Oh, We Went to France and Belgium Last Year

I mentioned awhile back that one of the things I was most looking forward to was our trip to France and Belgium with Nathan and Casey. (They used to live in Annapolis but are currently stationed in Germany, because they hate everyone and don’t want us to be happy.)

Now, here we are – months later – and breaking news: The trip was fantastic.

Unfortunately, I also lost about 75 percent of the photos I took, due to a rushed and botched file transfer when I upgraded to a new iPhone within weeks of returning home. (And no amount of IT kung fu from Patrick could bring them back.) After I realized what happened, I was crushed and couldn’t even think about it.

Then life got busy again – I had to leave for a work conference in Boston less than two weeks after coming back. Then it was Thanksgiving. Then I just… well, I flat out ignored my blog, because I feel guilty about how much I neglect it.

Instead of continuing to wallow, however, I’m finally going to share at least a few of the remaining snapshots (and brief memories), before this trip slips entirely into the haze of the past narrative.

Some of it will be out of order; sometimes there will be gaps. But at this point, I don’t really care. It was a perfect adventure, and it was so wonderful to get to share those experiences with two amazing friends who worked very hard to put together such a thoughtful, memorable and comprehensive itinerary.

One we could have never dreamed of coming up with on our own.

We arrived in Paris, and I committed a mortal sin: I put most of Patrick’s stuff in the carry-on, and mine ended up in the suitcase that… was lost by the airline. But still, after red-eye out of Baltimore and a layover in Iceland (complete with a 4 a.m. beer), we had made it!

Our first stop, after dropping our remaining bags at our rented apartment in Paris’ Latin Quarter, was Musée du Louvre. It was overwhelming in every sense of the word, to the point where I don’t even know how to describe it. I mean really, how do you provide a proper summary of a place where mummies, the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace all reside under a single roof?

Our first dinner in Paris was at a small, chic French bistro called TRADI. I remember that Patrick’s meal of “ravioles” was served in a bright, heavy copper pot, and the sauce was so rich. It was one of those meals where I’m glad this rushed photo is the only one I snapped.

Nathan and Casey brought in croissants and jam almost every morning, because they are awesome. (Or they are really good at faking it. I’ll take either scenario.)

We walked almost everywhere, which made it easy to justify all of the croissants and cream and cheese – the three Cs of Paris. According to my now-dead Fitbit, we walked close to 24 miles, over the course of our entire trip.

One of my favorite afternoons in Paris was when we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was gray and somewhat rainy, but it ended up being a perfectly cool October afternoon.

(Of note: It was on this day when Careless Whisper became the official theme song of our trip, thanks to a misunderstanding about the hold music I had to listen to, while trying to track down my luggage. Fun fact, Casey is great at sounding like a saxophone.)

One of the best parts of our little siesta at the Jardin du Luxembourg was that it was Patrick’s birthday.

Oh, and we had a picnic of wine, bread and cheese, because Paris. (Hi, Casey.)

When the clouds began to look a little more threatening, we wrapped up our picnic. And after a round of beer at Le Parvis – as well as a quick rainstorm – we visited Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

Then it really started to rain, so we went to MONK La Taverne de Cluny, which had an expansive and tasty beer menu. My favorite beer I tried – which I never found again during our trip – was La Rioule Simcoe India Pale Ale from Brasserie de la Vallée du Giffre, a French microbrewery.

…and Nathan and Patrick made it weird. Of course.

By the night of Patrick’s birthday, we were still waiting for my luggage. Since there was a chance it might show up, we opted to stay in. Instead of a night on the town, we brought back a bunch of food (including some celebratory macaroons), drank wine and watched Midnight in Paris on my laptop. Not what we had originally planned, but it was kind of perfect.

By the next day, I had my luggage again – hooray! We also we went to Versailles.

While we were there, we took the only picture that exists of all four of us together during the trip.

After Versailles, we made our way to the Musée d’Orsay, which I think I loved more than the Louvre. It’s much smaller, of course, but between the setting (a converted train station) and their permanent collection – it was heaven. I remember just sitting in the middle of the atrium pathway at one point, just taking it all in.

* * *

Lost photos: Later, we went to Cimetière de Picpus, where the Marquis de Lafayette is buried. It was completely hidden behind two large doors and an expansive red-brick wall (if memory serves), on a street that reminded me of New York Avenue in Washington, D.C. It was a somber, rainy afternoon as Nathan took us through and shared the sometimes tragic history of the church, the grounds and Lafayette himself. (If you know Nathan, you know what a wealth of knowledge he is.) Part of me is very upset that the photos are lost, but another part of me thinks it was just one of those moments in time that really shouldn’t be reproduced or shared in photos. Patrick also noted it was probably one of his favorite moments from the trip. 

* * *

Next, we hopped a cab to kick-off our festivities for the evening – as well as our last night in Paris – with what had been originally planned for Patrick’s birthday. It began with beer at La Fine Mousse bar à bières artisanales

…and Casey and I decided it was our turn to be the weirdos.

After drinks, we headed across the street to the La Fine Mousse restaurant (obviously, the two establishments are related), where we had another fantastic, multicourse dinner. We also had a chance to visit the beer cellar, and we ended the evening with a bottle of 2012 barley wine from Italy.

