As y’all know, Chris spent 2017-2018 living in Dubai. Being the great friends that we are, we couldn’t leave him out to dry in the desert. In the name of maintaining our bond, a number of trips happened that otherwise would not have. The first of the series was us choosing Europe as a halfway point to meet up for some road trip shenanigans.
Now, technically, we can’t count Belgium as a segment of the road trip because we flew from there to Munich. But it was the first stop on this European excursion and, when I look back on our friendship history, the birth of our “Run Far, Travel Farther” namesake. We’d both spent 24+ hours in transit, and shortly after hitting the ground, took our first peruse of the city in running gear.
It gave us a good lay of the land, but certainly did not touch the amount of calories we were about to consume in beer alone over the next few days. Our hotel was conveniently located near the Delirium Cafe, a wildly misleading name for a place that holds the world record for largest beer selection at 2004 options. We spent a lot of time there and never got bored due to it’s massive layout, kitschy decor, friendly bartenders and.. you guessed it.. beer!
You’re doing it wrong if you don’t drink local, so many of those drafts included the famous Trappist varieties – brewed by monks with sales going to support their monasteries. There are now 13 Trappist breweries located across Europe (+ one in the US), and after organically knocking off 6-7 of them, our mission became to try them all (12 at the time)! This may not sound that hard, but low production volume and high quality of some of the brews becomes a textbook example of supply & demand.
For those of you cicerones, you might be familiar with Westvleteren, one of the most limited and sought after Trappist beers. Our local watering hole, Delirium, was fresh out of the brand, as was every other bar we visited. Some friendly bartenders recommended that we check some liquor stores, but we came up short several times over. After 2 days of searching, one of the stores told us another store around the corner had just received a shipment of Westvleteren, but we should hurry as it wouldn’t last long! We high tailed it over and low and behold, for the low price of 22 euro we got our bottle! While the beer was delicious, we ended up falling one short of all 12 😦
Chris, never one to give up, completed the quest several months later when he found the last Trappist beer, Mont Des Cats, at a beer cafe in The Netherlands.
In general, Belgium crushes the beer game, but it’s also home to a lesser known, longer and waaay more hipster style of brewing that produces what’s called a lambic. We learned all about this natural fermentation process at Cantillion, which is located in Brussels proper, and a must-do for all of 9.50 Euro, (including tasting!)
The TL;DR is that rather than purposefully introducing yeast after boiling the grains to pull out the sugar and other tasty substances, they leave the wort out in a shallow pool to be naturally inoculated with the unique blend of yeasts floating around in the Belgian air. The lower concentration of fermenting organisms causes it to take years, rather than the usual 21ish days, for the liquid to become alcoholic.
When this process is used outside of Brussels, it’s called a wild ale rather than a lambic or geuze (blend of various ages of lambics), which denotes that it’s native to Brussels. If that still doesn’t mean anything to you, pucker up like you’re drinking a sour and you’ll get the gist of it.
We also did things in between beer stops to create a well-rounded Belgian buffet. These included eating waffles, frites and chocolate, plus tons of walking as a pseudo-counter balance/way to discover things outside of our main draw to the city.
Trip Advisor at the time had this poor habit of almost certainly suggesting the highest vantage point of whatever city you were in to get a ‘good view’ and other obvious/mediocre activities. (Quick peruse shows they’ve really upped their game since I stopped soliciting their advice, so good for them.) I bring this up, because it lead us to maybe the dumbest ‘attraction’ of any city I’ve visited – le Manneken Pis – a small fountain of a little boy peeing.
It’s one of those things that locals decided to (I hope satirically) rally around to spite tourists; it’s over-glorified in every knick-knack shop, chocolate store and even has a few establishments themed in it’s likening. Even better is the fact that they started dressing the statue in ridiculous outfits like this –
Last but not least, I’d been designing a tattoo with Chris’s input over the course of the few months between his departure and reuniting in Brussels. There’s a lot of symbolism behind it’s simple design, both shared and unique, including being inked as mirror images of each other, with my plane departing & Chris’s landing in Madison. Even the irony of tattooing the skyline on our bodies thousands of miles from it’s location follows form for who we are as people.
And while tattoo ink is pretty much a done deal, this was just getting our trip started!