Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Week As A Tourist, With Some Help

View of Namur from the fortified village

Before I truly settled into Belgium, I decided to take some time to see a bit more of the country, branch out a bit. Y'know, I had been treating her well, taking her out to nice seafood dinners and all, but I needed a few one-night-stands. Not literally, of course... I was able to find some stellar couchsurfing hosts in Brussels first; Sarah and her family treated me like Bonnie Prince Owen as I roamed the streets of greater Brussels during the day and perched my cheeks on their couch in the evening.

My good friend Chris from Brown made an epic appearance in Brussels to visit me and the country for a few days, and we quickly turned Sarah's place into one big house of fun. Chris and I met at the Grand Place, of all grand places, making for a reunion of Hollywood caliber. Shortly after, we entered the subterranean level of the Grand Place's Brewer's House, where the brewer's guild of Belgium had its headquarters. It now houses a museum (informative but in need of some spice) and a little bar (cozy and friendly, and you never know what beer you will be served). We dedicated the rest of our stay in Brussels to walking on as much concrete as our feet would take while absorbing as much of the city with our eyes as possible. We even took a day trip to Namur, where Chris impressed with his French, we took an oddly bromantic stroll around the stunning fortified section of the city, and then returned to Brussels to cook Sarah's family a sneakily spicy Indian curry dish with potatoes and chickpeas. We could've fed a moose on the amount of food we prepared, but we managed to find all the ingredients (on a Sunday, no less) for under 8 €.

The next few days gave us more stories. Ghent was filled with a visit to the castle at Gravensteen, which was essentially a museum of torture as Chris pointed out. Highlights were a guillotine blade that had probably severed hundreds of unfortunate peasant heads, a torture device that had probably crushed thousands of agonizing tongue-holders, and several two-seaters that had probably been straddled by many hairy medieval bums, especially after all those Burgundian feasts.

I'll bet it sucks in winter

Elsewhere in Ghent were our entertaining couchsurfing hosts, Elke and Miro, and a famous genever bar where Chris choked down a genever infused with hot peppers and I savored one spiked with the essence of God's best creation, Speculoos. After Ghent, which was lovely, we had to move on to West Flanders. I once again requested a stay with Wim from Poperinge and he, due to his awesomeness, once again accepted. Chris and I biked to In de Vrede, the café at Sint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, home to that elusive and delicious beer. And some monks, I think. I felt a surge of ambition, too much in fact, because I ordered the traditional Belgian meal of hennepot, not knowing what I was getting into, only thinking that tradition is synonymous with tastiness. What I received was certainly a treat, especially after a bike ride, but it was a treat insofar as chicken suspended in unflavored gelatin goes. Which is what hennepot is. The beers, though, were fantastic. The blond was on the bitter side for its contemporaries, which I thought was great, and the 8 was like a light, malty plum stew, though it could use another half-year to peak.

Those sugar beets ain't got nuthin' on me

When it was time to say goodbye to Chris, we agreed that our time was well spent. Chris took a flight back to Greece and I prepared to launch myself into my next adventure: life as an apprentice to one of the world's greatest brewers, Urbain Coutteau.

The eve of my first day really settled in West Flanders

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