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Published: March 13th 2007
If you're just checking my blog, be sure the you caught my last entry which I just published. I split this up into two because the last one was getting excessively long.
So, when we last spoke, Derek and I had just arrived at Vicky's house in Erps-Kwerps, Belgium. OH! I forgot a pivital moment of our first night there. We went and got some famous Belgian frites (fries) to take back to Vicky's house. Mmmmm so gooooood! That's where the real "French" fries are from, for sure. We ate an absolutley disgusting amount of fries, and Derek has the pictures to prove it. It's a really big thing in Belgium and Holland to eat these tasty fries smothered in goopy sauce, which is usually mayonaise (although there is generally a huge array of sauces for you to chose from). I had pickel sauce with these ones. It was good. We also got to pick a meat item of our choice that they would deep fry for us before our eyes. I picked a currywurst sausage. Yum. Yes, this was our supper. Yes, it was extremely fatty and unhealthy. Yes, that is how we ate the entire time we were in Belgium. Yes, I loved every minute of it.
The next day, after a glorious sleep in, Vicky prepared a delious breakfast spread for us. We had warm croissants with our choice of a vast array of toppings. We could have Nutella, many types of jam, some white chocolate with hazelnut spread, cheese, ham--the list went on and on. We also finally got to try some of the Belgian coffee which Vicky had told us all about when we were in Thailand. She has this amazing machine that uses single serving coffee pouches, resembling round Tetley tea bags, which makes amazing coffee extremely quickly and with little mess. I want one. Coffee and warm croissants with Nutella. Does it get any better?
After gorging ourselves to the breaking point, we got in Vicky's car (her wrist was doing a bit better this day) and drove to a nearby recreation park for a walk in the woods. It was an incredibly beautiful spring day and Derek and I really enjoyed being around the serenity of a rec park and out of cities, for once. It was a man made park, Vicky told us, but it was really old. It used to be frequented by royalty and had a palace and everything, so you know it must be good! There were tons of fisherman around the perimeter of the little lake, there. I thought of Mark (Derek took a picture for you). WHEN are we going to go fishing? I also have to go fly fishing with Will, my former marine inverts TA. Anyways, those fishermen knew how to have a good time. They each had a host of rods propped up on the shore so they didn't even have to hold them, a good supply of beer, some comfy chairs, and even some tents to relax in. Nice. Who needs fish?
After our walk and talk, Vicky and I took it upon ourselves to give Derek an experience that every member of a developed nation should have: a trip to IKEA. We couldn't believe that he had never been. They have a number of great new lines and products out, so it was excruciating for me to be unable to buy anything since I couldn't get it home. Well, I did buy some felt pens with built in mini stampers from the kids' section. But I couldn't get anything else. I think Derek was suitably impressed with the place. If he wasn't, he knew it was best to pretend in our company that he was. Ohhh and afterwards we all got delicious Belgian waffles from a kiosk outside the door. I wish my IKEA served Belgian waffles. Then we went to the grocery store to buy some ingredients for supper.
Supper consisted of an incredible tuna and zucchini quiche with salad and iced tea. OH the Belgian Lipton Iced Tea is my new amazing beverage discovery. Belgian Lipton Iced Tea is to my Europe trip as Milo was to my Australia/Asia trip. Amazing. Not only is it the perfect blend of sweetness and tea flavouring, but it's CARBONATED!!! Who would have guessed? It was seriously heavenly. I'm going to petition Lipton on my return to ditch that horrible, horrible Brisk stuff they are peddling to us and give us the good Belgian stuff. They already have great beer (more on that later) so we should get the tea.
