Tag Archives: travel

Not nice, not silly, actually rather awful

My latest article for The Week is about words with meanings that have travelled quite a bit over the centuries. It’s not that they’ve clouded or warped the senses, but their histories are likely to throw you, or at least leave you in doubt.

11 words whose meanings have completely changed over time

 

Wines, the world, and so on

I love wines. Especially good ones. From all over. Aina and I go on trips just to taste wines. My serious wine education started when I was 19 (thanks, cousin Sharon). For the past 16 years I’ve edited the website of Tony Aspler, Canada’s wine guy, and that was where I got the idea of doing word tastings.

So, naturally, when I got the opportunity to write an article for a travel website about wines to choose for a starter wine cellar, I very happily took it. And I sure enjoyed writing it. Here it is. If you don’t enjoy reading it, have a glass of wine and try again (I recommend a chilled sparkling wine – a blanc de noirs from Champagne if you want to spend the money, or a Gloria Ferrer from Sonoma, or a crémant de Loire or, heck, why not Seaview Brut?).

The world in your home: How to build the ultimate international wine collection

 

Douro

Things to know about the word Douro and the river and region it names:

1. It’s not “door-o,” even if it is the gateway to some stunning wines and scenery.

2. It’s not “do row,” though you can boat on it. Port merchants used to use it to ship port. Now it’s dammed, so they use trucks. You can take a boat to drink and sing and look at the hills. I recommend it.

3. Don’t even think about it being dour. It’s the home of port. You know, one of the most posh ways of getting sick drunk ever invented. Dour is not it.

4. The Spanish version of the name, Duero, is also not “do row.”

5. But Portuguese is not pronounced like Spanish anyway. If you pronounce Portuguese as though it were Spanish, you can count on being wrong, and someone’s probably going to get hurt.

6. Douro, the Portuguese name, is said like English “dough roo.” You may or may not rue the dough you spend visiting this region and trying 90 wines. I don’t rue it.

7. Duero, the Spanish name, is pronounced the way it’s spelled, provided you know how to pronounce Spanish. Like “dwair-o,” for those who don’t.

8. The name comes from Latin Durius, which in turn most likely comes from a Celtic word meaning (you’ll love this, it’s so intensely descriptive) ‘water’ or ‘river’. The Proto-Indo-European root is dor.

9. Water is what you can end up drinking wine like in this area if you’re not careful. You need to be durable. You should drink lots of water before bed.

10. You can’t fully taste the word without tasting a lot of wines. Not just port, which is what the Douro region is known for; dry reds and whites too. I can’t do that for you here, so you’ll just have to go about it yourself like I did. By Tony Aspler’s count, he, I, and the rest of our group tasted about 90 (69 in Portugal and 21 in the Duero region of Spain, upstream).

11. If you just visit the Douro DOC wine region in Portugal, you can be forgiven for thinking maybe Douro really means ‘the opposite of flat, straight, and wide’, because that’s what everything around there is: the opposite. The roads are a lane and a half wide and don’t go the length of a tour bus without curving. The tour bus is what you may be sitting in, peering out the windows thinking about how close you are to tumbling hundreds of metres down over terraces, as the driver somehow pours it around the bends like a cross between a boa and a Maserati. Just remember that they regularly drive tanker trucks to and from the quintas that are pasted to the sides of these hills, on the same narrow roads your fat bus is on, is that one oh please no I don’t want to die oh no it was just a little pickup that apparently teleported from the front of our bus to the back unscathed.

12. If you just visit the Ribera del Duero region in Spain, nearer the source of the river, or the Toro region a little farther downstream towards Portugal, you may more likely think it means ‘strong’ or ‘expensive’, as most of the wines around there are one, the other, or both.

13. Put it this way. On two successive days we had lunch near the Duero. On one day we had full-flavoured wines that retailed for under €20 a bottle, some under €10. Strong, rich, but nice. We bought two bottles. On the next day we had four finely crafted wines made at the most beautiful and clean winery I have ever seen. They were all marvellous. They retailed at €30, €40, €100, and €220 a bottle. I would have bought the €40 one but I didn’t have the chance. Just as well. I’d just end up drinking it.

14. Have you poured yourself a glass of wine yet? Get training!

15. I’m not saying you’re going to do insane things like my tour group did, such as tasting 30 wines in three hours. (You sniff, swirl, and spit. You do not swallow a lot. But your tongue is ready to run down the hill.) But be prepared.

14. Those were dry wines, by the way. Mostly red. Tasting 30 ports could kill you. Even if you didn’t swallow. It’s a lot of sugar.

