Friday, September 14, 2007

Belgium Bier, Swiss Chocolat, and Frech Vin

Where did we leave off last!?

Bruges, Belgium, that's right! That is where we were on the internet at the Tourist Info Centre for three hours. No one told us to get off, so it was OK, right? It was a pain in the posterior trying to type on a Belgian keyboard that replaced the A with the Z and the M with the ; They must have been drunk when designing that keyboard! You wouldn't understand how difficult this is until you are actually deleting every second word. A 10 minute entry took an hour, so we really only were in the internet for 30 minutes. It made you feel like you're taking crazy pills! So, after a long night of loud Brits next to us in the Charlie Rockets hostel, I (Peter) decided to go out for a run around the city--it's really a small city, some american SUVs are larger--and came across 4 huge, couple-hundred-year-old windmills. A spectacular sight; like being a mouse looking at a couple of General Electric fans without the guards on them.
There is a ring road that encircles Bruges and I just kept the hugh tower in the Grande Place, directly in the middle of the city (it's so difficult to get lost when you have one gargantuan tower guiding you!). When Nora finally got out of bed we went out in search of a way to get to Ouvernne, Switzerland for the World Mountain Running Trophy race the next day. We became a little frustrated and so we did what any good Belgian would do...have a beer for breakfast. We sat along the canal, drank Leffe Radieuse (only 8.2% ABV--not too strong for a morning drink!) and watched all the fat American tourists get escorted around the small and highly walkable city by boat. Ummmmm, are we not walking because we want to maintain our robustness, or is it that we are just trying to solidify the stereotype!? We have no room to speak, we are drinking a wine strength beer at 10 in the morning. You may call us connoisseurs but don't call us lushes!
We walked around the small city with the tiny red brick houses. One would think that tiny hobbits or tommy knockers lived there with the insie size of the doors and houses. We managed to find a bottle of the best beer in the world in 2005, a Trappist Brewery called Westvleteren. No label, just a bottle cap identifying it as Westvleteren 8 with the words "TRAPPIST BIER" embossed into the bottle. And not cheap. A bottle goes for 9,50 Euros, about $15 US. We found it for 5,50 Euros and it will be savored like a 20 year old Italian wine.
After Nora went on a plane ticket-buying-rampage (4 separate flights in under an hour, she's talented!) we further explored Bruges, the Belgian equivalent of Venezia, Italia. The ticket from Milan to Bratislava, Slovakia in a week was 19 Euro, then the flights to Bremen, Germany; Oslo, Norway; and Frankfurt, Germany (for Oktoberfest!!!!) were all 1 cent each! Top that JetBlue!
We found an amazing little hostel, De Passage, which looked more like a four star hotel than a 14 Euro a night hostel. To enter the hostel one had to pass through a long, narrow alley, or passage, before finding Guido, our host. Guido told us there was free Belgian beer with a purchase of a meal and showed us some real Belgian hospitality. We hadn't eaten a proper meal since we had the Indian feast aboard Air India a week before. Our meals now consist of bread, jam, muesli, laughing cow cheese, chocolate and beer; breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the food groups accounted for!
(Nora has just taken over writing as Peter's strive for perfection makes the writing process slow. I, on the other hand, have no regard for any of the rules in the english language. I am sure that many of you will find my spelling and grammar mistakes amusing.) We went up to our room and found Emilie, a demure young woman, and Jerome, an innocent young man. They were both law students from Quebec who are taking a semester abroad to study in Belgium. We also met Peter Martin a happy-go-lucky Aussie from Perth (on the WEST SIEEEDE!) who is a traveller jaunting around Europe for a few months. Peter-from- Perth is soon heading for the east coast of the US and is very much looking forward to seeing our grand country. If anyone would like to show him around Boston, New York, DC or Virginia, please contact us and we will pass on the message. We are sad that we are not there to show him around Boston. The 5 of us decided to go hunting for sustenance. We figured that if we all went then there would be no one left in the room to steal our belongings. The first place we went did not have any food, only beer, so it was not the place for us (just Peter). Peter-from-Perth had his Bruges map for young travelers that had the amazing foresight to point out where you can get a bowl of pasta for 3 euro. Off we went. While standing in the street deciding where it was exactly, we encountered Maciek from Melbourne, he is flamboyant, outspoken, intellectual Eddie Vedder-look-alike who is studying law in Paris. We all decided to eat and drink at Medard, a family owned restaurant housed in a building that has been a family bakery for 5 generations. The current family decided bakers have to get up too early, so it is now a restaurant. There was only seating outside, which suited us just fine. We enjoyed heaping bowls of pasta and beers with the appropriate serving vessel. The conversation centered around politics, american (Hillary or Obama?, good bush/bad bush), australian (state care, or lack thereof, refugees, shitty Aussie beer, the PM, and Borat, who is universal--THAT VEEERY NIAACE!!!) and french speaking canadian (can Quebec survive on its own). The three former British colonies were well represented. The conversation was heated at times, but it was all in good fun. We shut the place down and got the owners autograph, since his photo was on our map. "My wife is the boss, I am just the humble servant" he was quoted saying. We wanted to show them the Garre in the De Garre alley to have a Garre. On the way over Maciek ran into one of his friends from college, Monika and her friend Daniel, both Australians or POMEs. Our expanding group was too large for the tiny Garre, we would have overrun the place. The next stop was 't Bruges Beertje. Very crowed, but room was made for us in the champagne room. Remember: none of that is the champagne room! Fire codes do not exist in Belgium. Either that, or the fire marshals were all drunk! The heavenly beer and happy conversations continued through the night. We had a Trappist Achel Blond and Bruin. Peter tried a bit of Jerome's Steendonk Wit, mainly for the name, and it smelled and tasted like prosciutto. We felt warmed by the good company surrounding us. Since we had to catch the 5:30 am train to Brussels we walked back to the passage with Peter-from-Perth. It was a Belgian day.

