Back in the U.S., a 2 ¾ hour drive northwest of home might land me in the area of Deep Creek Lake. From the hotel in Germany the same length trip found me, James, Steve, and a few other friends in a Belgian abbey this afternoon. There were no frills about entering a new EU country – just a sign on the Autobahn like the signs used to mark the entry point to a new U.S. state. When we rode into Belgium we were almost immediately greeted by a thick fog. It was only in specific areas though, so as we drove out of it the rest of the drive consisted of sunshine, blue skies, and farm country dotted with cows. Val-Dieu Abbey is located in the town of Aubel, Belgium, near both German and Dutch borders. The primary language there is French, although most of the signs and products in and around the abbey were written in French, Dutch, and German (but not English).
Large and stately, 17th century Val-Dieu Abbey towered over us and a church bell clanged noon as we arrived. The abbey brewery reopened about fifteen years ago, retaining the monks’ tradition of brewing delicious Belgian beer. We had lunch at Le Moulin de Val-Dieu, a restaurant across from the abbey inside of a mill. Our table was next to some of the mill gears (in motion) closer to the door than the fireplace, which made for a chilly visit. The cozy setting, tasty French-style food and abbey-brewed beer, of course, made this well worthwhile. I probably hadn’t had to speak French since the 6th grade, but I got by at lunch with “Bonjour” and “Merci.”
Afterwards we toured the inside of the abbey church with its vaulted ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows. By the time we took a walk in the garden behind the abbey, the fog had drifted there and gave the appearance of the place a muted and dream-like quality. Before leaving, I enjoyed a hot chocolate and bought some Belgian waffles to bring back to Mainz. The waffles taste more like sugar cookies than anything else, but have that fluffy waffle texture. Looking forward to many more international day trips in the weekends ahead!