Saturday, September 17, 2016

warhammer world- er... i mean nottingham

After our Belgium road trip, it was off to England. Before going to London, we made a trip up to the city of Nottingham. It was a very cute city with lots of friendly people, but the city wasn't the reason we'd come. Andrew is a big Warhammer fan, and Nottingham is where it's headquartered. It is also were they have Warhammer World, a place devoted to the fans of Warhammer. There you can drink Warhammer beer, play Warhammer games and go through a museum of Warhammer. We spent the whole day there, with Andrew geeking out while Maggie worked in the Bugman's Bar (a place for the spouses of Warhammer geeks to amuse themselves).

It was a Saturday, so the place was full of gamers playing Warhammer on fifty some tables. In the museum, there were well painted version of their minis, but also giant dioramas, some with over five thousand minis in them. It was quite impressive and Andrew spent hours perusing the museum and taking pictures.

We walked along the canal from the city of Nottingham to Warhammer World.

Andrew outside of Warhammer World.

Some amazingly well painted Space Marines in the museum.

A giant diorama with 5,500 minis in it.

One tiny portion of the above diorama.
Nottingham is also the city of Robin Hood, and as we learned, the city of caves. There are hundreds of man-made caves dotting the area. The surrounding geography is an easy-to-cut limestone and until the eighteen hundreds, if you had a shovel, you could dig yourself a home, a cellar, or even a bowling alley. It is also home to the oldest bar in England, the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. It's rumored to have been built around 1100 as a place for pilgrims to stop before heading off on the Crusades. It too is carved into the limestone, as well as being supposedly haunted. It has a toy-sized galleon that hasn't been cleaned in three hundred years because the first three people to clean it died in quick and horrible ways. The galleon is now surrounded in plexiglass so no one else can clean it, but it looked to have a few hundred years of dust on it before the covering was put on.

Andrew enjoying a beer in a carved out room in the Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

road trip belgium

When thinking about the things we wanted to do in Europe this time around, one of our high priorities was making it to Belgium and Luxembourg. Andrew's parents had done a road trip around Belgium a few years ago and it seemed like a great way to see the smaller breweries that freckled the country. So we rented a car in Paris and made our way north to the country that's the only oasis of good beer in the otherwise barren land of Europe.

French countryside on our way to Belgium (from the car window).
Our first stop was in southern Belgium in the town of Bouillon. They beer was called Godfred in honor of Godfrey of Bouillon who was a knight in the first Crusade who became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. We were there on a Sunday and a mountain bike race was going on. The streets were packed with cars and people on mountain bikes. We only stayed in the idyllic valley for a drink, before heading of to our next destination, Rochefort.

City of Bouillon.
Rochefort is the closest city to the Rochefort Abbey, where they brew the Rochefort Trappist beer. A Trappist beer is a beer made at a Trappist monastery, but there are only ten in the world, eight of which are in Belgium. It came in a 6, 8 & 10, with the numbers relating to their alcohol content, and once again the theory was proven: more alcohol, more taste.

Maggie enjoying a Rochefort 10 in Rochefort.
The next day we left Belgium for a quick foray into Luxembourg. The reason we went to Luxembourg was not because of the city. Don't get us wrong, the city was really great. It sat on a plateau above the surrounding land and was known as the most defensible spot in all of northern Europe of a thousand years - it's a very awesome city, almost like a Monaco of the north. But the real reason we went there was so Andrew could meet one of his favorite professional cyclists: Andy Schleck. Andy had to retire from cycling a few years ago because of a knee injury, but since then he had opened up a bike shop in Luxembourg, and the word on the street was that he actually worked at the shop. There had been a fire, and the shop had been closed for six weeks, but it was having its grand reopening on the day we were in Luxembourg.

Andrew meeting Andy Schleck. We actually talked to him for a while and he was the nicest guy. In the background is the bike he won the Tour de France on.

The gorge below the old city of Luxembourg, and also the location of our hotel, so we had a steep hike up to the city.

On our way to the fortified city, with Andrew looking back down at our hotel.

A view from the other side of the old city. It's a peninsula of high ground because of a river the winds around it.

