Ken Gutberlet

1/26/2004 - Brussels


I took a pause from Copenhagen (Kbh) gigging for a few nites and went to Brussels. I had a scheduled Wed/Thu break and got Bryan Huddy to do Tue nite because I wanted to wander. When I found a reasonable airfare, I
thought, "Brussels . . . beer, chocolate, and me pretending to speak French- that's a threesome to keep me chuckling." I was light with the beer the preceding two nites, so I was easily able to be at the airport before 8 am. No bag to check, a quick two-nite beering session needed not much. A library-borrowed eight-year old Fodor's guide to Belgium gave enough info for me to find my way into town; in the airport, a quick browse of a more modern Lonely Planet tome revealed hostels in town for around 20 Euro (1 = $1.26)- there's the answer!

From EU country to EU country, with a US passport, customs is absent (showed my passport to the Kbh and Brsls ticket counters and to get on the going flight- no one cared who I was on the way home). Travel is quick. Bussed into town, past the well-barricaded EU headquarters (Brussels is the central city for the Union), stepped off at the end of the line . . . somewhere. My paltry Fodor's map revealed no location. So, into the adjacent train station for a clue- no map. Back outside, found an arrow pointing to the center and started walking. In about five mins, I had found a Metro map and realized that the bus left me off the map that I had. Well, at least I knew where I was and how to get to the tourist info. Enjoyed the saunter and fought the craving to hop into the first pub I encountered (when I booked my flight- the day before I left- I started salivating thinking about the tasty ales I'd encounter; it happened again on the bus ride into town; it's happening again now). 5-10 extra Celsius degrees makes a great difference (compared to Kbh). I found the tourist info in the Old Town's center and had them reserve me two nites at a hostel about a km away- I'd be sharing a room with someone and it had a 1:00 curfew. Dealable for 20 Euro a nite. Wandered off to unload some extra baggage, marveling at the never-witnessed by my eyes architecture, and simply enjoying the thrill of a new-to-me city. At the hostel, learned that I could't get into my room until after 16:00. No worries. Left leavables in the unlocked locker area and went out for a noonish beer.

Maybe 100 paces from the hostel, I dropped into the first pub I encountered. Prepped an itinerary over a couple custom-glass-filled ales. Mmm hmm! Off to the old town center . . . Enjoyed wandering thru unpopulated (what, no one holidees in Jan?) tourist spots. Had a few chocolates, a baguette sangich. I checked out the brewing museum in the Grand Place (the wonderfully architectured old town square). Yawn. The included half-pint of pils didn't cover up the distaste. Since the dude already knew I was a tool (for paying to go into the place) I didn't mind asking him stupid touron questions. His attitude rated: overall poor. I'll find what I need on my own, thanks. Off to do just that and I encountered one of Brussels famous sites- the Mannekin Pis. Yeah, it's a little dude taking a leak. It's hyped as a site to see, but it rivals Kbh's Little Mermaid in its "I made an effort to see this?" essence. I knew which intersection it inhabited because there was a Mannekin Pis pub beckoning. As I made my way past the final building before the corner, I turned and looked left and there it was some little dude filling a fountain. Ok. The dude was about the size of what I use to take a . . . well . . . let's just say that if a car ran over it, the passengers probably wouldn't notice anything. From the brief read I backgrounded before the encounter, a theory is that it symbolizes, from centuries past, the distaste of the Brussels population for the government. It symbolized my distaste for tourist hype- plenty of Mannekin Pis knick-knacks to be acquired. The pub on the opposite corner was way overpriced. I kept walking.

The beer signs hanging outside the pubs call like Odysseus' Sirens, and inside the chance to get wrecked is real. I found a street with several in a row. Prices acceptable, I spent most of the afternoon and evening on this street. The coziest pub had a beer-accompanying chocolate that the barkeep made. Mmm. Beer and chocolate. Mmmmmmm. Thank you St. Peter for the three-day pass! Friendly cat in the joint too- kitty preferred the stove exhaust to human contact. The final pub of my street tour ended up being coolly dungeonesque- La Porte Noire. Behind the bar, Nicola was the beer expert and Eric was the music expert. So, I drank recommended beers and gave em a CD for a possible gig. They gave me names of a few Irish pubs that also have live music. Thanks! Capacity had been reached and I did the late-nite out-of-focus lateral stroll back towards the hostel. Walking is good. Found a semi-late-nite kebap house and added other food groups besides beer and chocolate to the evening's diet. Funny that they put fries on the sandwich. Enjoyed it while sitting outside- much more temperate than Kbh- with a can of pils. Lined up some US gigs at the pay phone missing a glass door (no wonder it was noisy) and went back to the hostel.

