Poor Impulse Control

Cynthia e-mailed me this morning saying:

OK- I’ve suddenly been bitten by the travel bug. I can be talked out of it though. Go ahead and tell me why it wouldn’t be a great idea to fly to Brussels for Christmas!!!!!!

I couldn’t think of a single reason…

3 hours later we have our flight and hotel booked.

Looks like we’ll be hitting up the Plaisirs d’Hiver/Winter Pret (“Pleasures of Winter”) festival to celebrate the holidays and ring in the new year!

w00t!

Beer And Spiders

Cynthia @ The Dumon Chocolate Shop in Bruge 2005

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Cynthia @ The Dumon Chocolate Shop in Bruge 2005

We’ve been to Belgium once before, specifically Bruges. Long time readers of this blog might recall the “Maiming Of The Nose” incident where we had to rush Cynthia to the hospital after arriving on the train from Amsterdam.

When plotting the previous trip our friend Bill Shirley was most helpful in suggesting how to go about exploring beer options while we were there.

Cynthia is not a fan of beer. Prior to going to Belgium that time she had consumed less than one beer, pronouncing the drink undrinkable.

It was suggested by Bill that Cynthia try a Lambic, a traditional Belgian brew that is fruit flavored (peach, raspberry, etc.) to see how she would like that.

As it happened, we went downtown prior to our trip and ended up at The Flying Saucer where Cynthia was able to sample a Lambic prior to our journey. She liked it quite a bit and we made a point of acquiring some during our stay in Bruges.

Cynthia actually liking a beer is, well, incongruous. She had the few prior to and during our trip but none since. As we are laying the groundwork for our upcoming trip she’s actually mentioned how much she is looking forward to having a Lambic or three while we’re there (along with samples of chocolates from the some 80+ chocolatiers listed in the Brussels phone directory).

As we were reading up on the upcoming Christmas trip Cynthia found information regarding the brewing process for Lambic. Turns out it is not fermented the way other beers are. With traditional beer brewers, yeasts are added manually to ferment the wort. But with Lambic beer, wild airborne yeasts””present in the atmosphere in and around Brussels””are allowed to permeate the wort naturally.

To accomplish this, the wort is pumped into a copper tub called a “cooling tun” which sits in an open sided building, exposed to the elements where the naturally occurring, airborne yeasts fall naturally into the wort.

It is then poured into untreated wooden barrels where the wild yeast and and wort ferment.

The process cannot be duplicated manually and since the process is the only way to actually produce this particular brew, the Lambic brewers are exempt from any of the the same health standards and regulations that govern all other brewers in Belgium.

This has Cynthia conflicted. I believe the exact term she used was “eee-yewwwwww!”

On the one hand, she finds Lambics tasty and enjoyable. On the other hand, she has to reconcile the fact that the brewing process operates outside of sanitation standards she finds acceptable.

We’ll see how it goes. I wanted to see about touring a Lambic brewery, but just found out they have a tendency to attract spiders that feed on the bugs that are attracted to the wort.

Cynthia says God has quite the diabolical and ironic sense of humor.

Shiny Euros

Shiny Euros

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Shiny Euros

We have received our travelin’ Euros for the upcoming trip. I love the colour of European money. The holograms are so pretty. It’s like play money in that it doesn’t look real, but it also evokes the passion I associate with travel. Having Euros in hand makes the whole thing more “real”, if that makes any sense.

Of course, being the shutterbug I am, I wanted to photograph the bills as a matter of course so I played with different configurations and ended up with the above shot.

When I had finished procressing the RAW file and went to open it in Photoshop CS3, the strangest thing happened. This message popped up saying “”This Application Does Not Support the Printing of Banknote Images”:

In doing some research, this seems to be the same for the new American bills that were recently issued.

What stikes me is that this is not a scan of the Euro notes. It’s a photograph and it doesn’t even include a complete, unobscured bill in the photo. Yet Photoshop recognized the content of the image and produced that warning and, presumably, will not print it in the unaltered form.

It only let me save the oringinal file as PNG and I have not tried to print it.

Technology is cool!