 The next day after our short stay in Luxembourg, it was back to Belgium, and back to the beer. Our first stop was at the Brasserie D'Achouffe. It's a very popular beer in Belgium and has a wonderful brewery hidden in a deep valley. Their mascot is a elf picking hops and the place feels like somewhere elves would make beer.
To D'Achouffe we go.
 From D'Achouffe, we headed to Durbuy, known as the smallest town in the world. It's another old defensible town built in the middle ages, and it hasn't changed much since. It has tight little streets and old stone buildings, as well as it's own brewery (Durbuyose).

The tight streets of Durbuy

Our car on the road in Belgium.
We had heard that Brussels was a fun town and decided to stay there for two nights - and we were very happy we did. We loved Brussels--it felt like a mix of Paris and Berlin. There we old ornate buildings interspersed with modern clean buildings. And the beer... even the smallest of beer stores will have a selection of a hundred beers. The bars are even more amazing. Some bars have fifty beers on tap and a selection of hundreds of bottles - and they are all good. Bars in Belgium have another funny quirk: they will only serve a beer out of its own specific glass from its brewery. So those hundreds of beers a bar has? They each have their own glass. If someone else is drinking that beer, you just have to wait until they're done! Brussels is a beer-lover's paradise, and a city we will for sure be going back to.

Every Belgium beer has a particular glass its beer comes in. Meaning most bars have hundreds of different glasses.

This statue of a little boy peeing (called the Manneken Pis) is the most famous sight in Brussels. For some reason. Here, Andrew is joining the Manneken Pis in relieving himself. There is a whole committee in Brussels that changes his outfit every day.

Maggie enjoying a Belgian waffle with ice cream.

Drinking some great beers in Brussels' amazing city center. The city really is beautiful.

Andrew playing Pokemon in another epic place in Brussels.
On our way out of Brussels, we stopped at the Cantillon brewery. It is one of the two places in the world still make beer with a process called wild fermentation, meaning they just open the windows and let wild yeast blow in to get the beer making process going. It was how all beers were made a few hundred years ago, and now their Lambic is one of the last. It's a bitter beer that is the missing link between wine and beer.

Lambic brewing in barrels in the roof of the brewery.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

paris at night

Paris is a city made for the night, and it doesn't let down. All of the amazing buildings around town are lit to make them even more stunning.

We were also able to meet up with quite a few friends while we were there. Maggie knew someone from USC who was living in Paris with her French husband and we met up with them and their friends a few times, and also spent some fun nights out with our friends from Albuquerque.

The Louvre at dusk.

Andrew battling Pokemon in the most epic of locations.

Dinner on the river with Maggie's friend and her husband's French buddies.

Us finally doing some karaoke.

Montmarte at night.

The Sacré-Cœur at the top of Montmarte.

Us with the Albuquerque friends outside our neighborhood bar, Le Galway Pub.

Notre Dame at night.

What happens when you drop your keys in the Seine--this guy actually got in the water to fish his keys out.

After six weeks in Paris, it was finally time for us to go. We were sad, but we had had a go with the town, and we were ready to move on.

Our last night there we ate on the bridge that used to be covered in padlocks to symbolize the locking of people's love. The locks are now gone because they were afraid that their combined weight might collapse the bridge.

Leaving our hood for the last time.

Monday, August 29, 2016

anniversary in paris

Our wedding anniversary happened to fall during our time in Paris, so we decided to go on a dinner river cruise. We selected our favorite boat, which we knew because while eating on the river, we had seen all of them pass by, and this one was by far the coolest-looking. Most were very modern, while this one had gas lamps and a vintage feel. When we saw that it got great reviews, and had a captain who had hand picked the decor from his travels around the world, we knew it was for us.

The first thing that sold Andrew on this boat was the Monkey King figurehead.

On the way to dinner.

Our view for dinner--the rain pattering on the glass made it especially atmospheric.

Passing the Louvre. The clouds parted just as the sun was going down, giving us amazing views.

Happy boy.

Happy girl. 

Coming up on the Eiffel Tower.

The captain timed it just right to go by the Eiffel Tower right when it was doing its hourly light show.

The boat had great funky overhead lights (and Maggie kept making Andrew pose for photos with the things we went by outside...)

The food was really good, and the views were even better. We couldn't believe it when we got back to the dock--the nearly three hours had gone by in a flash. Definitely a very memorable Paris experience!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

paris in the summer... part 2

Our favorite thing to do in Paris is dining by the river, but we also spent some evenings in the other neighborhoods we like around Paris. One of our favorite places is Montmartre, which is on a hill overlooking Paris. It's the stomping ground of Hemingway, Dali and the Fitzgeralds, so naturally it's a great place to be an artist.

