Belgium 2014: Day 1

(This is the first of a series of posts covering a week-long jaunt throughout Belgium, a trip that is ostensibly the first of the “Beer Tour of the World” journeys I plan to take throughout my life. That “Beer Tour of the World” may never fully materialize, but the trips shall be treasured nevertheless.)

The Flight:

Thanks to my friend Jamie’s connections, we got to fly business class, just as if we were actual rich/well-off/well-connected people, not just the peasants who sit in an economical, jam-packed existence, much like a herd of lemmings waddling toward an ill-defined goal.

(Due to technical difficulties – the SD card from my camera won’t fit in the SD slot on my Chromebook unless I whittle something down, which is generally a bad idea – there are no pictures as of yet, so just imagine business class to be something akin to a pleasantly full living room, the furniture an orderly array of lazy-chairs, with valets gliding to and fro bearing trays of wine, beer, food and other delectables. Oh, and you also have your own personal TV.)

Needless to say, it was the most enjoyable flight I’ve ever experienced, so thank you, Jamie (if you ever read this). I probably came off like the uncouth lower-class denizen I was, only managing to figure out what to do with the hot washclothes and multiple forks and list of wines by following the lead of the pleasantly paunchy Gallic gentleman who sat across from me. He was a perfect example of an elderly French/Dutchman; I would have taken a picture of him, but I feared that, as we bonded over a mutual love of Daft Punk’s latest album, it could be misconstrued. (How does one say, after all, ‘Hey, did you know, you conform to a stereotype I somehow have implanted in my head, so can I take a quick photo of you, s’il vous plait?’ “)

The Train:

Similarly to my previous experiences in Europe, the train from Amsterdam to Brussels was fairly pleasant and speedy (granted, speedy wasn’t precisely the case in my epic 2009 jaunt across southern Europe, but that was mainly the itinerary’s fault), with welcoming views of endlessly flat Dutch and Belgian towns and farmland, bevies of sheep, the occasional windmill, miles and (ahem) kilometers of bike paths, and Jamie passed out in the atypical late November sunshine.

Brussels:

The hostel (Meininger, the Brussels flavor) was efficient at the onset and, so far, is quite enjoyable. Trekking there from the Brussels Midi station was a bit of an interesting ramble, as Jamie and I wended our way through a giant open-air market, where fake branded bags and multiple varieties of farm goods filled stall after stall, the sweet scent of streetmeat suffusing the air. People eyed our bags curiously, and I did my best to look poor and uninteresting (my usual tactic in slightly seedy neighborhoods). However, we soon arrived at the hostel, which welcomed us speedily (as aforementioned) and shoved us into a six-bed room, which so far contains only myself, Jamie, and a fellow called Martin. The very first Luxembourgian I have ever met, Martin, with some compadres, run a startup that, in his words, involves antiques. I have really no further details than that, so far – maybe they could be antiques of all kinds, maybe antique lace patterns, guns, windmill designs, pipes, anything. Who knows. He seems congenial enough, and, moreover, is fine with me walking around only in boxers, which is all that one can really ask of a roommate. (That, and he hasn’t stolen any of our stuff yet.)

Le Grand Cafe

Jamie and I are only here for a brief time, so it seems best to focus on imbibing as much Belgian cuisine, culture and atmosphere as possible. Consequently, at our dinner, I ordered two brand new beers: a Double Enghien Brune (slightly darker than most Belgian beers, 8.0%, a little nutty yet mostly light, full-bodied) and Bell-Vue Kriek Saison (cherry-derived, bubbly, light, faint sour taste), along with delicious meatballs with endive in a dark beer and speculoos sauce. We also traipsed several blocks to briefly view St. Catherine’s, the Stock Exchange, and Beguinage Church, all of them decent examples of Flemish medieval architecture, given their ornate stone and woodwork, ribbed arches, classic Renaissance oil paintings, and much more. (Man, those pictures would really come in handy right about now. Defeated by an SD card. Would feel more pathetic, but…well, that’d come later.)

Meininger:

Closed the night by playing several rounds of pool with two fellows who said they were from Brussels. Well, one of them did. Neither spoke English well at all. However, they destroyed us. If I understood more French, I probably could have been offended by their sympathetic laughter at our poor showing. Diplomatically, I compromised by trying to communicate in faulty Spanish, which turned out about as well as you’d expect. Of course, none of these linguistic or pool-related failures were due to the (insert random number here) of beers I may or may not have consumed (always retain plausible deniability).

In the end, a very successful day (or two days, rather) of traveling and sight-seeing. Jet lag, among other things, such as Saisons and Brusselites (pretty sure that’s the correct term), are now hitting me hard, so I’ll sign off.

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