In which I'm about to drink beer
In which we go to Noel Cuvelier's beer shop
It's about time that I topped up on Belgian Beer, I need to get over to Noel Cuvelier's shop again. Belgian beer is simply excellent, a huge range of styles. In the UK it can be quite expensive - and the range can often be limited to Hoegaarden, Leffe and the like.
There are a huge range of Belgian brews, some which are very similar to the British beer, some which are not (heck, there is a chocolate beer - not to my tastes).
I quite like 'Mort Subite'. Despite the name, 'Instant Death', it's got a low alcohol content and is very pleasant (I prefer the gueuze beer). In Brussels, they brew an interesting beer at the Cantillon brewery (which is visitable). It too is a gueuze, and is probably more reminiscent of a champagne than a beer - I only take this in small amounts as it's a little sharp for me. I have a fondness for Straffe Hendrik (brewed in Brugge), as well as Kwak (the glass is all important!)
Each Belgian beer has it's own glass. This was originally (and remains) an advertising measure, but it does affect the taste. It's something to do with how readily the volatiles escape, and how the beer is aerated. For example, Kwak (which has a really 'interesting' glass) is aerated as the drink approaches the end. This is when it would otherwise tend to lose it's 'sparkle'. The aeration is achieved due to the shape of the glass - it 'glugs' as air passes through the narrowing of the glass.
Duvel on the other hand has quite a round glass with a narrow opening, a bit like a brandy glass. It's probably mostly a placebo - but I know that things don't seem to taste how they should if the glass is wrong (though lots of glasses are almost right, and that's good enough).
Anyhow, we have long since run out of our Belgian beer stocks, occasionally buying a Duvel or a Hoegaarden Grand Cru from Tesco. A bar near my workplace has started to stock Mort Subite, but they charge a fortune for it.
I'm already losing track of the beers - I really must start to take notes.
It's time to head toward Poperinge! It's just a matter of getting around to it.
Over the first weekend in April, we went off to Brugge in Belgium. Brugge may be better known as Bruges.
Brugge is in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium. Though this didn't cause real problems for us due to the excellent language abilities of the locals, we always like to try and learn a few phrases - it's nice. I had some problems with the word 'please'. It was quite unlike any other languages I know. In French it's 's'il vous plait', in German it's 'bitte', in Italian it's 'pif favore' and Spanish it's 'per favore'. Apologies for any misspellings.
In Flemish it's 'alstublieft', which I couldn't get into my head for some reason!
That said, though we couldn't speak the language for longer than a few pre prepared words, we did find that one could get a lot of meaning by listening to it - the links to other European languages are quite plain.
On the saturday, we took the Eurostar from London. The Eurostar is very comfortable and smooth. Always a nice trip.
At Bruxxelles Midi (Brussels Zuid) we changed to go to Brugge. The interesting thing about Belgium is that destinations are always given in the local language. Brussels is well and truly in Flanders, though it's Bilingual and so is the exception. If travelling from Wallonia (the French speaking area) you may start your journey travelling to Ypres, but you'd arrive in Ieper!
To get to Brugge from Brussels we just took the Ostend train. We waited literally a few minutes. The Belgian trains are fantastic. Smooth ride, airy. Very nice
At Brugge, we got off to see a large open space - which way now? Fortunately Brugge knows that it's main revenue is tourism, so there are tourist 'you are here' maps liberally dotted about the place. We found the hotel with no trouble. We were staying in the Ibis Brugge Centrum. It was a fairly basic room, slightly stale with cigarette smoke, but it was serviceable. One flaw was that there was no safe in the room.
We soon headed out to explore the city. It's not a big place but it's quite pretty. Like Brussels it lends itself to sampling Belgian cuisine. Moules Frites were everywhere, though we steered clear as we thought Mussels were out of season. Actually they're not - they're in season in colder months. I.e. September through to April.
We soon found our way to the Markt, and sat at a cafe opposite the Belfort. It was a cold evening, but there were heaters and so it was rather pleasant. I had the obligatory waffle, Monica had a Pancake. Nice.
In the evening we went to a place called the Lokkedize. This is a cafe on a back road near the Cathedral. It seemed mostly frequented by locals, which is a good sign. Unfortunately there was no live music on the day we went. We each had a beer or two and ordered a Meze, the food was Meditteranean. Highly recommended.
On the brewery tour, we saw this helmet in a case. I have no clue what it was for, but it reminded me of c3p0!
