Tag Archives: beer

In Belgium: the Ever-alluring Town called Bruges

bruges
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Andrew Hickey, a.k.a The Brooklyn Nomad, is into “Movies That Make You Want To Travel,” and he finds that In Bruges is one such movie. Along with the Matador site, where we found this, Hickey’s travel writing has been published by USA Today and The New York Times, among many others. Here, he unleashes his inner Siskel&Ebert, with an appreciation of a number of movies, based on their alluring backdrops. He names the feature films that made him want to visit Barcelona, Las Vegas, Tuscany, Provence, London, Dublin, Tokyo, and more. So anyway, back to Bruges. Hickey says:

If you can not have a good time in Belgium then something is seriously wrong with you. A place that is known for some of the best chocolate and beer on the planet? Perfect!

Ah yes, the chocolate. It’s said that one of the best places to find it is in the city’s famous Christmas Markets. The staff of Travelbite gives us the locations of Belgium’s four chocolate museums — one in Bruges, of course — along with some fascinating history. Examiner Susan Fogwell delineates the attractions of Belgian confections in what amounts to a lyrical piece of choco-porn. (You must be over 18 to view the page.) The author is a flight attendant and, naturally, a farflung traveler.

In The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin Dolgin calls this one of the most beautiful little cities in northern Europe, and recommends taking a carriage ride. We hear that the canal boat rides aren’t bad, either. Legend says a German general who was ordered to destroy Bruges in WWII refused to. Now there’s a war hero. Anyway, it’s one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and, some say, a little too well supplied with tourists. Well, how would they know, unless they were tourists, too? Hmmmm?

Kevin’s memoir of Bruges is titled “Les frites de la liberté,” which means Freedom Fries, and that’s what it’s mainly about. In this neck of the woods, the claim to fame made by frites is that they are served with more condiments than you’ve ever heard of.

But wait, there’s more, and no, we’re not talking about beer, although the brews of Belgium are well worth talking about. A traveler known as Velo Swiss says, “Bruges is also known for a soothing tonic called Leffe, which did take the edge off a long day.”

Bonus question: On your desert island, if you could have only one Belgian treat, would it be chocolate, beer, or fried potatoes?

photo courtesy of by Wolfgang Staudt, used under this Creative Commons license

Ireland: Communication, Imram and Beer

slea head irelandBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today we take as our text one of the recent contributions of Kevin Dolgin to the annals of travel writing. This narrative is found at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and its title, “The Best Pint of Guinness in Dublin,” is self-explanatory. It’s all about visiting with members of one of the most loquacious of all ethnic groups, the Irish, in their native haunts. This was done on the advice of a cab driver, whose considered opinion was that the most Irish characteristic is communication — particularly the kind carried on over a measure of excellent brew. Actually, the more measures, the better. But first, Dublin must be navigated — and here’s how Kevin describes the venerable city:

It’s made of bricks: the buildings, the sidewalks, everything is made of brick. I find brick cities to be cold, industrial. You expect to see Charlie Chaplin skittering around the corner with a bevy of incompetent cops running after him.

Confiding in the barman that they are in search of the best pint of Guinness in Dublin, Kevin and his friend are promised they’ve come to the right place, because of an elusive factor called the “sharp draw.” Indeed, it is an article of faith among the Irish that their Guinness will have a different taste, depending on the architecture, fittings, and ambiance of each particular pub. Various other bars are recommended, and as the two seekers journey on, helpful bystanders recommend yet more not-to-be-missed watering holes, including one housed in a former morgue. As the Irish communication skills blossom, the writerly note-taking diminishes, and the details of the last few stops are a bit blurry, except for a sudden return of awareness re: an interesting vending machine in the gents’.

Now, we must not get the idea that Ireland is all kegs and drafts. Remember the communication aspect? For that, you’ve also got your literary festivals, a roaring great crowd of them. Poetry Ireland, for example, offers a complete roundup of all Irish poetry festivals throughout the year. July saw the 11th West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry, only one of many such cultural gatherings. The granddaddy of them all, at 18 years, is the Aspects Irish Literature Festival that occurs in Northern Ireland, not far from Belfast, whose mission is “firstly to promote exclusively Irish writing in all its forms.” Declan Burke outlines the past and future prospects of the crime novel as an element of the Irish lit fest in “Plots of crime masterminds” at the Irish Independent. As the host of “Crime Always Pays”, a blog dedicated to Irish crime writing, Burke has the whole scene covered.

