Around the world..

5 friends, 3 weeks, one van. See Europe like we do as we post our adventures from the road. email us; europe@bitnet.cx

Current Mission: Home, Sweet Home

NO BEER TILL BELGIUM! May 19th 2009 @ 1:00pm
Current location: -122.433418, 37.778303
Mission: BRU

Tollef and emmett do a last minute guide book cram session at jfk before boarding their Brussels bound flight aboard indias premiere commuter airline - jet airways.




THE GENT LIFE May 20th 2009 @ 12:32pm
Current location: 3.714752, 51.084116
Beverage: Jupiler

Okay, we are in Gent now, things continue to be epic. We checked into our fare hostel and left to wander the city, which is wondrously accessible my foot. There are virtually no cars except for delivery vehicles and everyone seems to travel on bicycle or by canalboat. Also the girls are very pretty here.



Gent is basically a amalgam of 300 year old bars, cafes and fondue huts, soaring cathedrals and 50,000 students shopping at the same number of Hennes & Maurtizs. We tried our best to get a euro sim going on our iPhones, but no love yet.



At our hostel we found a most fantastic map of Gent and a student-written guide to all the things we actually want to see and do—by far the best piece of free tourist information we have ever received. Which we promptly followed it to Josef’s 100 year old frites trolley where of the 75+ sauce options we could only comprehend 3; ketchup, mayonnaise and curry, of which we opted for curry— a fine choice! We paired our first frites with Beligum’s PBR— Jupiler, turns out it’s better.



At the city centre we ate and drank and talked about world war II. Trying to understand the complexity of so many cultures living in such close proximity and their history of blowing eachother up. With frites, a Jupiler and so many beautiful girls cycling by it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to fight anyone else.



Also, turns out Jupiler is not the only fine beer in Beligum.



Passing through Brussels on our train to Gent, we noticed a abundance of graffiti lining the tracks. When we got to Gent the graffiti had disappeared, save for one street on which it is legal on the bottom 3.75 meters of building. Conveniently located at the entrance to the alley there was a high-end kid robot style street supply store. We were unsure our skills were up to par with the Belgian masters at work in this alley.



Now we are back at the hostel, taking a breath and trying to decide if we can hit the town tonight or our traveler’s dementia will get the best of us.



BLOED IN BRUGES May 21st 2009 @ 6:23pm
Current location: 3.23204, 51.211185
Mission: Bruges, Belgium
Current music: In Bruges: A Motion Picture Soundtrack
Beverage: nightwine, jupiler

We did not know that Bruges existed until watching the 2008 Accademy awards and hearing about the movie "In Bruges." We downloaded it the other day and watched the first few minutes, but turned it off, because it was boring. Today we went to Bruge, and, well, it is also kind of boring. While the buildings are about 11.2% more impressive than those in Ghent, the same can not be said for the atmosphere of the city, which is a cross between fisherman's wharf, times square and J's amusements. While the architecture is beautiful, with maze-like winding streets and grand plazas, they are all so full of tourists, waffle-hawkers, chocolate-peddlers, and frite-pushers, that we missed our 11.2% less impressive Ghent homestead. It is slightly possible that we felt this way about Bruges due to the fact that today happened to be the day of their MASSIVE annual jesus parade. Its like easter, christmas, good friday, ash wednesday and channukah all rolled into one. But with more tourists.





According to ancient lore a vial of Jesus' blood was brought to Bruges during the second crusade. The knight who brought it swore up and down that it was legit jesus blood and ever since there has been a massive parade on this day to celebrate the glory of this vial of dried up Jesus blood, known officially as the Heilig-Bloed Processie, or Holy Blood Procession. The parade mostly involves all the youth in the whole of Bruges dressing up as trees, snails and pharoahs and acting out the entire Bible. Yes. The entire thing.


We got as far a Moses and decided we'd head to the park and finish watching In Bruges.





We finished In Bruges just in time to catch the end of the jesus parade. The glorious grand finale procession of the actual vial of alleged jesus blood. sadly we did not get to see the tiny vile of dried plasma, but we knew it was in there, beacuse it was surrounded by so much gold and so many bishops that it could not possibly be a hoax.







