June 20, 2019 Alzingen LX

We have both wanted to visit Luxembourg on this trip.  We almost swung thru on our way out, but it did not work out.  So last night we decided to head over today.  We left with some light rain and for the last 50 km’s or so we had absolutely torrential rain.  We also ran into our first EU customs check, as Luxembourg was checking all trucks entering the country so the right lane of the freeway was closed so that the police could use it to check the trucks.  This caused a 2 or 3 mile backup as all of the non-commercial traffic squeezed in the left lane.

The Luxembourg flag from the church next to the campground.

When we got to the nice campground on the outskirts of Luxembourg City and checked in, we noticed the throw carpet we put on the floor of François was wet. This is the third time we have had this problem, and each time it has been after driving thru very heavy rain.  While Ton cleaned up, I tried to find a possible source of the water.  We are finding the water right in the center of the cabin, and there are no obvious places for it to come from.  So far no luck, the good news is that it only happens when it rains heavily, and it is not an enormous amount of water.  We will keep you posted.

A picture from a memorial to three American soldiers who were killed when their tank fell thru the bridge in the village while they were liberating it.  

Since we started on a clean up, because of the mystery leak we decided to also take care of washing the sheets towels and everything we leave behind.  We were planning on doing it on Saturday, but since the campground had good German Washing Machines and Dryers and Ton was on a roll we decided to do it today.

The ruins of an old castle behind a church near the campground.

Since not much happened today I will share one weird story from the trip.  When we entered Germany way back on May 9 the campground we were staying at had one of those take one leave one libraries.  All but one of the books were in German, but the one book in English looked interesting to me so I took it.  It was Michael Palin’s diary from 1970-1979 of his years with Monty Python.  It was a pretty thick book and it became my night time reading.  I was reading the last twenty pages of it in early June when I noticed the  campground we were staying in in Lubeck also had a take one leave one library.  It was  the first one I had noticed since I had gotten the Palin diary, and I was shocked to see  the next volume of Michael Palin’s diary from 1980 to 1989 amongst all the German books there.  It seems I have been following a fellow Michael Palin fan around Germany and we read at about the same pace.  

The two volumes of Michael Palin diaries found in two campground take one leave one libraries over 400 miles apart in Germany.

June 19, 2019 Kortrijk BE

We woke up to a pretty serious thunderstorm.  It had been raining off and on all night with a few gusts of wind strong enough to rock François back and forth.  Our neighbor had to get up and secure his bicycles and table to prevent them from blowing away.

The wheat next to our parking place showing the effects of the rain and the wind.

The neighbors were Belgian and we spent some time talking to them last night.  Neither spoke English fluently but they both could communicate to us.  The first question was where we were from as it was clear to them we were not French.  After we got that sorted out, we began to talk about traveling.  The wife volunteered that this was her first time in this part of Belgium.  Since Belgium is quite small we were a little surprised so Ton asked her where she was from, “Bruges”.  We both laughed as Bruges is about 40 miles from where we are today and she was probably in her late 60’s.  She thought about it for a minute and laughed too, saying she has been to Spain, France, and Indonesia but not to Westvleteren until today.  She made me laugh again later when we were heading back to François, I told them “See you later”, she replied “See you later alligator”, giggled and followed it with “after a while crocodile”.  I got a real kick out of that which she appreciated.

The Duchesse de Bourgogne, the purpose of our day today.

Today was the biggest day of our beer tour of Germany and Belgium.  Tons’ favorite beer in the world is Duchesse de Bourgogne by Verhaeghe Brewery.  Ton had been on their website and they only offered public tours on Friday and that would not work for us.  We decided to send them an email explaining our problem and asking if they could accommodate us in any way.  We were thrilled when they agreed to give us a private tour of the brewery today.  

Katrien our tour guide for today.  Yes we did try all of the beers in front of her.

We arrived at the brewery and met our guide for the day Katrien.  She sat us down and began the tour with a tasting of two of their beers that they only sell locally.  After that we were off for a walk around the brewery.  The brewery is family run for 4 generations and has survived two world wars.  In the first world war the owner of the brewery refused to brew for the Germans so they confiscated all of his beer making equipment to melt down to make guns.

As Katrien said we could have a good party with the contents of one of these barrels.

Their beer is all pre-sold so they are in the process of a significant expansion of the brewery to double their output.  We were shown both the historical old buildings and the new modern buildings that will make up the expansion.  Katrien did a great job explaining the process, and talking us thru each of the beers.  It was a great time and we have a fresh bottle of Duchess de Bourgogne to drink before we leave.

The twin watch towers over the River Leie in Kotrijk.

We finished the day in an aire in the town of Kortrijk which is a major town in the region.  We did not see as much of it as we wanted as it was raining pretty hard when we first arrived with occasional flashes of lightning. It finally calmed down enough for us to take a quick walk thru the town.  It has two World Heritage Sites, their town belfry which along with all of the other belfries in Flanders are grouped as a world heritage site, and the Beguinage of Courtrai which is a well preserved 13th century womens community.  It was run like a nunnery but the women did not take any religious vows.  It was still active as a womens community until the 1960’s.  

The interior of the Beguinage with the Cathedral tower in the background.
Another view from inside the Beguinage, the building in the middle is from the 1600’s while the buildings surrounding it are from the 1300’s.

