London, Brussels, Antwerp, Essen and Amsterdam: December 2004
Michael Knies

Denise had complementary vouchers for USAir and we were flying out of Scranton going to London and returning from Amsterdam. Denise also had upgrade certificates and, even though we know that you can't get upgrades on free tickets, she always asks anyway. We always wind up getting denied. So this time she asked and the woman behind the counter upgrades us. Sometimes we would get upgraded and put on the list only to be denied at the gate. But this time she actually issued us tickets for business class. We still expected to get denied at the gate but at the very least we would get to go to the first-class section of the USAir lounge in Philadelphia. We did and had free drinks and munchies. We then boarded the plane and we got our business class seats with no problem. I had pork with rum glaze and prunes. I also had a vintage port and went to sleep extremely full. Denise stayed up and enjoyed the business class service. The other great advantage of being in business class is that we were the third and fourth people off the plane.

We got to our hotel, the Imperial in Bloomsbury near the British Museum pretty efficiently and were able to get a room right away. In fact, we had a great view of Russell Square and part of the British Museum (at night we had a great view of the spotlight sky show as well). Things were going extremely well. I opened my suitcase and for the first time ever one of the beers that I was bringing over for friends got broken. I bubble wrap and Ziploc bag my beers and have carried easily 100 to and fro over the pond without losing any. The bagging system worked reasonably well although some beer leaked out and dampened my shirttails. So I did some very quick laundry in the sink, hung my shirts up and headed out for the day.

We stopped at the Pitfield beer shop where I picked up a handful of British Christmas beers to bring home and then we went to the Geffrey Museum, lugging much beer as I was also carrying beer for Jeremy and Thom. The Geffrey Museum is a decorative arts museum set in a group of old almshouses. It shows the development of British interiors from the Middle Ages to the present. Because of the Christmas season, they had their period rooms decorated as they would have been for Christmas. It was an interesting museum and also one of those many free London museums, some famous and many obscure, but usually well worth visiting.

We then headed over to Borough and went to the Shoreditch Arms for very expensive sandwiches (roast beef and horseradish, and cheddar and bacon with a smattering of salad and three Pringles each) due to the woeful state of the dollar. We also had pints of Deuchars IPA and Spitfire. It's a nice bar with a central island and a nautical theme, including coat hooks that look like anchors, wheels, etc. we took a quick walk through the Borough Market and then went to the Market Porter for a couple beers, a WWW Wenceslas Ale 7.5% and a Hexamshire Old Humbug 5.5%. We took the train out to Croydon to meet Jeremy and Theresa and Thom and Paulette at the Beer Circus, which was having a bit of a Christmas beer festival featuring a number of Belgian Christmas beers in bottle and draft. It's a very pleasant modern pub with some food. Graeme has a great selection of Belgian beer, as well as other European beer, but not much English beer except for a few on draft. Denise and I had, over the course of the evening, pints of Dark Star Hop Devil, Scrooge 6%, a draft and bottle of Fantome Circus, a beer brewed for the pub, Regenboog Kerst, Pere Noel, and Indejaar. It was a prelude to the Belgian Christmas beer festival that would come next weekend. It was also our now traditional get-together with Jeremy and Theresa on the day we arrive. They do occasionally get to see me without a day-old beard.

There was also supposed to be a British beer festival during the week. We originally planned to go to Pig's Ear, a London Festival more than 20 years old. Unfortunately, the festival changed venues this year and there were significant problems with the new venue and they canceled the festival. Needless to say, I was not happy.

After leaving the Beer Circus, Denise and I went to Covent Garden and tried to go to Porter's for pies, but they had a 30-45 minute wait and there was enough of a line that we would have been standing in the foyer. So we drunkenly went to Calabash, an African restaurant. We should have stayed at Porter's as Denise wanted. The service was painfully slow and we were probably there 90 minutes before we got any food. I had a fish stew and Denise had fried chicken. The food was okay but by that time exhaustion had completely set in and I could barely stay awake at the table.

