The first half of our last full day in London was spent at the London and South East Brewing Competition and Festival at the U Brew in Bermondsey, where Dad judged and I was a steward. It was very interesting seeing everything involved; the judges I helped were very attentive and deliberate, and I was able to learn a lot from them.
Afterwards, we caught up with Alex, whom we had met during the Belgian portion of our trip. He took us to several breweries in Bermondsey, which were mostly housed in the arches under the rail bridges. Small but intimate places, and understandably very busy on a Saturday. We visited Southwark, Andspach & Hobday and Brew by Numbers, before returning to U Brew, where Weird Beard Brew Company had done a tap takeover.
We finished up the evening with pints at Shipwrights Arms, The Barrow Boy and Banker (where we also had dinner), The Doric Arch, Crown & Anchor and Mabel’s Tavern. It was back to the hotel after that, to rest and get ready for the flight home.
The day started with a trip to Earl’s Court to see one of the few remaining police boxes in the wild (I’m a Doctor Who fan, this had to be done). Afterwards, we headed to the Churchill Arms, a cozy pub decorated with artifacts of the former Prime Minister and Britain in general. One room featured pictures of U.S. Presidents and bedpans hanging from the ceiling (I will leave it to my readers to decide if these are connected). The pub served Thai food, and very good food at that.
Our travels took us to the Science Museum, where we saw exhibits on space and communication technology.
We then took in the Victoria and Albert Museum, keeping our focus on European history. Two galleries were entirely of plaster casts of other artifacts, including a life-sized cast of Michelangelo’s David.
Our last museum trip was to the Natural History Museum, solely to see the dinosaurs. I liked how the exhibit mounted the dinosaurs close to the ceiling, to take advantage on the floor space for more information displays.
The evening finished with pints at The Admiralty, The Harp, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and The Lamb. The crowds made it next to impossible to get food, but a local restaurant was able to provide adequate sustenance.
Continue reading “More Museums”
After breakfast, we paid a visit to the Tate Modern gallery, which, as its name implies, showcases modern art. Pieces by Picasso, Dalí and even Warhol can be found here. My favorite was Babel 2001, a massive tower of radios each tuned to a different station, creating a cacophony reminiscent of its Biblical namesake.
After lunch at the Prince William Henry, we vidited the Imperial War Museum. My favorite exhibit there was on World War I, not only because it showed the conflict from the perspective of soldier and civilian alike, but because it offered a view from a country that had been in the conflict from the beginning, rather than joining later as the United States did.
We them walked along the Thames, getting our views of the Houses of Parliament, the Elizabeth Tower (which holds Big Ben, the bell), Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.
I had intended to step into the National Gallery to buy a birthday gift, but the gallery was closing and I had picked the wrong shop of several in the building. I did, however, get the chance to see Trafalgar Square, with all its hustle and bustle around Nelson’s Column.
After a pint at the Craft Beer Company, we headed to Foyle’s Bookstore, where Dad checked out Ray’s Jazz and I was able to find the gift I wanted.
After dinner at the Argyll Arms, we headed back to the hotel for an early night.
After breakfast, we made our way to the Tower of London. Sitting on the north bank of the Thames, the Tower has served many purposes, including fort, royal residence and prison. Our excellent tour guide was a Yeoman Warder (commonly nicknamed Beefeaters), who showed us the moat, several streets and towers before ending at the chapel where several nobles are buried, sans heads in most cases.
While there, we also saw the Crown Jewels, a wonderful exhibition of armor and foreign gifts, and a small area displaying implements of torture.
Lunch followed at the Hung, Drawn and Quartered, possibly the best pub name in existence. We then headed to Tower Bridge for its Exhibition, which included short films on its construction and footage shot in the 1890s. We also walked along the top walkways; both had a section in which the floor was replaced with glass, so you could see down to the deck and water. I am not in any way ashamed to admit I walked around that section. The Exhibition also featured a tour of the bridge’s engine rooms.
We headed to Borough Market, just south of London Bridge. The market has just about any foodstuff one could imagine, tucked away among various arches and overpasses.
After a pint at the Rake, we walked along the south bank of the Thames, pausing to snap a picture of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We headed north on the Millennium Bridge and made our way to Euston, stopping for a half-pint at the Swan along the way. We met our friend Shaun at the Euston Tap, then went for Indian food. After a couple more pints at the Hope and Jerusalem Tavern, we parted company and returned to the hotel for a nice rest. Continue reading “To the Tower!”
After an excellent breakfast at The Plough in Chelmsford, we visited the Chelmsford Cathedral. Centuries old, the cathedral was beautiful and serene; an organist played during our visit as well. The cathedral grounds were well-manicured and featured some well-worn gravestones as well.
We then hopped on the train to London, where we decided to take in the British Museum (after a quick pint at the Museum Tavern across the road). The Museum is massive; no one could expect to do everything in one day, so we opted for the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and early European areas. Two particular highlights for me were seeing the Rosetta Stone and artifacts from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
Dinner followed at the Resting Hare, followed by pints at the Lord John Russell, Marquis Cornwallis, Friend at Hand and the Princess Louise.
The Princess Louise was interesting because it had been built with many two- or three-person compartments around the bar, closed off by doors; they were very similar to tiny opera boxes. This was apparently so the upper class could have a drink in the same bar as the lower class, but not have to interact with them. And at the Cornwallis, I particularly enjoyed a painting of a Revolutionary War battle, but with lightsabers and the Death Star in the sky. I had no idea we Americans were the Sith.