The next day we took ourselves off to De Halve Maan pub. Attached to the Halve Maan is the Straffe Hendrik brewery. The Halve Maan is quite a big place, but it's not that easy to spot. It's not too far from Minnewater, just round the corner to where the horses stop to rest. For a few euro we received a tour of the brewery (which has some steep stairs in it), and we could exchange our ticket for some Straffe Hendrik at the end. This was a very good brewery tour, and there are some nice views of Brugge to be had from the roof of the brewery. Unfortunately in the Pub they had one track stuck on loop in the CD player, and it took several tries to break the loop. 'If you're going to San Francisco...' ad nauseum was eventually replaced by the Nolans and 'I'm in the mood for dancing'. Fortunately this one didn't loop.
The brewery tour took us to the roof of the building. On the left is the Cathedral, and on the right is Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk.
These are just some of the many glasses one has for Belgian beer. Each beer should be served in the correct glass.
The brewery tour is not one which can be undertaken by people who don't have good mobility. There are lots of stairs, some of them are quite steep and treacherous. Be warned!
This bridge is behind Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk. It's quite pretty round there - as it's very pretty. I had to wait some time to get a shot of the bridge with nobody on it!
Whenever we go abroad, we always use 'The Lonely Planet' guides. The guide for Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp contains walking tours, and so we followed the walking tour for Bruges. There was an amusing chap who made a show out of organ grinding, he reminded me of someone.... I won't say who. The walk didn't take long as it's a small place.
This is what is believed to be the Smallest Medieval window in Europe. You'll have to look quite hard for it, it's near the right hand edge of the wall.
This is a statue we saw on our walk throuogh Brugge. It's one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other three were also there.
Following a brief stop for refreshments we decided to climb the Belfort in the Markt.
This is a fairly long climb (366 steps), and quite steep in places - but one can get good views. It is a working Belltower, and one can see the mechanism which plays the tunes, as well as be deafened when the bells start to ring.
This photograph of Belfort was taken from the South. It's a view from near where one of the canal trips leaves.
We spent a fair amount of time in the Belfort. The views are fantastic. If you look for them you will see that on the stones of the openings are arrows with distance indications to various towns and cities.
When we descended from the tower, we took a horse and carriage ride around Brugge. A little bit of an extravagance, but why not? It was very good fun - we were taken round the major sites, going fast at times and slow when there were points of interest.
This is the area inside the Convent near Minnewater. Despite the signs saying 'please keep off the grass', what are those people doing...? Yep... they're on the grass.
The horse stops for water near Minnewater, and we took five minutes to visit the convent - which was lovely. The interior square was ablaze with daffodils. It was only five minutes, so back to the carriage and our trip continued.
Later on, we wandered around a few establishments, ending up at 't Brugs Beerje (review of 't Brugs Beertje). This is a fantastic place, there is huge variety of beer to sample. I had something called 'Delirium Tremens' which was very nice indeed, though I've now learned that it's a medical condition. Monica had something called 'Brugs', which I didn't care for, but she liked a lot. It had orange zest and coriander in it!
After that we decided to look for some dinner. The Cafedraal was closed, we ended up at a place overlooking one of the canals called 'Matinée'. It's south of Belfort near one of the places that the boat trips leave from. It was fairly quiet (early april - cold), but we got good food.
On the Monday we began the day with a trip to the 'Diamant Museum' (Diamond Museum) which is very close to where we stayed. It's a small little museum, it could have been quite dry, but as we were nearing the end of the exhibits there was a demonstration about how diamonds were cut. I found this fascinating, and it made the museum visit worthwhile.
Following the usual morning snack, this time at Cafe Craenenburg, we went over to Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, which is said to contain some of Christ's Blood. There are some nice examples if stained glass in there.
This is the Michelangelo in Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk. It's reportedly the only Michelangelo to be removed from Italy in his lifetime.
We then went to Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, which the guide on the horse and carriage assured us is the second tallest brick built structure in Europe. Inside the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk they have one of the few examples of a Michelangelo outside Italy.
This is a photo of us which was taken in the excellent 't Brugs Beertje
This is what we were drinking on a visit to the 't Brugs Beertje
Then it was back to 't Brugs Beerje, where I started with 'Cuvée des Trolls', which was nice, and Monica had 'Hommelbier' from Poperinge
We chatted to a few folks in there, some people from the Netherlands (who thought I was Swedish), and a couple of lots of Americans. One group from Seattle, and a family who were visiting their daughter who was studying in Paris. She was giving them a grand tour of Europe.
From there, we looked for somewhere to have our evening meal. This time we went into the 'Cafedraal', which is unsurprisingly next to the Cathedral. It's a fairly posh sort of place, but to be honest I wasn't too keen. Something to do with having a crustacean placed on top of my steak of Turbot. I don't like my food looking at me.
