All in travel

Even Bier Smokes

As perfect as a day can be was underway.  In periphery, I could see countryside blur: lime-green grass and spring vegetables cracking dirt mounds; shadowy hardwoods budding and tall conifers starting to yellow with pollen; clouds lightly wisping otherwise vacant sky.  The Kloster Michelsberg first signaled our approach towards Bamberg.

Walking for Wine

The steep valley walls approached the beetling of a gorge at times and trapped the sun’s heat creating a unique microclimate ideal for viticulture. The Ardennes and Hohes Venn to the west shielded the valley from rain providing the southern facing slopes with over 1300 hours of sunshine a year.  Slate rock lined the ground at the base of the vines, retaining the sun’s heat and insulating the grapes’ root structure.

Three Tallies, Three Kölsch

Just inside the door, Köbes, Kölsch bartenders in Köln, accumulated in the stone lined sallyport leading to the beer garden.  They turned in unison beginning an exaggerated process of grouchy inspection, head-to-toe. Suffering mild humiliation in a similar Kölsch beer hall (Malzmühle) a few hours before, we walked confidently past the aproned guardians of Päffgen towards the beer garden, masking our anxiety with scowls and grunts of salutation.  

Cantillon: Musty Lemons, Cobwebs, and Coolships

Our more knowledgeable beer friends mention Cantillon in the hushed tones of children peering over the banister on Christmas morning: a place and product sprinkled in magical dust.  Cantillon produces the best Lambic beers in the world. Walking down an unkempt street in southwestern Brussels, a sharp morning gust whipped magazine clippings and dirty napkins up on cresting waves.  We turned right, leaving the haggard block behind; one hundred feet beyond the turn, bottles awaited on pallets behind the open cargo hull of a delivery truck. The recumbent, guzzling jester of Cantillon branded each bottle and hung from a sheet metal punch-out above the door. The place appeared closed but the door opened.

Springtime Among Blue Bells

In a beechwood forest the cups rose up and carpeted the ground in perennial blues.  Those fortunate enough can walk the dirt paths between this colored fleece alongside the highway.  Listening to the passing cars and semis, we crossed a bridge towards the columned rows of hardwoods, barren at ground level for their broad and domineering root structure.  Like the roots, trails etched lines in the forest floor and laid their own empty paths among the rare blanket of color.  It was almost a shame to waste the ground with space to walk.

"The Best Beer in the World"

We took off from Brussels mid morning - just after ten - through the Flanders countryside.  The terrain flattened; without obstruction, the scope of view extended until the morning haze drowned everything out.  Canals joined patches of hardwood forests as the only delineation between the tilled and sprouting fields.  The scene fit comfortably onto canvas, colors seeming to carry the texture of brush strokes and signature of a Flemish painter.  Just outside the frame, we approached the nexus of beer mystery: Westvleteren Brewery at St. Sixtus Abbey. 

*Video* Asado on the 4th of July

It's Sunday morning during our beloved July 4th weekend, and we are in Sweden wearing sweatshirts while a minestrone soup simmers on the stovetop. We couldn't feel further from the annual rituals happening right now in the USA. So far away and dreaming about BBQ, I wanted to share a day that enlightened our grilling game: a skill and process we share around the world. We plan to bust out the grill this afternoon, blow some Swedish minds, and feel the warmth of home. 

*Video* Beers at Altitude

With so many places, photos, and videos we are never caught up on editing! We have hundreds of hours of video footage, and I figured it was about time to learn how to edit and produce. I spent some time on the train in Germany this week assembling our first video. Recently, we had an awesome day hike in the Swiss Alps, which provided the perfect opportunity to document through a short length video. I think it captures our time better than the photos we took did. It's an amateur attempt, so let me know your thoughts!  Do you prefer video, photos, or a bit of both?? 

Nunnery to Brewery

Our second stop, Brasserie C, brought us south for the day in the first place.  At the base of the Montagne de Bueren, next to the stairs running up towards the old citadel, we saw a sign to the left and up a narrow alley for the brewpub.  All the buildings looked and felt very old in this section of town, aptly referred to as Old Town.  We eventually found the entrance after circumnavigating the building and breached a doorway requiring a slight duck to avoid a bruise and headache.  We walked indoors to a dark, empty bar and met with Kerian, their Public Relations & Beer Tour representative.  The building, a nunnery in 1611 and an architectural museum in the 1960’s, began with solid ecclesiastical bones and consolidated much of Liege’s iconic furniture, paneling, doors, and fireplaces under one roof.  

