You love beer? Really love beer? Then plan a trip to Belgium. Belgium is a beautiful country, easy to navigate through with the train system and there is excellent beer at every turn. Belgium was on our must-do beercation list this year and when our friend Simon told us about the Borefts festival, we were sold on planning our vacation around it. I don’t know about you, but when someone from Vancouver flies to a festival in the Netherlands leaving on Thursday, returning on Sunday, it must be pretty phenomenal. Let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint. More on that later.
If I could throw out a tip to Tourism Belgium, you may want to do more advertising as to what makes Belgium such a great place to visit. Every work colleague asked me if I had family there, and hence why we were visiting. Albeit to say, when I said no we’re going for the beer, I got an even more puzzled look. Oh people, catch up.
Normally I wouldn’t write about the flight there but as we used a bazillion points to fly First Class with Lufthansa (thanks to no business class fights being available), it deserves a head nod. Suffice to say, the lay-flat beds, cuisine, wine and service were superb but what really stuck out was the Mercedes 350 that picked us up when we touched down in Munich. We had a 40 minute connection before our flight to Brussels and our driver took us through the back door to security, asked the stern-looking border guard to stamp our passports and drove us to our next plane. Sadly, our luggage didn’t have a Mercedes to whisk it to the next flight and it arrived at our hotel seven hours later. Who cares. We were at Café Delirium perusing the bottle list – we didn’t need to have a love-in with my running gear back at the hotel.
As we visited multiple cities in Belgium and the Netherlands, I’ll break this up into multiple posts which you can link to (once I write them all).
Some observations about Belgium and the Netherlands:
- It’s true, the frites and mayo are superb. You’ll never look at a North American fry the same way again (you pitiful, pitiful excuse for a fry). They double fry them and they come to you hot with just the right amount of crispiness. The mayo isn’t the snow-white crap we have here, it’s yellow-ish made freshly with oil and egg. Damn. Now I want frites.
- Bicycles are everywhere. Sidewalks and streets are full of experienced bicyclist armed only with a bell. They expertly maneuver around dumb tourists and don’t wear helmets (not even the kids). In Antwerp, the bike lanes were part of the wide sidewalk and thus, there was no interaction with vehicles. Seemed to all work well – you may want to look into this, North America.
- Back to food. The waffles are pretty tasty too. The best one we had was in the Antwerp train station from a cart. Hot, wafflely goodness.
- Belgian chocolates are a must. We bought some to take home and shopped at Chocoholics, Piere Marcolini and Frederic Blondeel. Bruges had the biggest collection of chocolates shop in a condensed area.
- Corn. Lots and lots of corn fields. I had no idea that they grew so much corn in these two countries but they were everywhere. And whereas our harvesting season is generally done by the end of August, in late September their fields were still full.
- Lastly, every bar serves your beer in the brewery’s branded glass and in the appropriate style. At one bar in Utrecht, they even matched the coasters. Guess I shouldn’t have been raiding the coasters off our table for my stash at home. Oops. Side note, we have 48 new coasters to add to our beer fridge
We used up our Customs allotment of 17 litres plus an overage of another 895ml – not bad for bringing back 44 bottles of various sizes. Normally we bubble wrap every bottle and I play Tetris to place it strategically in our luggage. We still did that with 20 small bottles but we also brought two wine shipper bags from The Wine Check. These beauties are on wheels, have a heavy-duty strap to loop over your other roller bag and fit a wine shipper box with Styrofoam insert. They’re going to be joining us on every future beer trip.
Then there was the cheese. The glorious, glorious cheese. €10 got you a large chunk of beautifully aged cheese. Other culinary delights we brought home were truffle mayonnaise, Paté made from 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, mustards from de Molen and two balsamic mustards and two chutneys. Four new brewery t-shirts followed me home and when you add in glasses from Cantillon, De Molen and the two festivals, you have our shopping.
One thing I would have done differently was to fly in to/out of Amsterdam rather than Brussels. Getting back to Brussels was a major pain. Three trains turned into four trains when one broke down. Lugging two suitcases, one with a broken wheel, and two full beer shippers wasn’t easy when you’re transferring trains so often.
In our journey, I tried 148 unique beers and visited two beautiful, historic and beer loving countries. I will definitely return as two weeks was not enough time to explore and Borefts is a festival worth returning to.