Adventures in Culture and Travel

27 November, 2012

Bicky Burger

Someone once told me when I arrived in Bruxelles, quietly so not to be heard, you can't really experience Belgian cuisine until you've had  a Bicky Burger. 


First thing, I'm not even sure if it's Belgian, but it sure is available here at almost every friture. Yet it's taken me nearly three month to have one. 

I get the feeling after talking to people about the Bicky, that it's one of those "secret" indulgences, the likes of ball-park food, reserved for special occasions, or after late-night binge drinking. 

They must be fairly popular, because when a local chip/crisp manufacturer quizzed its customers on what it wanted for a new flavor, Bicky was the choice that won. I have tried the chips too, but found them underwhelming.

But I do get the draw of the Bicky Burger. It's a deep-fried patty of mystery meat (typical of the friture burgers) but topped with (what I believe to be) French's (or the equivalent) fried onions, and the three Bicky sauces. Those being red, yellow, and brown. You might assume that's ketchup, mustard, and some other flavor, but I don't think that's the case. I spent several minutes dissecting my Bicky like it was a 9th grade science project and I could not discern what the heck any of it was. So I gave it a taste: sweet, and bit of tart- not bad!

I'm still not big on the mystery meat patties, and a real Bicky Burger made of real beef would be an indulgence I'd gladly pay for- but I get it. The Bicky is the mystery meat... it's a sausage like burger with more flavor than you can generally find in Brussels cuisine, and considering a Bicky costs just a few Euros with frites, I can see how the Bicky Burger has become the cult favorite it has over here.

Now I just need to know where to buy Bicky sauce so I can smuggle some back tot he U.S.


16 November, 2012

Cheese Frites?

Well, as you've noticed, my blogging on here has been slow lately. I've been busy with final papers at school, traveling to Spain on a pilgrimage, and dealing with the emotional baggage of leaving. It's rather quite odd, I've never seen a blog pick up an audience as quick as this one has, and it pains me that it might be short lived.

So with that said, lets talk about something that truly makes me smile, food!

When I arrived into this potato land of frites, I, much like I suspect most Americans wondered, why no one has ever thought to put cheese on them. I mean cheese is pretty popular in Europe, add frites, it makes sense, right?

The Canadians figured it out ages ago as part of poutine (gravy and cheese on fries).

So imagine my surprise on a visit to Burger Republic, I see a menu listing a new item. Frites with lard. Lard? That of course doesn't have the same sentiment in English as it does in French, but none-the-less I assumed anything that has grease as a condiment must be good. Luckily lard means bacon as I learned, and soon after I got the opportunity to enjoy my frites avec lard et fromage.

Not the best cheese fries I've had, but for Brussels? It's heaven. I took them to Veco, and shared them with some friends and they were a big hit. Now if we can just get B.R. to put chili on them, and I mean chili, not peppers or paprika.

In other news the weekly band of merry drinkers went to Le Flip at Place Flagey. It's quiet, and it reminded me of a cafeteria plus an airport lounge, but it was void of those pesky cheese, frite eating American tourists. Still my favorite is the Theatre de Toone, but I'll keep drinking till I find out for sure. Best beer so far? Guillotine. Who doesn't love a beer named after a death machine???

15 November, 2012

Where the story ends.

The memory I want to forget when I leave is saying
 goodbye. I'm just not sure if they'll be anything
left of me by the time I arrive at the moment.
When I wrote this, I thought I'd be stronger. I thought I'd had come to terms with the ending by now. This week however I'm an emotional wreck. I'm still keeping it fairly private (up till now), though there are moments where I shield my face from friends as emotion seeps from my soul. I get that feeling in the back of my throat, and suddenly my speech slows, as each word dares to break the concentration that holds back the flood.

 It's to the point it's too hard to talk about leaving with anyone. Considering in one month, most of us are packing our bags for "home" and, most of them are happy to do so. My friends' mouths water over foods they miss, and the arrival home in time for Christmas movies and spirits.While I do miss all of these things, I do not have the same fervor to abandon this world I've called home the last four months. This adventure which has made me, shaped me, and where the city of Brussels has become as much a part of me as I a part of it. But these words aren't enough to fix this perfect mistake of what's not meant to be.

So I exhale, but my chest hurts, my tears burn, and I know I'm gripping on to every moment left. I dangle from this edge of reality as the ground crumbles under the weight of my dilemma, and where the winds of change blow stronger everyday to loosen my grip, and rip me from this world. I know the day will come when I can hold on no more, and everything I've ever wanted to be, disappears into the abyss. I'm holding on for dear life, and I know I'm not strong enough to weather the coming storm..

So I sit here surrounded by a mountain of wet tissues trying to convey in words what I'm feeling. Sitting in Brussels, trying to be reasonable, trying to make sense of why I have some strange addiction to this place when others don't. A place I feel happy in, a place that I smile in, a place that when I found it, allowed me to feel something I never felt in the U.S. - For the first time, I felt at home, I felt like I could be me. A place which I felt a calling to. A puzzle short one piece, waiting for it to be found, for me to find my fit. It's that feeling of completion when it all comes together, and the picture becomes clear.