Upcoming is the 6th Dromineer Literary Festival, to be held from October 1st to 4th in County Tipperary. It’s probably a bit late to arrange for attendance at “Let Me Take You To The Island,” namely Rathlin Island, a lovely spot in the Irish Sea near Ballycastle, or to make it to Dublin’s IMRAM Irish Language Literature festival, which is in progress even as we speak — but keep them in mind for next year. This IMRAM bash is beyond eclectic, with such offerings as “the Russian poets of the Silver Age translated into Irish and English,” and the Dylan Project (Dylan Thomas, not Bob Dylan). The imram, by the way, is a rowing voyage, sort of a pilgrimage or walkabout, only by sea. In the tradition of the Celts, it’s also an inner voyage to the realms of vision and dreams. In fact, imram designates a whole genre of Irish literature.

That festival is not to be confused with the Immrama Literary Festival, which in June drew 4,000 travelers to Lismore, County Waterford. “Rory Maclean literally blazed the Hippie Trial taking his audience from Istanbul to Kathmandu and on to Burma and Russia, his presentation ‘Creating a Traveller’s Tale’,” reads part of the gathering’s description, and in fact the focus of this particular festival is on travel writing.

But for those who avoid both communication and festival multitudes, here’s a bit of Ireland whose praises are sung by John G. O’Dwyer: An Daingean, or Dingle, a windswept part of the western coast with no golf courses or luxury hotels. (The photo on this page is Slea Head.) According to O’Dwyer, “It is often said that the Irish countryside is a giant storybook seeking readers.” He says it, and a lot more besides, in The Irish Times.

photo courtesy of Frankensteinnn, used under this Creative Commons license

Brussels Celebrities: Boxer Shorts and Peeing Boy

mannekin pisBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Brussels, says Rick Steves in the pages of The Seattle Times, is one of the great travel secrets of Europe. He goes on to illustrate why, with such examples as:

Belgian fries (“frites”) taste so good because they’re deep-fried twice – once to cook, and once to brown. The locals dunk them in mayonnaise, especially delicious if the mayo is flavored with garlic. My favorite budget meal in Brussels is having simple pub grub in an atmospheric old pub with a gaggle of “beer pilgrims,” who’ve flocked here from around the world…

Which is all very nice, but what made our ears prick up was a mention of the stone mascot of Brussels, the Mannekin Pis statue, located near the Town Hall. Steves informs us that its extensive wardrobe comes from all over the world, as various cities send costumes as gifts, which are displayed in the City Museum. How do they get the right measurements? But that’s neither here nor there.

The astute reader has noticed that certain themes run through the work of Kevin Dolgin and thus, through this column. Statues are one of those themes, and he has written about this archetypal piece of functional sculpture. In The Third Tower Up From the Road, he advises:

Plan on spending a good 12 minutes at the statue of Manneken Pis, a minuscule bronze of a small boy peeing into a fountain … if you’re lucky he’ll be dressed up as anything from a medieval pikeman to Elvis Presley. The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.

When they’re not dressing the thing up in goofy costumes, they’re stealing it. Over the centuries, seven Mannekin Pis thefts have stained the city’s honor. Like any urban hero worthy of the name, the peeing boy is the subject of much folklore. It seems there once was an aristocratic toddler, protected from battle by soldiers who stashed him in a tree, from which he peed on the enemy troops. Or, not from a tree, peed on the fuse of the dynamite planted by the enemy at the city wall. Or merely got lost, and everybody in town helped look for the kid, and he was found doing you-know-what, and his rich dad commissioned the statue in honor of the boy’s safe return. Please, feel free to make up your own Mannekin Pis legend and send it to us.

The locals really get into the spirit of things, with ceremonies where beer is pumped through you-know-where and handed out to passers-by (there’s a joke in there somewhere) to the accompaniment of live brass band music. This is definitely worth the trip. You might think that one Mannekin Pis would be enough, but no, the darn things are all over the place. Several other Belgian towns have their own, and in one of them he’s known as Il Gamin Quipiche. In France, they call him Le Petit Julien. The town of Tokushima, Japan, has a peeing boy statue that was presented to it by the thoughtful folks at the Belgian embassy. Even Rio de Janeiro has one. And that’s not even counting the millions of Mannekin Pis lawn ornaments all over the globe, perhaps even more numerous than garden trolls.

