Some Of The Things We Learned This Year

Sorry for the poor posting lately.  We went home to the US for a bit.  Between irregular internet access and cute nieces/nephews, I didn’t update as planned.  Now, we are at home and are both sick.   Our germy, jet-lagged heinies are planted on each couch and drinking tea.

This past year has been filled with changes.  Here are some of the things we have learned:

  • Certain actors become much more bearable when dubbed in other languages.  Although I generally avoid watching David Hasselhoff like the plague, I enjoyed watching Knight Rider dubbed Spanish.
  • Seeing other ways people live has helped us to better understand American culture and how we are products of it.
  • Shockingly, not everyone is as loud and expansive as we Americans are.  When we were in the US, we were a bit overwhelmed by the size of stores, malls and parking lots.  I guess it is a sign we are adapting.
  • What my dad said is true, only boring people are bored.
  • He was always a good packer, but I have learned how to be a much better one.  I can now make it a week with only a backpack!
  • There are all kinds of different ways of communicating.   As Americans, we tend to be more direct, linear and explicit.  Others are more indirect, circular and/or implicit (putting responsibility for understanding on the listener).    People aren’t going to change for you, so you’d better learn how they express themselves so you can understand what is being communicated.
  • If someone does a bad job cutting your hair.  Do not let them be the one to fix it.  Trust me on this one.  If you expressed dissatisfaction with their work, they may bear a grudge.  If they bear a grudge, you don’t want them with scissors anywhere near your hair.
  • Try not to complain.  Regardless of whatever pickle you may be in or frustration you may have, there is always someone who has bigger problems.   What seems like a big deal at the time usually isn’t a bit down the road and you will feel like an idiot if you’ve made too big a deal about something small.
  • You can’t treat your partner too well (especially if they are one of the only people you know on the continent).
  • It makes you feel a lot better when you understand why people do things so differently.  Getting yelled at for crossing the street the wrong way becomes a whole lot easier when you understand where they are coming from.
  • My photos are improving.  Despite regular practice (due to Geneva‘s high cost of living) my cooking has not.  On side note, the war with my oven continues with no end in sight.
  • We are still working on perfect mastery of conversions, but we’ve definitely learned some conversions (metric, Celsius, currency, etc.).
  • Lots of times, we call things learning experiences because there isn’t anything more positive we can say about them.   Change is difficult and stressful, but it is also a huge opportunity to learn and grow.  Plus, change is inevitable.  You may as well learn all you can and try to enjoy yourself along the way.

 


Advertisements

Road Signs In South Africa

While we were in South Africa, we saw a number of road signs that we’d never seen before.  Cow. Impalas. Horse. Crocodile.  Enjoy.
We won’t be swimming in that river.
If only I could have gotten out of the car to take a picture in front of the sign…
In areas without signs, street vendors were everywhere.  I’ve never seen so many people roadside.  There were even pedestrians on the sides of highways.
The sign below warns you of flooding.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get one of the sign warning you of no fences.  We were too busy looking at the cow in the road!


 

We Saw Lions!

The lion cares less about being the king of the beasts than about finding his dinner.” –Mason Cooley
When we were in South Africa, we visited Pilanesberg National Park.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with lions hunting behavior, the lionesses do the hunting as they are more aggressive by nature.  The males usually stay with the young and wait for the females to return.  Lions usually hunt in groups and rely heavily on the element of surprise as they don’t have great stamina.  They hunt, among other animals, impalas.
We saw four lions (two males, two lioness).   We also saw four male impalas.  Surprisingly, the impalas seemed to taunt the lions.  They stomped their hooves, snorted, shook their heads while facing the lions and moved closer!
Our guide was over the moon and said he had never seen anything like it.   We kept expecting the smack down on their brazen behavior and braced ourselves to see some blood.  Our guide said that the lions must have had eaten recently because they walked away…right in front of us!
The coolest thing was that they walked right toward and past us!  It was amazing to see a lion stroll around.   Check out the scars on his back leg!
I now understand why kings like lions on their heraldry, they are truly powerful, majestic and regal (even if the ones we saw weren’t hungry).

