Last Journey For Belgian Beers

I woke up somewhere barely north of Paris ten days before my flight from Germany to New York City. I was off in the bush, hidden away in my sleeping bag, just some spot I’d found the night before after taking the metro as far out of Paris as I could finagle.

Belgium was my destination, I figured Brussels again and then on to my main and last objective, to try the last of the Trappist beers I hadn’t yet tried, Westvleteren. Trappist essentially means brewed by monks at a monastery. There’s seven in the world, six of which are in Belgium (one in the Netherlands) and Westvleteren was the one that was difficult to come across. This was because they didn’t distribute, even withing Belgium, you simply had to go to the monastery itself to try it, or know someone who had a bottle. And actually, to get any bottles off the property, you had to call ahead, be one of the first, then arrive on a specific date driving the car with license plate you’d previously given them and let them call your phone to prove it was the same number. We’re talking about beer here, this is serious stuff, I needed to get a glass or two.

So on to Brussels, for starters. Walking and getting back to the freeway, I managed a ride from a guy driving a convertible, a salesman, buzzing up the freeway feeling happy as could be. From the gas station where he dropped me off I was picked up by a couple Moroccan guys who took me right into Brussels.

I found my way to Kasey’s house, this resulted in two or three days of the Belgium I’d become familiar with in the last months - grocery store beer runs, three or four languages being spoke amongst roommates and friends, late night biking to beer cafes, corner store beer grabs with samosas and geeking out coding in all the in betweens.

The day came for me to go to Gent, another city in Belgium to the west. I easily hitched a ride from a Bulgarian guy and girl straight there and close to the house of the guy who was hosting me. He wasn’t there, but a couple other guys were and I introduced myself. I then went on my own to town, returning with a belly full of fries (which I was told was something to be had in Belgium, they didn’t suck) and several bottles of beer. I was in the home stretch here, the last of my Euros were going towards beers I hadn’t tried and anything else said to be awesome.

I met Max too when I stumbled in juggling bottles, he lived there and was my host. He did a bit of dumpster diving and had some questionable Brussels sprouts, the question was answered with “good to go”, we feasted on those with pasta and the beers I’d come back with talking into the night.

The next day I wanted to see Brugge, it wasn’t very far away. I hitched one ride from a girl with her two kids, then another ride from another girl who dropped me off in the tick of things. This city was beautiful. The buildings were massive pieces of art, there was a gigantic pedestrian square where people crossed in all directions.

 I found a huge wall of beers accompanied by a nearby store, a beer museum of sorts, they had it all, I marveled in it. I walked all around, taking in the city. When I finally decided to return to Gent, I got picked up by a couple guys with their dog who were interested in my travels and excited to tell me more about the area. They were heading to Gent themselves, so drove me around a bit telling me about the history.

Once there, they offered to walk me around a bit, so we cruised around looking at castles and things, then they took me to a cafe for a beer and we swapped some more stories. I parted ways with them, heading back to Max’s house. I tried an ATM on the way, but it laughed at me. Seemed I was down to a few precious Euros to get me through the last several European days, and I still had some important beers to buy, it seemed that may be the only thing left I could buy.

Back at Max’s place he was having some friends over. He had some more dumpster food, games of chess and strange booze to be had. They laughed at my sign, “Westvleteren”, but that was my morning’s destination, the brewery/monastery. I was liking Belgium, everything was fairly close.

In the morning I took a walk towards the freeway, depositing some bottles on the way so I’d have enough to get a couple glasses of beer once I hitchhiked to this brewery, I was truly down to about nothing, food would have to appear through travel magic or just wait until America.

An absolutely beautiful girl gave me a ride just a little ways, then a trucker gave me a ride getting me through the thick of city related road nonsense, then came a ride from a guy who hesitated before pulling over, later admitting, “I’ve never picked up a lifter before”. I got a short ride from a woman as I was now getting out into the country, then an even shorter (one kilometer) ride from an old man. I simply had to walk from there, no more cars, I was walking through farmland country roads.

After the long walk, I’d made it, Westvleteren. I triumphantly marched up to the cafe attached to the monastery, no one batted an eye as I came through, it had been a day already and I felt like the Frodo dude from Lord Of The Rings. I was alone in this thought.

I got to my own table outside and order their number 8. It came in a goblet, as do all Belgian beers, head foamy and beautiful, the heavens parted, God was elated, my nose a blaze and my taste buds followed suit in pure bliss. I was the world and the world was me, we were all beer converging with the taste buds of fate in the symphony that rang out on one note that scientists refer to as “The Big Bang”, these are the good times.

I had enough for another beer after that, another universe was created. After that I was down to just a couple Euros, not enough for a beer, but I was fine, I’d gotten what I’d come for, life was sweet.

I weaved my way out of the land of beer in a blissful unknowing state of mind - a short ride from a mother daughter, a ride from another mother going to pick her daughter up, then a guy in a van delivering parts. That guy got me back towards a road I could understand, he even gave me a few Euros, ensuring I’d have enough for at least another meal or two to get though my final European days.

From there a guy picked me up with his silent girlfriend getting me up the road further still, then lastly I got a ride in a roundabout from a guy who did house restorations who took me just about exactly back to Max’s apartment in Gent.

I headed back to the apartment, talking with some of Max’s guests, took one last walk around Gent while the sun still shined, then smoked and eased into the night with Max and company until sleep overtook. The morning would bring the final hitch in the continent, off to Dusseldorf for just a couple more days before a plane would drag me back to the land I was born in. I’d had my share of beer, my share of good times, I could wake up and hitch happy, knowing all was well, and maybe get just a few more kicks before splitting.

September 27, 2011 to August 3, 2011