To increase the religiosity of the day's events, the Bruge Bishops Bureau brought in dozens of county fair style mechanical amusements, including every child's favorite ride, the Polyp! It is unclear whether or not one receives a colonoscopy during or after this ride.







We spent a good portion of the day at an amazing bar, which was located in the basement of an old church, you had to duck your head to enter the cavernous space, which was filled with antique musical instruments, fine jazz, and a great selection of trappist ales.







The bartender advised us to try the frites-pusher in the market square, and we did. Being the adventurous travelers we are, we went for the one sauce not translated into english on the menu - stoofleesaus - which is essentially liquid pot-roast. It was quite quite fine. The frites however, lacked the freshness and crispness of Josef's of Ghent. We suspect the possible involvement of one J.R. Simplot. We of course washed down this classic Belgian snack with a classic belgian beer— our old standby, Jupiler.







With our bellies full of frites and our hearts full of Jesus blood we boarded the train back to our hostel in Ghent. Tired from our accidental pilgrimage to jesus blood town we sat back in our seats and put on our ipods. As the countryside rolled by we glimpsed hot air balloons in the belgian sky.







Back in Ghent, we wearily walked towards back towards our hostel to enjoy a travelers feast of belgian salami, trappist cheese and toastie-crisps. We entered the pedestrian canal zone, where to our surprise we saw Ghent's answer to Bruges' jesus parade— a mutha fuckin' yacht parade! The canal was shimmering with hundred year old yachts moored against timeless granite peers; with regatta flags of yesteryear billowing in the Belgian winds, their owners stood proudly in the shadows of their masts reminiscing about square knots, sextants and voyages past. And the win goes to Ghent: best parade and best overall belgian city that we have visited thus far.







We are now back at the pedestrian canal zone, enjoying a nightwine and writing this post. We wish our traveling companions glorious flights; Godspeed to Atlanta and onward. be wary of traveler's dementia. Tollef and Emmett signing off from unproteced SSID, bbox2-208a in Ghent, Belgium.












HOTLANTA May 22nd 2009 @ 10:12am
Current location: -84.42176, 33.64468
Mission: Brussels
Current music: Soulja Girl goes crazy on the Marta!
Beverage: Bloody Mary

After our lovely chauffeur Ria dropped us off at SFO at 5:30am we wasted no time in getting the morning started right with some Bloody Marys at the San Francisco themed Perry's Bar, which has conveniently just opened!



After our bountiful breakfast of rye toast and worstchestire-vodka-celery concoction we prompty took our cramped seats next to screaming babies and passed out.

Now we're in Atlanta and Alex says we need to eat at chick fillet. After that we're going to get on another plane and hang out with our baby friends.



THE NICEST BELGIAN May 23rd 2009 @ 12:39am
Current location: 4.476414, 51.035025
Mission: Ghent --> Antwerp -->Mechelen
Current music: Antwerp City Anthem, as sung by our new Beligan friends
Beverage: Jupiler!

Today we left the fine city of Ghent, which we had come to love during our short stay. On our way out of town we realized that we had failed to savor two of Belgiums most prized specialties- the waffle, and the Flemish cuberdon (red nose candy!) We had read in our trusty guide that Belgiums seldom partake in the waffles with cream or strawberries, so we opted for the waffle nature, free of toppings. A fine waffle it was, with little bits of crispy sugar baked in.

The cuberdons were a little less enjoyable, but what they lacked in flavor they made up for in whimsy. The soft conical shell gives way to a gooey thick syrup much like cough medicine, similar in flavor too!



Afterwards we stopped by McDonalds, home of the CBO sandwich or Chicken Bacon Onion, and the free wifi. We checked in on couchsurfing to see if anyone was willing to host us in Antwerp. We were in luck! Joris had gotten our message, read our blog and was offering us a couch and dinner in Mechelen, 20 minutes south of Antwerp. We had just enough time to run around Antwerp for a few hours and not be late for dinner!

After a confusing lesson in Ghent trams we made it so Sint Petiers station and caught the train to Antwerp, but not before grabbing a couple of Jupilers from the local frites barrack before boarding the train.

