Thursday, April 2, 2009

Nearing the end of my parents' European vacation: finishing with sights in Brussels, Dinant, Ghent & Caracole Brewery (1st week of Mar)

The second week of my parents' stay, we showed them around Brussels and a few other places only a short jaunt away. Some of the highlights of Brussels included: The Sablon District, Grand Place (Market Square), Royal Palace, Manneken Pis, remains of the old town wall, Rue des Bouchers (restaurant row), Saint Michael Cathedral, Cinquantenaire Park, Beer Mania and our apartment and surroundings (see photos for more details). My parents thought the Grand Place was rather cool, especially the city hall and it's dominating presence. My mom and I ventured into one of the many lace stores where she found a small piece to bring home, as Belgium is known for its lace (I'm not sure if I'm suppose to say what it was in case she gives it as a gift to someone back home). In the Sablon area, we went to the Cote d'Or Chocolatier and a Cigar store (I pointed out all the other chocolatiers in the Sablon, but we didn't sample any this time around, especially since my mom had bought a ton of chocolate at the Neuhaus Chocolate Outlet a few days earlier). We also stopped off for a waffle and with constant urging from 'someone' in our group, we managed to venture into a few Beer Cafes (aka pubs) as we strolled around the city.

One of the days we took a road trip to Ghent which is a cute medieval town only 45 minutes away from Brussels. We enjoyed walking around the picturesque town and stopping to have a drink at a Beer Cafe near one of the main canals and castle. On our way back we picked Shannon up from work and went to a great French restaurant near his office (you really can't go wrong with any French or Belgian style cuisine...the food here is amazing!)

Over the weekend we decided to go to Dinant and check out a brewery on our way back to Brussels. Dinant is a nice town in The Ardennes which boasts an incredible cathedral and citadel on a towering cliff above (the village is set in a valley where the Meuse River flows through it). After visiting the town, we went to the Caracole Brewery just 15 minutes or so down the road. I loved their rustic farm like feel inside their brewery. After getting a mini tour of the brewery and its processes, we sat down to have some drinks. I was told they had really good beers by the rest of our gang while I enjoyed some apple juice!

In addition to visiting a brewery the day before, we went to the Zythos Beer Festival in Sint-Niklaas on Sunday, the last day of my parents' stay. Belgian beer is renowned throughout the world for its undeniable quality and for its impressive array of choices; thus, Belgium is often termed, the 'Land of Beer'. The festival had a wide range of Belgian beers served by over 60 brewers (200+ beer options). I wanted my dad to leave on a high note, so this festival was perfect timing! He was also able to bum some skoal off a few Swedish guys, so he was even more in heaven...I forgot to mention that it is illegal for stores to sell chewing tobaco in Belgium. Anyway, everyone, but me, bought a tasting glass and went around sampling some of the fantastic choices offered by the brewers. While the gang was enjoying their beers, we grabbed a table and layed out the snacks we had brought and began playing cards, euchre to be exact. We had a fun and relaxing afternoon which was the perfect way to end my parents' vacation!

My parents in front of The Royal Palace in Brussels. This is the King's official palace where business is conducted since Belgium has a Constitutional Monarchy; though, King Albert II and his family actually live in a suburb, Laeken, in another palace.
Sablon - one of the oldest districts in Brussels
Remains from the old town wall
Manneken Pis - famous little boy peeing statue near the Grand Place (Market Square) dressed up for a Chinese holiday.It's hard to believe such a little statue is so famous...I don't think my parents were that impressed as most tourists feel!
Old City Hall of Brussels located in the Grand Place (old Market Square)
One of the sides of the Grand Place
Down the 'Rue des Bouchers' where there are numerous overly-priced restaurants in cute narrow alleys leading to/from the Grand Place
Another photo of the 'Rue des Bouchers' with its romantic patio settings, seafood displays and persuasive garcons (waiters trying to get people in their restaurants)
Cathedral of Saint Michael in Brussels
My mom and I in front of the Cathedral of Saint Michael
Our dining room - I may have already posted some of our apartment pictures on my blog, but my mom took a few while she was here.
Our living room - overlooks a cute pond with lots of ducks and geese and several trees surrounding it along with a nice walking path
The pond outside our apartment window
My dad thought this Mini Cooper was hilarious and wanted a picture with it...I suppose a very petit person drives this kind of car!
The Abbey de la Cambre near out apartment (old monastery). Notice how they groom their trees here...they're not extremely attractive during the colder months, but as Spring and Summer roll around they put on leaves and actually look pretty cool, not to mention the beautiful tulips and roses that grow in the gardens.
't Oud Pachthof - a nice French restaurant near Deloitte that we ate at after picking Shannon up (it's cuter than this picture portrays!)
This might have been my dad's highlight of the trip...a visit to a Belgian Beer Store
No, we wouldn't let him buy all those!
Drinking a nonalcoholic Kriek (cherry flavored)...see I can still hang with the best!
The Triumphal Arch in Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels built for Belgium's 50th anniversary of its independence in 1880; however, not completed until 1905
Ghent - a cute medieval town in Belgium
Ghent has a similar feel and look as Bruges, but without all the tourists
My dad and I by one of the canals in Ghent both sporting our hats, though one being a little bit more European!
The Gravensteen Castle in Ghent
Dinant - a small town next to the Meuse River in The Ardennes region of Belgium
My dad, mom and I in front of the Cathedral and massive cliff behind us adorned with the Citadel
Shannon and I in front of the Citadel - we all rode the cable car up to the top of the cliff where the Citadel sits.
On our tour of the Citadel we saw some cannons along with several other interesting items and rooms, like an old trench with mannequin replicas of soldiers.
View from the top of the Citadel with the Meuse River below
Brasserie Caracole - Located in the small town of Falmignoul (near Dinant), it is a very unique Belgian brewery that stands in the former Brasserie Moussoux, which brewed back in the late 18th century during a time when nearly every town in Belgium had at least one brewery. The brewhouse hosts an amazing tavern/tasting room with high, curved, brick ceilings, dim lighting and even some cobwebs to add to the old fashion ambiance.
The recurring theme on each of their beer labels is that of spiral snail shell from which the brewery takes its name. Apparently the snail is the emblem of Namur (nearby town) and the word for a snail in local Namurois dialect is "Caracole".
Enjoying some of Caracole's beers in its rugged tavern, but one of us had to be the designated driver, C'est Moi (Say me!)
Co-owner Francois Tonglet claims that Caracole is Belgian's last operating wood fire brewhouse. Copper kettles, nearly black from oxidation, are estimated at being about 150 years old and are bricked-in above open wood stoves, where every drop of water used in the brewing process is heated manually by direct flame. The belt-driven malt grinder and mash turner date back to the early 1900s and sit in the same room as the copper. And while all of this is quite charming, Francois admitted that the entire process is an incredibly laborious one. Malt milling, mashing and run-off into the kettle can take most of a day.
Another view of the mash/malt barrel which wasn't in use when we went on our tour
Caracole's Beers - Nostradamus (9.5% alcohol by volume Strong Dark Ale), Saxo (8% ABV Strong Pale Ale), Caracole (8% ABV) and Troublette (5% ABV Witbier).

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