The Young Trappist

Only 45 minutes from from the youngest Trappist brewery in Belgium - and with the cleaning lady entertaining the dog as she chased around the house with vacuums and feathered dusters - we packed the car, opened the gate, and drove east towards the Dutch border.  Achelse Kluis straddled Holland and Belgium: a place built long before present borders existed (if you want to call the line on the ground between Belgium and Holland a border).  Wispy and remaining stubbornly sunny, the weather held out, but along with the rush of passing tractor-trailers, the gusts blew our tiny Opel hatchback.  The open, Low Country fields laid no barrier for the wind, evidenced by the countless windmills dotting the landscape.  We frequently crossed veins of canals redirecting water to the ocean, making the champaign habitable and above seasonal floods.  Between corrugated brown fields the road ran east: the bricked Abbey of Achelse Kluis rising before the fields of Holland picketed with barren trees.

A Belgian Blonde in Limburg

Comparing our arrival in Belgium to that in Mexico six months ago paints the canvas in black and white.  

In Mexico: we landed in Oaxaca at 10 PM, at an abandoned airport where everything and everyone lived in Spanish; Sara and I shared a seat on the bus (a van) burgeoning with bags and humans; we rode down dark dirt roads chasing stray dogs through the maze of wire fences and graffitied buildings; we bumped along for 1.5 hours to move 20 miles; last to leave the bus, we nervously walked with our 50 pound packs along a one light street searching for a red door and our home for the next month.  

In Belgium: we landed around noon; the airport, clean and streamlined, seemed designed for efficiency; our rental car was waiting, we purchased a SIM card next to the rental car office, and had the option to do it all in English, Dutch, or French; we drove down the Autobahn to Zutendaal for a week-long house-sit; at the drive-way, the gate opened and our hosts greeted us, showed us around and introduced us to a dog, two cats, and two horses; we walked the dog down narrow paths through the woods in the failing light, sat on the couch with wool socks and radiant heat building, made room for the dog by our feet, and looked out the window at a Whitetail bounding as the evening drizzle pattered on the skylights, sounding like static on a record.

Chicha in Lima

Desert silence at the edge of light's end is both exhilarating and terrifying.  Watch the sun disappear in that place and you will know the darkness of death: the black of Day One; the space beyond singularity, outside the light of known Universe; a port-a-john at a combat outpost in the middle of Afghanistan under clouded skies and a New Moon.  Two days into a four day bus ride from Puerto Montt, Chile to Lima, Peru - with a cracked throat, perceivable layer of plaque build-up, axel-greasy hair, checked-bags under eyes - and these kinds of Jim Morrison, acid thoughts started to cross my mind as I stared into a grain of sand upon a rock in the Atacama out the bus window, sitting in my sweaty, damp seat and breathing in the stale breath and farts of 50 other people.  Most of the time a situation isn't as bad as I picture it in my head; this bus ride fell into that other category.  It was in that category of "never again." Having a full bladder while wearing a tight parachute harness in turbulence represents a similar level of agony.  Desert occupied in front and on the periphery from Santiago to Lima for three straight days.  Needless to say, arriving in Lima provided a literal breath of fresh air, a shower, and a much needed full night's sleep in a completely horizontal position.

Riding the Patagonian Wave

The wide open landscapes of Chilean Patagonia beckoned us from Argentina.  In the wild but within city limits we looked forward to quieter nights with fewer street lights.  Our friend Tony claimed since last July that he planned to meet up in Patagonia; despite his commitment and persistence, his appearance in the flesh at the Bariloche airport still surprised us.  The airline losing his bags and not ours came as no surprise: an indoctrination into the chaos and unpredictability rampant south of the border.  We thought Murphy, already exhausted with us, had moved onto Tony.  That hypothesis proved very wrong.  If only the Universe was so logical, life could be more predictable; but alas, it is not; and, instead, we get excitement, confusion, pain, and the promise of discovery.  We certainly got more than we bargained for in Patagonia and became increasingly aware of our infinitely small part in it.  At some point, coming to this realization, you begin to roll with the punches.  I’m always surprised how short term this knowledge proves to be and how quickly you go back to controlling.

