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Friday, February 27, 2004
arrival: MSP-AMS-Philly-Utrecht

reporting LIVE from the beautiful lobby of Hostel Strowis in Utrecht, NL!  & hey, it was quite a haul to get here.  delays for all departures (Minneapolis, Philidelphia) --  but of course the dalay OUT of Philly was not announced until AFTER I had dashed thru the terminal under the delusion that I had only 40 minutes to make the connection.  in reality, it came out to be more like 2 hours.

it's chilly here; dusting of snow in the rural areas but still quite beautiful in the quintessentially Dutch kinda way.  had a leisurely commute out from the airport because I miraculously managed to actually be HUNGERY after clearing customs, so ate some un-namable jetlagged meal at the airport.  my eating schedule is usually the first casulty of jetlag, and, traditionally, the last to heal.  so that's really cool, albeit also kinda a petty personal detail.  probably helped that I managed to snooze my proverbial kiester off on both flights over....

I also had the good fortune to meet up with groups of first-time euro travelers in both airports during delays, in both instances headed for Amsterdam.  so we had plenty to talk about (or at least I did) to while away the hours across an overpriced beer or two.

and, it's clear that my opinions had a concrete impact -- the two chaps I met in the MSP airport were here to greet me in the Hostel Strowis lobby when I arrived here!  so I guess we'll be slumming around Utrecht for a couple of days together.  in standard 1st timer fashion (no offense here mind you; I've made the same mistakes!)  these chaps didn't manage to get much sleep on the plane, so they're upstaairs sleeping it off.  they were lookin' pretty glazed over when I arrived.  but hopefully I'll be able to drag them down to Cafe Belgie for a few beers later on.

in the intervening time, I completed the traditional post-arrival provisioning mission to the neighborhood Albert Hijn -- I'd call it the HyVee of Holland, but the quality here is so much better that the comparision really doesn't capture the experience.   think of something with the ubiquity of HyVee but the John's-style comittment to locally produced artisanal quality.  jong gouda & port salut & petites bagettes & frozen pizza for a cheap dinner later on.  ready to roll. 

tip of the day: always carry at least one spare carabeeneer & ample cash in the form of
small change.

corallary to tip of the day:  always give your dad his Euros back after your school demonstrations (you know who you are, kid!!)

'till next -- proost!!   Eric

Posted at 05:04 pm by jg_eric
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Saturday, February 28, 2004
free day in Utrecht

sat feb 28 dawns relatively warm & sunny. occasional dusting of snow thru the sunlight gives an enchanted ambiance to the city.  the building in which I'm curently websurfing has arrowslits in its towers.  how cool & unnatural a juxtaposition is that, eh?!?!

today's been budgeted mostly for jet lag recovery, but I've managed that well enough that I don't really have much of that to do, so I'm wandering around Utrecht finding out what there is to find out & doing a few miscellaneous errands....  Dutch language immersion seems to be a key element of this visit.  my Nederlands has gotten good enough that people actually respond to my Dutch with more Dutch.  thus, my most frequently used phrase has become nog een keer, austublieft, mijn Nederlands is niet nog zo goed =  (phonetically) nokch ayn care, austoobleeft, mine nederlands is neet nokch zo kchood = (en Engls) once again, please, my Dutch isn't that good yet.

I have found that I'm even beginning to mumble to myself in Dutch, a sure sign of internalizing a foreign language when the foreign word for something comes into one's mind before the English equivalant.  nonetheless, I'm also amazed at the level of complexity that working in a foreign toungue adds to things -- something as simple as buying chapstick requires levels of explanation.  I also find it very intriging that the world seems to be throwing a much larger proportion of non-English speakers at me thus far on this trip.  might be one of those times when life throws precisely what is needed, for no apparent reason.

so that's today thus far; not very beery I admit, but it is only 1.30 PM as of this writing, so there might be space & time for things to get beery-er later on, so I'll append as necessary.  I did successfully drag my mates (Brad & Dave) from the MSP airport meeting down to Cafe Belgia last evening & we were treated to a wide cornucopia of beers.  I did actually write out our beer lists, but the bar staff kept taking them in the course of processing our orders, so I don't actually have them to refer to.  I'll try not to fall into that trap again, but can definitively say that the list included Wickse Witte, Kasteel Bruin, both the Bruin & Triple from Gouden Carolus (= KCHOU-den kar-OH-lus; they really do not know what you're asking for if pronounced  in an Anglicized fashion!), and the Quad from La Trappe.  oh & La Chouffe van de fust (= on tap!) & I'm sure I'm missing a couple.  Dave pretty much set me on a mission to convert Brad from BudLite-ism; I felt I was wildly sucessful in regrds to that.  all said, fun was definitely had.

