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Beer and Other Indulgences in Belgium

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Brussels, Belgium was the first stop of our big fall trip, which takes us on a big loop through Europe.  Originally we were going to spend four days or so there, but then I found a beerfest in the Ardennes, and everything changed to accommodate that.  We had a local friend, so our first meal in Belgium was actually pulled-pork sandwiches at an Irish Bar, which is also the last meal she ate before returning to Brussels from living in San Francisco.  We still managed start the tour of Belgian beers at the Irish bar.  One of the fun things about Belgium is that every beer is served in its own glass – which leads to some crazy displays and glassware shelves at bars.  I tried to take pictures of them, but I was also enjoying the beer, so you can probably guess how that turned out…

We also managed to do a mini-walking tour in Brussels, which focussed mainly on the Grand Place and Le Mannequin Pis but was really all about the amazing chocolate shops in the downtown area.  They actually have costumes for the pissing boy, and change his outfit weekly.  Unfortunately when we saw him he was only wearing the birthday suit.  Here are some scenes from around Brussels:

 

I even got to eat my mussels in Brussels!  The best meal, however, was fries from a street vendor.  As we were walking toward the Grand Place for a free walking tour, I saw the stand and knew that was the best possible lunch that we could have!  And it was.  I got the classic fries with mayo, Todd got a gyro, and our friend Janelle got fries with curry ketchup and Bernaise sauce.  They had maybe 20 options for sauces, and the paper cones have a little compartment to put your dip of choice.

Although I’d happily go back to Brussels to buy chocolate and other specialities, my favorite part of the Belgium segment of our trip was actually our drive to the Ardennes.  We went for the beerfest, Brassigaume, which is for small-craft breweries in Europe.  But since most of the hotels nearby were full, we ended up at a little country inn in Arlon, which was at the end of a road where villagers constantly set off for hikes in the fields.  When we arrived, there were hot air balloons in the skies at sunset.  When we left the next morning, Todd captured beautiful pictures of the low mist on the fields and surrounds.

Although I liked the beers we sampled at the beerfest, what I really remember was the fork-tender perfectly braised roasted pig leg that Todd got for dinner.  It was cooked in a beer/cabbage braise, and somehow turned out to be the most amazing beerfood I’d ever eaten.  I had a braised wild boar served with a tart berry jam which was definitely tasty but had nothing on the pig.  The rest of the evening was spent meeting the other English-speakers in the crowd: a beer importer from Michigan, an American beerlover from Berlin, and a chatty British couple from whose conversational chase we barely escaped in order to get our last beers before the taps were shut off.

Along with the fun of drinking beer with hundreds of other beer-lovers, we also learned quite a bit about the Belgian craft beer market, which helped us greatly when we returned to Brussels and went to bars with thousands of beers on offer: Delirium and Sudden Death.  If you make it to Brussels and enjoy the beer, check these places out!

Happy Bayram!

This weekend is Kurban Bayram, or Eid Al-Adha, or the Great Sacrifice Holiday, in the Muslim world.  This is based on the biblical and Koran accounts of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son.  In the tradition of Abraham, each head of household sacrifices an animal.  One third of the meat is for eating during the holiday, one third is given to friends and family, and the last third is given to charity.  This ratio and what to do with the meat varies by tradition, but rest assured that the meat is generally eaten and not just killed. I guess it’s not much different than every American family eating a turkey or two for Thanksgiving, and there the meaning is a little more obscure.

Before the holiday, we saw a lot of signs advertising animal shares, where a bunch of brothers or friends go in together to get a bigger, fancier animal, like a cow.  As you can tell by the cartoons below, all of which basically say Happy Sacrifice Holiday, the common animals are either sheep or goat.

 

 

Ankara’s authorized killing fields are outside of the city.  Last night on the news I learned that the fee for killing an animal yourself, outside of the approved sanitary facilities, is 169 TL, which is about $73.  So, depending on your financial situation, it might be worthwhile to take the risk and just DIY.  A friend on facebook reported seeing lots of roadside sacrifices as she was touring the outskirts of the city today.  Thankfully I haven’t seen anything in my pleasant corner of Ankara.  I still remember the nauseating smell of the sheep being brought into Antalya, a resort town, days before the holiday two years ago.

Since the main purpose of the holiday has become charity, a lot of people choose to donate money instead of sacrificing an animal.

The other tradition of the holiday is to visit friends and family.  Today, this means take a vacation back to your hometown, or just take a vacation if you’re not so religious.  Like major holidays back in the States,  roads are busy and public transportation is both booked and more expensive over the holiday period.  From the news reporting on the country’s road situation, I also learned that police doing standard traffic stops are first offering chocolate, then getting to the business of discussing the fines.  It’s festive, right?

Bayram vacations

Bayram vacations

Since I have very few religious friends, I don’t have any personal experience with the holiday.  Last year I almost went to one of the sacrifice facilities with a friend’s dad, but decided on a vacation to a beach in the south instead.  Somehow I think I’ll always make the choice for sun over sacrifice.

Ironically, this year’s Kurban Bayram falls on the same day as World Animal Day.

 

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