Day 15 – July 19 Belgium
Spent morning at the beach in Sint Idesbald, had baguette and croissants for breakfast, then walked the beach looking for the shrimp fishermen we had been told to expect around noon. After some waiting and looking, men started coming out of the sea with long ropes attached to harnesses draped over their shoulders and attached to steel frames with long nets attached. As the nets were opened, and emptied out into screen frames, the boxes filled with; crabs, small spiny fish (Pieterman), a Dover sole, hermit crabs, a tiny octopus and of course hundreds of small shrimp in every catch. As these men spoke among themselves Pol recognized their Antwerp dialect and we soon found ourselves part of their activities. As soon as they found out we were Canadian their demeanour completely changed and we found ourselves warmly welcomed into the group with glasses of sparkling Spanish wine being thrust upon us. Drinking wine on a warm beach as buckets of shrimp were collected around us, seemed pretty ideal to us.
The afternoon saw us leave on a beer pilgrimage to Westvleteren, where the Trappist Abby’s no. 12 is voted and rated as the number 1 beer in the world. Since I had already acquired two bottles of 12 we decided to try the 8 while our friend Pol tried the blond, which he proclaimed to be one of the best blonds he had ever, interpret this as you will. The 8 was a wonderful beer which certainly was full of flavour and was one of the best beers I have ever tasted. I certainly can’t wait to try the 12’s when I am back in Tyrrell’s, my pub at home. As well as the two 12’s we also left with an 8 and a blond to bring home. Unfortunately, the store had no glasses available for purchase, and our waiter insisted he couldn’t sell me one, however, he did offer to tell us if the manager came in before we left and if he did then we could try asking him. As we were preparing to leave, he came to tell us the manager had arrived and after some begging and pleading on the part of yours truly, he graciously agreed to ensure this Canadian went home with one more chalice to adorn the collection in my pub, thanks to his kindness, I now have a complete collection of Trappist chalices and beer mats.
After leaving the Abbey, we stopped in Veurne, a wonderful medieval town which was almost deserted in the late Saturday afternoon. This proved to be wonderful for picture taking as it allowed for few distractions in my photos either cars or people. While wandering the square Karen discovered a wonderful series of archways and passages that led to a secluded garden with a pond with Koi, a cenotaph remembering those who gave their lives from the village during WWII and perhaps most interesting, plaques remembering those from the village who were executed by the Nazi’s for refusing to go and work in the Concentration Camps, certainly not something that often occurs to us from the west. After spending a few hours walking and exploring the town we decided it was time for supper at 19:00. One feature of Veurne’s town square are restaurants. In fact the entire town is obviously a very popular destination for dining out. I once read that if a restaurant is still in business after 6 months in Belgium it must be very good as the Belgians (or Burgundians as I have been told by my friend an Antwerpian) eat out more than any other nationality and so restaurants either prove their quality or fail. We decided that for our last night in Belgium, moules (mussels) were the desired dish of choice and so we reviewed the various menus as we again wandered the square until we finally decided upon Mozaiek. Here Karen and I enjoyed wonderful mussels for our last dinner in Belgium and Pol had another traditional Belgian meal consisting of chicken and pastry which he proclaimed very disappointing. Unfortunately, my mussels in white wine were very watery and lacking in taste as well, Karen was not overly thrilled with her mussels and we all agreed that the chips were certainly not up to what is supposed to be the standard of Belgian Frites.
One interesting feature about the Veurne restaurants were the high number displaying plaques as graduates of The Hotel School of Koksyde, a highly respected culinary school throughout Belgium. A sign of how seriously the Beligans take their food was that even the “chip shop” displayed their plaque.