Europe 2010 Travel Log — The Days of Beer & Wine
Following London, Sarah and I went on a strict detox diet to recover from three days of strong meat pies and weak British beers. Sadly, it lasted but a few days, because by Thursday night we were embarking on a four day drinking event the likes of which are unrivaled in my short time on this planet. From one of Holland’s first pubs to carry international beers, to the outlandishly wide-ranging wine tasting, and with stop to a Trappist Brewery in between, it was truly the days of beer and wine.
On Friday Sarah, her father, and I were scheduled to move the last of Sarah’s possessions out of her old apartment in Eschede to her new place in Hilversum. To make the logistics of all that work a bit better, we took the train to Sarah’s father’s place on Thursday night. Even out in the far reaches of Utrecht, the train stations are hyper-modern.
We had long planned to head out to an old stomping ground of Sarah’s father, and as we had this particular evening free, it seemed like a good opportunity. What I didn’t know is the bar was just down the street from Sarah’s father’s childhood home.
The bar was an understated affair, a few tables, some stools, tap list on a chalk board, and white sheets of paper tapped above the bar listing out the bottles. According to Sarah’s father, the bar once serve a wide selection of international beers, but these days they specialize in Belgians…and good word do they ever specialize. For whatever reason, I decided today would be the day I really came to understand what a Belgian Tripel was supposed to taste like. Recently I distributed a number of bottles of a home brewed Belgian Tripel to friends and family for Christmas, but hadn’t really experienced much professionally produced tripel. Presented with such variety at Jan Primus, I figured narrowing down to just the tripels would make the night go easier… which I suppose is one way to characterize what happened next…
And not pictured here, because frankly I was too drunk to remember to document, is a cherry sour beer that Sarah and her dad ordered, but that I ended up finishing. But look! Apparently I was drunk enough that I took a photo of myself in the bathroom.
We then went back home, thanks to the steadfast “BOB”-ing by Sarah’s father (which I’m told is the Dutch term used to for “designated driver”). Once home, Sarah’s father and I enjoyed a glass of whiskey. Suffice to say, I was as drunk as I can ever remember and didn’t have the sort of restful night’s sleep one hopes for leading up to a move.
Return to Enschede
I woke up with a horrendous hangover. We went to Enschede, loaded stuff into a van, drove back to Hilversum, had food at a truck stop, and I felt beyond miserable the entire time.
After finally shaking the hangover, we added Sarah’s father’s partner to our party and headed off for a celebratory dinner of rijsttafel. You should have two questions now: (1) celebrating what? (2) rijsttafel what?
Either that Friday, or the Thursday just before, marked Sarah’s halfway point through her fieldwork. She left San Francisco on October 14, 2009 and is scheduled to return to San Francisco on October 14, 2010… and this day was to celebrate six months in (or out) of this important professional right of passage. She seems to be doing well so far!
As for rijsttafel, it’s a Dutch word for Rice Table, a communal Indonesian dinning experience popular here in Holland. I’m afraid I have no photos of our particular dinning experience, but it was quite lovely. The four of us went to a restaurant located in Utrecht recommended by Sarah’s father. The general idea is you get lots of little dishes of Indonesian food including vegetables, meats, fruits, nuts, and even eggs. I had it once before in Amsterdam two years earlier and it was so good I insisted we have it again. I think I’ll have to make sure to get it on any subsequent trip. I do wonder why you can’t find this stuff anywhere in the States. Oh, and you might have one more question, the answer to which is: no, I did not have anything to drink beyond 7-UP.
The next morning we headed south to the La Trappe monastery and brewery, the only Trappist Brewery in the Netherlands and one of seven in the whole world. But before we could enjoy the beer, we had to get there… which proved more complicated than originally anticipated on account of ramp closures.
Thankfully the trouble was absolutely worth it. Not only was the location quite lovely, with a big cathedral, extensive monastery grounds, and a well appointed tasting room, but it was easily the warmest day in Holland since my arrival. We were able to enjoy our entire meal outside, without coats, and even got a bit of color for our trouble.
Given the strength of Trappist beers, we stuck to the tasting glasses for the first two rounds to learn what we liked best.
After which we selected some of our favorites and graduated to the big people glasses.
Sarah finished off the luncheon with a curious last drink, which was about exactly what you’d expect it to taste like…
One cannot take a tour of the facilities unless you’ve prearranged for one, which was okay because we still had to make it down to Belgium. Before leaving we stopped in to the gift shop for some items to shower upon my more beer-favoring friends and then snapped a few photos of the grounds that were accessible without a tour.
Between the good food (I had bitterballen!), great beer, and amazing weather, it was a most splendid afternoon.
Further Southwards to Brussels
Next we drove south into Belgium and the capital city not only of the country but of the European Union itself: Brussels. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t time to visit the governmental sites like we did in London, which turned out for the best because the batteries on the camera died early on in our walk through the city center and I had forgotten to pack replacements. But that didn’t prevent me from taking the most pivotal photo of all.
I took a number of random photographs of other buildings, but I couldn’t really tell you what any of them were. I posted my favorites on flickr or you can see the whole set on my gallery site. I think, perhaps, the one most worth pointing out is one of the central train station.
After wandering a bit we settled on a delightful mussels restaurant and each had a hardy pot full of flavored deliciousness. Could very well be the best mussels I’ve ever had… I would need to go back and try some of the other varieties to be sure! After dinner we packed up for the long drive home.
The Wine Tasting
The last indulgence of the weekend was an invitation only wine tasting in Bussum on Sunday. Sarah and I have been to a few wine tastings in California since we moved there, but nothing compared to what we found here. Not only was there no cost to get in — except having connections in the right places — but the entire operation was self-pour. None of this “only have a little bit of each, measured out by a dude” business here… no, sir.
If you liked something, you poured yourself another taste to be damn well sure…. Want to get the commentary of a fellow attendee, make sure to resample with them…. Think you should buy a bottle, take another taste first…. Of my favorite wines I’m sure I got near to a full glass worth. Spread around the tables were copious amounts of cheese, olives, and bread, as well as strawberries and chocolate covered coffee beans for the dessert wines. Oh… and did I mention there were some 80 different wines open there?
It was amazing, just amazing. And much of the wine was really good. I especially enjoyed trying several different takes on the same grape, as you don’t normally get to do that at a wine tasting since they tend to carry only one winery. In the end, the dessert wines won first prize for me, and I purchased several bottles — don’t worry, they aren’t all dessert bottles — to bring back to the States for distribution to those who appreciate a good wine.
We wrapped the weekend up with an Iranian home cooked meal back at Sarah’s father’s house called Abgoosht. Wow, was it ever good! As a fan of mashed potatoes and of lamb, this was sort of a marriage made in heaven. They told me it was Iranian trucker food! Maybe I’m living in the wrong country…or at least, working in the wrong profession?
Other than a few odds and ends during the week, this catches us back up to our trip to Paris, for which we leave tomorrow!