Friday, February 26, 2010

Humility. I haz it.

In a fit of boredom, I got to flipping though the photos on Jason's iPhone and found some real gems of yours truly. You know, I think every girl looks her absolute best when eating and sleeping. Both of which, if these photos are to be believed, I do quite a lot of...

Hoo boy! Aren't I fetching in my finest 'Canes giveaway XXL Beefy-T, all elbow-deep into a bag of chips?

My goodness, I don't know how Jason managed to keep himself from climbing across that Chick-Fil-A table a deux and macking on that gorgeous mug. Git yo biscuit on girl!

Am I drooling onto my coat/pillow? Clearly, I'm too sexy for this airport bar.

Hello, hotstuff! Nerdy glasses, a hoodie...what guy wouldn't lose his mind walking in to find this in his bed? Come on girl, how 'bout me and you share some wifi?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gone country

Upon arrival at Manchester airport, the pre-arranged complimentary hotel shuttle was waiting curbside. The driver wasn't much help with the bags unfortunately; but he's shockingly good behind the wheel.

We were so looking forward to our relaxing weekend in a lovely hotel in the Cheshire countryside.

Er...or would that be shitty hostel in the middle of nowhere? Once a year, eh? I guess that's alright considering the proprietors of this lovely establishment slept on two twin beds which had been hastily pushed together when they visited us in Brussels. And especially since there were homemade chocolate peanut butter truffles on the pillows.

Well, I guess this might be retribution for the obnoxious abandoned alarm clock in the flat above ours that went off daily in the early morning hours during the aforementioned stay in Brussels.

Okay. That's it. I've seen some exorbitant mini bar prices in my day but this takes the cocktail.

After settling in (and recovering from the shocking conditions in which we were to spend the weekend), it was off to a country pub for some lunch. Sitting by the fire, noshing on bangers and mash, sipping was like a scene out of The Holiday. So cue the snow.

The only problem with watching big fat flakes fall outside the pub window is that eventually, you have to go out in it and attempt to drive home. It's not a good sign when your driver heads straight for the hatchback.

But we did make it back safe and sound eventually. And good thing too since our hosts had promised us an evening fit for visiting royalty. Or at the very least, fit for footballers and their WAGs... So we all got gussied up and scooted out the door into the snowy evening for the very short walk to the train station. Unfortunately we did not scoot quite fast enough since we saw our train pull into the station when we were only about half way there.

So we decided to wait for the next one while partaking in some refreshment at Phuze's local. Phuze tell us our fellow patrons aren't, you know, the classiest their village has to offer. But at least there were no "professional escorts" (that we knew of anyway).

Unlike dinner, where two girls take the table next to ours and all I can think is "Wow. That's a short skirt. Wow. That's a lot of makeup. Wow. They look like hookers." The rest of our table assures me that, indeed, they are working. I'm all "Noooooooo. For real? Are you guys serious?" And they're all "Yes. We're serious. Now quit staring before they send us a bill." Or as Suze hilariously put it on her blog, "Heather was the only one of us who didn't think the girls sitting on our right would give our husbands a blow job for a tenner, but thankfully she took my word".

Hookers or none, our Turkish dinner was ah-maz-ing.

The next day's weather was infinitely less wintry so we took advantage and hit the trails of Delamere Forest with Rocky the Wonder Dog.

I know many of my readers also read Suze's blog and will know what happened next. But for those who don't, I'll give a very short recap. Rocky meets another dog. They sniff and frolick and do what dogs do. The other dog's owner was ready to go and attempted to shoo Rocky grabbing him by the collar...around his neck. Rocky didn't appreciate being manhandled by a stranger and gave a growl. At which point the asshole kicked Rocky. Pretty hard. And that's about all I want to say about that because it makes me very angry to think about it.

I ask you, what sort of wanker would kick this pup?

Ok, so he is a bit of a napkin thief...

But come on! Look at that face!

We were all in a bit of shock but try to move on and enjoy the rest of our walk and subsequent pub lunch.

Later, back at Hostel del Phuze, the party really gets cranking. Pipe down, ladies!

Saturday evening was spent watching winter Olympics, eating, boozing and gaming. A very competitive game of Mr. & Mrs. (The Newleywed Game) ends unsatisfyingly in a draw. I blame it all on Ewan McGregor. Really I do. Jason and I owned the final round, with the exception of one solitary question. Which of the following names would your wife say she likes best? Oliver, Ewan, Robbie or some other British name that I can't currently recall.

Well, everyone knows that Ewan McGregor is the love of my life. Well, at least he was. Until some photos surfaced last week of him and some twinkie prancing around Paris. Which would be fine. If he hadn't been MARRIED TO EVE FOR THE LAST FIFTEEN YEARS. (Honestly you guys, I'm way more broken up about this than I have a right to be. I'm still hoping for some miracle explanation.)

