Our destination after Ghent was a bit different. We always try to plan one interesting "detour" during our trips; whether it be spending a night sleeping in a tent (5-star tent, mind you) in the Sahara, visiting Hiroshima, hiking the Great Wall form one province to another (not as hard as you think), or doing a hike (nee death march) after spending almost a sleepness night on the way to Sapa. It's never anything too wild; but just enough to keep the Missus happy and push me ever so closer to the precipice.
This objective; at least on this leg of the trip was to have what many consider the best and undoubtedly one of the most coveted beer in the world, Westvleteren 12. I'd already tried a bottle in Antwerp and really didn't care for it, but there's nothing like having it at the source, which is the Abbey of Saint Sixtus. Our destination was the village of Poperinge, close to the Border of France. It was an interesting train ride; most of the folks got off at Ypres, the stop before Poperinge, probably touring WWI battle sites. We got to the village and found our way to the hotel. Our room wasn't ready, so we dropped our bags off. We asked about renting some bikes. Saint Sixtus is about 4 miles from Poperinge and other than driving, the bicycle made the most sense. Unfortunately, it was the weekend and all the rentals were closed......however, the really nice guy pulled some strings and we got our bicycles and instructions on how to get to Saint Sixtus.....along with the typical, yet somewhat ominous "you can't miss it!"
So here's the deal; the Missus recalls with such nostalgia, of riding Her bike around Beijing while in High School and College....everyone rode a bike it seems. It was such a big part of Her youth that She and I really looked forward to this. However, there was one interesting twist to all of this. I hadn't ridden a bike and even when I did, I never rode it very much, since I was in Elementary School. To put things into perspective; the last time I rode a bike Gerald Ford had just become President of the United States. Soon after getting the bike, my Mom had to sell it to buy groceries and pay bills.
Remember that old adage, "you never forget how to ride a bike"? Well, it's mostly true....I did pretty well; only falling three times..... The Missus had thought this was going to be a hoot until She saw a guy laid out and in pretty bad shape after crashing his bike in Ghent. Now She wasn't so sure....until She got on the bike. I swear I hadn't seen such a look of pure joy on the Missus's face since we first brought Sammy home. It was pure bliss for Her....meanwhile it had started raining and I was chugging along.
She would stop on occasion and take photos of the beautiful farmland while I caught up; "hurry up...hurry up....you're so slow...."
The fellow below seems to be asking me; "well, who's looking like the jacka$$ now?" After all, it seemed like the hardest part of this whole bike riding thing was getting started and...well, the other real important part.....stopping.
Eventually, we saw a little sign pointing down a side road which said "Saint Sixtus".....heading down thru the fields of hops, this area produces 80% of the hops for Belgium, we eventually came to the Abbey of Saint Sixtus.
And here we were. One quick note....this is Trappist Beer; brewed in a real Monastery, by real Monks. This is not the Stone Brewery Tasting Room and Restaurant, if you know what I mean. You can't taste beer here....you can order cases of Westvleteren, if you're lucky enough to call and make an appointment and drive to the Abbey to pick-up your beer at the scheduled time. You have limit as to how many beers you can order and from what I heard even provide the vehicle license plate number.
Unless you need a case of Westy; I'd suggest going across the street to the café owned by the Abbey; In de Vedre.
I was actually relieved to be able to park the bike and have some liquid refreshment.
The interior is quite large, very comfortable, the staff was efficient and welcoming.......
And yes; there's Westy on tap. We started with the 12 and the Blonde.
So, is the 12 the best beer I've ever had? Hard to say; I did like it, it's a quad, 10.2 ABV, but not unpleasantly boozy. There's some spice and chocolate tones and I like the "texture" as it rolled over my tongue. It was a zillion times better than the bottle I'd had. The blonde is nice; yeasty-grassy, with mild fruitiness. The Missus enjoyed the blonde but the 12 is not Her thing.
We both enjoyed a nice snack; the House Pate made with Beer....man, it was delicious.
