As part of our “Field Trip” series, 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. Here’s her first entry.
It’s been one helluva 48 hours. As the owner of the Avenue Pub, I’ll say I have a bit of paranoia now about traveling to Belgium. There is always a lost money or baggage. On this trip, we had three flight changes, and the last one happened today at JFK Airport. The upshot was that Delta lost everyone’s bags today — everyone except bartenders Alfred Flanigan and Ed Overbu, who arrived in Europe and visited Vienna, Munch and Prague over the previous two weeks.
Brussels is, of course, still recovering from the terrible terrorist attack this past March. We personally knew two people who were either in the train station or the airport during the bombings. I expected to find a city and an airport on edge. Anyone who flew after 9/11 remembers the tension in all forms of traveling that was present for months after. In this instance, we found pleasant and helpful Belgian workers who were happy to see us. We had custom officers who gave us beer excursion tips and expressed horror at the idea that Duvel was not on our itinerary. I’m pretty convinced that had I not agreed to go to a grocery while in town and purchase the new Duvel dry hopped mix pack that she wouldn’t have let me into the country! Seriously, she went on about it for five minutes.
Another staff member was asked detailed questions about where we would be traveling while here. When she said Cantillon & de la Senne, he (with great flourish) stamped her passport. I did not get a stamp, perhaps because my customs agent didn’t trust me to buy the Duvel six-pack. Now, there were lots of semi-automatics (firearms). But even the camouflage guys with the big guns shooed us away from the entrance with a smile.
Once out of the airport, we rented a car. Now I haven’t driven a stick shift in over 10 years, much less in a city with narrow streets and traffic laws that don’t seem to resemble anything I grew up with. Just getting out f the airport security area was maze of skinny streets that resembled an Escher drawing.
Three in our group had planned to travel to Amsterdam. In another comedy of errors, both Belgian and Netherlands train workers went on strike today and for tomorrow. Alternately. They couldn’t agree on which day to go on strike. Bartenders Kat Touchstone, Gary Stergiades and Emily Eagan rented a car. Once in Amsterdam one was promptly relieved of wallet and passport.
Since none of us are going to let a silly thing like clothes and transportation ruin our trip, we are renting cars when we need to, deciphering GPS coordinates that send us down streets that are closed from the terrorist attack, and wearing each other’s clothes. I will be wearing Alfred’s clothes tonight. Don’t be surprised if you see me in Ed’s PBR shirt while visiting Cantillon.