The Fine Art of Getting By In Belgium

No one tells you that when you are a beer or wine lover, you may start to travel in pursuit of your chosen beverage. For a cult beverage, some can make specific trips out to festivals, wineries or distilleries. A couple of years ago, my husband, Aaron, and good friend, Jeff, and I decided to swing by Brussels, Belgium, while we were all in Paris. But as in everything, the words of the The Gambler come in to play–know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run. Oh, Kenny. You were never so right.

It started out innocently enough. There is a brewery called Cantillion in the heart of Brussels that is known for their small batch sour beers, still brewed in the same equipment that they used 100 years ago and by the same family. It is a pilgrimage that many take if they are in the area. It’s amazing to see the process of beer open fermenting and then resting in wooden casks for years before approaching the sweet (or sour) spot where it can become palatable. We booked early tickets on the TGV and it whisked us northward toward beer nirvana.

Cantillion was in the gritty, working class area of town. We trekked over and found the brewery, where we were greeted by the granddaughter of the original brewer. We took the self guided tour, tasted samples from the barrels and marveled at how far we had come from when we all met at the Flying Saucer.

That should have been the end of a wonderful beer story. But it’s not. We made our way to the Grand Place, or central square, had a lovely lunch and Jeff and I went to the chocolate museum. Still a great day, despite both Aaron and Jeff carrying a pack of three 750 ml bottles with them to bring home. We saw the iconic Manekin Pis, the statue of a little boy putting out a fire in a very organic way.  We visited a lovely beer bar named Moder Lambic and tried more artisan cheeses and charcuterie.

After realizing that we had booked the last train back to Paris and its departure was still several hours away, we, and I mean I, decided that we couldn’t leave without a true Belgian waffle. Aaron suggested Haagen Daaz in the train station. I scoffed. Wasn’t Haagen Daaz American?  We headed back to the main tourist area, and began our comedy of errors.

The first mistake was trying to get a bored Belgian teenager to care about making a waffle. We ordered three, with a variety of toppings like chocolate, strawberries and whipped cream. She handed mine to me, with a ridiculous little fork. As I was trying to cut into it, my elbow slipped and hit the waffle coming out of the window, my husband’s, and sent the waffle, and all the chocolate therein, all over his shirt. After a long day of walking and consuming, he stormed off to find something to clean himself off with as Jeff and I stared at each other. Jeff said it best, “I think we broke him.”

Next came Jeff’s turn. As we ate our remade waffles on a small sill in the pedestrian-only street, he set down his phone. And left it. Not intentionally, of course, but it wasn’t until we had found another small bistro and bar to relax and recuperate in, did he realize it was gone. We headed back to find it.

As the menfolk rushed on ahead, I managed to walk behind a tourist gesturing wildly while telling a story. With an empty water bottle in hand, he threw back his arms and hit me squarely in the face, so hard that my sunglasses flew off my head and I staggered backwards. My exclamation of, ‘Are you SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?!” may have outed me as an American. At that moment, I just didn’t care.

Some cities have an expiration date. Brussels, for us, had one of 4 hours. We stayed for 7. Know when to walk away, know when to run. When in Brussels, get the beer and run.