Saturday morning 5 am came very early. On the walk to the train station we passed some Italians walking home from a drunken night, who exclaimed they wanted their beds; we felt their pain. This was the beginning of an extremely long day of travel. Off to Bruxells, to catch a flight to Geneva. I slept when ever I was seated. Once in Geneva we caught a train to Martigny, where we waited for a bus to Ovronnaz, Switzerland. Unsure of where the bus stop was, we asked the bus driver and he motioned that it was up ahead. The stops kept going by us and soon the bus stopped in Sion (SEE-yaun, as Paul Low says) and everyone got off the bus, end of the line? We asked the bus driver again where Ovronnaz was, he seemed shocked that we did not get off the bus and at Laytron to catch the bus to Ovronnaz. Bus transfer? When did anyone tell us about this? We found that Switzerland's policy of neutrality also applies to helping travelers. He did take pity on us and told us he would bring us back, but we had to wait an hour in Sion until he drove back to Martigny. We walked around the town and back on the bus and finally in Ovronnaz to see the trophy race. When we arrived we found that all the races were held that day and, in fact, the mens race was not to be held on Sunday as we were told by the sleep deprived Paul Low.
The awards ceremony was going on at the finish line and we hiked up the road and followed the sound of cow bells and horns to find it. There we spotted Paul, Kelly, Rickey, Simon, Chris, Nancy, Laura, and the rest of the USMRT. They all where happy to see Peter as the trophy race does not seem to be the same with out him. Down the hill we all went, to get ready for a pot-luck. Dinner was lovely and as the race was over the wine and beer was aflowing. After dinner we all walked back up the hill to check out the after party. The word on the street was they were charging 25 CHF for supporters to get in. To avoid this, the team lent out their jackets to us all and the size of the team doubled for the after party. There was much dancing, music, melted cheese, proscuitto, gherkins, salami and drunk junior runners from all over the globe. All the teams were trading their gear and Peter tried to trade his Nike jacket that he put a small usa patch on. He was offered a Slovenian jacket, Mexico jacket and track pants by a drunk Slovenian junior, but he wanted to hold out for the Irish jacket. I must have inspired him to love the motherland. All were in good cheer and it was good to see everyone.