On the tuesday, it was time to come home. We'd seen Brugge and were walking the streets like locals (it's a small place, you get to know it fast). What to do? Well, we took a trip on the Canal, which didn't show us anything new, but it was jolly good fun.
We also went back to the Cafe Craenenburg, where we were most impressed as the waiter not only remembered that we had visited before, but he also remembered our order, and asked us if we wanted the same again. We didn't. Monica went for a chocolate overload and had a Waffle with Chocolate sauce, Chocolate ice cream and accompanied this with Hot Chocolate. I had something called 'Croque Craenenburg' which is essentially a toasted sandwich with a Bolognaise sauce. Very nice.
All that was left now was to pick up our bags from the hotel, and head home. We had a slight wait in Brussels as we'd left slightly earlier than we needed - but this is no bad thing. After trying so hard with the Flemishm it felt weird to be speaking French when asking for tea and coffee in a cafe (I know I could have used English... but I really prefer not to if possible when abroad).
Yesterday we took a little trip to France. It was a cold and clear day, and it was an early start. The salt on the road made driving a pain as it was hard to keep the windscreen clear.
We boarded the 09:30 Sea France ferry, eating breakfast on the ship as is our preference. It was a millpond on the water, and very cold indeed on deck.
The aim of the day, apart from having a nice day out, was to obtain some Belgian beer. We fist visited the warehouse stores near Calais (follow the motorway round, take junction three - this is before reaching the A16/A26 junction). Majestic wine were doing some good deals on Hoegaarden and Leffe, but it was a limited range. 'Cheers' had a wider range (including Kwak) but were out of stock. Cheers also annoyed as they were asking to see inside people's coats as they left, as if I'd get a crate of ale up there! Ah well, they lose my business in future.
We then drove along the motorway east toward Belgium (signs for Dunkerque and Ostende). If you've never driven in France before it's quite easy, as you come of the boat you can't go wrong at all, they guide you on to the motorway network before you know where you are. The hardest part is when OFF the motorway!
We were headed for a place called Poperinge, which is just inside Belgium. In particular to a place called Noel Cuvelier's Beer Shop. We took the A25 south and drove through Flanders. There was mist rising from the fields, very atmospheric. Very flat, it isn't hard to imagine why this area was a World War 1 battlefield.
At junction 13 we turned left into Belgium, driving straight over the border. This is a flemish part of Belgium. Staying on this road took us through Abele (though there was a signpost off to the left which we ignored), and soon we saw a big sign on the left for 'Beer Shop', it proclaimed 250 varieties. We continued into Poperinge as we had heard that they did not accept plastic at the shop. We later noticed that they seemed to have the facility, but it was too late as we'd already got the cash!
We found it rather tricky to get cash in Poperinge as many cashpoints are for only those who bank with that particular bank. In the main square of Poperinge (it's not really a square, more a semicircle with cars parked in the middle) there is a yellow fronted building which houses usable cashpoints.
The beer shop is generally excellent. It's essentially a general store, selling tinned food, cheeses, sweets etc, but it also stocks a vast selection of beers, along with many of their glasses. Mort Subite Geuze (my current favourite) comes in at 86 cents a bottle (33cl), this would be 2 to 3 pounds at home, if you can find it, here it's nearer 50p.
After stocking up, we headed back for the coast, stopping at Cap Blanc Nez near Calais. The coastal road which runs from Calais to Boulogne (passing through Sangatte) is absolutely beautiful. Hilly, nice beaches, a well kept secret. Erm.... forget I told you that. Don't go.
We stopped for a bite to eat by the coast before heading toward the boat, stopping at Intercaves in Calais itself to get some wine. Intercaves is on the Rue Mollien about 500 metres from the Hotel de ville. They specialise in boxed wine, and it's good stuff - when you go in the guy plies you with drink. The open boxes all have dates on which detail when that box was opened, this is to demonstrate how well the wine keeps once open. They also do a loyalty card scheme :)
To get to Intercaves find the town hall, and head down the Rue P. Bert which runs between the town hall and train line. Intercaves is a small place on the right. It's easy to get from there to the car ferry, just take the first left and follow the signs.
To get there from the Car Ferry, follow 'direction centre ville' and you will come to the Rue Mollien with Intercaves on the left. Parking is a little tricky, but not impossible.
A nice day out,despite the cold. Calais had wonderful Christmas decorations set up, very pretty indeed. It was the first time I'd driven in Flanders (though I've been close many times). The area has a certain quality to it.
We will certainly go back to Noel Cuvelier's!