Friday, August 29, 2008

The summer that was

The great thing about waking up before 5am is that I had plenty of time, before my first meeting of the semester, to upload and provide captions for many photos from the trip. As you'll see, we--Jo and I--went first to Cologne, then to Belgium (by which I mean all over Belgium), then to Cologne once more. Why Cologne? Because a flight there was $400 a person cheaper than the cheapest flight to Brussels. That said, Cologne was not bad at all. Granted it has what might well be the worst coffee in the Western world, but it also has huge streets that go bookshop-shoe store-bookshop; an impressive modern art museum; and a Nolita-esque boutique district, where I got fabulous earrings from a woman who clearly hated selling anything to an American. (And no, a German reading class did not allow me to make myself understood in spoken German). The truly undrinkable coffee might explain why, when we left our hotel not long after 9am, we saw a man drinking a beer as though it were coffee. We didn't quite join the 9am bandwagon, but Gaffel Kolsch is indeed the way to go when you find yourself in that part of the world.

So that was Germany, or a day and a half's worth (36 hours, as Jo pointed out) of one German city. Before Germany we spent two fabulous, pastry-filled weeks with Jo's family in Belgium. I tried new Belgian cheeses and discovered that the ones that are sort of eh in America are sort of amazing when purchased near the source. When not eating, we went to Knokke--a Belgian Hamptons--as well as Brussels, Antwerp, and Liege. I became obsessed, to put it mildly, with the HEMA, a Belgian (Dutch?) Monoprix/Kmart-type store where everything is cheap (given the exchange rate, less so) and beautifully designed. For the most part, Belgians--and perhaps Europeans in general--seem to value quality over quantity, or at least to buy only a few things and, whatever their quality, to treat them with care, making silly purchases (silver pencil cases, say) all the more surprising to find. Other highlights: I finally got to see the Flemish Primitives paintings I was unable to see last time. And... did I mention the cheese?

More later, when the jet-lag subsides.

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