After yet another full gorge, Sandra (our friend from the night before) arrived and we all piled into her car. We were going to a solo vocals/guitar show by a friend of Vicky's friend at a neighbourhood pub in a small town about 30 minutes away. The pub was really fun a good Belgian experience. Apparantly these small neighbourhood pubs are starting to disappear, but they've been a big tradition for years and years. Sandra treated Derek and I to an AMAZING locally brewed bear called Cristal (I think) which was possibly the best beer I've ever had, except for my darling Kokanee, of course. It was sooo freshing and clear, with almost a sweetness to it. Amazing. I had 3. And poor, generous Sandra refused to hear of Derek or I contributing to the bill at all. The music was pretty good, and the musician even dedicated a French song to the "Canadians he heard were in the house," which was cool, but it was incredibly smoky in there. I was coughing within minutes and my clothes still smell a bit to this day. I felt bad for the three little boys that were in there. Yes, you heard right. Little boys. You're allowed to bring your kids into pubs in Belgium! THAT was a weird one for me. They were cute to watch, though. They were playing portable video games and drinking hot chocolate. Not a bad way to spend an evening, it seemed to me, except that at midnight they were still there and one of the little guys was falling asleep in his seat. Little kids in pubs wasn't the most shocking thing I saw that night though: I witnessed, multiple times, people order coke mixed with beer! Can you imagine? I wanted to try it but never actually got the chance, so I'll have to try the combination when I get home. I forget the Dutch word for it, but it means "gasoline" because it looks like petrol when the two are mixed. Hehehehe. Oh those crazy Belgians. It must be good, though, because otherwise they would just drink their incredible Belgian Lipton Iced Tea. I have never tried Stella Artois, the famous Belgian beer, but I will when I get home to see if it is as good as Cristol.
It was past 2am when we went to bed so it was a pretty rough wake up the next day, but we had a big day ahead of ourselves so we had to drag ourselves up. Sandra arrived and brought with her a variety of fresh, tasty baked goods from a bakery around the corner. More gorging ensued. By this point we each weighed about 300 pounds so we opted to take Vicky's car this day since it was more spacious than Sandra's. Sandra took us on a lovely drive through the Belgian country side to a small, peaceful, riverside town called La Roche. It was really a beautiful town and there were the remains of an old castle at the center which were cool. After a walk around the area we headed back to the car to move on to our next stop. Before we set off again, however, Derek had to go to the bathroom. Now, in Europe, as in Asia, finding a public bathroom is easier said and done. Think you can just hop in to the nearest McDonald's? No sir-ee-bob. Even McDonald's charges for bathroom use, even if you're a customer. There was not McDonalds in little La Roche, of course, but there weren't any public facilities, either. In the end, we entered a pub to buy drinks just so everyone else could use the washroom. However, the service was terrible and even after each of the group (not me--yay for huge bladder!) had gone to the bathroom one at a time, no one had come to take our order. Time was marching on so the rest just paid the 0.50cents (that's $0.75CAN!) that they would have had to pay if they weren't customers and we took off. I was realllly excited about our next stop: the abbey!
This wasn't just any abbey, however. The monks brewed beer there! Apparantly this is a fairly common phenomenon in Europe, but for me the concept of the church encouraging drinking, and actually BREWING the booze themselves, just blew me away. Man, was it popular. The line up of cars up the hill to the abby made me have flashbacks to the Saanich Fair. I wasn't expecting it to be such a tourist mecca. We just parked at the bottom and walked up the little mountain which helped us work up a healthy thirst for the God's Brew which we were about to consume. After standing in a line for ages and fighting our way through crowds of people, we finally each had a mug of the delicious stuff, with a sandwhich of abbey bread and cheese--both made by the monks--to go with it. SUCH a tasty meal. Monks brewing beer. Those crazy Europeans. What will they think of next? Vicky was really suprised that we didn't really have huge, elaborate stone churches and coblestone walks and stuff in Victoria, but I kept explaining to her that when that abbey was constructed people in Western Canada were just simply trying to survive the Canadian winter. They didn't have the resources for huge church construction. Plus, they were all a bunch of religionless hooligans anywho. And, of course, the First Nations people aren't really into the stone church thing....
After our abbey beer, cheese, and bread we drove to the student town of Leuven to partake in some of the famous cocktails that Vicky and Sandra had been telling us about. Ohhhh were they good! I've never had a huge cocktail with mounds of fruiti embellisment before. It was a real treat. Mine was called the Eifel Tower. The "Hotel Proffessor" really came through for us. I have pictures, of course, but no time to upload them now, I'm sorry. We also had dinner at another restaurant, but I must say it wasn't as good as Vicky's cooking the night before. When we got back to Vicky's that night we were all exhausted. All Derek and I had to do was sit on a train the next day and Vicky was off work due to her wrist, but poor Sandra still had a full Monday ahead of her so it wasn't long before she left us for the comfort of her bed. She was SO much fun and such a sweet girl, so hopefully we haven't seen the last of her. I think we may have convinced her to start planning a Canadian adventure.... and Vicky too, in fact. I talked to Dad a bit on Skype that night, but I was sitting in the living room, which was also Derek's bedroom, and Derek was trying to go to sleep so I cut it short. Judging by recent internet prices we've been encountering I probably won't get a chance to talk to him again until I'm home.
