http://blogs.sundaymercury.net/paul-flower/

Skull-splitters and pissing statues Belgium part 4

By Paul Flower on Nov 20, 10 10:44 AM

The train journey from Bruges to Brussels should've been somewhat subdued; thanks to our travelling companions it was not.

Occupying the seats in front of us was a woman whose lower left-leg was being held together by a metal frame and several pins. She seemed keen to talk to us, despite our probably dishevelled looks, our lack of French and the probable smell of beer emanating from our every pore.

Her six year old daughter was equally keen to chat away, though she was more easily able to dance up and down the carriage as she did so. It is not a scenario you could imagine happening in England at any time soon but I guess these differences are among the reasons to travel.

The precocious six year old was particularly taken with Lloyd for reasons that remain inexplicable, and though she shared her maltesers with us, Coop & Biss seemed unwilling to crash their pick n' mix. Her mother did claim half a can of my Leffe though.

On escaping the train and back into Brussels, more easily navigating the station this time, we stumbled into a side alley and a darkened 'goth' bar. The clientele and staff were largely dressed in black and the tables were glass-topped coffins.

IMG_3306.JPGIt seemed appropriate (if not entirely wise) to order a skull of kriek (cherry) and to try and mock the younger patrons. This fell slightly flat when I high-fived a teenager wearing a sex pistols shirt and then asked him to name the original punk track that was playing. I had not expected him to know The Dead Kennedy's Holiday In Cambodia. Score another 1 to the teenagers.

Meanwhile Coop was starting to lose the plot. He'd had hiccoughs for about ten minutes, failing to succumb to Biss's bizarre cure which involved drinking whilst putting your fingers in your ears. At one stage he took a lie down on one of the pews and was to leave us for the 'comfort' of the hotel when we left the bar. Sadly he also left his camera behind, never to be seen again. The first casualty was not to be the last.

With our numbers slimmed to four we found our next bar in an adjacent alley; if you asked me to find it again I might struggle. It seemed to be part of a theatre as the walls were decorated with puppets and puppet-sets. Our beer came in an unusual test tube/wooden frame if only to demonstrate a key fact about beer in Belgium - each different beer is accompanied by its own special glass, giant replicas of which can often be found adorning the bars and shelves around the pubs. The pictures dominating this blog should also prove that point. IMG_0890.JPG

The shape of the bar and its sprawling nature led it to have little atmosphere and we didn't linger long there. Heading back into the night we had ambitions to find our way back to Delirium but got waylaid by a cosy looking bar nestled beneath the old church. We found ourselves a round table in a corner and gathered around to drink many beers whilst engaging the locals in a few random conversations, the subject and content of which I can no longer remember. I do recall that we were there so long that they eventually asked us to leave - not due to bad behaviour (this time) but as they wanted to close up. It wasn't the first time we've hung around until closing time and it may not be the last.

Into the chill night air we ventured once again, thoughts of bed troubling our minds. Not troubling us enough to keep us out of a nearby bar of course. Biss retired, and then there were three.

The bar opposite the hotel was glass-fronted and looked like a café/restaurant, the lower level was compact though and we entered by walking through a collection of musicians all strumming away at the bottom end. Beers ordered I ventured upstairs to find a toilet - it was labelled 'out of order' but was unlocked and the only one available to me. I couldn't find the light-switch though and had to make best use of my other senses, most notably that of smell.

On leaving the toilet I was slightly confused by the singing coming from downstairs. It sounded a lot like Lloyd. It was Lloyd. TA continued to prop up the bar but Lloyd had clearly ingratiated himself into the musician's crowd, borrowed a guitar and joined in. I have no idea what the song was, not due to my inebriated state but because Lloyd was making it up on the spot.

His fellow musicians seemed to love it though, harmonising and playing along. We were utterly bemused and sought solace in our beers, whilst also making sure we took enough photos that we would remember the event - rather than waking up and thinking that we might have dreamt it. Not for the first time was singing able to make us popular in a Belgian bar, though this time it was probably more musical.

IMG_0885.JPGMorning came with a hangover and a random collection of unshaven blokes barely able to get themselves together and organised enough to go into town as a unit. Three left the hotel to search for coffee - Biss, Coop & me. Numerous texts (most of which you wouldn't want your mother to see) later we were unable to guide TA to us but found him in another bar not more than a hundred metres from where we'd been. Lloyd was still nowhere to be seen.

Biss had heard that there was a good pub opposite the mannekin pis, or should I say the ubiquitous mannekin pis. Wherever you go in Brussels the mannekin is there, he is on fridge magnets, bottle openers, and all manner of other tat. He is cast in chocolate or even nearby the statue itself in magnified form holding a waffle. The mannekin pis is a small boy pissing, cast in bronze and no-one really knows why.

