Thursday, April 30, 2015

Europe Day 6: Belgium

Day six was more or less “James’s Day.”  After a very fun night on day five, we woke up without a lot of desire to leave the bed. So, we had breakfast and headed back upstairs for a nap while my parents did laundry. (Our hostess at the B&B, Jackie, was awesome and let them use the ones they had onsite.)

Feeling a bit more rested, we started out at the Saint Sixtus Abbey to see where the famous Westvleteren beer is made.  Like all of the other Trappist breweries, we weren’t allowed inside, so we just snapped a few (okay, quite a few) photos of James with the grounds and abbey signs behind him.  This part of the trip was the most important to him, so we made sure to document it well. :)

A block or so away is the restaurant/welcome center, In de Vrede.  I honestly don’t remember much about the food and I still wasn’t up for any beer (probably the single worst timing in the world for a hangover!) , but Mom and I did decide to share the ice cream made with Westvleteren beer.  It was delicious!   The guys most definitely tried the different beers, though. :)

If you’re beer nerds like us, you’ve surely heard of the Westvleteren 12 beer--rated the #1 beer in the world by  It is nearly impossible to get your hands on, as the monks prefer that it is only available at their abbey and restaurant, where availability is often limited (and sometimes there is no beer for sale at all). There are waiting lists you have to call ahead for and only certain days and times you can call and that beer is released. It takes quite a lot of effort, so we were really lucky that the visitor's center had some while we were there. (Another perk of a weekday visit!)  James and Dad each got a 6-pack to bring home...James does look pretty proud of it, too, doesn’t he?

We had a reservation for a tour of the St. Bernardus factory, so we headed back that direction next.  We got to see how the beer was made and Dad even tasted some of the hop pellets used in production (he can’t smell so he had no idea what he was in for!).  We learned a lot about the history of the brewery and the tour ended with a long and generous beer tasting.  There is very little I can tell you about the history of the beer that you can’t read on Wikipedia, but the tour is definitely worthwhile if you are in the area.  The small tour fee even included a souvenir set with four bottles of beer and a large glass!  While these beers are fairly easy to get your hands on in the states, it was really neat to see the production of one of James’s favorites, especially after getting to meet the owner. 

If we ever go back to the area, I would love to take a bike tour.  They are very popular in the area, but just didn’t really fit into our already cramped schedule.  Even the car rides were beautiful, though, as the whole region is known for hops.  These hops fields were right outside of the brewery/B&B:

Speaking of hops...our next stop was the Hopmuseum in Poperigne.  We had read about the museum before our trip, but basically just went because we had the time...and we are so glad we did!  It was a really, really interesting museum and so well done.  The drive to and from and through the town of Poperigne were so pretty, too, and we even saw our first and only maypole of the trip!

That evening, we took the 1.5 hour drive up to Bruges for supper.  This part of our day wasn’t necessarily planned, either, so we went up without any knowledge of where to go or what to do.  We ended up parking where we could and we found this square where we walked around a bit.  As it started to pour down rain, we ducked into a nearby cafe and grabbed a bite to eat.  The menu was difficult to read, so Mom and I got frites and the guys some sort of fried "sampler".  We had fun trying to guess what each bite was and we ended up sitting on the second floor with a great view of the rain over Bruges.  The meal was mediocre but the experience was pretty pleasant.  

And then...on our way back to the car...we realized we were parked basically underneath a fair, so we decided to walk around a bit….and discovered one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life.  I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me to look for a waffle the entire time we’d been in Belgium, but when we saw it, we jumped on it.  And that darn street fair Belgian waffle is one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.

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