As part of our “Field Trip” series where New Orleanians chronicle their travels outside the city, we’re following Avenue Pub owner Polly Watts and her staff as they get up close and personal with some of the best beer in Belgium. In this installment, she’s turning the keyboard over to one of her collaborators, Trey Reinhardt (director portfolio development for Crescent Crown Distributing), for his early impressions on the trip so far.
BRUSSELS — I’d love to start out by telling the history of the St. Catherine area and its place in Europe, but most of the websites are written in some romance language that aren’t easily translated, so I won’t start there. But, I will tell you that it is a rich cultural neighborhood located in the middle of an unpredictable city with fascinating contradictions (OK, I stole that from a local hotel website).
So here goes the story of yesterday …
After dealing with the planes, trains and automobiles saga of international travel, we settled in, albeit luggage-less, mid-afternoon. The excitement of getting out and exploring was building among the group. It would be right to tell you that we freshened up, but we didn’t. Our travel-wearied asses got an unexpected phone call from Yvan de Baets, you may know him as the brewer and owner of a little brand called de La Senne. He delivered four cases of straight from the brewery beer to our house and threw in about a dozen glasses to go along with the care package. If this is the way Belgium is, it looks like my family will be moving here shortly.
So, after Angie and I filled the refrigerator, which is much smaller than mine in the U.S., and seeing that we forgot to leave room for food, even though they leave their eggs and milk out here, we left our home for the week and ventured right into the heart of the neighborhood. At the end of our block, our world opened up to the square leading up to the impressive Sint Katelijnrkerk Church. Pictures don’t tell the story, nor do I. It was an impressive presence in an impressive city.
At this point, all of us were starved and the satisfaction of a 6 a.m. yogurt on the plane was wearing off after nine hours. We found a cafe in the square that was picturesque and the quintessential Europe I had envisioned. We ordered marginal local beer and a spread of food, including mussels, rabbit, escargot and fresh cheeses. In retrospect, we should have backpacked the beer from Yvan and enjoyed something special. In spite of the beauty, I could only think back to the scene in “European Vacation” where Clark takes the family to eat at the cafe overlooking the Eiffel Tower and the chefs are in the kitchen pulling frozen dinners out of the boxes and serving them microwave-fresh. I don’t know, maybe the food was delicious because it’s Belgium and I was super-hungry, or maybe it wasn’t. Or maybe it was fun because Polly got locked in the restroom when she violently ripped the handle off in an attempt to rejoin the crew. Only after banging on the door, which in her mind seemed like hours, was she rescued by a young, handsome chef with a thick French accent and reunited with her travel companions who had hardly noticed the fact she was missing. But, it is Brussels and it is fun.
We continued thru the narrow streets until those cobblestone led to the Grand Place, which is the central square of Brussels. Awe-inspiring architecture and gold abounds on an area that dates back to the 12th century. Ok, I’ve never been to Europe, so there is something impressive about an 800-year-old market and town square, to me, it epitomizes what Europe is and what it should be.
Polly gathered the troops and guided us on a meandering walk thru the surrounding area to a place that she kept calling the “Mannequin Piss.” I’m getting older and maybe don’t hear as well and may have been distracted by buildings that dated to the Middle Ages, so I figured she was throwing one of those fancy Romance language terms around that didn’t have a meaning anything like the seventh-grade potty humor that I am so accustomed to in my world. I was wrong, or maybe right; we saw the statue that is called Manneken Pis, and apparently it is what I thought he was and apparently everyone goes and takes a picture and buys a shirt. He has stood there for nearly 400 years peeing into a fountain. Um, OK, I guess that is cultural Europe.
Lots of cheese and chocolate shops along the way, but I couldn’t stop because I forgot to exchange my U.S. dollars to Euros and the merchants here love giant credit-card minimums.
Dinner was a fun filled 4 top of elegantly prepared dishes and a bottle of You F#*K My Wine, lots of laughing and incredibly deliberate service.
Then everyone crashed. And crashed hard, and crashed in the clothes we had all been wearing for 40 hours.