Friday, November 06, 2009

Clocking a few more miles on the Audi

And away we go. Long-time readers will know that Jason and I have a tendency to just jump in the car and go somewhere, bringing along a few essentials in case we decide we're having too much fun to leave. And last weekend, we did just that. We got up Saturday morning, said "Hey, what should we do this weekend?" and decided to let google do the talking.

After a few internet queries, we decided we were driving to Hasselt - a small town about an hour's drive from Brussels. We also found out that in a neighboring village, there was a 16th century castle that housed a brewery. That was about all we needed to know so we threw a few things in an overnight bag and hit the road.

But not before a quick stop for breakfast. Yes, in Belgium, this is what passes for breakfast. In any other country this would be dessert.

The real reason for the fuel up was that we were waiting for the Tiffany across the street to open. Don't get too excited for me. My Facebook family probably already know that one of my most precious possessions was lost recently.

For my 30th birthday, Jason gave me my very first piece of Tiffany jewelry - a gold Elsa Peretti bean necklace. I treasured it. It was my go-to necklace. I wore it almost every day. And it recently fell off my neck without my knowledge. I was in a hurry getting dressed and I'm sure I just didn't clasp it properly. When I realized what had happened, I was inconsolable. Jason insists on replacing it so there we were, patiently waiting to go in and see if they had it. (They didn't - but they've ordered one for me.)

So, back to the business at hand...

We arrive in Hasselt with no problems and immediately set out to enjoy the gorgeous day. And I do mean gorgeous. I'm talking light sweater and a scarf gorgeous. Blue skies gorgeous. Fall leaves gorgeous.

This is kind of funny to me... I took this photo because I liked the background of yellow leaves and the red awning and the way the sun was laying. And when I was going through the pics, trying to decide which ones to use, it occurred to me that this looks like a regular sized statue. You know, average statue size. Eight, nine, maybe 10 feet or more. Pretty big. But in reality, it's only about a foot and a half tall. I don't know. It's probably only funny to me now that I think about it... But dang if I haven't gone and written a whole diatribe about it and I'm not deleting it.

Time for lunch and some Belgian refreshment. As per usual, blonde for me and brune for the mister.

Up next was the National Genever Museum! Boy, do I love me some culture. This is the third appearance for genever on this blog. (Surely you've not forgotten but in case you have, first and second appearances are here and here.)

It was very hands on...

And the distillery is still in operation - one of only a handful left in Belgium.

And then it was time for the tasting. My previous genever experiences had been by and large pleasant. (Despite Phil, Suze and Jason peer pressuring me into knocking one of mine back so we could make our boat tour.) I mean, it's flavored gin. It'll be tasty, right? Sure, I prefer vodka but it's flavored gin. How bad can it be? Cheers!

And what follows is my reaction, en triptyque:

"Okay. It's in my mouth. Hmmm. That's a wee bit stronger than I thought it would be. Okay. OMG it's really f**king strong!"

This is my "Jason, do I really have to swallow this? Please tell me I can spit it out. Please? No? Really???" face.

"OMG, my lungs are on fire! Seriously, this might be medical! My lungs are aflame!!"

I recovered pretty quickly. Let it be known that I am not afraid to make a damn fool of myself.

After some strolling around, we made our way back to the Grote Mart for a cafe stop. I love the front of this pub, Drugstore. This is actually where we had lunch (and the blonde and brune) earlier.

The clock tower at dusk...

Okay. This is kind of a funny story. Well, it cracked us up anyway... Since we are so fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants about travel sometimes, we don't always get our first choice of hotel. The extent of availability upon our arrival in Hasselt amounted to the Holiday Inn. (As Holiday Inns go, I have to be fair and say that it was actually pretty nice. Recently updated, tastefully decorated, immaculately clean and excellent bedding to boot.)

Upon check-in, we were told that we were cordially invited to the Halloween "after-party" in the hotel bar. "After" what? No idea. I wanted to ask her why she didn't invite us to the party before the after-party. So after dinner, instead of retiring to our room, we hit up the after-party. Things were just starting to get cranking.

