even more difficult. The neighborhood around our hostel was pretty quiet except that on every other building or so were speakers blasting out Christmas music. I guess they take Christmas seriously in these parts.

Bruges is called the "Venice of the North" because of the canals criss-crossing throughout the city. We explored as much as we could without getting too wet. We went into the Church of our Lady where we got to see Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" sculpture. We wanted a respite from the cold (the church wasn't heated) so we found a tea shop nearby and got coffee :) They gave us Belgian chocolates on the side. We went to de Halve Maan brewery afterwards and had a tour of their facility. It was very informative and interesting. And the best part, of course, was the free beer we got at the end.

Bruges is atrociously expensive. It took us a while to find a restaurant that served anything under 20 euros. We found a cozy place on the Groet Markt (grand market) and then went out to a tiny locals pub. I mean, NO tourists come to this place. We stuck out, but had a lot of fun. Alex and I drank some wonderful beers and played lots of backgammon.

The next day, we walked along the main waterway in order to bring our luggage to the lockers at the train station. I posed for pictures by a few of the windmills lining the canal. We enjoyed the bright sunshine and newly fallen snow. After storing our backpacks, we went to the Groet Markt again and walked around the Christmas market. We got a bratwurst and a Belgian waffle. They stuff the waffles with sugar. I mean, it's like a waffle and sugar sandwich. But they are really yummy. Belgium is also credited with the invention of French fries and there are fry shops all over the place. I was not too impressed. They taste like McDonald's fries. Nothing to get your panties in a bunch about. We climbed up the belfry overlooking the square and got some lovely views of the town. We did a lot more exploring and eventually found our way to Jerusalemkirk, a church that is a copy of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (now destroyed). It was cool.  We were also so cold and tired that we headed back to the train station and went to Brussels.

In Brussels, we had the same problem of no one speaking English. We went to Chinese for dinner and everything was in French. We just ordered and hoped for the best! We walked around the Grand Place where there was a huge Christmas market and hordes of tourists. We had a drink at an Irish pub that was recommended to us but then decided to just go back to our hotel and relax watching French game shows on TV.

Al's birthday. We took the tram to an awesome flea market in the morning. Alex found a guitar he really wanted to buy, but of course, how would we get it home? After taking several pictures and looking at all the crazy stuff, we went to the Museum of Instruments. There were so many instruments I didn't even know existed! It was really cool to see them, but we also had headphones that allowed us to listed to examples of the instruments too. Afterwards, we headed toward Cantillon Brewery. Alex can fill you in on the details. This tour was fun too. We got to try some very different beers.

We went back up to Old Town to Delirium Taphouse, a three-story bar that holds a Guinness World Record for most bottled beers (over 2,500!). We had lots of fun trying new beers and talking about our favorites. On this whole trip neither of us had the same beer twice. We missed so many of our friends while we were hanging out at Delirium but we had a fabulous time. Dinner was hard to find. We didn't want to be in a touristy area but there really weren't many other restaurants around. We settled on a small Italian place for Al's birthday dinner and it was surprisingly delicious.

We did a walking tour of the European Union buildings since Brussels is considered the capital of the EU. We walked through a really cool neighborhood that kind of reminded me of Chicago. Then we found our way to the European Commission, which was a really boring but humongous building. and then walked down toward a big and beautiful park. We found ourselves at the European Parliament, which was another boring building, but hey, now we can say we've seen them. By this time, we were so cold we wanted to get inside so we took the metro to a really cool neighborhood that happened to have a farmer's market going on. I bought a Belgian waffle again and we sat for a long time in a coffee shop. That night, we went to dinner near the old town and went to a few more pubs. We got to try so many delicious Belgian beers on our trip and see two wonderful cities.

Trying to get home the next day was a nightmare. We got up at 6am to get to the airport in the south only to arrive and find our flight had been canceled. We could either get a refund or reschedule our flight for Thursday (it was Monday)! So we got a refund and found a really expensive flight out for the next day at the airport in the north. After about an hour and a half by train (we missed a connecting train) we got to the airport and hunkered down for the next twenty-four hours. When you decide to sleep in an airport because you've spent all your money on a new flight home, your sense of perspective gets thrown off. Pizza Hut becomes a luxury. Your pickiness about where to sleep becomes tinged with irony. Personal hygiene goes out the window. I had about 4 or 5 salami and gouda sandwiches during these 24 hours (we bought meat and cheese at the grocery store). Tiredness and exhaustion overcame us and we settled down in a Quick Burger fast-food restaurant, one on each side of a booth. The Red Cross had given us each a wool blanket. So many travelers were stranded because the airport had run out of de-icing fluid for the planes. The next day we managed to fly up to Southampton, England only to find the flight we thought we missed from being delayed an hour had actually been canceled. So again, we waited, this time for five hours, before we boarded a plane to Edinburgh. We finally made it home after 40 hours. (oh, and I contracted influenza and have been on the couch for the past four days)

Good trip, good beers, great time with Alex. We are never travelling to a northern country in the winter again. Too cold, too many travel delays. But it was worth it. We had a great time.

Say What?

Bruges is in the Flemish region, and they speak Flemish, yet the word we use for the city is French ("Bruges"). The locals call it "Brugge," the Flemish word.

Brussels is in the French region, they speak French, yet the word we use for the city is Flemish ("Brussel"). The locals call it "Bruxelles," the French word.

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