Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Belgium Trip, Day 3: Still More Antwerp

Sunday we slept in a bit due to jet lag, grabbed some complementary breakfast and headed back downtown again. It had been drizzling on and off since Friday but it was still a manageable level of rainfall to handle while travelling by foot. Sunday…it really started to rain.We hit some of the Sunday morning flea markets and then ducked into the nearby Oud Arsenaal for some beers and some shelter. The Oud Arsenaal has been in business since 1924 and, like Quentin Mastijs, looks like very little has changed in the last 84 years. We grabbed some bench seating and checked out the menu. Not an enormous beer list but an impressively chosen one. But I ordered us bollekes of De Konninck to get started since Dave hadn’t had any yet. After that warm up, we delved deeper.

One of my objects during this trip was to get some Faro. This bar had Boon “Faro Pertotale” which was a faro mad eform half old lambic, half young lambic and sweetened with candy sugar. A true rarity, so I ordered a glass. Dave noticed that Rodenbach was the beer of the month and had never had it. Finding out that it was to be served with the traditional side of shrimp for no extra charge only sealed the decision.

The faro was tart and exhibited some light brett funk which was all softened a bit from the added sugar. The beer was quite still, nearly uncarbonated but offered a cider-like drinkability with a touch of finishing dryness. It was really good. The Rodenbach was Rodenbach, tart and acidic but refreshing and smooth at the same time.

And now a word about the privacy of Belgian toilets, especially in pubs and cafes. For men, there is little. Many times, the urinals are in plain site of either A) the women passing nearby to use the toilet or B) the other patrons sitting out in the bar. This is not to say that there is not at least partial obstruction but there are certainly many places where the doors to the WC remain wide open and the urinals are only partially obscured by the angle of the wall or a small half-door. It’s hard to explain but it’s certainly not the privacy of American standards!

Oud Arsenaal took this to extremes. The toilet was basically unisex. The toilets themselves are in tiny separate rooms within the larger restroom area, two are marked for ladies, one for men. But to get to the toilets what do you have to do? That’s right, walk right past the row of urinals! And that’s just what happened to me while I was downloading some urine. Three ladies walked right by toward the toilet. Startling wasn’t the word.

However, Oud Arsenaal was an inviting and cozy place, our server was quite helpful and friendly and outside of Kulminator, it may have been my favorite pub in Antwerp.

After a beer or three, the rain had let up so we headed further in toward the old city. Ducking in and out of shops, the rain had really started to soak us. So we ducked into a bar right next to the Cathedral called the Elfde Gebod (The Eleventh Commandment). This pub is filled with religious statues giving it the feel of an altar or the storage room for the nearby Cathedral. The roaring fireplace helped to take the chill out of our bones but we were looking for something to warm us from the inside too.

I ordered a Rochefort 10, a Trappist quadrupel that weighs in at 11% ABV. Boozy but lovely, it's a nice warmer on a dreary rainy day. Dave got another Trappist ale, the Westmalle Dubbel on draft.

Our server was a good guy named Kurt. He noticed what we were drinking and pointed out that St. Bernardus Tripel was available on draft. He brought us out a sample of the tripel so we could try it. That's a rarity where I live so I ordered the tripel next. Dave got the La Trappe Quadrupel, a beer from the Koningshoeven Trappist monastery in the Netherlands. Big malty beer at 10% alcohol.

After feeling considerably toasty, we thanked Kurt, he gave us his card for a new business venture called Belgium in a Box and we headed back out into the weather. I suggested that Dave needed to see Quentin Matsys so we took the three block walk.

Quentin Matsys was quite crowded this time around so we grabbed a couple seats at the bar. I ordered a De Koninck Tripel while Dave continued the high octane trip with a Kasteel Blond. Both were very good. Next we ordered a Gordon Finest Scotch Ale, mostly because we saw the amazing thistle glasses they served them in. But the ale was very good as well and gave us a rare chance to try a Belgian brewed Scotch ale.

We decided to move on and find some food since it was late afternoon but found we were not in any mood to keep fighting the rain. So we headed back to the hostel. On the way back I spotted a frituur so I doubled back and grabbed a couple orders of frites and brought them back to our room. We had frites and some Chimay Grand Cru cheese on crackers, washed it down with some Timmerman's Fruits de la Foret and some Lindemans Faro.

Antwerp had literally rained on our parade on Sunday but we were still able to get to three great pubs and make the best of a bad situation back at the room. We just tried our best to dry out our clothes, pack our bags and get ready for our drive out to Wallonie the next morning.

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