ok, time to log off here & head back for the streets of Utrecht -- proost & tot ziens (= cheers & see ya 'round)  -- Eric, John's Grocery Belgian Beer disciple

epilogue: whoa, what an exhausting afternoon traipsing around Utrecht attempting to find a few stupid little things that I've found or already misplaced!!  I forgot what a pain it can be to try to get anything beyond simple groceries (or an entire new wardrobe!!) in some of the euro cities.  despite my burgeoning dislike of huge USA megamarts, I gotta confess that I do by bits here miss the concept of one-stop shopping.  in adddition to my routine frustration at this process (I hate shopping even when it goes well!!), when the sun came out full-blown this afternoon the streets were so packed with thronging crowds that even the bikes couldn't get thru at anything faster than a pedestrian pace.  it was so congested that it took me more than 5 hrs to do one errand & buy 3 minor personal items (which means the 4th item is still on my to-do list, yuk!) & fairly briefly update this blog.  so I'm pretty fried & recovering from the sensation of urban clostrophobic angst (crowds don't always affect me that way, especially the incredibly polite European crowds, but it wore at me today a bit...).  I think I'll cower in the most peaceful & relatively vacant hostel commons here for a bit & listen to the groovey Celtic tunes which constitute my current soundtrack...








Posted at 02:00 pm by jg_eric
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Monday, March 01, 2004
Utrecht -> Brugge

yesterday was a travelday, so I missed blogging, which means that lotsa water has flowed under the proverbial bridge since we last talked, fellow voyagers....

whilst cowering in the hostel following my last post in my errand-fried evening after the streets of Utrecht, a most incredibly & unlikely & delightful thing happed to me!!! I struck up a coversation with a 20-something lass in the hostel commons, who said she was "in retail" -- I of course asked what TYPE of retail & she responded that she was a specialty beer retailer from Calgary BC & I must admit I lead her on a bit untill she had elaborated about how she lead tastings & set up events & did beer promotion and the such...

at which point I confessed to her "well, this is gonna be hard to believe, but I have exactly the same job!"

after I retrieved her jaw from the floor with a spatula, went spent another 5 or 6 hours talking shop and comparing notes & drinking a few beers. ends up that she had spent 6 months in europe on a two-month leave & is also addicted to international travel as much as I am. DELIGHTFUL surprise to spend such a serendipitous evening with such an articulate & informed colleague!!

====

did a fair amount of net research figuring out routing options on light rail to get to brugge, but when I got to the treinstation in Utrecht Centraal, they sent me on an entirely differt trajectory. I had bad feelings about it, but I know the routes well enough that it they weren't REALLY bad feelings. (Yes Doug, we do now have a current NS discount card for the trip in May to cover at least the first 45 travelers; took care of that detail (in Dutch) whilst ticketing for Brugge). thus I ended up with a longer & more circuitous route than I would have taken, but did get to Brugge at the end of a very long day with at least one unecessary train change. wienied out & took a taxi to Hostel Bauhaus (my usual Brugge hangout) & turned out that the only reason I could not get reservations for Bauhaus online was because they were changing their booking engine, so I was glad that I had checked there in person first & not gone to the alt hostel which I had reserved online.

details.... details....

had a pleasant eveing in the Bauhaus pub with Westmalle Tripple at E2,50 from the bar & really some of the best un-greasiest pizza I've ever had on this planet -- they just make great bloody pizza!! -- & the interesting conversation & company of staff & fellow travelers....