Fortunately, I slept like a rock at the hotel. The Imperial Hotel is rather large and the elevator was very slow on a Sunday morning due to a lot of people checking out. Likewise, the breakfast line was incredibly long. It was apparently quite unusual according to a waitress I asked. After breakfast, we worked our way mostly by bus to Hackney in order to visit Sutton House, the oldest house in North London and one of only three houses with a certain type of paneling, linenfold, the other two being Hampton Court and Westminster. There was a Christmas craft fair taking place, which was pleasant, but it also unfortunately occupied a fair amount of the house and made it difficult to actually appreciate the building. Hackney, by the way, is a bit of a dodgy neighborhood. We have gotten to the point of exploring London where we are heading off to less touristic neighborhoods to find unusual attractions.

We then caught a double-decker back toward the City of London and got off in order to find a highly recommended pub, the Owl and Pussycat, where we were planning to have a Sunday roast. Unfortunately, they did not start serving food until 2 PM which was far too late. We wound up on the edge of Spitalfields on Bishopsgate at the Wooden Shade for ham and cheese and fish and chips as well as Young's Bitter and Greene King IPA. Then we walked to Tower Hill in order to take a Christmas Carol LondonWalk with Joan. Joan had a bad back and either her husband or another gentleman would help her on and off a plastic stool so she could be seen above the crowd. Joan was diminutive but was quite lively and had a very good voice. The walk was a combination of Dickens and other British Christmas traditions. We saw where Scrooge's office would have been, near the Fullers Ale and Pie House on Cornhill near St. Michael's Church. The Melancholy Tavern is likely based on Simpson's right near the church. It was a very good walk. Joan even handed out recipes for Smoking Bishop, which Scrooge and Bob Cratchit plan to go out to drink at the end of the story.

We returned to the hotel to relax and then head out for dinner. We stopped at the Cove, which specializes in Cornish beer. Unfortunately, they did not have any Christmas beers and so we got a Skinner's Cornish Knocker (as opposed to the hoped for Jingle Knocker) and St. Austell HSD. We also stopped at the Porterhouse, which happened to be out of real ale, so we had a Red Ale and Oyster Stout. For dinner, we went to Chez Girard. Denise had steak and frites and I had red snapper with pumpkin and carrot mash and red onion marmalade. It was quite good and we had a pleasant view of Covent Garden. Denise went back to the hotel while I had one more. I stopped at The Harp and had a Belhaven Fruity Partridge 5.2% at £2.75. Denise and I then went to the hotel pub, Night and Day, for Abbott Ale and Spitfire. It is a modern pub but it has four real ales and is open until 2 AM for hotel guests. I saved my room card in case I need a late-night pint in future.

Monday we took the tube to Bank Station and took a self-guided London City church walk. We went into a Hawksmoor church, a Wren church, and St. Michael's (across from Scrooge's office). Others were closed but I did manage to see two new churches. We had taken the same self-guided walk before and got into other churches. We then met up with Jean, another entertaining diminutive LondonWalks lady--but without a stool--at the Fire of London Monument for a Southwark walk. We walked across London Bridge and saw the grimier side of Victorian London including a cemetery pit (15,000 skeletons), Marshallsea prison, the location of the house where Charles Dickens spent part of his early life (his workhouse days) as well as known attractions like Borough Market. Since, because of the Market Porter, we tend to be in Southwark fairly often, it was nice to get a better feel for the history of that part of town. The tour ended at the Operating Theater Museum but it was late and we needed lunch. We went to the Royal Oak. We had only been to the Royal Oak once before because it is closed on weekends, in between Christmas and New Year, and probably on every other conceivable holiday. It is the only pub in London that carries the full range of Harvey's beers and their winter beers are extremely good. So I was looking forward to a good lunch and a good pint.

As soon as we walk through the door and approach the bar an old man goes into a seizure. I am sorry to say that my first thought was "I hope they don't close the bar." Fortunately, the bar stayed open. They laid the old fellow out on the floor and then picked him up and put him on the sofa. I ordered steak and ale pie and Denise got lamb and apricot. We each got a pint of Harvey's Christmas Ale 8.2% at £4 each, essentially $8.00 a pint, and the most I have ever spent for a pint of beer. It was very very good however, brilliant in fact. The pies, by the way were only £5.50 each.

Meanwhile, the ambulance came and a paramedic talked to the fellow on the sofa and then walked him out to the ambulance. Fifteen minutes later he was back at the bar with a pint and a cigarette and I heard somebody say something about blood pressure. Did he have low blood pressure? Did the paramedic say "go back to the bar and have a pint and a fag and maybe eat some ready salt crisps and get that blood pressure back up!" I was amazed.

