Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Belgium Day 9: To Antwerp!

Just another day at the office...
Getting toward the end of our amazing trip, we spent much of this day travelling and testing out nearly every form of locomotion.   Sj and I got up early to spend what little time we had left in Bruges doing good touristy things.  The day was rainy, so we didn't get as much pretty scenery.  We went to a museum that was in an old Catholic hospital, filled with reliquaries,and religious artwork.  Upstairs in the attic, there was a special exposition of the creepiest modern artwork I have ever seen.  All of the pieces were made of rough-hewn wood, consisting of severed limbs and heads, dangling from the cieling by wires, or just scattered around the floor.  Dark, lonely, disturbing...nightmarish.
Creepy creepy creepy

We picked up our luggage and caught a death-cab to the rail station with the rest of our tour-mates.  At the rail station we had a few minutes to relax and several of us bought some goodies at a small convenience store within the station.  We bought Trappist beers for 1.30 Euro each (about $2)  and I bet that place was overpriced.  I love Belgium!

Traveling in style
Just as we all headed up the escalator to our departure area a lady fell spectacularily and the escalator was shut down.  The lady was fine, but we all had to carry our large suitcases up the stairs.  I guess I needed a workout by this time.  We settled into our train and promptly cracked open some beers for the trip.  We had opened a Westmalle Dubbel, Rochefort 8 and Chimay Blue Cap, when the conductor came by and gave us a somewhat serious and upset look.  For a moment I thought we were going to be in trouble for drinking alcohol on the train, and worried that they would just drop us off at the next stop, stranding us in rural Belgium.  Then the conductor shook his head bemusedly and explained that proper drinking conditions for Trappist beers is in front of a fire with the correct glassware.  He pointed out the old guy two seats down drinking a big can of Jupiler (mass-market swill beer,)  as an example of what one should drink on a train.  Again, I love Belgium!

Antwerp station is amazing!
On arrival in Antwerp we were met by our local guide and began a walking tour of the city.  Our first stop was The Armory, a very old and tiny bar just a block from our hotel.  To greet new visitors it is tradition to serve them a glass of De Koninck, the official beer of the city.  Not a bad beer, malty and almost like a Scottish 70/- with very little Belgian yeast character.  But not a Euro-swill lager at least!  I guess not too long ago the brewery was bought by Duvel and things have changed a bit:  Now the beer is bottled at Duvel and the tours are less frequent.  Our tour guide apparently used to do the brewery tours before the buy-out. 

The city itself has a lot of age to it, but is much more modern than Brussels and Bruges.  There were tons of students and young fashion-forward people walking the streets like they had somewhere to be.  This seemed to be a very metropolitan area with huge Disney stores, McDonald's, and more fashion/clothing/jewelry stores than you could shake a stick at.  There are certainly some old buildings and monuments, but they are nestled tightly among the modern city trappings.  Our tour continued with another stop at a very warm and crowded old cafe for a La Trappe Dubbel...yum!  At that point our guide left us near the palace and we headed for dinner. 

Dinner was at The 11th Commandment, an old cafe that was packed with old plaster and wooden saints, Madonnas and angel icons.  Hundreds to thousands of these in various states of disrepair.  Wow cool, but freaky.  For dinner I had the ubiquitous and tasty Belgian mussels, cooked in Westmalle Tripel.  I drank my first coke...feeling a bit beered out for the first time on this trip. 

After dinner, we made the trek to a very small local beer bar called Kulminator.  The place is run by a cantankerous old guy that looks like a mad composer (Beethoven, Mozart, take your pick,) and his wife who resembled one of the female Norwegian gnomes, (minus the red hat.)  Having limited space, we initially split up our group.  The place has a cluttered old vibe that almost seems like a crazy old German clock repair store had an unholy union with a turn of the century pub.  Tons of dusty old Belgian beer tins and items lined the walls and every available surface.  Large piles of old books and magazines were stacked haphazardly about, taking up valuable bar seating space.  Don't ask about the state of the bathrooms.  There were only 5 tables in the bar and three spots at the crowded bar.  The entire end of one table was taken up by some project that the owner was working on, and at one point a couple young guys tried to sit there.  This resulted in a nearly Soup Nazi rant in Flemish, and I was shocked that the guys didn't go running out of the place. 

There were only 2 huge foreign language beer lists for the entire bar, and once we got one we struggled to make sense of the staggering number of choices.  It took us about 30 minutes to get our drink order in.  If you don't tell your server what you want right away in Belgium, they might come back within the hour.... We started with a Leifman's Goudenbrand from 1987.  This was coated in dust and tasted oh so amazing.  This beer was 25 years old and still flavorful and complex with dark fruit and a hint of sour.  What kind of bar keeps beers for 25 years??  They had a huge list of Chimay beers from whatever year you could want.  I had a Rochefort 10 from 2003--almost 10 years and tasted wonderful.  I'm going to buy a couple of these and put them up for a few years... We also split a collaboration beer from Kerkom (Bink) and 3 Fontainen that was a crazy tart sour golden ale.  By the time we were done and ready to head back to the hotel, we had grown accustomed to this little hole in the wall place.

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