Monday, December 21, 2015

Monk Beers and Luxembourg


As you know by now, John’s goal is to visit every country. Well today we knocked another one off of the list. Luxembourg is a teeny-tiny country squeezed in between Belgium, Germany, and France. It’s about a two-hour drive drive south-east of Brussels.

But of course we didn’t just drive straight there. Our first stop was Rochefort, Belgium. The rental car guy suggested we stop here to try their “famous” stinky cheese. However, upon further investigation, I think he must’ve been confused. The famous cheese is Roquefort cheese from the south of France. The Rochefort cheese we tried today is made by Belgian monks and doesn’t really have an odor. Oh well! It was fun visiting the Belgian cheese shop and John got to witness my mad French skills.

[Getting out of Brussels was a little hectic. Our rented GPS didn't seem to like all the buildings and really sucked at getting a signal.]

Leaving Rochefort, we wound through the Belgian countryside and past some itty-bitty towns. We eventually ended at Orval Abbey, a monastery known for brewing beer. It was originally built in 1132 but was destroyed during the French Revolution. It was reconstructed around 1926. It was then that the monks started brewing beer to help pay for the construction. We wandered around the grounds, took a peek inside a beer brewing exhibit, and explored the ruins. And of course we couldn’t leave without buying a couple of beers.

[I think we must have missed the part where they explained what the deal is with the fish. Luckily Wikipedia has it covered:  

"There is a legend of the abbey's foundation, purporting to explain the name '"Orval" and the coat of arms. According to this, the widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was visiting the site, when she lost her wedding ring in a spring, to her great distress. When she prayed for the return of the ring, a trout appeared on the surface of the water with the ring in its mouth. She exclaimed "Truly this place is a Val d'Or (Golden Valley)", from which the name "Orval" is derived, and in gratitude made available the funds for the foundation of the monastery here. The abbey arms show the trout and ring. The spring still supplies water to the monastery and its brewery."]

[A fish ring faucet.]

[Those pesky French. "In 1637, during the Thirty Years' War, the abbey was pillaged and burnt by French mercenaries" AND "in 1793, during the French Revolution, the abbey was completely burnt down by French forces, in retaliation for the hospitality it had provided to Austrian troops, and the community dispersed."]

[I was like yes yes, rich history, life of quiet prayer. Where's the beer though?]

[Driving on the Belgian highway was a bit annoying because both sides of the road were always lined with trees, which blocked our view of anything. Boring. It was pretty windy though, and we passed several wind farms, so I wonder if the trees are there as a windbreaker.]

We drove another hour and ended in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. It was way more crowded and hectic than I anticipated. I expected Luxembourg to be similar to Europe’s other small country, Liechtenstein, where we visited earlier this year. However, that was not the case! After circling the city a few times, we found a parking spot, and ditched the car. We parked far enough away that we had to take a bus back to the city-center. We wandered down some shopping streets and wound up at a Christmas market. There were Christmas-themed rides, booths selling Christmasy crafts, and a lot of food. We drank a couple of Gluhweins to warm up and took a peek at the offerings. We also snacked on some fries and bratwursts.

[It's Gluhwein! The Christmasy hot wine that thankfully tastes nothing like it sounds.]

[This was like that carnival game where you pick a duck and get the prize indicated, except they were all Christmas ornaments. Fun!]

[Why's the DO NOT PEE sign gotta be in English first? Racists.]

On our way back to the bus, we happened upon a free art exhibit. Free! We couldn’t pass that up. Inside we found contemporary art pieces by European artists. My favorites were some works done completely in ballpoint pen. Very interesting.

[I asked the guard if I could take pictures of the artworks and he mimed something in French, about like I could take a picture of Lydia standing in front of a painting but not a painting by itself? I was confused so I just didn't mess with it.]

Unfortunately, when we got back to Brussels, it was cold and rainy. After waiting 15 minutes for a bus, and walking to our hotel, we were done. We grabbed a few snacks from the hotel lobby and called it a day.

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