There were bowls of dry ice (which the bar staff had to pour pitchers of water into about every three minutes to make it do its thing) and a smoke machine (which set off the hotel fire alarm three times) and even a DJ (who played to a totally empty dance floor but seemed to be pretty into the tunes himself). We stayed just long enough to be able to say for the rest of our lives that "We went to a Halloween after-party at a Belgian Holiday Inn."

The next morning, we awoke to find that we were the only people in the whole town who weren't at church. Which provided us hell-bound heathens the perfect opportunity for a self-portrait on the empty streets.

And then it was time to find the castle brewery, Ter Dolen. A mere 15 minute drive away, we found it and also found ourselves surrounded by countryside. How amazing is this?

Autumn, schmautumn. Whatever. Show me the beer.

As we were a little early for the tour (which turned out to be yet another hilarious H&J adventure), we went on in and got ourselves a little preview taste by the cosy fire and wall o' logs.

Blonde for me (and tripel for Jason this time).

Upon finishing our beers, we found that we still had time to kill before the tour. So we went for a country walk. Well, Jason walked. I frolicked.

Upon finishing our walk/frolick, we found that we still had time to kill before the tour. So we went back into the cosy castle pub and had ourselves another little preview taste. And some cheese. I saw some people had a little bowl of cheese cubes and if they get to have cheese cubes, I want cheese cubes too. So I sent Jason to fetch the cheese. He came back with this:

Not only do the brew their own beer here at Ter Dolen, they make their own cheese as well! So we got ourselves half a wheel and dug in.

And finally, it was time for the tour to commence. So we headed over to the meeting point and followed the guide into the brewery. And the tour commenced. In Dutch. 100% Dutch. It's a shame we don't speak Dutch because the guide must have been very entertaining. The whole crowd broke into laughter about every five minutes. We just played along and took pictures of the things the guide pointed at.

Though I did quite like this keystone over an archway, and not only because it's got my initials carved into it. The guide probably told a very witty story about the significance of the year 1643, but we wouldn't know anything about that.

Jason with his loot.

So, Ter Dolen brew castle - check. What next? Well, we can either call it a trip and head back to Brussels or....we can get out the iPhone and see what's nearby. And that's how we discovered the town of Aachen, Germany - roughly 40 miles away from our current location.

And that's how we came to be in three different countries in one day. You see, we had to drive through a little patch of Netherlands to get to Aachen. (Though we didn't actually visit anywhere in Netherlands, so it hardly counts.)

Aachen is most known for its connection with Charlemagne and is pretty much chock full of history. I'll try not to bore you but one of the most interesting buildings here is the town hall, because of the many transformations it's gone through over time. Allow me to break it on down:
  • It was originally built in the Gothic style in the 14th century.
  • After it was severely damaged by a town fire in 1656 and re-styled in Baroque.
  • When Friedrich Wilhelm IV came to power in 1840, he ordered a transformation that was more in keeping with the building's history and the neo-Gothic restoration began.
  • It was heavily damaged by bomb raids in 1943 and 44 and after a very long rebuilding period, we have the structure that stands today.
However, I don't know a thing about this building. I just like the colorful window panels.

And this takes first prize for the strangest fountain I've ever laid eyes on. Working our way down from the top: It's capped off by a large rooster, which sits atop a fully armored soldier on a horse.

Let's take a closer look at the base. Every fountain needs a few Medieval death masks, yes?

And marionettes. Marionettes with moveable arms. (We know that for a fact. We moved them.)

You cannot turn your back on him for one second. He'll be heading towards the free samples faster than you can say gingerbread.

I love love love the skinny little buildings - look at the blue one! So twee!

Looking back through the photos, I'm unsure why I took a photo of a birdbath. A rather elaborate birdbath; but a birdbath all the same. Uh, enjoy?