Arriving in Antwerp was beautiful. The train station there looks as though it was once used to tether blimps in some alternate future. After traversing four levels of trains we entered into the station's beautiful cathedral-like lobby, stowed our bags in a locker, and ventured out into Antwerp.



Our guide map advised us that there was a frites vendor in the center square who still sold frites in conical paper bags- one of the few vendors left in belgium who sold them this way. Perhaps he was a member of the National Association in Defense of the Pointed Paper Bag, rumored to exist in Belgium. Apparently more and more frites vendors in Belgium are serving their frites in cardboard trays, like in America. Our guide also advised us about currywurst, which we hoped was a frites sauce similar to stoofvleesaus. After ordering it was appeared what a brownish looking sausage. We bit and discovered a new flavor; we did not finish the currywurst. It's claim too fame is that it is made of mystery meats, like many of the meat treats at the frites shoppes, we presume.

Our trusty guide map advised us that no visit to Antwerp was complete without a moment spent sitting along the banks of the Shlede river. We wandered down to the recommended spot along the river front and relaxed like true locals.



It turns out that a large romania freighter had docked in precisely the spot our map recommended for local relaxation. Once we situated ourself a little further north, we felt quite a bit more relaxed, Tollef's hair even blew in the wind!



Antwerp truly has the feel of a much larger city, the pedestrian promenades are bustling with people—a good mix of youths that must have just started their summer vacation, locals out for an errand or a stroll , and tourists like ourselves. We happened upon square upon square, open space surrounded by lovely cafes promoting Duvel and mossels! The number of restaurants with outside eating and drinking is wonderful and is something that almost never happens in America, so many people just out side having a drink or a snack and enjoying the city. Apart from a few individual restaurants and some parts of New York City, we couldn't think of any comparable American examples. The beautiful statues and their hundred year patinas at every corner only had to the character of the city.



We found our way to the diamond district, where we learned that about 70% of the world's diamonds are cut. We were hoping to see diamond cutters at work, an open-air diamond market or some other Anterpian display of diamonds that would remove them from our American stereotypes and clichés.

At first all we could find was shop after shop advertising specials and sales on all shapes and sizes of cold jewelry, but like pawn shops or other discount jewelers. It wasn't until we were doubling back down the street that we noticed the subtle heart of the diamond industry—diamond banks.

Hardly discernible as banks and with little to no signage. The key to identify these banks is their imposing security, multiple gates, revolving doors, think glass and security cameras everywhere. The buildings have an air of total security and confinement, we can only imagine the untold volumes of run and cut diamonds that fill the vaults of Antwerps diamond banks.

On our way back to the train we stopped in the diamond museum gift shop, where you can buy a .01 carat diamond for €12. While impressive €12 was too expensive for the joke of owning a diamond.

The train to Mechelen was quick and we had instructions to meet Joris at the Grat Markt in the center of Mechelen. Coupled with the weight of our backpacks, the cobblestone walk to the city center give us a severe case of traveler's foot and the prescription was two glasses of Vedett at Dia Minte on Grat Markt. Joris and his friend Stan recognized us quickly and sat down to join us. We enjoyed a few beers on the square while getting to know each other talking about the differences between our cultures, our shared interests in technology and beer, and the proper Belgian beer ordering technique. They identified themselves not as technies or geeks, but as ITers, and voiced their excited to be spending time with fellow ITers.

After our beer on the square we headed back to Joris' amazing apartment, which was conveniently located one block from the the square in the top of a beautiful historic building. We set down our things and were enjoyed glasses of Joris's favorite beer–Duval– while he cooked us a pasta with a chicken sauce so thick it was like eating lasagna!



After dinner we went up to his office for more drinks, a cool upstairs room with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and a window with that opened up to the street with a fine view of the town Cathedral. Also in the room were two extremely impressive Philips lighting devices. The first was the Philips LivingColors lamp, a remote control operated multicolor light that cycles through the entire light spectrum, making our photographs awash with neon hues. The other was the Philips Wakeup Light, an alarm clock that gradually eases your body into the day by slowly illuminating a sunlight balanced light while the sounds of nature and birds chirping awaken you—which Joris was happy to demonstrate for us. Why do they get all the cool electronics in europe?

