After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Antwerp, Belgium & Cologne, Germany (3rd - 7th January)

Charlotte enjoying beer brewed in-house at t'Pakhuis, Antwerp.

Kolsch beer served in traditional 200ml glasses, Cologne.

Next stop, Antwerp. We had visited a couple of times before but once for only a night and another time as a day trip. We felt like we knew the old town and the tourist bits quite well, and really loved it to the point of saying it was our European city of choice to live in. This time we got a hostel at the other side of the railway station, in fact “the other side of the tracks” is a fitting description and metaphor. It was more of the real Antwerp I suppose, near the Diamond District. It is a little more rough around the edges, a lot of character and cultural diversity. We really loved our hostel (AB Hostel), it was on the site of an old chocolate factory. Unfortunately, no trace of the chocolate any longer! It was only a small factory, as the hostel only had 2 dorms and a private twin, so at capacity there wouldn't be more than 20-25 people staying. It was fairly quiet seeing as it was early January. It was probably the best hostel we have stayed in; really friendly owners, a huge lounge and dining area, well equipped kitchen etc. If anyone wanted a model hostel to base a new one on, I would say this is it. Only problem was that being an old factory there wasn't much natural light, a bit of a bummer in winter especially. There was a roof terrace but since it was mostly cloudy and drizzling we weren't tempted!

Our time was spent exploring different parts of the city. The first evening we headed to Huisbrouwerij 't Pakhuis, a brewery/restaurant. No surprises there then. The beer was excellent; sorry France but you can't compete with Belgian beer! We found out this night that Baby Isaac was born (Bekah and Mark's baby), so we of course 'wet the babies head' (a tradition I wasn't familiar with but Charlotte filled me in: Apparently it is traditional that the father goes out and gets drunk after his child is born – sounds responsible!). The rest of our days were spent exploring on foot areas such as Chinatown and the marina. We paid a visited to a famous pub called the Kulminator which must sell every single kind of beer brewed in Belgium (which is a lot), including lots of vintages. Literally hundreds of choices, and we thought the Devonshire Cat or The Tap in Sheffield had a lot of choice! We also headed to our favourite bar in the old town, Cafe Pelikaan, more of a local place than a tourist place. Drank some excellent Orval beer and an old guy gave us some tips on Flemish cooking. His English was good but it must have taken us about 10 minutes to understand him saying 'onions'. “Enjons, enjons” he repeated, increasingly frustrated. The gist of the recipe was diced beef and onions, roasted for 2 hours in 2 bottles of dark Belgian beer. Sounds good to me. He said we should start up a restaurant in England serving Flemish food, in the hope that we might improve English food culture. The cheek!

On the only sunny day we hired bikes and cycled around the Diamond District and Jewish areas, and found a lovely square with bakery and cafe to enjoy lunch. Some ridiculously grand and extravagant architecture nearby, which apparently was going to be torn down by the council a hundred years ago but were saved by artists and musicians squatting in them. Would have been a shame if they had gone, but those squatters must have become seriously rich if they sold them (somehow I doubt they saw any money) as they are now very nice houses.

The last day was pretty miserable on the weather front. We stayed dry by visiting an art gallery in an old chapel, and walking through the 500m tunnel under the river to another part of the city. It still has the varnished wooden escalators that were put in in the 1930s, so it looks pretty classy. We also visited a Jenever (gin) bar for a late afternoon pick me up. Orval beer and Orval cheese was our main meal for the day later at the hostel, a winning combination.

We then took the train to Cologne to spend the afternoon there before our night train to Copenhagen. We just about had enough light to see the town and pay a visit to a mustard museum. We tried a lot of different mustards, always a good thing, including some pretty awesome honey mustard and chilli mustard. They even had mustard jam! We didn't go in the actual museum in the end as "we wouldn't understand it" as the helpful German guy tactfully pointed out. Besides it was getting late and we wanted to sample a few Kolsch's (typical Cologne beer, served ice cold and in a tall, thin 0,2l glasses with waiters wandering around with trays to replace as soon as you finish one) and get some grub before our train. We ended up at a Latin bar eating pizza, we weren't really in the mood for pork knuckles and dumplings! Strangely enough we had to 'sign up' to be members as they allowed smoking, some kind of concession to their national smoking ban I think. Coming from Belgium this didn't really bother us as they don't have a ban there at all. I am definitely all for banning public smoking though, I had forgotten just how much the smell clings to your clothes for days on end even if it wasn't a particularly smoky place. Not nice!

And so after some delay and a lot of running down the platform to find our carriage (it was seriously the longest train ever, with trains from maybe four different countries which split off in Berlin). The cabin was very cramped, 6 people in the tiniest space imaginable. No option but to lie down and turn the lights off as soon as we were on as people were already sleeping. After drifting in and out of consciousness for a few hours (the temperature seemed to vary from boiling to cold quite frequently) we were greeted by the Danish police knocking on the cabin, with probably the friendliest police dogs I have ever seen. And with that the Danish chapter of our trip began!


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

London, England & Paris, France (29th Dec 2010 - 4th Jan 2011)

Charlotte with a tasty beer at the Euston Tap.