June 18, 2019 Westvleteren BE

Today we moved a whole 15km to a nice aire on a farm in the village of Westvlateren. It is a very small village known for St Sixtus Abby and Brewery.  The setting is beautiful but unfortunately they just cut the hay in the field next to the aire and Ton who has been fighting allergies this entire trip is really suffering.

Our impromptu goal for the day St. Sixtus Abby.

As we have been traveling around Belgium we have kept hearing about this mythical beer from Westvleteren.  When we were in Amsterdam we ran into an Australian who proudly mentioned he had found some bottles of it for sale in Brussels and was happy to get 3 of them for only €19 each.  When we moved to Bruges we also heard about this beer from some other people.  Ton began doing her research and it turns out it is considered by some beer connoisseurs to be the best beer in the world, and it was very difficult to buy it as you had to make an appointment and you were limited to 48 bottles at a time.  The problem is that the phone to call to make an appointment receives over 80,000 calls per day so it is very hit or miss whether you can get an appointment.  The monks are very concerned as their beer has been growing in popularity about people gouging others. They closely control distribution to minimize people inflating prices, but it is still happening like our Australian friend in Brussels discovered.  At the brewery the bottles sell for €4.

Liquid Gold.

We were still not planning to visit the brewery until last night when we decided to spend the day in the vicinity of Poperinge which is the biggest Hops producing town in Belgium.  When I began to look for a place to stay around Poperinge it turns out there is an aire close to the Westvleteren Abby.  Ton did some more research and found out that the monks did allow one cafe to sell their beer over the counter in the village, so here we are.

Hops were the reason we began the trip today.

We started the day by going to Poperinge to visit the hop museum.  It was an interesting presentation on hop production in the region.  It focused mostly on the farming of the hops and was full of equipment and detailed descriptions of how hop farming techniques had changed in the area thru history.  At the end it had examples of every Belgian Beer currently in production by region.  

To celebrate the end of the hop harvest locals burn straw men in the field and drink a lot of beer.

The next stop was the Westvleteren Cafe which along with the Abby is pretty much the entire town.  The aire was supposed to be 1km from the Abby but that turned out to be as the crow flies, so after a half hour walk around the fields between us and the abby we arrived hot and ready for a cold beer.  It took a while to be served as we have not quite mastered the way of getting a Belgian servers attention, but we finally put in our order for one of each of the 3 beers they produce here.  The first is a blonde, the second is a dark beer with 8% alcohol, and the reported best beer in the world is the dark beer with 12% alcohol.  They were all excellent, but our conclusion was that the dark 12 was indeed the best.

Two very happy people.

As we were leaving we stopped in their gift shop to pick up a memory of the trip, and discovered we could buy a six pack of the dark 12.  So as I am typing this I am happily sipping on one of the best beers in the world.

June 17, 2019 Ypres BE

We only moved about 50 kilometers today to the town of Ypres.  I picked this stop because I was interested in a Commonwealth War Ceremony they have there every night.  

Walking to town we came across this very healthy looking sheep who winked at Ton.

Ypres was right on the front lines during WWI and was pretty much fought over for the entire war.  In total there were over 1 million casualties in what was called the Ypres Salient (bulge) with over 850,000 combined casualties in a 3 month period in 1917.  Ypres was also the first use of poison gas on the western front.  The entire town was leveled during the course of the war.

After the war the Belgian government rebuilt the city including duplicating the Cotton  Hall and belfry as well as the Cathedral as they stood before the war.  Both buildings are impressive sites today.

The reconstructed Cotton Hall and Belfry rebuilt after WWI.  The original building was rubble after the war.

While French and Belgian troops fought extensively in this area for the allies, a large contingent of British and Commonwealth soldiers fought here.  After the war the Belgian government reconstructed the Menin Gate into the city as a war memorial to the Commonwealth and British soldiers who were killed in this area but whose bodies were never properly identified.   The monument has over 50,000 names on it from all over the British Empire.  There are soldiers from Canada, Australia, India, Burma, and South Africa as well as Great Britain on the memorial.

You can see the endless lists of names on the wall, thru the door is a similar wall with more names, over 50,000 in total.

As a tribute to these men who were lost; every night the Fire Brigade in Ypres has a ceremony called “The Last Post”.  At 8pm buglers from the Fire Brigade play the Last Post (the British version of Taps.) inside the Menin Gate.  Tonight we attended the ceremony and it is very moving.  As we were waiting we heard people from Canada, Australia, and Britain talking about the ceremony and why they were attending.  It is a fairly simple but moving ceremony as different groups bring wreaths to present at the Gate.  Tonight it was school groups in their uniforms presenting the wreaths.  We were very impressed that this ceremony is still being carried out over 100 years after the end of WWI.  

June 16, 2019 Bruges BE

Bruges deserved a second day so after spending some time talking to our Dutch and English neighbors we headed into town to take a look at some other sites for the day.  We were hoping it would be a little less crowded than on Friday but if anything it was busier.

Market Square in Bruges with the crowds.

Our first stop was the oldest bar in Bruges dating back to the 1560’s.  One of the stories is that the famous Flemish painter Paul Reubens ran up a bar tab in the 1600’s that he did not have the cash to pay off, so he paid the bill with a painting.  Hopefully they kept the painting long enough as it would have paid off whatever tab he ran up plus a million Euro or so today.

The door to the oldest bar in Bruges that one time owned an original Reubens.

