Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Happy Shopping!!!!

Firenze, Italy (Florence)

As Joe slaved away at work I took my parents to Florence Italy for a couple days. What can I say about Florence…there is lots of shopping to be done and it has wonderful art!!!

One day we ventured to the main train station of Florence or the real name is Firenze. We bought our round trip ticket to Pisa and off we were. The train however don’t announce the stops so you have to pay attention or ask the people around you when you arrive in Pisa. (That is unless you want to end up at another town)

This is the only thing my mom wanted to do on the trip, was to see the famous “leaning tower”

The next day we were at museums…

I have always dreamed of seeing my man David and he did not disappoint me. However you can’t take photos in the Galleria dell’ Accademia.. I found this photos of David from Getty Images and need to share them with you.

Next stop was the Galleria Degli Uffizi famous for the painting birth of venus and many others.

I do a lot of research for our trips making sure we get all the important sites in and this next one was not in any of my books. I found it purely by accident buying postcards for some of you. I actually bought a postcard of this bronze pig to show the girls at the hotel and ask what this is….

Il Porcellino (Italian "piglet") is the local Florentine name for the bronze fountain of a boar Il Cinghiale in the Mercato Nuovo in Florence, Italy. The fountain figure was sculpted and cast by Baroque master Pietro Tacca (1577 –1640) in 1612, following a marble Italian copy of a Hellenistic marble original, at the time in the Grand Ducal collections of the Uffizi, but which has since been lost or destroyed. Visitors to Il Porcellino toss a coin into the grating at the boar's feet and rub the boar's snout to ensure a return to Firenze, a tradition that has kept the snout in a state of polished sheen while the rest of the boar's body has patinated to a dull brownish-green. Copies of the sculpture can be found around the world.

Needless to say I did rub his snout and put coins in…any thing to get a return trip to Italy is o.k. by me. (rember I threw my coins into Trevi Fountain in Roma too – who would not want to keep going to italy???) Not to mention this was my 3rd trip to Italy in 4 months.

Just like that our trip was over and I had very happy but frozen parents to take back to Brussels…stay tuned for our next adventour Normandy then Paris for New Year Eve.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dinner anyone...

Brussels like any other European city has flea markets and antique markets. Joe and I like to spend some Sunday mornings wandering around them and buying junk. After viewing dozens of china patterns over a 1 year and some months has got me to thinking…what if I have a different china place setting for every guest, kind of a mad haters tea party look. As Joe has mentioned it will look like we have no money and can only shop at the goodwill store. Basically my mom just thinks i'm nuts too. When it all comes together they will see how fun it will be.

Well you would think it would be easy to find a dinner and salad plate of the same design that I liked and is moderately priced. Moderately price meaning less then 30 euros for a bunch of random pieces that includes 1 dinner and 1 salad plate. I think it would be out of control or crazy looking to use 1 plate for a place setting or mix and match the dinner and salad plate…don’t you agree?

What I like / want is crazy wild/bold pieces. If I’m going to do this I believe they should all stand out in their own way. The last criteria is it has to have a stamp on the bottom of the plate. Stating something other than made in china. I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Sunday we found 2 different patterns or place settings however you want to look at it. They both came with an assortment of pieces, from 2 different markets. I almost had a 3 setting but as most of you know I have expensive taste. They were gorgeous hand painted and very colorful plates with made in England stamped on the back. When I asked the man “combien” or how much in English for the 2 plates. He replied 40 euros for the dinner and 30 euros for the salad plate. 70 euros!! That is about a $100 dollars with the exchange rate. The man would not even budge on the price and they were the perfect plates!! If I didn’t have 6 (or 12 total plates) more to get I might have paid that price but I can get a good matching set for $100 a place setting at home. I will keep my eye on them and every time we go I will bug him till he is sick of me.