So, this question should have been a slam dunk for us. But knowing all this, Jason did not choose Ewan. And since I am still holding out hope for that miracle explanation that will wash this horror away, I did choose Ewan. And there you have it. That's how Ewan McGregor cost me my victory dance.

And really, that's the tragedy. Because my victory dances are epic. And yet, we were all deprived of this special moment. Thanks a lot, Ewan.

Sunday morning dawned very white. Sometime during the night, about four inches of snow had fallen. And Jason Rocky could only take so much indoor play time.

So we borrowed some Wellies from the hotel's supply closet and all set off to play.

It didn't take long for a snowball fight to ensue. Nor did it take long for that smirk to be wiped off my face....

...with a snowball.

We thought Suze had had enough and was fashioning a giant snow ball to catapult at someone, but really, she was just starting work on a snow dog.

Err? Snow...bunny? I try to help by plopping a snowball on the bum for his "cottontail". Suze despairs.

Errr? Phil jumps in with some twigs for whiskers. Suze despairs further.

Woah! Okay already! We believe you! We believe you! No need to attempt to fashion some doggy "biscuits" in order to convince us.

So, snow bunnycatdog finally completed, Jason offers to take a family portrait. Little did they know, the Sangers had joined forces and prepared a surprise attack. Jason held the camera up while I formed a snowball behind my back. Instead of the typical "cheese", Jason had them say "Let me have it!", at which point I launched the grenade at the unsuspecting victims.

The looks on their faces are 100% real shock and awe at seeing a snowball hurtling towards their heads. Jason and I jumped around high fiving and screaming "Sangers rule!!!" for about an hour.

Finally though, it was time to go as we had one last fabulous meal planned for lunch. But not before some good old fashioned puddle stomping.

Phuze and Jaser 4EVA

Monday, February 22, 2010

And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of beer, I will fear no hangover

Part III: The exciting conclusion of the three-part series of Trappist Breweries and Monasteries, subtitled: For Thine is the Yeast, the Hops and the Malt Forever and Ever Amen.

If y'all recall, I mentioned in my first post on this topic that there were five Trappist breweries in Belgium. Well, hold on to your hats folks. We made an accidental discovery while having breakfast in Maastricht and doing some innocent research on the interwebs. There is also a Trappist monastery/brewery in Netherlands and another one that sits on the border of Belgium and Netherlands. Literally, the border runs right through the monastery! So, our goal of visiting all five Belgian Trappist breweries was scratched and it became our mission to make it all the world!

(Okay, so it helps that all seven are located in two neighboring countries and even more so that the one in Netherlands is pretty near the border and another one is actually on the border. But it sounds way more impressive to the world! So I'm going with that. If you've got a problem with it, file a complaint with management.)

(P.S. I'm the management. Gotcha.)

We plotted the three monasteries out on the iPhone and wouldn't you know, their locations formed a perfect little arc between Maastricht and Brussels. It was totally meant to be.

But before we get started, let's recap:
Stops 1-3; Orval, Rochefort and Chimay; are here.
Stop 4, Westvleteren, is here.
For stops 5-7, read on...

First up was Achel, the one on the border. I was the navigator and it was super fun to follow the little blue dot on my iPhone map, knowing the exact moment we crossed borders. It went something like this:
Netherlands, Netherlands, Netherlands, Netherlands, NetherlandsNetherlandsNetherlandsNetherlandsBELGIUM!

We were big fans of Achel. Very tasty.

In the courtyard of the brewery area...

Our offering to the church. (Where else can you make a donation and get a sixer in return??)

Here's my proof that I wasn't kidding about the border running right through the monastery. (Only trouble is, we don't know whether to file this place in Belgian Trappist or Netherlands Trappist.)

Next was La Trappe, truly in Netherlands. It was a pretty foggy and misty day but we didn't mind. It's kind of nice to visit a monastery on a day like this. It's very quiet and peaceful and the weather lends a certain je ne sais quoi, don't you think?

I loved the many many cycle racks outside the cafe (which is actually situated on the grounds). La Trappe sits right on a well-traveled cycle path so I imagine it's pretty full in the spring and summer.

A wee sample...

And another donation...

And on to our seventh and final stop, Westmalle. The monastery is at the end of a long walking path, surrounded by countryside.

Monastery number 7!

We kept trying to get a photo of ourselves but for some reason they kept coming out blurry. So Jason just held the camera out and started snapping photo after photo after photo in the hope that one of them would be good. I couldn't stand it anymore and just cracked up. But I love this pic. Even though it's still blurry (WHY?!? WHY, GOD, WHY?!?), this one was the keeper.

And cafe number 7! We made it, we made it, we made it!!!! Mission accomplished.

And with that, I leave you with a bit of food porn. I've you're a cheese lover and you've never had a croquette in Belgium, well...I hate to tell you but you've just not lived until you've tasted one of these puppies.