Phew, this is long! Well, the next day is a quicky: all Derek and I did was take various trains (4 of them, I believe) for the entire day until finally reaching our hostel here in Geneva after 10pm. We have a really nice room with super cosy beds, though the rest of the hostel isn't quite as nice. You have to pay extra if you want to use the kitchen (what's that about?) and there is only 1 toilet stall in the bathrooms, which is a problem as everyone gets up at the last possible moment before they stop serving breakfast at 9am and there is quite a bathroom rush. I used to think that the 9am breakfast cut off was a downside, too, but I'm actually really glad that we got forced out as early as we did today, because it turns out that Geneva has SO much to offer us! I had no idea! First of all, it's a beautiful city. I guess it has to be because so many people from hundreds of international organizations have to relocate here and it must help to entice them to come when their new home is as lovely as Geneva. It's a beautiful, clean city situated at the edge of a large lake, with snow-capped mountains on the horizon. It reminds me very much of Victoria in many ways, except that it's increidbly French and no employee in any establishment except the tourism office speaks English at ALL.
Speaking of the tourism office--it's INCREDIBLE!!! The best one we've come across, for sure. They produce basically a full travelguide book which is available for free and gives detailed descriptions of all attractions and museums, which are plentiful. Many of the museums are free, too. It was through this guide that we discovered how much there is to do and see here. I had wanted to come to Geneva since we had a few days to kill before we go meet all of our friends in the Alps and I thought it would be cool to come to the place where so many international headquarters are, plus there was supposed to be a really great Red Cross museum. Little did I know there was so much more, including..... CERN!!!! OK, most of you probably have no idea what that is. It's a state of the art particle physics center which I learned about in detail last year when I took Physics 303: Spacetime and the Cosmology of the Universe--a course which I enjoyed THOROUGHLY. My final paper included a few papers published by CERN scientists, I believe. Anyways, CERN is situated just outside of Geneva and the amazing tourism office here seems to have somehow arranged that all hotel and hostel guests get free public transit passes for the time that they are here, so it was no problem for us to hop on a bus and head out there. They had a science discovery center there which was extremely enjoyable for me since it really reinforced so much I'd learned in Physics 303. I think it was, understandably, less interesting for Derek since the exhibits were about some fairly high level stuff (it wasn't a kid's science center, that's for sure) which would have taken a bit too much work to understand if you weren't already a bit familiar with the material. We both really enjoyed the exhibits about the new LHC, however, which is the brand new, groundbreaking particle accelerator which just opened this year. Without gushing about this thing too much, I'll just say that it consists of a ring 27km in circumference which is buried 100m below us in the ground and passes through France and Switzerland. It accelerates particles up to almost the speed of light to create collisions which can be recorded with incredible accuracy. Ohhhh it's so cool. I love particle physics. Anyways, it was great, and I was glowing the whole time.
After that we went to the Botanical Gardens, which was where Patrick Von Aderkas stole the entire syllabus for Plants and People from. OK, maybe not, but he very well could have been as the info boards in the garden pretty much retold all of his lessons from UVic (though they were all in French, but we could understand most of it). As Derek came up to me to tell me that all the stuff about wine and grapes which Patrick had taught us was displayed in the next area, I just pointed to the sign in front of me and we both burst into laughter. It was a diagram of the domestication history of wheat species, the exact duplicate of which we had memorized a year ago for the same course. Remeber "tauschi," Grayson? Well, it was there. Hey, it was funny to us, OK?
Ahhhh time so short. OK, next we went on a huge hunt for a Swiss Army knife museum which, turned out to be so hard to find because it was actually just a tiny room in a swiss army knife store. It was still really cool, though. They had a real knife from the 1800's and 3 knives signed by US presidents. They also had some massive collector knives with 200 implements. Yikes! Well, that pretty much brings me up to know, many pages of typing and $10 of internet time later. Tomorrow we go to the Palace of Nations and the Red Cross Museum! Awesome!
Gotta look up trains and stuff for the Alps... what a gong show that meet up is going to be. Oh well. Wish us luck. Bye for a little while!
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