If anyone knows anything about china markings please let me know, I’m just buying what I like and not aware if I’m actually buying a excellent piece that is worth 70 euros.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Monks, Beer and The Wall St. Journal

Who would have thought that last Wednesday, November 28 when Anne & I were doing our 2nd beer run that we were on to something "big". On Thursday November 29, 2007 on the front page of The Wall Street Journal was a story about the Monks at St. Sixtus and the beer.

Not only is the whole beer process funny but that The Wall St. Journal is covering it. As Joe will say often to me "these things only happen to you".

Oh by the way today Anne & I did our last "Beer Run" (for a while anyway) we now have all three kinds of beer...safely stored under lock and key now due to the demand.

What I failed to mention before and the article doesn't mention is that it is a 2 hour car ride one way to get to the Monastery from Brussels.

Hope you enjoy the story and I have included a link to a fun clip about his quest for the beer.

Trappist Command:Thou Shalt Not BuyToo Much of Our BeerMonks at St. Sixtus Battle Resellers of Prized Brew;Brother Joris Plays Hardball

By JOHN W. MILLERNovember 30, 2007

WESTVLETEREN, Belgium -- The Trappist monks at St. Sixtus monastery have taken vows against riches, sex and eating red meat. They speak only when necessary. But you can call them on their beer phone.

Monks have been brewing Westvleteren beer at this remote spot near the French border since 1839. Their brew, offered in strengths up to 10.2% alcohol by volume, is among the most highly prized in the world. In bars from Brussels to Boston, and online, it sells for more than $15 for an 11-ounce bottle -- 10 times what the monks ask -- if you can get it.

Only seven beers in the world have the right to call themselves Trappist (one is actually brewed in the Netherlands). Except for Westvleteren, nearly impossible to find except at the monastery where it's brewed, they're all available online and in specialty beer shops. Here, a brief tasting tour.

For the 26 monks at St. Sixtus, however, success has brought a spiritual hangover as they fight to keep an insatiable market in tune with their life of contemplation.

The monks are doing their best to resist getting bigger. They don't advertise and don't put labels on their bottles. They haven't increased production since 1946. They sell only from their front gate. You have to make an appointment and there's a limit: two, 24-bottle cases a month. Because scarcity has created a high-priced gray market online, the monks search the net for resellers and try to get them to stop.

"We sell beer to live, and not vice versa," says Brother Joris, the white-robed brewery director. Beer lovers, however, seem to live for Westvleteren.

When Jill Nachtman, an American living in Zurich, wanted a taste recently, she called the hot line everybody calls the beer phone. After an hour of busy signals, she finally got through and booked a time. She drove 16 hours to pick up her beer. "If you factor in gas, hotel -- and the beer -- I spent $20 a bottle," she says.

Until the monks installed a new switchboard and set up a system for appointments two years ago, the local phone network would sometimes crash under the weight of calls for Westvleteren. Cars lined up for miles along the flat one-lane country road that leads to the red brick monastery, as people waited to pick up their beer.

"This beer is addictive, like chocolate," said Luc Lannoo, an unemployed, 36-year-old Belgian from Ghent, about an hour away, as he loaded two cases of Westvleteren into his car at the St. Sixtus gate one morning. "I have to come every month."

Cassandra Vinograd Two American Web sites, Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, rank the strongest of Westvleteren's three products, a dark creamy beer known as "the 12," best in the world, ahead of beers including Sweden's Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter and Minnesota's Surly Darkness. "No question, it is the holy grail of beers," says Remi Johnson, manager of the Publick House, a Boston bar that has Westvleteren on its menu but rarely in stock.

Some beer lovers say the excitement over Westvleteren is hype born of scarcity. "It's a very good beer," says Jef van den Steen, a brewer and author of a book on Trappist monks and their beer published in French and Dutch. "But it reminds me of the movie star you want to sleep with because she's inaccessible, even if your wife looks just as good."

Thanks to the beer phone, there are no more lines of cars outside the monastery now. But production remains just 60,000 cases per year, while demand is as high as ever. Westvleteren has become almost impossible to find, even in the specialist beer bars of Brussels and local joints around the monastery.