Something interesting happened as we walked to the bar.  It is not in the tourist core of Bruges, and after we got a few blocks past the square we were suddenly alone.  We were following a beautiful canal with really interesting buildings all around us, but hardly any tourists, just locals.  We really enjoyed this stretch of the city.

Another beautiful area in Bruges away from the tourist crush.

On Friday we passed on a canal boat tour because of the crowds, but today despite the crowds being worst we felt obliged to do it.  There were 40 seats on the boat and they were all filled.  Our boat driver was multi-lingual so he did the tour in 4 languages, English, Dutch, French, and Spanish so we had to pay attention for when our explanation was coming.  By this time we had walked all of the canals we went down on the boat a couple of times so we were familiar with the sites and the short explanation did not add much to our experience.

The crowded canals of Bruges.

Ton treated me to a fathers day meal of Flemish Mussels which are a delicacy around here.  After we started eating we realized that Delirium Brewery from Brussels had recently bought this place which was listed as one of the best restaurants and beer halls in town.

Enjoying my Belgian Mussels with a Delirium Beer.

At the end of the day we returned to Half Maan Brewery for a tour.  It is clear that lawyers are not the powerful force in Belgium that they are in the US.  Our tour had us climbing up and down ladders and very small stairs thru working industrial space.  At one point the tour guide let an 11 year old boy climb into a 500 liter beer tank, that would result in a fine from the safety inspector in the US.  The brewery has a 2 mile pipeline for beer from the brewery to their bottling plant in the industrial outskirts of Bruges which is the longest beer pipeline in the world.  The highlight was when we popped out on the roof of the brewery for a great view of the top of Bruges.  The tour ended with a nice glass of Belgian Blonde Ale, and some soccer discussion about the US women and Timbers with another couple from Portland who were also on the tour.  

Ton really liked the logo of the Half Maan Brewery.
The view of Bruges from the roof of Half Maan.
The storage tanks they let the boy climb into.

As we headed back we heard voices near François and it turns out our English and Dutch neighbors had also just returned and were exchanging stories of their day.  We joined in and an impromptu party broke out where some French wine, and Irish, and German beer was consumed.  That is why this is being published a day late.

As we were leaving the city we came on this sculpture of the flying horse Pegasus pulling a carriage.  We are not sure what the significance is of the naked women on the back.

June 15, 2019 Ghent BE

Today we took the train into Ghent leaving François in Bruges.  Ghent is an easy 30 minute train ride from Bruges and we are parked almost next to the train station, with the added bonus of 1/2 price train tickets on the weekend it was a no brainer for us, and a rest day for me and François.

The market square and St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent.

The Ghent station is about a mile and a half from the center of the city, so we stopped and bought a day pass for the local transit which broadened our area to explore a bit. The first stop was the tourist information center to pick up a walking tour map of the city.  Ghent is a bigger less touristy version of Bruges.  It has all of the canals, cathedrals, and old buildings of Bruges just on a bigger less personal scale.  

The Belfry in Ghent, while it looks old, the top half is from the early 20th century.

The center was very lively as it was Saturday and the local people were out shopping with the tourists.  Ghent had a really fun feel to it and we enjoyed walking thru the center of the town.  It is the third biggest city in Belgium, but avoided significant damage in both Wars so it has retained a lot of it’s pre-20th century charm.  Recently as Bruges has been overrun with tourists, Ghent has turned into a major tourist destination as well.

The center of the tourist industry, the canal boat tours in Ghent allow alcohol while the ones in Bruges do not.  
The old meat market with a selection of (probably Spanish) hams hanging from the ceiling.

After touring the center we decided to continue our beer tour of Belgium by visiting a couple of breweries, the first was Dok Brewery.  It was in an old industrial area adjacent to some canals that is being converted to housing and small tech type businesses.  Dok in Flemish means Dock in English and it was located in an old warehouse.  We knew we had found a place away from the tourist route because all of the signs were in Flemish.  When I apologized that I could not speak Flemish to the Bartender she smiled and switched to perfect English and told me not to worry, no one but the Flemish can.  It really reminded us of some of the breweries in Portland that are also in old industrial sites.  They had a wide selection of beers beyond the traditional Belgian beers.  We enjoyed a taster tray and then a round of our favorites.

Canals cut thru Ghent in many directions, many are still used for industry, some are converting to tech and housing.

The second brewery was Gruut Brewery.  Ton really wanted to visit because  the head brewer is female.  It is also set up as a microbrewery, so we enjoyed a taster of not just the traditional beers but some non-traditional.  They were also excellent.  

The interior of Gruut Brewery.

On the way back we were comparing Ghent and Bruges.  Our conclusion was if you were visiting for a day you should choose Bruges, if you were visiting for a week we would choose Ghent.

We stumbled onto this alley that the local artists were using as a living art gallery.  There were about 100 yards of graffiti art along both sides. 

Ton has been greatly entertained by Flemish/Dutch spellings, as they have lots of vowels.  In the past she visited the Czech Republic and had difficulty pronouncing anything due to that languages lack of vowels, here the plethora of vowels cause her the same problem.  Tonight she was telling our neighbors from the Netherlands that they need to lend some of their vowels to the Czechs so both languages would be easier to pronounce. I am not sure they understood her humor, but they smiled.

A wood carving of St. Bavo.  He has the nicest cathedral in Ghent named after him.

June 14, 2019 Bruges BE

Bruges is one of the most visited cities in Europe and a world heritage site.  It is one of the cities that is being loved to death and is looking at how to reduce tourism without killing it.  So we are here with all of the tourists trying to enjoy the city.