We wandered off and went to the Charles Dickens Tavern for a vinegary Adnams Fisherman Old Ale and Arkall's Moonlight 4.5%. And back to the Market Porter for a couple more Christmas beers a Cottage Whippet Jack Frost and Hardy & Hanson's Christmas beer. We returned to the hotel to regroup but I left almost immediately to meet Desmond, a Rare Book School friend who is a curator at the British Library. We were meeting at the Head of Steam at Euston Station. Denise joined us later, after Des and I talked rare book business and I had knocked over a pint of beer. In the meantime we had a Dark Star Winter Solstice 4.2%, Archer Blizzard 5.0%, Timothy Taylor Landlord 4.3%, and Bank's Original 3.5%. Denise and I then went to the nearby Prince Arthur at 80 Everholt St. for Thai Food. We had pints of Flowers Original and London Pride with our Pad Thai and Pad Med Mamuang (or something like that).

Denise went back to the hotel and I went out for a quick half pint at the Ivy House in Holborn. I had a Brakspear O' Be Joyful 4.8% "a dark complex fruity beer which is rich and warm." Well it is some but not all of the above. I stood at the bar and stared somewhat numbly at a Budweiser tap handle which had an embedded video screen showing a commercial over and over again. I shouldn't complain about the beer not being dark fruity or rich enough with spudweiser as an alternative. And I could have ordered a "Cocksucking Cowboy" for £2.60, made with butterscotch schnapps and Bailey's....I'll stick with the beer.

Tuesday we did a self-guided Bloomsbury walk, checking out all the places where Virginia Woolf and her gang lived, and then went to pick up tickets for Beckett at the half-price ticket booth. We headed up to Farringdon and went to lunch at Ye Olde Mitre. It's a rather historic pub, reaching back to the 16th century. It's also quite well known for its toasties, essentially grilled cheese and tomato or grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, of which we partook. We got halves of Harviestoun Good King Legless 4.8% and Adnams Broadside. But then I noticed a promotion for Christmas beer. For each pint of one of about a dozen Christmas beers you got a sticker for your card. After getting 10 stickers you got a prize. The contest just started that day. So we got another round and got a sticker for our two halves of Christmas Ale. Unfortunately, we were leaving the next day.

We then visited St. Ethelreda, a 13th century Catholic Church and the seat of the bishop of Ely. It was dark and gloomy as one would expect such an early church to be. We hit the Jerusalem Tavern for a spell which included cask Winter Ale 6.5%, Organic Best Bitter 4.1%, Golden Ale 4.7%, and Cream Stout 6.5% as well as a taste of the Lemon & Ginger ale. The Jerusalem is the London base for the St. Peter's brewery. St. Peter's makes some unusual beers and has some of the stronger cask beers available in London, assuming you get there at the right time of year. (And not during Christmas week, when it's closed.) It is in an 18th-century building that had a pub inserted into it in the 1990s. Nonetheless, it's an attractive building and a very pleasant place to drink.

We wandered off visiting Alford's of Farringdon to purchase assorted gourmet gifts before visiting the Fuller's Ale and Pie house, Melton Mowbray, for a quick half pint of Jack Frost and ESB. We then went to tea.

But not just any London tea, we were having tea at the Savoy. The tea at the Savoy generally requires a reservation and a sport coat and if you stand still in the men's room long enough, like 5 seconds, a nice gentleman will brush off your shoulders. I didn't think my dandruff was that bad! But then I saw him do it to other stationary gents. The basic tea costs £24 per person plus tax. It was, considering the parlous state of the dollar, approximately $108 for tea and cookies and those cute little cucumber sandwiches (as well as salmon and other cute little sandwiches)... and scones and strawberry jam and clotted cream and very good pastries. Actually, I was very full by the time we left after all those munchies and about 4-5 cups of Lapsang Souchong and the exotic Assam that Denise got. There was a very large Christmas tree, with cobwebs reaching to the ceiling--- but let's not talk about that--- and a piano player sporadically performing Christmas music and other pleasant tunes and lots of tourists. So I wonder where the hoity-toity British tea drinker goes when he or she does not want to be surrounded by tourists.