"I keep on asking for beer," says Christophe Colpaert, manager of "Café De Sportsfriend," a bar down the road from the monks. "They barely want to talk to me." On a recent day, a recorded message on the beer phone said St. Sixtus wasn't currently making appointments; the monks were fresh out of beer.

Increasing production is not an option, according to the 47-year-old Brother Joris, who says he abandoned a stressful career in Brussels for St. Sixtus 14 years ago. "It would interfere with our job of being a monk," he says.

WSJ's John Miller travels through Belgium in a quest for a small-batch brew made by Trappist monks that's considered by some the best beer in the world. Belgian monasteries like St. Sixtus started making beer in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which ended in 1799. The revolt's anti-Catholic purge had destroyed churches and abbeys in France and Belgium. The monks needed cash to rebuild, and beer was lucrative.

Trappist is a nickname for the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, who set up their own order in La Trappe, France, in the 1660s because they thought Cistercian monasteries were becoming too lax. The monks at St. Sixtus sleep in a dormitory and stay silent in the cloisters, though they speak if they need to. Today, though, Trappists are increasingly famous for making good beer.

Seven monasteries (six are Belgian, one, La Trappe, is Dutch) are allowed to label their beer as Trappist. In 1996, they set up an alliance to protect their brand. They retain lawyers in Washington and Brussels ready to sue brewers who try use the word Trappist. Every few months, Brother Joris puts on street clothes and takes the train to Brussels to meet with fellow monks to share sales and business data, and plot strategy.

The monks know their beer has become big business. That's fine with the brothers at Scourmont, the monastery in southern Belgium that makes the Chimay brand found in stores and bars in Europe and the U.S. They've endorsed advertising and exports, and have sales exceeding $50 million a year. They say the jobs they create locally make the business worthy. Other monasteries, which brew names familiar to beer lovers such as Orval, Westmalle and Rochefort, also are happy their businesses are growing to meet demand.

Not so at St. Sixtus. Brother Joris and his fellow monks brew only a few days a month, using a recipe they've kept to themselves for around 170 years.

Two monks handle the brewing. After morning prayer, they mix hot water with malt. They add hops and sugar at noon. After boiling, the mix, sufficient to fill roughly 21,000 bottles, is fermented for up to seven days in a sterilized room. From there the beer is pumped to closed tanks in the basement where it rests for between five weeks and three months. Finally, it is bottled and moved along a conveyor belt into waiting cases. Monks at St. Sixtus used to brew by hand, but nothing in the rules of the order discourages technology, so they've plowed profits into productivity-enhancing equipment. St. Sixtus built its current brewhouse in 1989 with expert advice from the company then known as Artois Breweries.

In the 1980s, the monks even debated whether they should continue making something from which people can get drunk. "There is no dishonor in brewing beer for a living. We are monks of the West: moderation is a key word in our asceticism," says Brother Joris in a separate, email interview. "We decided to stick to our traditional skills instead of breeding rabbits."
The result is a brew with a slightly sweet, heavily alcoholic, fruity aftertaste.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

un foulard

they say a photo is worth a thousand words...these photos say it was a good 'vintage' shopping day!

Beer & Monks

the line to get beer

Now most people know that Belgium is known for its beer. Wednesday I went on my second adventure to an abbey to get beer. This sounds simple enough right…however this is Belgium and it is beer from an abbey called trappist beer.

What is “Trappist Beer”…

A Trappist beer is a beer brewed by or under control of Trappist monks. The name “trappist beer” is protected by law and can only be applied to beer brewed by trapppist monks in there monastery. Among all the Beligian beers only six are allowed to use the name of trappist beer: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren. These breweries are authorized to label their beers with the Authentic Trappist Product logo that indicates a compliance to various rules edicted by the International Trappist Association.

man with a full trunk of empty bottles

How do you get you hands on The Westvleteren Trappist beer??