I love this photo, because you can very faintly see Patrick on the left looking straight up.

Stuffed with food and beer – and somewhat tipsy – we poured ourselves into another cab and headed to our final Parisian outing: the Eiffel Tower. As we drove along the Seine, we were lucky enough to witness the hourly light show, which was downright magical. Then we ate crepes from a vendor nearby. Mine was piled high with ice cream.

* * *

Before we move onto the next leg of our trip in Belgium…

I don’t remember exactly when this was. One afternoon in Paris, we walked over the Seine, and it was completely breathtaking. I want to say it was after we went to the Musée d’Orsay? Regardless of when, we were gifted with this picture-perfect moment as we crossed the bridge, because it had been gray and rainy for much of our trip.

We also had a chance to snap this photo of ourselves. Soon after, the four of us found ourselves on a carousel acting like children. Or, I guess you could just say we were acting like our normal, ridiculous selves.

* * *

After a quick coffee at a French Starbucks in a train station, we were off to Belgium. This involved a train trip out to Strasbourg, and then Nathan and Casey driving us through the French and Belgian countryside to our final destination of Bruges.

We briefly stopped at Brouwerij St. Bernardus, and then attempted to visit the famous Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren. Unfortunately, the latter was closed. Sad trombone.

Signs in Belgium are so much cooler than ours. This is a fact.

When Patrick woke up from his nap, he decided to read the infamous Nate the Snake joke out loud to us, in its entirety – I kid you not, it takes about 45 minutes, and it is so much more excruciating when you already know the ending.

I was also reminded during our road trip to Belgium how prevalent smoked salmon is in Europe – airports, coffee shops, gas stations… I probably ate smoked salmon more than any other food.

Then we arrived in Bruges, a town known for its canals. If you’ve seen the movie In Bruges, you probably thought they filmed it on some sort of set, like I did. (If you haven’t seen it, consider this an intervention. SEE IT.)

But they didn’t, and Bruges really does look like this crazy, centuries-old fairy tale town. It was like falling off of the map into this idyllic European beer and chocolate mecca.

Our first stop in Bruges was T’ Brugsch Bieratelier.

We relaxed and drank our first official beers in Belgium. This should come as no surprise, since it’s Belgium, but they were delicious.

At this first stop, I was also able to snap a rare photo of Nathan smiling.

Then we went to Brouwerij De Halve Maan Brugge, which has been in operation for centuries. For you stateside Belgian beer nerds, this is where Straffe Hendrik comes from. Let me tell you, having the opportunity to enjoy my beloved Straffe Hendrik Quad and Wild directly from the source was blissful.

We also played virtual Cards Against Humanity while we were there, since we are very mature.

Later on, we had dinner at Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. So much beer. So many mussels. Patrick had steak. Unfortunately, it was also during this meal that I broke my streak of not knocking stuff over – I’m not sure how I went so long – when I spilled half of my Flemish soup all over myself… and Casey. Thankfully we had already had a few, so no one really cared too much.

In a totally futile attempt to walk off our meal, we meandered through the streets of Bruges, back to our accommodations.

Absolutely hideous, right? Ugh, why did we even go there?

Everyone pretended they were going to stay up and watch In Bruges, but only Nathan and I made it to the end. The next morning, we regrouped over waffles in Bruges’ busy Market Square.

That was later followed by Cantillon tucked upstairs at De Garre.

Eventually, we split up – Nathan, Casey and Patrick went exploring, and I went in search of a place to write this column. (You can read the whole thing here.) On my way, I found horse-drawn carriages.

And more hideously gorgeous scenery.

Seriously, this kind of beauty is not normal.

I eventually settled on a basic little café, but later on, I met up with the group for a late lunch at an Italian eatery. We moved on to Rose Red so we could drink beer, and I could finish writing before my deadline.

For our final dinner in Bruges (and of our trip), we landed on a really quirky place called The Habit. Afterward, ended up at ‘t Brugs Beertje – beloved by the peerless beer writer Michael Jackson. We drank smoked beer and beet beer and… well, all of the beer, because it was our last night.

We drew inappropriate things on commemorative coasters and made more than our fair share of terrible jokes, before finally calling it quits.

After almost no sleep, Nathan and Casey drove us to the train station in Bruges, and we said our goodbyes. The first leg of our train journey took us to Brussels.

Then we caught the sun rising over the French countryside, after making our connection in Brussels to Paris.

Considering how unfun airports are – Charles de Gaulle, in particular – it should come as no surprise that our last photo is a random one: a view from our window, as we flew over Greenland on our way back home.

* * *

Wow, I have such a strange jumble of feelings, having gotten to the end of writing this.

I’m sad I waited so long to share this trip; at this point, the missing photos don’t matter, because the ones I do have – including ones not shared – are enough. It was also amazing to go back and piece the entire experience together; we packed so much into a single week that it went by so quickly. So, to have the chance to relive it in this small way was an unexpected joy.

I know there a lot of things I missed – Patrick’s hilarious “lost in translation” moment with a bartender in Paris, when he tried to order a vodka soda; the store called Lady Chocolate in Bruges; the tiny, tiny showers… but that’s okay.

So, uh, Patrick… when are we going back again?

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