Saturday, 27 November 2010

Beer tasting notes

Inspired by Phil's Beer Diary blog, I decided I should take notes and photograph the beers I tasted in Brussels. Not only will this post make my brother Wayne drool in jealousy, who knows, perhaps this could be my next income. Special note should go to Lee, who drank what I couldn't finish.

: On tap, The Corbeau, 13/11/10. My random pick on our random tour of the city.
A strange tasting beer a sweet , round taste and a dark coloured beer. Smells like apple cider. Wheat beer smell. One glass is enough. Light sourness.

On a Friday and Saturday night, the place becomes packed to the point of dancing on tables. Good thing they are sturdy tables.

Bush beer: 250ml, 12%, 13/11/10. Bottle, with dinner of moules (mussels) for me and steak and chips for Lee, plus a double serve of deep-fried soft cheese (the first one was so good, we ordered a second).
Honey, smooth for 12% syrupy over tongue, finishes with subtle beer kick.
Lee comment, "Beer is good" (this after finishing the 250ml bottle).

Grimbergen (not sure which one?): On tap, a final beer before catching the train home, 14/11/10.
Very wheaty. Starts sweet, long wheatiness and short, subtle tang to finish.

There you go - not the same style, length or detail as Phil's posts, but that's what I thought. Once again, I have added a whole new style of post to this blog - just like a box of chocolates really. I'm really looking forward to tasting the 10 that Lee brought home from Beer Planet.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Waffles, chocolate and beer - a weekend in Belgium

I love Brussels. It has been my favourite European city so far, although our trip to Estonia came close. Saturday morning we set out early on the Eurostar for Brussels. On arrival, we went straight to our 4 star hotel (which was only 15 pounds with the train tickets). From there we headed back into town to explore. Lunch was a delicious fresh baguette with tomato and mozzarella.

The highlight of our trip was found Saturday afternoon, which we chanced upon down one of the numerous disorienting lanes.
Use-it was a free space for young visitors. It had 4 computers and free wi-fi plus a bunch of maps annotated by locals. It was completely free and sponsored by the Flemish government. The best part though, was a free tour by a local. The length of the tour was entirely negotiable, depending on the guide's mood and the group itself. Ours lasted about 3 hours including a beer stop on the way. We saw the back end of places, we saw a little known artist market (reminded me of Fitzroy), we were tested on our local knowledge, given tips on where to eat and where not to eat (tourist prices) and were told local advice such as, don't bother going to the Atomium or little Europe (common attractions). The view from the first is no better than the one he showed us, except you have to stand in multiple queues, and it's probably better to get out and see the Real Europe, rather than a fake play size version. Both these places are expensive to enter. We were guided through the streets in the rain (it rained all Saturday), stopping for tidbits of information. The stop at the pub was great as not only did we each taste a different beer, in a mini-..., it was an opportunity for the whole group to discuss politics and history mostly of Belgium. On the tour was a guy from Sweden, Malaysia(?), 3 Aussies, 2 Latvian ladies and a Croatian lady - a real mix. One of the Latvian ladies loved snow, and could not appreciate this wet stuff.

We had dinner at one of the recommended local pubs where we tried more beer and the unofficial local dish of mussels.

It was very different ordering food in Brussels compared to Paris. In Paris there was an English menu/translation, whereas Brussels, where there was already 3 official languages (French, Dutch and German), they were not going to print a third. We got by with some half-remembered guessing and some helpful staff.

On the way home we stopped by

1) Beer Planet and lee made a selection to take home for tasting

2) the supermarket shut at 8, so we ventured into a specialist shop for chocolate (oh, what a shame!)
3) we bought a Tourist Waffle (with cream, strawberries and hot liquid chocolate) to finish the day's trifecta.

Sunday dawned with a little less rain, thankfully. Not willing to spend the €27 each for breakfast at the hotel, we ventured out and were treated to delicious waffles (gaufre sucre) and a toasted ham, tomato and mozzarella toasted herb panini at a little shop opposite the St. Goedele-St. Michiels Cathedral.

Wanting to make the most of our day, we jumped on a train to visit the Talking Tree. The Talking Tree is hooked up to a bunch of sensors (light meter, weather station, air quality - CO2, ozone and soot, it also captures video, sound and pictures of the sky) using this information to post on Twitter and Facebook (selecting from ~1000 possible posts). After 4 days of continuous rain, its message for the day was: "Definitely no shortage of water". Unfortunately, the people we asked had never heard of it, so we spent an enjoyable 2 hours wandering through an autumn-colored park and not seeing any sign of it. We did see big mobs of scouts playing games and building teepees, people walking dogs and children, and joggers.