A couple more of this friends joined us and we shared more stories, explained parts of American culture and learned the town legend and the reason it's residents are known as Moon Extinguishers.

Over more Jupilers Joris explained that one night soon after their Cathedral was constructed the moon rose behind it, illuminating it from within and convincing the cities residents that the tower was ablaze! People rushed from their homes with buckets of water only to find that the only thing there was to extinguish was the moon.

Joris and his friends shared our fondness for Jupiler, and as the evening progressed the pronunciation of the beer transformed from the humble jupiler in the much more exciting "Joe, Piler!" –always accompanied by a chuckle.

Soon we were informed that Mechelen was home to Gouden Carolus, and our new Belgian friends assured us that we couldn't visit Mechelen without sampling their favorite local product—Mechelen beer! We headed down to a tavern in the "fish market" neighborhood and ordered a few rounds of the local brews. First we tried the tripple, a sweet abbey style ale, and then we moved on to a lighter beer called the "Blusser" – flemish for the "Extinguisher", as in moon extinguisher!



It was quite late by then and many "Joe, Pilers!" and Blussers and been drunk, sleep was upon us. We passed out promptly and awoke in time to meet our fellow travelers in Brussels; but not without a fresh Belgian pastry from the outdoor market that Joris has just picked up.

We drank juice and espresso with our fine Belgian pastries and then bid farewell to Joris, who couldn't have been a better host, him and all his friends were great and it was a fantastic time in Mechelen. We decided that if a children's book were written about Joris it would be called The Nicest Belgian.
Onward! No pastis, til Paris!



RENDEZVOUS: EUROPE! May 23rd 2009 @ 10:00am
Current location: 4.341359, 50.895563
Mission: Brussels, Paris
Current music: Delta themesong
Beverage: coffee!!zzzbt
Latest Quote: Fly Delta: It's uncomfortable AND slow!

Arrival! After another quick nine hour flight from Atlanta to Brussels the rest of our crew had arrived, and we were off to meet them at the airport to pick up our vehicle.

Our harmonious reunion occurred at 10:13am on Level 2 of the Brussels International airport . The original roadtrip gang was reassembled in Europe and with the addition a fantastic new member, one Mr. Pete Schrimer. We strapped out backpacks back on and headed down to level -1 to pickup our European transportion.

At the Europcar desk there was the small issue of not having a printout of the reservation, but in the end it didn't seem to matter, as the keys were handing over quickly and we were off to space number 229. There we found, possible the largest vehicle in Europe, and an American one at that! While we weren't exactly expecting a Fiat 500, a VW van of slightly smaller dimensions would have been superior to our obese and overtly American Ford Transit. We loaded our gear into the van, made some more jokes about its size, volume, girth, width, height and weight. It's quite possible we might encounter issues relating to these dimensions in the near future.

We feared for our lives and that at any moment the room of the van might sheer off as we excited the garage. The amount of clearance could me measured in centimeters and the ceiling lights had to be countersunk to prevent them from being knocked loose by our vehicle.

On the road we settled in and got our navigational systems on line. TomTom was a little slow on uptake, but his calming robotic voice guided our souls towards Atomium.

Our dear American friends Lindsay and Ray had told us about the Atomium in Brussels. We had promised them we would check it out. While we were reluctant to pay the high price of entrance we stood in wonder if it's form and managed to photograph it from nearly every angle. However due to intense copyright control by Atomium authorities we are unable to show them here. Instead we have posted this artistic representation:



Skot will now give us a quick overview of the necessary facts about the Atomium.

Science Facts about the Atomium from Skot:

1. Body-centered cubic crystalline structure of iron
2. Six octahedral sites in the BCC lattice
3. 165 billion times larger that than standard iron crystal unit cell
4. Cool
5. Subject to intense copyright debate

After viewing we took some photos of something else interesting nearby the Atomium.

Note: These are not photos of the Atomium in Brussels.




ON THE ROAD May 23rd 2009 @ 2:00pm
Current location: 3.64126, 50.18341
Mission: Paris!
Current music: This is How We Do it, Montel Jordan
Beverage: Kronenbourg
Latest Quote: Okay!