Braai

While in South Africa (at Bongwe), we attended a few Braai (barbecues).  They are a South African institution with its own etiquette that stretches across ethnic and class lines.  Since Christmas is in their summer, their traditional Christmas dinner is a Braai!  They are also have them regularly as get-togethers, weekend dinners, the preferred means of celebrating South African Heritage DayBraai Day and for visitors like us.
You can use almost any kind of meat.  Locals do it as a sort of potluck with BYOM (bring your own meat).  The meats are a bit more exotic than you find at a typical US barbecue. Common ones include: lamb, steak, chicken, ostrich, gemsbock, springbock and ducks!
This twist, using Coca-Cola, on Beer Can Chicken may look familiar to many Americans.  Other popular Braai dishes include:
  • Droewars, a dried sausage eaten on the Great Trek
  • Potbrod, bread baked over coals. It’s kind of like a biscuit, but less sweet and toasted.  It’s delicious.

  • Melktert, a milk based dessert, not too different from cheesecake

Fences In South Africa

Johannesburg is a place where they take security pretty seriously.  As you can see from the sign in the photo above, random boot checks will be carried out.
Panic buttons, guard houses, bars on windows, private security firms, metal detectors and gun safes are commonplace.  Be sure to check your firearm before entering the mall.  If you don’t, you won’t make it past the metal detectors and searches. They even have gun safes at the airport!

 

I have never seen so much fencing.  They exist for security and also to keep animals in, out or just off the road.
When I visited Soweto (a generally poorer area), I still saw fences.
 
Oh yeah, and we saw these all over the highways.  That is a serious vehicle.   It’s like a tank!

 

Belgian Trappist Beers

Orval

Orval (Photo credit: jucanils)

“This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption… Beer!”

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Friar Tuck

I thought this quote was perfect for the Trappist beers. To qualify as a Trappist beer, it must:

  • be brewed in a monastery,
  • monks must play a role in its production,
  • profits from the sale must used to support the monastery and/or social programs.
Trappist

Trappist (Photo credit: Titimo)

There are 6 in Belgium:

The Netherland’s has the only other one in the world. While they are all yummy, they have different styles.

Achel trappist beer (Belgium).

Achel trappist beer (Belgium). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Achel was an established monastic brewery until the German army looted its copper kettels during WWI. They restarted brewing in 1998 and have continuously improved their operation. You are starting to be able to find this brand with more ease in the US.
The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleu...

The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleue in the glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chimay, the largest and best-known Trappist brewer, now uses non-monks to do most of their brewing. This has created a bit of a backlash with two main effects arguments: (1) creation of a controversy whether they merit their Trappist designation, and (2) whisperings of a decline in quality.

They make three types: red, white and blue (by far the best). If you are looking to bring something other than wine, a large bottle of Chimay Blue is a nice and pretty easy to find.

Orval Trappist beer

Orval Trappist beer (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Orval is only known for one kind of beer. It is dry, light and hoppy (which makes it different from other Trappist ales).

The monastery of Orval has the beautiful ruins on their grounds that are worth touring. Their symbol is a fish with a ring.    This is because a noblewoman allegedly lost her ring in a pond.  A fish brought it to the surface.  To show her gratitude, she funded the monastery.  That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

The beers of Rochefort

The beers of Rochefort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rochefort (not Roquefort where they make the yummy but stinky cheese) makes rich ales. I like them all, but if you have never tried them, Rochefort 8 (a bit lighter) and 10 (stronger and darker) are good bets.  Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, not the singer) wrote a great article about his visit there.

Westmalle Trappists and friends

Westmalle Trappists and friends (Photo credit: valde_)

Westmalle is the originator of the widely imitated Trippel style. (You are now officially warned about the high alcohol content of all Trippels, Dubbels too. In fact, be aware of the high alcohol content of virtually all Belgian beers. Trust him on this one.) Any of their beers are a good ones and relatively easy to find.