It is exclusively sold in the abbey by a reservation. Yes a reservation…

1. You call the beer phone number to know how much and which beer can be reserved at that time at a certain time
2. Then you call back at the indicated time from the first call. They will indicate what beer you get and the quantity. (usually 2 cases but this week we got 3 cases)
3. You make an appointment with the operator (time and date) and you give the license plate number of the car that will collect the order. The calling is only from 9:00 – 12:00 Monday – Thursday. * you have to call about 60 times a day and for weeks to get one appointment*

(The following is per the website) The beer is always sold per kind and in limited quantities. Please consider the fact that our telephone lines can have very long queues and that you can there fore get a busy tone. We would like to thank you in advance for your understanding and your patience.

As you can see this is a very crazy process for beer.

Anne with a full trunk of beer for more info check out the web site.

The History of the abbey:

Westvleteren (abbey Our Lady of St. Sixtus) - History of the abbey - the origins The Monastery of Our Lady of Saint Sixtus is located in West Flanders, approximately 4 kilometers from the village of Westvleteren and an equal distance from Poperinghe. It is 12 kilometers of the town of Ypres, which became famous after the First World War. The abbey of Saint Sixtus is also just 18 kms from the French monastery of the Mont des Cats, located in French Flanders.
At the beginning of the 19th century, a deep and dark forest still covered the site of the Abbey of Saint Sixtus. A vault located in this forest gave the monastery its name. Since 1814, a hermit lived in this loneliness: Jean Baptiste Victoor, trader of hops, born in Reninghelst on October 22, 1756, who was not without fortune and whose ambition was to found a convent in honor of the Virgin Mary. It is why he had bought a dozen hectares all around its hermitage. But how to form a community?
Victoor understood that, alone, he could never undertake his projects. Therefore, he presented his ideas to Dom Germain, Abbot of Our Lady of Le Gard (close to Amiens, France). Following the approval of the prelate, a small colony of monks depending on the abbey of Our Lady of Gard left the Mont des Cats and took the road for the forest of Saint Sixtus. They were led by the reverend father François Van Langendonck. November 4, 1831 marks the date of the foundation, because it is this day that the first solemn mass was celebrated in the poor building placed at the disposal of the newcomers by their benefactor. Jean Baptiste Victoor did not live long after the arrival of the monks; he died on May 8, 1832. In 1863, a modest monument was set up in the Church to evoke his memory forever.
Styling sheep just down the road from the abbey. I guess "hot pink" is the IN color for sheep this winter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ahhh Thanksgiving weekend

This was our first thanksgiving in Brussels. Last year my parents came and we spent the weekend in Paris, France. This year I was entertaining for 6 people: Karen from Chicago visiting, Kate, Anne and her daughter Erin. Joe for once was the only husband not traveling that week.

It was only your typical thanksgiving in the fact that we had cranberries home made by me and homemade pumpkin pie by my friend Anne, the rest was all Italian…Salad with pomegranates, pine nuts and mozzarella cheese and for desert a lemon meringue pie.

Friday was the traditional day after thanksgiving shopping day. Karen and I went to Antwerp, Belgium for diamond window shopping.

Saturday was a “traditional” thanksgiving dinner at Kate and Jim’s house.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