Before we left Brussels entirely we made a pitstop for supplies. Searching for a supermarket in the Beligum countryside is not easy. We drove through several small towns looking for one with no luck. Until! we saw it! OKAY we all all cried out in unison! We stoked up on Jupilers, cheese and snacks and a cooler.


Entering in France was about as uneventful as crossing the Sonoma/Marin border. No shower of croissants, no champagne fountains or even berets. There were actually no immediate French sterotypes at all, just a subtle since with the word France encircled by stars, we hardly even noticed the transition.

With TomTom set to avoid tolls he took us on a more circuitious route, but one that gave us a nice tour of the countryside. We passed a frites stand and since three of our travelers hadn't had a chance to sample the frites in Belgium, this was the next best thing.

The menu had lots of crazy sauce options, different than Belgium. We tried a smattering of flavors, picalily, samarui and classic mayonaise! From there it was back on the road to Paris, a couple hours later we were getting pretty close.






BONJOUR! PARIS! May 24th 2009 @ 2:46am
Current location: 2.358348, 48.824582
Mission: baguettes and croissants
Current music: Summer in Paris - Cam
Beverage: vin rouge (de france)
Latest Quote: I think it's only 2 km from here!

We made it to Paris! Without paying any tolls! According to the Internet we were supposed to have paid around €200 in tolls by now, not sure what is up with that, but thank you TomTom!

Our apartment is near the chinatown area of town, which is a bit out of the city centre, so we were able to get their quite easily from the ring road with out encountering any crazy Parisian traffic.

We had arranged for an apartment via craigslist, so it was still a little questionable whether or not it would all come true, but we had paid a deposit and signed a lease and someone named Julie was supposed to meet us in a half an hour. We waited. Julie was supposed to meet us a 6, but no one was there. Did we have the right address? Le Periscope apartment building at 83 Avenue d'itale. It looked just like the photos online. Hmm.

A message! Julie's text came through to our Belgian phone number, setup the days before. Julie was on the metro but running late, be there soon! We patiently waited for her and did some people watching and were astounded by the number of people passing by with baguettes in hand, we needed some right away!

Julie finally showed up and took us up to see the apartment.



Not a bad view for the 18th floor, If you look close you can even see the Eiffel Tower, but more on that later.

A major plus of the apartment was that it came with parking in a basement garage. Once we dropped our gear off in the apartment we headed back outside to park the van, which proved to be more challenging that expected. Clearance for the garage was 1.85m, approximate height of our van was 1.85m. Depending on what angle you looked our van could or could not fit into the garage. After much debate, we decided against trying to force it and settled on a nearby street parking.

In the freezer we found two pistachio ice cream bars, which we enjoyed on our deck while we breathed in the city, ice cream in Paris, beautiful!



After that some of us napped, and other went to pick up some groceries at the Monoprix just below the apartment. A bit of a culture shock for some of us who had never truly been in a foreign country where little English was spoken. We managed to find some breakfast items, a couple bottles of wine and some fine cheese we took back the apartment for an evening snack.



As the evening progressed it was difficult to motivate as we were all so tired from the night before and by now were pretty content with our cheese and wine. We finally motivated and headed towards the Right Bank of the Seine to wander towards the Lourve and ended up at Square Du Vert Galant, near to Pont Neuf. Over a fence that all the locals were hopping we found an enchanted park and pier were much of the youth population of Paris seemed to go on Saturday nights to drink wine out of plastics cups and hang out. We stood on the docks with our own wine and discussed the basis of human memory and the size of our known universe. When our gang gets back together the topics of conversation so often turn to science, space and technology.



From there we wandered around vaguely towards St. Germain where we ended up on a busier street with few open bars or restaurants. We had fallen victim to a common travelers dilemma: wandering without a map in the wee hours of the night. We grew weary from walking and wandering and our traveler's dilemma began to complicate itself when we realized that the metro had stopped running and that two taxis was very expensive. the situation was further compounded when we missed our stop on the nightbus home! Around 5am we made it home with a valuable trip lesson learned, have a plan or at least a destination when wandering foreign cities in the middle of the night.