Seems the hostel has a bar. Mmm hmM! Pour down a trippel at last call. Met a couple French florists-to-be who were interning for three weeks in town. They hoped that I spoke French. Let the beer talk . . . Yes, hostel life is quite a meeting chance. Jerry from Mexico and Bak from Japan made us the last five in the bar. By 1:30, the barkeep wanted us out. The locker area was locked (from 1:00 - 7:00) so I went to my room. I woke my rooming partner- he was Spanish was all the conversation we had. Stripped down to the least I could wear with a stranger in the room due to the Andalusian climate he had set. His alarm beeped at 7:00, I opted to skip breakfast and sweat thru a few more hours of recovery. I got out around 10:30. Checked locales of Irish pubs that were recommended. Off to find what I can find . . .

I spent my second mid-day pretty much just wandering. A chocolate-filled square croissant. Kriek lambic in a can. Time had come to feed and beer inside. Found a low-key joint hyping their lasagna maison. On the tube, Justine Henin-Hardenne won her match in two. Kicked back with some ales and had the local version of lasagna- it had noodles but I have no clue what kind of cheese and no marinara-type sauce. Delish! Caught the Metro to the general locale of a couple Irish pubs. I was ISO venues that have house sound. Found The Old Oak met that criterium. The pub's a regular spot for a musical acquaintance of mine- Daithi Rua, whom I met in Oslo a couple years ago. I chatted with the man in charge and he gave me Daithi's phone #- cool! Dropped off a CD and had an Irish ale (sorta sacreligious for a beer lover in Belgium?). With the afternoon still fresh, I metroed back to the old town and visited Celtica. Again, they had house sound. I gave a CD to the barkeep and she put it in the player. A dude down the bar heard the word "bile" and termed a poet. Chris the Irishman told me that I made his several days with the tunes. Very flattering. He bought me a beer and wondered when I'd be gigging at Celtica. We'll see . . .

Chatted with Daithi but he was in Ghent for the evening- maybe an airport rendezvous the following day. Back on the prowl for local beer . . . I found more chocolate. Revisited the cat-inhabited pub for more chocolate and beer. Back to La Porte Noire for some new brews. Terry, the boss, was in the house. He learned who I was and offered me a gig. Sure! KG drinks thru Brussels pt. 2 happens at the end of May! Details to follow, since many brain cells were pre-occupied at the time. Stumbled out and tried another scenic route for the lateral stroll back up the hill to the hostel. Tho it was just past 23:00, I found no open shops for some food. Even the kebap house I visited the night before was garage door down. Fortunately, I had three chocolates that I had saved. Mmm hmM! To the hostel bar and slowly enjoyed another trippel. The bar was much quieter on Wed nite. Mexican Jerry was the only person I'd previously encountered. At close, I met Andre, Kiwi, who would take about eight straight tight ping pong games from me. Yes, well, I was certainly handicapped. The brandy and cola that an Indian dude shared didn't help much. Seems he's got a wife and kid in India and is working on two more families in old communist states. Wants to spread his lineage- spreading something . . . It came time to lie down but my room card wouldn't allow access into my room, so I made a pause-out place out of a bench of metal chairs. Hat over the face and all the ales made a comfy bedding. I conscious-ized with the bustle of 7:00- what, people are here for business and conferences?- and took advantage of the included "continental" breakfast. Good hot chocolate! After retrieving my goods from the accessible locker room, it was off to Waterloo.

My afternoon flight allowed little dawdling (times may not be exact)- a 20' train ride; a 10' walk; an hour + in the Wellington House; 20' wait at the bus stop; 10' bus ride; 10' walk; 10' in the Panorama painting; 30' film and model viewing; 3' climb up the 200-some steps to Le Lion monument; 10' breezy vistaing; 2' descent to ground level; 10' walk; 15' wait at bus stop; 5' bus ride; 10' wait for train (including a salade americain baguette- not exactly sure of the salad's ingredients, but tasty); 20' train ride; to Gare Midi with three hours til flight departure. So, of course, I've gotta wander. First, I called Daithi and there would be no rendezvous this time. Too bad. Next, more chocolates (train station prices!). Then, a wander around the seedy part of town. Found internet access and learned that the TERPS! lost to the Dookies. Sad. Spent more time roaming than planned and hurried back to La Gare to catch the next train to the airport (no bag to check meant speedy processing and still had time to wait). I showed my passport to get my e-ticket, but never had to show it to get thru security or on the plane. Intriguing . . . Back to the familiar Kbh.