====

chillin' morning today ramped up to extreme international frustration as I attempted to return the cellphone I purchased here on my previous visit. to make a long story short, no individual nor individual cellphone shop is big enough to argue with the corporate giants which set policy, so I'm playing cellphone roulette & will either be lucky enough to get a refurbished phone back from their service dept when I get back to Brugge next week, or will hafta pick the damned thing up when I get back to Europe with the May Tour.... YUCK!!!

rewarded myself for a long hour of cellphone frustration & screaming at cellphone shop manager with a Quintine Hercule across the square at Dickies, as per pg. 254 in Tim Webb's BE/NL Beerguide. It's still the nectar of the gods, so burn some incense, light some candles, & I'll keep working on brewer Phillippe Gerard at Quintine to start sending this stuff back to the USA next time I see him!!

after my reward, I figured I oughta hit a web cafe to get some real work done, so spent best part of another good hour trying to find the web cafe in the bottom of St John's Hospital. I've always gotten way turned around by this city (as have others who have accompanied me -- Roy, where are ya when I need ya?!?!?), and this was no exception as my brain timed out on trying to find this place & ended up with a couple of visiting Brits at Bruges Beertje for a pint or 3: new Pillarbijter from Petrus, trusty Abbot 12 from Bernardus (I actually think it mellows a bit with aged & might prefer our stock above the fresh stuff over here), and Gouden (sigh...) Carolus, which I just simply have a letch for. finally made it back to the hostel before the internet here closed down at least, which is why you, dear reader, are currently consuming this edition.

=====

tommorrow dawns another travel day. the next 4-day paradigm is to stay in a smaller city outside of Brussels to slash costs, yet whilst being within commuting distance of all the Brussels atttractions. this is a new groove for me, and I have no idea what www access will be like, so hopefully I will be continuing to blog during that time. if nothing else, I'll at least be able to get some www access from my friend Nassar's beerwinkle during the days while I'm in Brussels.

gotta close down; internet facility here is closing. hope y'all are well back in the homeland.

goede kans & tot ziens! (= good luck & see ya soon) & oh, p.s., yes, life is continuing to throw Dutch conversations into my lap at a really enbaffling rate -- Eric, one of the several www.johnsgrocery.com beer gurus




Posted at 08:49 pm by jg_eric
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Thursday, March 04, 2004
yes Utrecht to Ninove

hoi bloggers, was difficult jouney to Ninove frm Brugges, but mostly becuse I lost a credit card in Brugge that I had to backtrack fo to pickup & then fact that repairinbg my cellphone in brugge was not at alleasy at all either -- now in Ninove; just a quick commute from BRU centraal at a fractiopn of the price; so exlent te de makken -- hope to seey'all soon --proost -- Eric

Posted at 07:52 pm by jg_eric
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Friday, March 05, 2004
Ninove, BRU, Herren von Liederkerke

hoi fellow travelers; it's been a while I fear... traveling AND blogging is not always the easiest to accomplish, but I have a bit of time here in rural Ninove to catch you up.

Brugge to Ninove was dappled by the aforementioned forgotten credit card problem, but was also very kind in that I did actually find some time to explore the wee-recommended old city of Ghent. with a little luck & kindly advice from the tourist bureau, I was able to find Het Waterhius an de Bierkant (the waterhouse on the beerside) without a great deal of difficulty, as per recommendation in Webb. They're now up to a consistant listing of around 150 verschilende sorten bieren, and what an amazing list it is! all the Belgian trappists, at least 1/2 sour browns (e.g. Duchesse & relatives), an entire page of BE strong ambers / quads & on & on. I treated myself to a Chouffe Triple which I had not previously had, my what a treat!! all in a very gezellig (cozy/homey, loosely translated) canalside atmosphere... but then, it was in the paying process for this treat that I discovered my missing credit card & hence was forced to stop wallowing in Nirvana.

this discover had the dual effect of both cutting short my afternoon in Ghent as well as making my travel day quite long; I didn't get into Ninove until around 10PM & was quite fried for it.

following this bizzare day of travel between Brugges & Ninove, I've settled in very nicely here. xlent space in a rural family home -- a bit more distant perhaps from public transit than I would like, but very affordable & with congenial transportation by the monsieur here. I got into Brusseuls for an excellent meeting with Nassar of www.beermania.be and Jean-Claude of Medecins du Monde to hand over the cheque from our Bam Earthquake Benefit at Devotay in late January. we did not, unfortunately, get the local media's attention with it, which Nassar explained in terms of timing & politics -- Bam earthquake being relatively old new & euro forces not wanting to mention Americans doing anything good at the moment. we will have some photos featured on the Medcins du Monde website, at least.

and it was of course excellent to hang out with Nassar for the afternoon, as it always is. it's very likely that his shop will serve as our first site for international staff exchanges, as he's made it quite clear that he'd appreciate my assistance.