The cathedral in Aachen is truly something to behold. It's massive. There's no where you can stand and fit it in one photo. Some facts for you:
  • It is the final resting place of Charlemagne, who died in 814.
  • Between 936 and 1531, thirty kings and twelve queens were anointed, crowned and throned here.
  • During the Middle Ages, it was one of the most important Christian places of pilgrimage, on par with Jerusalem and Rome.
  • The Aachen Pilgrimage has been taking place every seven years since 1349.
  • The next one is in 2014.
The cathedral has evolved over a span of twelve hundred years:
  • The octagon with the cupola there on the right in the photo below is the core of the site and was completed in 800.
  • The gothic choir, on the right in the above photo (also called the Aachen glasshouse, for obvious reasons) and the north and south chapels were added in the 14th and 15th centuries.
  • The Hungarian Chapel, on the bottom left of the photo below, was added in he 18th century.
  • And the tower on the left was completed in 1884.
I know that's probably just a lot of arbitrary numbers to most of you but I think it's pretty damn impressive.

Ummm, it was pretty fancy on the inside. This whole ceiling design is in mosaic tiles. And this is just a small corner of it. You wouldn't believe the vastness of it, especially when you consider it in terms of half-inch tiles. I'm thinking of doing this in our next house.

There were all sorts of random things strewn amongst the otherwise abstract patters on the ceilings. My favorite was this rooster.

We had a fit over this little pub that was tucked right onto the side of the town hall. So of course, we had to pop in for a beer.

But not before we made friends with the horse that was standing guard.

We asked the guy behind the bar about the place and he said it was about 300 years old and used to be a library, but had been a pub for about a hundred years. It occurs to me now, as I write this, that we didn't ask about the horse. Damn.

In closing, we had better luck on the hotel front in Aachen. It was rather posh. In fact, it even had a spa. Which is exactly where we went after our beer in the library-cum-pub. After a massage and a lounge by the infinity pool, we were well-rested and ready for the short drive back to Brussels.

My life is not so bad I think.

(Disclaimer - I haven't proofread this because Jason's in the kitchen cooking dinner all by himself and I feel bad so I'm rushing off... Hold me not accountable for my mistakes.)


The Tune's said...

Love the photos and it looks like you are having a perfect Autmun season there!

That is a great photo of the two of you on that Sunday!

Heather said...

Thanks Libby - I quite like that picture too :)

And because you have a well-documented good sportsmanship record on my blog, I must congratulate you and your baseball team (I can't make myself write it out) on their World Series victory.

You have no idea how hard that was for me to type.

Kate said...

When I started reading this post, I started to think of all of the places we used to go to when we'd wake up on a Saturday morning and get in the car. I was thinking 'I'll have to recommend Aachen to her' only to read on and see that you went! We stopped there on the way to Cologne (which is not too much further) and definitely worth a visit. Maastricht was another place we drove to on a random day trip. If you want a slightly further weekend trip, I highly recommend Strasbourg It is amazing. And if you love cheese, there is an AMAZING restaurant there.

Heather said...

Thanks for the recommendations Kate!

Meg said...

First off, I'm so sorry about your beloved necklace! That is a horrible feeling indeed. But, I am also so glad that you are getting a replacement that will hopefully arrive soon. Second, are those Tom Ford sunglasses you are wearing? If not, whose are they? I love them! Next, you really should do a what is Heather wearing section since I really do like your style and often wonder who your accessory or outfit is by. And fourth and finally :) thank you for your blog. I've read for a long time and not only enjoy your whit and narrative, but also your lovely pictures that make me feel as though I've been on your many adventures with you. BRAVO!

Hugs, Meg

Heather said...

Meg, thank you so much for your sweet comments! Yes, they are Tom Ford :) Good eye! My favorite thing about them is that they're green, even though you probably can't tell in the pictures. That's how I justified the purchase. I already had black Pradas and tortoise shell Ray Bans... but green!? Well that's something else entirely!

And just for you...

Outfit 1:
Plum crew neck sweater by Banana Republic
Scarf by H&M
Sunnies by Tom Ford
Jeans by James Cured (as they are pretty much 99.9% of the time - they're the BEST jeans!)
Shoes by Converse All-Star

Outfit 2:
Grey and white striped cashmere sweater by Old Navy
Scarf by J. Crew
And the rest as above

And by the way, I just clicked through to your blog and you are a girl after my own heart. Your list of things you love could just as easily be titled Things Heather Loves. And your post about your nana's cookbook reminded me very much of one I wrote last December about my great aunt. Cooking and crying...

Caitlin said...

Your life sounds awesome, Heather! Glad you're getting your bean back. I love mine and agree that it is a perfect every day necklace.