Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: beer

How small is the smallest town in the world?

Speaking of extremes, I’ve been to a few “extreme” places in Europe: Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point on mainland Europe, and Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands (debated by Maastricht). For this post: the world’s smallest town – Durbuy, Belgium.

HOLD ON. I think Hum, Croatia would kindly like to disagree. Perhaps ex-Buford in Wyoming, USA would disagree as well. There really isn’t much factual evidence that Durbuy, Belgium is indeed the smallest town in the world, although that is the small Belgian town’s claim to fame. Maybe it USED to be the smallest town in the world, once upon a time, but not anymore? Who knows?

Just how small is the “smallest” town in the world? A car ride into the hidden little place (thanks to Yi-Shiang & co.) would show us what it’s all about!

Durbuy is literally hidden in the forests. I think we were driving for some 20 minutes between rows of trees surrounded by tiny creeks and rivers, as if we were venturing into an unknown existence deep into the innermost parts of the woods. And suddenly, out of nowhere at all, the town emerged from behind the trees. I felt like we found the entrance to Narnia or something. First impression of Durbuy: it reminded me of another small town that I’ve visited, but I can’t remember which one… >_<

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Black, yellow, and red – Happy birthday Belgium!

July 21st was the Belgian National Day – happy birthday, dear host country #2! I didn’t even say happy birthday to France, who celebrated a week before Belgium.

I did some very brief research on the history of the independence of Belgium. The day was July 21st, 1831, when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands. That makes this year the 181st birthday of this small yet diverse country that may even be considered a little bizarre. Almost two years in Europe and I’ve spent close to half of my time here – wow.

(Completely unrelated side note: It seems like most of the countries that have held some significance to me at some point in my life has their nation days in July. Canada, July 1st. The USA, July 4th. France, July 14th. Belgium, July 21st. Coincidence?)

There were some events in Brussels for national day, and I decided that instead of staying in Louvain-la-Neuve, I’d head to the capital and spend some time around the city with two friends I met at the church in Brussels. We walked around a bit before deciding that there were way too many people and that we’d never squeeze through the crowd – the police wouldn’t even let us try. Since none of us are actually from Brussels and knew the city well, we wandered away from the parades and shows and crowds to do some exploring of our own.

Most of the events took place around Parc de Bruxelles, where the royal palace was situated. Here is one of the entrances, greeting us with two of the foody symbols of Belgium, beer and “French” fries. Yes, the Belgians invented the fries, not the French. There were other delicious goodness scattered throughout the park, including of course chocolate, mussels, and Brussels sprouts. I was surprised that I couldn’t find a waffle though 😦 For more pictures, click here to see them on Facebook.

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Cologne part 1: Around the city

Hello, Germany! It’s been a whole 7 months since I’ve last seen you. How have you been?

Yup, leaving hectic lab work behind for a few days, I was on my way to Deutschland again. As I boarded the InterCity Express (ICE) train from Brussels to Cologne a few days ago, my heart was filled with the same excitement and anticipation that I felt when I travelled alone for the first time. I think that was Paris last year during Christmas, and much has changed, definitely, between the two trips.

With that said, the visit to Cologne was nothing short of eventful. In between getting lost for an hour before finding my hostel, meeting a friend studying in Essen, almost losing my bank card due to my own stupidity, pushing and shoving through more Christmas markets than I’ve ever been to, and overdosing on food that resulted in pimple surge, I had fun. In fact, I haven’t had this much fun in a long while!

The recount on Cologne will be split into two posts. This one will be a more general overview of the fabulous city while a special Christmas edition will follow shortly.

So why Cologne? Two very simple reasons: distance and price. From Brussels, it took less than two hours to get to Cologne with ICE, well within my acceptable range for a weekend train trip. And it wasn’t expensive; if booked ahead of time, you could get round-trip tickets for well under 50 Euros. Score.

Let’s start with a few brief facts about Cologne (Köln in German). The fourth largest city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, Cologne is traversed by the Rhine river. Within the city, seven bridges cross the river, and five of them are easily visible from the city center. As much as Hamburg is known for the hamburger, Cologne is known for well…Eau de Cologne, which originated, of course, in Cologne. What did you expect?

Time for some photo spam (full album here)!

