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.