The market square in Bruges with some of the crowd.

When you get here you see why it is popular.  It has most of its older buildings intact and is a great size to walk around and take in the sites.  On top of that it has an extensive canal system that makes it feel even more fun and interesting.  The entire town is a UNESCO site and for good reasons.

But views like this are the reason so many people want to see Bruges.  It is a stunning place.

Having said all of that we we are here in shoulder season and it was packed.  It is not a place to visit if you do not like crowds.  We usually avoid crowds but braved them today and are glad we did as the city is really worth it.  There is not one thing that is truly outstanding, but what you have is all of the pieces of a European City, palace, cathedral, market square, old houses and businesses and they are all well preserved and presented.  In this case the sum of the parts is greater than the individual parts.

The combination of the house and the footbridge, these small charms are scattered through out the city.

The aire in Bruges is next to a giant bus lot for all of the tour busses who come to the city each day.  The aire is expensive but the location is good as it is a quick 10 minute walk to the center.  

A green canal near between the aire and city center.

We had a list of things we wanted to see and do.  One of the highlights was a visit to a chocolate shop that is known for outstanding hot chocolate.  This was absolutely the best hot chocolate we have ever had. When our order arrived we thought they had made a mistake because we received two very large cups of hot milk, and a tray with two heaping servings of chocolate.  The girl explained that we put the chocolate into the milk and mix it ourselves to taste.  It was unbelievably delicious.  In addition to the chocolate we split a Belgian Waffle with chocolate, whipped cream and ice cream.  It was decadent, the best desert we have had on this trip.

Our decadent Belgian Waffle.
We came across this view wandering down a back alley.  Bruges seems to have a beautiful surprise around every corner.

After that we spent the day enjoying ourselves wandering around town.  Ton ran the battery down on her camera taking photos.  Bruges is one of the best cities we have visited to just wander aimlessly as there is a new view, or statue, or people doing interesting things all around.  We accomplished all of our list but the canal boat ride as the lines were crazy and the boats were gunnel to gunnel going down the canal.

We missed the canal tour because of the crowds.
The Belgian version of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

We ended the day with a stop at at the Half Moon Brewery which has been around for six generations now.  We enjoyed two of their signature beers.  Even though it was our last planned stop we still took over an hour to get back to François as new sights beckoned us to turn aside all the way back.  

Came across this view as we walked back to François.
Another view on our way back to François.

June 13, 2019 Brussels BE

Today we took the train from Antwerp to Brussels for the day.  We always intended to visit Brussels, but when we looked at the parking options for François they were pretty bleak in Brussels.  We realized we could be in Brussels in a little over an hour by train from where we were, so we locked François up for the day and headed to the train station.

The Antwerp train station is one of the largest in Europe.

It was a pretty uneventful ride except I had us get off the train one station early, but luckily there was another train right behind the one we were on, so we arrived in Brussels only a few minutes later than our train did.

The central square in Brussels, note all of the coats the high was around 60 degrees.

At one point in life there was some short lived discussion of a job assignment in Brussels so we had done some research on the city.  At that time it had the reputation of being more of a manufacturing center and a little gray by all accounts.  Either those accounts were wrong or Brussels has had a renaissance in the last 15 years because the city center was bustling with all of the air of a major tourist destination.  There were lots of chocolate shops, on one high end street every third store was a chocolate shop.  

Waffles and Belgian Fries are very popular.
The famous statue of the little boy peeing into a fountain that Brussels is famous for.  The tourism photos make it look much larger than it is.
The feminist version located near Delirium Brew Pub.

We also visited a couple of very old beer shops that look like they belonged in the gritty industrial city I had expected.  They were the kind of dive bars with excellent beer selections we really like.  We also visited a bar that one of our friends recommended that has over 2000 beers from around the world.  Unlike the dive bars it was catering to the tourist crowd.  We took a walk around before heading off for a meal, and the visit to the cathedral.

The inside of the dive bar that matched my vision of Brussels.

Our trip back to Antwerp was uneventful and quick, especially since I did not get off in the wrong place.  We got back just in time for a good sized thunderstorm complete with a little hail.

June 12, 2019 Antwerp BE

It was poring rain when we woke, and the temperature had fallen quite a bit.  Earlier in the trip we probably would just have settled in for the day, but we are feeling some pressure to keep moving so we decided to go ahead and head up to Antwerp.  Our plan is to explore Antwerp today, and then take the train from Antwerp to Brussels tomorrow, as the parking opportunities are pretty limited in Brussels.

Drove to Antwerp pretty much the whole way in poring rain, and we ran into a 40km back up of trucks heading into Antwerp the second busiest port in Europe.  We finally arrived at the aire about 1230 and where Greta Garmin told us to turn there was a gate across the entrance.  It turns out they were closed for lunch, so we found a place on the street until lunch was over.  By the time we settled in the rain had a second wind and was torrential.

Market Square in Antwerp.
Cute sculpture in the square in Antwerp.

