Back home in the States, my girls absolutely love Easter. We have a neighborhood egg hunt every year in the park near our house, we dye Easter eggs with my mom, sister, and nephew, and we always have a family get-together where we eat great food and hunt for eggs in my sister’s backyard. Come to think of it, I love it too. So when Easter season rolled around here in Paris, the girls got very excited, and also very concerned that Easter might not be celebrated here (they were a little scarred by the almost total ignoring of Valentine’s Day here). I assured them that the Easter Bunny would find them, just as the Tooth Fairy had, and that we would find an egg hunt somewhere. In the weeks leading up to the big day, the bakeries suddenly exploded with the most gorgeous chocolate eggs and animals, their windows a delight of bright and pastel-colored ribbons and cookies.
This is one of the things I love about France. While there is junky candy to be found, the French do not assume that children should only be given the worst of the worst. High-quality chocolate, from candy to ice cream to hot cocoa, is not an adults-only prospect. So while the Easter Bunny brought some atrocious things called Kinder eggs (junky chocolate with a little toy inside) because the girls are obsessed with them, he also brought some beautiful chocolates (a small dark chocolate hen stuffed with smaller chocolates and a large milk chocolate egg in a basket with a white chocolate ribbon). I would happily eat any of it (and have). We did miss certain Easter goodies though: I didn’t see jelly beans anywhere, and we paid a ridiculous amount of money for two small bags of Cadbury mini eggs when we saw them at the English bookstore across town (worth it).
One of the grand and wonderful things about living in Paris is that the travel options from here are just so incredible, especially to Americans like us where it takes a pretty big effort to get to another country. Hop on a train, take a short flight, or head out on a drive, and here in Europe you can be speaking a different language and experiencing an entirely different culture within hours! So we are both excited and paralyzed by the options around us: Italy? the U.K.? Spain? Turkey? Germany? There are literally too many places and not enough time. That said, we knew coming here that Belgium would be one of the first places on our travel itinerary. Why, you ask? Well, let it be known that my husband has grown from his humble Wisconsin roots into a full-blown beer snob. In the course of his “research", he has become a huge fan of both American-style IPAs (which are très difficile to find here) and Belgian beer. And while you *can* ferret out good beer here in Paris, the whole craft beer movement currently sweeping the States has not yet arrived. To the extent that Chuck has mostly switched to drinking wine here and for his birthday last month, I had to venture out to a few specialty shops in order to find some good beer that he would really enjoy. (Is it wrong that when the kids put together a treasure hunt for his birthday, the final clue led him to a great big bag of beer?)
Anyway, at some point he came across a story about the “best beer in the world” (according to RateBeer.com) made by an obscure abbey in Belgium. The monks at the Abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren make beer to support their abbey, and have the lowest production of the 10 Trappist monasteries that make beer (and who, in turn, produce way less beer than say, Budweiser.) Besides that, the beer is notoriously hard to find. The abbey is 2 hours from Brussels and not on any major transportation line. You can only buy the beer in the café/gift shop across the street from the abbey or through making a reservation to pick up a case of beer at what-I-shall-call-the “abbey-drive-thru” (it’s like McDonald’s, except for awesome beer!). And, the phone line to make the reservation is always booked up since they apparently receive as many as 85,000 calls an hour. Did you say impossible quest to find the world’s best beer? Challenge accepted! Chuck made it his mission to find a way to get that beer, and one Monday morning, was able to reserve his case. (How, you ask? Well I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you. Or actually, Chuck could tell you. I have no frickin’ idea except that it took up the better part of a weekend.)