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.

Antwerpen Easy Drinkin'

In route to Antwerp from Brussels we detoured to the Trappisten, a roadside tavern across the street from the Westmalle Abbey.  Beneath a cloudless sky on the patio we sipped from chaliced Westmalle glasses: one golden, the other brown.  The brown was a mixture of the Triple and Dubbel (called a Trip-Trap), resulting in something between a Tripel, Dubbel, and Quadrupel.  Midday sun cut the Spring with Summertime.  The buds on leafless branches carried persistent remains of morning condensation.  They reflected tiny bulbs rising in columns toward the red-bricked wall surrounding Westmalle Abbey.

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.

Framboise in the Park

Our first full day in Brussels turned into quite a success.  It was nice to not rush anywhere or worry about filling up the parking meter or driving all day.  The only determined activity was jazz and drinks at La Brocante - an iconic, old Brussels beer bar with a decent breakfast and lunch menu and fairly extensive beer list, long on Geuze and Kriek.  Sara waited for a table to open as I went to draw cash from the ATM down the street - long line, getting longer by the minute.  I returned to Sara drinking a Saison Dupont.  A moderate wind passed through the patio drenched in sun carrying spritz of rain drops from somewhere far away.  It was faint but enough for most everyone to look confused towards the bright sky blue.  We sat in wicker chairs sewed in a Parisian inspired shape - not surprising for a city speaking French first.  A gypsy jazz ensemble strung together from different corners of the street into a band of sorts for the hour.  

"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. 

A Drink in Season

Spring written in bold, underlined, all-capped looks limp compared to European reality this year.  Pines bobbed and oaks shuddered with the passing wind, shaking yesterday’s rain; in amphibian metamorphosis, their buds grew visibly larger each passing day under the lengthening light of mid-Spring.  Afar, the blooming color powdered the landscape in an Impressionistic blur.  But up close, driving along hairpins and welcomed straightaways, the sun lucidly explained the detailed edges and specks and differences.  Like a solar eclipse, the leaves bent the ecclesiastic power of the sun and left nothing but a blindingly white, broken trace at its perimeter; that remaining light still managed to draw my moving penumbra against the asphalt winding the Walloon wilderness en route to Durbuy.

*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?? 

Breaking Rulles

Friday the 13th started with vegan breakfast and a morning read by the fire.  I reviewed the beer lineup and synopsis for La Rulles - the brewery visit for the day - between a few current events (or, more accurately, “The Real World: Real World Edition”).  Located in the Gaume region of Southeast Belgium, near the Semois River winding westward towards Bouillon and Godfrey’s castle, the brewery habituates a unique microclimate, always a few degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding Ardennes hills.  The quaint Belgian countryside, eleven in the morning, left two American wanders in silence.

Gold in Trout

I sometimes see the signs of Spring: the pollenated ground; a lonely green leaf on a tree; flapping wings of birds building nests; tadpoles congregating in illusions across a pond.  Winding downhill in a maturing canopy of foliage, I downshifted to cut the personal effort, passing the burden down the line and straight to the transmission.  Far south in the Luxembourg Province of Wallonia, just north of the French border, forest yields to field.  Brown sheep sporting dreadlocks chomped the young, short grass situated within ancient and sturdy polished stone walls.  Ochre colored sandstone, the “pierre de France,” rose from the grass in walls, belfries, and arched sally ports.  Vines climbed in symmetry on the walls of an old guesthouse.  In the background flashes of red maple buds added to the palette as the Spring day fought vestiges of Winter.  A trout, lips pursed upon a golden ring, embossed the keystone of the entryway arch leading to Orval Monastery.

Refresh and Reflect

On the pike we carry heads of those we cross.  A deep gash cut ruby red turns black with fresh blood; the eyes once full of life become empty and distant, looking upon the fields to unknowable horizons.  They roll back and the croaking starts.  You start to shake for life, but it’s already gone with that final choke in blood.  You watch a young man die and look around to keep from throwing up.  From an opioid haze a few mental blocks from a padded room you remember what it’s like to go to war.  In the Jaques Woods I walked through someone else’s nightmare: perfectly spaced pines overlooking fields of grazing fire dotted with persistent fox holes.  The winter struck early and fierce in the Ardennes, 1944.  American and German soldiers, fleeced and furred, billowed vapor in a stand-off like two locomotives pushing continuously in opposite directions.  Dead bodies stacked rigor mortis and frozen provided cover for future barrages.  Rattling machine gun fire and the high pitch scream of artillery and mortars arrived in scores from both sides with little notice for exact grid location.  Certainly no one wanted to be there. 

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.