Travelling Digitalia

Digitalia

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Digitalia

I think I have the tech for the upcoming trip to Brussels sorted out. The G1 Android has been unlocked and I have been in communication with Belgacom and they indicate I should be able to pick up a “pay as you go” SIM card for my phone that will allow me to make voice calls and data connections over their 3G network. This will be much less expensive than paying T-Mobile roaming charges and will allow me to utilize the features of my phone like the GPS and Google Maps. Not that I have a real need, but the geek in me wants to play….

I’ve also acquired a MSI Wind U100-420US 10-Inch Netbook. 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Processor, 1 GB RAM (upgraded to two), 120 GB Hard Drive, XP Home and a 3 Cell Battery. Built in WI-FI as well as an Ethernet port this computer should be all I need to keep up to date with my online obligations as well as allowing me to offload and process my pictures. Web cam, nice large keyboard and display and it weighs under 2.5 lbs making it something I can tuck into the pocket of my backpack for easy toting!

For the price, this thing rocks! There are some newer models coming out at the beginning of 2009 which have more features (and cost alot more) but this is all I need. It’s snappy and easy to use and being relatively inexpensive it would hurt my feelings to lose it while abroad, but it would not be devastating.

Soon, Brussels

Grote Markt (Grand Place), Brussels Belgium.

Grand Place

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Grand Place

No, I did not take this photo. I grabbed it from the Winter Wonders Web site.

We leave in a few short days and I find myself hyperventilating with anticipation. We’ve done our preliminary test packing and it looks like we’ll be able to fit most everything into our respective backpacks. This includes my recently acquired Manfrotto super deluxe tripod so I can take extended exposure shots. Travelling light and without checking luggage is HUGE in terms of piece of mind and rapid mobility.

The overseas flight from Atlanta to Brussels is not even half full at this time. I am hoping this translates to some stretching out and maybe some sleep before we get there. If not, we know how to beat the jet-lag by now. You just have to push through that first day.

In terms of camera gear I will, of course, have the Sony Alpha 700. My lens arsenal will consist of the the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 as my primary walk about with the 11-18mm for wide angle shots and the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for evenings and other low light situations that require me to shoot handheld.

On the fence regarding the Minolta 70-210mm and the Sony fisheye. We’ll see.

The forecast looks good. Cold, but no precipitation.

On the agenda for Brussels:

Mini-Europe because I want to do some fake miniatures of a real miniature. It’s also the location of Atomium which was created for the Expo ’58 (the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair).
The René Magritte Museum because, well MAGRITTE!
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences to see some whale skeletons.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts to see ‘The Death of Marat‘ by Jacques-Louis David.
The Belgian Comic Strip Center to see the cartoons!
Delirium Cafe which boasts over 2,000 different beers to choose from.
La Mort Subite for more beer.

And as much more as we can squeeze into the time we’ll be there. We are tentatively planning a side trip to Bruges which is only an hour away by train. There’s an ice sculpting festival going on that I would like to check out.

If we have the energy, we’ll ring in the new year at the Grand Place which I believe will have a fireworks display before heading back to The States on new year’s day.

Final Preparations

Passport

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Passport

Man, I am going to miss this passport when it’s time to renew it in a few years. It has all my stamps in it!

Time is growing short and we’re making the final preparations to leave the country.

  • Dooley has been dropped off at Adventures In Birds. They’ll board him till we get back and we know they’ll take good care of him. Still, it breaks my heart to have to do this to poor Dooley. He’s like me, a creature of habit and prone to homesickness.
  • Called the bank to let them know I would be using my debit card overseas. In these days of aggressive fraud protection, you don’t want your money stream frozen because the bank thinks there’s something amiss.
  • Made Xerox copies of important documents. Hopefully, they’re not needed. But it’s good to have a record of your account and passport information just in case.
  • Cleared the fridge of spoilables. Don’t want to come home to post-hurricane like horror.
  • Packed and re-packed. Everything except the camera in a single backpack. Camera is in a small camera bag with a few lenses. The backpack is loaded with sundry electronic doo-hickies including chargers, socket converters, CPAP, netbook and tripod with a little room left over for a change of clothes or two.
  • In an unexpected turn of good fortune, I found my Flip Mino. It had been lost for several months. I thought it must have fallen out of my pocket while out and about and lost forever. As it happened, I was looking for something else the other day and my search lead me to look under the couch, and there was the Mino. A good omen!

