Saturday, May 09, 2015

04/07 - 04/11 - Tour de Belgium, Part 2 of 3


This following report will give you an impression of day 2 and 3 of this trip.

The next stage started early in the morning. On one hand I had a tight schedule, on the other hand I woke up very early and didn't want to waste the time while lying around in bed. So I hit the road when it was still dark and reached the first stop of the day, the Lion's Mound, at the crack of dawn with the moon shining still over it.

The Lion's Mound is a large artificial hill located in Waterloo and raised on the battlefield of Waterloo, to commemorate the location where William II of the Netherlands, the Prince of Orange, was knocked from his horse by a musket ball to the shoulder during the battle. Its construction was ordered in 1820 by his father, King William I of the Netherlands, and completed in 1826.

As the opening of the doors was at 09.30 am, I continued without entering the ground itself and made my way in the direction of Roubaix.

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Lion's Mound

As a former cyclist the Vélodrome André Pétrieux is one of the must-visits on my list when being in that area. The well known velodrome where the riders will finish their trip through the "Hell of the North" after many kilometers across the cobblestones. This year the race took place on April 12, just when I was back at home.

Coming closer to the city I could saw already the signs for the race on Sunday while driving over the cobblestones in the convenient car... the riders suffered much more for sure.

On the way to Roubaix...

On the way to Roubaix...

The famous velodrome

The famous velodrome

Cobblestone at the entrance of the velodrome

Back to Belgium, direction Ypres, to spend some time at Tyne Cot Cemetery which is a memorial for the dead of the First World War in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defence and liberation of Belgium during the war. It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war. If I remember correctly it represents more than 14000 graves... it's really insane and can only repeat what one of my friends said after seeing some of the pictures: war is hell! I can't agree more.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Another memorial on my way up to the north was the De Engel Memorial, another French cemetery. Long rows of white crosses. Simple. But it's going under the skin.

De Engel Memorial

De Engel Memorial

De Engel Memorial

As I came closer to Westvleteren I crossed the Menin Gate Memorial, a war memorial in Ypres, dedicated to the 54896 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown, all their names are displayed in the stone. The area around the memorial is closed every evening at 8 pm for the Last Post.

Menin Gate Memorial

Menin Gate Memorial

One last stop before I arrived at the famous St. Sixtus abby in Westvleteren, but this place is very close to it, as is its beer. In the late 19th century anti-clericalism in France forced the Catsberg Abbey Community to move to the village of Watou in West Flanders, Belgium. The Refuge Notre Dame de St. Bernard was established, originally producing cheese to finance abbey activities. In 1934, it was decided to close the Belgian annex and return all monastic activities to France with Evarist Deconinck taking over the cheese factory. In 1945, the Trappist monastery St. Sixtus decided it would stop the sale of its beer and an agreement was reached whereby the monks would brew only beer for their own consumption but sell it to the public at the gates of the monastery and to a few taverns connected to the monastery. Deconinck brewed and sold the Trappist beers under license before a new contract was agreed in 1962. In 1992, the agreement came to an end because the Trappist Monasteries decided that Trappist beer could only be brewed inside the walls of a monastery. Since 1992 the beers brewed in Watou have been sold under the brand name St. Bernardus. The St. Bernardus range is considered a close match in recipe and style to the St. Sixtus beers.

In their brewery shop I was able to get some Magnum bottles, especially the vintage ones of the Abt 12 (which is very close to the Westvleteren 12) from 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Brewery St. Bernardus

Brewery St, Bernardus

Final stop. Cafe "In de Vrede". Next to St. Sixtus where the monks brew the holy grail of beer, the most famous beer of the world, at least among beer enthusiasts. It was voted "best beer of the world" a few years ago, not sure if it's the best but it's definitely very good. One thing is for sure: it's the beer which's hardest to get. You've to register during a defined time frame by phone for a maximum of two crates of their beer. It's just one line. One monk who picks up the phone. This monk registers the license plate of your car and agrees the pick-up time for your beer. If you come to early, you have to wait. If you came to late, bad luck. Try it again minimum 60 days later. Of course I tried to make a reservation... but forget it. The line was totally overloaded, I didn't have the ghost of a chance to reach that guy. Anyhow. I'd the chance to try there beers on tap, could pick up some single bottles - instead of a full crate - at the shop of the Cafe In de Vrede... better than nothing.

Cafe "In de Vrede"

Cafe "In de Vrede"

Abbey St. Sixtus

Abbey St. Sixtus

Punch Exquisitos from 1984, Bolivar Petit Corona from 1994. Two perfect cigars to smoke while enjoying a glass or two or three of the Westvleteren 12. Heaven on earth!

Westvleteren 12 and Punch Exquisitos from 1984

Westvleteren 12 and Bolivar Petit Corona from 1994

Luckily I still had some traveling fare with me, bread and dried sausages, together with the abbay cheese a perfect afternoon snack.

Westvleteren cheese

Hotel Hinterland was just around the corner, the place I stayed the night. A nice location with good equipped rooms and also a nice beer selection. I decided for a Liefman's Kriek (for the first half) and a St. Bernardus Abt 12 (for the second half) to go with the Cohiba Piramde Extra.

Hotel Hinterland

Hotel Hinterland

Liefman's Kriek and Cohiba Piramide Extra

St, Bernardus Abt 12 and Cohiba Piramide Extra

Day 3 started with an one hour ride to the American Cemetery Waregem. This is the smallest of 8 permanent American cemeteries commemorating the First World War in Europe. It is also the only one in Belgium. Some of the Americans wished that their loved ones remained in Europe. That is why in 1919 the American War Department commenced establishing permanent cemeteries: six in France, one in England and one in Belgium. Flanders Field American Cemetery has 368 graves.

American Cemetery Waregem

American Cemetery Waregem

From Waregem the route led to Roeselare, to the brewery of Rodenbach. Founded in 1821 it is now owned by Palm. Rodenbach is well known for their kind of sour beer which is also aged for two years in oak barrels. The barrel aging and the blending of old and young beers is the specific character of all the Rodenbach beers. The Classic is very refreshing on a hot day while the Grand Cru is the perfect beer to be enjoyed...

Brewery Rodenbach

Me in the cellar between thousands of Liters of Rodenbach

After a quick refreshment with those Rodenbachs I continued to Brugge where I met Christophe, a nice guy who's working in the family-owned cigar and beer shop just around the corner of Brugges most famous touristic spot. If you see it you know why it's called the Venice of the North.

He offered me one of the new Regional Edition for Benelux 2014, the Juan Lopez Don Juan. A very good smoke, especially considering the young age of this cigar. Needless to say that it was a good company for the Brugse Zot that I'd in my glass. Thx for a good time, mate! 

Juan Lopez Don Juan ER Benelux 2014 and Brugse Zot

Brugge's most famous view on the channel

Final destination of day 3, the city of Knokke where I made a stop, of course, at La Casa del Habano. I got a very warm welcome and enjoyed a Romeo y Julieta Celestiales Finos. It was a short stop because the weather was so nice that I didn't want to sit all afternoon inside. I left after finishing the cigar and strolled along the beach of Knokke, enjoying the nice weather and the sound of the waves and seagulls.

LCdH Knokke

Romeo y Julieta Celestiales Finos from 1995 at LCdH Knokke

I spent the the night in the Hotel Prins Boudewijn by recommendation of my friend Koen, had a good dinner at a restaurant around the corner and smoked a Bolivar Gold Medal from 2006 with a La Chouffe Bruin.

Hotel Prins Boudewijn

La Chouffe Bruin and Bolivar Gold Medal from 2006

Here you can find the other reports of that trip:

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