Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Belgium

On Saturday we took a train to Belgium and stayed at a hostel in Antwerp. It was also a folk music bar – packed with people watching the band. I talked with some of the local young people and tried to dance to the folk music with one of the boys. Fun stuff. We very much liked this hostel.

There were however three fat Irish women who deserved to be slapped for their behavior our first morning. The hostel was packed and there were only one or two showers to use. First the women were extremely loud, even after they realized that there were other people in the room. They each took a half-hour shower and used up the hot water. They dragged heavy luggage around. One continuously coughed while waiting for her friend. Frick and I independently labeled them as the Irish Cows. They were completely unconcerned that there were other people trying to sleep or use the bathroom. Grrr.

In Antwerp we visited an old printing mill in a huge estate. The mill began in the 1500s and was sold to the city as a museum in the mid-1800s. This was a family who relished in conspicuous consumption. Seeing how pages were printed was very interesting. We also went to a maritime museum in a castle. Most of it was cool, but then as ships became more modern I found them less interesting.

For dinner our first night we had a traditional Belgium dish of mussels and frites. The mussels were fine, but I’m not a seafood fan. The owner of the small restaurant was a quirky old woman. We realized that there were cherubs everywhere and started to count them. Our mother has steadily collected more and more cherubs in the last few years and we often count them for giggles. Frick thought mum had more, but I guessed the restaurant. Near the end we noticed the cherub christmas tree ornaments and it became more likely that the woman won the cherub war. As we parted the woman gave us a signed x-mas card & business card (both with cherubs on them) and a cherub x-mas tree ornament. This left little doubt that her cherub collection is more extensive than mum’s.

Twice in Antwerp we had conversations with older couples. First while drinking at the Christmas Market with our hostel-mates, a couple asked where we were from and was excited as they heard the different countries listed. We talked about the weather and other common things. The woman was especially happy and excited about this meeting. From going to law school and then living in the co-op, it is easy to forget that many people only rarely are exposed to people from other countries. Then the following day at dinner an older couple was watching us as we ate. When we stood to leave, they asked our nationality and also seemed pretty excited about speaking with us. Similarly I can imagine my grandma excitedly telling neighbors, “you wouldn’t believe it, but the other day I met a young guy and gal traveling all the way from Belgium, very nice.” Cute.

In Ghent we played at a castle. Fun stuff. Again – the basement, originally was a stable for the horses was later converted to torture chambers. There was also the damp pit where people were locked to slowly die in the filth and cold. Very creepy to recognize that the rings on the wall once had people locked to be tortured and killed.

It was either in Ghent or Bruge where I had my second meal of raw meat. Toast Hannibal. The waiter questioned whether I understood that this was raw beef, and I excitedly nodded my approval. Yum. The open faced sandwich was awesome. So. Yummy. It made my belly happy for the next several hours.

Belgium is filed with chocolate shops – therefore we were filled with chocolate several times. We also visited the Chocolate Museum – which did a good job explaining the process of making chocolate. It did less of a good job explaining the slavery and exploitation behind the early chocolate trade. At the end we were presented with a demonstration of how the chocolates were molded. I might buy some molds and try this technique when I make my yearly batch of truffles as gifts in February.

The Diamond Museum wasn’t very good – it also didn’t really mention the conditions of diamond workers. Antwerp had diamond stores everywhere – apparently it’s the diamond capital of the world. I won’t purchase or wear diamonds.

We also toured a brewery and visited an ice sculpture display in Bruge. I completely bundled up in my snow pants, both jackets and several, several layers of sheep. It was fun – I went down an ice slide.

Later that day we climbed over 300 steps to the top of the Belfry. Damn it must have sucked carrying all of those bricks up all of those steps to construct the tower.

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