And I wonder why I feel like I've gained about 10 pounds since moving here. (I refuse to step on a scale to confirm my suspicions.)

Stand by for hilarious tales from our visit with Phuze...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Phuze Cruise

Tomorrow, we're off to visit our good friends Phuze. If it's anything like other good times spent with this lovely couple, we will return tired and hungover. But it will be totally worth it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cartoons on the walls!

Here I am, as promised, with another adventure starring Yours Truly and Mr. Yours Truly. On a weekend in the not-so-distant past, we embarked on a journey of three very different experiences. Here are the first two.

Part I: Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial

We had been talking about visiting one of the American military cemeteries here, being that we are pretty much living on the Western Front of WWI and in the epicenter of WWII. Thousands of US servicemen lost their lives in this part of the world, so it stands to reason that there are several memorials and cemeteries.

We chose the Ardennes American partly because it was on the way to where we were going but also because it appeared to have a really nice memorial chapel.

The night before we left for this trip, we were flipping channels and happened to come across an episode of Band of Brothers, in English no less. I think watching that made this an even more emotional experience. It really stirs up mixed me anyway.

Part of me is so sad to think of all the families and friends left behind when these men died fighting for the rights of others. But the other part of me is so proud of what they did here to drive the Nazis out and lift at least some of the oppression that was so rampant in western Europe.

Of the 5,329 soldiers buried here, most died in the 1944 Ardennes winter offensive, better known as Battle of the Bulge.

It was a very sobering experience and I'm glad we had the chance to visit. It really serves as a reminder of what was going on a mere 65 years ago.

But, we tuck this in our pockets and carry on....

Part II: Maastricht, Netherlands

Mid-morning. Arrive in Maastricht. Check in at the Hotel Beaumont. First impression: hip, cute, quirky boutique type of place. Get keys to our room. Walk into room.... Wait for it....

"WTF is this?!? It's a shoebox! I've been in bigger closets! No f-ing way!" I am displeased. And Jason, because he is the boy and that's what boys have to do, sets off to take care of it.

Result: Come back at 2:00 and they'll have a much bigger room in the historic part of the building waiting for us. I am pleased.

As per usual, we headed right for the market square because that's where the magic happens in most European towns.

Jason loved these whimsical sculptures and was begging me to get in the photo and "do something funny".

But I didn't feel like having my photo taken with all the pressure of coming up with something entertaining to do, so I ran away from the camera.

And I ran...

And I ran some more...

But then I was struck with inspiration so I obliged. A sort of Where's Waldo... (But I've included some helpful direction to assist with your search. You're welcome.)

Maastricht's very unusual red bell tower at Saint Jan church...

This old dog was standing guard over these doors like it was his job. Maybe it was his job? How do I know? He went into a frenzy barking at anyone who dared step too close. And scared the crap out of several unsuspecting tourists. We stood around watching this for a few minutes, snickering every time we saw people about to get barked at.

Jason had a theory that the dog wouldn't bark at him because of all the good energy he radiates. Dogs can apparently sense this sort of thing. (If Jerry Maguire taught us nothing else, it was that bees and dogs can smell fear. So if they can smell fear, why not other intangibles?) I told him he was crazy. That that dog was going to not only bark at him, but was going to clamp his jaws around Jason's ankle for being so cocky. Guess what. Damn if Jason wasn't right. Dog didn't even flinch.

We were stopped in our tracks by this pub. I mean, there were 2-D cartoons and a golden ostrich on the front! How can you resist such whimsy?

So of course we had to pop in. The interior was not a disappointment. Cartoons on the walls! (For some reason, this little tune popped into my head when I wrote that: Cartoons on the walls! Cartoons on the walls! Lookin' like a fool with cartoons on the walls! With peanuts on the tables, beers at the bar, cartoons on the walls, call yourself a cool cat, lookin' like a fool with cartoons on the walls!)

We stopped back by the hotel to check in to our new room and when we got upstairs and looked out at our view, we were just in time to witness some insane musical parade making its way out of a pub across the street. While I assume this has something to do with the upcoming Carnival celebrations, I don't know if they were "official" or not. Something tells me this motley crew just assembled themselves at the pub, brought costumes and instruments and decided to stage a parade.

And, well...any pub that spills impromptu parades out its doors is okay by us. So we headed over to check it out. More cartoons on the walls. Innerestin'.

Next, we had to make some Very Important Decisions.

If there was one photo that could capture the Netherlands, this would be it. Never ever have I seen a such a dense concentration of bicycles than in my travels to Amsterdam and Maastricht.

The market square at dusk...

And the riverside by night...

My only regret upon leaving Maastricht is that I never did figure out what this guy was looking at.

As I've hinted at, this particular weekend had much more in store. But I'll save that for another post. Part III: coming soon.