In Belgium, that is.
In mid-February, my pal Kevin “Moose” Richards and I are jetting to balmy Benelux for a very brief seven days (two fewer for Moose, who must return to the shop).
The stated occasion is my friend Boris’s 50th birthday party, a milestone of considerable high magnitude in the Netherlands region, and the convenient pretext (if one were needed) for an epic party that will be held in the transplanted Englishman’s Haarlem local, Café Briljant. Among others expected to be in attendance is Kim Andersen, whose colorful globetrotting exploits are recounted here on occasion.
All this came about because of surplus frequent flier miles, so in that sense it has worked out as planned, but much of the rest of the preparation has been downright frustrating.
At first, Moose and I spoke of spending the first three days in Cologne with Kim, who will be in the process of moving his residence to the home of Kolsch during the same period. After much deliberation, and considering that the actual delivery of household items is likely to be occurring in mid-February, we decided against it. He’d be busy enough without us tempting him with strong drink.
Instead, we elected to begin the trip with a three-day pub crawl through selected top beer spots in Belgium, using a shared Benelux 2nd-class rail pass that I subsequently learned has escalated in price beyond my hopes, although it’s still a good deal considering the trips we look to be making. I think.
Upon commencing research, I quickly learned that all three of the destinations we were most interesting in visiting – Brugs Beertje specialty cafe (Brugge), Drie Fonteinen lambic brewery, blending house and restaurant (Beersel) and the Hotel Palace beer café (Poperinge), are closed for business on Wednesday.
Given that our available evenings are on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with Haarlem reserved for Friday and Saturday, and the hoped-for spots too far apart to visit more rapidly than one drink-off and sleep-in per day, one destination had to be eliminated from consideration. We decided it would be Drie Fonteinen, seeing as Beersel’s not so easy to reach by public transportation.
Accordingly, I e-mailed the Palace in Poperinge, and strangely, there was no response. Next I faxed both the hotel and our friend Luc, who is the town’s tourist chieftain. He responded this morning with news that Guy and Beatrijs have sold the cherished hotel/restaurant/café heirloom to another local businessman, and we may or may not get to see them. On a more favorable note, Luc indicated that he’d be happy to meet us on Thursday for drinks, though he didn’t say where.
Brugge on Tuesday and Poperinge on Thursday, with somewhere else in between … good enough.
I then took a quick glance in the most recent edition of Tim Webb’s guide to Belgian beer and brewing and reconfirmed that Brugs Beertje is closed on Wednesday, proceeding directly to the website of the Hotel Erasmus, our preferred choice of lodging in Brugge. There I learned that the Erasmus, which includes a fine beer-cuisine restaurant and specialty café, is closed for remodeling through March 1.
Annoyed, I checked the Ibis chain hotel web site and snagged a cheap, no-cancellation, no-adjustment, off-season room rate for Tuesday, paid for it with Am-Ex, then within minutes learned via a return e-mail from Daisy, the delightful owner of the Beertje, that her world famous café now is closed an extra day each week.
That’d be Tuesday.
So far, the fruits of my labor today have netted me this: Starting with three beer shrines where I’d have liked to imbibe, now there’s no chance of visiting two of them, and only a slight chance at the third, as we’ve yet to determine if it’s open at all during the transition, and if it is, whether we’ll even be able to connect with the great people who were the primary reason for going, along with Luc.
At this rate, we may end up on Luc’s couch.
Another friend, Tim “Flyboy” Eads, had planned on coming into Poperinge on Wednesday night from Cologne, where he’ll be on a brief layover. Now, standing in the rubble of my hopes, I believe we should find the best beer bar in Belgium that’s open on Wednesday (if any) and accessible by rail (Antwerp?), arrange to go there, and be damned happy that I can make such a journey, even if there are pitfalls along the way.
I’ll keep you posted. Already a scheme is coming together …