chocolate, rum house, music geeks (2004-04-04 - 4:12 p.m.)

Fabulous news: I met some music geeks! It's seriously like water in the desert after weeks of conversations with people you know will be gone the next day, consisting of "so what's your name, where're you from, whatcha doing in (London, Bruges, Dublin), well, have a fun trip!" So to actually find people to geek out with a little and have an actual conversation was wonderful.

And strangest of all, I found them in London. They're all BUNACers: two Americans (California and Louisiana) and one irrepressible Quebecois. Spent last night sitting around in the hostel bar leaning across the table shouting at people excitedly about music. "No seriously, you HAVE to check out Granddaddy. Best album I've ever heard, you can't miss it." "Yeah? Hmmm, I'll have a look. You guys ever heard Death Cab for Cutie? Man, you have to, you'd love them. So, what do you think of Radiohead?" Yep, feels like home. I will be organising a Music Appreciation Night as soon as I have a home, something else I have sorely missed. ahhhhh... my comfort zone.

So yes, back in London. But this time I have people to call when I'm bored so grey old London doesn't seem so bad. I can even handle the new set of hostel roommates (more American girls. Sample comment this morning: "I hope you guys don't mind, I couldn't bring too much on this {four-day} trip so you might see some of these clothes an awful lot. Hope that's okay! hee hee". Ugh. I've been wearing the same six shirts for two months now.) The bus ride back from Bruges wasn't too bad either. As always I loved the ferry, and for some reason all these Chinese and African people glommed onto me as someone who might be able to tell them about London (ha!), so I had an entertaining time trying to think of things to say. No matter that I'm not actually from here.

Anyway, as promised, back to Bruges and my week of internet silence. First things first: those involved in my family's traditional Chocolates Weekend every November will be pleased to know that I infiltrated the Belgium chocolate industry, did some reconnaissance work and discovered some secrets to try out next November! Okay, well actually I just visited Bruges' new Chocolate Museum, but I hung around the chocolate chef who was doing demonstrations for like 45 minutes asking questions. The museum itself was limited, although I did learn exactly how chocolate is made (and why the Belgian stuff is supposed to be so good! Particles of less than 35 microns, apparently. Who knew?)

So anyway, he was showing how they do moulded chocolates: rather than dipping hard centres like we do, he would pour melted chocolate into a deep mould, then pour it out again leaving a thin film of chocolate in the mould. The secret is the temperature has to be between 31 and 32 degrees Celcius for the film to stick. You allow the film to cool, scrape the excess off the mould, and pipe the soft centre filling into the hollows of chocolate. You let this cool as well, then pour more chocolate over to seal the filling inside and let cool again. Voila, yummy soft-centred chocolates! Not sure if we could manage this at home but I bought a Genuine Belgian Chocolate-Mould just in case we want to try.

By the way, you should have seen the chocolate-chef's moustache. It was waxed and curled upwards to form little curly points under his white hat. Dad would be jealous.

Anyway, on to the strangest, and therefore coolest, place I saw in Bruges. It's called Retsin's Lucifernum, but the hostel staff refer to it as the Rum House. It's the most bizarre thing I've ever seen. It's some guy's house, but he opens it up on weekends to make a sort of club in which he serves only rum. I decided I couldn't pass this up, so I dragged Geo (accompanied by a Scottish girl who lost her accent while au pairing in Sweden and now sounds almost Canadian, and a Kiwi guy who is biking solo across Europe).

So we got there, but all we saw was a large door with a sort of barred window at the top. We knocked and this 50ish guy in impeccable evening dress answered the door. He told us he was sorry, he was very full, he would try to find us a place or we could come back later. We said we'd come in. We did, and the hallway opened up to a room which was packed with tables, among which a four-piece band (guitar, huge upright bass, saxophone and VIOLIN) was playing Sinatra tunes while the whole room sang along. It was so odd. The room itself was lined with life-size wooden statues of various people (sort of like the old cigar-store Indians), while the paintings on the walls were all of female saints - all completely topless. I heard later that the owner paints his own decor. When I went upstairs and checked out the paintings there, they were even stranger: mostly relatively naked people in masks.

So yeah, completely eccentric and completely endearing. The room was absolutely packed, so it must be popular. They have a menu of about ten drinks, rum and mixers, which seemed really expensive at 5 euros until I tried one. It almost knocked me on my butt. I think the drinks were so expensive because it's 3/4 rum to 1/4 mix! Geo wanted to go on to a club, but I stayed on. Couldn't resist the propect of singing "New York, New York" with a room full of Flemish people waving rum and cocos, to the strains of a saxophone and violin band.