I had been cutting back on my caffeine intake and consequently was quite buzzed from tea and sugary snacks by the time we left. By the way, its trivia time. There is something unusual about the Savoy. The short street that leads to the front door is the only street in London and possibly in the entire United Kingdom where you drive on the right side of the road.

I went to the Roundhouse where I got a Charles Wells Winter Cheer 5.5% and another sticker on my card. Denise was shopping for charity Christmas cards at St. Martins in the Fields. I was people watching. We then went to see Beckett at the Theatre Royal in Haymarket. Beckett, with Dougray Scott and Jasper Britton was a restaging of the Jean Anouille play. It was a fairly intense drama about St. Thomas a Beckett. Poor King Henry came off as an emotional cripple completely dependent on Thomas.

We then hit the Salisbury for halves of Everard Sleighbell and Gales Robin and another sticker. In fact, two stickers, because I found an extra one. We finished off the evening at the hotel's Night and Day Pub with a 4 cheese pizza and Greene King's 1799 Christmas Ale 4.5%. Unfortunately, no sticker. But I was still amazed that this hotel pub had such a good selection of real ale.

In the morning we headed off to Harrods, which, believe it or not, I had never been to, even though I have spent probably 30 days in London. Denise went shopping for gifts and I went shopping for cheese, buying a Wensleydale and a Blue and some Harrods's Christmas ornaments. I noticed that an espresso at one of the food court stands was £2.45 which, even when the dollar was strong, is outrageous. The cheese, however, was reasonably priced.

Denise went back to the hotel to drop off all of the purchases and I went to Leicester Square to the half-price ticket booth to pick up We Will Rock You tickets. I then made a quick stop at the National Gallery and at St. Martins and got a 60 pence espresso at the Leicester Square tube much for Harrods. We took the train to Wandsworth, stopping at a railroad pub, Alma, for a beef and horseradish sandwich and goat cheese focaccia and Young's winter warmer. We were in Wandsworth to visit the Young's brewery. The Young's brewery dates back to the 18th-century and is possibly going to be relocated because of an urban redevelopment project in Wandsworth. Frankly, Wandsworth looks to be a pretty vibrant little part of London and I am not sure why they want to tear down the brewery in order to bring in more upscale urban development. But we figured it was finally time to visit the brewery just in case it disappears and turns into a completely modern facility somewhere else. It was a typical brewery tour. If you've been on one or two you've been on them all; with the exception of the occasional pieces of historic brewing equipment or some exotic breweries, like Cantillon. We saw some mid-19th century beam engines that are no longer in use but were used into the 1970s, as well as some 19th-century tuns. We did, however, see lots of animals. Young's still uses horse-drawn carriages in the neighborhood. We also saw some geese, which were the original guard dogs, a cat, some fish, and the Young's Ram (the ram is the brewery's symbol). The ram had just been off to a stud farm and was sleeping off two weeks of...errr ramming.

We then went to the pub for our free pint of Young's Christmas Ale and purchased four bottles of beer for 5 pounds. We also had a half pint of oatmeal stout and the winter warmer. We then headed back to Waterloo and managed by chance to catch a slam door train, a first-class carriage no less. Slam door trains are what they seem to be. The door enters into the middle of the carriage, sometimes in between seats, and you physically slam them closed. So when you get into the carriage you hear doors slamming all through the train. They are being phased out…a small bit of British rail history about to disappear.

I then hit the Swan near the Bloomsbury hotel and got half pint of Directors Winter Warmer 5.5% and Bateman's Rosy Nosey 4.9% and another sticker. In less than 24 hours we had accumulated 5 stickers. Unfortunately, we were leaving in the morning and the chances of getting the remaining five were pretty dim, particularly because we were going to the theatre. But first we went to dinner at Hason Raja on Southampton Row for lamb and chicken curry with fried balls of onion and other Indian odds and ends. The food is good and apparently they do some really unusual cuisine but we had to stick to the fixed-price menu simply because we did not have the time for a leisurely dinner. Fortunately our theatre was only a few blocks away. We had front row balcony seats for We Will Rock You a musical based on the songs of Queen. It was quite entertaining. It is a futuristic piece where music is dead except for completely corporate created pop. There is however an underground that worships the creativity of the '60s and '70s etc. Denise had seen it in Las Vegas and was interested in how it would be different in London. The settings are different, using Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Court Underground instead of Las Vegas and Graceland. And it was also longer; apparently performances in Las Vegas are not supposed to go on more than 90 minutes because it keeps people away from the gaming tables too long.

