When I left Maine two weeks ago today, my primary concern was being able to find my car in the lot. A lot has happened since I’ve been gone. The Super Bowl has been won and lost (sorry, Denver friends). Real Portland got a foot of snow dropped on it. And Allagash, Oxbow and Smuttynose squared off for some craft brewer on craft brewer violence in the form of a pond hockey tournament.
I’ve been busy as well. I attended three conferences, gave one talk, toured canals and breweries, and played Hearts in four countries. The first half of the trip was work-related. IBM Connect in Orlando, then our own Monki Gras conference in London where I was joined by Kate. From there, we hopped the train down to Brussels where we met up with the usual suspects at FOSDEM.
Post-FOSDEM, it was on to vacation. Friends from Maine and Boston met us in Brussels for a week of sights, scenery and, of course, beer. For those interested, a few pictures.
Some of you may know that my RedMonk partner-in-crime James is now moonlighting as an event space owner. As the founder of the Village Hall in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London, he’s hosted everything from user groups to big co events. This trip was my first visit to the venue, and it’s perfect.
The Monki Gras, the London counterpart to our Monktoberfest, was off the hook as per usual. The speakers were incredible, the food – from Korean to Japanese to Venezuelan – was as impressive as advertised, and the beer list will be enormously difficult for us to compete with come October. Hats off to James for another bad ass conference.
After arriving in Brussels late Friday night, I met up with old friends Bear and Joe for a kebab dinner and beers at one of my favorite bars in the world, Au Bon Vieux Temps. About which, coincidentally, the word appears to have gotten out. Where we once had the place to ourselves during FOSDEM, as it’s primarily a Brussels’ regulars bar, it was packed all weekend.
Saturday morning I got up, fought (as I do every year) with the Belgian public transit system’s kiosks and headed down to FOSDEM. The Java Devroom was kind enough to have me as a speaker once more (slides), and it was great to see the turnout.
One of the other highlights of FOSDEM for me was Chris’ session on Open Source Compliance at Twitter. The line for that started forming up a full forty minutes ahead of the talk.
Sunday night, with an early morning train to Amsterdam ahead of us, we took it easy: Cantillon and cards.
With some imported Heady Toppers thrown in.
Never having been to Amsterdam prior, I didn’t know what to expect. As it turns out, however, Amsterdam is a beautiful city. With Venice-like canals bisecting the town, it has an entirely unique feel. Unlike Brussels or even Paris at times, you never feel like you’re anywhere besides Amsterdam.
While it’s a little long and the canned audio commentary is comically bad, the canal tour was an excellent way of seeing huge potions of the city efficiently.
To wrap up our day, we hit the Arendsnest – the Dutch beer bar recommended to us by our friend Ryan Travers of Of Love and Regret fame. No surprise given the source, it was excellent. While the Dutch aren’t known for their beers in the way that Belgium is, between venues like Bierbrouwerij Emelisse, De Koningshoeven and Brouwerij De Molen, they can more than hold their own. The service, in addition, was excellent. The Eagle’s Nest is highly recommended if you’re ever in Amsterdam.
Tuesday was mostly rest and recovery, but we managed to sneak in a trip to the Cantillon Brewery. One of the world’s most highly regarded – and hard to get, at least in the US – producers of sour beers, their brewery has essentially remained unchanged for better than a century. No artificial heat or cooling, everything is still done the old way at Cantillon.
One of the primary brewery components at Cantillon is their koelschip, which has been anglicized in the US as coolship. It’s basically a large flat copper sheet which allows for efficient cooling and open fermentation. This is of particular interest to us here in Maine as our own Allagash was the first US brewery to reintroduce the technology, although Crooked Stave, Russian River and others have followed their lead.
Speaking of Allagash, it was nice to run into a few barrels from our hometown brewery at Cantillon.
The Cantillon tour is also notable for its lack of supervision. After a five minute orientation, you are turned loose to tour the actual brewery on your own. Unlike tours here in the US, virtually nothing is off limits or sectioned off. They trust you not to steal bottles right in front of you, even ones which look old enough to be exceptionally valuable, which is not exactly common these days. Anyway, if you can make it to Brussels, recommend a trip to the brewery.
That night, as every other night, Hearts was played. This was more or less what I was dealing with the entire trip.
The next morning we were off to Paris. Our first stop on arrival was Musée de Cluny, the National Museum of the Middle Ages. Housing tapestries, stained glass, manuscripts and sculptures from the age, it’s impressive. Even more so is that, having been founded on the site of 1st Century Roman baths, the site has seen continuous usage for over two thousand years.
Next stop was Notre Dame, which remains the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen that was built by human hands. Pictures can’t do it justice, it’s that impressive. On the way, we wandered into Polly Maggoo, a tapas restaurant run by a Romanian transplant, with no real expectations. The servers were over-the-top friendly, they let one of us charge a phone and even threw in free appetizers and a free round. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by.
From Notre Dame, we stopped in to Saint Chappelle, which is less dramatic than its larger cousin but much more intimate.
Last major stop for the day was the Tour Eiffel. The one thing I will say about this is under no circumstances should you go to the summit in 30+ MPH winds. At least if you have any fear whatsoever of heights, which I wouldn’t have said previously that I did. When you’re at the top of a 125 year old, thousand foot high metal frame that is actively and perceptibly swaying it’s not all that enjoyable. Apart from that, however, it’s worth it: the views are spectacular.
Our last two days, Thursday and Friday, were spent in leisurely fashion. We spent some time shopping for chocolates and other items on behalf of friends and family back home, we introduced our friends to Brussels’ staples like the Delirium Cafe and La Mort Subite, and most importantly we engineered our checked luggage in order to protect the many bottles we all brought back. An effort, I’m happy to say, which was successful: there were precisely zero casualties.
Anyway, that’s where I’ve been for two weeks. And, for the record, no, I did not remember where my car was.