About 4 pm it let up so we headed into town.  Besides wanting to get a feel for the center of Antwerp we had one particular location in mind.  Ton in her research on beer had discovered a destination beer bar called Kulminator.  It has made a lot of lists of best beer destinations in the world, and apparently the owner regrets the publicity as he does not want beer tourists, but beer lovers.  Now he has put in a buzzer on the entrance to the bar, and after you ring it he comes out to screen you.  He asks you if you are there to taste beer or to drink beer.  There is a correct answer and if you get it wrong he sends you on your way.  We knew the question in advance but did not know the correct answer, so as we walked there we debated; Ton thinking drink while I was thinking taste.  When the question came Ton gave her answer, but then told him we really wanted to experience the place no matter the answer, so even though she gave the wrong answer she is cute and he let us in.  Inside is a place that feels like an overstuffed living room with a beer bar in it.  The music was classical, and they obviously were making no attempt to be hip or commercial.  When you sit down the owners wife, and beer tender brings you a huge book with all of their beers in the cellar, and points out what is on draft.  The book is intimidating and takes some time to go thru so we stuck with the draft beers which were very eclectic.  We enjoyed two rounds while sharing beer and travel experiences with an Australian/English couple.

The entrance to Kulminator includes a buzzer where you have to convince the owner of your good intentions before you can enter.
A sour and a dark beer among the hundreds hand picked by the owner to be “tasted”.

By the time we left the rain had broke and we enjoyed a couple of hours of sun.  The days are quite long and as I type this at 9:20 we still have another 50 minutes of day light coming.

June 13, 2019 Brussels BE

Today we took the train from Antwerp to Brussels for the day.  We always intended to visit Brussels, but when we looked at the parking options for François they were pretty bleak in Brussels.  We realized we could be in Brussels in a little over an hour by train from where we were, so we locked François up for the day and headed to the train station.

The Antwerp train station is one of the largest in Europe.

It was a pretty uneventful ride to Brussels except I had us get off the train one station early, but luckily there was another train right behind the one we were on, so we arrived in Brussels only a few minutes later than our train did.

The central square in Brussels, note all of the coats the high was around 60 degrees.

At one point in life there was some short lived discussion of a job assignment in Brussels so we had done some research on the city.  At that time it had the reputation of being more of a manufacturing center and a little gray by all accounts.  Either those accounts were wrong or Brussels has had a renaissance in the last 15 years because the city center was bustling with all of the air of a major tourist destination.  There were lots of chocolate shops, on one high end street every third store was a chocolate shop.  

Waffles and Belgian Fries are very popular.
The famous statue of the little boy peeing into a fountain that Brussels is famous for.  The tourism photos make it look much larger than it is.
The feminist version located near Delirium Brew Pub.

We also visited a couple of very old beer shops that look like they belonged in the gritty industrial city I had expected.  They were the kind of dive bars with excellent beer selections we really like.  We also visited a bar that one of our friends recommended that has over 2000 beers from around the world.  Unlike the dive bars it was catering to the tourist crowd.  We took a walk around before heading off for a meal, and the visit to the cathedral.

The inside of the dive bar that matched my vision of Brussels.

Our trip back to Antwerp was uneventful and quick, especially since I did not get off in the wrong place.  We got back just in time for a good sized thunderstorm complete with a little hail.

June 12, 2019 Antwerp BE

It was poring rain when we woke, and the temperature had fallen quite a bit.  Earlier in the trip we probably would just have settled in for the day, but we are feeling some pressure to keep moving so we decided to go ahead and head up to Antwerp.  Our plan is to explore Antwerp today, and then take the train from Antwerp to Brussels tomorrow, as the parking opportunities are pretty limited in Brussels.

Drove to Antwerp pretty much the whole way in poring rain, and we ran into a 40km back up of trucks heading into Antwerp the second busiest port in Europe.  We finally arrived at the aire about 1230 and where Greta Garmin told us to turn there was a gate across the entrance.  It turns out they were closed for lunch, so we found a place on the street until lunch was over.  By the time we settled in the rain had a second wind and was torrential.

Market Square in Antwerp.
Cute sculpture in the square in Antwerp.

About 4 pm it let up so we headed into town.  Besides wanting to get a feel for the center of Antwerp we had one particular location in mind.  Ton in her research on beer had discovered a destination beer bar called Kulminator.  It has made a lot of lists of best beer destinations in the world, and apparently the owner regrets the publicity as he does not want beer tourists, but beer lovers.  Now he has put in a buzzer on the entrance to the bar, and after you ring it he comes out to screen you.  He asks you if you are there to taste beer or to drink beer.  There is a correct answer and if you get it wrong he sends you on your way.  We knew the question in advance but did not know the correct answer, so as we walked there we debated; Ton thinking drink while I was thinking taste.  When the question came Ton gave her answer, but then told him we really wanted to experience the place no matter the answer, so even though she gave the wrong answer she is cute and he let us in.  Inside is a place that feels like an overstuffed living room with a beer bar in it.  The music was classical, and they obviously were making no attempt to be hip or commercial.  When you sit down the owners wife, and beer tender brings you a huge book with all of their beers in the cellar, and points out what is on draft.  The book is intimidating and takes some time to go thru so we stuck with the draft beers which were very eclectic.  We enjoyed two rounds while sharing beer and travel experiences with an Australian/English couple.

The entrance to Kulminator includes a buzzer where you have to convince the owner of your good intentions before you can enter.
A sour and a dark beer among the hundreds hand picked by the owner to be “tasted”.

By the time we left the rain had broke and we enjoyed a couple of hours of sun.  The days are quite long and as I type this at 9:20 we still have another 50 minutes of day light coming.

June 14, 2019 Bruges BE

Bruges is one of the most visited cities in Europe and a world heritage site.  It is one of the cities that is being loved to death and is looking at how to reduce tourism without killing it.  So we are here with all of the tourists trying to enjoy the city.