He appears to be very popular though, on arrival at the statue it was surrounded by tourists and tour guides - many of the latter in national dress or fancy dress of some kind. On Saturday the mannekin was in one of his many costumes - apparently there are hundreds and they're regularly on show in the museum, not a show that I intend to see. The schedule of his costume change is posted in shops around the locality, probably so you can get to see him in all his finery, if you are so inclined. IMG_3336.JPG

There are two pubs opposite the mannekin pis, one was overflowing with tourists and tour guides - some of whom were playing the accordion and drums. I looked but I could not find my 'companions' within, I had somehow lost them again whilst looking at the statue - or more likely whilst deciding whether to buy a waffle. I wandered into the other pub but couldn't see them there either, they eventually had to come and find me. I am still embarrassed.

We settled into our afternoon session with comparative ease. The Poechenellekelder was a dark but welcoming place crowded with many odd novelty items - proper mannequins (dressed as soldiers), numerous press cuttings about the mannekin, even more photos of thedamn statue and beer crates bolted to the ceiling. They also had a seasonal menu featuring 22 - that is twenty two - Christmas beers.

This seemed like a challenge and we spent three sessions trying to get through all of them, most of which were conquered in that first afternoon. Indeed when we came to pay the bill (€85) the very helpful waiter asked if we'd specifically gone there for the Christmas beers. We hadn't, but they were a very interesting diversion. IMG_0897.JPG

The brightness of the late afternoon led to thoughts of buying presents for those we'd left behind. We headed in the general direction of the square but took a side street and wandered into yet another bar. The thought process behind this was that we might see some of the rugby or catch up on the football scores and although sitting with your laptop out is not exactly 'rock n' roll' we did manage to achieve this. It earned us some curious looks and the friendship of all the other pissed-Brits in there, amongst them a very drunken cockney consuming his first beers in Belgium (and maybe his last of the day). It's hard to be too critical, he was a nice guy and bought us all a round of sambuccas - yes, he was that drunk. In our company he was probably just out of his depth. I fear that his female-companion felt the same.

IMG_3347.JPGOn making our beer decisions in this pub it was a challenge, there are so many beers in Belgium - how do you decide? In this case we opted for the easy choice; buy the beer that is giving away free Santa hats with every purchase. Beers on the table, hats on the head, game over. The rest of the afternoon/early-evening may be something of a blur - we wandered around numerous chocolate and biscuit shops making ill advised purchases, as only the truly drunk can really do, and some of us were still wearing the hats. Clearly we were in a giving mood.

Earlier in the week, whilst wandering the streets exploring (or lost) we had come across a Vietnamese restaurant and this was to be our choice for the evening. Upon sitting down and trying to interpret the menu I discovered how tired I was - and dehydrated - starters were served for the others whilst I headed out into the night in search of energy drinks. Returning to the restaurant via Brussels' own cardboard city, we all tucked into meals the like of which we had not previously seen and may never see again. It may not have been the hottest meal I'd ever had, but it was greatly appreciated.

From the restaurant there was a three-way-split - Biss & Coop went back to the skull bar to ask about his camera, TA went back to the hotel to pick up an item of clothing and me & Lloyd paid up and waited for him. We didn't see him for another three hours.

Rendezvous point was the infamous Café Delirium to which me & Roly headed upon realising that TA would not be in a fit state to join us. We had agreed to meet in the bierkeller hall (the ground floor) as we had not been in there previously, so glass of kriek in hand we sat in a barrel and took in the atmosphere. Unbeknown to us Biss & Coop had gone upstairs as they thought it was too smoky (smoking is still allowed in some Belgian pubs), it took us twenty minutes to find this out. They were drinking upstairs, we were downstairs - it was turning into that kind of night. IMG_0903.JPG

One beer down, we all made the decision that the bar was 'too young' for us, the clientele being only barely old enough to consume alcohol and all of us being trainee Victor Meldrews. The only choice was to head back to Poechenellekelder and the Christmas beer menu. My first order was not as successful as I requested a beer that the barman re-informed me that they didn't have in, he also reminded me that he'd told me that earlier on. His memory was in a better state than mine.

We had communicated our whereabouts to Shane via numerous texts, not all of which were complimentary about his drinking ability or manhood. He ignored most of them and eventually rolled up sometime later to consume 4 x cokes in quick succession, followed by a coffee and water. He was not in a good way and whilst we were having thoughts of other hostelries, he was thinking only of bed - to which he departed swiftly after.

We undertook some more sightseeing in the dark and probably wandered into a few other pubs - including the nearby 'singing' bar from the night before. I don't remember what time we got back or how long we'd been out, the quantity of beer consumed really doesn't bear thinking about.

On our last morning we encountered some noisy boy-girl scouts in the square, performing some rituals which were too shrill for our hung-over state. We wandered aimlessly in the name of sightseeing before inevitably returning to Poechenellekelder for our final beers in the Belgian capital. This was another boys-trip coming to its inevitable close, in a bar of course.

We had a further argument at check-out with the incompetent hotel-staff who seemed incapable of cancelling the reservation/hold charges they'd put on our credit cards, and headed home - with a final leffe in the airport bar for good measure. Brussels is certainly recommended, if you like your beer - but maybe avoid the Hotel Astrid.
IMG_3283.JPG

Keep up to date

Sponsored Links