Friday, May 9, 2014

To Ghent! Day 5 of Beertrip 2014

Day 5 of our fabulous trip took us from Brussels to join the rest of our organized tour through in Ghent. 

We awoke this fine day to a return of sun and pleasant weather in the mid-60's.  We didn't have a lot of time left in my new favorite city, but were able to wander the cobbled streets and take in a bit more of the town.  We poked our heads into a few bottle shops and had some perfectly crispy frites right across from the Bell Fort. 

Back to the hotel for a quick pack and to catch our minivan cab to the train station.  Our cabby was quite the jokester and in straight dead-pan told us that without chocolate he would not drive us to the station.  Later Chris discovered some wrapped dark chocolate in back of the cab and handed it to a somewhat surprised cabby!  The next 10 minutes literally flew by in a mad spinning and drifting hell-ride through the narrow cobble stoned streets of an ancient city.  The whitened and widened eyes of horrified pedestrians flashed past us.  Horses drawing carriages reared in terror.  Bladders clenched.  Prayers were quickly said.   It was white knuckles, brown trousers time!  With an insane Tokyo Drift and squealing of tortured tires on stone, we pulled up inches from the curb at the train station.  Our cabby (who had possibly been watching too many Fast and Furious movies) commented, "I can't get you all the way into the station..."

After blood flow to our clenched hands recovered, we quickly bought tickets and made our train with only minutes to spare.  We would have missed this particular train if the Belgian Vin Diesel hadn't rampaged the streets for us, so hats off good sir!

Is this so wrong?

The trip was only about 30 minutes, but Hassan produced paper Starbucks cups that he had impossibly received while we were all hustling our luggage to the platform.  He apparated a Rochefort 8 and a Fort Lapin Quad and we all cheered our Bruges cab driver and the upcoming city of Ghent!

Photo from the canal by Sj

Our formal tour began at the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, a large canal-side restaurant and pub with an incredible array of great beer selections.  There, our foursome met up with Carol and Kevin (friends of ours from Happy Gnome beer dinners back in Minnesota), Arthur (an adventurous fellow from New York), and Mike Saxton (our illustrious tour guide and owner of  I ordered a Hercule Stout--a roasty but mild stout with some Belgian yeast character.  With a raucous group toast our tour had officially begun!  After sharing sips of our various beers, with Sj swigging Cantillon out of the bottle like a heathen, we walked a few blocks down the canal to board a canal boat for a welcome tour of Ghent.

View of Ghent from the canal

Our boat had overly foamy bottles of Gentse Tripel waiting for us to spill all over ourselves upon opening.  Plates of local cheeses were provided for our consumption whilst drinking, and pitchers of orange juice glistened in the waning sunlight.  Other tour boats and pedestrians alike looked on in jealous appreciation of our beer-laden boat!  A few minutes into our tour the rains began.  Diluting the beer only slightly, but not bothering most of us, the rains continued through much of our tour.  Suddenly the bottom dropped out, with heavy fat raindrops spattering upon us, and several large umbrellas were passed around.  Sj's umbrella caught some wind and that full pitcher of orange juice tipped as if in slow motion toward my waiting crotch.  With nowhere to dodge to I took the spray and laughed it off.  I had beer in my hand and was on a wet boat in Belgium!  Soggy groin be damned!  At least no beer was wasted!  I know Sj felt terrible about it, but hey, stuff happens, and at least it was me and not one of our traveling companions.  Seconds after the boat docked the sun returned to spite us.  We took a quick detour back to the hotel for fresh pants and then headed back out to explore the city!

Drinking foamy beer on a canal!  (Beware the OJ!)

The next stop (after dry pants of course) was to 't Galgen Huisje, a tiny pub located at the end of the Groot Vleeshuis (midievil meat market building).  This place had space for about 12 people on the ground floor and an even smaller upstairs seating area.  A small bar provided a decent but not stellar mix of Belgian ales, a few on tap.  Our group of 8 had to be split up due to size, a few at a small booth, a few happily chatting with some locals, and two of us standing.  I do have to say that from the time I walked in to having a dripping full glass of Kaiser Karel Blonde was under 60 seconds.  I was still standing by the doorway while my compatriots were getting situated!  This was the quickest I was served a beer in all of Belgium.  The beer was light, slightly hoppy and very refreshing, and served in its very own glass of course!  This little side trip helped us kill time before dinner and get out of the cool drizzle that had started up again.

None of my pics of this place turned out so you can look at my beer instead!

Next was another short walk back to the same building where we had originally met up with our tour group.  Dinner was in the attached Chez Liontine, which luckily had the same impressive beer list as at the outdoor pub.  We were seated in a warm and crowded upstairs dining room.  I ended up ordering a Flemish stew with pig cheeks, braised in Trappist ale.  It was fantastically flavored and the pork was beyond tender, and went amazingly well with a Rochefort 10.  We then had a Kriek-Off between a few of us, comparing several of the local cherry sours.  Carol had the Beersel Kriek--I gave it a 3/5 because it was back sweetened too much.  Sj had the Girardin Kriek--I gave it a 4, but it had a little skunky aroma I didn't love.  And I won this round with the Hanssens Oude Kriek rated at 4.5--almost no carbonation, but so tart and puckering!  By this time we were all full, happy, slightly tipsy and perhaps drove out the other upper floor residents with our American boisterous activities.

An amazing beer!  

Our three new tour mates had all just arrived in Belgium early that day and all three decided to stumble home to bed.  Chris, Hassan, Sj, Mike and I all still had a bit of energy left to spend on the day.  We walked along the moonlit canal.  Large spotlights embedded in the walkways shone up upon the looming stone walls of buildings that had been built before America had even been imagined.  Gargoyles, ornate crosses and various other intricate stonework designs were brought up in stark detail and shadowed contrast by this treatment, giving the city a truly ancient and dreamlike quality.

Ghent by night!

We ended up at Herberg de Dulle Griet, an old beer bar in the heart of the city, not far from Mad Meg the enormous red painted cannon that is a city landmark.  They had a beer list of over 250 options and were open late!  They had a lot of sours and I ended up trying the Boon Marriage Parfait Geueze which was quite tart and refreshing--and lower in alcohol.  A large group of folks from Bristol, UK were crammed into the booth next to us and we talked a bit about beers (of course!)  We watched each of them get the special house beer Max of the House, served in a yard glass (think Kwak glass but three times bigger).  Since so many of these glasses used to go missing the bar takes one of your shoes as collateral for missing or broken glasses.  So watching a rowdy group of Brits all wearing one shoe and trying not to spill from these tall glasses was quite a treat!  After this most of us were too tired and full for more beers so we shambled back to our hotel for a much needed rest.

Blurry?  Now you know how I felt!

Coming Up:  A travel day and more time in Ghent!

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