yeszterday was a snipperdag -- a day of relative lethargy between busier period -- for me. I did get into the village for fast internet acess for a little bit, but library did not open until 2PM & thus I did not have a much time, as my ride home was leaving at 3.00. then I had a chill evening studying Duthc a.k.a. watching bad TV with subtitles while my hosts here were out visiting a sick friend in the hospital.

today dawns grey, drear, warm, and mellow -- a good start for an afternoon to be filled with a beerlunch at a pub (Herren von Liederkerke) most highly recommended at an international level which happens to be jsut a handful of km from where I currently type, followed by a benefit fest for the preservation of artisinal lambic brewing this evening, also nearby. with any luck, USA beernerds Chuck & Craig will materialize during the course of events.

so I must be off & exploring... 'till next, as possible, Eric

Posted at 12:01 pm by jg_eric
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Monday, March 08, 2004
Zythos, crown jewel of beerfests!!!

a blur of a weekend, starting with Grote Dorste (great thirst) Lambic benefit on Friday nite, followed by Zythos fest on Sat & Sun -- almost 50 different breweries represented, each pouring at least 3-4 beers --  well, you do the math!!  and all with an entourage of world-class beer experts to discuss it.

if you EVER get a chance to do this fest (already sched'd for 1st weekend march 2005 -- mark your calendar!!!)....

DO IT!!

gotta relinquish computer for my colleague; hope to blog more later today -- travel well!!

Eric

.... epilogue ....

ended up hooking up with fellow USA beertravelers Chuck & Craig folllowing a most enjoyable lunch at Herren van Leiderkerke.  unfortunately, thier biggest emphasis on beer cuisine revolves more around dinner, so I did not get the experience in it's full beerful glory, but the place has class written all over it -- except for the pricetag, which is very afordable.  highly recommended, even if it is a bit of a pain to get there (or perhaps BECAUSE it is a bit of a pain to get there?  only clients are locals & global beer travelers...).  there was, for example, a group of Japanese beertravelers there, who I would later meet the the ZBFest proper, LOL!

I hooked into the rental car hired by my fellow travelers & we managed to navigate our way to the tiny pub named "Tegen de Groote Dorst" -- roughly translated as "cure for the great thirst" -- where I unfortunately discovered -- after extensive trials -- that I simply am not that keen on the lambik & geuze styles.  but I did give it my best effort, as nothing else was being served.  I was of course happy to be there with good international beernerd company & supporting the good fight to save traditional brewing culture.  I was lucky enought to see old friends & make new ones & hang out with some industry greats (... resisting the urge to drop names as that would just be rude).

(to be continued.....)

Posted at 12:45 pm by jg_eric
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Saturday, March 13, 2004
endgame: Brugge reprise->Utrecht->MSP->home

one very weary traveler reporting safe from home....

catch-up day monday in Antwerp; helped Chuck write an article on ZBF to show up in next issue of All About Beer mag.  probably good to do it co-operatively as he had a  very short deadline & it was an exellent example of the "2 heads better than one" principal, esp as we were both & each rather half-wits that day following the weekend festivities...

from there, twas off to Brugge to catch up with friends Mario & Nadia, who had just returned from a month in India.  what a group!  got in too late to do anything profound Monday evening; Mario was too jetlagged to get together on Tues; ended up finally hooking up for brunch on Wed, picked up our extra friend Allen from Ghent, and drove up to Utrecht for a beer or three.  a good reprise was had by all, as the Eric-Mario-Allen fellowship was initially created a couple of trips ago to do brewery tours at Quintine/Ellezelles & Binche.  nice flashback; didn't get into Utrecht tho 'till like 10pm & so was pretty unsuccessful at getting a decent night's sleep for early wakeup call on wed.

glad to report that I did NOT have to go screamin' thru Schiphol with all my luggage this time (as per the finale of my last trip). 

it was however a damned long haul to drage back here from Brugge!!  figure by CST time, I travellled pretty much straight-on from around 7AM wed until pulling in the drive here around 17.30Fri evening.  yarsh....  with that ** lovely** drive down from MSP to top it offf **NOT!!**

more details will emerge when I can type a straight line, hopefully... proost! & travel well!!

Eric

Posted at 01:00 am by jg_eric
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