A funny statue right below our favorite Park in Montmartre to have a picnic.

Montmartre has a great old cemetery that we visited a few times. Like most Paris cemeteries, it's all above ground crypts - which makes for great scenery. Unlike New Orleans' cemeteries though, the Paris crypts are mostly little cathedrals where family members can come and pray. There is amazing artistry that goes into these (stained-glass, gargoyles, busts), and some of them had to cost a fortune, but I'm glad they paid because the Paris cemeteries are some of the most magnificent in the world. Beyond just walking through the rows and rows of crypts, we came equipped with our computers and did some work. It was actually a very peaceful place in the busy Montmartre neighborhood to find a quite bench and do some work (and since Jim Morrison isn't buried there, there are a lot fewer tourists walking around).
Paris loves their neighborhood numbers, so even the cemetery is broken up into arrondissements.
Weeping women is a common motif for graves.
 Besides Montmartre, we also kept going to our regular places on the river. We even stopped a few times at the Louvre for a dinner on their amazing stretches of grass.

It was starting to turn into Autumn while we were there, which created many great photo ops.

A shot from the other side of the river of the place we ate dinner at the most, right at that point in the center.

With Luxembourg Gardens so close, it was hard not to be drawn there for the occasional lunch.

Our favorite fountain at Luxembourg Park.

The stuff inside the Louvre gets all the attention, but the outside is just as amazing.
 Towards the end of our stay, some friends of ours came to stay with us for a week... and they bore gifts of the most glorious kind: Andrew's favorite salsa from Albuquerque, Los Cuates. So we had to have some photo ops with it in some of the iconic parts of Paris.

Los Cuates on the Seine.

Los Cuates at the Eiffel Tower
Our friends being in town also gave us a great opportunity to do something we hadn't done yet: be touristy. It's not that we're opposed to it, it's just not what we do when we're in a city for a longer period of time. So when they arrived, we put on our Hawaiian shirts (metaphorically) and headed to the sights.

Something we had never done and really wanted to was the Catacombs. We tried to visit one other time, but we got there too late and the line was too long. This time we headed out early and still were in a huge line. They only let 45 people in at once, so the line goes slowwww. We stood there for around two hours before getting in, but once we were in, it was worth it. They say some 6 million Parisians are down there and we could believe it. The well-stacked bones you see in the pictures are just the retaining walls for the mounds and mounds of broken bones behind them. All the skulls, and the fact that you are 600 meters below the surface, makes the whole experience very creepy.

On the way to the Catacombs.

A normal hallway in the Catacombs.

Femurs and skulls seemed to be the easiest to stack, and they made designs of them.

While Andrew had been to Versailles, Maggie had not, so we took the train out to the city of Versailles and spent a day walking around one of the most opulent palaces in the world.

The gates were torn down during the French Revolution to symbolize the end of the 'us and them.' But then they decided they didn't really like "them" after all, and they needed the gates back.

The entrance to the Palace

Andrew had to take a picture of a monkey riding a goat. (The statue is called, fittingly, "Monkey Riding a Goat")

The ceiling of the cathedral inside the Palace is as amazing as the Sistine Chapel.

Maggie got many good DIY ideas at the Versailles. She now wants to do this to our fireplace.

The Hall of Mirrors.

One of Versailles' many garden areas.

Maggie and Andrew hanging at Marie Antoinette's old stomping grounds.

Never ones to pass up an opportunity to go to the Musée d'Orsay, we went one last time.

Maggie looking out the clock.

Maggie contemplating some more DIY ideas.

Andrew informed Maggie that these are the sideburns he wants when he gets old.

Andrew's second favorite statue in the world, after David of course. It's of a child Saint Jean-Baptiste by Paul Dubois, and feels like it should come to life at any moment.
Something we had wanted to do for awhile was to go to a Mass at Notre Dame. Since we could literally hear Notre Dame's bells from our place, we knew this would be a dumb time to pass up that opportunity.

Just heading to Church.

For being such a famous church in the center of Paris, we thought there would be more people...
We've now done Mass at the Vatican and at Notre-Dame. Not bad for non-religious people...