It was interesting seeing this after seeing Beckett the night before. In fact it is a symptom of the decline of Western civilization, or so some would have us believe. Beckett filled about a third of a small theatre, perhaps 100 people, We Will Rock You almost filled a large theatre, probably more than 1000. So 100 people go see a play about a saint and 1000 people go see a play about a buggerer. No wonder Osama bin Laden is so upset with us.

After the performance, we went to the Museum Tavern for an Old Peculiar and a Young Special and then took a bus ride in order to see Christmas lights and find the source of the spotlights. We managed to do that and catch a back loading bus as well but then it took a while to find a bus that would take us back toward our hotel. In the meantime, we had to stand at the bus stop while some young drunks misbehaved. Nonetheless, a back loading bus and a slam door train on one day! Both soon-to-be phased out; although Denise thinks that back loading buses will be kept on some of the major tourist runs.

We got up Thursday and took a taxi to Waterloo in order to catch the Eurostar to Brussels. We were originally going to take the tube but it was simply too much work considering the weight of our suitcases and it wasn't that expensive by taxi considering we were only going across town. We got there too early and had a bit too much time to kill. There was a Eurostar promotion and we were able to get first-class tickets for $90, only slightly more than second-class. And lunch was included. I had haddock fish cakes with carrot and saffron salad. Denise had roast chicken and wine. I drank a Young's London Ale that we had bought. Unfortunately, we wound up riding backwards which I do not like so I wound up taking motion sickness pills but I didn't have any problem. Once again I slept while going under the channel.

We got to Brussels after 4 PM and took a taxi to our Best Western way up on Avenue Louise. It was much colder than London. We then took the tram back toward downtown and walked to the Grand Place (never quite sure the best way to spell it in English). It was rather tasteful this year, no glowing cows, and there was a very impressive light show on the Gothic Hotel de Ville with somewhat haunting modernist music in the background. We then went to the Delirium Cafe. The Delirium Cafe has only opened in the last couple years and I had never been there before. It advertises that it has about 2000 international beers and it did have a very good selection of German Christmas beers as well as a very impressive collection of Belgians. I camped out and Denise did some quick shopping before returning for a couple drinks. I started with a French micro, Lancelot XI.I, a very impressive 11.5% barleywine. We also had the Mortal Christmas 8.0%, and Avec les Bon Voeux 9.5% and Serifyn Kerstlich 8.2%. The pub also has a stand-alone Drei Fonteinen minibar but unfortunately they were out of lambic.

We walked over to St. Catherine's and went to La Villette for dinner. We had been there before two years ago and originally were hoping to go to Paon Royale across the street but it was packed. La Villette was pretty full but still had a couple tables open and we were seated. Returning was a good idea anyway. When I was there two years ago I was in the midst of a head cold and having trouble tasting anything. This time I could taste the very very good food. I had Lapin de la Gueuze and Denise had pork with Orval cheese, which I had the previous time we visited. Food is much better when you can taste it. We both had Maredsous 8. They only have a couple beers on draft and the other was Bell's Pils. They do have a fairly nice, but rather small, bottle selection. They also have a wonderful menu, not only because it has beer cuisine, but because it has wonderful English translations. Salmon Pave becomes Paving Stones of Salmon.

Our last drinking stop was L'Imaige de Nostre Dame, one of our favorite little pubs in Brussels. It has a decent selection of beer, maybe 40 bottles and five drafts, and there is always something interesting on draft. I had a Bush Noel. It's also very quaint and is up one of the tiny dead end alleys. We then wandered back toward our hotel, stopping once more in the Grand Place to see the Christmas lights and also at Sablon to see the decorations. We tried to catch a taxi but wound up taking the tram from the Louise metro stop.

We had a decent breakfast and did an abbreviated and very cold art nouveau walk through our neighborhood. We had done part of the walk on a previous trip and when we found ourselves repeating ourselves we headed back to the hotel and caught a €10 taxi to Gare Central where we got €5.10 tickets for Antwerp.