While Kevin implies that the peeing boy is one of only three tourist attractions in Brussels, this is clearly an underestimation. The city boasts many fine cultural destinations, including the Celebrity Underwear Museum, as we learn from SpiegelOnline, in an article that must be read to be believed. The museum was founded by a manic and rather infamous artist named Jan Bucquoy. Apparently the collection’s piece de resistance is… a pair of boxer shorts once worn by a finance minister. Like Kevin says, “The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.”

photo courtesy of fiona bradley, used under this Creative Commons license

Europe + Beer = Energy + Fun

bar

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas H. Maugh II alerted the public to the discovery of the world’s oldest known musical instrument and no, it isn’t Willy Nelson’s guitar. (There is no real good segue into this, but you should know that Maugh has written way more than 1,000 articles for the Los Angeles Times.) The artifact we’re talking about here is a 35,000-year-old flute, which is not in cherry condition. In fact, it’s only a partial flute, found in 12 pieces, and they don’t all add up. Nevertheless, someone in the distant past drilled deliberate holes in a griffon vulture bone, in such a way as to make it into a wind instrument. Maugh says:

Excavated from a cave in Germany, the nearly complete flute suggests that the first humans to occupy Europe had a fairly sophisticated culture, complete with alcohol, adornments, art objects and music that they developed there or even brought with them from Africa when they moved to the new continent 40,000 years or so ago.

They found a couple of ivory instruments, too, left there eons ago by folks who “drank beer, played flute and drums and danced around…” Remind you of anyone? Only everyone you know! The difference between our great-great-greats and us is that we have a lot more varieties of beer to choose from. For instance, there’s one called St-Feuillien that people just rave about. It’s a $10 bottle of brew described as a “delicate, exquisite gourmet beer” by Paul Hightower in the Examiner, and there’s a legend behind it, too.

Beer-making is adaptable to environmental and ecological best practices, and it’s a darn good thing, because nobody’s going to quit making the stuff any time soon. At Inventorspot, Myra Per-Lee looks into the use of beer waste as an alternative energy source. A guy named Wolfgang Bengel of the BMP Biomasse Projekt says he’s figured out a way to make beer byproducts into fuel that will power the breweries. Each cycle would recapture 50% of the energy, or something. Apparently, he’s already done similar feats in Thailand and China. It sounds great. This isn’t a totally new concept, however. Anheuser-Busch has been doing a similar thing in its United States breweries, says Leslie Guevarra at Reuters.

We have it on good authority (Rick Steves of Tribune Media Services) that there are over 300 varieties of Belgian beer alone, and that’s not counting all the rest of Europe. In Brussels, there’s a bar called Delirium where they have more kinds of beer than anybody. Really, it’s certified by the Guinness World Record people. As of 2004, anyway. Who knows where the current record holder may be? That’s one of the things that beer pilgrims go to Europe to investigate!

photo courtesy of Experiencias de viagem de 1 Brasileiro
, used under this Creative Commons license

Beer and Cider, France Has Both

sagres

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today’s visiting expert is Caroline Morton, who is in charge of the UK branch of the Food and Drink Department of France. In a piece called “French Trade Commission to showcase Beer and Cider from across the Channel,” Morton tells us that on July 2, 2009, her department will host a beer and cider tasting event in London. Convivial gatherings of this type often foster international understanding and accord, as well as the opportunity to set out some proud facts, such as the ones Morton cites here:

In 2007, France produced 15.1 million hectolitres of beer, of which 1.8 million were exported. Beer is produced in many regions of France, from Corsica to the Alps. French cider, on the other hand, is mainly produced in the west and north-west of France. In 2007, France exported 266,726 hectolitres of cider, of which 67,733 were sold in the United Kingdom.

How’s that for cooperation between two nations so long and so frequently at war over the centuries?

One of the trade show exhibitors, Brasserie du Mont Blanc, makes beer from Mont Blanc glacier meltwater. Another beer exhibitor is Brasserie Pietra, which creates a specialty beer tinctured with fragrant herbs from the wild vegetation called maquis that covers the Corsican highlands. Another of this brewer’s specialties is one understandably called Pietra, which is made with chestnuts along with malts and hops, but no chemicals. The chestnuts come from Corsica’s Castagniccia Forest, a beautiful place in an island full of beautiful places.

In the Columbia Basin Herald (Washington State, USA), staff writer Matthew Weaver tells us about an entrepreneur who makes dried and roasted chestnut chips available to home brewers through the mail. It’s not only that chestnut beer is considered delicious by its many fans. There’s a great social benefit in action here. In the United States today, one out of every 133 people is gluten-intolerant, and that is a real miserable condition to have. Chestnut beer can be enjoyed by the gluten-intolerant, and for that discovery, we have Corsica to thank.

By strange coincidence, Corsica is a place for which Kevin nourishes a very great fondness, as demonstrated by that region’s near-ubiquity in the pages of The Third Tower Up from the Road. He tells us of a town near his home in France, where a shop called l’Epicerie de Longeuil is “the store Ali Baba would have founded if he had been a grocer.” It’s an old family business and, although the French as a rule abhor root beer, this store carries it. He also reveals in the book that he doesn’t particularly like Corsican chestnut beer.

France makes a lot of good cider, too.

Sagres photo courtesy of *madalena-pestana* – half of me , used under this Creative Commons license

Glass photo courtesy of russelljsmith , used under this Creative Commons license