    We’ll be doing a final check of all system before departure and then I am off to do my final Technology Bytes show of the year tonight. Geekradio on Xmas eve promises to be a lot of fun so tune in if you are near a radio or stream it live from kpft.org.

    I’ll be updating here during the trip as often as I can with photos, videos and commentary. If you are on twitter go ahead and follow @baldheretic as I hope to “tweet” with some frequency.

    Wish us luck!

    Brussels – Day 1

    We’ve arrived in Brussels without incident. The plane ride went smooth and we easily sorted getting the train from the airport to Central Station for a mere €2.80 a piece and and before you know it, we were checking into our hotel which is literally across the street from Central Station.

    I was amused to see a coke machine in the train station featuring Manekkin Pis.

    Manneken Pis Coke Machine

    It’s cold here. VERY cold. High today was right around freezing. But the sun is out! I’ll take it!

    Grand Place

    One of our first stops was Leonidas to get some chocolate.

    Leonidas Chocolate

    We did a little walking around but were were pretty exhausted so went back to the hotel to take a nap.

    After sleeping for a few hours we headed back out. The sun was down and we wanted to see the light show in the Grand Place. It was really something to see. Moving lights set to music.

    Light show in Grand Place

    I’ll post a video later.

    I’ll say this, swapping lenses and shooting with a tripod in this cold is not the most fun. But I am determined.

    Now it’s off to bed to sleep in earnest. More tomorrow.

    Brussels – Day 2

    Mini Europe

    Woke up early (surprisingly), got breakfast and ventured onto the Brussels Metro to make our way out to the outskirts of town and visit The Atomium and Mini-Europe.

    We thought we’d only be about an hour but we ended up staying most of the day. There will be many pictures to see after I get back home and process them.

    Atomium

    The Atomium is really cool to see. It looks like one of the aliens from War Of The Worlds or something. Quite a site.

    After returning back to the hotel we re-combobulated and headed back out for more festive festival action.

    Street 2

    One of the cooler things they have here are these VERY elaborate carrousels. Looks very Jules Vern

    Carrousel

    Carrousel 2

    We hiked down to the skating rink which is festival central with the crystal Christmas tree and a heated restaurant tent.

    Winter Wonders Skating

    On our way back to the hotel for the night we stopped for warm wine and waffles

    Waffles

    Hot Wine

    Tomorrow we are planning to visit a few museums and stay a little warmer. For now, bedtime as we are exhaustulated.

    Brussels – Day 3

    Woke up and had breakfast. Bundled up and headed to the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art which are basically in the same place. The much anticipated René Mageritte won’t be open until June of 2009, curse the luck!

    Museum

    The Museum of Ancient Art had quite the collection of Peter Paul Rubens paintings. We’ve seen his work in previous travels, but it still quickens the heart to stand in front of one in person.

    Rubens

    Many other great masters represented. Enjoyed it immensely as well as the Modern Art Museum.

    Modern Art Museum - Brussels

    After that we headed back to the hotel to recombobulate and then headed to the other side of town to visit the Comic Strip Museum which is housed in a very cool art nouveau building designed by Victor Horta.

    comic Strip Museum

    Apparently, Brussels is not only the birthplace of TinTin, but also The Smurfs. Although in Belgium they are more commonly known as Les Schtroumpfs.

    This gave Cynthia a chance to exact her revenge on David Shephard for defaming her beloved William.

    Take that, TinTin

    After that we headed off in search of the infamous Delirium Cafe, a bar that holds the Guinness World Record certificate for having 2,004 different beers available at all times.

    DeliriumCcafe

    We had a few lambics which were quite tasty and then headed off to dinner and then back to the hotel for some rest.

    Cynthia @ Delirium Cafe

    Tomorrow, Bruges!

    This is an awesome trip!

    Jay @ Delirium Cafe

    Brussels – Day 4

    We woke up early to get an uncrowded view of the Mannekin Pis.

