Monday, June 29, 2009

playing catch up EUROPE part 2

on the walk from poperinge to the westvleteren brewery

entering westvleteren

westvleteren 12 and hommelpaptart

on the road to helleketel

cafe helleketel - "the witches cauldron"

the sign outside Noel Cuvilier

wally singing elvis tunes at Wally's Farm

an antique horse drawn hop sprayer on wally's farm

The next part of our trip to Europe was one that I had arranged, since we were going to be nearby in France anyway.

I think my wife and I concur, that it turned out to be a great experience, and possible the best part of the trip.

From our hotel in Paris, we hopped on a bus with all of our luggage and went to the train station. From the train station we took high speed rail (200mph!) to Lille France, where we booked the next leg of the trip, on another train, to Kortrijk Belgium. From Kortrijk, we hopped one last train into the tiny town of Poperinge, our final destination.

One thing I was really impressed with while traveling was how much Europe seems to have embraced green technology compared to us in the US, even places like Portland, which has US street cred for sustainability. First, the intricate web of rail (including high speed) all over europe makes long distance mass transit a normal part of everyday life, and it's vastly superior to traveling by air; in most cases for the traveler, but in all cases when it comes to sustainability. Also, I noticed from the train that the parts of Europe I traveled in had lots of windfarms, a solar all over everything. Much more than I've seen here. I don't know if the routes the trains took showed me an exagerated view, but what I did see was impressive.

Anyway, once we arrived in Poperinge, we walked with all of our stuff to our hotel and checked in. From the hotel, we immediately hiked north to In de Vrede and the westvleteren brewery, the cause for our trip to such a remote part of Belgium. The walk was great, we walked through the edge of town, and then out into agricultural land, mostly used for growing hops! Eventually, we made our way out to In De Vrede, to drink the highest rated beer of all time. And it was that good. We also tried some delicious foods, including a hommelpaptart; a delicious piece of dessert, flavored with hops, and served with ice cream and whipped cream. Amazing! From In De Vrede, we returned to Poperinge the way we had come. The rest of the evening was spent near the hotel, trying more beers and eating the local foods. Great day. 8.9 miles.

The next day we checked out of our hotel and into another one down the street. After we were situated, we checked out a farmers market in the town square, had another beer or two and some food in a cafe there, and then headed west into the countryside once again. The first stop we made was Cafe Helleketel. A small pub in the middle of agricultural land. As far as the eye could see in all directions were hops and barley. We weren't sure if it was open, but the top portion of the heavy wooden door opened, and an older women beckoned us to come in. We did, and she closed (and locked!) the door behind us. The interior was old, and of stained wood and decades old portrayals of witches! We learned the Helleketel means the witch cauldron, and that our host was "the witch". Regardless, she was quite jolly, and took pride in serving us her house beers. From Helleketel, we made our way to the St. Bernardus brewery. The brewery was closed, as was the bed and breakfast they own next door, but the front door was unlocked, so we let ourselves in and helped ourselves to a free mini tour. The grounds were very beautiful, and I'd definitely consider staying there if we were to visit west flanders again. From St. Bernardus, we then walked to another bar, whose name I can't recall, then south over the border into France (a short cut!) and then east back into Belgium to Noel Cuvillier, a bottle shop I had read about online. What I didn't know was that the "bottle shop" was literally a barn on an active farm, that just happened to be full of beer. It was pretty surreal! We loaded up about 40 pounds of beer into my bag, and then hiked back out of the farm, into france and then back into belgium once again, before making our next stop; one that would prove to be the most interesting of the trip; Wally's Farm!

As with almost everything else we saw in the region, Wally's was surrounded by farmland, and infact, his own property was mostly agricultural (hops and barley). We walked down the driveway to his farmhouse, and were first greeted by rows of towering hops and a 15 foot tall replica of the statue of liberty. We walked down the hop rows, and over to the entrance to a large farm house. Every square inch of the inside was devoted to Elvis Presley! We ordered some beer and food and eventually Wally himself came out to work the crowd. Later, he took the stage and sang us 50's rock tunes. We tried to leave since we were still several miles from the hotel, it was getting dark, and we had all that beer to carry, but Wally insisted we stay and "let" him buy us beer so he could take us on a private tour of his hop museum later. As enticing as that was, we were still hesitant, but he promised to drive us home as well, so we couldn't refuse. I'm so glad we didn't. He bought us beers for the rest of the night, then showed us an amazing collection of hop growing artifacts that had been passed down through his family for over 100 years, and then as promised, drove us back to our hotel, safe and sound. What a great guy!

The next morning we were off to Munich.

20.75 miles
587.38 miles cumulative
23.4952 total gallons saved