We ate our cheese on the train for lunch and got to Antwerp around 1:15 PM. As usual, the Hotel Keyserlei lied about its location. It says that it is "a few steps away" from the train station but is actually a few blocks away. Our room wasn't ready so we went off to the Christmas market to eat (gluwein and wurst) and shop. I bought chocolate and flavored genever for presents. We also bought a pillow tapestry in a shop right near the cathedral, where I noticed, for the first time in all my trips to Antwerp, a pissoir next to the cathedral. It was less fragrant than the one in Liege, but it was also colder out. We had a round at Paters Vaejte, Rochefort 8 for Denise and DeKonninck Triple for me. We finally headed back to the hotel to check in. I tried to get some euros at an ATM on the way but a woman in front of me had a bad card and she wouldn't give up. So we went back to the hotel and I ran out to find another ATM. I forgot that ATMs in Belgium aren't all that common. You see them, but many of them are bank specific and will not accept network cards. But I did find one and returned to the hotel flush with Euros.

Unfortunately, Denise had a bit of an accident. We had a suite hotel room. But they had a bed frame with projecting metal edges and Denise seriously hit her knee on one. It took awhile, and a couple Darvocet, for her to become mobile again. We took the metro downtown and went off to Kulminator for a few beers. This was easier said than done. The street where the bar is was closed for construction and we had to circumnavigate. Sometimes circumnavigation is not easy in a European city because it does not have a grid plan. Fortunately, it turned out to be only a reasonably minor detour. But of course, Denise was limping so any wasted effort was problematic. Kulminator was packed and it took awhile to get a seat. Denise had her Kulminator birthday card and got her free draft and waited for a seat to open. We then settled in for some vintage beers after the crowd around the bar thinned out a bit. We had Westmalle Triple 1995, Chimay Blue 1995, Stille Nacht 1984, and a strange and less than exciting 1997 Halloween Pumpkin Ale from Villers. We happen to like pumpkin beers but this had no pumpkin in it. We also met Fred from Los Angeles, who maintains the Franconia beer web site, and John from Colorado both of whom are Babblers. Fred had a small group with him and at one point they were trying a range of gueuze and I was invited to sample the selections.

We then headed off toward Oud Arsenaal, stopping first at the Christmas market to get something else to eat, more wurst and frites. We got to the pub before the gang arrived and found a couple seats. Jeremy and Theresa, Thom and Paulette, Cornelia and Ray, Logan, John White and his wife, Matt, Podge and other people whose names I forgot to write down all slowly arrived and a full-fledged Babblefest commenced. There was also a group of British drinkers who were following John White's Antwerp pub guide (they had also been at Kulminator) but they eventually moved on. Denise and I continued drinking strong beer, Boelen's Kerstbier, Rochefort 10, Westvleteren 12. Since we had been drinking 9% and stronger beer for four hours or more and since Denise was suffering from her knee injury we left a bit early and hobbled back to the hotel. Denise rested her leg and I went back to get something more to eat and actually wound up back at the Christmas market eating snails and more wurst. I thought about going back to the pub but decided that a good night's sleep would be in order before the Saturday drinking binge.

Saturday morning Denise was still recovering from her knee injury and decided to come to the festival a little bit later. Jeremy and Theresa met me around 11 AM and we were off to Essen to help decorate the town hall. The Kerstbierfestival is in the Parochiecentrum in a town of perhaps 10,000. The festival features more than 100 Belgian Christmas beers. It was the 10th anniversary, so they had 10 drafts each at least 10%. Gunter, the organizer of the festival, graciously allowed us to come in early and do a little bit of work in order to save a couple tables for our gang. So I put coasters on tables and hung coasters from Christmas trees while Jeremy and Theresa hung beer posters and other such things on the walls. Jeremy then moved a group of tables together for our gang of babblers. I quickly dubbed it Fortress Jeremy and we got our beers. There was an extremely long line to get in before the opening at 2 PM. The festival is a victim of its own success and might have to move next year to a larger venue. Denise and I first went to it two years ago and the crowds were smaller. Gunter says that five years ago it was fairly sparse.

