Before I launch into travel tales, let me say that I am back! We got in last night and are playing some serious catch-up in terms of laundry and household stuffs, including eating things that aren't espresso, waffles, pastries and beer. I'm also doing some serious inbox management (yes, I will respond to you!) but first I wanted to get these images up so I can make room for more wedding stuff. Yay, wedding stuff! It's really good to be back. The trip was excellent but very long and it's good to be at home, where I feel I can think straight. If you haven't been following along, here are updates one, two and three. And now... Folks from other countries, I'm sorry to say, we lose. Belgium wins. Belgium is the most awesome country and we're only struggling to live up to its sweetness. (I say that having not visited the vast, vast majority of countries in the world. I am open to adjusting my as-of-now definitive decision about which is the best country. Also happily accepting commissions as country-tester.) This, for instance, is Gent. That's not some touristy canal area. That's actually just some back-of-the-city neighborhood near the train station. The whole damn place is adorable. And the people are friendly and blunt and everyone speaks English. It's such a great town. Belgium also makes the world's best beer. We had the opportunity to travel to the abbey that makes the beer consistently rated as the best in the world. Here's George in a hop field on the way. An anecdote about Belgium: We rented bikes to get to the abbey, which was a couple miles outside the town (Poperigne). Bike shop guy charged us 10 euro, and gave us the bikes. "Wait, don't you want to keep our IDs or a deposit or something?" George asked. "Why?" the bike owner replied. Love this country! Testing the beer... He likes it! (Of course.) It was, admittedly, very good beer. It was also outrageously strong and we were quite drunk after one of these. But then we had two more, just for kicks. Belgium is also brilliant about creating somewhat quirky, but immanently practical solutions for social problems. For instance, there's some folks in Gent who want to spraypaint all the pretty buildings and such. So Gent lets them have an entire alleyway. They spraypaint the hell out of it, and most of the rest of the city stays clean. Brilliant. Okay maybe it's not a perfect system. Gahhhhhhh. Another anecdote about Belgium: We were shopping for chocolates, and not spending a great deal of money either. We had picked out maybe 8 truffles, asking for the "most unusual" the store had to offer. There were still others the store lady was suggesting, but we had plenty for our afternoon indulgence. At the register, she insisted that we get the lime-tequila truffle, so we relented and said to add it. Instead of charging us, she just handed us each a truffle. Almost every single one of our experiences with Belgians was like this - people being extremely friendly, even in a super-touristy area. The people we drank with at Westvleteren said the Belgians love them, but I think the Belgians like everybody. My making-like-the image from the trip. This badass dragon is a model of the one on top of the belltower in the town. It's a weathervane. No stupid roosters or something dumb for Gent. No, they go with a freakin' dragon. More "graffiti." Who graffitis "peace and love"? Genters. We day-tripped to Bruges, which is where most people stay. It was nice, but filled with tourists. Gent is way, way better. It does have windmills, though, which is just absurdly quaint. Oh what is this? Super-expensive beer in the states for a euro and change... damn, Belgium is a beautiful country. Baby straightjackets. What will they think of next!? We rolled onto Brussells to finish up the Belgian portion of our trip. It was really great, but lacked the charm of the smaller cities. This is a scene from Brussells' Grand Place. That building behind the couple to the left? That's City Hall. I really appreciate a place that does something aesthetically with their public transport or other public works. There's no reason why these benches have to look beautiful - but they do, and that's really cool. And, finally, we returned to London. Our flight was at 10am so we came back a day early and hit up the Science Museum. One thing London has going for it over other places (but not DC!) is that it is chock-full of awesome museums that have no admission cost. A beautiful, beautiful thing. This is a robot drawing our faces from a quick-and-dirty screen grab. Does it look like us? And here we are at the end. George and I had one last glorious meal at the revered Brindisa tapas restaurant at Borough Market in South Bank. It was extremely delicious. We had such a fantastic trip and have so many lovely memories of the places we visited. Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.