Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Where's the Pissour?

I feel so, so...free.
Because this boy, the Manneken Pis, needs one.  And after all the Belgian beer, I may as well. 

Lisa and I spent a long weekend in Belgium -- Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges were the cities we visited -- and although Belgium is a beautiful enough country, their beer, chocolate, and frites were the real draw.  Belgian beers, especially the Trappist ones brewed by Belgian monks, are unlike any other:  they are bold, relatively sweet, and have a dialed-up alcohol content.  There are six abbeys of the Cistercian order that still make their own beer -- Chimay, Orval, Westmalle, Rochefort, Achel, and Westvleteren -- and we tried four of them while in Belgium.  The first of the two we didn't drink, Chimay, is widely available (even in the US) and one we'd had in the past so we didn't drink it while in Belgium whereas the second beer, Westvleteren, is the most revered among the six and, apparently, the most difficult to find since the supply is kept deliberately low.  We wasted no time getting started...
Orval:  check!  Westmalle:  check!
And didn't let up until the long weekend ended...
Jupiler is a standard Belgian lager and Leffe is a white-beer
"This is a country I could love."
It gets hot in hell.  No wonder Satan makes his own beer.
Rochefort:  check!
Beer alone couldn't sustain us...
or god.  He needs to eat, too.  Even if it is a glazed waffle.
...although a dreary and wet afternoon made us want to try.
It's a wonder Belgians get anything done.  I know I wouldn't.
But somehow she is one of the most wildly productive partly-Belgian persons I know.  Must be the warm, crusted glaze of the waffle.
The weekend still isn't over...
Beware le Guillotine!
Achel:  check!  (along w/ a Delirium Tremens on the left)
The Belgians are as fanatical about fries -- frites -- as they are beer.  They claim they invented them, in fact, and with presentation like this, we can't disagree.
You wouldn't think it from this blog post but our diets are actually quite healthy.  Really
Even more so if this were the Middle Ages since beer was healthier than water.  Ya know, the plague.   
A brewery tour in Brugge. 
I ♥ Belgium!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It's Not Fake, Israel

We went (mostly) for the food:  hummus, falafel, tahini, tabouleh, and warmed pita bread.  An entire meal, in fact, could consist solely of pita and hummus.  David Puddy would've liked Israel:  "Hey, how come people don't have dip for dinner?  Why is it only a snack, why can't it be a meal?  I don't understand stuff like that."  Likewise for me and fortunately for us (mostly me), the Israelis are a bread-and-spread-as-a-meal people so dip for lunch -- or dinner -- was perfectly normal.  In between hummus plates, though, Lisa and I wandered around Jerusalem for a few days, spent a couple of days in the northern end of Israel (Akko and Haifa), then rounded out our trip with a day in Tel Aviv. 

Jerusalem is, of course, the epicenter for the three monotheistic (Abrahamic) religions:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Lisa and I aren't religious -- a religious pilgrimage this trip definitely was not -- but there was no way we were going to miss seeing the sites responsible for all the religious hullabaloo.  First up was the Western Wall:  the holiest of Jewish holies: 
Modest dress is required (head covering for men) with men and women being segregated in the prayer area.
Small wall...big significance.
No misbehavior.
Next up was The Church of the Holy Sepulcher -- the site where Jesus' was believed to be crucified, buried, and resurrected. 
Touching the rock upon which the crucifixion is believed to have occurred.
And the Stone of Unction where it is claimed that Jesus' body was cleansed and prepared for burial.
The tomb from which Jesus' was allegedly buried and rose from the dead three days later.  The line was too long so we didn't bother going in.  H.L. Mencken's quote also echoed through my mind as we wandered around:  "People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police."
Last up was the Dome of the Rock (golden-colored dome) -- photographed from afar -- since only Muslims are permitted inside.  This is the place from which Muhammad is believed to have risen to heaven where he then received the precepts of Islam. 
The Al-Aqsa mosque is nearby and also off-limits to non-Muslims
The Garden of Gethsemane, located just outside the "Old City" (the walled portion of the city surrounding the Western Wall, Church of Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock), is where Jesus is believed to have come after the Last Supper to pray and where, eventually, he was betrayed and arrested.  Some believe the olive trees in the garden are older than Christianity itself. 
EVOO anyone? 
After two days of religious sites, we headed south for Masada -- King Herod's palace-fortress that was eventually overtaken by the legions of Rome -- and the Dead Sea -- the lowest point on Earth and one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet. 
Decorative digs atop this flattop rock overlooking the desert and Dead Sea.
Breathing easy down here!
Bobbing like a cork.
No hands!
Dead Sea shoreline.
Our detour to the northern part of Israel took us to Akko (a principal transit point for the Crusaders) and to Haifa (home of the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens). 
Quaint Akko harbor. 
Baha'i Gardens
Tel Aviv was the most metropolitan and secular among the cities we visited.  Perhaps the Mediterranean Sea, the food, and the liveliness of the city distract the residents from the religious tension afflicting the rest of the country?
This beer isn't fake, is real..
As is the glorious chickpea.