And a good evening to you from across the Pond after an AMAZNG WEEKEND! Can we just say again HOW MUCH we love Brussels? We only had 32 hours in the world's beer capital (over 800 kinds in a country smaller than South Carolina), but we made every second count. It was worth the hangover that is already stalking me (and the headache that has securely placed an entire percussion section in my cerebral cortex)...
We arrived at 10:03 AM, secure in the knowledge that we were exactly one mile from our hotel. The problem, however, is that Brussels streets make Charlotte and London look like a simple grid system. The result? 40 minutes and four broken French conversations later, we were finally on the metro (cash only for us since NONE of the THREE cards we tried worked, for the record), bound for "Louise." However, the other problem with the Brussels metro is that, despite being small and compact (stops are about 20 seconds riding apart), everything moves in random curves, and ultimately every train goes to the same stop, the mythical Simonis (think about questing after the Foutain of Youth, as that would be easier to attain). However, upon further examination, you realize there are TWO Simonis stops, each on different lines and at opposite ends of Europe. Since there are NO idicators as to which stop is which, you just have to hop on the metro (cleanest on earth) and hope for the best. Unfortunately, hope is not a business strategy, and so we had to get off and go the other way.
Our room at the Hilton (all about points, baby) was GREAT, and we got upgraded and had a FANTASTIC view of the city. Before noon, we were rolling out to Place du Grand Sablon, a cute area for antiques. We found Le Petite Sablon almost instantly, which was a park we remembered from our time here in 2007. It was so crazy to see some of the same sights again, including the statue of my good buddy Mercator (thanks for the maps, pops).
Also, we wandered into a beautiful church which we recognized but showcased fresh new stained glass that felt quite new to us. Talk about gorgeous! It was a simply PERFECT day in the 60's, light breeze, and NO RAIN. We weren't counting on all these sunny skies, so we were quite thrilled.
We did experience an early hiccup, however, when we found Caffe Leffe shut down due to a "mysterious yet accidental fire" (as per the note on the door). Consequently, the booze fest had to being just down the street. 10 minutes later, however, we had our first Leffe of the trip, and all was right with the world.
The big activity of the day was the Cantillion Brewery. This place, the last family owned traditional lambic brewery, was a definite highlight and a must-do for folks traveling to Brussels. 5 Euro gets you a self-guided tour and two tastings, and we considered this money VERY well spent.
First and foremost, the best quote of the entire trip (from the guide book): "The beer is ready when white foam begins spewing up from the bunghole." Yep, you read that right - Jenny read it first and started laughing, and then I read it and nearly wet my pants. Apparently the bung hole is the place in the barrel that you hammer shut to let the beer ferment (that's right, you gotta nail the bung hole...I know, I know...it's endless humor). All the same, we have recorded the moment of discovery for posterity (WOW, how old am I?).
The beer tasting was a disappointment, as geuze (3 year fermented beer) and kriek (sour cherry beer) were, in a word, TART. Let's just say we struggled to get it down and then got out of Dodge. However, I did get this GREAT photo, which I am going to refer to henceforth as "every man's dream."
After that, it was off to Parvis de St. Giles, where we hit up three bars in a row. First up was Brasserie D'el Union, where we each had a Grimbergen. We then sauntered to Maison du Peupel (Tait - you can thank Mike Davis for this, as he gave us ALL these suggestions - the man is the font of all Brussels knowledge), where I had a pair of Mardesous 6% (JT had a Mardesous and a La Chouffe) whilst eating some meat and cheese. Yep, peppy cheekies.
If was then over to the third bar on the street, where JT and I CAMPED OUT for about 2 hours, throwing back 4 Cinay Blonds. WOW, this stuff is the nectar of the gods. It's really a good think we don't live in this city...
After that, some locals directed us to Le Perasall, where we had THE BEST mussels of our lives, cooked in garlic cream sauce (and, of course, washed down by Maes, yet another kind of beer). Uber tasty. So tasty in fact that we couldn't stop eating and consequently had to walk through Grand Place (and get lost 11 times) just to burn off some calories and feel human again.
We never could find our way home, however (um, the booze, perhaps - Englischer Garden memories, anyone), and 20 minutes and 6 metro stops later, we were back at the Hilton, where we slept a SOLID 11 hours in one of the most comfortable beds EVER. Oh, and I think I forgot to mention all the truffles we ate on the winding journey home...
Today was GREAT (even if short). We "popped" out of bed at 11:20, put on the same clothes we had last night (who needs showers?), and rolled to Grand Place, where they were busy setting up the Christmas Tree in the center of the square. We wandered around a bit, taking in the architecture. Honestly, Grand Place is one of the prettiest spots on earth to me. There are SO MANY beautiful buildings there, and on a sunny day like today, it's just fabulous.
Lunch was at a place called "The Tavern," where a crackling fire lured us in and a MASSIVE ASS PORK KNUCKLE ensured I would not blow away in the wind. Check that puppy out! We also tried Ramee blond - very tasty.
We then wandered across the square (after truffles and the Manneqin Pis, of course) to a place we discovered in 2007, this GREAT spot that brews artisan beers. This place was hilarious 2 years ago, as it was "ladies night," and, in addition to beer, Jenny got all the free champagne she could drink. Whilst we didn't get that lucky this time, we were NOT disappointed.
I went through FOUR TRIPLES: Artisan (8%), Ramee (7.5%), Westmalle (9.5%), and Waterloo (8%). Consequently, I'll give you the spoiler alert and tell you that I PASSED OUT on the Eurostar back and was pratically in a coma until the dude came on the PA and said "Welcome to London." Quality, and VERY professional.
Jenny had 4 beers as well, including a Pavel Kwak! Check out my muffin with her glass! This beer (8.4%) is classic, as the wooden handle is what stagecoach drivers used to use while working to keep their beers steady. Very nice...
And so we're now back at the flat, where a headache is setting in and it's time to pass out YET AGAIN. Becca and Johnny - I hope that the shower was a blast! Holler at me on Skype tomorrow, as I want to hear all about it!
That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat with you tomorrow (after a guaranteed AFD)!
An almost sober Sam and Jenny