Fire & Ice

Bariloche only served as a basecamp for our Patagonian adventures and introduced us to some of the challenges we would be facing throughout Patagonia - namely, finding cash, finding buses, finding wi-fi.  I see it now as an opportunity to practice patience; at the time I was ripping my hair out, and when the Rentalcars.com customer service representative informed me via email that our rental car was no longer available - two hours before pick-up - a frustratingly accurate proverb from Murphy crossed my mind: if it can go wrong, it will.  But it eventually worked out and we scored a set of wheels.  Getting to San Martin alone could fill the page with blue skies, summer sun, glacial lakes, sandy beaches, unsuccessful hitchhikers, and a soundtrack of suffering transmission and rattling car parts brought to you by General Motors in the form of a mid 90s Chevy Classic - our carriage for the next four days.  We arrived to San Martin three hours late, spent two hours gathering provisions from five different stores, and finally drove to the outskirts of town, down a dirt road towards a “rendezvous” with our AirBNB host, Valeria.

Stranger Things in Buenos Aires

I watched the lightning strike outside and a streetlight turn on through a candle in the foreground.  The thunder rumbled, the sky lit up, and the clouds opened, releasing the rain in sheets. Remaining dry in our new AirBNB in Buenos Aires, the window played all this like a television.  Buenos Aires is the most cosmopolitan city in South America.  What I found amazing was the juxtaposition of European ambiance with a bold Argentinian twist.  Timeless Renaissance and Classical European buildings house large Argentinian grills cooking Choripan in a cloud of smoke; taxi drivers maintain conversation with each other through the open windows of their cabs while roaring down wide French boulevards at dangerous speeds; unmeasured South American chaos wears away at the sharp European edge.  It’s a coin at the heart with lots of European polish on one side; but the other, more interesting, ragged, and unique, still falls face up half the time.  

Kolsch Before Malbec

When you look back to yesterday you start to deduce how little you know right now.  I’m looking into the coals of a fire and at the fluttering light and I’m looking at my own time.  I can feel the heat reflecting off the fire bricks and onto my cheek as I watch the coals rapidly change in color during my mental trip back in time.  At this moment they seem to hold all the answers - or at the very least, enough to satisfy my oxygen deprived brain (I’ve been sitting here for a hot minute).  Fire is the theme in Argentina, and I will continue it now: from the fire of Asado to the brew kettles of two breweries in San Luis, Argentina, boiling the ancient wort discovered by ancestors forgotten.  

The Argentinian Smokey Medium

The circumstances that landed us in San Luis, Argentina seem completely impossible in a more organized version of the Universe.  To think that a chance click from my computer in Georgia and the consequent encounter with a couple running an AirBNB would find us a bed and friends in San Luis, Argentina and two fantastic craft brewery contacts months later seems a bit preordained - or otherwise, too good to be true.  But that's the way it happened; and if you asked me how it would turn out while I was sitting in my pajamas on my parents' couch last October, what I'd be doing in December, or if this trip would work out at all I'd stare right back with shrugged shoulders, hands turned up, pinched lips, and wide eyes.  I never could have predicted the path and could never have planned it so well.  Often you need the very basis of a plan to give you (and those around you) the confidence to step off and set foot on the journey, mission, etc; but most of the plan develops along with the information coming in, and as a result, you find a plan that better suits your current situation.  Eventually, after you've seen enough plans fail you come to this realization and still fight it every time.  I've gotten to a point where I think that Sara and I are completely out of our minds most of the time; and then there's an experience like San Luis, and we can smile at each other and reassure ourselves that we are not wrong about this.

The Farmhouse's Ale

Memories of Argentina will forever drown me in the Impressional blur visioned through the bottom of a tumbler looking up at the dim bar light; then, with that image in mind, out the door into a warm evening or an incredibly frigid night, wearing a thick wool jacket, the rush of comfort and deep meaning overwhelm in inexplicable ebullience.  Argentina is a feeling for me.  A good one.  And I carry it as the Ford Ranger that carried us into the country: along winding roads; up steep switchbacks appearing to end catastrophically; climbing through quiet no man’s land under moonlight reflecting on ancient glaciers. I looked back at Chile to say farewell.  The landscape slowly turned from mountains to hills to rolling plains and finally to the piedmont, at the foot of the giants, where one looks west and sees the sun setting behind the elevated horizon hours before it would on the other side.  The arid landscape was noticeable even in the middle of the night, and I alternated between staring out the window and reading a book until finally I fell asleep.  I woke up to a change in the consistent flow of driving.  A stuttering pattern indicated we were entering a town and approaching our destination: Nikko's house and our bed for the next three nights.