Tomorrow: Paris round two.

signing off from SSID freebox_golem at 83 Avenue D'Itale, our apartment in Paris.



BREAKFAST IN PARIS May 24th 2009 @ 10:05am
Current location: 2.358348, 48.824582
Mission: Paris
Current music: Amelie Soundtrack
Beverage: Pastis

The next morning we awoke refreshed and best of all we were in Paris.

While Paris has countless cafes and interesting breakfast spots we opted for breakfast at the apartment out on our deck. Coffee, crossiants, soft-boiled eggs, prosciutto and strawberries. A delightful breakfast with a most fantastic view. After breakfast we headed off to explore Montmarte.


But first there was one more thing; pastis in Paris!



Our apartment had come equipped with a bottle of pastis and of Pelligrino, just what we needed for our afternoon outing. While the delightful bouquet of anise was not for everyone we made sure everyone tried it, and the flavor grew on us as our palettes warmed up to it's black licorice flavor.




ESCARGOT & FOIE GRAS May 25th 2009 @ 8:52am
Current location: 2.354593, 48.852743
Mission: Paris!

With our hearts and minds soothed in the Parisian style we set off for Montmarte. Metro only took us so far before we had to climb an epic set of stairs to the top of Montmarte and towards the Sacre-coeur. from there we could see even more of Paris than from our apartment. The entire area surrounding Sacre-Coer was bustling with tourists, street performers, musicians and what must have been a hundred Paris teenagers dotting the hillside on blankets, enjoying a midday wine.



The Sacre-Coer is absolutley tremendous, and as we entered a choir had just begun singing. The true beauty and grandeur of religion is so apparent in settings like this. It is unfortunate how uncommon it is to experience religion on this scale back at home.

We wandered the blocks immediately adjacent to the Sacre-Coer, though beautiful they were quite packed with travelers from around the world eating crepes and ice cream while buying scarves and reproductions of the Mona Lisa. We left our souvenir buying for another day and wandered a little deeper into Montmarte in hopes of finding some place at little less crowded.

On our way down the hill we recognized scenes from Amelie, and saw signs pointing towards others. We found a cafe that looked like a good spot to rest, and got a table on the street that would allow for some people-and-silly-car-watching while we shared a bottle of chilled white wine.

Before we could even attempt to order in French, our waiter had begrudgingly switched over to English, and we realized that we would need to step up our attempts at French if we were to combat our own Americans abroad stereotype.



It was approaching the hour of dinner, so we began to head towards our pre-determined dinner local, passing the Moulin Rounge on the way and taking Pigalle metro towards Chez Paul, a fine French restaurant vetted by Emmett on a previous trip.

Not that we know too much about classic French restaurants, but this one seemed to make the grade. Dim light, white table cloths, vin aplenty. It was a slightly more upscale place, but with no attitude and just the right amount character. We got the idea that plenty of Parisians had been enjoying the food here for a very long time. At least we hoped so, for all we knew it could be a tourist built yesterday by McDonald's and Budweiser.

We ordered a number of decidedly French dishes: escargot, piece de beouf, sardines, fois gras rissotto along with plenty of d'eau o minerale and vin rouge.

The fois gras arrived first and was epicly intense. Incredibly rich, smooth and tasty, unlike anything we had ever tried before. While we can't say it's something we'd order again, it's something we had to try once. Escargot on the other had was delicious! We're unclear on what snails on their own might taste like, but snails drenched in butter and pesto taste pretty fantastic on a fresh slice of baguette.



The rest of the meal was delish, but the entrees were the standout dishes. Tollef's sardine plate proved the most challenging to eat , but with a quick lesson from poisson maestro Alex it was devoured in no time! For dessert there was creme brulee and cafe to complete the most excellent French meal.



After the meal we wandered the neighborhood looking for a cozy bar to stop in, but things were closing up pretty quick. We ducked in a little market instead for a few cans of biere to drink on the square, including Amsterdam and Pelforth—the worst beers any of us had every tasted. On our way to the square we ran into Mel from Flight of the Conchords, so random.

Afterwards we headed home. We have a big day tomorrow, as we have saved all the biggest tourist activities for a weekday.