Sunday: Where is Rickey? We were planning on traveling with him but no one knew where he was. We said good buy to Simon, Kathy, Anita, Mike, Chris, Laura and her family, Rachel and her very generous parents (Thanks so much!!) and Paul and Kelly. Paul and Kelly were kind enough to take some of our Belgian glasses and abundance of clothes back to the states. Their willingness to do so made them both my new favorite people and I was so happy that I actually almost cried. We both decided that our packs were too heavy and we wanted to unload some of it. I think that we got our pack weight down to half of what it was. We may have less outfits but our backs will thank us later. But again, where is Rickey? Peter went off and found him sitting in his room, hungover, way past check out, just in foreign sweatpants, drinking coke and eating Swiss Pringles. He claimed he was sitting around waiting to be kicked out of his room, as he had been out until 5 partying with the young 15 year old runners. Peter helped him pack up the backpack bomb that had exploded in his room. The three of us decided to follow Simon, Kathy et al to Lukerbad. We missed the car ride that left at 9:30 so it was bus, train, bus for us. We arrived in Lukerbad and Peter and Rickey went off to find a place to stay or Simon and Kathy, which ever happened first. I stayed back in the sun and watched the bags. The boys convinced the Weisses Rossli Hotel (White Horse) owner to give us a reduced rate. I am not sure what they offered the owner, but they seemed pleased with their barganing ability. The view from our balcony was spectacular. We were up on the third floor looking at rooftops of old houses and churches and all around us were the jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps. Happier we could not have been more. It may be the most perfect place in the world. Inspired by the beauty, it was off for some running. The boys scrambled up a 25% grade trail, across some glacial run-off and ran along the breathtaking trail far above Leukerbad. I ran up toward the glacier on a trial that lead me to a metal walkway bolted into the side of the cliff, suspended above the glacier river. The walkway turned into a suspension bridge and brought me into a waterfall. I stood in the wonder of it all for awhile wondering how this could be my life. After the run we met up again the Kathy and Simon who were relaxed from the thermal baths and all enjoyed some fine Swiss wine. We treated ourselves to a dinner out and all went to bed early. It was the most packed our bellies had been since we arrived in Europe.

Monday: The boys were up early and Simon took them to the trail head of Gimmi bahn for some Gimmi-Running. Up they went, or so I am told. Rickey reached the top in 38 min, while Peter came in at 53 min. It was 3.8k of sheer uphill running. At the top they met Alekseev Alexander a russian runner who was coaching someone at the trophy race. He offered them some of his special russian energy drink, orange juice (with a little vodka) and lit up a thin cigarette. You know the usual thing one does after running up a mountain... Peter was enjoying an endorphin high that has been missing from his life for 2 years. It must been all the good Belgium beer that is the cure for what has been ailing him. Simon and Kathy were kind enough to let the three us pile in to the Fiat Panda and catch a ride to Chamoinx, France. We felt a bit like like sardines in the small car and Rickey had to strap his orange backpack to the top, so we could all fit in. The drive over the mountains was again amazing, (I need to come up with a better phrase) and we were all taken aback a bit with the first glimpse of the glacier at the base of Mont Blanc. The peak itself was hidden behind the clouds but the view was a treat none the less. We checked into the Ski Station hostel, and by that I mean put or bags on beds and left a note for the owner, and went of running and food shopping. The night was spent over a homemade meal of pasta, chicken, beans, bread, stinky cheese and numerous types of French bon vino. The cheese smelled, the wine was dry and the company was happy and content. Laughter lasted much into the rainy night. We talked to an English hiker who attempted to climb the mountain and turned back because of the weather. He then heard that 20 min later two Italian hikers, who did not head for home, sadly died on the mountain. It happens here often but it is still sad to hear.

Today Tuesday 18th! Are you tired of reading yet? We enjoyed a lazy day watching the rain in Chamonix, hence the time to write this book. Not sure of where we will end up next we fly out of Milan on Saturday so that will be the general direction. We hope all is well at home with all of you. Miss you!


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Erin said...

I am glad to see you are having such a great time!!! Yeah for Petey running up mountains!!! Have fun!!!