The market square in Bruges with some of the crowd.

When you get here you see why it is popular.  It has most of its older buildings intact and is a great size to walk around and take in the sites.  On top of that it has an extensive canal system that makes it feel even more fun and interesting.  The entire town is a UNESCO site and for good reasons.

But views like this are the reason so many people want to see Bruge.  It is a stunning place.

Having said all of that we we are here in shoulder season and it was packed.  It is not a place to visit if you do not like crowds.  We usually avoid crowds but braved them today and are glad we did as the city is really worth it.  There is not one thing that is truly outstanding, but what you have is all of the pieces of a European City, palace, cathedral, market square, old houses and businesses and they are all well preserved and presented.  In this case the sum of the parts is greater than the individual parts.

The combination of the house and the footbridge, these small charms are scattered through out the city.

The aire in Bruges is next to a giant bus lot for all of the tour busses who come to the city each day.  The aire is expensive but the location is good as it is a quick 10 minute walk to the center.  

A green canal near between the aire and city center.

We had a list of things we wanted to see and do.  One of the highlights was a visit to a chocolate shop that is known for outstanding hot chocolate.  This was absolutely the best hot chocolate we have ever had. When our order arrived we thought they had made a mistake because we received two very large cups of hot milk, and a tray with two heaping servings of chocolate.  The girl explained that we put the chocolate into the milk and mix it ourselves to taste.  It was unbelievably delicious.  In addition to the chocolate we split a Belgian Waffle with chocolate, whipped cream and ice cream.  It was decadent, the best desert we have had on this trip.

Our decadent Belgian Waffle.
We came across this view wandering down a back alley.  Bruges seems to have a beautiful surprise around every corner.

After that we spent the day enjoying ourselves wandering around town.  Ton ran the battery down on her camera taking photos.  Bruges is one of the best cities we have visited to just wander aimlessly as there is a new view, or statue, or people doing interesting things all around.  We accomplished all of our list but the canal boat ride as the lines were crazy and the boats were gunnel to gunnel going down the canal.

We missed the canal tour because of the crowds.
The Belgian version of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

We ended the day with a stop at at the Half Moon Brewery which has been around for six generations now.  We enjoyed two of their signature beers.  Even though it was our last planned stop we still took over an hour to get back to François as new sights beckoned us to turn aside all the way back.  

Came across this view as we walked back to François.
Another view on our way back to François.


June 15, 2019 Ghent BE

Today we took the train into Ghent leaving François in Bruges.  Ghent is an easy 30 minute train ride from Bruges and we are parked almost next to the train station, with the added bonus of 1/2 price train tickets on the weekend it was a no brainer for us, and a rest day for me and François.

The market square and St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent.

The Ghent station is about a mile and a half from the center of the city, so we stopped and bought a day pass for the local transit which broadened our area to explore a bit. The first stop was the tourist information center to pick up a walking tour map of the city.  Ghent is a bigger less touristy version of Bruges.  It has all of the canals, cathedrals, and old buildings of Bruges just on a bigger less personal scale.  

The Belfry in Bruges, while it looks old, the top half is from the early 20th century.

The center was very lively as it was Saturday and the local people were out shopping with the tourists.  Ghent had a really fun feel to it and we enjoyed walking thru the center of the town.  It is the third biggest city in Belgium, but avoided significant damage in both Wars so it has retained a lot of it’s pre-20th century charm.  Recently as Bruges has been overrun with tourists, Ghent has turned into a major tourist destination as well.

The center of the tourist industry, the canal boat tours in Ghent allow alcohol while the ones in Bruges do not.  
The old meat market with a selection of (probably Spanish) hams hanging from the ceiling.

After touring the center we decided to continue our beer tour of Belgium by visiting a couple of breweries, the first was Dok Brewery.  It was in an old industrial area adjacent to some canals that is being converted to housing and small tech type businesses.  Dok in Flemish means Dock in English and it was located in an old warehouse.  We knew we had found a place away from the tourist route because all of the signs were in Flemish.  When I apologized that I could not speak Flemish to the Bartender she smiled and switched to perfect English and told me not to worry, no one but the Flemish can.  It really reminded us of some of the breweries in Portland that are also in old industrial sites.  They had a wide selection of beers beyond the traditional Belgian beers.  We enjoyed a taster tray and then a round of our favorites.

Canals cut thru Ghent in many directions, many are still used for industry, some are converting to tech and housing.

The second brewery was Gruut Brewery.  It is unusual because  the head brewer is female.  It is also set up as a microbrewery, so we enjoyed a taster of not just the traditional beers but some non-traditional.  They were also excellent.  

The interior of Gruut Brewery.

On the way back we were comparing Ghent and Bruges.  Our conclusion was if you were visiting for a day you should choose Bruges, if you were visiting for a week we would choose Ghent.

We stumbled onto this alley that the local artists were using as a living art gallery.  There were about 100 yards of graffiti art along both sides.  

Ton has been greatly entertained by Flemish/Dutch spellings, as they have lots of vowels.  In the past she visited the Czech Republic and had difficulty pronouncing anything due to that languages lack of vowels, here the plethora of vowels cause her the same problem.  Tonight she was telling our neighbors from the Netherlands that they need to lend some of their vowels to the Czechs so both languages would be easier to pronounce.

