Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Belgium Trip, Day 6 - Part 1: Morning in Gent

We arrived in Gent fairly early the next morning and headed for the center of town. We were too early for the bars, even in Belgium, so we headed to the St. Bavo Cathedral to see Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (which was fairly impressive).

After that, sufficient time had passed that some of the cafes had begum to open. We headed for one of the oldest and smallest cafés in town t’ Galgenhuisje. The bar claims to be housed in the former gallow’s house and was right on the Groentenmarkt…so I believe it and the building dates from the 16th century. I can imagine the gallowmaster conducting business here waiting for the next victim.

Two floors of bar are crammed into a very small footprint with a restaurant in the cellar (former holding cells for the condemned). Very rustic with old exposed timbers, witches hanging from the ceiling, some tin beer signs, paper money of all nationalities and denominations stapled to the walls behind the bar and Flemish phrases painted on the timbers. The house beer was thick and brown, served in a mug and sold for less than 3 Euro. It was a good way to start your Wednesday!

Most of the bars we wanted to hit weren’t going to open until afternoon so we wandered the streets of old Gent, dodging trams and crossing canals. (The city is gorgeous by the way…rivals Brugge as far as I’m concerned.)

We also visited Castle Gravensteen, an imposing and impressive Medieval castle and worthy of a visit if you care to spend some non-beery time in Gent.

After the castle, we headed back across the Leie River to Het Waterhuis, a café right on the river that had a good reputation for beer. It did not disappoint.

They offered three different house beers. I stuck with a hoppy blonde called Gandavum, Dave grabbed a tawny colored strong ale Klokke Roeland. Both were surprisingly excellent. The cafe was lots of brick and timber, old dusty glasses on a ledge above the bar, beer signs galore and false vines draped from the ceiling. Nice view of the river too.

But there was more! What should I spy on the chalkboard but Rodenbach Foederbier. Fantastic! I ordered one and the server asked me if I was sure I wanted one because this beer was very, very sour. I reaffirmed that, yes, this was the beer I desired. She warned me again about the extreme sourness and asked me if I was really sure about this choice.Again, I assured her that I had an idea what it would be like and said that I was prepared. A third time she tried to warn me…”Bring it on!” I said. I am guessing she has had to take this beer back from unsuspecting tourists in the past…

The Foederbier was amazing. Imagine the difference in degree of acetic sourness between Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru. Apply that same increase in intensity to the Grand Cru and you have an idea of what you get in the Foederbier. Sour and woody but after the initial shock to the tastebuds, refreshing and wickedly drinkable. Puckeringly sour but ultimately delicious. It may have been the best glass of beer I had in Belgium.

Dave ordered a Timmermans Lambicus Blanche, an unusual cross between the funk and sourness of a lambic and the spicy sweetness of a Belgian witbier. Very unique and very good in its own right.

Bellies full of beer, we moved on, first to the frittur for some frites and then more sightseeing. We killed some time at the Folklore Museum (more time than I wanted but sometimes you have to indulge your travel companion, right?) and waited for 16:00 to roll around when the next wave of bars would open up for us.

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