Tuesday, May 02, 2017

A One Man Belgian Pub Crawl

As I outlined here I put in an extra amount of Milito Magic™ into booking some free flights on Brussels Airlines to Europe then Africa. I rocked Etihad Airways so hard with my points jiu jitsu that they recently closed the loophole I used. Sad. The flights began at JFK though so I hopped on a quick Southwest flight to get into position.

Statue of Liberty so tiny!

LaGuardia was an even bigger mess as usual but at least this time there was evidence of construction. When it was time to Uber it over to JFK though things got weird. I had to take a shuttle to some temporary state fair-looking shanty village to wait for my pickup. There were airport employees barking instructions over megaphones like we were being evacuated or something.

The flight from New York to Brussels was pretty much torture. I had secured an aisle seat but the overweight African woman sitting next to me touched me pretty much every few minutes for the entire 7 hours of the flight. I got close to no sleep even though it was a red eye flight and was then of course obliterated when I arrived in Brussels. The things I do for chocolate.

I jammed this pillow between myself and my portly neighbor.

Hello Europe my old friend.

The drive from the airport to the city looked short on the map but it turns out that the capital of the European Union has a rush hour and I was honored to experience it.

I slept pretty much through the entire day and then emerged from my Courtyard Brussels EU cave to explore a bit. I wanted to meet up with a bar crawl that was starting in the Grand Place so I headed in that general direction.

Unfortunately it was raining so I think that maybe my precious only plan for the day had been canceled. Charmingly rather than have an employee show up to tell people or maybe post it on their Facebook page they just did not show. So I was left asking every little cluster of people in the area if they were the bar crawl. Pretty much every one of them responded the same way: “what’s a bar crawl?” "Well, it's where I beat you so severely you have to crawl to the nearest bar for help."

Well to hell with them. There’s still bars and I’m perfectly capable of moving betwixt them without guidance. My guide book singled out La Fleur en Papier Doré that used to be the hangout of the Brussels surrealist scene and serves local pub fare so I popped over there. The kitchen had closed 10 minutes before I arrived and the bartender had a low expectation that anywhere nearby would still be serving food so I gave up on eating altogether and had a beer. I started off with a kriek lambic, a nice little sour beer with cherry juice added.

A geuze is sort of like a kriek but without the cherry juice.

A few units of time measurement later and somehow I was embroiled in a deep conversation with Junior the bar owner on important topics such as World War 2, Belgium’s colonial past, and the name of Tintin’s dog in different languages(it’s Snowy in the English version). Belgium seems to be bonkers for Tintin so I watched an episode on the plane because I thought that I “had” to and it was funny how quickly that appeared in conversation with my first Belgian.

Junior was probably younger than me and his day job was music producer. Had a cool hair do, certainly dressed better than I do, likely smarter. Come to think of it I may hate this person. I was surprised that a young guy would own such a old style bar and he said he bartended there for years and just went for it when the place came up for sale. He’s married to some sort of NATO official which I thought was interesting. When I replied that I was going to Rwanda for neither business or pleasure he threw me a sideways glance like I was some CIA guy that was being secretive. It always just seems odd to say that I’m going to Sub-Saharan Africa on “vacation”. We talked about St. Louis a bit and I laughed when he kept pronouncing “Missouri” as “misery”. After I corrected him he continued saying it the wrong way, but now on purpose, which I approved of. He said he thought that the food in the US was better which I thought was mind-blowing.

They had what looked to be those creepy arrangements made out of dead relative's hair. The only other place I think I've seen these is in Louisiana and Junior confirmed that they were French so I guess that's the connection. The French apparently see a dead person and think "what a waste of hair".

The previously gruff bartender was also still on hand and now that me and the owner were chummy he warmed up pretty quickly. He told me his name was Tom then proudly added that he has the same initials as Tommy Hilfiger. Congrats?

At closing time my new bar owning friend gave me a shot of jenever, the locally produced proto-gin, on the house and then we both strolled out onto the damp Brussels street. An establishment a few doors down had a crowd of smokers out front so deep that I had to push past just to get in. La Porte Noire had a really cool arched brick ceiling cellar vibe that when combined with the long wooden tables made the place feel medieval.

I think it was around this point that I realized that no I really should eat once or twice each and every day, so I hit a McDonald’s that presented itself. I am contractually bound to order a Royale with Cheese in honor of Pulp Fiction at every chance that arises. I also watched The Founder on the plane which was the story of how Ray Kroc shafted the McDonald brothers and built an empire. I’m not sure that Ray would approve of the damn 75 cents I was charged for a single ketchup packet or that it cost 30 cents to use the friggin' bathroom. I'll get you for this, Europe!

I can only assume that once upon a time a Greek philosopher asked himself, in Belgium do hipsters work at McDonald's? Well the answer is yes.

My last stop of the night was Délirium Café which had a zillion beers on tap and was covered in brewery memorabilia.

Those booths that are made out of old copper beer tanks are awesome.

At some point along the line I got myself into a deep conversation concerning Frank Lloyd Wright with some Mexican architectural students. I assume they are writing glowing things about me in their own travel blogs at this very moment. Or snapping old man emojis at each other at the very least.

French can make even the crappiest things sound awesome. Photo booth? Crap. Photomatique? Oh hell yes!

Pubs, consider yourselves crawled.

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