Monday, 13 December 2010

Travel - Beer, Banter and Brussels! (Day 1)

I'm back dear blog watchers after a cheeky sojourn on the continent to what I now regard as one of Europe's best kept secrets! I apologise for the absence of any posts in just under a week as I know that a few of my readers were concerned that I had neglected my duties!

When I told a friend of mine that I was going out of the country for the first time in 2 years, I am sure they expected me to say something like Bora Bora, Barbados or Bondi Beach - somewhere exotic to contrast the chilly winter that we are currently experiencing. When I duly informed him that I was going to Brussels, I was met with a guffaw, which I now realise was grossly unfair as it turns out that the Belgic capital is an extremely vibrant and lively place!

I left London on a bleak Thursday afternoon after being thoroughly disappointed by the metallic pint of Bass that I had at the equally disappointing departure lounge at St Pancras. Never a believer in doing anything by halves and in anticipation of some heavy evenings ahead, I lined my stomach with a few carefully placed Gin and Tonics as the Train negotiated the tunnel, traversed the Norman flats and finally eased its way through the low countries. By the time I got to Brussels my appetite for adventure had returned after a long hibernation.

I was met off the train by a mate of mine and decamped to the hotel. A few drinks had rallied my spirits and as soon as I had dumped my bag on the bed I was raring to hit the town and sample the two things that Brussels is famed for... food and drink.

Brussels is by no means a beautiful city but it certainly has a real continental feel to it, and nowhere was this more true than on the central square, lit up with all the tackiness of a Northern European Christmas. There were flashing christmas trees, garish light shows and a life size nativity with real animals. All this was watched with carefree leisure from the convenient oyster tent that occupied one corner of this piazza. The champagne and oysters slipped down smoothly and although we were a good distance from the sea, Belgium is not a big country and the molluscs were as fresh as if they had just been picked from the channel with a wonderful salty taste of the sea released as they were chewed.

Following on from this little appetiser we made our way to one of the recommendations that we had been given by the brother of one of my good friends. Cafe Delirium (Impasse de la Fidelite 4A - 1000 Bruxelles), is one of the great landmarks in this city chiefly because of its vast range of Belgium's finest export, Beer! This cavernous, smoke filled beer hall is one of the best drinking establishments that I have ever been to with rows upon rows of draught taps and a bar staff by no less than 12 people, there is a fantastic atmosphere filled with the buzz of laughing people and eighties soul music (I must have heard George Benson's 'Give me the Night' about 1,000 times on this trip)! The beers however are the stars of the show and, although I cannot tell you what I consumed as we took the bartenders' suggestions throughout our time there but I can tell you that each one was a flavour experience, really putting the range of weak, piss poor blonde beers and lagers on offer in the Pubs of the UK to great shame! We emerged after four or five glasses smelling like a British Rail smoking compartment and with a hunger for some traditional Belgian fare.

After a short length of time in which a few more beers were consumed, and a number of rather touristy looking restaurants were passed, we alighted on the expensive looking but inconspicuous 'Taverne du Passage', an 82 year old Art Deco styled restaurant in the handsome King's Arcade area. On being informed that we would have to wait for an hour before a table became free we did what any British tourists would do in a foreign capital, and headed back to the bar!

It was well worth the wait, the food at Taverne du Passage was sensational! As I was only there for a couple of days I went the whole hog and dined heartily on a Mousse of Ardennes Ham, Eel in a Green Sauce (A Belgian speciality where eel is served with a thickened parsley and lemon sauce) with crisp belgian French fries and one of the most potent Baba au Rhum (A light cake soaked in a rum sauce and served with whipped cream and fruit)! All that food should have made me about ready to burst...but no, being the fool that I have been so often called by others, I headed out into the night for more drinking.

Ambitiously we decided to try all the bars recommended to us that evening, and one beer followed another until we ended up in a traditional but very convivial beer hall called 'Le Porte Noir', it was in this hot-box of a drinking den that we took the executive decision to go back to the hotel. My watch read 04:00 it had been a great evening but it was now time to hit the hay and make sure that I woke up with a splitting hangover and a mistaken feeling that a morning hair of the dog would make it all feel better...

That's all for now but stay tuned tomorrow for the second day of my crazy low-country shenanigans!

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