The last day of the Belgian tour started with a trip to Dranken Geers in Oostakker. The beer warehouse advertises itself as the best in Belgium, and I’m inclined to agree. The selection and prices were both incredible. I did not pick up anything, however; there are limits to what I can carry with me on the plane, and I would have been too overwhelmed with the selection to decide, most likely. Most others on the tour did not have the same issues, and many bought several cases to take back with them.
Our last brewery stop was to Microbrouwerij Urthel in Ruiselede, where Hildegard the brewer and her husband, Bas, ply their trade. Bas made sure to personally greet everyone as they came off the bus, and then made sure we all got a beer right away, which made for an intersting experience drinking a pint on a porch in a rainstorm.
The brewing space at Urthel is only about 120 square meters, but they accomplish a lot in that space. Bas even instructed us on how to make vinegar out of less-than-desired beer.
We then went to the couple’s restaurent, De Hoppeschuur in Knesselare, where Hildegard is also the chef. The food was excellent, as were the beers we sampled, with one beer being paired with our chosen dish. We also got to try some liqueur distilled from one of the stronger beers.
Due to time constraints, we were not able to have a final beer at Grote Markt in Veurne. We headed back through the Channel Tunnel and disembarked in Chelmsford. A couple more pints and a meal at The Woolpack and it was off to our hotel, where we ready ourselves for London tomorrow.
A myriad of weather Sunday: sunshine, clouds, rain and sleet all made an appearance during the third biennial Rondje Roodbruin, or Red-Brown Beer Tour. Four breweries known for their traditional Flemish Red-Brown beers opened their doors for tours.
The first stop was Brouwerij Rodenbach in Roeselare for a private tour. We got to see all phases of the process, and wandered through a small forest of oak barrels used to age the product.
Another private tour followed at De Brabandere Brouwerij in Harelbeke. The brewery is perhaps best known for Petrus, including Aged Pale, Aged Red and Oud Bruin. The tasting was unusual in that we were allowed to create our own blends of the three if we so chose.
After lunch at Track 75, an old railway station in Harelbeke, we visited the Verhaeghe brewery in Vichte, perhaps best known for the Flanders red ale Duchesse de Bourgogne, followed by the Omer Vander Ghinste brewery in Bellergem. Both tours were more open houses than guided affairs, but were still enjoyable.
After out return to Aalst, many of us went to the Ambarosa beer café, which the owner agreed to keep open to accommodate us. The beer selection was wonderful, as was the cheese and charcuterie plate we enjoyed before heading back for a good night’s sleep.
I find Belgium very interesting, in that it reminds me a lot of where I grew up in northwest Indiana, with its generally flat land and smaller communities. I’m also taken by the ancient brick dwellings side-by-side with modern abodes. There are also a lot of Chinese restaurants, which may require further investigation on a future visit.
Saturday was the least structured day, but one of the busiest. We visited the Volkscafé De Cam in Gooik. Although none of their own beers were available at the time, the café did have several lambics for our perusal. The lambic blending is done across the yard, and the brewer appeared towards the end of our visit and sold some bottles out of his car, which several in the group bought.
Then it was on to Belgium’s national beer festival, Zythos. Held at the Brabanthal outside Leuven, the festival has more than 80 brewers and more than 500 beers. A modest sum gets one a glass and 5 tokens; most beers cost one token, although barleywines and other heavier products can cost two. Additional tokens can be bought at any time, and CAMRA members such as myself get an additinal two tokens for free.
I sampled many of the offerings and enjoyed everything I tried. The food, which for me was currywurst and frites, was quite good as well. This is a festival that absolutely drawfs my local events, and is definitely an opportunity not to be missed.
Friday started with a visit to the Lambic Visitors Centre in Beersel. The museum featured a film that explained lambic brewing and blending, followed by a guided tour with the director. The process is an absolutely fascinating one; it takes about four years for lambic to be ready. Afterwards, we sampled several lambics in the bar.
Our next stop was the nearby Den Herberg café and brewery in Buizingen to try their beers. The blonde, amber and tripel were all quite delicious.
Lunch was at the Café-Restaurant 3 Fonteinen in Beersel. In addition to an excellent Flemish beef stew, I was able to try the Beersel Blonde and the Oude Geuze, and enjoyed both very much.
Oud Beersel was our next stop, for a tour and tasting at the geuze blender. I found it interesting contrasting the aged look of the blending and barrel rooms with the modern design of both tap rooms.
The night finished with a visit to the biannual lambic festival known as The Night of the Great Thirst, held this year in Itterbeek. A large tent held Belgium’s lambic producers, as well as a few others such as Allahash Brewing in Maine offering similar products. The group was able to try several, thanks to bottle-sharing.
It was a late return, but we were able to find a restaurant and get something to eat before turning in.
Podge’s Beer Tour has begun! After an early start and a trip through the Channel Tunnel, we found ourselves at the Mulenhof Café in Oostvleteren. The café is a beautiful old building with a giant windmill outside and beer-themed décor inside. I had a lovely meal of tajine with pork cheeks and chicken wings, followed by the Black Albert Sabayon, a whipped dessert consisting of egg and Black Albert beer.
Our next stop was the De Struise Brouwerij barrel room, where the brewer explained the workings of barrel-aging and lambics, followed by tastings of a couple beers.
We then went to Ichtegem to visit Brouwerij Strubbe, passed down from father to son for seven generations. The brewer focused more on history than technique, but it was still a fascinating talk. Again, tasting commenced, and I heartily recommend trying Ichtegem’s Grand Cru if you can find it.
We then reached Aalst, our home base for the tour. A lovely tapas restaurant called Tapasco provided dinner and another beer, followed by a last round in the hotel bar. The town square was fairly quiet, but I expect that will change with the weekend coming up.