15. The Duero starts in Spain. For a stretch it is the Douro on one side and the Duero on the other, as it forms the border between Portugal and Spain. It runs through scenery that is breathtaking or terrifying depending on where in it you are. It empties into the Atlantic at Porto, where the big port companies have their headquarters. Actually they’re on the south side of the river, in Gaia. It’s a lot of warehouses for storing port. It has more alcohol per square metre than anywhere else in the world.

16. At this point I think you really do need to start tasting Douro and Duero wines if you are to get a good finish on the tasting of this name. I can’t give you that. But I can give you photos. They will give a little bit of the experience. Here they are. If you click on them they will take you to larger versions in the context of my Flickr albums, which include many other photos as well.

You think scenery like this exists only in ads and movies. Nope, this is exactly what the Douro near Pinhão looks like.

If the scenery looks like this, raise your head some more.

There we go. Wicked scenic, eh?


For some reason, people on freeways apparently do not want to have to drive hugging the bends down into the valley and then back up again. But if you are going to visit a quinta, where they make port, you will get to take the little non-freeway roads. Oh yes you will.


Imagine this is the view from your bus window. You took this picture with your iPhone as the bus sailed around a bend on a road much like the ones you see down below. How much wine do you think you will need to anaesthetize you enough that your back muscles don’t spasm because you are tightly gripping anything near you and you know it won’t help because whatever you’re gripping is going to roll down that hill any second now too?

You may think that port can teach you how to fly. Or you may think that it can teach you how not to give a flying f—. You will be right about one of those two things. Hint: the second one. Do not think about whether your bus driver can teach you how to fly.


If you have acrophobia or weak knees, you are automatically disqualified from working for a quinta in the Douro DOC. Or really even from visiting it.

Here is a hotel you can stay in. It does not require driving on cliffs to get to. Much. OK, just a little.

This is the part of Spain the Duero (Douro) comes from. Nothing heart-stopping here. Except for the wine prices.

This is where it ends up just before emptying into the Atlantic: Porto (as seen from Gaia). Hmm. There seems to be something missing.

Oh, yes. That.

Brugge

Where Brugge is:

  1. Belgium.
  2. Get a map.

How to get into and out of and around Belgium:

  1. Thalys. The Belgian high-speed train. Belgium is too small to need high-speed to get around it. The trains exist to get you in and out. Book first class in advance and save money. First class comes with food and beverage that, outside the train, would cost up to half your ticket price.

    Lunch with Thalys

    Lunch with Thalys

  2. Any other train, if you like moving slowly and don’t feel like eating or drinking for some reason. Or the Thalys doesn’t go there when you want to go there.
  3. Well, it’s not that big a country anyway.
  4. I really don’t see why you’d want to drive. What’s relaxing about that? Also, beer. This is Belgium.

Things to do in Brugge:

  1. Beer. Germans made beer pure; Belgians made beer interesting.
  2. Chocolate.
  3. Beer.
  4. Look around.
  5. Beer.
  6. Take photos.
  7. Beer.

    Beer

    Beer

  8. Chocolate.
  9. Some other food who cares French fries or something with one of the eighty-three sauces you can put on it maybe a sausage too if you must.
  10. Beer.

How to get around in Brugge:

  1. Walk. The old cute part is not very large. The streets are medieval-style: stone, not all that wide, pedestrians and vehicles often mixed together watch where you’re walking and what’s coming at you there are cars and they go fast
  2. Local bus. Good to get to and from the train station. Goes on the same streets as you walk on. Somehow manages to go in both directions on a street not quite wide enough for one.
  3. Bike. Stay at a hotel that has bikes. Bike in the park along the canal that rings the oval heart of town. Bike up and down the streets. Pro tip: when a sign says Uitgezonderd it means “excepted” – so if the sign is a No Entry or One Way sign and it has a picture of a bike and it says Uitgezonderd, that means you can go that way even though the cars can’t. Oh, by the way, watch out for the cars holy cow.

    Follow that woman. She will lead you to beer

    Follow that woman. She will lead you to beer

  4. Take a horse carriage if that sort of thing turns you on and you have the money flopping around and you forgot you were going to buy beer and chocolate with it.
  5. Drive? Not. Don’t do it. Locals blast through in their cars. You are not local. There are canals and stone walls and people. And you will be drinking a lot of beer.

What to see in Brugge:

  1. Brugge.
  2. Look, dude, it’s an outrageously cute medieval town. Bring a camera. You’ll only be taking the same pictures as one hundred sixty-five other people today, but you’ll want pictures to remember it by, especially if you drink all that beer, and to prove to other people that it exists.

