All tagged belgium
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.