Westvleteren XII - Best bier in the world

Westvleteren XII – Best bier in the world (Photo credit: Philippe Clabots)

Westvleteren is the best beer we have ever had. They don’t market or distribute this beer. To lay our hands on a bottle, our friend Steamer traveled to Belgium, went on a specific morning at a specific time (they don’t sell it any old time) to the abbey and bought all he could.  Don’t quote me on this, but I think there was a six bottle max. It was so good that he drank them all over the course of his vacation.

Luckily, he stopped in a shop in Amsterdam at the end of his trip. They had just sent someone to the monastery to buy a limited amount. He managed to buy one and bring one back to the US for us to taste. Steamer is such a good friend! If you tasted it, you might not share. This beer is so good that it will set the bar by which all beers you taste will be measured (and found wanting).

For more in Westvlandren, here’s a link to an article about someone’s visit.

 

Kinds Of Belgian Beers

Belgium is known for many different kinds of beer. They include:
Abbey Beers – Abbey beers are generally brewed from traditional recipes under a license by a commercial breweries. Maredesous, Leffe and Grimbergen are good ones that are easy to find in the US. Some can be found in the Trippel and/or Dubbel styles.  Many American (and Canadian) microbrews emulate these.
Amber Ales – Belgium’s Amber Ales are similar to British Pale Ales, but are less hoppy. They are slightly spicy which is balanced by a bit of a yeasty taste.
De Koninck

De Koninck (Photo credit: Schlüsselbein2007)

Belgium’s Brown Ales are a specialty of eastern Flanders. They are complex, lack acidity, usually have a caramel-like malty sweetness and have strong flavors (often a sourness from several months of maturation). They tend to have a high alcohol content (notice the start of a pattern and consider this the first of many warnings). One that I have seen in the US is De Koninck.
Français : Delirium Tremens (bière)

Français : Delirium Tremens (bière) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Belgian Golden Ales are not the run of the mill golden ale that you get in the US. They have a higher alcohol content than many of the US ales (you were warned) but not as high as the Belgian Dubbels and Trippels.
Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor

Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Belgian Golden Ales are clear with a clean taste and are maltier and hoppier instead of fruity or yeasty.  Quality ones that are easily available in the US include: Delirium Tremens, Duvel and Delerium Tremens.
English: Exterior of Délirium Café

English: Exterior of Délirium Café (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blanche/Whit/White Beers – These wheat beers are light, cloudy, and with a hint of citrus. They are similar to a German HefeWiessen, but have coriander and orange peel. The White Beers that are best known in the US include: Hoegaarden St. Bernadus and Blue Moon (not Belgian, but I thought it would help explain the style).
Lambic Beers – Lambics are pretty unique so they get their own day.  For the Lambic post, click here.
English: Maes pils

English: Maes pils (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pils – Pils are generally mass produced beers that are widely found in Belgium. Common ones there include: Jupiler, Maes and Stella Artois (which is easily found in the US).

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red Beers – This style comes from western Flanders. Red Beers are produced from red barley, aged in oak and highly fermented. They are refreshing, fruity, sweet and sour. Make sure that you drink it cold (not as much of an issue in the US as it is in other parts of Europe).  Rodenbach and Duchess de Bourgogne are two good examples of this style.

Trappist Beers – They are so wonderful and unique that they get their own day! Click here for the post.

Saisons – Saison Beers are a specialty of Walloon (the southern French-speaking part of Belgium). They are typically brewed in smaller breweries and have an artisanal quality. They are hoppier, spicier, have stronger flavors than many other beers and can be a bit tart. Most likely, they won’t have the extremely high alcohol content of other Belgian beers. They are brewed in smaller batches and you can taste it.  Some of the better ones that you can find in the US are: Dupont and Fantome Pissenlit.
Categorie:Afbeelding bier

Categorie:Afbeelding bier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Special Belgian Beers are some of the country’s best.  They are have a gravity of .060 to .095, use various herbs and spices and doesn’t clearly fall into any other category (more or less).  They offer a unique taste that is not easily replicated.  You can usually find some brands in the US: Golden Draak (similar in style to Piraat and a friend’s favorite), Kwak, Piraat (blonde, have a high alcohol content and amazing flavor), Dupont (I know that it is listed more than once here, try it and decide how you would categorize it) and La Chouffe (dark amber, rich, herbal, a great winter beer).

Sour ales from Belgium

Sour ales from Belgium (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Congratulations Belgium! After 541 Days, You Have A Government.

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the Eur...

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Belgium was unable to form a government for 541 days! What?  How can they have been governmentless for so long? There was an ethnic standoff in Belgium’s parliament. The French and Flemish (Dutch) speaking communities* were divided and were not able to form a government… for about 18 consecutive months (demolishing Iraq’s record).

 

 

English: A graphical representation of the six...

English: A graphical representation of the six biggest Flemish political parties and their results for the House of Representatives (Kamer). From 1978 to 2010, in percentages for the complete ‘Kingdom’. Nederlands: Een grafische voorstelling van de 6 grootste Vlaamse partijen en hun behaalde resultaten voor de Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers. Van 1978 tot en met 2010, uitgedrukt in procenten voor ‘Het Rijk’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Why didn’t they hold new elections. Few people believes calling new elections would help. The Belgians don’t have any truly national political parties, only regional (i.e., Flemish, French, etc.) parties. The Flemish-speaking separatist party (New Flemish Alliance) is quite popular and there are deep divisions between the parties. If they held new elections, the results would likely have been the same (as the one that created the stalemate) or the more extreme populist parties would have gained ground.

 

Things continued to function, more or less, on auto-pilot. Civil servants showed up to work. Governmental power was already somewhat decentralized from the national government to the French and Flemish speaking parts of the country. These separate divisions continued to function. Also, Belgium is part of the European Union which exerted power (ironically from Brussels).

Elio Di Rupo

Elio Di Rupo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was finally resolved when a Flemish separatist party left negotiations in the hope of provoking new elections. The move backfired when another party managed to cobble together a new government when Belgium’s debt was downgraded last month. Their new leader is Elio Di Rupo.

I love Belgium. It is a fantastic country. To celebrate Belgium’s new government (and aid you in your holiday beverage selections), I am declaring this coming week Belgian Beer Week. Cheers! Sante! Op uw gezondheid! Proust!

Français : Etape 19 (L'Alpe d'Huez) du Tour de...

*Cyclist Philippe Gilbert just won an award for his bravery uniting his fellow Belgians, both Flemish and French.

**Mr. Di Rupo is the country’s first openly gay leader and the second openly gay leader of a country (after Johanna Sigurdardottir of Iceland).

**********************************************************
I was going to post this early last week. On the way home, I heard on the radio that a gunman in Liege, Belgium opened fire on a crowd. The gunman killed six (seven including himself), and injured 121 people. Words can’t properly express the tragedy and sorrow created by this senseless act.

 

 

Geneva’s Christmas Lights

Geneva waits to turn on its Christmas lights until December 1st.   Being Swiss, Geneva puts their decorations up way before the first, but waits until the official start of the holidays (no Thanksgiving there) to turn them on.   He loves Christmas lights and we would walk in the evenings hoping that this would be the night they were finally on.  We traveled most of December, but managed to see a bit of them.
Each time I see the cranes all lit up, I smile.  Thanks construction companies.  You add to my enjoyment of the holidays.  Clark W. Griswold would be proud of your exterior illumination.
I love it when the trees are completely covered in lights. The building is pretty cool too.
In general, I notice a lot more greenery, balls and lights in decorations over here.  Perhaps we haven’t been frequenting the right places, but I haven’t seen as many Santa’s, Snowmen and Nativity Scenes.  Just to be thorough, I haven’t seen any elves, angels or animals either. Not surprisingly, I haven’t seen Dickens’ era (British) or Currier and Ives (American) style decorations either.  No pictures of old-fashioned Christmases with carolers, ice skaters or sleighs.
They are festive, but elegant.  Oh yeah, I haven’t seen any houses done up like Clark W. Griswold’s either.  Now that we are back in the states, I am on it and will try to find some.

 

 

Grateful

When I was in Soweto, I learned that there are 300-400 funerals there every weekend for people dying from AIDS.  Today, as we go home to visit our friends and families.  It puts things in perspective and we are profoundly grateful not just for the opportunity to be with them, but for their health and well-being.