Belgium: Day One

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.

On to Chelmsford

After another great breakfast at the Earl, we are headed out for Chelmsford.  The ‘Greater Anglia’ route runs back into London (Liverpool Street Station), then transfer to the Ipswich line.  Both trains are nice – fast & clean.   There is a member of the ‘Presentation Team’ (as it says on their jackets) that passes through the car every few minutes.  

Old friends Steve and Mara meet us at the hotel and guide us to the ‘Hop Shop’, Chelmsford’s CAMRA pub of the year and the city’s first ‘micro pub’.  Pretty much all local real ales.  Mara and I share a birthdate – she’s holding up much better than I!

Later, another good friend Shaun joins us after work and hauls us all to Maldon where Carol joins us for dinner and a crawl of the villages pubs.  Interesting changes to the beer scene since Mary and I were here a few years ago.  Micro Pubs are all the rage now – small, intimate settings in old village storefronts.  

Pics are: the Smith’s at the Hop, the Hop, the Queen’s birthday, the Woolpack.

Sunny day in Cambridge

An absolutely georgeous day in Cambridge.  Staying at the Earl of Derby was a good decision. Ryan and I both had the ‘Full English’ today – really special, and popular.  There’s been a steady stream of workers and locals stopping in to eat.  

Today was museum day.  The main reason we decided on Cambridge as a destination was to see the special exhibit at the Polar Institute in honor of the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s Endeaver expedition.  Very cool and my favorite stop.  The famous Scottish restaurant ‘Loch Fyne Seafood’ is located across from the Fitzwilliam and made for a nice lunch stop.   

Pubs, pubs, and pubs.   They are everywhere and uniformly good.  Fine selections of real ales & nice menus.  Most have pleasant garden areas that are quite popular on a sunny day like today.  Alas, we’ve exhausted the supply of CAMRA rated pubs so it’s time to move on.  Chelmsford in the morning.  

Pics are:  Elm Tree, Scotch Eggs, Polar Institute, Cambridge Blue

Some Culture!

Let me start by saying this: the Full English Breakfast is a wonderful way to start your day. There’s enough food to keep you going for quite some time.

After breakfast, we took a tour of several museums. The first stop was the Polar Museum, celebrating those who ventured to both poles in the name of discovery. The exhibit includes a lot of artifacts, and a lot of information on the crew, some of whose storied I’d not heard before. The exhibit includes a replica of a lifeboat Shakleton used, as well as a memorial to the various dog teams.

The Fitzwilliam Museum is worth seeing just for the architecture, but it had a number of interesting exhibits, including a special feature on Egyptian funerary customs entitled “Death on the Nile.” This is a museum I’d like to spend more time at on a future visit.

After lunch, we visited King’s College Chapel, a beautiful 500-year-old church. Once again, the architecture was amazing. The chapel includes a museum showing the construction of the edifice.

Our last stop was the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum. Although small, the collection was laid out very well, and offered insights on cultures from every corner of the planet.

The rest of the evening included a return to The Mill and a few new pubs: The Elm Tree, The Free Press, Cambridge Blue, Kensington Arms and Live and Let Live. Many of these are tucked away on side streets in generally nondescript buildings, making them feel like they are neighborhood secrets. But it was clear from the traffic we saw they were anything but.

A Series of Firsts

This was a series of firsts for me, chief among them my first transatlantic flight and my first time in Europe.

Getting from Heathrow to King’s Cross Station involved the London Underground. I was very surprised the Underground had no ‘stop request’ function that I could see. Pittsburgh’s light-rail system only stops at requested stations, or if someone is waiting on the platform.

After reaching our lodgings, the Earl of Derby in Cambridge, and having a pair of Old Speckled Hens at said pub, we began exploring the city. I’m struck at how beautiful it is here; a mix of old and new architecture and a mix of people. It’s also very easy to get around by walking.

We sampled several local pubs: the Flying Pig, the Castle Bar, the Mill, the Maypole and the Hopbine. The Castle is a more modern affair, with a mural of the London Underground, but with musicians standing in for the stations. The others are all intimate affairs, with cozy furniture and a closeness that adds to the ambience. I could easily visit any of them again — and I’m sure we will before we leave.


On to Cambridge

Travel (so far) doesn’t get much easier than this – except for the whole ‘red-eye’ flight thing.  The flight from Detroit landed at Heathrow over an hour early.  We topped off our ‘Oyster’ transit cards and picked up our mobile wifi unit (thanks for the suggestion Ed – works great!).  A painless Underground ride to King’s Cross station and 50 minute Great Northern ride later and we’re in Cambridge.

We’re staying at the Earl of Derby, a pub/B&B a short walk from the town center.  The Earl is tied to the ‘Greene King’ brewery and has a nice set of real ales on Ryan’s first pint was an ‘Old Speckled Hen’.    Good pick!

We took what was intended to be a short walk into town and ended up a recon of the city’s many CAMRA pubs:  the Flying Pig, the Mill (!), the  Hopbine,  and the Maypole.  Sleep came easy

Pics: Earl of Derby, punting on the Cam, Flying Pig pub   




Heading out

Our journey begins later today.  The limo service (provided by the lovely Ms. Smith) will drop us at Pittsburgh International for our flight to Heathrow via Detroit.  

Pics are: “Queen Victoria” pub in Maldon, Cantillon cask, Flanders welcome