12 February 2012

Noël en Belgique

Christmas chez les Vanrykel! Ben, Fanny, Alain, Françoise, Zizou (Martin Vanrykel is in Canada this year)
For Christmas eve we went to my host grandmother's house again and did presents there.  We ate, drank and were merry!

A host uncle who likes to dress up brought everyone wigs for Christmas, and EXTRA merriment ensued!  Those are host cousins with us.  We also all received each a beautiful scarf from host grandmother.

The day of Christmas, we got up and got on the road all the way to the bottom of Belgium to the proud region of Gaume.  I was a little bit nervous again, because it was more host family that I had never seen before, but I was warned that these families get together once a year and eat until we explode and have the best time of the year!   The relation I'm not entirely sure about how it all works, but I think it is the home of the cousin of Françoise that we stayed at, in a town called Bellefontaine which has lots of natural springs and springhouses where the villagers used to come to do laundry.

This springhouse dates back several hundred years, (at least 4) and now has a creche in it.

The village also had a showing of creches of different styles here and there.  The host-master of the house was involved in a city committee or something, and was up to date on all the community happenings.

It was really cool to get a tour from someone who is so well informed on his region and culture.  He also had keys to get into the spring houses :)  But he could point at the mountain and say, "that is the stone native to this region" and then show the rivers that made the stone like that and then point out the houses old enough to be made with that stone!

In Gaume they have a traditional dish, called "Pâté Gaumais" which is basically a meat pie with a thick crust and a special spice.  The 26th of December, they had a pâté Gaumais eating contest in the region's cultural capital, Virton.  We drove in to see it.  Hot wine, and pâté tasting.  It was quite a sight to see.

The king of the pâté Gaumais this year ate something like 3 and half whole pies in 20 minutes. I really don't remember but I want to say about to 5 kg.

This is also the largest pâté Gaumais for the year.  They sold it a Euro a slice.  I don't think I ever knew what it said.

A big christmas tree in Virton.

La region de Gaume

Later that day, we drove to Orval, to see the Orval monastery.  There are something like 7 or 11 monks that live on the compound today.  The monks used to brew their own famous Trappist monk beer, but now it's too large and commercial for such a small number, so they have other people working there now too.  There are only 7 Trappist monasteries worldwide THAT PRODUCE Trappist beer.  6 in Begium, one in the Netherlands.  It's also a copyright and labeling rights thing.  Theorhetically, these beers could be found worldwide.  The Gaumais are proud of their Orval.  It's sweet, a tiny bit sour, and smooth, very bubbly.  Very good.

  The Gaumais are proud of their Orval.  It's sweet, a tiny bit sour, and smooth, very bubbly.  Very good.

The grounds are also really really huge!

A monk!

In the brewing museum.  The word for brewery in French is "brasserie," which I'm sure you have seen before.

This is the pool of the Countess Mathilde of Tuscany.  She may or may not actually be a saint.  Anyway, there are lots of stained glass renditions of her at Orval.  The legend goes that around 1100, Mathilde (or Matilde for you Anglophones) came to the natural spring to grieve the death of her late husband, and accidentally dropped her wedding ring into the water.  She prayed to God, and a trout came to the surface of the pool with the wedding ring in its mouth!  Mathilde saw that this was a holy area and donated a whole whole lot of money to start the monastery there. The trout with the wedding ring are on the label of the beer to this day!

The original monastery was destroyed in the French Revolution, and redone about a hundred years later.

Sheep of the region...

Horses of my host "uncle?"  They have a bit of property a bit further out in the country where he raises crawfish and they are going to build a cabin and stuff.

Giant oak trees near Bellfontaine.  Apparently there is a great  theatre and culture festival in the woods here during the summer.

On the way home the 28th or so, we stopped through Bouillon and visited the chateau fort!  The reason we distinguish chateau with "fort"is because we have for example the Chateau de Versailles which is a great PALACE and rich and luxurious, and then we have this chateau fort, which is like, a medieval war castle.  

The secret throne chair of the master of the castle, lord Godefroy de Bouillon.

The river actually goes on both sides of the butte.  I'm not really sure how that works.   The Semois.  

In the middle of the Ardennes.  Basically the hills that cross through belgium and separate Luxembourg from Liège, We can probably see France from here.

I just thought it was so pretty at night, Bouillon.
I went directly from Bouillon to my friend Lucy's birthday supper in Welkenraedt, where we ate veggie burgers.  The next day I went into Liège. obviously. lol  Getting close to new years!

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