    Congratulations! You are the 5,783,624th person to take this picture. The slight tilt gives an authentic impression of squiffiness

    Congratulations! You are the 5,783,624th person to take this picture. The slight tilt gives an authentic impression of squiffiness

  3. Bruges.
  4. Yes, Brugge and Bruges are the same place. We call it Bruges but that’s the French name and they all speak Flemish (Dutch) there so I prefer to call it Brugge, which also allows me to surreptitiously clear my throat on the gg, because that’s how you say the gg. But if you say Bruges people think of that movie.

    They only take the plastic off when company is coming over

    They only take the plastic off when company is coming over

  5. OK, you want specifics? See the churches. See the streets. See the canals. See the bridges over the canals. That’s what the name of the place comes from, the Flemish word for “bridges.” Walk walk walk walk. Bring a map or you are doomed, even though you can see the Belfort tower on the market square from many places in town. Seeing it and getting to it are different things.

    Brugge is canal retentive

    Brugge is canal retentive

  6. The inside of a brasserie.
  7. Chocolate shops. These are easy to find. Simply start walking. You will see several soon enough. If you don’t succeed, go to the market square and follow a horse-drawn carriage. You will pass some. Watch where you step, these are real horses, with asses behind them… sitting on the carriage, driving.
  8. The inside of another brasserie.

What to eat in Brugge:

  1. Beer.
  2. The little dish of cheese they bring with the beer.

    Food

    Food

  3. Chocolate.
  4. Frites, maybe from a truck in the market square, doused with a sauce you would never have thought of putting on French fries but is good. Curryketchup? Samurai? Andalouse? All of the above? 50 cents each.
  5. Seriously, did you skip the part about beer? Have a sausage. Whatever.
  6. Yes, of course they have restaurants. Are you there to eat or are you there to drink beer?
  7. Beer.

What beer to drink in Brugge:

  1. Tripel Van de Garre. This is the house beer of Brasserie van de Garre. It is sweet with lemon notes and a lasting ring of bitterness around the back of the tongue. It comes with a big head. It is 11% alcohol. They limit customers to three each. You get to Brasserie van de Garre by going along Breidelstraat just off the market square, through a little doorway off the south side, and down a rough cobbled alley. This alley is a sobriety test. If you can’t make it to the brasserie, you’re done for the evening. If you’re in the brasserie and can’t make it out, well, shucks.

    Abandon all sobriety, ye who enter here

    Abandon all sobriety, ye who enter here

  2. Anything by Gulden Draak. Nice, caramelly, and strong.
  3. Anything by Boon if you like sweet fruity beers. Kriek means “cherry,” by the way. Do not expect the fruity beers to be strong.
  4. Definitely have a lambic. Anyone’s lambic. Lambic is made by sticking the wort (liquid) up in the attic and throwing open the window and letting the local airborne yeast get it going. Look, you’re not in Germany. Belgian beer is Saturnalia for your mouth.
  5. Gueuze. Heh heh.
  6. Oh, did I mention that gueuze is really sour? I gueuze I forgot. Well, it is. And super interesting. You just ordered one and you can’t finish it? Fine, give it to me, I’ll finish it for you.
  7. Literally anything else that looks interesting. Especially if it’s on tap. Unless the bartender makes a little face when you ask about it.

    Tripel van de garrulous.

    Tripel van de garrulous.

What to buy in Brugge:

  1. Seriously?
  2. Don’t bother with clothing unless you have a pressing need. It’s the same as everywhere else and no cheaper.
  3. Don’t bother with trite souvenirs unless you have friends who really like them, in which case go ahead, there’s plenty to be found.
  4. …um…
  5. Chocolate, obviously! Some for you, some for your friends, and some for you.
  6. Yes, beer. Buy some bottles in a store too, for when you get back to your hotel.

    Our hotel room

    Our hotel room

Where to stay in Brugge:

  1. Well, we stayed at the Adornes Hotel, and it was nice, we would go back. Good breakfast too. Yes, yes, OK, we had real food at breakfast, cold cuts and fruit and cheese and pastries and muesli and tea and juice. Then we went cycling on free hotel bikes and then we went beering.

    Before beer and bike, breakfast

    Before beer and bike, breakfast

  2. If you want to look at other options, go on TripAdvisor. Look at the reviews. Make sure to look at the pictures. If many of the guest pictures of a hotel feature a steep, narrow, long staircase, that means you will have to drag your bags up and down it. Our hotel had an elevator, although you had to cower at the back as though hiding from a hitman or you would interrupt an electric eye by the door and it would stop.

Whether Brugge (Bruges) is like that movie:

  1. Yes.
  2. Minus the hitmen. I think.
  3. And the dwarf.
  4. Have another beer, you might see them anyway.