This clarity keels me over in tears, closes my eyes, crosses my arms- I'm holding it all in so that I don't fall apart. I'm beginning to divide, and nothing I do can stop the pieces from shattering the dream. A dream that no one else can see, one that shall cease to exist when I awake in one month.

So this is where stories go when we become victims of our own foolish plans. Now I'm too scared to let go. Too scared to hope again, that maybe somewhere out there, something better will come out of the tragedy. It's not melodrama, it's that I'm scared of my worst fear coming true:  the story ending.

09 November, 2012

Santiago de Compostela | You don't choose a life. You live one.

You don't choose a life. You live one.
Imagine this. After five days of walking through the mountains of Spain on ancient Roman roads with nothing but a sack on our backs, a worn down walking stick, and our bruised and bleeding feet we arrived to the final hill overlooking Santiago de Compostella. Our dirty faces, and raggedy clothes hung from out bodies as we hunched over from the magnitude of the pilgrimage. Then we saw it. "Santiago de Compostela?", one of us asked. -  "Si", another cheered. "Si" we began yelling. Arms in the air "Si! Si! Si!". Yes we had arrived, just five kilometers from the Cathedral, and the burial chamber for Saint James. We began running down the hill, jumping, yelling "yes" in Spanish till we arrived at the city limits. Days earlier we were no one, strangers, but  today we were the heroes of our own stories, finishing a chapter of our lives.

Upon arriving at the Cathedral of Santiago, I dropped in the pew with exhaustion and stared up at Jesus hanging above the alter. Jesus and I had many conversations on The Way, many of which were very ugly. Indeed as a skeptic of all things supernatural, I tended to be quite vocal in my anger with this imaginary apparition as I screamed at him into thin-air while walking, tripping, falling, or getting yet another rock in my shoe. One hill after another I'd triumph over, and curse into the clouds and demand defiantly "is that all you got?" My foot was cramping, my arm is bleeding, and head pouring in sweat, and his answer would come in the form of another hill, twice as high, just minutes later. Yet in the end, everything placed in between me and Santiago de Compostela became nothing more than the fleeting memories of pain and anguish, as the once doubted success of my journey became accomplishment

Camino de Santiago
There were times of beauty, wonder, and then times of starvation, cold, and exhaustion.  Mornings are filled with conviction, and evenings often with self-hate. That's not to say some don't make the pilgrimage look effortless. Some journey with thousands of dollars in name-brand equipment, some with none at all. Some spend months on the Camino, others race to the finish. The truth is each journey is unique to the pilgrim. The reward is either your heaven or your hell. I've seen marathon runners and trained athletes quit after three days in tears, but witnessed 70 year old men with triple bypass surgeries arrive in Santiago with pregnant women. There's no amount of training or prerequisite that makes you ready for walking the Camino. You don't choose this life, the Camino chooses you. You're always just inches from a broken ankle, a sharp fall off a cliff, or dehydration. Destiny may decide your journey, but freewill determines your success.

Back in Brussels, my classmate counterparts took off for swimming and drinking in Budapest, Venice, London and Rome. My fall break began when I boarded a Vueling flight for north west Spain. A single ticket, and a backpack with three pairs of clothes followed me as I stepped off the bus in the isolated small town of Sarria. That day I began walking the week-long trek of 118 K (approx. 75 miles) to Santiago de Compostela. Along the way I met lots of wonderful people, ate lots of great food, and witnessed parts of the world reserved for those lucky few who travel this same road. Those who live this life.

I met divorcees, cancer patients, people from all over the world. I had dinner with strangers, ate octopus and drank bottles of wine. I spoke in German, French, English and Spanish though I only speak a bit of three of them. I took the long way round, and lived my life a kilometer at a time. I rested on rock walls, crossed ancient rivers, and felt every emotion from anger, to exhilaration. Whether a week, or forty days on the Camino, you live an entire lifetime on the Camino. A world destined to fade into a story, your legend, upon your return home.

One day in the future you'll be sitting on your child's bed, telling them this story how mommy went to this magical land where she followed an 8th century Roman brick road adorned with yellow arrows and shells to this golden cathedral of this great and powerful man. Likely they'll turn to you clutching Baum's Oz asking "did it really happen?"

"Oh yes my dear, such a place does exist."

This is when you kiss them on the head and tuck them into bed, and before you close the book you read the page and chuckle...

"A place where there isn't any trouble. It's not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain. "

As you walk out of the room, and shut off the light, a tired little voice whispers into the darkness "it was never about getting to the end, was it mommy?"

"I walk the Camino everyday sweetheart."

The Camino's beginning is actually its end. The moment you arrive is when you begin living your life one step at a time.