Why did we even attempt to get out of bed? Well, to catch a train, of course. But it would have been nice to get up a little earlier. A mad dash through underground stations at 6:30 in the morning with full packs on our back is not the best way to start the day. Especially when you have to wait for the train to arrive. We sat down and waited with the greatest sense of urgency. And waited. And waited. And dashed onto the subway only to wait again. We thought Doug was going to explode with anxiousness, and we really didn't want to spend the rest of the day cleaning him off the walls of the train station. The outcome? Well, we made our train to Brussels by about 1 second. Many pounds of sweat were lost in the effort, and we all have gained a new level of understanding about how VERY VERY important it is to arrive at least 20 minutes before your train. If that means having an alarm clock the size of Big Ben along - do it, unless, of course, you are an Olympic athlete and have that kind of stamina.
The Chunnel Experience: It was dark.
Brussels was our first "foreign language experience" on this trip. After getting used to having to read the fourth line on every sign instead of the first, we made our way out of the train station to the Cantillion brewery and museum.
The Beer Tour - The Cantillion Brewery and Brussels Gueuze Museum
The people at this museum/brewery are known as the "Lambic Fundamentalists" in some circles. Hidden in a niche on a street away from the attractions of Brussels, this family run museum is one to check out.
In 1900 Paul Cantillon established a brewery in Anderlecht. After WWII, his sons Marcel and Robert took over production and by 1958 production reached 2500 hectoliters. Today, Jean-Pierre Van Roy, Marcel's son in law, along with his sons and the rest of the family keep the last traditional brewery alive in Brussels.
The museum is a self-guided tour with the aid of a handout explaining all of the attractions. It walks you through the process of making a Lambic Beer and presents much of the original equipment used for view.
Some notes from the handout from the tour:
What makes this lambic brewery so different? They use only the traditional process of making Lambics. The wort in the hop boilers is inoculated with natural yeasts (bacteria, ferments). These microorganisms cause spontaneous fermentation in the oak or chestnut barrels. According to legend, such fermentation is only possible in the region of the Senne valley in Brussels. Until 1860, when Pasteur made important discoveries with regard to yeasts, all beer was produced by spontaneous fermentation. Nowadays, only Lambic is still produced this way.
Making spontaneous fermentation beer is very expensive in comparison with making low and high-fermentation beer. To keep down costs, many brewers now make "commercial" gueuze and fruit beers. This modern Lambic is produced in a few weeks and is sweetened and saturated with CO2. Due to the general use of syrups and flavors, wide ranges of sweet fruit beers have come on the market. Since Belgian legislation does not provide for the protection of traditional products, you cannot tell by the label whether you have a "modern" or a "traditional" product.
In order to preserve this unique way of fermentation, the Brussels Gueuze Museum was founded in 1978. Its main task consists promoting this timeless beer, which nowadays is produced only by a few small breweries.
A nice Country Drive
With an appointment in Ertvelde at 4 pm, we gathered our packs and the rental car and headed north. Without a good map, and having little to no knowledge of the area, we forged forward bravely into the unknown. Yes, we got lost. Yes, we drove past the brewery 3 times without even realizing it. But we did get there eventually. And right on time, as Mike enjoyed pointing out.
The Beer Tour - An inside look - Brouwerij Von Steenberge
We met our host, André' Van De Velde at the brewery. We got to sample some beer in their magnificent tasting facility - set up like a classroom that teaches "beer 101." Then we had the rare opportunity to see the bottling process in action. There are 38 different filling stations and they can fill 12000 bottles an hour!
The full tour will be tomorrow, but with what we have seen so far, it will be a good one.
An Evening in the Country
André' took us to our hotel and then out to dinner. Our hotel, the Hotel 't Westkanterhof, is a wonderful country Inn about a mile from nowhere with lovely gardens and secluded rooms. André' had to guide us there or we never would have found it. He also had to guide us to the restaurant, as it was in the parallel universe known as "the other nowhere." -That's a joke. The countryside is wonderful and it is so nice to be away from the smoke and smog of the cities. The thing about the country is that everything seems like it is in the middle of nowhere - but being from Iowa, we appreciate the concept of "nowhere." A lot of the land is farmland and their primary crops are sugar beats, wheat, corn, potatoes and onions. There is a canal that is lined on either bank by trees for the entire length of the canal. You can see the line of trees for miles.
Dinner was at a wonderful pub/eatery called the Roste Mause (the blond/red hared mouse). If you see Doug or Mike in the store sometime, ask them about how it got its name. The story isn't exactly rated "G."
The wonderful pub was a secret café' where workers would go in the middle of the day for lunch. A basic one room farm house in the beginning, now has grown to include a restaurant and outdoor eating area. Still on the farm are peacocks, goats, horses, chickens and the latest additions to the group - a litter of baby goats just 2 days old. The food was excellent. Sabrina had eel. Tastes like chicken. J. Many new and different beers were sampled and the evening concluded with strawberry Ice-cream sundae that was out of this world.
Tonight it was time to go to bed early after completing our first posting to the web site (now that we have a phone line things are a little easier). Amazing how in the middle of a huge city, we couldn't connect, and out in the middle of nowhere, we can connect to the world!