    Mannekin Pis

    Brussels residents and tourists alike love this little pissing boy. His image is used in all manner of tourist trinkets as well as advertising for everything from Coke A Cola to hamburgers at McDonald’s.

    Mannekin Pis Window Display

    We also took advantage of the lack of tourists in the early hours of morning to rub the statue of the mayor of Brussels, Evrard ‘t Serclaes for luck.

    Evrard 't Serclaes

    In 1356 he was tortured and killed for refusing to hand over the city keys. Now, people rub the statue for good luck, which explains why it is so shiny.

    From there we purchased tickets for the train to Bruges. And yes, I’ve seen the movie. But that’s not why we went.

    Jay

    We decided to go to Bruges to revisit our favorite chocolatier, Dumon, which we discovered during our previous visit several years ago.

    We were also interested in seeing the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival.

    When we got off the train I was wondering how hard it would be to find the location of the festival. Then we saw the sign which cleared it all up.

    Sneeuw

    What we did not expect, but soon found out was that the festival was held inside a refrigerated tent complex that was cooled down to a cozy -5 degrees Celsius. That’s 23 degrees Fahrenheit for us stubborn non-metric system adopting infidels.

    As it was, the outside temperature was only 27 degrees Fahrenheit as we stood in for about 1/2 hour to get into the exhibit.

    It was very crowded and the line moved very slowly and toward the end we were quite cold, especially in the footal areas. But what a site to see!

    Ice Sculpture - 4

    Giant ice doors opened up to a small dark tunnel that lead you into room after room of sculpted ice.

    Ice Sculpture - 3

    Ice Sculpture - 2

    Ice Sculpture - 5

    Ice Sculpture - 1

    It was spectacular to see, and oh so very very cold.

    We got out and caught the bus to Bruges.

    Bruges was way more crowded than when we last visited and the market was pretty cheesy. We walked about and even got a little lost.

    Dumon Chocolate

    We did find the Dumon Chocolate Shop and I resisted the urge to defenestrate myself from the bell tower, a la “In Bruges

    Bruges Bell Tower

    When we boarded the train to go back to Brussels someone came on the intercom and said something in French and Dutch that we did not understand. The people in the seat next to us were from Barcelona and explained to Cynthia in Spanish that the train was delayed due to technical problems.

    After awhile there was another announcement and everyone started getting off the train. We didn’t need an translator to explain this part.

    We followed the crowd to another platform and caught a later, much more crowded train back to Brussels.

    Brussels – Day 5

    Waffle Truck

    We slept in till 9:30 this morning. Guess we needed the sleep. Got up, had breakfast and headed of just to walk the streets and take in the sights.

    We made our way to Notre Dame de la Chapelle, the oldest church in Brussels, it dates back to the 13th century.

    I asked Cynthia if we should go inside and she said “Well, yeah. It’s not like we have that many 13th century churches back in Houston.”

    Notre Dame de la Chapelle

    Notre Dame de la Chapelle

    We walked down one scenic street and back up another as we just marvelled at this wonderful city.

    Street Scene

    After a few hours we headed back to the hotel and then found our way to an Italian restaurant we had eaten at the night before and had lunch. Oddly enough, the music playing inside was American country featuring Willie Nelson and Marty Robbins. Still, great food and good service.

    More walking around took us past the Chocolate Museum

    Chocolate Museum

    Then we found our way to the Museum Of Musical Instruments

    Old England Art Nouveau Building

    It’s housed in a very cool art nouveau building and contains just about every musical instrument you can think of.

    Music Museum

    You get a pair of headphones and when you stand in front of any given display, you hear a sample of the music made by the instrument you are looking at.

    We laughed and laughed after I named this thing the “Conflugalhorn”

    Conflugal Horn

    I guess we are getting pretty punch drunk from fatigue.

    We saw old instruments of all kinds and joked about whether or not Al Cofrin of Istanpitta could play them or not. Lutes, udes, pipes of all shapes and sizes. I bet he and Abby Green would have been in early music heavan.

    I did find one instrument I would love to have for use in my band

    Fish-tar

    We had a full day and came back to the hotel to rest before going out in the evening for some night photography. I’ll write about that in my next post.