Our late breakfast meant late lunch and another waffle (of course). We checked out the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis, picked up another waffle from the breakfast place, visited a supermarket for more chocolate and a tasty tapas-style dinner items, the chocolate shop again - as it's impossible to have too much, made our way to the train station and finished off with one last beer.

What a weekend - with food like that, you can't go wrong. Brussels had a friendly and easy-going feel and I plan to return - definitely and soon.

(Photos coming soon)

Friday, 12 November 2010

Some goals and exploring Yorkshire Dales

In order to create some order in our lives, we've had a little look at our aims and goals. One of mine while I was over here, was to learn to ice skate backwards. I'm now on my way, as I enrolled at a local ice rink for lessons. My first lesson was Tuesday night and I can already say I've learned how to stop. Looking around at the people there learning jumps and spins and arabesques, I may need to reassess my goal - it's quite inspirational. An hour of ice skating a week, plus the ride up the hill to get home - I am going to have quads of steel.

Another of our goals was to see more of the UK. After a failed attempt at setting off our own fireworks on Bonfire Night (there was constant drizzle .. and we didn't have a lighter), we set off Saturday morning to visit Nick and Cat in Darlington. On arrival we met Steve, an Aussie mate of Nick's, and following a quick tour of the town on the lookout for Chavs (nearest equivalent = Bogans) we set off to explore some of t' Yorkshire Dales. We set out from Kettlewell with water, camera, lunch and tape ("Tape fixes everything"-Nick, physio).
One of the highlights of the trip, was actually getting to Kettlewell - we took a 'short-cut', which took us down country lanes that don't fit two cars, around blind corners and crests and down 25% gradients, that also happened to have hairpin bends - it was awesome and well driven by Nick.
.. but back to the walk. We made our way up t' hill between stone walls, with a good look at t' valley that seemed to be scooped out with a giant spade (or do I mean shovel?).

We walked across t' top of t' hill, past t' sheep, over little streams of water that were coloured red from being sifted through t' peat, then down into t' little village of Starbotton, where we paused at t' pub for a pint.

At that point it was 3.30pm and t' sun had gone down (!), which made it quite cold, so we made our way hastily back along t' river valley to t' car.

If you have a look at my photo album, you will be able to tell that I was very impressed with t' rock walls. And that t' rock walls were pretty good at growing moss..
That night, we were treated to a dinner hosted by friends of Nick and Cat's, Jane and Greg. We feasted on at least 6 types of curry (all spices made from scratch), papadums, samosas, chocolate/cherry cheesecake slice, what seemed to be Mars bar slice, and toffee apples all washed down with copious amounts of good wine. Did I mention that we also had front row seats for the Darlington fireworks?
We spent a quiet Sunday with brunch a walk through t' park away and some movies on the couch. We're quite pleased that we've managed to find ourselves more Good People to share our lives with.

Autumn leaves

I've noticed that the trees outside our house have not only dropped orange/red leaves, but some are one-sided and the other side is white. It's quite odd. I wonder what the evolutionary advantage is, to have one side of the leaf white..

Having never had to contend with this number of deciduous trees before, I had not known the pleasure of walking through piles of leaves - and by piles of leaves, I mean piles I don't have to rake up first. When leaves from a decent-sized tree are freshly fallen, I could easily be up to my ankle in them. It's a sensation a bit like walking through thick, long grass, with the same uneasiness of not being able to see exactly where the ground is and the obstacle not being of much substance. I'm not tired of it yet, but then I don't have to clean them up either.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Winter is coming..

Where Australian parents are teaching their kids to not touch snakes and apply sunscreen, English kids are being taught about how to avoid frostbite.

Some of the obvious signs that Winter is on its way are:
i) The sign going down at 4.30pm and it being dark by 5pm.
It's a bit of an adjustment - reminding yourself it's not late night shopping, the hairdresser is working normal hours.

ii) The dropping temperature.
Lee and I stocked up on winter clothes at Decathlon in preparation to our trip to Darlington on the weekend (to visit Nick and Cat). My concern realised over the weekend was that I was wearing all of my winter clothes, and it's only autumn..

iii) The leaves.
Monday last week the trees outside our apartment block were a picture of autumn colours. By Wednesday, there was a thick carpet of leaves (great fun!) and the trees were bare. With such a quick transition, I raced to photograph the fading opportunities at Clapham Common. I've posted our favourites on my Picasa web album.
From 20101104 Autumn in London

iv) Skirts are getting shorter.
Hang on... No, can't explain that one.

Note to self: To avoid frostbite, do not pour hot water on freezing cold hands.