The hall quickly filled and serious drinking commenced. You get a small sampler glass and 15 cl servings for €1.25 for most beers but some of the more exotic cost twice as much or more. Denise arrived and between the two of us we went through more than 20 beers, but that is barely a dent in a list of more than 100. Food is available ranging from basic sandwiches and cheese plates through stew made with beer (stooflees with Fantome) though we also brought cheese and crackers. There was also a vigorous beer trading session going on. I brought a few beers and traded them with Gunter and traded a few with Joris getting a 1986 Wet's gueuze and a 1986 DeDolle Stille Nacht. I also traded for a Danish smoked porter with Jacob. It was quite an international group with people from Denmark, Sweden, Italy, as well as Americans and British. Warren had purchased a 1902 Bass King's Ale on Ebay which he opened and gave samples, it was a little tart and plummy. The Swedes brought a cloudberry gueuze made by Cantillon for the Akkurat pub in Stockholm and they also brought some cloudberry jam as well. It is a great beer festival, one of the best in the world. I'd suggest that you visit except I don't want anybody else going as it's too crowded already.

And then it was 7:30 PM and time to go, although the festival would go on for hours (as well as Sunday) and a good bit of our group remained. But about 10 of us headed for the train and took off for Antwerp. Denise and I regrouped at the hotel and then went off to eat at Horta, an upscale restaurant near Oud Arsenal that does some beer cuisine. I had duck in framboise and Denise had veal medallions in Rodenbach. The food was good but I like La Villette better. We saw a couple Babblers and a number of people later went to a local pub and wound up dancing into the wee hours. We went back to the hotel and packed, with Private Ryan on TV in the background. We were off to Amsterdam early Sunday morning.

We got to Amsterdam in good order and we were staying at an Ibis near Schipol, although actually about 15 minutes away. We took the hotel bus, checked in, returned to the airport and took the train to town. We went to Prins Hendrikkade, a restaurant fairly close to the train station, for very good pea soup and a peach pancake. The beer selection was minimal at best. There was a restaurant next door that had the same menu for essentially the same prices but it looked like it had a better beer selection.

We took a self-guided walking tour through the red light district and nearby neighborhood and then wandered through the shopping district, eventually winding up at Arendsnest, a pub that specializes in Dutch microbrews. I had camped out there two years ago during an extended visit to Amsterdam. The other best beer bar in Amsterdam, Wildeman, is closed on Sundays. But the draft beer selection in Arendsnest was not as exciting as it was at the same time two years ago. There were no holiday beers on draft. But we had a Jubel Joop II stout 5.5%, a 1999 Jopen Hoyt, and a Indejaars on draft. We also had bottles of SNAB Ijsbock, Arends 't Swarte Schaep 2003, and a wonderful aged Winterkonniske from the bar's rather short and rather young aged beer list. (The bar has only been open a few years. You have to ask for the aged beer list.) The bad news is that the Haarlem brewery has closed. It made some very interesting and very strong beers. Unfortunately, they did not have any on the aged beer list either, unless Peter Arend is hiding them in the basement.

We went to Kantjil and Tiger, an Indonesian rice table. We had been there before and it comes highly recommended. I have only been at a few but it is not my favorite. Unfortunately, it was the only place open on a Sunday evening. The food is good and it's very hip. But they do not give you hot plates so your food starts to get cold quickly. We had the 11 course "Batavia" along with glasses of Palm and Dommelsch pils. One does not go to a rice table for good beer, although I did find one with decent beer once. After dinner Denise was extremely full, as was I, so we passed on going to the very nearby Gollem, a traditional brown cafe with a very good beer selection but which was also extremely crowded. I walked her back to the train station and got tickets to go back to the airport. Denise went back to the hotel and I headed off into town for one last beer at Elfde Gebod, a Regal Christmas. It is probably the best beer bar at the very edge of the red light district nearest to the train station. I chatted with the bartender who was quite amusing, particularly after he told someone, who asked for Heineken, that he does not consider Heineken to be beer and does not carry it. I took a quick walk for some errr sightseeing, and headed back to the train station and to the hotel.

We did not get upgraded on the way home but we did not really expect to.

All in all however it was quite a splendid vacation with lots of great activities, great beer, and great food as well as lots of great company in various places.

MikeK, Scranton, PA

February 2005



Around Bruges in 80 Beers: 2nd Edition

Around London in 80 Beers

Around Brussels in 80 Beers

Babblebelt contributors in attendance: