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Amsterdam & Belgium - Part 14 - Driving to Brussels

Posted by Rich Link on 12/04/2003 08:33:10 PM

May 29 – Driving to Brussels

Bernadette had given Teresa two 4-packs of beer and two St. Bernardus glasses. She is so sweet. We will miss her. Bernadette wants us to come back and stay with her for a week so she can teach us French. I’m sure that would help me in the pubs and restaurants. We packed up and said our good-by’s, and with a beautiful day ahead of us, began our drive from Watou to Brussels.

As we approached Brussels, I realized that we would be passing right through Beersel, and started to drop some hints about Drie Fonteinen, and the fact that it was getting close to lunch. Teresa said , “If you wan-“ and that was all I needed to take the off-ramp into Beersel.

As we drove by the church, dozens of well-dressed families were walking out. I told Teresa to hurry so we would beat the crowd to the pub. We did, and found ourselves in the no-smoking section at Drie Fonteinen. Our great soup and salad was topped off with three beers. First, we tried Lambik, tart, woody, with some sweetness and a full body. Then Kriek, tart and sweet, great cheery flavor, refreshing and wonderful. Dessert was a bottle of 1997 Gueze. It was very lively, tart and dry, smooth and very drinkable.

Very satisfied, we made our way into Brussels to drop off the car. It was Thursday, around 2 PM, when we reached the car dealer. To our surprise and horror, it was closed. The doors were chained and the place was dark. There was no sign explaining the reason. A few young adults were nearby and we asked if they knew why the dealer would be closed, or if there was some way we were supposed to drop off the car. One of them went around the place and came back with no answers, telling us that there were no signs that would help us out.

So, very pissed off, we drove into the center of Brussels to find the Hotel Welcome. We had not planned on driving into town, and we were not prepared for this. We did not know how to get there from where we were. First, let me say that I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent individual. I say this because the amount of frustration we encountered in trying to make a short 15-minute drive made me feel like an idiot. I was beaten by the city of Brussels.

Armed with a couple of maps, I was able to figure out just about where the Hotel Welcome was located. That was one hurdle, but actually getting the car to that point was a much greater task. Roads that would end for no reason, or turn into one-way streets, or change names with no warning made that quick little 15 minute drive last nearly 90 minutes. At one point, I knew we were within two blocks of the hotel. However, I could not see it. And if you drove down the wrong street, the one-way signs would take you far, far away, like a small piece of driftwood on the outbound tide.

We parked the car and went into a very nice hotel that, as far as I could tell, was within a block of the Hotel Welcome. Nobody in there knew where it was. I gave them the street name and address, still nothing. Exasperated, I walked out and walked around the corner. There it was. The Hotel Welcome’s tag is “The Smallest Hotel of Brussels.” I now believe it. So small that people one block away did not know if its existence.

Fortunately, the lady at Hotel Welcome was very sweet and helpful. She spoke great English, and was very upset about our plight with the car dealer. She called them to try to find out what we should do. She got no answer, but did give us an explanation. This was Easter, and most businesses were closed. I wondered why we were not informed of this, and why our rental contract specifically stated that the car was due back on this date. Anyway, we decided to wait until the next morning, and she would call for us again.

A heat wave had gripped the city. I spotted a thermometer that showed 33C, which is about 92 F. Of course, the hotel rooms were not air-conditioned, having only a window as a means to get fresh air. We changed into some summer garb and went for a walk. The Grand Place was choked with Easter visitors, and everywhere you went there were crowds. Except at Les Brasseurs, the brewpub in the Grand Place.

It was air-conditioned, and there weren’t many people inside. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar and ordered up a sampler. The Grand Place Blond Speciale was a pils at 6%. It had adequate bitterness and good fresh malt flavors. Grand Place Ale (confusing set of beer names) was an amber ale of 5%. Somewhat non-descript, but refreshing. Grand Place White was 5% with lots of the classic flavors you’d like in a witbier – spices, citrus – and it was very refreshing (mind you, it was very hot outside). The Brussels Tripel was 8% with flavors of grapefruit and hops, which melded nicely with the alcohol.

Sufficiently refreshed, we went back out for a walk. Unfortunately it was hot, smelly and crowded. WUPT! Fell into Falstaff and Teresa had another Duvel and I ordered a half litre of Hoegaarden. It was so nice.

We then made the trek, on foot, to the Bier Circus. Quel Damage! It was closed. That darn Easter thing got us again. Walked over to the pubs just up the street and Teresa had a Leffe Brune and I a Westmalle Tripel. The Westmalle is a world classic beer. I’d have to put this in my top 50. In fact, I’ll go open one now. Ahhh.

Made our way back towards Hotel Welcome. It’s about 15 to 20 minutes by foot. By this time, we were dragging a bit. The heat, the walking and missing out on the Bier Circus had worn us down a bit. We stepped into a little pizza place down the street from the hotel. They really didn’t speak English, but we got along just fine (finally someone understood my French!). We ordered one of their special pizzas with beef filet, asparagus, capers, béarnaise sauce, cheese and a little tomato sauce. It was very interesting, and very good. We opted for wine, as we were beered out for the day. For dessert, Teresa had a glass of Bailey’s, and I asked for ice cream. At first the waiter said no, but then held up a finger and went away for a few minutes. He came back with this great chalice with about a pint of ice cream with chunks of pineapple it, a cookie and a cocktail umbrella. A bit over the top, but very good.

Tomorrow – Teresa drives, pedestrians flee in terror!

Amsterdam & Belgium - Part 14 - Driving to Brussels - Rich Link, 12/04/03 08:33:10 PM

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