A wood carving of St. Bavo.  He has the nicest cathedral in Ghent named after him.

June 16, 2019 Bruges BE

Bruges deserved a second day so after spending some time talking to our Dutch and English neighbors we headed into town to take a look at some other sites for the day.  We were hoping it would be a little less crowded than on Friday but if anything it was busier.

Market Square in Bruges with the crowds.

Our first stop was the oldest bar in Bruges dating back to the 1560’s.  One of the stories is that the famous Flemish painter Paul Reubens ran up a bar tab in the 1600’s that he did not have the cash to pay off, so he paid the bill with a painting.  Hopefully they kept the painting long enough as it would have paid off whatever tab he ran up plus a million Euro or so today.

The door to the oldest bar in Bruges that one time owned an original Reubens.

Something interesting happened as we walked to the bar.  It is not in the tourist core of Bruges, and after we got a few blocks past the square we were suddenly alone.  We were following a beautiful canal with really interesting buildings all around us, but hardly any tourists, just locals.  We really enjoyed this stretch of the city.

Another beautiful area in Bruges away from the tourist crush.

On Friday we passed on a canal boat tour because of the crowds, but today despite the crowds being worst we felt obliged to do it.  There were 40 seats on the boat and they were all filled.  Our boat driver was multi-lingual so he did the tour in 4 languages, English, Dutch, French, and Spanish so we had to pay attention for when our explanation was coming.  By this time we had walked all of the canals we went down a couple of times so we were familiar with the sites and the short explanation did not add much to our experience.

The crowded canals of Bruges.

Ton treated me to a fathers day meal of Flemish Mussels which are a delicacy around here.  After we started eating we realized that Delirium Brewery from Brussels had recently bought this place which was listed as one of the best restaurants and beer halls in town.

Enjoying my Belgian Mussels with a Delirium Beer.

At the end of the day we returned to Half Maan Brewery for a tour.  It is clear that lawyers are not the powerful force in Belgium that they are in the US.  Our tour had us climbing up and down ladders and very small stairs thru working industrial space.  At one point the tour guide let an 11 year old boy climb into a 500 liter beer tank, that would result in a fine from the safety inspector in the US.  The brewery has a 2 mile pipeline for beer from the brewery to their bottling plant in the industrial outskirts of Bruges which is the longest beer pipeline in the world.  The highlight was when we popped out on the roof of the brewery for a great view of the top of Bruges.  The tour ended with a nice glass of Belgian Blonde Ale, and some soccer discussion about the US women and Timbers with another couple from Portland who were also on the tour.  

Ton really liked the logo of the Half Maan Brewery.
The view of Bruges from the roof of Half Maan.
The storage tanks they let the boy climb into.

As we headed back we heard voices near François and it turns out our English and Dutch neighbors had also just returned and were exchanging stories of their day.  We joined in and an impromptu party broke out where some French wine, and Irish, and German beer was consumed.  That is why this is being published a day late.

As we were leaving the city we came on this sculpture of the flying horse Pegasus pulling a carriage.  We are not sure what the significance is of the naked women on the back.


June 17, 2019 Ypres BE

We only moved about 50 kilometers today to the town of Ypres.  I picked this stop because I was interested in a Commonwealth War Ceremony they have there every night.  

Walking to town we came across this very healthy looking sheep who winked at Ton.

Ypres was right on the front lines during WWI and was pretty much fought over for the entire war.  In total there were over 1 million casualties in what was called the Ypres Salient (bulge) with over 850,000 combined casualties in a 3 month period in 1917.  Ypres was also the first use of poison gas on the western front.  The entire town was leveled during the course of the war.

After the war the Belgian government rebuilt the city including duplicating the Cotton  Hall and belfry as well as the Cathedral as they stood before the war.  Both buildings are impressive sites today.

The reconstructed Cotton Hall and Belfry rebuilt after WWI.  The original building was rubble after the war.

While French and Belgian troops fought extensively in this area for the allies, a large contingent of British and Commonwealth soldiers fought here.  After the war the Belgian government reconstructed the Menin Gate into the city as a war memorial to the Commonwealth and British soldiers who were killed in this area but whose bodies were never properly identified.   The monument has over 50,000 names on it from all over the British Empire.  There are soldiers from Canada, Australia, India, Burma, and South Africa as well as Great Britain on the memorial.

You can see the endless lists of names on the wall, thru the door is a similar wall with more names, over 50,000 in total.

As a tribute to these men who were lost; every night the Fire Brigade in Ypres has a ceremony called “The Last Post”.  At 8pm buglers from the Fire Brigade play the Last Post (the British version of Taps.) inside the Menin Gate.  Tonight we attended the ceremony and it is very moving.  As we were waiting we heard people from Canada, Australia, and Britain talking about the ceremony and why they were attending.  It is a fairly simple but moving ceremony as different groups bring wreaths to present at the Gate.  Tonight it was school groups in their uniforms presenting the wreaths.  We were very impressed that this ceremony is still being carried out over 100 years after the end of WWI.  

June 18 2019 Westvleteren BE

Today we moved a whole 15km to a nice aire on a farm in the village of Westvlateren. It is a very small village known for St Sixtus Abby and Brewery.  The setting is beautiful but unfortunately they just cut the hay in the field next to the aire and Ton who has been fighting allergies this entire trip is really suffering.

Our impromptu goal for the day St. Sixtus Abby.

