Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Day After Christmas

My sister's visit here is nearing its end. I wanted to make sure she had some really great pommes frites in Belgium before leaving. We decided to go to a tiny pub in Tongeren where the beers are unique, the staff are friendly, and the fries are great!

My sister and husband had Rochefort 10s and I ordered one of my new regulars, a Grimbergen. For our second rounds, the pub owner decided to make recommendations. He asked my sister, "What do you like? Sweet? Dark? A little bitter?"

"Dark beer, not bitter but not too sweet either," my sister replied.

He disappeared behind the counter for a few seconds and then popped his head up so he could gaze discerningly at my sister. Squinting and cocking his head to the side, he muttered, "Yes... hmm... for her, a dark beer."

He plucked a glass from the cabinet and expertly poured the new beer. My sister took a sip and said it was exactly what she liked. Satisfied, he turned to me. I began naming off my favorite Belgian beers. He interrupted and exclaimed, "Why wouldn't you have the best beer imaginable?!"

I said, "Yes! Of course that's what I want!"

St. Bernardus Abt 12- 10.5% alcohol content
I was not disappointed. After one more round of these stiff beers, we were having the greatest conversation of our lives! We ruminated philosophically over our pommes frites and curry ketchup. Three hours later and two sheets to the wind, we agreed it was time to make our way out of the pub. 

We said goodbye to a friendly couple seated next to us. We always meet nice people at this particular pub and they are usually curious about why we are there. It seems like most Belgians have been to California for some reason, so we talk about that for a while and then ask them to suggest places we should visit while we're living here. Our list is very long!

We mentioned to the bartender that we went to the O.B.E.R. Chrimstas beer festival. He seemed impressed and insisted that I put my email address on a mailing list for another association of beer lovers. I thought it was a great idea at the time but in retrospect I'm wondering how I'll ever read the email since it won't be written in English.

We made our way outside and walked toward the Saint Catherine Church, one of the oldest churches in Tongeren. It is breathtaking and this is the first time we've seen it at night.

After we finished our tour, we heard children laughing and other sounds of merriment. We followed the noise to an ice skating rink! I have never been ice skating and neither has my sister. There aren't too many frozen lakes in Florida. 

We stood at the gate and observed the skaters for a few moments and then I declared that we would do it! First we stopped in at one of the restaurants in the square to have a quick, delicious bite of mussels and croque monsieurs.

Fully sated and filled with lots of built-up courage to combat any bruises we might incur, we went back to the rink to rent skates. Having grown up skiing and ice skating, my husband is a winter sports pro. He carefully led us out onto the ice and gave us pointers. In no time, my sister was skating around like Dorothy Hamill. As she whizzed past me I yelled, "I thought you'd never done this!"

"I haven't! I guess I'm just a natural!" she replied, as she camel-spinned past me.

I eventually made my way around the rink three times without holding on to the edges and I considered that a very big success.

I can safely say that I never imagined myself spending the day after Christmas drinking beer at a bar in the oldest town in Belgium, and then ice skating in front of a church built in 1294. I still can't believe this is my life.


  1. There is always google translate for the emails. I have had to use it quite a bit since I got to GK earlier this month. What was the name of that pub in tongren? Sounds just like the place I have been looking for.

  2. It's called Cafe Rembrandt! Definitely try the fries.