For dessert, I got the Westvleteren 8; which I enjoyed more than the 12. It was less boozy, had that wonderful texture and head, a bit more hops to it, and almost a bit of burnt candied sugar in my mind. I'm far from a beer snob; but this was really good.
As I was working on my beer; folks started arriving. Many of them little groups of folks on biking tours....probably biking-beers tours?
The gift shop was also doing some major business. You can buy bottles and smaller packs of Westvleteren Beer in the Café gift shop......if you're lucky. We saw four folks run out of a mini-van and charge into the gift shop looking for some "Westy to go"......
In De Vrede
We made it back to Poperinge without incident. It was the weekend and traffic was quite sparse. The Missus decided we should "park our bikes" instead of returning them....just in case, you know..... We found that our room was actually a couple of blocks from the hotel. It was quite a nice room....very comfortable.
Sometimes there's no phrase more beautiful than "shower and a nap"......I was fairly soaked from the rain on the bike back from the Abbey........and in need of a nap as well.
After the nap.....guess what? The Missus wanted to ride somewhere. So we headed off in the somewhat opposite direction from Westvleteren to Watou, which was a pretty sleepy little village.
Now, Watou is a village of about 2,000 people....but they are also known for....you guessed it....a pretty famous brewery; St Bernardus. We had thoughts of visiting the brewery, but instead decided just to stop in one of the cafes.
The Missus wanted something light so She had the Watou's Wit Biere which is produced by Waotu's other brewery Brouwerij Van Eecke. Very easy to drink, citrusy, quite light.
I had a St Bernardus Watou Tripel.
Nice texture, a bit sweet....but not in the same class as Westvleteren......that's fairly immediate.
After our visit, we made it back to Poperinge without incident....for some reason, I did hit a curb and fell....but it was flat on my back so no harm was done. It was starting to come down again as we got back into town. We returned our bikes and passed this bar named.....San Diego! Go figure......
For dinner, I decided on a café in one of the hotels around the main square named Cafe de la Paix.
It was coming down pretty hard outside, so we were glad we made it here without getting soaked.
Upon being seated we were brought an amuse....which we both loved......meat in an aspic, chilled and refreshing. I suddenly recalled reading about a local dish called Hennepot.
On the way to dinner we passed a beer shop....in the window was something that caught the Missus's eye...in a very strange way. She loved the label......with this Nun on it. She described it in a fairly particular way. Looking over the beer list; I mentioned that they had this beer on the menu......so when the Server came over the Missus excitedly told him, "I'll have a SLUTTY NUN!" He raised an eyebrow quizzically and I ordered the Poperings Nunnebier......sigh.
I'll let you decide about the Missus's description......
So the nice woman working here came to take our order and we had another funny encounter. The Missus was famished and actually wanted some meat for a change. So She asked about the sirloin; whether it was grass fed, where it was from.....you know. The woman laughed and pointed in a direction and said, "our cows live there....and you ask so many strange questions." It's a different way of life, food is not the commodity stuff shipped thousands of miles away......sourcing locally is not an advertising point, but the way things are here.
Meal came with meh frites (man, this was Belgium...I expected more) and a nice salad. The beef was cooked a perfect medium, a bit more tender than I expected, considering it was grass fed, and full of flavor.
After our amuse; I just had to have the Hennepot....I was told it was rabbit, chicken, and veal, though it all had pretty much the same texture.
Not everyone's cup of tea I'm sure, but the gel/aspic on this makes the dish. I'm told it's one of the oldest local specialties. It's tangy, sour, and so refreshing. It was 90+ this morning when I started this post....I'd have loved to have this for lunch today.
Cafe de la Paix
Grote Markt 20
It was indeed a fairly rainy day......
But our room was nice a cozy and had that appliance we had so many times on our trip that we actually bought....a Nespresso. So we enjoyed our short stay......
And tomorrow would be yet another day......
Thanks for reading!