Perhaps the most well-known landmark in Cologne is the Dom, or the cathedral. That might be because…oh, I don’t know, because it’s RIGHT outside the central train station? You simply don’t “miss” the Dom; the first thing you see upon taking the main exit of the station is literally this massive structure. And massive is by no means an understatement. According to Wikipedia, the Cologne Dom “[was] tallest building in the world from 1880 to 1884; [is the] largest Gothic church in Germany; [is the] tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world”. Certainly rather impressive.

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24 Heures Velo 2011

I always seem to neglect Louvain-la-Neuve in my blog. Well, there’s no excuse to ignore it this week as it was time for…24 Heures Velo!

As the name implies, it is literally a 24-hour bike race. With beer. Lots of beer. And people.

This year, the race happened on October 26th and 27th. Some sources say that this is the second largest beer event in Europe after Oktoberfest, which surprises me because it’s happening in a small place like Louvain-la-Neuve. In any case, I’m pretty sure it’s the largest beer event of the year in Belgium, and definitely THE festival of the year at Louvain-la-Neuve. Some 40000+ people are said to attend each year, many from cities all over Belgium. Beer and bikes – a good combo or not? You be the judge.

So how does this race thing work? I actually didn’t quite figure it out myself, but I know there are three types of races: normal bikes, “folkloric” bikes, and charity bikes. I think it works like a relay race where teams have racers that rotate amongst each other and go around the circuit x times in y amount of time. I can’t imagine one person biking non-stop for 24 hours – that would take endurance, heck of a lot of endurance.

Aside from the races that take place through circuits designed around the city (I still hesitate using the word “city” to describe Louvain-la-Neuve, but heck, it makes things easier here), there were a plethora of concerts and activities happening concurrently. As far as I know they lasted all night, and yes, there were beer stands. Lots of beer stands for your drinking pleasure.

Let’s see how it went down.

Some colleagues told me that a few people in our lab were racing in the normal circuit, so I decided to join the team…as a spectator, and part of the cheering squad! Here’s Remi in blue, heading off for his turn. It was my first time trying to shoot fast moving action with Mr.Nikon, and I really have to practise more and learn how to do it properly, especially in the dark! A tripod would probably help, but with 40000 people in a crowded place, I felt in danger even with Mr.Nikon around my neck that day, not to mention a tripod…

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Spain part 1 – The best of Barcelona

Why, hola September! You are already here, I wasn’t expecting to see you for awhile. I guess I’d better write about my trip to Barcelona last month (was it really last month already?) before you move along too quickly!

The trip to Barcelona was much anticipated for several reasons. 1) I’ve heard mixed reviews for most popular travel destinations in Europe (Paris and Rome, for example) but I have not heard a single negative review about Barcelona. 2) LS-san, whose real name shall remain concealed, was my travel buddy for the week. This kid KNOWS how to travel, and what’s more, I haven’t seen him in almost a year! What better place to reunite than in beautiful Spain? 3) Spain = seafood and paella. I think that speaks for itself.

First impression of Barcelona upon exiting the airport – damn, it’s hot! Well, I suppose that was to be expected. Thank goodness I brought shorts, although they were originally intended to act as pyjamas.

Travelling to Barcelona would also prove to be an interesting little adventure for LS and I because neither of us researched deeply into what we would be doing there during our 5-day stay. Well, LS did know that he wanted to see Gaudi’s stuff, but I literally did not know where I needed to go from the airport, so thankfully LS managed to find his way to the airport to meet me, as he arrived a day earlier than I did. Usually when I visit a new city, I either plan out my routes extensively (familiarize with metro system, find out about points of attraction, etc.) or blindly follow the guide my friends who live in the city. That method has never failed before, but I think both LS and I forgot that neither of us lives in Barcelona and therefore no one would really know what was going on. Uh oh.

That didn’t cause a panic attack or anything. In fact, it was all the more fun because LS was a spontaneous traveller anyway, and we both loved getting lost and found in new, exotic places. So with a map in our hands, we plunged into the unknown.

Oh, I didn’t bring Mr.Nikon with me due to Barcelona’s notorious reputation of cameras being stolen and whatnot. Also Easyjet’s one-baggage quality wouldn’t have allowed me to bring my camera bag. Oh well, good ol’ Mr.Canon got the job done.

On the first day, we were looking for the way back to the hostel from the airport, if I remember correctly, and we may have been lost at some point. I saw this gigantic mural while wandering aimlessly through the streets of Barcelona. Quite magnificent, I must say.

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