Liam with cider in traditional Breton cups.

So we are almost 3 weeks in and I am just getting around to blogging, I've been a bit slow of the mark I will admit, but from now on am aiming for weekly updates I promise!

After a hectic few weeks sorting out our every last worldly possession, moving out of the flat and having a lovely Christmas with our families we boarded a train from Chorley at 10.21am Wednesday 29th December 2010, bound for China (with a few stops on the way admittedly) with our ultimate destination being the land of Oz.

We took a brief pit stop in London for the night before catching the Eurostar the following morning. We of course checked out the new Euston Tap pub in one of the old Victorian gatehouses at the front of the station, opened up by the same folk behind the great pub that is the The Tap at Sheffield railway station. It's tiny but very cosy little place, with an excellent selection of beers. Refreshed, we checked into our lodgings for the night before heading off to catch up with Mark and Bekah (the givers of this here blog - see the about us section!) which was great to see them just days before Bekah popped out baby Isaac (Congratulations both of you!). The evening was spent at the Old Brewery in Greenwich, a very nice restaurant run by London brewery Meantime. We had some lovely food (a very nice Angus steak with bone marrow butter (a lot nicer than that sounds!), and creamy potato dumplings (again it might not sound appealing but it was seriously awesome)) and of course some very nice beer. This was Charlotte's birthday present to me, beer-themed of course. Eating in a working brewery (not their main one, just a small scale experimental one) doesn't sound that romantic but check out their website and you can see how lovely it actually is.

The following morning we took an early train to Paris on the Eurostar, which was a pleasant experience as always. I'm not sure why anybody would ever feel the need to fly between London and Paris or Brussels anymore. Upon arrival at Gare du Nord Marina very kindly picked up our bags and said a quick hello before letting us roam free around Paris. We had a nice walk around the river, and all the way up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomph. We failed at the first hurdle and our first out of country culinary experience was at OK Burger (basically a French Macdonalds), whoops. We had a  wander to get a good view of the Eiffell tower before heading back to Marina's in the very nice suburb of Le Vesinet. Later on we drove with Marina to the airport to pick up Katie and Matt who were also staying at Marina's for new year festivities.

New year's eve saw us hiring bicycles (Paris has a pretty cool pay as you go automatic bike rental scheme), taking in the sights and tackling scary French roundabouts! We also had a nice walk at dusk along a disused railway viaduct through the city which has been turned into a park of sorts, the name of which I forget. In the evening we had a super nice meal at a restaurant in St Germain called La Menage and had a most excellent fillet steak amongst another culinary treats such as Foie Gras and proper French profiterols. We were running close to midnight and took the train to the metro stop at the Arc Du Triumph. Getting out of the station at 5 to midnight was pretty chaotic and it seemed everyone in Paris was lined up down the Champs-Elysees! New year itself probably saw us fighting through the crowd to avoid getting squashed and having enough room to pop the mini bottle of fizz we had brought! All fun and games.

The next day we explored Marina's locality of Le Vesinet and had some awesome and much needed New Years day fodder from the Boulangerie. Making the most of the free suburban rail and metro for new years eve/day we headed into Paris and took a very informative tour of the Latin Quarter. Learnt a lot about how the city grew up, and that university back in the day consisted of sitting in a street amongst on hay bales amongst the sewage while the teacher shouted out of a window, surrounded by hanging criminals as a warning to others. And I thought Sheffield Hallam was rough! ;) Later we had a rather tasty veal dish which I believe is French, made by the fair hand of our host Marina.

On our final day we took in the Louvre and Pompidou galleries. Saw the Mona Lisa, underwhelming to say the least! It is strange when art goes so far beyond hype that no-one can remember if it is any good anymore. Hoards of people trying to get a closer look, a bit like if a minor celebrity was switching on a town's Christmas lights. I think they must partly put the security men in dark suits and earpieces there for effect. Saw some pretty cool stuff from ancient Egypt and Mesoptamia, and some modern art in the Pompidou. Arted out, we headed back to Marina's where we were treated to a 12th night tradition (early as we were leaving the next day). Basically there was a Gallette (a pastry based marzipan or apple pie) with a figurine hidden inside. Pieces are assigned at random (the youngest person goes under the table and decides where the first cut goes and whether each following piece is cut to the left or the right - Marina attempted this but it was a very small table!). Whoever gets the figurine is crowned the king or the queen, and I won! Cue paper crown which didn't fit due to my massive head! Our final evening was spent at a nice little creperie in St Germain. The crepes were delicious and we ate them along with cups of cider in the Breton tradition.

And so, alas, our time in Paris came to an end. We said goodbye to Marina's very hospitable parents and headed into the city. As our train was in the afternoon we walked up to the Sacré-Cœur (with our bags - at least we worked off the crepes!) before heading to the Gare Du Nord and saying goodbye to Katie, Marina and Matt. It was a fun and action packed weekend, thank you guys!

And with that we boarded our fancy first class train (it was cheaper the standard when we booked!), Antwerp bound. More to follow in a couple of days...

Leaving & London