Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rain+Chocolate+Fries+Beer+Cheese= Definitely a Day in Belgium

Yesterday we went with AFS to Chimay, a little town in Hainaut famous for beer, cheese, and pickled eel. Our first stop was a chocolaterie for a presentation(and free samples!). The smell alone was worth getting up at 5 in the morning, and it was mesmerizing to watch the chocolatier filling molds from veritable fountains of chocolate of different kinds. He also explained some chocolate facts (like why white chocolate is more expensive) and told us some recipes. I tried to reference the I Love Lucy episode in the chocolate factory but no one else had ever seen it. There was much talk of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, however.
After this little trip to heaven, we had free time to find lunch, and the wetness began.  Belgium has been having horrendous weather this weekend---Thursday we had a wind/rain storm that knocked down several trees, and rain has kept up pretty much since then. Yesterday it was ‘raining ropes’ unceasingly. In French you can say that weather is beautiful (beau) and when it’s nasty out you say that the weather is ugly (moche). Yesterday the weather had a wart on the end of its nose, a black eye, and missing teeth. Despite our umbrellas and raincoats, we were dripping by the time we made it to a friterie. We draped our coats on a nearby heater and left full of hot frites, sauce, and new courage.
Little did we know we were hopping out of the frying pan into the fire. We made it back to our rendez-vous at the tourism center and found out that we were heading out for an hour and a half walking tour of Chimay. The tour guide had excellent English (although this was his first tour in English for native English speakers in 6 years) and gave an interesting tour of the local church and monuments. I had no idea, but some of the cobbled streets here date back to the 17OO’s. Wow. We were walking the exact same street as contemporaries of the French Revolution. I thought that was very cool. Chimay was originally settled around 1000 or 1100 (I forget which) and was mostly a forested region. Iron working and limestone was big in the region, as was the church. The local monks created the now-famous Chimay beer and cheese. The church was beautiful, primitive gothic, and DRY. We enjoyed our 15 minutes in there very much.
We survived the tour and returned to the tourism center to watch some videos on Chimay specialties and wring out our clothing. The videos showed us how the beer and cheese was made, and then we got to try some. The beer was, well, beer (bitter and not very good) but was better than some varieties I have tried. The cheese, on the other hand, was delightful, with and without celery salt. We shared our Belgian repast and then headed out to wait for the bus (more rain) that would get us back to the train station in Charleroi.
All in all, it was a worthwhile day. We students have been here almost 3 months, and now we are having more and more conversations in French between ourselves instead of just English. I find it is so much easier to be social and outgoing and friendly in English or with English to fall back on. A day to use my English and be outgoing was very welcome, even if it was rather soggy. I got soaked right down to my voting card in my wallet, even with the advantage of a raincoat, and today I am rather snuffly.  Jane Austen, I will never make fun of your characters for getting their feet wet and then catching cold and almost dying again. 

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