One last look at Belgium

I have so many photos which don’t warrant a post of their own but they do make up a sort of vignette after all the important stuff like beer, chocolate, and gaufres have been crossed off the list of Belgium musts. The country deserves high marks as a tourist destination, but it’s good to know/be aware of/discover that…

..the only view of the abbeys were seen from the outside

Abbey du Mont des CatsTrappistes Rochefort Moulin at Bonne Espérance AbbeyAbbey Bonne Espérance

Mouseover for details. There was never the option to get an inside peek into the abbeys as most, if not all, do not offer tours. Monks are hard-working souls that devote their time to work and prayer. And making beer.

..Belgium is dog-friendly

Animal signs at MaredsousVoor De Hond A room with a viewThe Lion's Mound

Of course it depends on each situation. On the belgian seacoast, some areas are forbidden to dogs. At Maredsous abbey, there’s a place to park your horse and a designated area for “doggie business”. Achel brewery has signs that simply state “Voor de hond” (for the dog) where an iron ring is handily placed to attach your pooch’s leash. Going out to dinner: of the 3 restaurants we dined at – no problem for the Dynamic Duo (we just walked right up and asked if it was okay). The one attraction to turn dogs away: Lion’s Mound in Waterloo.

..their seafood is an adventure just reading the menu

Vispannetje Paling à l'Indienne

Vispannetje (fish casserole/stew) and paling in a curry sauce. Moules (mussels) are what many visitors think of when it comes to seafood but our b&b host suggested that we try a dish called paling – eel – at a nearby restaurant. I’ll give most anything a go at least once. Both dishes were a bit heavy with all that cream but they were still delicious. With beer, naturally.

..it’s worth seeking out really good bread, pastries and desserts

Beer and dessertCustard danishSpinach and chevre quiche

Marvelous quiche, beautiful tarts, rich breakfast pastries and gorgeous breads baked in a wood-burning oven aren’t the only things that make me want to shout out the name of this place. La Ferme du Hameau in Uccle, on the road to Waterloo.

..rijsttaart is Belgium’s best dessert

Cherry and rice tart
A slice of cherry tart and tarte au riz or rijsttaart from Abbaye de Bonne Espérance’s bakery

Forget the plain and unassuming rice tart translation and be amazed at how very delicious rice-pudding-in-a-pie can be. I’ve never cared for rice pudding but this is something all its own. After finding a recipe on the blog Everybody Eats Well in Flanders, I want to make one for all the sweet memories that Belgium has given us. How much more apropos can that be?

The long road to Westvleteren

It doesn’t matter if you’re a bonafide beer geek or budding brew enthusiasts like ourselves; if it’s your first trip to Westvleteren, the road to this trappist brewery of Saint Sixtus Abbey is sure to be paved with everlasting memories. Rated among the world’s best beers, the scarce availability and limited production makes it all the more sought after (in effect, putting into play highway robbery on the black market) and prized to the point where some will travel halfway around the world to get it at the source. And while it’s not difficult to find a Westy nearer to home (I know of a place in Italy), those who meet with success at facing the monk’s rigid reservation system are the only ones who can say been there, done that.

Our Westvleteren story isn’t all that different from many floating around on the internet. There’s a lot of planning involved, much stress and excitement, and a good dose of anxiety up until the day that you finally get to pick up your beer. There’s also the agonizing pain, yes pain! Because when you’re trying to get through to the monk’s insanely busy beer hotline, pressing redial for hours on end, you’ll begin to feel like the whole deal is a pain in the arse. The monk’s website keeps updated information on when to call in to reserve their beer; miss your chance and it’s gone for good. On day one I called roughly 700 times within 4 hours and got nothing but a busy signal. I was so distraught! On day two (and wouldn’t you know, the last opportunity of the week) I got through after about an hour and a half. We got Westys!

This is our adventure in words and images, to the tune of Gilligan’s Island.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
a tale of a beer road trip.
That started from bella Italy,
on a quest for that magical sip.

Westvleteren chalice

The magical sip I’m speaking of,
is considered like the Holy Grail.
To buy it is a game of patience and luck
but don’t give up if you fail, just don’t give up if you fail

After hundreds of calls I did get through,
and a voice spoke loud and clear.
The license plate number of your car,
and the day you want to pick up your beer, the day you want to pick up your beer.

Westvleteren drive thru

We drove up at the appointed time and day,
more anxious than ever before.
When the Westys were loaded up in the car
the monk said 104€, the monk said 104€

Westy 8 and 12

The road to Westvleteren had come to an end, we lunched at the cafe next door
with Westy 12…..and Westy 8 as well,
2 sandwiches…..Hennepot* and abbey cheese,
the Coupe In De Vrede**,
a Westy 6 and I’m the happiest chick
here at Saint Sixtus Abbey!

Lunch at In De Vrede café

Coupe In de Vrede*Hennepot is a cold dish of chicken in gelatin
**Coupe In De Vrede is ice cream made with Westvleteren beer.
I rate this experience as a definite must even if beer isn’t your thing. At In De Vrede (in the peace) there was a steady stream of customers but we didn’t have to wait too long for service and to receive our order. Just take a seat and someone will eventually get to you.
For information on obtaining cases of Westvleteren beer, visit: Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren. Six-packs are available at the cafe’s shop until supply runs out. We look forward to a return trip in a couple of years!