Our last day in Belgium comes bitter sweet. At this point we all realize that no human can keep up this pace of gluttony and enjoyment for much longer without consequences, or at least without spending all of our life savings. As much as I enjoyed Antwerp, it is easier to leave this modern European town than it was to leave the fairytale city of Bruges.
The morning comes with a heavy rain that persists most of the day, making touring a bit more of a chore. We pass a chocolatier who has done an entire window display of chocolate taps pouring foaming chocolate beer into chocolate stemware glasses, along side chocolate crates filled with chocolate beer bottles. Oh, for more space in the luggage. We walk a few blocks at a time, clustering under awnings to check our maps. We find ourselves in a tiny, cramped, and crowded vegeterian cafe for lunch, a place that would be at home in Uptown back home. With my felafel sandwich I try a Bio-beer, Sara, made organically with buckwheat and tasting vaguely like a Hoegaarden.
Next up we slog around town looking into some of the larger Catholic churches. Two of these are charging entry fees, which just seems wrong to me somehow. In those we mill about in the entrance area, trying to quietly warm up and figure out our next plan of action. We do make it to one church that has free entry (Sanctuary!) and the most amazing carved wooden angels and biblical scenes all along the walls. One particularly creepy angel is holding an upside down skull.
We spend some time in the Rubens House: the Antwerp home of the famous painter Peter Paul Rubens. Lots of cool artwork by Rubens and contemporaries as well as a really cool old mansion. And it is dry inside.
We wind our way back toward the hotel, by this point my water resistant jacked has failed me and my torso, feet and head are soaked and cold. We stop at a cafe on the way to warm up and have another De Koninck. I whine about wanting the De Koninck glass filled with dark and light chocolates that we saw in a window earlier. I do not get what I want.
At the hotel we rest up and change into dry clothes. Soon we gather as a group for our last dinner together in Belgium. On the way there we stop one more time at the Old Armory for a beer. I have the Westmalle Extra, a mild 4.8% ABV brew that is very refreshing. We manage to close this bar down...not entirely realizing what the bell ringing by the bartender means. What bar closes at 7 PM on a Saturday???
Our final diner in Belgium is just across the street at the Horta Restaurant. This is a very fancy meal and a good way to end the group part of our tour. I order a beer and it is brought out and served exactly like a champagne would be served, right down to the silver ice bucket. Presentation is great, but the beer is so-so.
After dinner, Chris, Hassan, Sj and I all walk back to Kulminator. We settle in like old regulars, meeting and talking to other folks and ordering beers like professionals. We finish this trip like we started it: four friends in a tiny bar drinking Westvleteren 12. This has been a crazy trip, and one of the most amazing things I've done in my life. It will be hard to return to our real lives, but must be done. For those reading this...consider a trip to Belgium, and especially a trip through
Beertrips.com. Worth every penny.