I'm not a big fan of Geo's club anyway. There's no cover anywhere in Bruges, but the bouncers exercise their power anyway by glaring at people with arms folded, making them squirm while they decide if they're allowed in. blah, not at all my kind of place. I did stop by once just to see, and I found it very odd that no one really danced! They just kind of stood around, maybe bopping a bit to the music, but not really dancing. A marked contrast to Dublin.

Hmmm, so other cool things I saw in Bruges: the buildings were great. Very Catholic - you'd see things like little statues of the Virgin over peoples' house-corners. Lots of great churches and towers. I went to the Gruuthuse Museum, which used to be a residence, and which actually has a chapel that protrudes into the neighboring church! This way the rich people could attend church (and see the choir) without even leaving their own house. There were also lots of very cool examples of furniture and tapestries at this museum, and other things like old musical instruments.

There's a beautiful park with lots of swans called the Minnewater. Very pretty especially when lit up at night. There's a Wednesday markt, in which I even managed to place my orders in Dutch! The ladies who sold the stuff to me thought it was cute, but they did understand what I meant without resorting to English, so I chalked it up as a triumph. Oh, and I saw someone mowing the grass on the verge beside a canal with a lawnmower on a string! I guess the angle was too steep to do it any other way.

Although I spent most of my time in Bruges and area, I did go to Antwerp for a day to meet up with Steph. This turned out to be a very good idea, as it was great to see her again. I got her to do the planning, as I had limited internet access. She booked us a hostel for one night and took the train down from Utrecht, and we met up at the Antwerp train station. This station was beautiful, which is an odd thing to say about a station. It had a sweeping marble staircase and gracious arched ceilings and patterns on the walls. I was very impressed by this, as designing a train station that is actually pleasant to look at sounds like a very good idea. So often the beautiful architecture is hidden away in palaces and museums, but what better place to display workmanship like that than somewhere people pass every day? At the very least it made the wait for Steph's train to come in very agreeable!

The first thing we noticed coming out of the train station was that we were smack dab in the middle of the Diamond Quarter. This meant rows and rows of store windows just dripping with jewelery. I've never seen so much gold in my life - like a pirate's cave (except better protected by alarms and glass!) The second thing was the large number of Hassadic Jews, in their sober clothes with big hats and little curls over their ears. Steph tells me they're touted as a tourist attraction on the Antwerp website! Must be odd. Wonder how they feel about that. Here's what Steph thought about that:
There's a large Hassidic Jewish population living there, particularly in the area around our hostel, and it was interesting to see the men going by in smart black suits with impressive black hats and wither braids or ringlets on the sides of their heads. I'm still trying to figure out how they do that. It's hard to picture a dignified looking sixty year old Jewish fellow eating breakfast with hot rollers on the sides of his head.

Anyway, apart from that we mostly just saw one Cathedral (Our Lady, which is really quite impressive.) It had a lot of Rubens paintings. I usually don't care to just stand around and look at art, but I liked Rubens' work. I think I just enjoy his fascination with painting rolls of fat or lines of muscle. We also checked out the Ethnographic Museum, which was well worth seeing. Sadly most of the captions were in Dutch and so didn't help us much, but the North American section had a little guidebook in English and was very engrossing. The most interesting thing I saw was something I didn't understand, though. It was a series of Japanese or Chinese woodcuts depicting the disintegration of a corpse in vivid detail. It was very odd and I have no idea what purpose it served, since I don't read Chinese or Dutch.

Other than that, we mostly just wandered around and enjoyed the amazing weather and ate ice cream. Also, I introduced Steph to falafel (which oddly enough she liked). All in all a very good side trip.

However, I think those were the major points from the last week or so. I discovered that ISH (the hostel) has a laundromat in the basement, and took the opportunity to do some laundry so I have clean socks for work tomorrow. Suppose I should go look in on that. I've been looking for places to live online, but haven't heard anything back yet - we'll see how it goes.

backwards ~ onwards

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Missed anything?
moved! - 2008-05-12
Sunday = time to ramble on - 2008-05-11
apparently I'm doing monthly updates these days. Sorry. - 2008-05-04
watershed - 2008-04-06
end of trip - 2008-03-31

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