After a long morning delay we finally arrive in Roma. This put a little kink in our plan for Thursday and we adjusted accordingly. After checking into our hotel we were off to get some lunch (yummy pizza) and to see Roma...First stop was the Spanish steps or Piazza di Spagna. (see if you can find Foxy and I in the photo. Then we made our way to Trevi Fountain or Fontana di Trevi. I threw my 3 coins in to the fountain to guarantee my trip back to Roma but Joe only threw 1 coin in and Foxy didn’t get any to put in. We did have our photo take there however as on any trip you always size up the other tourist to see who can take you photo with out running off with your camera. We pick a nice Japanese guy with an expensive camera thinking he would do a good job…we did a quick look at the photo after he took it and it looked fine. After closer examination we noticed his finger was in the bottom corner of the photo…I guess he can only operate the fancy cameras. Our next stop was to the Pantheon. Then we headed back to the hotel with some gelato in hand. We had an amazing first day.
Friday morning…after a sleepless night of dogs barking and Joe still being jet lagged from China (I forgot to mention he got back on Wednesday night and we left at 6:30 am on Thursday morning – really left about 8:30 after the delay) We were off to see the Vatican Museum or Musei Vaticani due to us being in Roma during winter hours everything closes really early and the museum hours are 10:00 am – 12:45 but last entry is 12:00 and the Sistine Chapel or Cappella Sistina closes at 12:00. Knowing this we started out early cause of the things I have read about the line for the museum. Well we got there about 9:00 the line was huge and it started to pour…I talked Joe into paying more for a group tour and an umbrella, the advantages we didn’t have to wait in line and had someone take us through and explain everything in English. The down side is it is more expensive. However the guide we picked didn’t have any more tickets so we went to another group and then got shuffled back to him once we were inside. It all was very confusing but as they were saying that is Italy. The museum was amazing with a lot of marble statues and then finally we got to the Cappella Sistina. Which is amazing to see and he really didn’t paint the ceiling on his back like I though but he did get a growth on the back of his neck from looking up for 4 years. There are no photos allowed in there due to Nikon has the rights to photos – they paid to have the room restored. You are also not allowed to talk in the room but that didn’t stop a lot of people. Our guide explained everything to use before we got in there and what to look for. After leaving we were brought to a big wood door and behind it was the greeting room for the pope. I got look through the key hole but was told not to knock the door or the Swiss Guards will come and be mad. Last week a tour guide was being silly and knocked on the door and this loud voice yelled “Enter” while the guard came and opened the door and to the surprise of everyone the Pope was in there waiting for the Queen of Jordan. Can you imagine the look of horror on the young guides face to see the Pope? Our guide said this is a true story because he is good friends with the guy and he is very lucky that he didn’t get fired. Then we were off to see the Basilica di San Pietro. Again this is another amazing site for us to see.

Then we were off to a very late lunch…we stumbled onto this small restaurant by the wall of the Vatican off the tourist path and when I peeked into the window I saw it was full of priest. We both figured this was good place to stop and have lunch, which was a very good lunch. We were listening to the 3 priest that were right behind us and 2 of them were from the US and we think the other one was the Cardinal from South Africa. Let’s just say the Priest from the US didn’t like the female running for the white house.

That night we just walked around till it was time to head to the Bicycle Film Festival. As it started to rain and thunder on our way to the fest – we bought another umbrella. The movie was about the legends of the Tour de France in the 1940’s. It actually was really interesting due to the couple of men they were being intervied were from Belgium (the Flemish region) then we met this coordinator of the fest which was from NYC and a very angry man.

Saturday morning…We were all ready to head out to the Coliseum or Colosseo took the metro there with no problem the line was small and as I was taking off my jacket for the x-ray machine the man said to me “NO DOGS” what??? The tour guide yesterday said dogs were allowed…the other security man was waving me through and then the other one was saying no again…so we just left. As we were leaving a young tour guide came up to us and said “oh they didn’t let her in, usually they let dogs in”. After a long debate as to what to do and a couple of grumbles from Joe about Foxy ruining things (but if he would have put her in her bag we might have been fine) Foxy and I enjoyed the scenery, sunshine and people watching from outside the coliseum while Joe went inside. (Not to mention Joe paid extra again and didn’t have to wait inline for the Coliseum because it was long by the time we figured out what we wanted to do)
Then we walked to the Roman Forum or Foro Romano and Palatine Hill or Monte Palatino. (We illegally took foxy into Palatine Hill) We saw everything there was to see in both places, with one squirmy dog wondering why she could not walk around all these old ruins.

This was the first night we actually had dinner, we picked out a place from Rick Steve’s book by the Spanish Steps and took the metro there (I was exhausted from walking so much the last couple days) We found the restaurant got our table and then began to look and listen to people around us. They were all Americans; not that is a bad thing…it felt like a tourist attraction more than dinner.

