As a follow-up to my last post, I should mention that my trip to Brussels was akin to bringing a child to Disneyworld, letting them see the entrance, allowing them to go on Space Mountain and then leaving.
Our class left London early from St. Pancras Station on the EuroStar to Brussels. As I watch the French countryside slide into Belgian countryside, I couldn’t help but get excited. We pulled into the station and jumped on a subway train to the city center. Our guide was quite adept at getting us around the city quickly and assured us some time to explore on our own after our lecture at Boston University’s small offices in Brussels.
Besides the incredibly early morning, the lecture was hampered by a language barrier that caused me to loose focus a few times. The consolation was a very lovely brunch of sweet and savory tarts that would have been made better by some local indigenous beverage, but that would have to wait. Patience Michael, patience I thought, you will somehow be rewarded…hopefully.
Our excursion into the city began at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, or Bozar, as it is called. We were met by a very enthusiastic docent who spent WAY too much time telling us about the crown molding in the main foyer. I think it was somewhere in the orchestra hall listening to the docent describing the etchings of the something, something, something, that I thought I might be able to make a break for it. I could sense the tension of my fellow classmates. I looked at the time and saw that we had less than two hours until our train was set to depart and I began to panic. Did I just come all the way to Brussels and NOT have a beer. The tour mercifully ended back in the main foyer and our guide let us free. We split off into small groups to explore the city, promising to meet up at the train station in less than two hours. Time for lunch, a few sites and beer.
I promised my group that if they came with me they would enjoy a quick beer and a stop at one of the best beer shops in town. The four of us nearly ran from Bozar and headed down the hill towards the city center. We made a brief stop at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a beautiful Gothic building upon a smallish hill just east of the Grand Place, before we hustled towards one of the beer bars that I had looked up before leaving London.
My first (and only) beer in Brussels was Rochefort 10. If I had to do it, I had to do it right. It came served in an appropriately logoed chalice with a dense head of foam atop a murky brown body. It…was…delicious. I nearly died drinking it. St. Michael had surely looked down upon me at the cathedral because the beer was heavenly. What happened next only confirmed that my namesake angel was looking down upon me. After our drinks, we flew through the Grand Place towards de Bier Tempel, a bottle shop that had come highly recommended for its exquisite selection of Belgian beers.
The assortment of beers was simply staggering. Beers from every corner of this tiny nation were neatly arranged on shelves from floor to ceiling. I quickly scanned the bottles to process what beers I could get stateside and to determine which beers to bring back to London. As I made my way along the shelves my heart nearly fell into my stomach. Sitting there on a shelf near the window was a row of label-less beers with blue and silver caps. Right there, just, sitting on the shelf was a row of Westvleteren Eight bottles. Oddly, I looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing, I guess I felt like I had found something that shouldn’t be. I hesitated a moment before placing four of them in my shopping basket, surely there must be a bottle limit, I thought. But as I took my four, a stock boy simply replaced them with another four bottles! I quickly explained to my compatriots how rare this beer was and that they should grab some for themselves. We left the shop our bags full of goodies and made our way to the train station to meet up with the rest of our classmates.
While we were waiting to get onto our train, I thought I might have the opportunity to drink one of the Westvleteren Eights on the ride home. Then I noticed a shop near our platform selling all kinds of Belgian products, not least of which were four packs of Chimay. I scooped up a four pack and decided to leave the Westvleteren for another day.
The train ride home was sublime as I cracked open each of the bottles and poured it into a glass I hard procured at de Bier Tempel. As the countryside rushed passed my window and I sipped my beer I thought how providential it was to have had the opportunity to purchase those bottles of Westvleteren, especially considering the short amount of time I had in the city. As we pulled into St. Pancras Station and I thought of the wonderful experience I had in that short amount of time, I promised myself to return to Brussels as soon as possible.