Europe On Two Wheels: Belgium

I am embarking on a bicycle tour around Europe this summer, visiting old friends and discovering new cultures. Why by bicycle? Well…why not? I always enjoy becoming a part of my surroundings in a new place and getting off the beaten path. Plus I’ve been missing a good bike ride and biking let’s you easily explore the entire city, not just the area you’re staying in. Nowhere is off limits except for busy highways.
I found a very cheap ticket for only $240 from Delhi to Brussels (if you’re not already using Skyscanner for flights you’re missing out), hopped on a few flights, and then huzzah! I was in continental Europe finally for the first time in my life!

Arriving in Brussels the aftermath of the airport and metro terrorist bombings was abundantly evident. Military men armed with rifles stood guard throughout the city. But this didn’t prevent me from getting pick pocketed in the busy metro station a few days later…damnit. Now I could really use one of those famous Belgian beers.

Belgium. A land of delicious beer, chocolate, and waffles. Three things that are universally loved. I gave up homebrewing beer when I started my travels years ago. It’s one of the biggest trade offs that I’ve missed. Tinkering with different combinations of grains, malt, and hops. Patiently waiting for months and then popping open a bottle or tapping a quarter keg and relishing (or disappointedly grimacing) that first sip. Brewing beer is complicated yet simple at the same time. You never know quite exactly how a new batch is going to turn out.

Established breweries on the other hand have their tried and true recipes, and no country boasts the quality of beer that the Belgians do. My first beer in Europe may have been one of the best: La Chouffe. After seldom drinking beer in India, which is limited to a choice of three very light beers, the liquid inside the bottle with the little elf tasted like ambrosia for the gods. You have to watch out in Belgium for the alcohol content, they know how to make strong beer taste good. Trippels are very common, like from the Trappiste brewery or Duvel. A variety of glasses in all shapes and sizes align the walls of small pubs as each beer has specific glassware in which it is served. You won’t find a Leffe being served in a glass with a Juliper logo or vice verse, and there are some crazy looking glasses and mugs out there that are supposed to enhance the taste of the corresponding beer. You can enter a grocery store and select any beer from the shelves and be assured that it will be quality, no matter the price. There’s no Coors Light or Milwuakee’s Best here in the land of good beer!

I spent much of my days wandering about the streets of Brussels, admiring the old architecture of buildings like La Grand Place. And eating thick Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream and speculoos in the plaza outside of the aforementioned buildings. My friend Omnia, who I met years earlier during a Thai massage training, graciously put me up for the week and showed me around the city.

I was a bit surprised at how difficult it was to communicate at times as many Belgians spoke only French or Flemish (very similar to Dutch). And my French is limited to ‘Je ne se pa parle tres bien francaise‘ and a few other phrases. But I managed to get by with a game I like to call, ‘Guess what the hell Chris is trying to act out’, a version of charades with no rules, only a self imposed time limit when I was getting nowhere fast.

From Brussels I took the train to Antwerp to pick up a second hand bike I’d found online and stayed at my new mate Djoreem’s place.

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When helping to clear out a relative’s estate he discovered many bottles of wine dating back all the way to the 1920’s, worth a small fortune. Here’s hoping my luck during this trip will be as good as Djoreem’s was!

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