Sunday morning…after a late start and a bus that never came we missed the Roma Flea market. On the other hand we then made our way to see the Pope with plenty of time to spare. Once again it rained or as the little old ladies from long island said holy water was coming down. We really got to see and listen to the Pope. It was the Sunday blessing that he does, again according to the ladies anything you have on and with you gets blessed by the pope when you are there. (No foxy wasn’t with us) It was actually something to see all these people from different countries singing and playing music while waiting for the pope to appear from his apartment window.

Then we headed down to the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin to see the “mouth of truth” as were standing in line outside after you see the mouth you go through the church…again no bag for Foxy but it wasn’t a problem she just got to go in. (You have to love Europe they usually allow dogs everywhere) then we headed back up to see the roman forum at night. As we were heading there we pasted the Musei Capitolini or Capitol Hill Museum which caught Joe’ eye…after asking if Foxy can go into the Museum and a quick call to somebody we were in. Get this not only did they allow a dog in the Museum but it was open till 8:00 at night on a Sunday. (We were just instructed not to let her down in we had to carry her at all times) So foxy go to see some really old statues and art.

Things we learned you can always buy an umbrella when it starts to rain and you can pay a little more to skip the lines. I really can’t imagine Roma in the summer time when it is really really crowded, we thought is was crowded now in November.

We had an amazing trip and can't wait to go back. We can truly say that Roma was not built in a day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween 2

Tonight we just had 25 ghost and goblins singing outside our door- Halloween is tomorrow night though! However they were very polite saying "merci madame" after i gave them candy.

One of these days i will figure the European Halloween rules.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Bonjour from rainy Brussels…it hasn’t rained for a week and now we are getting the rain again. Of course I can’t remember when I saw the sun last.

Saturday was the 5th Halloween party on our street. They blocked the street off and mobs of kids run around till they go house to house. After trick or treating they gather in the middle of the street for ghost stories and fire works.

The sad thing this year is they didn’t come to our house, or I missed them either way I have a ton of candy left over.

We can’t wait to have our Halloween party again; I really miss Halloween and hope everyone has a great one!

I tried to upload a photo of last year and it isn’t working…I’m still very new at this blog thing. I hope I figure it so I can share our upcoming Rome trip with you.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Teeth Wash

Saturday Foxy went to the vet to get her “teeth washed”. She had some bad teeth and now we have noticed some were loose. We reluctantly put this off due to the fact we did not want her to have to go under general anesthesia. That really scared Joe the most because she is so small and has breathing problems.

At the vet he explained they use a series of shots not anesthesia. The first shot made her very sleepy, we were asked to take her outside and wait for it to take effect. Let’s just say it worked really fast. We brought her outside and she was already standing like the leaning tower of Pisa…then her eyes got heavy and the she fell over.

The second shot was what he called a Valium, and that she would now see “pink elephants” after this shot. He gave her the shot and we were then directed to come back and get her in a couple hours.

After a couple hours we entered the vet’s office again to find that she was o.k. but had to have 6 teeth pulled. Yes he showed us the little bowl full of teeth. Then he brought her out to us… she was absolutely hyper. I was expecting a nice mellow dog that I would have to carry home, but that would be the 3rd shot taking effect to wake her up from the other 2 shots. He stated that she would be acting “drunk” for a while.

As we started to head home she was walking a mile a minute and swaying the whole way. Not to mention she was shaking like crazy. She also had a little trouble doing her business and fell over one time. Yes indeed she was acting like a drunken college student on a Thursday night.
When we got her home we checked out her new toothless grin. Her 2 top front teeth were gone and her 4 bottom front teeth were also pulled. Joe thinks her modeling days are done…but I reminded him that Lauren Hutton had a big gap in the front and she was a good model. Foxy has secretly asked for new front teeth for Christmas though.

The remainder of the day she slept it off and was ready to watch the rugby world cup on TV with us. Since I don’t have American football here I have discovered I like rugby.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I did it!

Welcome to my first blog. I have successfully set up a blog and in English...for some reason kept bringing me to in dutch. Now my next task will be figure out the rest of this blogging stuff.