Thursday, September 29, 2016

london via forest gate

From our stay in Nottingham, we headed down to London for a couple weeks in an East London area called Forest Gate. We were housing sitting a cute black cat named Lola. The first thing we noticed about our new neighborhood was that every other shop was a curry shop – so we were in heaven.

Lola in all her cat glory.

After getting settled in, we took the tube into the heart of London for some good ol’ fashioned site seeing. On first excursion happened to line up with one of Andrew’s friend’s mom's stay in London, and we met up with her for lunch. After a tasty meal we headed over to Trafalgar Square where we went to the National Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. After feeling very artsy, we met up with Maggie’s uncle for a quick drink before meeting up with one of Maggie’s writer friends and her husband for dinner. It was a very social day for two people who hadn’t seen many familiar faces in awhile, so we loved it.

Trafalgar Square

Nelson overlooking Big Ben.

Out for a fun lunch in London.

Maggie posing with Big Ben.

Always fun to make new friends.

The rest of our stay in London involved some days of working and eating curry in Forest Gate, while other days we’d head into the city for some work and sightseeing. The weather was just turning from summer to fall, so the temperatures were perfect to be outside. 

A church with a graveyard right by our place in Forest Gate.

You could barley read this tombstone had it not been for the moss growing in the small grooves of the letters.

Beautiful London canals.

One of the things Andrew really wanted to do while we were in London was to eat some Jellied Eels. Why? Because the last time we were in London, we were staying right by an eel and pie shop and we never stopped in – and Andrew regretted it. Looking online we saw we were close to another eel and pie shop that had been in existence for generations, so we weren’t going to miss it this time. In general Jellied Eels are okay, they kind of taste like fish, but it’s the jelly that can turn you off a bit. We ate one eel straight out of the jelly and then took the rest home and fried them up for dinner.

Jellied eel with pie and liquor.

Our stay in London also lined up with Andrew’s birthday, so one whole day was spent doing whatever he wanted, which turned out to be drinking absinthe around the city. After many stops for a quick drink, our bottle was empty and it was time for dinner. We ended right by London’s Chinatown, and since Andrew’s a big sucker for Chinese food, we went out for a grand feast of Chinese. During our dinner, there were a group of American ladies next to us who were surprised to hear about the length of our trip. They said how most people wait for retirement to do things like that and how great it was that we were doing it now – we told them that was the plan.

Lola reenacting the label to our absinthe (no cats drank absinthe during the taking of this photo)

The best place to drink absinthe is always in a graveyard.

St. James park is a gem in central London.

Andrew enjoying a Chinese meal on his birthday.

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.