As we have been traveling around Belgium we have kept hearing about this mythical beer from Westvleteren.  When we were in Amsterdam we ran into an Australian who proudly mentioned he had found some bottles of it for sale in Brussels and was happy to get 3 of them for only €19 each.  When we moved to Bruges we also heard about this beer from some other people.  Ton began doing her research and it turns out it is considered by some beer connoisseurs to be the best beer in the world, and it was very difficult to buy it as you had to make an appointment and you were limited to 48 bottles at a time.  The problem is that the phone to call to make an appointment receives over 80,000 calls per day so it is very hit or miss whether you can get an appointment.  The monks are very concerned as their beer has been growing in popularity about people gouging others. They closely control distribution to minimize people inflating prices, but it is still happening like our Australian friend in Brussels discovered.  At the brewery the bottles sell for €4.

Liquid Gold.

We were still not planning to visit the brewery until last night when we decided to spend the day in the vicinity of Poperinge which is the biggest Hops producing town in Belgium.  When I began to look for a place to stay around Poperinge it turns out there is an aire close to the Westvleteren Abby.  Ton did some more research and found out that the monks did allow one cafe to sell their beer over the counter in the village, so here we are.

Hops were the reason we began the trip today.

We started the day by going to Poperinge to visit the hop museum.  It was an interesting presentation on hop production in the region.  It focused mostly on the farming of the hops and was full of equipment and detailed descriptions of how hop farming techniques had changed in the area thru history.  At the end it had examples of every Belgian Beer currently in production by region.  

To celebrate the end of the hop harvest locals burn straw men in the field and drink a lot of beer.

The next stop was the Westvleteren Cafe which along with the Abby is pretty much the entire town.  The aire was supposed to be 1km from the Abby but that turned out to be as the crow flies, so after a half hour walk around the fields between us and the abby we arrived hot and ready for a cold beer.  It took a while to be served as we have not quite mastered the way of getting a Belgian servers attention, but we finally put in our order for one of each of the 3 beers they produce here.  The first is a blonde, the second is a dark beer with 8% alcohol, and the reported best beer in the world is the dark beer with 12% alcohol.  They were all excellent, but our conclusion was that the dark 12 was indeed the best.

Two very happy people.

As we were leaving we stopped in their gift shop to pick up a memory of the trip, and discovered we could buy a six pack of the dark 12.  So as I am typing this I am happily sipping on one of the best beers in the world.

June 19, 2019 Kortrijk BE

We woke up to a pretty serious thunderstorm.  It had been raining off and on all night with a few gusts of wind strong enough to rock François back and forth.  Our neighbor had to get up and secure his bicycles and table to prevent them from blowing away.

The wheat next to our parking place showing the effects of the rain and the wind.

The neighbors were Belgian and we spent some time talking to them last night.  Neither spoke English fluently but they both could communicate to us.  The first question was where we were from as it was clear to them we were not French.  After we got that sorted out, we began to talk about traveling.  The wife volunteered that this was her first time in this part of Belgium.  Since Belgium is quite small we were a little surprised so Ton asked her where she was from, “Bruges”.  We both laughed as Bruges is about 40 miles from where we are today and she was probably in her late 60’s.  She thought about it for a minute and laughed too, saying she has been to Spain, France, and Indonesia but not to Westvleteren until today.  She made me laugh again later when we were heading back to François, I told them “See you later”, she replied “See you later alligator”, giggled and followed it with “after a while crocodile”.  I got a real kick out of that which she appreciated.

The Duchesse de Bourgogne, the purpose of our day today.

Today was the biggest day of our beer tour of Germany and Belgium.  Tons’ favorite beer in the world is Duchesse de Bourgogne by Verhaeghe Brewery.  Ton had been on their website and they only offered public tours on Friday and that would not work for us.  We decided to send them an email explaining our problem and asking if they could accommodate us in any way.  We were thrilled when they agreed to give us a private tour of the brewery today.  

Katrien our tour guide for today.  Yes we did try all of the beers in front of her.

We arrived at the brewery and met our guide for the day Katrien.  She sat us down and began the tour with a tasting of two of their beers that they only sell locally.  After that we were off for a walk around the brewery.  The brewery is family run for 4 generations and has survived two world wars.  In the first world war the owner of the brewery refused to brew for the Germans so they confiscated all of his beer making equipment to melt down to make guns.

As Katrine said we could have a good party with the contents of one of these barrels.

Their beer is all pre-sold so they are in the process of a significant expansion of the brewery to double their output.  We were shown both the historical old buildings and the new modern buildings that will make up the expansion.  Katrien did a great job explaining the process, and talking us thru each of the beers.  It was a great time and we have a fresh bottle of Duchess de Bourgogne to drink before we leave.

The twin watch towers over the River Leie in Kotrijk.

We finished the day in an aire in the town of Kortrijk which is a major town in the region.  We did not see as much of it as we wanted as it was raining pretty hard when we first arrived with occasional flashes of lightning. It finally calmed down enough for us to take a quick walk thru the town.  It has two World Heritage Sites, their town belfry which along with all of the other belfries in Flanders are grouped as a world heritage site, and the Beguinage of Courtrai which is a well preserved 13th century womens community.  It was run like a nunnery but the women did not take any religious vows.  It was still active as a womens community until the 1960’s.  

The interior of the Beguinage with the Cathdral tower in the background.
Another view from inside the Beguinage, the building in the middle is from the 1600’s while the buildings surrounding it are from the 1300’s.