Rochefort & Waterloo, Belgium
After a whirlwind trip through Luxembourg we moved on to Belgium, initially driving through thick fog. Around the halfway mark the fog suddenly lifted and the sun appeared, revealing a stunning landscape of rolling hills, vibrant green pastures and many, many cows. Danny didn’t care about the scenery though – he was interested in one thing, and one thing only: beer. He gleefully told me that are thousands of microbreweries and over 700 types of specialty beers in this relatively small country, and he planned to sample as many as humanly possible while we were here. His excitement could barely be contained.
Unsurprisingly, our first stop was beer-related. In the town of Rochefort we drove directly to a monastery where Trappist monks brew the famous Trappist beer, one of only seven monasteries in the country to specialise in what Danny considers to be the pinnacle of Belgian beer. The whole place seemed to be under construction, and when we finally located one of the monks he informed us (in French – I'm glad Danny understands some of this language) that the place was closed. As he didn’t speak any English we couldn’t get much more out of him.
With that plan out the window we instead ventured into town and wandered down the long main street. As we walked along Danny peered into every window, hoping to locate the coveted beverage. He finally found what he was looking for at a bar where there were three types on offer, each more alcoholic than the next. He started with the least alcoholic (which was about standard strength) before heading to the attached store to buy the other two for later.
Danny wasn’t up for cooking so we opted to eat out for dinner, choosing a French/Italian-style restaurant. Danny's language skills came in handy again as he managed to order us an entree of frog's legs in garlic butter. Neither of us had tried frog’s legs before, but we couldn’t pass up sampling the classical French dish. I now know that there is barely any meat on a frog's leg and that it tastes a bit like fish, although once you cover it with garlic butter it just tastes like garlic butter. It wasn’t bad, but I’m not sure if I would order it again. We switched to Italian for our main course and both ordered pizzas, which were so enormous we couldn't finish them. Somehow Danny still had room to polish off his two other beers afterwards though.
The following morning we drove to Waterloo, the setting of the famous battle where Napoleon was finally defeated (and the inspiration behind the popular Eurovision song). At the location where the war occurred sat a 41 metre, man-made grassy hill, topped with a lion statue. The climb up was more strenuous than it appeared from below, and didn't really give us much to look at except bare, flat land. Scattered around the bottom were numerous maps showing how the battle unfolded, but all the information and statistics blended into an overwhelming blur. We also viewed a panoramic painting depicting a scene of the action; unfortunately it had undergone water damage and wasn’t looking so great.
From Waterloo we headed slightly north of Brussels for two reasons. The first was to visit a giant model of an atom, appropriately enough called the Atomium. It was leftover from an Expo held decades ago and is now used for exhibitions. The exhibition didn't interest us much but the structure itself was pretty cool.
Next door to the Atomium was our primary destination: Mini-Europe. On display in the outdoor museum were over 300 small-scale models of popular buildings from nearly every country in Europe. (I say small-scale, but some of these replicas were taller than me.) We thought it would be a great summary of our trip and remind us of all the places we had been. That didn't quite happen. Some of the “famous” landmarks were more obscure than we expected, and it turned out we had only visited about half of them. Over the last 10 months we feel like we have travelled almost everywhere and seen virtually all the main sights, but apparently we missed quite a lot. It didn’t matter because the site was loads of fun, especially the interactive exhibits – we could erupt Vesuvius (way more exciting than what we saw at the real-life volcano) and make the Berlin Wall fall down. It was probably aimed at kids but we still loved it.